Bob loved a mystery. He'd been teethed on Sherlock Holmes and Nero Wolfe and Miss Marple. He'd weaned on Sam Spade and Phillip Marlowe. He'd played all the childhood games, mastering "Clue" while in grade school.. He'd become a Junior Detective. He'd secretly sleuthed around the neighborhood as a kid, solving imaginary crimes. Yes, Bob - even at twenty-two - still loved a good mystery more than anything else in the world. Well, except Lisa, of course. So, when this very new and very real mystery revolved around his beloved new bride, it became utterly irresistible.

She'd become, well, not exactly moody, but prone to long moments of distraction involving a seriousness not normally part of her playful persona. Lisa was consistently bright and buoyant, almost giddy. She often joked that she should have been born blonde, not brunette. Not that she was in any way dumb. She'd made the dean's list all the way through her degree in hotel management. But for her to spend a half hour staring vacantly into space nearly every afternoon before she left for work, her lovely triangular features slack and nearly frowning, as if she were re-living some dark memory - or struggling to remember one - was totally out of character.

It worried Bob slightly, especially since she protested that he was utterly imagining the whole thing. Denial was also at odds with her normal nearly confrontational approach to life. He supposed it could all be attributed to having been promoted to evening manager of the upscale French restaurant where she worked. It could have been, but the shamus buried deep in his bones thought not. A hunch, he thought, with no little glee. So, more than he was worried about Lisa's welfare, he was puzzled. He nearly rubbed his hands in anticipation as five o'clock neared and she busied herself getting ready for work.

He'd practiced following people since junior high school, and he was confident he could tail his lovely wife without discovery. Still, he laid back a little further than he should, perhaps, and was separated from his quarry by a misjudged stoplight. As it turned out, no harm, no foul. Her car was parked in the mall lot, near the side entrance of Frere Cher, where it always was. Bob leisurely took up his position on a bench in the mall proper, shielded from his wife's workplace by the plethora of indoor greenery flanking his seat, but with a clear view through the lush fronds.

After thirty uneventful minutes, he ambled to his second vantage point, another bench, this time on the mezzanine walkway. Much further removed from the entry to Frere Cher, but adequate. Sitting idly in one place for too long would attract attention, something anyone on stakeout had to avoid. From this height, he had an unobstructed view of the trendy shops flanking the restaurant's arched entry. Lisa's office door remained firmly closed, and Bob's attention drifted as boredom set in. The after-work rush of hurried shoppers was thinning, leaving a higher percentage of aimless teenagers hanging around. He began playing people-watching games, ascribing histories to people based on their appearance and actions.

The kids were easy. The boy with the unkempt dark hair and clownishly baggy pants had problems at home and was delaying his return as long as possible. The red headed girl was obviously trying her best to fit in with the flock of girls she was cruising with, and having a miserable time.

At first he thought the spectacular blonde, her curled silvery mane depending nearly to her waist and bouncing with every stride, was another teen, despite her tailored black vinyl dress and towering stiletto heels. As she approached the throng of kids, several leered at her familiarly, and there was an exchange of words, apparently banter. But she seemed interested only in a light for her cigarette, bending from the waist to accept it in what must have been a magnificent display of cleavage. Bob was too far away to appreciate it. All he saw as she turned was a red slash of lips and large, dark eyes. With total disregard of the frequent no smoking signs, she tapped her sinuous way down a side aisle and vanished from sight.

With a start, Bob realized it was time to move back to position A. For the next half hour, with Lisa's door still solidly closed, he daydreamed about being a private detective, and having the mysterious, sexy platinum blonde as his first client.

When the door of the manager's office suddenly opened, Bob's attention instantly snapped back to reality. It wasn't Lisa stepping through it though, sheaf of papers in hand. It was Todd Williams, the disheveled, paunched middle-aged man she'd replaced two weeks before. What's he doing there, Bob's mind demanded. Lisa said he'd been promoted to the main downtown location.

With sudden suspicion, Bob grabbed his cell phone and punched in the restaurant's number. It was disorienting, watching Williams grab the phone off the wall and speak into it, hearing the slightly exasperated voice so clearly in his ear.

"Lisa," he croaked. "Lisa Evans -"

"She's out sick. Has been all week, maybe next week, too. Tests or something. Anybody else help you?"

