Fiction

Detective Mom

By: Alan Swyer

On a Tuesday evening in March, after getting cold feet three days in a row, Darlene Cook finally made an announcement to her family while serving dinner.

“As you all know,” she told her husband and two kids as they started nibbling on macaroni and cheese, “I’ve been pitching in financially by working part-time at the Shoprite while taking secretarial courses.  But with Jersey’s economy rocky, and dad picking up what he can as a handyman instead of working as a carpenter –”

Realizing that no one is paying attention, Darlene frowned.  “David,” she said to her eleven-year-old son, “out with the earbuds.” 

“Can’t I just eat a Dove Bar?’ David responded.

“No.”  To Darlene’s dismay, thirteen-year-old daughter suddenly grabbed her iPhone and stood.  “Where are you going?” Darlene asked.

“Mindy’s gonna give me the math assignment.”

Watching Erika dash from the kitchen, Darlene sighed.  “Anyway,” she said to her husband and son, “I think it’s time for me to look for a full-time job.”

“As what?” her husband George asked dubiously.

“Filing clerk?” she posited.  “Secretary?  Maybe even office manager?”

“Why not Queen of England?” George responded.

“That supposed to be helpful?” Darlene asked unhappily.

“More like a reality check,” said George.  “Think jobs grow on trees?”

Sadly, George’s negativity proved to be well-founded.  Job-seeking – by phone, via the internet, and in person – yielded rejection, humiliation, plus the far from flattering opportunity to be hit on by the obese brother of a friend who was on the cheerleading squad with her in high school.

Had this been a lark, Darlene likely would have thrown in the towel.  But that her family needed the money was compounded by a desire to deny her husband the satisfaction of saying, “I told you so.”  Over coffee with her two closest pals – Dottie, whose life was as trying as hers, and twice-divorced Joanie, who would have happily traded places with either of them so as to have a difficult husband rather than none at all – Darlene grew even more resolved not to give up the quest.

Darlene’s persistence was rewarded when she found herself being interviewed by two strange but colorful characters:  Phil Woods, who at 6’8” had his basketball career end when he blew out a knee; and Al Damiano, a food-loving ex-offensive lineman at Rutgers.

“What’s the best pizza place in Elizabeth?” Phil asked once the three of them were seated.

“Santillo’s,” answered a perplexed Darlene.

“And the best Italian ice?” inquired Al.

“DiCosmo’s,” replied Darlene.  “How come you’re asking about Elizabeth?”

“It’s where you grew up, right?” said Phil.

“But don’t you want to know about my qualifications?  Or my personal life?”

“According to what you sent, you can type and file,” said Al.  “Plus I assume you can answer the phone.”

Before Darlene could reply, Phil jumped in.  “You’ve got a husband named George, who’s not getting enough construction work, a daughter named Erika, and a son named David.”

“Your best friends are Dottie and Joanie,” added Al.  “You buy groceries at the Shoprite, and get your hair done at the Mane Event.”

“I-is there anything you don’t know?” mumbled Darlene.

“Only,” responded Phil, “whether or not you’ll fit in.  Which is what we’ll try to determine.”

The session, which Darlene, based on past experiences, assumed would last no more than a few minutes, turned out to be close to two hours of hanging out, with the three of them laughing and gabbing as though they’d known each other for ages.

Lo and behold, Darlene found herself with a job.  Eagerly, she rushed home, then made an announcement while serving what she hoped would be a celebratory dinner.  But her ratatouille was nowhere near as well-received as meatballs & spaghetti, mac & cheese, or meatloaf.  Worse was the response when Darlene stated, “Guess who’s now fully employed.”

David, wearing his earbuds, merely shrugged.  Erika, whose sense of appropriate jobs for women included astronauts and rock stars, rolled her eyes.  Most troubling, George, who was wary of any change that would make him less than the primary provider, seemed threatened.

It wasn’t until Darlene barged in on her friend Dottie after dinner that she found someone who shared her excitement.  “In-fucking-credible!” Dottie screamed, giving Darlene a hug. 

