The tattoo covered most of her right shoulder, and he found himself fixating on it, his eyes drawn back to it every time he looked away. In truth he was probably staring to avoid something more embarrassing from becoming the focal point of his vision. The image was of a small bird, a hummingbird perhaps, partially obstructed at the beak by the strap of her pale singlet. His eyes followed the strap down to the generous neckline and found the new landscape much more visually pleasing than the last. Then he realized that she had stopped talking and moved with speed but not grace to another chair, away from her side, convinced she had recognized the staring, but thankful to her for pretending she had not.
“Is there anything else?” – A genuine question, he felt, but with a playful undertone, as if she had enjoyed his stare, and the power over him that came with it. He guessed her in her late thirties, and with a recently deceased husband perhaps she had enjoyed the attention he was giving her. Or perhaps not, was the shadow of a grin there, or was it simply wishful thinking on his behalf?
“Yes, yes, a few more things,” a hurried response, as he cleared his throat, “sorry these questions are quite tedious, and detailed. I’ll try and be as quick as possible.”
“No rush. I have all day…” There it was! A twitch on the side of her mouth, a smile, caring and inviting, he felt a small jump in his heart rate, a feeling he had not had in quite a while, and quite odd considering the nature of this meeting.
“So you were married eight years ago, is that correct?”
“Yes, we were due for our next anniversary in a few months”
“And what is it that your husband did for a living?”
“Mostly nothing, he sat on his computer for a few hours a day, trading in the foreign markets.”
“I wouldn’t know, I left him to it. That sort of thing never held my interest.”
“Just as long as you got the proceeds right?”
“I suppose so, not sure I like how you say that though.” The smile vanished.
“My apologies of course. It’s my job to ask these questions, nothing personal.” The flash or anger left her face, but the playfulness didn’t return. “Did you know that your husband had raised his life insurance amount two months ago?”
“Um, well he mentioned something about it, I didn’t really think about it too much though. I never really handled the money, unless, as you say, I needed it”.
“You would admit, though, that the timing seems suspicious, your husband increases his life insurance then two months later he dies in a fire that also claims your house and belongings. You should be collecting a pretty penny, I imagine.”
“The company says ten million” the flicker of a smile was back, perhaps…
“They also sent me out to question you. What does that tell you?”
“That somebody at your office likes you, and wanted to do you a favor?” No doubt, she was flirting with him now. It was totally inappropriate, and he knew this for sure, yet he didn’t care in the slightest.
“Maybe. It’s certainly not the worst assignment I’ve gotten. The problem is that this report from the fire department implies the fire was man-made, or woman-made as the case may be.”
“What do you mean? There were a ton of fires that night, they raged for days!”
“I remember, even our illustrious Prime Minister was on duty with the Fire Brigade.”
“Exactly! There were hundreds of homes lost, why would they think that mine was any different? Just because it was worth some more money?”
“Well, there were a lot of homes lost, but yours was the only one in your street, or even your neighborhood. All the others happened over the hill.”
“We had some dry brush in our back yard. Must have had some sparks come over the hill and light up.”
“Yeah I’ve heard that story before.”
“In your statement to the police, and the firies, and the insurance company. You seem to have it practiced pretty well.”
“It’s what I think happened, where’s the crime in that?”
“No crime, just convenient is all. How old was your husband?”
“He would have been sixty five this year… almost due for retirement”
“And how old are you?”
“How old do you think I am?” Was that a wink?
“Late thirties, around there I guess?”
“Thirty eight, dead on. How old are you?”
“A bit older. Not as old as your husband though”
“Was that meant to mean something?”
“Just that he is a lot older than you.”
“Are you implying that would make me love him less?”
“Maybe, I don’t know what you like”
“If I said that he was too old for me and I just liked his money, would that go in your report?”
Yes. The answer was yes. But what he said was “It doesn’t have to”, he was way past inappropriate now. At the moment, however, he cared more about hearing her story, and he was still staring.
“Well, he was, and I did. I didn’t have to do much to get it and I had a pretty good life of my own when he didn’t… need me.”
“You didn’t resent him for coming on to you? Stealing your youth?”
“I sold my youth. Not on the cheap I might add. I have my regrets, but I suppose it would be short sighted of me to just see the negative when I take so many positives for granted”
“The fire didn’t jump the hill did it?”
“I didn’t see it, if that’s what you mean”
His head shook
“How much do you make as a – what are you called? Claim investigator?”
“‘Bout a buck fifty a year”
“I’m supposed to be coming into some money, maybe we could share some of it. Do people offer that a lot?” There was no shadow, no innuendo now. She pushed her chest forward ever so slightly and maintained eye contact, well, for as long as he did.
“Sometimes. Usually when they know I don’t believe them.”
“What do you usually do when they offer?”
“Depends. If I like them I do one thing, if they’re a dick I do another”
“Do you like me?”
“I’ve liked people less”
“What’s going to be in your report?”
“I guess nothing you need to worry about.”
“That’s a relief. I was beginning to stress!” I’m sure you were, he thought. “Would you like to have dinner with me tonight? I know a great Italian place, they have some excellent wine, it would help me relieve that stress”
“Not tonight. I have to get back to the office, finish up my report. I’ll call you though. Can you sign here before I leave? Just to confirm I came and saw you, all that bureaucratic shit”
“Sure thing” there’s that wink again.
He put the papers in front of her. She leant over to sign them and he stared one last time, but not at the hummingbird. He picked them up and walked out towards the door. He wouldn’t enjoy writing this report but it had to be done. She wouldn’t be seeing a dime of that money, as soon as he handed in his report that would be guaranteed.
But he’d make sure to call her again first.