Trying not to cringe as Mrs. Malcom pulled another tissue from the kleenex box, Tabitha kept a pleasant smile on her face. The plaid of the woman's skirt was wrinkled and the hem was torn on the left. Not the worst looking wronged wife to walk through her door, but not one prepared for battle either.
Resisting the urge to tap her pen against the table, Tabitha leaned forward. "Listen, you don't have to ask me to look into this issue." The woman's chocolate eyes met her’s and her chin ceased its incessant wobble. Smiling, Tabitha nodded. She'd get at least her non-refundable retainer, if the woman called tomorrow to cancel, fine.
"He's been cheating on me," Mrs. Malcom hissed, before tossing a crumpled manila folder on Tabitha's second hand desk. "Otherwise why would I be here?"
Tipping her head, Tabitha refrained from filling the silence. Most spouses sought her out to confirm their worst suspicions and a few wanted her to find evidence of wrong-doing to offset the sins they'd committed before filing for divorce. No one walking through her door entered or left happy, including herself.
Adjusting to her client’s mood swing, she pulled out a contract. "Why do we need that?"
Because, if you decide to take the cheating bastard back and refuse to return my phone calls, this lets me take you to court. keeping that thought to herself, Tabitha offered. "Mrs. Malcom, this is a standard contract protecting both our interests. It outlines my fees and exactly what services I will and will not provide."
Mrs. Malcom's nose scrunched as she skimmed the words on the page. "So you won't try to seduce my Leo as proof that he'll take any whore to bed." That clause was a recent addition. Following a protracted court case with a disgruntled client refusing to accept her husband's "infidelity" was afternoons at a pottery class and Tabitha’s refusal to play bait in a ridiculous and elaborate plan to catch him in “the act.”
"No, that is not a service I provide." If she didn't need to make rent, she'd ask the bitter harpy to take her leave but she bit her tongue. "My fees are non-negotiable but they're fair and I do good work. You just need to sign your name on the bottom right line, Mrs. Malcom."
Her client sunk her two top teeth into her bottom lip and Tabitha prayed she wouldn't start more waterworks. "My last name isn't Malcom."
"I understand; you aren't the first to walk through that door bearing a false identity. Still, you need to sign it with your real name."
"Can you look at the evidence I've collected? See if it’s what I think it is...maybe..." Her unnamed client whispered.
Opening the manila folder, Tabitha sorted through the collection of blurry snapshots capturing a couple sitting outside a coffee shop, walking in the park and kissing in a dark sedan. The husband's face was turned away from the lens in each blurred image but Leo's wife had managed to capture Tabitha's face perfectly in the last photo.
"I...I..." Words failed her as she met the furious eyes across from her.
"Yes, I'm sure you didn't know, but you see, I really don't care." As Leo's wife raised the revolver, Tabitha raised her hands, panic coursing through her system.
"You don't want to do this, Mrs. Atkins."
Her hollow laugh rang out in the tiny office. "Oh sweetie, he didn't even give you the right last name. I'm Molly Raist and that lying son of a bitch has been cheating on me for at least three years."
Shaking her head, Tabitha tried to focus. "No, we've only been seeing each other six months.
Tsking, Molly cocked the gun and shook her head. "Oh, you poor misguided homewrecker,” Molly quipped. “He's been sleeping with four others. You're just the most recent addition to his harem."
Swallowing the bile threatening to overwhelm her, Tabitha tried again. “Molly, if I had any idea he was married…”
“Did you ask?” She interrupted.
“No,” Tabitha rushed on before Molly could interrupt, “And I suspect, given the situation, he’d have lied if I had.”
“Probably,” Molly conceded as the gun went off.
Pain blinded her as her body fell to the floor. “If it’s any conciliation, Leo and his other lovers are waiting for you. Give them my regards.” The words echoed across the darkness and pain, as Tabitha heard the door to her office slam shut.