It was only when Dottie asked what Phil and Al do that Darlene realized how little she knew, other than that they were investigators.  “Maybe that means they’re private eyes,” Dottie speculated with glee.  “You know, the kind that follow cheating husbands, nail embezzlers, and go after bunco artists.”

The truth, Charlene soon discovered, was considerably different.  Phil and Al, despite their rumpled nonchalance, were ex-DEA agents who dealt primarily with the corridors of power:  major corporations, heavy racketeers, big government.  But for Darlene there were no bragging rights.  Dottie and Joanie, who would have been titillated by tales of infidelity or blackmail, displayed no interest in what Charlene mentioned to them.  At home, where Darlene did her best to maintain peace – and some semblance of the status quo – by making sure dinner was ready at the usual hour, indifference exceeded inquisitiveness. except from Erika.  “How was filing?” she teased every so often.  Or “How was typing?”  Or “Nail any bad guys today?”

But what at first was merely a job – one she was grateful for, with two bosses she liked – suddenly became much more when Phil and Al took on a strange assignment – one that defined for Darlene what they were about.  Reason #1:  the case was brought in by an insurance adjuster named Borowiek, whose kid played soccer with Al’s.  Reason #2:  It sounded like fun.

At issue was a disability claim filed by a policeman named Mike Havanki for the paltry sum of $3,000,000.  The way the system worked, Darlene learned from Phil, was that had the claim been for $30,000, or maybe even $300,000, the insurance company likely would have waged a war of attrition for a couple of months, then paid to get rid of it.  That meant, Phil then explained, that the public would wind up eating a piece of the cost as their own premiums rose.  But $3,000,000?  As Phil put it, “No fucking way!” 

So Darlene got to participate, thanks to phone calls and airline reservations she made, in a scheme in which Havanki was given the opportunity to incriminated himself.

The “incapacitated” cop, whose claim, documented by doctors (a segment of the population Phil and Al lumped with lawyers and deviates) stipulated an inability physically or emotionally to work in the present – or likely in the future – was notified by Darlene that he and his wife were a couple chosen at random to rate hotels as normal Americans, not as professional travel writers.  That meant a four day/three night stay in the Virgin Islands, plus first-class airfare.

Havanki jumped at the chance, departing with his wife as soon as he could.  The resulting videotape of him water-skiing in the Caribbean proved to be all the evidence needed to nullify the claim, while also serving as the source of many laughs for Phil, Al, and Darlene.

Suddenly, what at first was merely a job seemed too exciting to be “work.”  Yet Darlene no longer felt any need to discuss it with Dottie and Joanie, or with her family.  Part of that owed to the fact that the more she was involved, then less of a need she felt to gab.  But more importantly, she felt an increased loyalty to Phil and Al.  To talk about their business seemed a betrayal of the trust.

Darlene’s glee doubled when another disability scam was brought in by Borowiek.  A DJ named Jon Davies, who worked at a New York Christian radio station, alleged that due to a car accident his vocal chords had lost their resonance, making it impossible for him to use a microphone.  Once again, had the claim been realistic, or even quasi-so, the insurance company would have dawdled at first, then settled.  But $1,000,000?  Not a chance.

Darlene’s big moment arrived when Phil’s wife came down with the flu.  Calling home to inform her family that she would have to work late – a bit of role-reversal that tickled her, since it was George who had done so often in the past – Darlene spent an evening as a loving “wife” who accompanied Phil and “their” daughter Jennie to an indoor skating rink.  There, Darlene videotaped father and daughter as they went gliding past the stage where a DJ – Davies, working under an assumed name – played the kind of raucous music never heard at his evangelical station.

Aglow, Darlene returned home to discover that her family was not the least bit thrilled about having had to fend for themselves.  But she was too pumped up to allow their feelings to get to her.  What she wanted, what she lay awake thinking about that night, were other cases in which she could participate.