Bob couldn't remember what he said before clicking the phone off. He sat there, staring stupidly at it, for too long. Then, with an alacrity totally undetective-like, he bolted for the parking lot.

Lisa's car, of course, wasn't there.

He'd driven aimlessly for an unknown period of time, blindly, without method, looking for the five year old Toyota his wife drove. He'd dialed their home phone repeatedly, hanging up on the sound of his own melodious voice on the answering machine. Finally, he'd made the voyage back to their newly bought and remodeled craftsman bungalow a mere five miles from the mall. He paced. He fidgeted. He tried to consider the puzzle logically. He failed miserably, degenerated into uncontrolled, fearful fantasy.

He'd fallen asleep on the sofa, where Lisa found him at two that morning. She smiled lovingly down at his nearly childlike appearance, curled into himself, innocent, vulnerable, and peaceful as the angel he was. Her intent was to awaken him with a gentle kiss.

He awoke with a shout that was nearly a scream, and pushed violently against whatever dream monster was trying to suffocate him. Bolt upright, eyes huge with fright, he saw Lisa sprawled akimbo on the carpet, staring at him in astonishment.

"My God, honey! I'm so sorry," he exclaimed, hurrying to help her onto the sofa. "Jesus, are you okay?"

"Fine. Just a little stunned." She ran a gentle hand over his flushed face. "How about you? What was that all about?"

"Nothing. Bad dream I guess." It was then that he remembered what had happened before the dream, inspired it, in all likelihood. He studied her critically. "You're sure you're alright? You feel okay?"

"Fine. Tired is all. You must be coming down with that bug I had. What say we snuggle up in a real bed, husband?" She grinned impishly, ran her hand down his chest. "See what comes up?"

But nothing came up that night for Bob.

The following day had been normal. So normal that to Bob it had been tinged with an eerie quality. Except for two episodes of "daydreams," Lisa had been merely Lisa.

He'd had every opportunity to talk to her. All day to ask the simple questions that'd have resolved the issue once and for all. He hadn't been able to find the words. He'd asked suitably leading questions about her previous night's work, and received appropriate, detailed, absolutely non-evasive answers that had to be patent lies. But they were delivered with such a complete sincerity and normalcy that he was unable to accuse her, to demand her true whereabouts, to confront her with her deception. And, given her free-spiritedness and the number of discussions they'd had about the immense value of trust, how could he confess to having followed her?

Besides, there had to be an answer to the riddle that explained everything. A logical reason, something valiant to justify Lisa's untruths. He'd ferret it out before she had a chance to reveal it. He'd unravel the Gordian knot in secrecy, then act perfectly surprised when she gifted him with truth. He'd follow her again, and by God, this time he wouldn't lose sight of her.

And he didn't, either. A religious two cars behind her, he'd made it through two close lights, and rolled to a surreptitious stop a row away from her in the vast mall parking lot. It'd taken little effort to maintain sight of her forest green business suit and still stay out of her line of vision thanks to the five o'clock throng around them. But she'd turned right into the main courcourse of the building, not made the left which would take her to Frere Cher. He'd come close to missing her as she turned, like any casual shopper, into a boutique featuring very racy, almost goth-style fashions he'd barely noticed before.

By the time he established a clear and safe vantage point, she was out of sight behind a tall clothes rack. He watched studiously for twenty minutes. Uneasiness grew in him. He didn't see her again. He cast about for another surveillance point, and settled upon the spot on the mezzanine he'd used the evening before.

The boutique wasn't as busy as its neighbors. It's customers seemed to be almost universally teenagers moving on the fringe of society. Young women with spiked orange and blue hair, sporting tattoos and piercings. Young men in leather who looked unclean. Why had Lisa gone in? That certainly wasn't her style. And why hadn't she reappeared? No reasonable answers presented themselves.

The only event of moment was when the blonde made her entrance. Or exit, actually. She emerged from the hair salon next door to the boutique. Bob got a much better look at her this time. She was stunning, in a rawly sexual way. Tonight she wore red - leather, lipstick, and nails. The dress was even tighter than the evening before, emphasizing a minuscule waist and impressive bosom, a taught round derriere leaping provocatively with each scarlet-heeled stride. Again, she marched straight to the flock of teens gathered around the central fountain. Again, she displayed herself while one lit her cigarette. Again, she swayed away down the side-aisle toward the parking lot.

