“What the hell is wrong with my nose?”
I couldn’t help shout at my skuzzy boss, Fabio Scarpello, who had just suggested I get a nose job. A nose job!
I looked into the file cabinet to see as much of my profile as I could. Only things I could find in the metal were fingerprints galore and some brown stuff, which I didn’t want to even guess at.
Fabio was a pig in his office, and I’m sure in his private life (and not only with the setting, I might add), but he was the owner of Scarpello and Tonelli Insurance Company and gave me insurance fraud cases to investigate.
In other words, he was my only means of support.
I’d switched careers midstream, leaving nursing for snooping. Thing was, darling Fabio always gave me the medical fraud cases. Sure it made sense, but I wasn’t looking for sensible. I was looking to get out of that business! Being single and in my early thirties, I knew I couldn’t keep switching fields and have any kind of retirement. Besides, I loved the investigating. What a rush to solve a case!
I never let the reminder that murders occurred along the way even enter my head.
My heart thudded. Murders!
Oops. Truthfully, the M word did that to me since I’d come way too close to being one of its victims-several times.
I looked closer at the file cabinet. Fabio’s brown-stained reflection appeared. Yikes.
“No, you don’t need a nose job, doll. But that’s part of the business. Going undercover doesn’t always come easily.” He sucked on the wet, sticky end of his cigar and laughed. “Nope. Sometimes you have to make sacrifices to earn some bucks. Besides, I thought any doll would jump at the chance to have something fixed.” His gaze ran down to my legs and back up to my chest-and stayed there. “Rather have a bo-”
“No!” I stepped back. Yuck. No way was I going to discuss my chest with him. “I don’t understand why I need anything done.”
He took a long pull on the cigar, coughed until his face was rotten-apple-colored, and grinned. “How the hell else are you going to get inside that plastic surgery clinic to do your job?”
I glared at him for a good fifteen minutes. Okay, maybe it was only for a few minutes, but it seemed longer. I knew what was going to come out of my mouth, but I really didn’t want it to. No way. I was not going to say…“I can go to Highcliff Manor as a-”
My insides dropped to my toes. I couldn’t believe what I’d nearly said. I’d almost offered my medical services, throwing myself back into a burned-out career.
Heaven help Pauline Sokol because I obviously couldn’t help myself.
Fabio walked to his desk and shoved a manila folder toward me. “One of my clients, a small company out of Rhode Island, reports an increase in plastic surgery submissions from this one particular clinic. Ones insurance shouldn’t be covering. Smells to high heaven.” He waved the folder at me. “Case number five for you, doll.”
“Stop calling me doll or you’ll be wearing that cigar in your ear-lit.” I stood firm, reached across the pile of old coffee cups and stale doughnuts on dirty dishes to grab the folder from his hands. I wish I had a nickel for every time I’d told him to stop calling me that, I thought as I grunted, looked at the file and started walking toward the door.
“Make sure you come up with a good reason to go to Highcliff. Those rich bastards are often smart. That’s how some got filthy rich while others got their dough from Mommy and Daddy. Newport, Rhode Island, is filled with money.”
I think he snorted, but my mind was on the file in my hands.
I had to come up with a plan to get inside the clinic? This was a new one. Usually Fabio handed me a case already in the works, where I went to investigate whatever he’d set up. This time, since I’d refused to get any part of me nipped, tucked, or mutilated, I was on my own.
But the bonus was that in Newport, being such a posh town, the fraud was exorbitant-and so would be my fee.
And I needed money like a sailboat needed the wind.
“I know!” my best friend and roomie, Miles Scarpello (Fabio’s nephew by adoption-thus Miles was a honey, as he lucked out of being from the same gene pool) yelled. “You can go to Highcliff as a rich bitch and then just get your ears pinned back…a bit.”
“Whaaaaaaaat!” I screamed, and ran to the mirror. I’d been holding Spanky, our joint custody shih tzu who weighed in now at seven pounds, so he jumped onto the couch in my haste. Spanky had adopted another “parent” in Goldie Perlman, Miles’s significant other, my other best friend and our third roomie.
Yes, they were both the best, and I could never pick one over the other.
I leaned closer and pulled back my hair. “Nothing wrong with my ears. Is there?” I leaned forward, “Oh, my,” I mumbled and moved my head from side to side. “And, besides, if I get any surgery, what kind of shape would I be in to work?”
He looked at me. “Your ears, nose, breasts and every inch of you is perfect, Pauline. There is nothing needing any kind of tucking or clipping.” He bit on a perfectly manicured nail.
I looked down at my fingers and groaned. Being a nurse had me in the habit of wearing my nails way too short. I tried to hide that fact with a bronze nail polish, but since I hadn’t been to the nail place in weeks, the bronze was now a dull gray and nearly chipped off.