To her chagrin, Phil and Al turned down the next few offered to them.  Having had a busy couple of years, the notion of taking on anything dreary – sleazeballs busted under the RICO Act, for instance – held little allure for them.  Not when Phil could be coaching his son’s park league basketball team, or Al helping his daughter’s soccer all-stars.  In no time, the respite from new cases became so appealing that they made the decision formal.  Unless brought in by a frequent client, no new cases until further notice.

The only one disappointed was Darlene.  Though the sudden quiet around the office enabled her to use her homemaker’s efficiency to impose a never before seen neatness, there was little excitement in that, or in catching up on magazines.  For the first time in her life she was earning real money – not enough to bring affluence, but enough to silence fears about keeping food on the table and a roof over her family’s heads.  Even enough for her to think about birthdays and next year’s Christmas presents without a sense of dread.  Yet the financial breathing room failed to bring peace of mind or joy.  Though relieved that the mortgage could be paid, blue-collar George was clearly threatened by the change in his household.  So was Erika, who had trouble accepting the new normal.  Only David seemed oblivious, going through life like an eleven-year-old boy, which meant like a visitor from another planet.

The one for whom the changes were toughest was Darlene.  Torn between the past – the person she was for most of her life – and the future – the person she wanted to be – she began to have real problems with the present.  She found herself growing edgy and impatient whenever she was around George and the kids, or even Dottie and Joanie.  It was as though, having burst forth from the time warp that enveloped her since high school, the channel for her energies had been ripped away.  Nor was there anyone one to talk to, since nobody close to her could even begin to understand. 

One night, while she was getting ready for bed, George, perplexed by her funk, asked if she had some kind of female problem.

“Why,” Darlene responded, “when you’ve got work on your mind, are you allowed to be silent and moody?  But if I’m distracted, that’s a female problem?”

It wasn’t just her husband, however, who leaped to the conclusion that Darlene’s funk had to do with sex.  At the beauty parlor the next Saturday, Darlene nearly exploded when Joanie asked if she was being weird because of a rocky affair.

Darlene came to realize to what degree her frame of mind was tied into events at the office, or the lack thereof, when a woman showed up in tears on a Wednesday morning.  And not just any woman – the wife of the mayor of a Jersey waterfront town called Weehauken.

Tough as they appeared, Phil and Al were at their most vulnerable when an underdog was being wronged.  And Mrs. Doyle’s tale was of a scalding on a monumental scale.  Her husband was being forced to take a fall that would put him behind bars – and likely put his wife and kids in the poor house – for a scheme he never wanted to be part of. 

The plan was to gentrify the once-gritty Weehauken waterfront in much the same way as its formerly dangerous neighbor Hoboken:  with office buildings, condos, etc.  But unlike Hoboken, where revivification evolved organically, in Wee

hauken there was a master plan.  As explained by Brenda Doyle, the paln was masterminded, then shoved down peoples’ throats – including Mayor Doyle’s – by racketeers and union bosses whose scheme involved everything from issuing city bonds, to over-inflating bids from contractors forced to fork over kickbacks.  But when, as was often the case where greed reigns, someone not getting a big enough piece of the action blew the whistle to the Justice Department, it became necessary – both for the project to stay afloat, and for the masterminds to avoid public scrutiny – to offer a sacrificial lamb. That meant someone who could be fingered for both responsibility and culpability:  Mayor Brian Doyle.

“Why didn’t the mayor himself come in?” Darlene asked once Mrs. Doyle was gone.

“Because if he did –” began Phil.

“And the powers-that-be found out –” chimed in Al.

“He’d soon be the late mayor, may he rest in peace,” announced Phil.

Though moved by the tale of woe, Phil and Al promised no more than to think the situation over.  Once Mrs. Doyle was gone, Darlene learned that the mayor was far from an innocent.

“Nobody gets elected in a town like that by being squeaky clean,” Phil stated, adding that the racketeers and bosses who wanted to offer Doyle up as a sacrificial lamb had not suddenly come into his life.  It was their backing that enabled Doyle to move up the ranks of local politics. Making him no choirboy or Eagle Scout.

“But even if he’s a little shady,” added Phil, “he always been an okay guy.”

“Which means?” asked Darlene.

