She had grown up in an era where women weren't expected to show weakness. In fact, women hadn't been expected to show much of anything at all, as far as she had been able to tell from her mother. It was the bottles of Old Granddad that she'd kept hidden from from her husband, Carlotta's father, that had told her the true story.
When she'd burned her bra one semester at Stanford and spent the night in the police lock-up with the rest of her sorority sisters, she'd felt truly free for the first time. Of course, it had nothing to do with the lack of support of her breasts, but with the feeling of fighting convention, kicking the status quo right in the balls.
When she'd married Louis, everyone had assumed that she'd married for money. There was no doubt that success was attractive, but Louis' money had been the farthest thing from her mind when she'd accepted his proposal. It wasn't his fault that the world had been so in need of the cream he'd developed to cure hemorrhoids. He's simply "seen a gap in the market that needed filling", as he'd put it.
But it was in these moments, while Louis was working in the asshole lab (his name for it), without the need for her to find a job of her own, when Carlotta had discovered her true passion.
Carlotta had a nose for snooping.
Louis had been supportive, as much as he could, but had never really taken her hobby seriously. That is, until one day in 1984 when she'd figured out the (in her eyes) obvious hiding spot of three men who'd robbed four convenience stores in her town. And she'd been armed only with what she'd heard on the television news. It had taken some convincing for the local police to believe she wasn't directly involved in the robberies (Louis stuck up for her, as he always did), but in the end it was her tip that had brought the perpetrators to justice.
Carlotta felt free, freer than when she'd watched the padding of her unwire go up in flames at Stanford. With that, Snoop Private Investigation was off the ground.
They had a happy marriage, with Carlotta running Snoop out of their home and Louis working in the asshole lab. While juggling their careers, they'd raised three daughters, who had (with the exception of a little bra burning of their own) grown up to be stable and productive members of society. Like most couples from their generation, Carlotta had outlived Louis. He had been gone for four years now, and his passing still made her cry when she dwelt on it. She still kept his picture on her nightstand and kissed it every morning and every night, though she wasn't naiive enough to beleive that any part of him still dwelt in the faded photograph. It was an action to soothe her own still-sore heart more than it was a tribute to him.
Undine, her oldest daughter, had asked Carlotta to move in with her and her husband after Louis had passed, but this simply wasn't Carlotta's style of living. She didn't want to become a child, someone to be looked after, when she had spent to much of her own life being a caregiver. She needed to be somewhere she was needed, somewhere she could provide for others.
Which had brought her to the hundred-year-old boarding house four blocks from the local university campus.
When she had responded to the advertisement she'd found on the internet, the house's three current occupants were simply looking for someone else to split the rent. Carlotta assured Conner, Chad, and Brian that she would have no trouble covering her portion of the rent (Louis' trust fund ensured that), and that she'd not be a bother to them and their plans. The three young men had been wary at first, but one taste of Carlotta's homemade meat loaf had convinced them of her worth as a roommate. They even offered to pay a portion of her rent themselves in exchange for her cooking and cleaning skills (Carlotta would have done these things for free, but she certainly wasn't going to turn down a little charity from her roommates).
And so, the 74-year-old found herself a surrogate mother to three college boys.
Carlotta shovelled eggs onto three plates Monday morning, as she always did, when Conner, Chad, and Brian filed down the stairs for their morning classes. Their schedules were written on a piece of paper magnetized to the refrigerator, so she knew when each of them would be leaving for the day.
"Any big plans today, Carlotta?" Conner asked as he gratefully took the plate and began shovelling eggs into his mouth.
"Oh, just the usual," Carlotta replied with a little smile.
"Are you going to finally get the dirt on Mr. Baumgartner?" Chad asked. He, too, was already halfway through his plate of eggs.
Seeing an immidate need, Carlotta cracked more eggs into her skillet. "Of course, dear. You should know that by now."
The boys laughed among themselves, and it made Carlotta appreciative that the three of them humored her little 'hobby'.
In her many decades, Carlotta had never been one for sitting still. Though she didn't move as quickly as she used to, and it had become harder to hide in bushes to eavesdrop on conversations, she was still a woman of action. She wasn't sure if the three boys she cared for actually believed that Snoop Private Investigations actually existed, or if it was simply the machinations in the mind of a crazy old lady.
But it didn't bother her if they didn't believe her. They were such nice boys.
One by one, Conner, Chad, and Brian finished their breakfast, took their lunches from the counter, and kissed Carlotta good-bye. She waved them out the door, briefly finding herself on the verge of tears as she remembered what it had been like to send her three daughters off to school, when Louis had been alive.
But Carlotta had never been one for accepting sympathy, even her own. Instead of crying she took a deep breath, puffed up her chest, and looked into the lingering clouds that drifted in the blue, early October morning. "All right, Louis," she said at the sky. "Shall we get some dirt on Mr. Baumgartner today? His wife is convinced he's a cheating scoundrel, and it's up to us to either clear his name, or convince her to leave the lying S.O.B."
As always, there was no response from the sky. Louis was in a better place, probably too busy playing a harp or hitting a hole-in-one on every green of some heavenly golf course to respond. But Carlotta didn't mind. The way she saw it, that would give them even more to talk about when she saw him again.
Carlotta went back inside, cleaned up the boys' mess from breakfast, and then gathered everything she'd need for her morning of snooping. It was true that she couldn't hide in bushes as easily as she used to, but technology had made it far easier to gather personal information on almost anyone. She grabbed her smart phone, on which she'd set up a fake dating profile and had been conversing with Mr. Baumgartner for days. It was her standard procedure for catching cheaters: wait until they made sexual advances, show the evidence to their wives, and then close the case. She'd seen more pictures of male genitalia on the dating app in a few weeks than she'd seen in person over the course of her life, but Carlotta continued despite this because it was such an effective method of outing cheaters.
Taking her helmet and police-issue sunglasses from the table by the door, Carlotta buttoned her cardigan and locked the door behind her. Most women her age rode scooters, but those woman didn't have a need for speed like Carlotta. Her scooter was a 2003 Vespa Sprint. It had a fair amount of miles on it was was still in perfect working order, and it was the perfect mode of transport for maneuvering into tight spaces.
Carlotta lowered her sunglasses and made sure her helmet was snug, then kicked the scooter's little engine to life. "Let's catch some liars, Louis," she said to the sky as she flipped the kickstand with her foot and drove off into the mild fall morning.
Image courtesy of Pinterest user Vespa Fan