On the last three outings Matthew Barstow had beat her into the pet grooming center and disappeared by the time she got there.
“Oh, Mr. Bartstow uses our back door as a short cut. Says it saves him a few steps.” Sheila, the owner of the shop, leaned over the counter and whispered to Randi. “If you ask me, he could use the exercise.” She winked.
“Where does he go?”
A puzzled look crossed Sheila’s face and she shrugged. “I don’t think he goes anywhere, just shaving time off his walk, I guess.” She reached into a small pet crate and pulled out a white ball of fur with fangs and carried it to the shampoo station. A bright pink tongue snaked out of the fluff and licked Sheila’s hand.
Randi cringed and busied herself pretending to shop the pet accessory section as she waited for Matthew to show up. As she perused the selection of dog collars she avoided eye contact with Sheila who was watching her with piqued curiosity.
“Do you even own a pet, Randi?” One eyebrow cocked as she waited.
“Um…yeah…Tater, my cat. I’m just checking out the cost of canine paraphernalia, see if I want to make the investment.”
“Hmmm.” Sheila squinted, unconvinced.
The tiny bell over the door jangled and Barstow walked in and tipped his head to Sheila as he bee-lined through the store and right out the back door. Randi ducked behind the shelving.
“See, he doesn’t even slow down.” Sheila called over her shoulder as a large puff of suds flew onto her chest when the ball suddenly vibrated.
With the shop owner preoccupied, Randi took off after her payday. This was the closest she’d gotten to him in all these weeks and she wasn’t about to lose him. But then, how fast could the chub walk?
She stepped out into the alley and stopped. Matthew Barstow was gone.
Randi took a minute to evaluate the rear entrances lining the alley. Across the way were a few offices; Dr. Ben Sind- dentist, Maribel’s Dress Shop, Pressed Flesh Massage, and Valley Bank on the corner. She knew the rear doors to the dentist and the bank were employee only entrances and the massage therapist was vacationing Aruba. That left Maribel’s Dress Shop, which made no sense.
Maribel was near seventy years old and she didn’t have anyone working for her, so unless Mr. B had taken to trying on women’s clothing…aw…nix that, she would have heard about that in this town. Like Duane down at the auto body shop, everybody knew he trannied on the weekends.
Randi stood in the middle of the alley with her hands on her hips as she scanned the other direction. A small handwritten sign over the door to the old video rental store caught her eye. She walked over to read it: Miss Lee’s Nails – no appointment needed.
Randi stood in the alley and stared at the door. She could hear a bit of traffic driving on the streets at each end of the alley as she pondered what Matt could be doing in the nail salon. A vision of unadvertised services being offered and practiced in the back room of the establishment had Randi’s face heating up. Lewd imaginings popped into her head and she began to panic. How was she supposed to explain that to the Betty? She slapped the palm of her hand against her temple.
No! Not in Mt. Ouisco!
She reigned in her rambling mind and entered the shop.
It was a big place with more floor space than Randi remembered. Spa inspired photos of beautiful feet and hands lined one wall. There were four manicure tables and four grand pedicure thrones—the kind with massaging jets in the foot tub. It was impressive. It was a big step up from the portable plastic basins used by the other salons in town.
“Hello.” A petite Asian woman approached her. “What you need, Honey?” She said in broken English. Randi didn’t know what to say because there was no sign of Barstow. Just as she was about to ask about the big man, Mr. B came out of the restroom in the corner and another employee greeted him.
“Hello Mr. Bahso.” Matthew looked at Randi and his face flushed red. He looked away and followed the little woman. “You want usual, Mr. Bahso?”
Matthew climbed up into a pedi-throne, took his shoes and socks off and plunged them into bubbling water.
“Miss? What you want?”
Randi’s attention returned to the woman standing before her. “I’ll take a pedicure.”
“Okay, honey. Pick color, pick color.” She shooed Randi with a wave of the hand to a wall of polish and left her to fill the foot tub next to Mr. Barstow.
Randi pretended to study a hot pink nail lacquer called Crazy Lips and Swinging Hips as she ascended her throne.
Barstow nodded to her as she stuck her feet in the water.
“How you feet today, Mister?” The manicurist asked him.
He smiled warmly at her. “Great. Better every week, Sue.”
“That good, that real good.”
Matthew Barstow looked over at Randi. “I’ve been coming here for a couple of months now. I’ve got bad feet.”
He nodded. “Painful bunions, fallen arches, calluses.” He leaned toward her. “And you can probably tell…I can’t reach down to cut my nails anymore.” He sighed. “But I’m not about to ask my wife to do it. I mean, I know our vows said through sickness and health but there’s no way I would expect my sweet Betty to work on these bad dogs.” He winked. “I’m not that guy.”
Randi bit her lip to keep from laughing.
She didn’t know how the frugal Mrs. Barstow would feel about paying her investigation fee, minus the pedicure of course. But, it would be better than the guilt of suspecting her husband was cheating when he only wanted to spare her the trouble of clipping his toenails.