“There’s no way in the world,” said Phil, “he deserves to be railroaded.”

Based upon what she heard, plus what she had come to know about Phil and Al, Darlene assumed they would take on the case.  But despite their sense of fair play, plus their compassion for Mrs. Doyle, the decision to forego new cases seemed to hold.  So Darlene, identifying with Mrs. Doyle and her kids, began to campaign.  Day after day, she worked on her bosses’ sympathies, pleading on behalf of the mayor’s wife and kids.

Eventually Phil and Al agreed begrudgingly to consider taking on the case.  That meant that they needed, effective immediately, someone who could go undercover. 

“Why not you two?” Darlene asked.

“Too well-known there,” answered Phil.

“Too conspicuous,” added Al.

They needed someone someone nonthreatening.  And unfamiliar.  But calls they placed to the the operatives they sometimes employed yielded nothing.

Not surprisingly, Darlene, eager to help and hungry for adventure, volunteered.  Her offer, even less surprisingly, was rejected. 

“This isn’t fun, like videotaping at a skating rink,” explained Phil, adding that it could be a long-term foray into dangerous waters, where any slip could be disastrous.

Darlene, however, was not easily deterred.  As Phil and Al continued their search for an operative to go undercover, she kept up her pursuit of the assignment. 

Partially because of her persistence, but also because there seemed to be no one else, the two investigators ultimately relented to the point where they were willing to work with her – to “turn her out” to see how she performed.  Yet still there were strong words of caution.  If they agreed to supply her with a new identity, that plus the mission itself had to remain a total secret.  Should her husband find out and blab, should her kids talk to their friends, should Dottie or Joanie or anyone else know – there was no limit as to how awful the consequences might be.

Operative-in-training by day, wife and mother by night, Darlene went through a curriculum she never could have anticipated.  First, complete with ID’s and a comprehensive bio, an identity was created:  that of a wealthy widow named Nancy McCabe ripe to be played for a sucker – a commodity much in demand due to the Justice Department’s cloud, plus the urgency to attract new capital.  Second, Darlene, who was hardly accustomed to the world of investigations, was briefed, and briefed, and briefed some more.  First came the “late Mr. McCabe’s” investments.  Next, the financial advisers and attorneys “Mrs. McCabe” could call upon.  Then the people she would likely meet initially, plus the need to get past them to the those she needed to reach for the quest to be fruitful.

As the adventure began to look less like an exercise and more like a reality, Darlene was reminded again and again that what was at risk was not just the Doyle family’s future, but hers and her family’s as well.  If a screw-up occurred, if she slipped, if it came to light that she was not Nancy McCable, the guys behind the Weehauken scam were not likely to forgive and forget.  Her car could be fire-bombed.  Her house could be torched.  Her life, her husband’s life, and even her kids’ lives could be rendered worthless, or terminated.

Darlene tried not to flinch or balk, but that wasn’t enough for Phil and Al.  They forced her to think about the potential consequences – to confront them head-on – by cutting off the preparations and sending her home early to reflect.

Though she tried to be tough, Darlene was shaky as she headed home.  When she turned onto her block and saw George out in the street catching for David, whose goal was to pitch for his Little League team, she could not help but wonder if it was fair to put her family at risk. 

That evening, just when she was on the verge of tossing in the towel, Erika, who had been so difficult of late, joined her in the kitchen.  Some girls at school, including a few she considered friends, had been bugging a black girl named Adrina Hammons.  What started as good-natured teasing inevitably crossed the line into cruelty, which Erika wanted no part of.  Yet she feared that if she didn’t join in, she’d wind up ostracized.

Pleased to have a moment of intimacy with her daughter, Darlene spoke from her heart.  “Trust your feelings,” she said,  “And do what’s right.”

“Think so?” asked Erika.

“You bet,” answered Darlene.  “It’s more important to help someone than to worry about so-called friends.”

The advice given to her daughter made it clear to Darlene what she, herself needed to do.

The next morning she faced Phil and Al with her decision:  she wanted to save the Doyle family.

