Arriving back at his office, Rue bent to the safe, dialing in the code and secreting the necklace within. Rubbing his hands gleefully, Rue allowed himself a contented, yet exhausted, sigh of relief. Collapsing heavily into his desk chair, one leg giving a gentle pump to swing him back and forth, he waited for his computer to fire up. Sure enough, riding high in his Inbox was an email from the lovely Widow Rebecca which he rushed to read.
“Well, damn,” his eyes scanned the message twice and he pushed back from the desk to ponder his new dilemma. Clearly he’d done a good job of hiding his dire financial straights from his lovely client. Eyes darting to the safe, he debated the wisdom of showing up with the necklace and coming clean as to why he’d need his fee prior to procuring the other items. He reached to pour himself a shot of brandy.
A little musical clink heralded the arrival of a new email message and Rue rolled forward eagerly, hand to the mouse. Millicent DeLange? he read the sender’s name with a mix of surprise, bemusement, and annoyance.
Sender: DeLange, Millicent <MysticMillicent@DeLangeinc.net>
Subject: None of my business…
Good morning, Mr. Dobbs,
I know it is none of my business but I couldn’t help but continue to wonder how much you know about your client. I agree that the necklace she’s seeking is unquestionably hers and so stand by my actions on that. But I worry about the quality of her character and the circumstances by which Ted had come into possession of the necklace, etc. It had become abundantly clear to me that the two of them were not on the best of terms and, how can I put this delicately, I fear that perhaps your Mrs. Dawes had something to do with Mr. Dawes’ untimely demise.
I say this as a friend and merely ask that you keep my friendly note of warning in mind in your future dealings with Rebecca.
“Well!” Rue let the full effrontery he felt come through in that one word. He re-read the email carefully, his surprise making him wonder if he’d somehow misread Mrs. DeLange’s email, his overworked brain inventing her thinly-veiled accusation. But no, the woman was clearly insinuating that Ted’s death was something for which his client was responsible.
Hands stretched out over the keyboard to fire off a scathing response, he paused, a thought niggling the back of his mind… A sliver of fear coursed through him, that perhaps Mrs. DeLange was onto something. After all, Ted’s death had been anything but usual – in fact, the word “suicide” seemed to be stamped in red block lettering over everything, its very bold insistence feeling ever-so-slightly too obvious.
Rue found himself gazing up at the man’s photo on his whiteboard. The smiling, laughing Ted seemed so at odds with a man bent on self-destruction. Peering at the printouts he’d collected and taped up alongside the obit, he frowned – the profile just didn’t fit … a rags-to-riches, highly educated motivational speaker with two books currently in the works, did not up and kill himself over a few missed bills and failing marriage.
With a frown, Rue regarded the necklace currently residing in his safe, thinking of the other pawned items at the shop, Rebecca’s almost total nonchalance regarding her late husband…
A tiny corner of his brain told him to pursue it, Mrs. DeLange’s hunch…
Communing with the dead, bah! Rue came to his senses with a snap, The jewels are Rebecca Dawes’, Rue. You were engaged to find and return them, not investigate Ted’s death – a closed case that the Chicago Force declared an open and shut suicide.
Shaking off the ghost that Millicent had unwittingly ushered into the room, Rue set about finding things he could pawn in order to procure the rest of Mrs. Dawes’ belongings.
By morning, Rue’s unease had subsided and he returned to the pawn shop to buy back the remainder of Rebecca’s pawned jewels and other “family heirlooms” – as she’d so delicately put it. True to Millicent’s claim, the owner clearly didn’t know what he had and so Rue was able to temporarily part with less than he’d planned on. It also helped that he’d had some dealing with this particular establishment in the past for an occasional case or two – not to mention during his own frequent bouts of needing cash fast – and so could elicit a promise from the man that he wouldn’t part with any of Rue’s belongings unnecessarily.
Mission accomplished and feeling somehow like a burglar with his pocketful of jewelry, Rue ran for the train. Luck was with him and he caught it just as he arrived on the platform – standing shoulder to shoulder with strangers when he was practically begging to be robbed was not something he wanted to deal with today. His defenses were so high-strung that he glared an elderly woman out of her seat, feeling bad about it only once she was safely off the train without incident and gingerly picking her way down the platform, feebly hunched over her cane and clearly not a threat.
