I had my radio on this morning, and without realizing it, a huge smile drew a half-moon across my face. Suddenly I started to croon along with Carly Simon:
Nobody does it better
Makes me feel sad for the rest
Nobody does it half as good as you
Baby, you’re the best.
Written as background music for the opening credits of The Spy Who Loved Me, the James Bond movie of the moment, “Nobody Does it Better” was also background music for my love affair with the man I would later marry, Charles G. King.
Charlie was a Supervising Fire Marshal for the New York City Fire Department when I met him. Soon after, he became a special agent for the New Jersey State Commission of Investigation. The commission had been formed when gambling came to Atlantic City, and it was Charlie’s job to investigate everything from crooked judges, to tax fraud in the construction industry, to gangsters running trucking companies. I also seem to remember him doing something vaguely sinister with donuts in a coffee shop across the street from a courthouse, but maybe he was just eating them.
Charlie conducted surveillance, interviewed witnesses, chased hooligans, went undercover at casinos, and photographed thugs.
I wasn’t lookin’ but somehow you found me
I tried to hide from your love light
But like heaven above me
The spy who loved me
Is keepin’ all my secrets safe tonight
While he was working as a special agent, I lived in a railroad apartment in Manhattan. In some ways, it was a dream tenement, squalid enough to be romantic, but on the Upper East Side, so all of my neighbors were rich. The other tenants in the building were picturesque enough to populate a Puccini opera: A beautiful woman dying of cancer on the second floor. A three hundred pound ex-clerk for a Supreme Court Justice on the third. A drunk named Vinnie on the fourth floor (he used to pass out in foyer so I had to step over him to get inside). A lady-like 86-year-old man on the fifth floor who looked like Quasimodo and called himself an interior designer.
Well, me and Charlie, if you count the times he slept over and woke me up before sunrise to get him ready for work. He used to stand in my primitive kitchen (warmed by an illegal open-flame gas heater), and I would wrap a wide Ace bandage around his rib cage to conceal the miniature Nagra tape recorder hidden here to document meetings with chatty bad guys. Before he left for work, we used to drink cinnamon flavored coffee and eat black bread topped with slabs of hard cheese.
It was all very exciting. Like being in a Warner Brothers movie about French Resistance fighters preparing for a dangerous mission during World War II. Like being in love with a special agent who was sort of a “secret agent” which, of course, meant that like James Bond, he was practically a spy.
A spy who loved me.
Others in the cast of characters from those bygone days were exciting, too. David Williams, an author friend who wrote a bunch of Westerns and then the novel Second Sight, and Marjorie Williams (no relation) who lived in Manhattan before she became a political writer and editor for Vanity Fair. But we never talked writing when David and Marjorie were around. Not if we had Charlie to enthrall us with his “war stories.” There he was, my larger-than-life boyfriend, describing arsonists at rail yards, shootouts on rooftops, pyromaniacs in icehouses, and flaming arrows shot through the window of a house owned by an indignant dwarf.
For desk-bound scribes like us, entertainment just didn’t get any better than that.
Our favorite parts of the evenings, though, were engineered by Marjorie. When Charlie walked into my apartment (he usually arrived last), he would greet us with a smile (gorgeous smile. Gorgeous diamond blue eyes), shut the door, and before he could turn around again, Marjorie would demand, “Tell me what I’m wearing.”
And incredibly, still facing the other way, he would reel off, “A blue sweater over a white shirt with thin blue stripes. Shell-shaped earrings with tiny yellow stones. A gold wristwatch. A silver ring on the forefinger of your right hand.”
Marjorie would ask, “What color is my lipstick?”
Charlie would answer, “You aren’t wearing lipstick.”
And he would always be right, because one of his survival techniques as an arson detective/crime investigator/secret agent was to notice everything. Instantly and accurately.
Accountants didn’t do that. Airline pilots didn’t do that. Lawyers didn’t do that. Doctors didn’t do that.
Charlie did it.
Oh, it was so exciting to be in love with Charlie King. Being married to him was just as much fun. He taught me how to investigate fires. I taught him how to be adored. I continued to adore him for all the years that we were married. And I still do. Why?
Nobody did it better
Makes me feel sad for the rest
Nobody did it half as good as he
Hey, Charlie. If you get deliveries of The Evening Sun up there in heaven, and for the record …
Darlin’, you’re the best.
Shelly Reuben has been nominated for Edgar, Prometheus, and Falcon awards. She is an author, private detective, and fire investigator. For more about her books, visit www.shellyreuben.com.
Copyright © 2010, Shelly Reuben.