Rehearsals resumed, leading to quizzes, then trial situations.  Next came the establishment of an apartment, which was furnished with doctored memorabilia, plus an appropriate car:  a late model Cadillac.

For Darlene, it was the experience of a lifetime:  more difficult than anything she could remember, but so thrilling she could barely believe it was happening.  There was no longer a need for her family to worry about her being impatient, though she did at times seem preoccupied.  Nor was there any reason for Dottie and Joanie to fret about whether she was edgy, though she did occasionally seem tired, as well as more serious than usual.

In her new identity as Nancy McCabe, Darlene was sent into Manhattan:  first to Tiffany’s, where she was instructed to buy the kind of bracelet she would never in a million years buy as Darlene.  Then to a beauty salon bearing no resemblance to the one in Cranford.  Then finally to the Four Seasons, to Phil and Al for lunch.  There, over her first taste of caviar, Darlene/Nancy was told she had graduated.

Before the assignment began in earnest, complete with a pay hike held for later so as not to arouse George’s suspicions, Darlene was reminded again of the risks.  The guys she would be meeting were not two-bit cheats like Havanki the cop, or Davies the DJ.  They were racketeers, union leaders, and likely even politicos, capable of serious violence. 

Having already contemplated the potential consequences, Darlene was too confident, determined, and pumped to be deterred. 

The opportunity was what she wanted, and at last it was hers.

At home that night, Darlene could barely keep her excitement in check.  But once in bed, everything changed.  While George snored beside her, she tossed and turned in a cold sweat until she finally tiptoed into the living room.  There, an unlikely party who consoled her:  David, who woke up hungry and found his mom pacing.

With no clue as to what was troubling her, David gave Darlene a hug.  “Remember what you used to tell me when I was little?” he asked.

“Remind me.”

“In the morning, everything’ll be all right.”

David’s promise proved to be prophetic.  Once the sun rose, Darlene made breakfast for her family, then set out.  But instead of heading to the office, she went to her “new” apartment.  There she assumed her alternate identity.  Then off drove the undercover operative in the rented Cadillac.

Frightened, yet alive in an unimaginable new way, Mrs. McCabe was introduced into the Weehauken as a potential investor – code for a wealthy sucker – by a wheeler-dealer named Sinclair, who was tipped about her by a banker friend of Phil’s.

Almost immediately, Darlene found that as her mentors warned, whenever she expressed the tiniest bit of inquisitiveness, Sinclair – and those he introduced her to – immediately recoiled.  When, in contrast, she feigned reluctance vis-a-vis the investment opportunity, suggesting that perhaps she ought to follow her advisors’ advice and keep her money in blue-chip stocks and bonds, more information was offered.

In the eyes of her husband and kids, the days that followed seemed to be peachy for Darlene, who was more careful than ever to serve dinner with a smile.  But what George, Erika, and David failed to realize was that while sometimes the smile was real, often it wasn’t.  Despite all the prep time, coaching, and rehearsing, there was no way in the world for Darlene to comprehend how weird, bizarre, and complicated a double-life would be.  Sometimes she found herself living, thinking, and acting like Nancy McCabe; other times like Darlene Cook.  But most difficult were the moments of confusion, when she wasn’t sure who exactly she was.

It was at those times, when tired, distracted, or operating out of habit, that a slip-up was most likely.  Worse was the knowledge that if a slip at home could be dangerous, in Weehauken a flub could spell doom.

As Darlene/Nancy’s sphere of contacts in Weehauken grew, so did the contrast increase between her world by day and the one she inhabited at night, until the pressure became monumental.  When she was in Weehauken one Thursday morning and heard someone call “Darlene,” she involuntarily turned and was about to speak when suddenly she managed to restrain herself.  The next day, while stopping at the Shoprite on her way home, she nearly freaked when someone else yelled “Nancy!”

The result was that at times Darlene felt herself sliding into a state of mind that resembled schizophrenia.  What she needed above all was someone to talk to.  Yet she could not tell her family or friends.  Nor was she willing to approach Phil or Al, for fear they might yank her off the case.  So, excited about her mission, but at times more isolated than she ever imagined, Darlene forced herself to stay on track, struggling as never before to maintain some semblance of normalcy.

