Checking his scrap of notes once more, Rue thanked the cabbie and confirmed his destination, fishing for his wallet as he did so. The street was quiet and respectable, the sort of well-turned, old-fashioned apartments one saw in Christmas movies. Rue wondered why the comparison had sprung into his mind as he felt his heart warming to the place, the soft glow of the lamp in the first floor window calling him out of the sticky night air. The day’d gotten hot, humid late in the afternoon, an impromptu nap robbing Rue of the opportunity to go home and change before heading out to Mrs. DeLange’s. Now, facing the tidy rows of kempt houses that stood comfortably shoulder to shoulder in the North Chicago street, he felt shabby and damp, his shirt collar clinging to the back of his neck.
Rue ascended the handful of steps leading to the front door and buzzed Mrs. DeLange’s apartment. Waiting for entrance, he resisted the urge to adjust his tie that’d grown suffocatingly tight in the heat of the evening.
The speaker crackled to life and Mrs. DeLange’s musical voice sounded through the intercom, “Yes? Who is it?”
Biting back a snide comment that flashed through his brain, What do you mean, “Who is it?” You’re clairvoyant, aren’t you? he bent and pushed the button – “Rue Dobbs, ma’am.”
“Just a moment,” she called. A pause followed and then the lock buzzed, admitting entrance to the building. With only a handful of apartments in the old building, it was easy to locate that of Millicent DeLange and Rue advanced upon the unassuming portal, steeling himself for the ridiculousness that he was sure resided on the other side.
He wasn’t disappointed.
Mrs. DeLange appeared in the doorway, slightly out of breath and very much distracted as she opened the door to her visitor. “Come in, come in,” she breezed to the side, allowing Rue his first glance of the mystic in her natural environment. Re-revising his guesstimate of Mrs. DeLange’s age, he placed her at about forty years of age. And a very alluring forty she’d have been, were she not so batty in her appearance. Guessing, quite correctly, that he’d just missed interrupting a séance, Rue’s eyes darted over the riotous colors of Mrs. DeLange’s silken garment, some sort of cross between a kimono and a wizard’s robe. Bangles gleaned at throat and wrists, and over-bright eyes winked out from behind large, plastic red-rimmed glasses. Though he knew little of women’s toilette, Rue knew enough to wonder if Millicent had somehow retained a crimper long after that 80s fad had died, so frizzy and zig-zagged was her long, multi-toned hair. It was as if the diminutive woman – she couldn’t have been more than 5’4” – was making up for her lack of presence by being as loud as she could be, visually. And, oddly enough, the vision was striking – combined with her pleasant sing-song voice, Rue couldn’t help but like the fireball and didn’t flinch when she used the familiar “Rue” to address him next.
“You, my dear, have inspired timing.” She swanned into the kitchen, sweeping past candles and other arcane whatzits, her hair and flowing sleeves dangerously close to the open flames, “You didn’t have any trouble finding the place, did you, Rue?” Shaking his head mutely, Rue could only stare dumbly at his surroundings and accept the cup of coffee offered to him.
Following the riot of color to the living room, he seated himself at Millicent’s invitation and sipped at his coffee. What am I doing? he asked himself, realizing how he’d just been led along comfortably and was now nodding along as Mrs. DeLange chirped about the weather. What happened to get in, get the necklace, get out? Rue wondered if maybe there wasn’t incense burning somewhere in the calming atmosphere. As the woman prattled on and on, Rue struggled to find an opening in which to inquire about the necklace, sighing in relief as the woman came ‘round to it herself.
Finally. The pot of gold at the end of this crazed rainbow, his eyes lit up as Millicent produced the glittering gold and gemstone creation. “It does indeed match the description of the necklace my client was seeking,” he began, turning it over in his hands.
“Of course it does. It’s Rebecca’s,” Millicent’s voice was uncommonly sharp and Rue sat back slightly startled to have found a bit of the wasp in this honeybee. Softening her voice immediately, Millicent continued, “Ted told me.”
With a slow nod of the head, Rue tried to take the comment in stride. No sense hurting the woman’s feelings – if she wanted to bilk people out of their money, who was he to argue? All he needed was the necklace.
Reluctantly, he moved to return the necklace. Seeing Millicent’s quizzical look, he explained, “I… my client hasn’t… I need to acquire sufficient means with which to buy back the necklace.” He rushed over the last words, feeling a touch stupid, the feeling made worse by Mrs. DeLange’s next words.
“Oh, that’s alright, dear,” she pressed that the private eye take it, “I only needed it for when I talked with poor Teddy and I know you’ll be good for it later. And besides, the fellow at the shop didn’t know what he had so it was well within my expense account.” She smiled sweetly and Rue again found himself nodding along with her words before coming back to himself, thinking the woman warmly before harrumphing in a most businesslike manner. Suddenly aware of the late hour and having a keen desire to leave la la land behind him, Rue mumbled something about the late hour and moved to rise.
With a funny, sad sort of smile, Millicent put aside her own dainty coffee cup and showed the PI to the door.
Rue paused in the frame, adjusting the angle of his hat. He could feel that Mrs. DeLange had something she was bursting to add.
Taking the opening, Millicent opened her mouth and then abruptly changed her mind, her tinkly voice satisfying itself with a simple, “Good night, Mr. Dobbs.”