Farewell, my plasma

Germany: In a study of 2,200 Germans commissioned by the Hamburg-based Foundation for Future Studies, 57 percent of the women surveyed said they’d rather give up sex than television for an entire year.

United States: An iVillage-commissioned study found that 63 percent of the married women surveyed would rather read, sleep or watch a movie than have sex with their spouse.

Britain: A QVC poll surveyed 3,000 Brits and found that one in 10 actually love the television more than they love their partner. According to the Daily Mail, more than a tenth of those polled said they’d rather split up with their significant other than give up watching television.

Any City, Anywhere:

I saw him just as I’d reached the top of the stairs; he was leaning on the wall, right next to the locked door to my office. He looked like he’d been waiting for a while and he probably had, since it was more than two hours past the open-for-business hour painted on my door.

I had two good reasons for being late. The first was I hadn’t had any new work in more than a month. The second was a little closer to home. I’d been at war with the residue  of the previous night, doing my best to exorcise a demon of a hangover that had jumped me as soon as I’d opened my eyes that morning. Six aspirins and a Bromo hadn’t tamed it. Didn’t even slow it down.

But as bad as I felt, it looked like he had me beat – he looked worse. By my guess the last time he’d had a good night’s sleep, Reagan was still in the White House. By the looks of his clothes, that probably also was the last time he’d ironed them.

But rather than feel sorry for him, what was I thinking? Great, another “client” going to use my bill to light his cigarette instead of sending it back with a check. The thought made that damn demon bouncing between my temples start tap-dancing.

“Mr. Harlowe? Philip Harlowe, the private eye?”

“Guilty on both counts,” I mumbled as I shoved my key into the door lock, turning it and the knob and pushing the door open. “Thanks for holding up the wall there.”

“Mr. Harlowe, I need your help.”

“Well, this is your lucky day,” I said as I headed to the coffee maker. “It’s Wednesday and Wednesday is Help Day around here. Had you come tomorrow, you’d be pitching in and folding my laundry. What can I do for you?”

“I need you to find my wife.”

“When you’d lose her? And it might help if I knew your name. After all, you know mine.”

“It’s George, George Finley. She’s been gone for more than two days now,” he said.

“What have you got that I can work with? She leave a note, got a girlfriend, a place or a boyfriend she might run to?”

“Not that I know of,” he said, looking down at a wad of crumpled papers clutched in his hands. “All she, her name’s Beulah, all she left behind were these.” He handed them to me as I sat down at my desk. I motioned for him to take a chair.

I separated the stack. Credit card receipts. For purchases made over a period of a few days and all charged at the same store. Best Buy. Electronics, every single one.

I doubted there were enough Beulahs in the world to equal all of the scribbled Beulahs scattered across my desk.

“You got any idea what she was buying and why she was buying so many of them?”

“Not a clue,” he said. “We, we weren’t talking much lately. She just seemed to want to watch TV rather than even look at me. I haven’t had my hands on the remote in months. She’d just growl if I got near it and snatch it away.”

“Hmmm, odd. What she’d take with her?”

“That’s the strange thing,” he said, the question seemingly shocking him alert. “Just a few clothes, as far as I can figure. But every TV in the house is gone, along with all of the extension cords in the garage.”

“Well, let me look around, ask around and see what I can find out. Now go home and get some sleep and let me get to work.”

“Thank you Mr. Harlowe,” he said as he raised himself up from the chair. “I don’t care what she’s done or who she’s done it with. I just want my Beulah to come home. And hopefully bring along the 42-inch flatscreen too.”

It turned out not to be too hard to track Beulah down. A trip to the Best Buy and a $20 bill slipped to the clerk got me the address she’d given for the delivery of all of her purchases.

The motel owner was only too glad to show me the room she’d rented, as well as give me a copy of the electric bill he’d just received since she’d moved in. I pulled the plugs on the extension cords running out of the room, slid the bill under the door, went back to my car and waited.

Within an hour, a U-Haul truck pulled up outside the room. In less than another one, the cords, the TVs and Beulah were out of there. And on their way home to George, I figured.

I gave George a call and told him he’d soon see a U-Haul backing into his driveway and to take it as a sign that his Beulah would soon return. A few minutes later he called back and told me I was better than Nostradamus. I told him the service was no extra charge.

I didn’t mention his flatscreen. He’d just have to find it on his own, somewhere among the 27 other ones he and Beulah now owned.

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