I can’t believe I got involved in such a sordid affair with a woman whose sexual exploits were legendary. At least the way she talked, they were legendary. She was married; I was engaged.
It started one Friday in October when we had our first lunch date. That was when it started in earnest. It really started in January the year before that. I’d just finished my course of study in Administration of Justice at Cabrillo College and opened my own detective agency, Jack Lefevre Investigations. I ran the business out of my California bungalow on Center Street in downtown Santa Cruz.
I thought it might be a good idea to hone my craft by taking some Legal Studies classes at U.C. Santa Cruz. I wasn’t very busy yet in my new trade, so I had plenty of time to spend taking the classes. Just for the fun of it, I also took a European Novel class. My interest in literature was sparked when I’d taken some lit. classes at San José State when I was working on my B.A. degree in Spanish. I had this crazy idea that I was going to be a high school Spanish teacher, but by the time I graduated, there were no teaching jobs on the horizon, so I got a job as a checker at Safeway and joined the retail clerk’s union. I did that for ten years, saving enough money to buy the bungalow and get my A.J. certification from Cabrillo.
Renata Lowell was in the European Novel class. I didn’t actually meet her in the class. The face-to-face meeting, in fact, happened on the bus going into town the first day of class.
“I think you’re in my European Novel class,” she said as she sat next to me on the bus. It was more of a question than a statement.
I looked at her and saw a plain looking woman, no classic beauty, but definitely attractive. Her long brown hair was tied back. There was one streak of natural gray in front on the left, starting at the hairline on her forehead. Her eyes were two colors, one green and one brown, but the color wasn’t the distinguishing feature. They had a hard edge. They sparked when she smiled as though the pupils were flints being struck by metal. She had a beautiful overbite that made her smile dazzle, and her body was slim and shapely.
“That’s right,” I said. How’d yuh know?”
“You were sitting next to me in the class, and I saw the book you’re reading. It can’t have anything to do with that class, can it?”
The book was John Gardner’s The Resurrection.
“Are you reading it for another class?”
“No. This guy’s a good writer. First one of his I’ve read. Think I’m gonna try to read ’em all.”
“Really! I’m impressed.”
And the conversation went on from there, and it’s pretty amazing how much we talked about and how well we got to know each other on such a short bus ride. She was a twenty-nine year old re-entry student who had started college straight out of high school, and then dropped out half way through her sophomore year. She was ten years younger than I was and a Spanish lit. major, which was the one common denominator we shared. When we got to Metro center, the bus terminal downtown, we went our separate ways.
Back at my bungalow, there was a message on my answering device from Debra, my fiancé.
“Hi, honey,” she said. “Wan’a go out to dinner tonight? It’s three-thirty now. I’m just leaving school and should be getting home pretty soon. Can probably be at your place by five. Call me back. Let me know if you’re up for it.”
Debra taught a fifth grade class at an elementary school in the Santa Cruz mountains. She lived in a two bedroom condo up in University Terrace on the westside. The plan was for me to move in with her after we got married, and I’d continue to run my business out of the bungalow on Center Street. She and I had gotten engaged just as I was starting the program at Cabrillo a couple years ago. We’d been dating for about five years before that, so we were pretty serious about each other for some seven years.
It was Monday afternoon, twenty to four. I must’ve just missed her call. I called her house.
“Hey, Babe,” I said into the telephone after her voicemail greeting message ran. “Your plan for the evening sounds great. See yuh when yuh get here.”
All those years together, we were as good as married, and being faithful to Debra, a classic beauty (blue eyes, long dark hair and a beautiful smile) with brains, was easy. Not once in that time did I ever think about getting intimate with another woman. That was of absolutely no interest to me, completely absent from my thoughts, and then, from out of nowhere, Renata tossed out her proposition. It was all the more surprising because things like that never happened to me.
