That's What Friends Are For


He sat at his desk looking over the file of the case he would have to argue tomorrow. Was it tomorrow? The next day? He wasn't sure. The words on the page in front of him were running together, jumbled. He couldn't concentrate on his work, hadn't been able to in over a month.
He was supposed to meet with the man tonight. The man whom would either make everything all right, or shatter what was left of his life. He looked at his watch. The man was late.
The buzz of the intercom made him jump. "Mr. Slater?" the voice asked.
"Yes, Vicky," he replied.
"There is a Jack Anders here to see you."
"Please send him in," he said, not as calmly as he would have liked. He realized that he was shaking. He wasn't sure he was ready for what was to transpire between Jack and himself.
"Hey Steve, sorry I'm late. Traffic was a bitch," Jack said lumbering into the office. They had known each other for over 40 years, and Jack was always a dominating presence. At 6'5" and close to 300 pounds, he could intimidate most men.
"No problem. Good to see you, Jack," Steve said trying to sound relaxed. He liked Jack; they had grown up together and had gone to high school and college together. While Steve went on to law school at Harvard and then went to work in a firm in New York, Jack had a five-year career playing defensive end for the Pittsburgh Steelers (his career was cut short by a terrible knee injury). But they had always kept in touch. When Jack's knee healed, he became a private investigator. That is why he was here tonight.
Both men had been successful in their own way, but the years had been much kinder to Jack. He continued to work out and had kept his body in great shape. Also, he had a head full of thick black hair with just a touch of gray around the temples. His appearance had not changed much since high school.
Steve, on the other hand, had gotten pretty soft around the middle (something Jack teased him about regularly). He had lost most of his hair by the age of 35. The little bit of hair that he did have left (a half ring that went around the back of his shiny head from ear to ear) had turned completely gray by 40.
Jack was wearing a pair of faded Levi's and a black polo shirt. A large pair of black leather motorcycle boots stuck out at the bottom of his jeans. "You alright, man? You look like shit." He said sitting in the chair across from his friend.
"Thanks buddy, it's compliments like that that keep us close," Steve said sarcastically.
"Don't be such a girl, you know what I mean."
"Yeah, I know," he said with a half smile, "I think I'm a little nervous about what you've found out."
Steve had hired Jack to watch his wife. He thought she might be having an affair. They were married five years ago, when she was only 25, but the age thing never seemed to matter to her. Until a couple of months ago, Steve thought everything was going great. Then he realized that he was much happier than she seemed to be.
Kathy, Steve's wife, was a beautiful young woman. Her hair was the color of corn silk and her eyes the deep blue of a lagoon in Jamaica, where they had honeymooned. She had an incredibly voluptuous body with soft, smooth skin that had been permanently tinted light brown by the sun. She was as stunning now as she was the day they had met.
Jack tried to change the subject. "How'd that case that you were working on turn out? The one with the guy suing Burger King because he found a rat tail in the onion rings."
Steve smiled, "We lost it. A surveillance camera made a tape that showed the guy putting the tail in there himself."
They both chuckled. "You're kidding."
"No," Steve said composing himself, "but the funny thing is, he accidentally bit into the tail because he was looking at some girl's ass instead of paying attention to what he was eating." The laughter roared.
When their laughter had died down, Steve got up and walked to the bar. He fixed a glass of scotch and soda for both of them. When he returned to the desk, he handed Jack a glass and sat down behind the desk. "Thanks man," he said, "I needed a good laugh, but we really need to get back to business. What did you find out?"
"There's no easy way to say this, so I'm just gonna be blunt. You were right, the girl is cheating on you."
"Shit," he said pounding his fist on the desk, "you're sure?"
Jack nodded, "Yeah, I have proof."
"Proof?"
"Pictures."
"Let me see them."
"Do you really want to? I mean, I don't think."
"I don't give a shit what you think! I want to see those pictures now!" Steve demanded.
Jack knew Steve well enough not to take the outburst personally. He handed him a large envelope. Steve opened the envelope and stopped. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. Jack watched as a single tear rolled down his friend's cheek. He had seen the photos, and knew that the man he grew up with was about to be crushed.
Steve pulled the photos out of the envelope. His shoulders seemed to droop a little more with each one he looked at. Neither of the men spoke for several minutes.
Finally, Steve drained his scotch and soda and got up to fix another. He poured half a glass of straight scotch and downed it. He poured another and took it back to the desk. Looking through the pictures again, Steve broke the silence. "So, who is the mystery man?" he asked quietly.
"I'm not sure," Jack replied, knowing how Steve would react to that answer, he added, "I've tried to follow him, but I keep losing him. I have a friend at the DMV that is tracing his plates for me. I should know in a day or two."
Steve nodded, never taking his eyes off the picture. It was the one that Jack knew would really get to him. It was an 8"x 10" black and white of his wife straddling the "mystery man". She was leaning back with her hands just below the man's knees, his hands caressing her bare breasts. Her head was back and the look on her face was pure ecstasy. The curtains that were pulled to the side of the window hid the man's face.
"Don't worry about it Jack, I'll find out who he is," Steve said opening his desk drawer. He reached in and pulled out a nickel-plated, semi-automatic Berretta 380 and placed it on the desk. His name was written in gold inlay across the barrel. Steve released the clip to make sure it was loaded. He slid it back home and said confidently, "Oh yeah, I'll find him."
"Jesus Christ Steve, where'd you get that?"
"EBay," he said smiling. Steve would brag to anyone that would listen what great deals he would get on EBay.
"Bullshit," Jack laughed, "they don't sell handguns on EBay."
"You're right, they don't. But they do sell accessories: clips, holsters, cleaning kits, things like that. I did a little looking around, and found a guy in the area that was selling some clips. It turned out that he was a gunsmith. I made an appointment with him, met him at his little shop in Frederick, told him what I wanted, and filled out the paperwork. A month later it was mine. It's a beauty, isn't it? I've been going to the range at least once a week since I got it. I'm getting pretty good and it's a great way to relieve stress."
Jack glanced at the stack of pictures and said, "I guess you'll be going there to squeeze off a few rounds tonight."
"Yeah, that's a good idea," he said trying to sound as sincere as he could.
Jack looked at his watch. "Hey buddy, I gotta take off. Are you gonna be alright?"
"Yeah."
"You sure? This is a lot to deal with. I could make a call and we could hang out together. Maybe go to the range if you want."
"That's okay Jack. Really, I'm fine."
Jack got up and walked around the desk. He shook his friend's hand and hugged him. He patted him on the back and spoke into Steve's ear. "If you need anything, anytime, you have my cell number. It's on all the time, all you have to do is call. I mean it man, just call and I'll be there."
"Thanks," Steve said breaking the hug, "you know, for everything."
"That's what friends are for," Jack said and left the office.
Steve picked up the Beretta and looked at it. A fuzzy pair of eyes stared back at him. "Oh yeah, I'm definitely gonna squeeze off a few rounds tonight." He stood up and tucked the gun into the waistband of his pants. As he was leaving, he stopped, walked back to his desk, and dialed his home phone number.