“I guess I owe you a thanks for that comment, Miles.” I took one last look in the mirror, pulled a handful of blonde hair over my ears (just in case) and flopped onto the couch with a sigh. “How the hell am I going to get into that place? I’ve already checked their staffing needs. They’re full.”
Miles sat down opposite me, took off my fluffy pink slippers and started to massage my feet. Ah, the benefits of platonic male roommates. Amid the nirvana he’d set in motion, the door opened with a bang.
“Oooooooh! What a day this has been!”
I peeked over my shoulder to see Goldie dancing around with poor Spanky shaking in his arms while Goldie sang, “What a rare mood I’m in, folks!”
Miles stopped massaging and we both cracked up.
Goldie set Spanky down and sat on the edge of the glass and chrome coffee table. Today he’d worn Armani-from the women’s department. The only way I knew the designer was that I’d seen the camel jacket on Goldie’s bed and read the label. If he wasn’t almost a foot taller than my five-six, I’d have tried it on. He looked glamorous, sexy, and his light blond wig set off flecks of gold in his eyes.
Very cherry-colored lips smiled at us.
“What’s made you so happy, Gold?” I eased my feet off Miles’s lap and sat up, pulling my robe tighter. Not that these two lovers would have cared if my breasts hung out, but I came from a Polish Catholic family, and the day I had started kindergarten I learned what a “Catholic-school-induced” (CSI, as I now referred to it) conscience actually was.
Unfortunately, morality was my middle name.
Goldie gave Miles a kiss on the lips, leaned toward me and planted one on my cheek. “I nailed the sucker! I nailed the shit who was scamming Global Carriers Insurance Company for millions!”
Goldie, way more experienced than myself, also worked for Fabio and had been my mentor on many an occasion.
My eyes widened. “Oh, Gold, that’s fabulous. I thought you’d be working that case for eons.”
He looked at me under his heavy black lashes. “Suga, every once in a while a miracle happens. A shitload of evidence falls into your lap. It’s up to us to make sure we catch it. Now I’m taking some time off.”
Miles and I looked at each other, and I knew we were both thinking: God, I hope he didn’t do anything illegal.
But then we both winked simultaneously and realized this was our Goldie we were talking about. Ex-army intelligence. Tall, smart. Sometimes beautiful. Sometimes handsome. Everyone loved Goldie, and he was as honest as the day was long.
Miles went to fix me tea and the two of them martinis while I told Goldie about my new assignment.
Once Miles came in with the tray of drinks, snacks of bruschetta, which he happened to whip up, and a doggie treat for Spanky, I leaned back and sighed.
“I’ll never come up with a way to get into that place.”
Goldie eased his drink from the tray, muttered a thanks to Miles and leaned closer to me. “You know who can help you.”
It was barely a whisper, and I knew it killed him to bring it up.
My mind wandered for a few seconds to my sometimes “partner” in crime solving. The enigmatic, always mysterious, deliciously handsome, exuding maleness through pheromones Jagger-who Goldie constantly reminded me not to get interested in-you know, in that way.
“Stop fantasizing about him and give him a call,” Goldie ordered.
I didn’t take offense because I knew I needed that verbal slap to stop my foolish fantasy. Yes, I was somewhat smitten with Jagger, although-after only a few kisses-I really didn’t think he noticed that I was young, hopefully hot, and female.
Jagger worked with his own agenda.
I breathed out a long sigh, which seemed to let my body cool off a bit, and took a sip of tea. Then I said, “I can’t call him. I mean I won’t. I really have to work by myself. I can’t rely on him over and over. You know I’ve gotten myself out of scrapes on my own-”
They both glared at me.
“Okay, I shot an elevator-twice-and had a few near misses on board-”
“Not to mention getting shanghaied into the mental hospital, Pauline.”
“Thanks for the reminder, Miles.” I forced a smile. “I really do want to work alone. I’m a big girl now.”
“Oh, that reminds me, Suga. I ran into your mother at the Stop and Save…”
I knew Goldie was talking, but the mention of Stella Sokol had the power to cause my decent intelligence to nosedive. I yanked my robe tighter, remembering her constant reminder not to come home from work and put on my robe or I’d never have a life outside of nursing since I’d be home-bound for the night. I looked at the clock. Four-thirty.
I had no life.
“…so, tonight at six,” Goldie finished.
I blinked as if that would pull back the words he’d just wasted on me. “Six?”
Miles got up and put a hand on my shoulder. “I knew you didn’t hear a thing past ‘mother.’ Get dressed, Pauline. We’re off to your homestead for, what is today?”
“Thursday,” Goldie and I said in unison.
“Then pork roast it is,” Miles finished.
You could set Greenwich Mean Time on Stella Sokol’s meal plan. Mom made the same meal for the same day of the week-always. The thing was, the retro house (original stuff inside and out like shag carpeting and knickknacks were never updated) with white metal siding at 171 David Drive always smelled like kielbasa and sauerkraut no matter the day of the week.