Unbidden, Millicent's accusation came to his mind and, overwrought with guilt, Rue impulsively alighted so that he could switch to the train that’d take him near the Chicago Police Department headquarters. One quick peek at a closed file couldn’t hurt, could it?
Pockets and heart heavy, Rue forced himself to remain calm and nonchalant as he rode the Green Line south. Sauntering along, he tried to blend in as he ascended the steps to CPD headquarters at last, wondering why in the world he’d decided to go all the way in the opposite direction from Mrs. Dawes’ and for what? He hoped his buddy Carl was in.
Carl was in, it turned out, but was not at his desk at present, could he wait?
Yes, yes, he certainly could wait.
Rue returned the officer’s oily smile and sat down heavily in one of the ugly plastic chairs that lined the wall near the elevators. Apparently his reputation preceded him and only with Carl’s blessing could he access the records. Grumbling to himself – I could have hacked my way in remotely given three minutes and a decent line in – Rue tried to exude innocent-good-citizenship.
He upended his wrist to get a look at his watch, growing impatient. He needed to get this case closed and cash that check … today, if at all possible. Already he’d cut it dangerously close with his impending eviction. His landlord had so far tolerated his bullshit excuses with an indulgent smile, but this time, he knew he was out if he provided an excuse instead of cold hard greenbacks.
Rue looked up at he sound of his name – the cheerful, tinkly voice sounding exactly like that of…
Millicent DeLange strode down the taupe hallway, her bright smile made positively fluorescent through the aid of lipstick red enough to make a fire engine blush. He had to admit, the woman looked vaguely respectable today – still over-bright and a little frazzled, but not quite so … mystic-y. The PI rose politely to her greeting, nodding at the uniformed man accompanying her.
“So, you got my message then?” her voice was heavy with secrets, intrigue.
“Good! You’re just in time, actually,” she breezed over him.
“Time for what?”
“Inspector Johnson here,” she gestured to the bored, bland-looking man at her elbow, “has agreed to let me take a teensy peek at Mr. Dawes’ file.”
“But I didn’t-“ Rue’s eyes nearly bugged out of his head. He knew he wasn’t hiding his surprise even one whit, but right now he didn’t care, for her next words left him sputtering.
“It’s fate, Mr. Dobbs,” Millicent intoned, adding a thrilling note that made even Inspector Bland-ness smile. “Come on, then.”
Wordlessly and fuming, Rue followed their Inspector chaperone into the elevator, wondering if he’d have a moment alone to address the impossible Ms. DeLange. The file was small enough, recent enough, closed enough and deemed not controversial enough to prevent their digging through relatively unsupervised, a relief to Rue, though Millicent's casual dismissal – “That’ll be all, Inspector” – made him pause. Rue noted the styrofoam cup of break-room coffee in Millicent’s hand, Goodness, the woman seems to have the run of the place.
Leaning towards Rue, she smiled conspiratorially. “So glad you came ‘round, Rue,” she whispered, “Could you feel something off about the whole thing as well?”
Frowning, he kept his eyes to the assembled papers before him, “I have not yet come to a conclusion, Mrs. DeLange.” He hesitated, adding, “Though the suicide-i-ness of it all seemed a tad … overdone. I was hoping a glimpse at the deceased’s note would help put it to rest for me.”
“Mmm…” Millicent responded noncommittally, puckering her forehead and peering at a police report before sighing and pulling down the reading glasses perched upon her forehead. “Look at this, Rue. Shoddy police work. Sometimes I wonder about these Jacks…”
Rue looked to where the woman’s finger pointed, her purple polish a distraction. A small handwritten note on the towing report for Ted’s vehicle read: “brake lines?” It appeared there had been no follow-through. But, he supposed, with an obvious suicide, why would they have bothered?
The report in his own hand was similarly enlightening, but for reasons he chose to keep to himself. The police report described a grieving widow, a woman beside herself. That image did not readily recall to mind the Rebecca Dawes he knew. And while he still did not think Ted fit the profile of “suicidal,” he doubted shock would override that calm and collected woman’s natural inclinations that much.
"Found something?” Millicent’s voice called him back.
"No. Yes. Well, no proof,” Rue shrugged, set the report aside and looked around for the suicide note. Finding what he sought, he turned it so they both could see it.
