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The Innocent Man
by Martin Green
Anyway, when we were growing up in New York City, I had my share of fights with schoolyard bullies who picked on Bobby, not that they’d have to threaten him to get his lunch money, if they’d have given him a sob story he’d have gladly handed it over. Then, when we got to college, Bobby turned out to be not only an innocent but a genius. He got into computers early, made a pile of money, retired at 40 and decided to devote the rest of his life to, what else, helping those less fortunate.
I set up a foundation for him, hired an efficient secretary, Miss Ward, and scrutinized all the appeals for money that were sent in. It was amazing how many of them were phony. Anyway, I pretty well kept Bobby on the right track until the time I had to go overseas for some tricky legal business and that, as I found out when I got back, was when Bobby met Marlene.
It happened at one of those charity dinners to which Bobby was always being invited. Somehow, he’d bumped into her and made her spill her wine. There were the usual apologies, the futile attempts to sponge off the wine, then, at Marlene’s suggestion, an invitation to dinner to make things right. Marlene was young and beautiful. She told Bobby what a nice man he was, how noble he was to give his money to the needy, how she was from a once-wealthy family that had fallen on hard times and that she was forced to work as a saleslady, albeit in an upscale shop, how lucky she felt that Bobby liked little old her. Bobby was hooked.
Of course, the first thing I did when I returned and heard all this was arrange to meet the wonderful Marlene. It was at the foundation’s office.My immediate thought was that this girl was a phony. She was young, although maybe not as young as she made herself out to be, she was blonde (dyed, I thought) and she was a knockout. Bobby looked like a nerd; in fact, a little like Bill Gates, his idol, before Gates had his makeover. Girls like Marlene didn’t immediately fall for guys like Bobby unless it was for his money. And Bobby was a little clumsy, but I’d bet that bump at the charity dinner had been of Marlene’s doing.
When Bobby introduced Marlene to me, she came forward, her little hand extended, and in a little breathless voice told me she was so glad to meet me, she’d heard so much about Bobby’s big brother. She was wearing a tight-fitting dress, a jacket and she carried, Lord help me, one of those little dogs that women like her seem to come equipped with from birth. I put out my hand and the dog growled at me. “Hush, Sadie,” said Marlene, giving the dog a playful slap.
Anyway, we all sat down and, okay, I gave Marlene a little grilling. ’d already done a background check and she indeed was working as a salesgirl, or had been; she’d quit a week ago, to be with Bobby full-time, I guess. I have to admit that Marlene gave all the right answers: she was a vegetarian; she loved animals (like Sadie); she wanted to save the whales, dolphins and baby seals; she thought we had to fight to the death against global warming. After half an hour, she looked at her wristwatch and said, “Oh, we must go. I’m taking Bobby to lunch. Would you believe he’s never been to the Four Seasons?” She swept him away. Miss Ward, sitting at her desk in the outer office, gave me a sympathetic look and shrugged.
The next few weeks went by like a whirlwind. Marlene wanted to marry Bobby as soon as possible. I urged a waiting period, but Bobby wouldn’t hear of it. I told him to at least have a prenuptial agreement. Bobby said he’d already talked to Marlene and she had no objection, proving how sincere she was, and that a pre-nup wasn’t needed as he trusted her completely. The wedding was a small one and the newlyweds went off the next day to some remote place in Mexico that Marlene had found. “We want to have time just for ourselves,” Marlene declared.
Well, I’d tried. I was in the foundation’s office the next morning to look over the records when Miss Ward came in. “You have a phone call. He says it’s urgent.” What now, I thought. The caller identified himself as a private investigator. He wanted to know if it was true that my brother Bobby had married a Marlene Wolfe. When I told him he had, he said, “Your brother is in danger. You have to warn him at once.” I asked him what this was all about.
“Marlene Wolfe was married to (he named a prominent industrialist). He hired me when he suspected she was seeing another man. Then I found out she was planning to kill him.”
“What? I did a background check. There was nothing about all this.”
“Her husband was afraid of the scandal. It was all hushed up and made to go away.”
So that’s why she had to go to work as a saleslady, I thought. “You think my brother is in danger.”
“I wouldn’t take any chances.”
“So why didn’t you contact me sooner?”
“I was in Mexico, on a case. I just happened to see in a Mexican paper that a famous American computer whiz and his new wife were honeymooning at some resort on the coast here.”
I thanked him and hung up. “Miss Ward,” I called out. “Do you know where that honeymoon place is?”
The efficient Miss Ward did and I told her to book the next available flight. She asked if she could come with me and, seeing the look of concern on her face, I said she could. A few hours later we were in a rent-a-car speeding up the Mexican coast, the Mexican Riviera, as it was called. Miss Ward studied her map. “I think that’s it,” she said, pointing to a large building up ahead. I pulled in and we ran to the desk. Yes, said the clerk, the American and his senorita were indeed staying there. No, they were not in their suite. They’d gone for a walk along the cliffs behind the resort.
Miss Ward and I ran behind the hotel and followed the path leading to the cliffs. “There they are,” she said. Bobby and Marlene were standing at the edge, then there was a scene that might have been choreographed out of a Laurel and Hardy movie. Marlene was behind Bobby. She rushed forward, her arms extended. She was going to push him over. Bobby bent down. He was picking up a dog that seemed about to go over the cliff. Yes, it was Sadie. As he bent over, Marlene flew over him and disappeared. Miss Ward and I watched, both stunned.
In a minute, we recovered and ran to Bobby, who was standing stock still, looking out over the cliff’s edge, still holding Sadie. “Marlene must have slipped,” said Bobby. “She went over and down into the ocean. She disappeared.”
Eventually, Marlene’s body was found. We all returned to New York. After a decent interval, I told Bobby about what we’d found out about her. He decided that he’d put almost his entire fortune into his foundation, following the example of his idol Bill Gates, and he promoted Miss Ward to be the foundation’s manager. I had a feeling she’d soon be more than that and that Bobby wouldn’t be needing my protection too much longer.
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