Every time I stepped onto the royal blue shag carpeting in the living room, nostalgia had my heart flutter-until my mother suggested that I move back in. Then I’d have to rush off to find her pine-scented Renuzit, which always filled the air in Mom’s house. She bought it in bulk. It’d come to be a comforting scent for me, and sometimes I sprayed the air a few extra times when my life wasn’t going…too well.
I couldn’t even count on two hands how often that was lately.
“Goldie, you look attractive. And Miles as handsome as ever,” Mom said while she gave all of us a big hug. “Pauline, you look horrible.”
I wondered if my mother thought I needed a nose job, but then again she probably was talking about the red jogging shorts and black jogging jacket I’d thrown on. No one important would see me here.
“Thanks, Mom,” I muttered, kissing my dad on the forehead as he read his newspaper (always took all day long to finish since he’d retired).
Daddy mumbled, “Hello, Pa,czki!”
I smiled. He called me the endearing term since I came kicking and screaming into this world at ten pounds five ounces. Now my purse weighted that much. No one else could get away with calling me a prune-filled Polish doughnut except Daddy.
Miles went into the kitchen to get us all something to drink, and I could hear him arguing with Mom. She never wanted any help, or she wouldn’t be the star hostess, something she reveled in. However, she always backed down when it came to Miles.
They were both so cute.
The front door opened as I sat myself on the couch next to Goldie.
“Is that Pauline’s car in the driveway?” my favorite uncle called out.
I jumped up and ran to the foyer. “You know it is, Uncle Walt. You know cars better than Henry Ford.” I gave him a quick peck on the cheek, and he gave me a hug.
“How’s the business?” he asked.
I laughed. “Got a new case today.” Uncle Walt was always one of my supporters for leaving nursing. My father remained silent, my siblings couldn’t care less, and my mother always tried to get me to go back. After four cases she still thought it was “just a phase.”
Finally we were all seated in the dining room (Mom never let company sit in the kitchen to eat.) We chatted about nothing, ate gigantic amounts until I had to unbutton the snap on my shorts, and then ate some more when Mom brought out her famous chocolate cake with Hood’s vanilla ice cream on the side. I slid my zipper down about an inch and dug into the dessert.
“So, Pauline,” Mom said as she handed Daddy an extra large slice of cake. “Did you read the article in the paper about the nursing shortage, and that they are hiring at Saint Gregory’s Hospital?”
I choked on the ice cream.
“Don’t talk with your mouth full.” She sat down next to Daddy and started to pour coffee for everyone.
I swallowed, coughed and swallowed again. My throat froze instantly, but I managed, “Mom, I am a medical fraud insurance investigator now. No longer a nurse. I’m sorry about the shortage, but there’s been a shortage since I graduated over thirteen years ago. I’m sure my leaving didn’t have that big an impact.”
She continued on about the article as if I’d never said a thing.
Miles and Goldie had seconds on the cake and ice cream. Daddy had thirds. Uncle Walt took his usual “seated at the table” nap, and Mom glared at me. “So, what is your next case?”
I could hear her teeth grinding, trying to get the words out. “Well, it is in lovely Newport, Rhode Island, Mom. Right near the ocean. I’ll be able to walk along the cliff near all the mansions. This time of the year should be beautiful there. Not too hot yet.”
She held her fork in the air. “I know spring is a lovely time of the year, Pauline, but you are evading the issue. What kind of trouble are you going to put yourself into now?” She set down her fork and made the sign of the cross on her forehead.
I could see Miles shift in his chair.
Goldie muttered something and gave me a pathetic look. Well, the look was more like sympathy and I was the pathetic one.
Daddy kept eating.
Uncle Walt snored, and I sat there feeling as if I was five years old.
“I’m going to do private duty nursing at a plastic surgery clinic, Mom.”
I could see Goldie and Miles’s shocked yet pleased expressions. Thanks to Mom, I just figured out how to get into the clinic to do my investigation! Now all I needed was…a patient.
“Oh, I see,” she said, then remained silent.
Feeling as if you’ve checkmated your mother was glorious. A smile crossed my face. I could see myself in the stainless steel coffeepot and smiled wider.
She leaned closer to me. “So, who is your patient?”
My smile faded when I met her eyes. Five years old…again.
Goldie jumped from his seat. I thought he might shake Mom, but knew him better. “Me!”
“Me?” I shouted.
Miles looked confused. “You?”
I turned toward him. “No, him.”
Daddy looked up as he stuffed the last forkful of frosting into his mouth. “Who’s him? I’m confused.”
Goldie started waving his hands about. “Pauline is going to be my nurse. You know, private duty type. I’m going to splurge and treat myself to a nose job!”