After ten more minutes, Bob made his move. Heart hammering lest he be discovered, he hazarded the interior of the boutique, fending off bizarrely attired and made-up salesgirls. If his wife was still in the store, she was in the back. Doing what? He loitered as long as he dared. The mall was nearly deserted. He decided it'd be smarter to wait in his car, catch her as she came outside.

He broke his hurried stride as he saw her parking space was vacant. There was no way she could have gotten past him! None!.

He spent another hopeless night at home. This time, he stayed awake. Headlights flashed across the wall at precisely two-eleven in the morning. Lisa was right on time, and surprised to find him waiting up. She was, again, normal. Perfectly normal. They'd had a busy night, and that idiot Ramone had ordered twice the amount of swordfish they needed for the next nights entree, and only half the mushrooms required for Henri's specialty. They'd nearly come to blows over it.

Bob feigned sleep when the lights went out, but for him there was none.

She fussed over him the entire morning, tried to get him to see their doctor. He was snippish. By afternoon, she'd withdrawn from his bad temper. They parted without their ritual kiss for the first time since their wedding.

Bob felt feverish and exhausted. He cursed traffic all the way to the mall. He pushed rudely through the usual crowd inside. Again she turned into the boutique. Again she vanished. This time, he waited in the car, glassy, heavy-lidded eyes focused on his wife's vehicle. He may have dozed briefly. Certainly what happened had a dreamlike quality. A faint flare of light inside the Toyota sharpened his vision, but did little for his fatigue clouded wits. The interior light. She was in her car, starting the engine. He fumbled for his own keys. No. It wasn't her. This woman had cascades of platinum hair, had a cigarette dangling between her lips as she rocketed from her parking space, gave a crude, scarlet-nailed finger to the car she cut off and nearly sideswiped.

He shook his head. Not Lisa. Must have been watching the wrong car. No. It was the right car, just not the right driver. The Toyota was long out of sight before Bob decided he should have followed her.

Logic is an awesome tool. By the time she arrived home, he had a working solution puzzled out. She was doing bookkeeping or consulting for the boutique, illicitly drawing sick-pay from the Chere Frere. Saving money for something important. A vacation, most probably. To Bermuda, where they hadn't been able to go on their honeymoon. The blonde must work at the salon next door. Lisa had loaned her the car for some reason.

She thought he still looked terrible. His good humor reassured her, despite the brittleness of his tone. She was pretty sure he must be catching whatever it was she'd had. But it was good to be made love to again, even though he did do it like a rabbit, leaving her unsatisfied. She felt slightly ashamed of herself as she drifted off to sleep. How could she think that about the only man she'd ever known?

He slept the entire next day. Lisa tiptoed around the house, spent far more time lost in her warm, pleasant daydreams. She could never remember them clearly, but they left her with the impression of sensuality, of heat. She berated herself mildly for harboring school-girlish fantasies as she went about her daily day. At one point, she came back to reality feeling slightly breathless and damp between the thighs. She giggled quietly. Actually, they were kind of fun. They made her feel different, more alive. Life could be so drab, sometimes. Her existence was blessed, she knew - great job, great husband, gorgeous little home. She was totally happy. But . . .

Bob had put on his clothes, but stayed beneath the blankets when Lisa came in to gently kiss his supposedly sleeping cheek before she left. He leapt from bed the instant the front door closed behind her. He was speeding after her before she rounded the corner, headed for the freeway.

This time, he was close - dangerously so - as she entered the boutique. Victory! She walked straight to a rear door and vanished into the back area of the shop. Nodding with sage satisfaction, Bob positioned himself to witness confirming event number two. Twenty-odd minutes later, that, too came to pass. The tawdry blonde vixen, back in black, but this time a skin-clinging catsuit, stalked her high-heeled way toward the front of the salon, obviously exchanging banter with a couple of beauticians. She paused at the station nearest the mall entrance to fluff her vast mane and refresh her gleaming lips. Then it was directly to the teens for a light. And, as per normal, the sensual strut off the main concourse.

This time, it was right past Bob, less than ten feet away. The gaze she laid upon him was sweltering. Her shockingly green eyes, framed by layers of mascara, hooded by grey and silver shadow, pierced him. Her brilliant scarlet lips parted slightly, shaped a vague promise of a smile, as she exhaled a plume of smoke in his direction. Her face was angular, almost harsh.