It started out innocently enough. We’d see each other when the class met, and we’d catch the bus together on those days for the rest of that winter quarter. She told me later that she was sending out signals on those bus rides, but I wasn’t picking up on them. I could only remember one theme she repeated a couple times that I thought could have been a signal, and that was when she complained about the lack of sex in her marriage.
I sat out the spring quarter, and didn’t take any classes until fall. It would be six months before I saw her again. That was one day as I waited for a bus to campus. Just as it approached and I stepped to the curb, I heard someone calling my name. When I looked up the street to see who it was, a very pregnant Renata waddled down the sidewalk in my direction.
“Are you catching this bus?” I asked when she got closer.
“Yes,” she replied.
“Hold on,” I told the driver as I put my foot on the first step. Then I waited for her to get there.
When we got to our seats, we got reacquainted. She was going up to campus to find out what classes she needed to graduate. She was sitting out this quarter because her baby was due in November, and she planned to start back up in January. She hoped she’d only have five more quarters to go. I told her I was still a private eye, and was taking another Legal Studies class that quarter.
We went our separate ways when we got to campus, and I didn’t see her again for another nine months or so. It was one day in late spring as I was riding my bike on Beach Street. She approached from the opposite direction on the sidewalk. It had been so long since I’d seen her that I didn’t recognize her at first.
“Hey, how’re you doin’?” I asked when our eyes finally met. I pulled up to the curb.
“Fine. How are you? It’s been a long time.”
“Yes, it has been a long time. How’ve you been? How’s your baby doin’?”
She looked like she’d gotten her body back in shape after her pregnancy and childbirth.
“The answer to both questions is fine. She’s getting to be quite the little person. Six months old. Yuh ought’a see her.”
“So, what’re yuh doin’ down in this neck of the woods?”
From all the many conversations we’d had on bus rides, I knew she lived in Boulder Creek, nine miles away up Highway Nine. This seemed to me a little faraway to be just out walking.
“I’ve got this part-time job over here around the corner, and I was just taking a little break to walk along the beach.”
“You work out on the wharf, or in one of these shops here?”
I gestured at the little row of shops across the street.
“It’s a little more low key than that. I work for a woman who lives up on Third Street. Kinda’ like a personal assistant. Open her mail, pay her bills, balance her checkbook, get her stuff ready for the accountant at tax time. I got the job from an ad posted on the bulletin board in the placement office up on campus. It’s a nice little part-time thing. Flexible schedule and it pays five bucks an hour.”
“’Sounds like a pretty good deal.”
“Yes it is. Say, has anyone ever told you that you look a lot like James Garner? You know, the actor?”
“Many times. He’s a bit older’n I am, but yeah, a lot of people tell me that.”
We chatted for about ten minutes, and for some reason, I decided I had to be getting along. I gave her my card, and encouraged her to come over and check out my little detective agency. I even suggested that we have lunch together sometime.
“You know, I’ve driven up and down your street several times looking for your place and never could find it. You have a sign in the window or something?”
“Not really. I do have a very small plaque on my front door, but you got’a be on the porch to read it. Yuh know, I’m not even supposed to be doing business in the house. It’s zoned residential. I’m kind of practicing as a home business. Check out the address on the card there, and then just come on by, but it’s best to call first. Make sure I’m there. I come and go as I please. One of the nice things about workin’ for yourself. Give me a call. If I’m not there, you can leave your name and number on my answering service, and I’ll get back to you within a couple hours.”
“All right,” she said. “I’ll probably take you up on the lunch.”
And we parted, but not before I said to her impulsively,
“Here, give me a hug,” and she did.
It wasn’t two minutes after she had disappeared into the crowd before I realized that I should have asked her what she was doing for lunch right then. I wasn’t doing anything, just hanging around. It was only one o’clock, and I didn’t have appointments scheduled that afternoon. I turned around to look for her, but she was gone.
I peddled down to the river levee and on up to downtown and back home. I went into the kitchen and fixed myself a hot dog for lunch. When I finished eating, I went into my office and looked to see if there were any phone messages. I was hoping that Renata had left a message. Unfortunately, she hadn’t.