After a few exploratory meetings, Darlene’s search for the real powers in the Weehauken scam hit a wall.  Of the people she’d met, not a single one seemed to be connected in more than superficially. 

Fearing that the impasse owed to her shortcoming, which meant that Mayor Doyle stood no chance of being exonerated,  Darlene announced to Phil and Al that she had let everyone down.

Not surprisingly, Al, who was never fully convinced, was not the least bit reluctant to forget everything.  But Phil brought up the notion of “seed” money, allowing Darlene, who wanted desperately to continue, to agree that spending might indeed make a difference.

It was a heady experience for Darlene, even as Nancy McCabe, to write a check for $10,000.  But to her dismay, nothing significant emerged until she was introduced to a guy named Lou Peretta who was reputed to have ties to a mobster named Sal “the Rainman” Rainone. 

Tall and handsome, with a Jersey accent and slicked-back hair, Peretta responded instantly to Nancy McCabe, and not just as someone to be fleeced.  Smitten, he tried to wine and dine her.  Thwarted, he responded exactly as Phil hoped he would:  by trying to impress her with how much – and who – he knew.

So enamored was Peretta that one afternoon he tried to follow the object of his affection.  Spotting him in her rear-view mirror as she headed toward her rented abode, Darlene couldn’t help but feel an even greater appreciation of Phil and Al’s foresight and preparation.

After sweet-talking his way into the apartment, Peretta questioned nothing – not the photos  nor the mementos.  Though flattered by his attention, and in truth somewhat excited, Darlene managed to deflect Peretta’s amorous desires by crying. 

“It’s too soon,” she sobbed.

“Too soon how?” asked Peretta.

“Too soon after my husband’s death.”

Determined to help the object of his affection through her period of mourning, Peretta tried to wow her by promising not just a meeting with “the Rainman,” Sal Rainone, but also a dinner with the true mastermind of the deal:  State Senator Tim Farlow.

For Darlene, this was a revelation.  But even she was unprepared for the response from Phil and Al.  No one – not her, not her bosses, nor even Mrs. Doyle – thought that the corruption extended beyond the city or county level. 

State Senator Tim Farlow was another order of magnitude, a rising star touted as a future presidential candidate.

Feeling alive as never before, Darlene got home much late than anticipated, only to receive an unpleasant reality check.  Erika and David, who dined on take-out food, were worried.  Worse, upon smelling cigar smoke on his wife’s clothes, George assumed she’d been cheating. 

Though there was a part of her that wanted to blast her husband for having so little faith, Darlene remained someone who believed – or at least wanted to believe – in the importance of family.  Moreover, the time was hardly right for the kind of disruption that would have been engendered by moving out.

Unable to risk coming clean, Darlene found herself placating George with assurances and half-truths.  Then came a period of playing possum as her husband made clumsy attempts to follow her, to Phil and Al’s office the next few mornings.

Having called Peretta to explain that she had to take an unexpected trip, Darlene spent a frustrating week doing what she had initially been hired to do:  answering the phone and filing.

More than she ever thought possible, Darlene missed the thrill of being undercover.  Just how badly she missed it became apparent when a poker buddy of George’s invited them to dinner at an Italian restaurant in Hoboken.

Concerned about the proximity to Weehauken, especially in her real identity, Darlene tried to duck the rendezvous, going so far as to fake a migraine.  But with George adamant, off they went to meet Billy Leonard and his wife Gwen.

For Darlene, having grown accustomed to playing the free-spending operative in the company of politicos and racketeers, every minute with George and the Leonards felt like three hours.

Worse, she nearly went into a panic when a heavyset friend of Peretta’s named Lattanzio waddled past their table.  Fortunately, dressed as working-class Darlene Cook, she barely received a glance, enabling her to make it through the evening without fainting or screaming.

When the coast cleared, back to Weehauken went Darlene.  To her delight, Lou Peretta came through:  a dinner was scheduled with Senator Farlow.