He felt himself tremble with a strange blend of animalistic desire and primitive fear. That was one incredibly dangerous woman. He knew it his guts. Being with her would do things to a man, change him in unfathomable ways. Once you'd been with her - fucked her - your life would never quite be the same.

She vanished again in Lisa's car. It must be a nightly arrangement. Bob was certain that if he was here at his wife's quitting time, the succubus would reappear, and plain old Lisa would adjust the seat and climb behind the wheel of the car made fragrant by the blonde's cigarettes and perfume.

Plain old Lisa? He shook himself. His beloved was anything but plain. Her face wasn't as foxish and sharp, her eyes not so uncannily green, but sans whorish makeup, the silver-haired apparition was no more beautiful, her breasts no larger, her ass no tighter.

Ass? He grinned as he turned in their drive. Since when did he call his wife rear her ass. Since seeing that bitchin' blonde was when. He laughed for the first time in days.

He could faintly detect an alien, richer perfume and the vague scent of stale tobacco on his wife as she joined him in bed. As they rolled together and coupled, he could almost taste the searing red of the blonde's lips, feel the scrape of her talons down his back while they fucked. Yes indeed. Fucked.

Lisa sighed in deep satisfaction as she drifted into sleep, Bob spooned tightly against her, his penis still half erect and pressing against the sensitive rosebud of her anus. That had been wonderful. Better than anything, ever. Except for . . .

Her brow creased slightly in sleepy concentration. Except for what? Ah, she mused, smiling as she slid into sleep. Except for the daydreams.

It was time. Bob sensed it. Waiting until Lisa revealed her secret wasn't going to be enough. He needed to prove himself. His sensitivity. His intelligence. His deductive ability. He would follow her for the last time. He'd wait a decent interval - ten minutes sounded about right - and march in after her. She might a little upset at first, but he'd joke her through that. Come in with flowers or something. And, unless his timing was off, she'd have to introduce him to that unbelievable blonde slut when she came for the car keys.

Again, it went down exactly as he'd foreseen - until he walked into the shop, box of red roses in hand. "I'm here to see my wife," he informed the undernourished girl with the unnatural black hair behind the counter. Nodding at the rear door, "She works here."

"Back there?" the girl repeated.

"That's right. She came in a few minutes ago."

"Ah. Okay. You need to talk to the boss."

Before the girl could lift the phone, a throaty, resonant female voice came from behind him. "And you must be Bob," it said. "Liz has told me so much about you."

The voice belonged, he saw as he turned, to an apparition of carnality that put the blonde to shame. This was a red-haired version of lust incarnate. Lips that compelled him to envision his cock sliding between them, smeared with their wet red paint. Green eyes which proclaimed that precisely that might happen. Green eyes the same haunting hue as others he'd seen recently. And her body! High hard tits. Couldn't conceive of them as mere breasts. A waist he could encircle with his hands around while he fucked either her cunt or ass.

Through the haze of raw lust consuming him, her next words were heard, but not fully registered. "We've been hoping you'd drop by. Come on back. Liz is almost ready."

He followed without thought, captivated by the rhythmic, swaying bounce of her ass cheeks, so barely covered by the flesh-tight neon green skirt. She can't be real, he thought foggily. She's like something right out of a dream. A very, very wet dream.

She led the way through the retail area, through a merchandise storeroom, and through another door which, had Bob been even moderately aware, he'd have realized put them in the rear of the salon next door. He slowed his pace in a stumbling fashion, was supported by the woman's grip firm and searingly hot on his elbow.

"Liz," she called mockingly, "look who came to play with us."

Bob's wife paused with the black fishnet stocking rolled halfway up her sleek leg. As she turned to face them, Bob's sight dimly registered the fact that this wasn't quite his wife. This woman wore a tight body shaper that thrust her breasts - tits - up and reduced her waist to near nothingness. While she had Lisa's hair, her eyes were that lovely, haunting emerald, and heavily made up. The carefully outlined and filled red lips bore the blonde slut's inviting smile. The hands that lifted a cigarette from the ashtray on the dressing table bore hooked scarlet talons. A tidy stack of money - twenties and fifties - was arranged beside the welter of cosmetics and the long platinum wig on its stand.

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