An icky, heavy feeling flashed through his gut as he read the note and Mrs. Dawes’ jewels seemed to get heavier in his pocket. Reading the note over once more, he glanced sideways at Mrs. DeLange to gauge her reaction. Clearly she hadn’t looked into Ted’s writings or his career, like he had, for she didn’t appear to see what he saw, else she was mastering her emotions well.
There simply was no way that Ted Dawes had penned the suicide note. A scholar of the human condition, Ted had somehow managed to rise above petty melodrama, his work in motivational speaking and writing plain and uncompromising. From what Rue could tell, Ted had been a direct man, perhaps his simplicity driving the wedge between him and his wife, who was painted in much wider brushstrokes of emotion and passion. But here, this note, was clearly the product of a dreamer. There was more of the flirt than the philosopher present and Rue knew the note to be a fake.
But did that necessarily mean that his client had had her husband murdered? No, not necessarily, Rue stuck his hands in his coat pockets, his fingers coming into contact with the cache of jewels therein, tokens of Rebecca’s mafia ties, But proof enough that all was not as it seemed with Ted’s death.
Noting that Millicent had moved on to other items in the file, scarlet lips moving as she read silently to herself, Rue jutted his wrist out of his coat sleeve to take a look at his watch. Feigning interest, he exclaimed, “Oh! You know, I think I had better get going. Client meeting.” He lamely added the last bit, as if the statement would misdirect Millicent with implied professionalism.
“Rebecca?” she asked, her direct approach surprising as well as refreshing.
“You don’t think she was involved in…” she waved a hand at the documents they’d spread on the table “… this then?”
“Honestly, I don’t give a damn what the woman gets up to,” Rue snapped, “I’m doing my job and collecting my check. No more, no less. This is a closed case and that’s that.” He stalked off in high dudgeon, passing their escort on his way out, who regarded Rue with a thin smile of bemusement. Angrily gaining the outdoors at last, Rue debated hailing a cab before determining that a walk would do him good.
His ride on the train heading North into the suburbs calmed the private eye ever-so-slightly. The police do their job and I do mine. It’s not my place to go poking around closed files and sifting for clues they may have overlooked, he reasoned, trying to silence the guilt riding alongside him. I’m betting a full fifteen percent of their files have different stories to tell than their official conclusion. So screw ‘em! I get my check, I walk away. End of story. He alighted and made his way down to Mrs. Dawes’ boulevard, thinking only of his client, his case, and the fact that he’d need to work fast tomorrow if he was going to cash his check and get it to his landlord when the bank opened in the morning. Bailing on Millicent downtown hadn’t entirely been a ruse but, at the time, he’d naively thought he might just make it to his bank before they closed for the day.
Slowing his pace and tidying his harried appearance, Rue rang the bell and waited on Rebecca’s doorstep, heart aflutter with how close he was cutting it this time around with the rent. Raising his hand to ring again, he quickly lowered his arm as the sound of a key in a deadbolt drew his attention.
Swinging wide the door, Rebecca Dawes eyed Rue coldly and he nearly stepped back in surprise. She knows, for a fleeting moment, Rue believed that the woman standing before him had somehow heard of his stop off at headquarters. But no, his impression of her fixing him with a penetrating glare faded fast and he concluded it was his own overwrought imagination.
She ushered him in and he again found himself wondering at the watery quality of the smile that played about her perfect red lips, that beautiful feature not much improved by the shallow gesture. Again, Rue berated himself, You think she did it, don’t you? He found himself surreptitiously looking around as the lady ushered him into her sitting room. Yes, yes you do, the answer boomed in his brain as he brought forth the recovered woman’s property. Gleaming in the light of the late afternoon sunshine slanting through the bay windows, the jewelry winked at him anew. Rue found himself struggling to attend to Mrs. Dawes’ words, his eyes noting the lack of family photos or any personal knickknacks amongst the expensive décor.
The sight of a checkbook being opened called him back to reality and Rue feigned nonchalance as his client cut him his check. Now her coolness was to his benefit, allowing him to escape quickly and unencumbered. Politely thanking him, Rebecca showed him to the door, promising she’d put in a good word for him if she were to hear of anyone in need of his services. And with that, Rue found himself on the sidewalk just outside her home, hat in hand, clutching the check that was to save his business, and resolving at last to simply walk away and put the mystery of Ted Dawes’ death firmly behind him.
So, of course, Rebecca Dawes’ check bounced…