When I’d ditched my cheating husband and stagnant career in the San Francisco PD to open a private investigation agency in Ireland, I hadn’t envisioned “purveyor of butt bleach” being part of my job description.
Buoyed with enthusiasm after several successful cases, and flush with cash after my divorce, I’d taken out an ad in The Galway Herald. The ad had scored Movie Reel Investigations its first two jobs away from Whisper Island—investigating a series of thefts at a high-end store, and a case of suspected embezzlement at a costume manufacturer.
While Lenny, my childhood-friend-turned-assistant-P.I., used his computer ninja skills at the costume company, I was stuck behind the cosmetics counter at Dennehy’s. Three days into my stint undercover at Galway’s most exclusive department store, I was ready to book a one-way ticket to Mars.
“Your incompetence caused me a serious injury,” the woman on the opposite side of the cosmetics counter said to me. “I expect to be compensated for my suffering.”
I checked the irate customer for obvious signs of crazy-pants. On first inspection, she looked like any other aging trophy wife: caramel highlights, layers of expensive makeup, and mad eyes thanks to an overly enthusiastic facelift.
“Let me get this straight,” I said. “You wanted over-the-counter butt bleach?”
My coworker, Tracey, stifled a snort and shoved her head into a drawer of lipsticks to drown out her laughter.
“I specifically asked for intimate bleach,” the customer snapped, her cheeks turning scarlet. “The stuff you gave me is for facial hair.”
I blew out my cheeks and counted to five before answering. “You asked for a formula that was suitable for bleaching sensitive skin. I assumed you meant your face.”
“I said sensitive areas,” she hissed. “Surely you knew what I meant without me spelling it out for you.”
“You’re walking like a gorilla in heat, so it’s a safe bet I didn’t get the part about you wanting to bleach your butt and pubes.”
Oops. Had I said that out loud? From the gaping expression on the woman’s face and Tracey’s attack of the giggles, that would be a “Yes.”
The customer’s mouth opened and closed, fishlike. “This is outrageous,” she spluttered. “I want to speak to your supervisor at once.”
As if on cue, Nuala Kearns, head of Dennehy’s cosmetics department, slithered into sight. She had the emaciated look of a woman who substituted cigarettes for food—cavernous features, sunken eyes, and lines around her mouth that no amount of expensive makeup could hide.
Nuala’s raisin eyes bored into me before she pulled her thin lips into a smile and addressed the customer. “How may I help you?”
My accuser wasted no time in launching into her litany of complaints. “Your assistant sold me facial hair lightener instead of intimate bleach. The error left me in considerable discomfort. When I complained about her mistake, she called me an ape.”
“Not an ape. I said you were walking like a gorilla in heat.” Nuala cast me a quelling look. Okay, so maybe repeating that last sentence hadn’t been the smartest move, however apt the description. “Hey, it was an honest mistake to make. I thought she wanted to lighten her mustache.”
“How dare you?” The customer quivered with indignation. “I don’t have a mustache. How can—”
“I’m so sorry about this unfortunate chain of events,” Nuala cut in. “On behalf of Dennehy’s department store, I’d like to offer you a store credit for one hundred euros.”
The customer gave a dramatic sob. “I’m in agony. I hardly think one hundred euros is enough to compensate me for the humiliation and pain I’ve endured.”
I rolled my eyes. Talk about overacting. This lady was milking the situation for all she could get.
“Why don’t I speak to the store manager?” Nuala offered in a soothing tone. “I’m sure we’ll be able to come to a satisfactory agreement.”
The customer regarded me with contempt. “As long as the agreement includes firing this fool.”
Whoa. Talk about unfair. “Why should I be blamed for your mistake?” I demanded. “I sold you the product, but it was your responsibility to check it was the item you’d asked for. And you definitely should have read the instructions before you applied it to your private parts.”
Nuala’s reptilian gaze pinned me in place. “That’s enough, Maggie. Go upstairs and wait outside Mr. Dennehy’s office. I’ll be up in a moment.”
I suppressed a groan. I was supposed to work here for at least another week, or for however long it took me to discover which member of staff was systematically stealing from the cash registers.
Ms. Butt Bleach smirked. “Good luck with getting a reference now.”
Her words hit a nerve. I’d recently forked out for a private investigator’s course for Lenny and increased his hours to full-time. My goal with the Dennehy’s job was to use it as a springboard to gain more clients on the mainland—clients who paid better than the average islander.
I unclenched my fists and drew in a deep, calming breath. Without a backward glance at my accuser, I stomped off in the direction of the manager’s office. If I got to him before Nuala did, I might be able to talk myself out of the situation.
From Rebel Without a Claus by Zara Keane, Copyright 2017