Fringe Benefits by Chris James

Fringe Benefits

by Chris James

chrisjames147@yahoo.com

I was really looking forward to a nice quiet evening on the job. I wouldn't say my work was always tedious or boring since it did have some anxious moments. No, if I had wanted mundane then I would have become an accountant. Fat chance of that happening, I was a relatively young man, if thirty could still be considered young in this day and age.

In school I had been on track to become an investigative journalist. I thought it would be exciting and glamorous to root out the hidden qualities in other people's lives and expose them, until I reflected on my own. A job like that would give me a high profile and set me up to become a target of my own profession. I would have to look elsewhere.

I didn't see anything wrong with being gay and knew I wasn't alone with these feelings. But I didn't think I would enjoy reading about my sexuality on the cover of some tabloid magazine. Instead of completely turning my back on the field I took my investigative interests into the next best thing. I became a private investigator.

So here I was on just another Saturday night sitting in my car, all alone and telling myself to get on with it while people in the city around me were out enjoying life. But I felt good because this case was worth more than the average nonsense I managed to catch. Yes, this one was going to make me rich, and to celebrate I had splurged on a thermos of gourmet coffee and some of those little finger sandwiches.

The subject under surveillance was a real creep, at least that's what the wife had told me. I wasn't usually that overtly judgmental but since she had fronted half my fee I felt like I had to be on her side. At least the rent was paid for the next three months.

She had said that he was cheating. Marital infidelity was the bread and butter of the PI business so I started following him. He'd come to this same apartment complex three times in the past ten days and I was hoping to get a glimpse of the woman he was chasing. The plan was to get some incriminating photos if I could. Judges and juries love juicy photos.

Tonight I'd tailed him to the same building and watched him climb the outer stairs. I knew which door he'd be going to, apartment 3D. It was just my rotten luck that the place was on the third floor. I have this thing about heights. The name on the mailbox said "D. Smith," which was no help at all.

Oh, I had tried the door to door salesman routine, but some guy answered the bell and I figured she had a roommate. When I inquired if the little woman of the house was home he shut the door in my face. Didn't matter, I'd catch up to her soon enough.

Tonight I'd brought my video camera to begin recording for the case. I stuffed the little Japanese thing in my windbreaker and took a stroll out behind the building. There had been a 'No Pets' sign outside the rental office so at least there wouldn't be any mutts barking or trying to take a bite out of my ass. I don't like to remember past animal incidents, and there had been a few.

The space between the buildings was dark and quiet, nothing here but trash cans and a few discarded crates. I could see lights on in the windows of the third floor apartments but they were so high. Perhaps there was an access to the roof on the next building over, or a fire escape…No, I'd rather die than make that climb.

Too bad she didn't have mirrors on the ceiling of her bedroom. I'd read about some detective who had solved his case by taking shots in the mirror over a subject's bed. Some women were kinky like that, didn't bother me, but it would have made the job easier.

There was a metal ladder affixed to the far end of each building that went up…way up to the roof. Naw, that wasn't for me…what a chicken shit. Damn, I could probably get a decent shot through the bedroom windows if I went up there. My hands trembled at the thought.

I had been standing in the shadows looking up at the apartment across the way for about fifteen minutes when I heard a scraping sound coming from above me. Looking up I saw a small dark bundle descending the ladder. What the hell? I moved close to the base of the ladder and stood still.

The figure took on definition as it reached the ground, it was a young boy.

"Hey, kid," I said, gripping his arm so he wouldn't bolt.

The boy froze and I flashed my penlight in his face. The dark hood of his sweatshirt framed a young face, his eyes wide with fright. I had a thought.

"What were you doing on the roof?" I asked.

"Nothing, mister…honest."

"Would you climb back up there if I paid you?" I asked.

"Huh? I…I guess so."

"Okay, let's go talk," I said.

I led the kid by the arm back to my car and put him in the passenger seat. Good Lord, the kid had been up on the roof. That took balls, one false step and…splat. He looked about sixteen, perhaps older. His face was kinda pale but then I had scared him and that might be my fault. Hmm, he did have some nice blue eyes.

"Want a coffee?" I asked.

The kid nodded and I poured him a cup.

"You're not in any trouble from me," I said. "But I can tell you that sitting up on the roof is not a great idea…it's a long way to fall."

"Shit, I've been doing it for years," he said, "I haven't fallen yet. So…why do you want to pay me?"

"I want you to take my camera up there and shoot some video of the stuff happening in one of the bedrooms on the third floor of the next building."

"You some kind of pervert?" the boy asked.

"Yeah…and I get paid for it," I said. "I'm a private investigator and this guy I'm following is cheating on his wife."

"Oh yeah? Which apartment?" he asked.

"3D."

"That's pretty funny…I know those people," the kid said with a laugh.

"You do? I've been trying to find out who the woman is but with no luck," I said.

"I'll bet," the kid replied. "So how much do I get for taking the movies?"

"I'll give you fifty bucks, double that if you catch them…uh, performing any activities."

"Sweet deal…I'll do it," the kid replied. "What's your name?"

"Brian Lance…Lance Detective Agency," I said. "What's yours?"

"Why do you want to know?"

"Hell, kid, I have to put something on the voucher for the money. I work on an expense account."

"Evan…Evan Childs," the boy replied. "This is good coffee…you work for a big agency?"

"Naw, just me and the answering machine," I said. "Why were you on the roof?"

"It's just my private place, that's all. That way my mom won't find me…she's afraid of heights."

"That makes two of us," I said.

"Nothing like a beautiful night under the stars," Evan said. "I feel free and easy up there, no one to bother me."