Wired for sound – and emotionally as well – Darlene/Nancy attended the dinner, which turned into a drunken good time for the guys, plus a bonanza for her.  The more wine he consumed, the more Tarlow grandstanded.  Bragging about the financial killing to be made, he gloated about putting the package together, then snickered about eliminating every obstacle.

Darlene could barely wait to deliver the recording to Phil and Al.  But first came finding a way to escape from Peretta, who accompanied her on a trip to the ladies room, then backed her against a wall.

Fearing what would happen if Peretta discovered the wire, Darlene once again tried tears.  But drunk, Peratta was too lustful to be sympathetic or patient.  Like an animal, he latched onto her.  When she tried to pull away, he threw her onto a dusty sofa.

Quivering, Darlene scrambled to her feet as Peretta approached, pleading, begging, then trying to elude him.  But Peretta grabbed her.  When she once more struggled to break free, he smacked her once, then again.

Afraid she would be raped and murdered, then thrown into the Hudson River, Darlene was petrified when Peretta again flung her across the room. 

She crashed into a bridge table, which shattered under the impact, sending the books, papers, glue, a scissors, and coffee cups that were on it flying. 

Seeing Peretta come toward her like a man possessed, Darlene reached for something… anything… and grabbed hold of the scissors.  As Peretta tried to rip off her dress, Darlene thrust the scissors forward, piercing his neck.

Peretta gasped, then clutched his bleeding wound, enabling Darlene to run for dear life.

When Darlene got home after giving the recording to Phil and Al, she was battered and drained, physically and emotionally.  But though it was late, her kids were still up, anticipating a record-setting eruption from their father. 

But it was rage rather than jealousy that surged forth from George, it was rage.  All he wanted was to go after the guy who messed with his wife.

Despite her condition, Darlene persuaded the kids to got to bed, then begged George to trust her.  “When you learn where I was,” she said, “and what I did, you’ll be proud.”

She assured her husband that the events of the night – and the last few weeks – had nothing to do with cheating or romance.  “It was work,” she insisted, “meaningful work that I promise to tell you about as soon as I can.”

Seeing George hesitate, she spoke again.  “If you love me, you’ll have to wait.”

To Darlene’s surprise, George accepted everything she said.  Lovingly, he drew her a bath, cleaned and bandaged her wounds, then took her by surprise by admitting his own shortcomings.

“I know I’ve been a pain in the butt,” George acknowledged, “and only a so-so provider,” which Darlene understood to be painful admissions from a blue-collar guy like her husband.

“Know what?” he then stated.  “I wouldn’t blame you if you were seeing someone else.”

Deeply moved, Darlene recognized how much he loved her.  And, despite their problems, how much she loved him.

The results of Darlene’s efforts as an operative were almost instantaneous.  Tipped by Phil and Al of Farlow’s involvement in the Weehauken gentrification scam, a reporter for the Bergen County Record broke the front-page story. 

The Senator wasted no time in claiming that he was the victim of scurrilous lies.  Issuing a statement of denial, plus a promise to sue for defamation, he took off for the Caribbean on a scuba trip.

When, two days later, Tim Farlow was reported lost at sea, Darlene was stunned to see TV and print coverage praising his achievements and lamenting his loss.

Just when it looked like Darlene’s labor was for naught, Phil and Al, armed with her findings, headed off in pursuit. 

While Darlene worked on establishing a new and improved relationship with her husband and kids, Phil and Al called in with information regularly as they followed a trail that led to the other end of the world:  New Zealand. 

Under an assumed name, they found the erstwhile State Senator, who was very much alive.

Extradited, Senator Farlow was brought before a Grand Jury, where the star witness was the “glamorous widow” who played the key role in bringing him down.

In the aftermath, Darlene was hugged Brenda Doyle, whose gratitude made her feel prouder than ever.

That evening, back home as wife and mom, Darlene was again needled by her daughter.  “So,” asked Erika, “when are you going to do something interesting with your life?” Thinking

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