I turned on my bike and had my habitual moment of communion with it, letting the vibrations rise through my body. I popped in my AirPods, slid on my helmet, and turned my music up. Easing into traffic, I took my time getting out of the city. It was a twenty-hour ride if you did the speed limit, and I was in no rush to get there. Once I hit I-95, I started to relax and enjoy the ride.
Darren. There are so many complicated emotions surrounding my relationship with him. Put simply, at one time, he wasn’t just my everything. He was my first everything. He was charismatic in such a way you knew that he believed the world revolved around him, but you didn’t care. You just wanted to be a part of his orbit. But, like the sun, if you got too close, you got burned. Darren was good at a lot of things, but relationships? Not so much.
We met when I was fourteen. I was awkward and shy back then and, like every other adolescent girl in the world, felt like I didn’t belong anywhere. The Portuguese genes were pretty wiped out, but every once in a while, someone would pop out looking more like our ancestors and less like the white bread facade the family portrayed. I was unlucky enough to be the one for this generation. I wished I had been born blonde and named Buffy. My childhood would have been a lot different. One of the ways that Darren snuck his way into my heart was by telling me I was beautiful. He encouraged me not to worry about the whispers where people said I was probably the result of an affair. Darren told me to own it. Then he showed me how.
I was drinking before I turned fifteen, having sex not long after that, and spent so many nights away from home that I might as well not have lived there. He taught me how to ride a motorcycle, how to outdrink everyone, how to find things that didn’t want to be found, how to hide in a crowd, how to pick a lock, how to lie, and how to break a heart. It was that last one that I found unforgivable. Unfortunately, he was the one person in my life aside from my family that I just couldn’t get rid of. I’m pretty sure he got off torturing me, even after all this time.
This trip down memory lane was doing nothing but giving me heartburn and ruining my ride. I made good time to Philly, so I pulled into a gas station and topped off even though I didn’t need to. I learned the hard way always to have a full tank. The short pit stop let me shake off all this Darren crap and get back to enjoying the road. I let my thoughts fall away and felt the air ripple along my body as I urged my bike faster. I eventually hit Fredericksburg, pulled into a deli, and ordered some food before I sat down to make a phone call.
“Yo. Who ‘dis?”
“Hey ya’ punk. It’s me.”
“Jes!” He laughed loudly in my ear. It was infectious, and I found myself smiling. “Did we have an appointment?”
“Nah, Topo. I’m just in town for a bit and wanted to check-in. Meet me at Basilico’s.”
“Y’sure, Jes. Tell Tony I want the corned beef plate.”
“You always do, my friend. It’s sitting here waiting on you.”
“I’ll be there in five.” He hung up before I could say anything. Before I could really start to enjoy my sub, the bell over the door rang, and a large man dropped into the chair in front of me. He sighed as if his entire life depended on the meal in front of him, and I smiled wider. I leaned back and sipped on my coffee, giving him a few minutes to enjoy. You don’t get between an Italian and their food.
“Yeah, but I’m not sure if it’s legit or not.” He swallowed and continued. “Turns out the wife gave the ring to her boy toy, and he skipped town shortly after.”
“Hmm. Do we have a name and description of the boyfriend?”
Topo grinned. “Joseph Benjamin Russell the third, if you please.” He dug into one of his front shirt pockets and pulled out a photo of Joseph and the client’s wife. “Name’s a fake, I’m sure, but with a face like that, you know this wasn’t his first scam. I’m sure you can find him.”
I looked at the photo, wondering why a woman would cheat on a man. I didn’t think about it too long. First, I didn’t care that much about the clients. I learned what I needed to in order to find their lost item, and that was it. Second, the rich always cheated. Husbands cheated on wives with escorts, and wives cheated on husbands with personal trainers. It was the same story everywhere I went. I didn’t think I’d come across a genuinely happy, rich couple yet.
“Thanks, Topo.” I slipped the photo in my back pocket and went back to my coffee. “How’s your wife?” I’d never seen him smile so big. It was about to crack his face apart. I quirked an eyebrow.
“She’s pregnant! We’re gonna have a baby boy in a couple of months.”
“That’s amazing. Congratulations, Topo. Let me know when he’s born, and I’ll send him a teddy bear.”
“Of course, Jes. You ever gonna come by for dinner? My Stella teases me that you’re not real, and I’m really just cheating on her.” The twinkle in his eye told me he loved his wife, and she knew he’d never cheat.
“One day, Topo. When I’m in town for more than a couple of hours, eh?”
He snorted and took a drink of water. “You never stay more than a couple of hours.”
I stood up and winked, dropping some cash for the server. “Life is meant to be lived, my friend, and I can’t do that if I’m stuck in one place for too long.”
He just chuckled and shook his head as I walked out. In the parking lot, I used my phone to snap a copy of the photo and then texted it to my tech guy, Ganon.
Me: Joseph Benjamin Russell, III. Last known in Fredericksburg, VA. Personal Trainer.
My phone chimed almost immediately with a response.
Ganon: 24 hours.
I put my phone in my pocket and got back on the road. Ganon didn’t need 24 hours to find out everything about this guy, and he never asked unnecessary questions. It’s why I paid him so much.