The next time I saw her, I was taken completely by surprise. It was almost noon on a busy Friday in August. I was in my office talking to my future father-in-law, Charles Morris. He and Debra’s mom, Frances, lived in a condo development for retirees in San José. You had to be a Mason to live there. He was asking me to look into one of his neighbors, who, he thought, wasn’t a Mason. The guy was violating some of the association rules, and Charles wanted to get him out of there. The guy’s father, who was a Mason, was the owner of record of the condo, and Charles was sure that the kid wasn’t a Mason.
Besides coming over to throw some business my way, the Morrises were taking Debra and me out to lunch. Her mother was already up at her place waiting for her to get home from school. She was teaching a half day and was coming with her mother to meet us at Lily Marlene on the Mall.
It was a good thing we weren’t meeting at my place because, before I knew it was happening, Renata walked through the door with a baby on her hip. She sat down in the waiting chair closest to the front door. Her baby immediately squirmed off her lap and onto the floor. She crawled over to the bookcase along the wall and started pulling books off the shelves. Renata picked her up and sat down again with her on her lap. I went over and took her small hand and held it in mine.
“I remember you when you were inside your mother,” I said to her. “How old is she now?” This to Renata.
“Ten months. She’ll be a year old in November.”
“So, what are you up to?” I asked.
“We were just driving by when I saw your little place here and decided to stop and pay you a visit.”
“All right! I’m glad you did, although I’m kinda’ tied up right now and really can’t visit.”
“I can see you’re busy. No problem. I really can’t stay anyway. The kid’s getting a little antsie here, which means I need to take her out and let her run. How would you like to go to lunch next Friday?”
I was so startled by the suggestion with Charles right there that I could feel myself tense up. Of course Renata had no way of knowing who he was, so she didn’t know that Charles and Frances came over quite often on Fridays to visit and take us out to lunch.
“I don’t know,” I said to her, then to Charles, “You guys coming over here or are we going over there next Friday? ’R are we even getting together next week?”
“I don’t know,” he said. He was still sitting in the client chair next to my desk. “You know how these women always work things out without informing us of what the plans are. I’m sure my wife has the rest of our week planned for us already.”
“Friday wouldn’t be good for me, but another time might be fine.”
“Okay, I’ll call you,” she said, standing up and chasing down her daughter who had squirmed off her lap again. She picked up the little girl and opened the front door. “Bye.”
“Bye,” I said.
She closed the door behind her. Charles stood up and came into the living room.
“You ready to go?” he said, breaking the silence that had come over the place since the door closed.
“Yeah, sure, ’ts get outa’ here,” I replied, shifting uneasily on my feet.
Later that day she called and asked if she’d made anybody nervous earlier.
“No,” I lied, for I knew how nervous I was when she’d asked me to lunch, “but we do have to get together and we will, another time.”
“All right,” she said.
About two months later, after returning from one of my walks on the Mall, there was a message from her on my answering device. She wanted to set up a time and day to go out to lunch, and would I call her back, let her know what was convenient for me? I dialed the number she left, and she picked up after two rings.
I instantly recognized her husky, Lauren Bacall sounding voice and my heart skipped a beat.
“Hi, Renata, this is Jack.”
“Oh, hi, Jack. I’m so glad you called me back.”
“So, yuh wan’a have lunch some time?” I was feeling really nervous. The question sounded dumb.
“I only need a couple day’s notice so I can get a babysitter for Tess.”
“How ’bout Friday. Debra and I aren’t getting together with her folks this week. Wan’a do it then?”
“Yes. That sounds perfect. Want me to meet you at your office?”
“That’ll be fine. Wha’da yuh say to twelve noon?”
“I’ll be there,” she said and broke the connection. It still hadn’t sunk in that she might be interested in something other than just a lunch date, so I wrote her name down in my appointment book, not expecting anything or anticipating anything.