Now it was my turn to laugh. "Up there jerking off I'll bet…and you called me a pervert. Doing a little peeping in windows on the side?"

Even in the dark I could see him blush…bingo. Ah well, at his age I suppose I would have done the same thing, but definitely not on the roof.

"When do I get the video recorder?" Evan asked.

"How about right now…maybe we'll get lucky," I said.

Evan knew all about cameras…probably more than I did. He tucked the little thing in the front pouch of his sweatshirt and we walked back to the ladder. He started to climb but stopped after a few rungs.

"Sure you won't join me? Nice night to see the stars," he said.

"Not on your life, kiddo."

I watched him climb and disappear over the edge of the roof…way up there.Just looking at that height made me feel a little dizzy, so I leaned against the wall. Who was this kid anyway? He had to live in the apartments since he knew the folks in 3D.

I stood at the bottom of the ladder and waited, glancing at my watch occasionally. Evan had been up there almost an hour and it was getting late…and then the lights went off in the subject's bedroom across the way. I heard a soft whistle from above, the boy was climbing down.

"Did you get anything?" I asked as his feet touched the ground.

"Boy, did I ever," Evan said with a smile. "It's hot."

"Sure you didn't just take pictures of the stars?"

"No way, man…you can trust me. Why don't we just go look at the recording, that way you'll know how much to pay me?"

"All right, sure you won't get in trouble if I take you back to my office?" I asked.

"Why go through all that?You can plug into my laptop upstairs. My mom's at work and she won't be home until breakfast."

"She works at night just like me?"

Evan laughed. "Not exactly, she's a doctor and has the late shift this month at Parker General Hospital."

Oops, put me in my place. I was just beginning to realize how clever the boy was. I suppose if his mom was a successful doctor that she was the source of his intelligence and the nice clothes he wore. At least he had someone who cared enough to look after him.

"Holy cow," I said,as the kid opened the door to his apartment. The living room was filled with expensive furniture and some nice paintings hung on the wall. Evan led me down the hall to his bedroom and turned on the light. He had a huge television and there was a full blown stereo system right next to his desk. "This stuff is all yours?" I asked.

"Yeah, it is now," the boy said after pulling off his hoodie and tossing it on the bed. Wow, look at all that long blond hair. "My dad just took a walk on us, the bastard."

Now that was sad, I hated hearing stuff like that. Some guys make lousy parents and that was a good reason to enjoy being gay and single.

"Mind if I play back the disk?" I asked.

"Yeah…let's watch it."

"Hope you got some good footage, I want this guy's wife to get a surprise."

"Oh she will," Evan said.

Evan plugged the camera into the side of his laptop and we watched it load. He hit the play button and the blue screen turned into fuzzy shapes as the camera tried to auto focus. The picture jumped around a little and then settled in on the light source…a bedroom window.

I could see a bed with the subject sitting on the edge.A good picture, all we needed was a little sound and this would be studio quality. Got to hand it to the Japanese, they made good cameras.

The subject seemed to be talking to someone and I was hoping it was our mystery lady. He stood and was beginning to take off his shirt when this other guy walked into the picture. Shit, it was the clown who slammed the door in my face and he was kissing…

Evan was watching my face and burst out laughing."Seems your man is gay, Brian."

"Well, I'll be damned, I didn't expect this. And you knew all along, you little rat."

"Do I still earn my pay?" he asked.

"I'll say, two hundred wasn't it?"

"Really? Thanks, man."

The guys started getting it on and the picture shook a little now and then but everything was quite clear. The Mrs. would certainly pay top dollar for this video, of that I was very sure.

"Okay, this is getting a little graphic for a kid like you," I said.

"Oh hell no, you did not say that," Evan said.

I could see the picture was bouncing around a little as if Evan was having a hard time holding the camera steady and…all I could do was laugh and punch the off button on the camera.

"You've been up on the roof every night watching them and pulling your meat haven't you?" I said. "So you've seen all this before, what an idiot I am. I had you figured for one of those internet perverts."

"No, I prefer the real thing…and I'm gay so I don't think it's perverted at all."

That stopped me cold. There was nothing I had seen that said this boy was gay. But then the way things were going with this case I seemed to be way off kilter on just about everything.

"To each his own," I said. "I didn't mean to offend you. You can be gay, straight or anywhere in-between for all I care. This is about paying the rent."

"I know…and now I'm going to lose the best show in town," Evan said."Do you really have to tell his wife what he's been doing?"

Shit, the kid was right. The man in 3D had just as much right to be gay as I did, and here I was about to blow his cover. It would certainly disappoint Evan if I did…and that was something I really didn't want to do.

"Maybe not," I said. "How old are you anyways?"

"Seventeen, do you want to see my driver's license?"

* * * * *

It was dark out here, really dark. I spend entirely too much of my life sitting in the dark, but at least I wasn't alone anymore. The house on the corner still had a light on, I had to keep watch. The tiny wireless camera had been attached to the window with suction cups and once the action had been recorded my partner would remove the unit.

"Evan?" I said into my radio.

"Yeah, boss," Evan replied.

"You need to stop calling me that, we're partners."

"Then how about…hey, can you see them yet?" Evan asked.

"You're incorrigible," I laughed.

"Can you spell that?"

I loved it when he teased me, and maybe I loved him when he didn't. He would grow up faster now with someone to keep an eye on him. He was an asset to the work I kept telling myself.But perhaps I was also attracted to the bright loving creature that wasn't afraid of heights and enjoyed sitting out under the stars.

So that's me in a nutshell. Brian Lance, Private Investigator with the Lance-Childs Agency…that had a nice ring to it. Someday soon he would be old enough for me to make that change legally, until then the boy was just a perfect fringe benefit.