Goodness, I thought he’d never leave, Millicent smiled at Rue as he scrambled out the door at last. Waiting for a full count of fifteen, she typed fitfully at the last of her email and then rose to cross the room. Fiddling with something in her purse, she was able to ascertain that Elvis had, indeed, left he building. Returning to her desk, she smiled once more, shaking her head at the impossible man, wondering if he’d come huffing back through the door, angry over something or other that he’d left behind. For someone of his intellect, his chronic absentmindedness was astounding.
Take his hatrack by the door. It seemed like such a practical item. Hang the coat, hat, umbrella, whatnot and *presto!* it’s ready for you, all together, when you go to leave. But no, Rue shed his outerwear as he worked, his train of thought leaving a trail upon which he could (and often did) backtrack. The process was interesting to watch, though it often left the poor man swearing over a mislaid hat or forgotten bumper-shoot.
And today had been no exception. Two false starts after receiving his Dept. of Licensing letter, the first his hat, the second, the letter itself. In some ways, Millicent wished she’d gone with, for Rue had a tendency to get rather abrasive. Though, with his elevated frustration levels, giving him a wide berth seemed the safest.
Tut-tutting, Millicent entered the Inner Sanctum, eyes widening at Dobbs’ latest expression of his slovenly habits. One of Millicent’s first projects upon joining forces with Rue was to make the office presentable. The first battle had been to procure Rue’s blessing on the changes, a task in itself. – “I have a method!” “You have a mess!” – The compromise was that Millicent tidied up whenever he was absent. Not particularly due his having granted permission but rather the man simply argued less about things already done. Millicent sincerely believed that, once the place was looking spic and span, Rue himself would tidy up. In the meantime…
Clicking tongue against teeth, Mrs. DeLange set about re-stacking a few piles of papers that had slid down, one going so far as to partially obscure Rue’s obnoxiously over-full ashtray. “Gonna burn this place down, you are, Mr. Dobbs,” she shook her head, brushing grey ash off the papers and setting them aside. Two minutes of work and both floor and desk were visible once more. Reaching up to open the blinds, Millicent nearly knocked over the drooping plant pushed precariously on the narrow ledge. Guiltily uprighting the sad specimen of office foliage, she turned it ‘round, looking for the best side to present. There wasn’t much of one and, with a sigh, she gave the wilted leaves a half-hearted flick and moved on.
Next she turned to Rue’s wardrobe. It was a wonder the man had anything at home to wear, considering how filling his tiny office was with various bits of haberdashery. Smiling fondly at the little rolls of neckties lined up in the middle shelf of the bookshelf – these she left respectfully alone – she turned to address the pile of shoes Mr. Dobbs had left in the corner – these she did not. Part of the reason Rue’s office was as full of loose papers was that he used his desk for other purposes.
Gingerly sorting the footwear into pairs, she unearthed Rue’s “everyday shoes” and left them in the corner behind the door. The rest she deposited beneath the desk, thankful to have not come across any stray socks. (Those he kept rolled neatly in the middle lefthand drawer.)
As she worked, Millicent eyed the white board curiously. Her first day here she’d learned the hard way to leave the board alone. While she obviously knew better than to mess with Rue’s careful notes, scribbles, and diagrams, she’d immediately noticed how much extraneous stuff there was marking up Rue’s thought-space. Whenever Rue was done with a case, he simply wrote over what was left behind, only erasing things when his work started to become intelligible. And, as he used magic tape to post paper clippings, the whole thing was speckled with little grey outlines of leftover tape marks. Millicent wondered how his eyes could cut through all the noise. But, eyesore or not, Rue wouldn’t budge on the topic of the board. Touch it and their partnership ended. Period. Millicent supposed he liked how important it made him seem, as if he was always Making Connections and Thinking Deep Thoughts.
The phone at her desk rang and Millicent ran to catch it, hoping it was the call she’s been expecting.
“Mrs. DeLange? Yes, this is inspector Wheedon returning your call,” the voice sounded on the line. “Sorry it took so long to get back to you but the file on Mr. Dobbs is rather long…”
While not much of a sports enthusiast, Rue could only describe his current predicament thusly. Funnily enough, he could also only think of how Millicent would be able to get far ahead of him case-wise.
“Stupid, bureaucratic bull…” he muttered darkly, as he blended in with the crowd on the platform and wait for the train that’d take him back to the office. Adding insult to injury, it began to rain – the mass on the platform jostling forward to huddle under the shelter.
As he rode, Rue played over in his mind the options he had been given. He could fight it – get an attorney who could explain, just as he had, only expensively so, how Rue’s business did not fall under the official State of Illinois definition of “private investigation services,” that his methods were much more research-based and informal, that he wasn't looking to (and never had!) run the type of outfit they licensed. Or, he could suck it up and get a license, pay a fine for his years missed and likely jump through a series of flaming, death-defying hoops to do so.
Neither prospect was enticing nor cheap. And in any case, he was benched for the moment.
Disembarking in the rain, Rue jammed his hat more firmly over his ears and tried to think where he’d last seen his elusive umbrella, for he was pretty sure he hadn’t been so absentminded as to leave it at the office…
Mentally tracking the whereabouts of his rain gear, Rue Dobbs barely noted the young man bearing down on him as he crossed the street to his office at last.
“’Scuse me?” the man hailed him, deftly leaping to avoid a puddle, “’Scuse me. You’re Mr. Dobbs?”
Looking up at last, Rue fixed the stranger with a penetrating, evaluative glance, “I am.”
“Oh, good,” the man fell into stride besides Rue as he ascended the steps to his building. Though he too was bereft of umbrella, the stranger had managed to avoid that bedraggled wilted-in-the-rain look that Rue was emanating. Clad in jeans, worn low on his hips, hi-tops, and a black, non-descrip hoodie, the man moved with a swagger that would have alarmed Rue had it been a late hour on a lessor populated street. Even so, looking into a face as dark as the hoodie, Rue found himself a touch intimidated as the man pressed through the door alongside Rue, glancing uneasily into the street. “I need your help.”
“And I can pay.” The man waved a fat roll of bills in front of Rue’s eyes now that the door was safely shut behind them.
That kind of dough grabbed the PI’s attention but he stayed strong, “I can’t. Whatever it is, I can’t right now.” He pushed past the moment and padded up the stairs, marking his passage with a liberal spray of rainwater.
The man followed him, persistent.
Reaching the outer door of his office, wincing because he could see how it looked, Rue explained, “I really can’t. The state shut me down today so we honestly cannot help you… well, unless you’re dead.”
“I will be if you don’t help me! So damn The Man and help me out!”
Millicent rose as the two men strode into the office, hearing only a portion of the argument, her wide eyes accented by the peacock green-blue of her eyeshadow, “Rue-“
“Not now, Millicent,” Rue crossed into his office and flung himself heavily into his desk chair. “Well?” He gestured to the empty chair across from him, the memory of that fat roll of bills making his decision for him. “Damn The Man, right?”
Rue’s stray client followed him in and sat with alacrity, giving the door between the offices a questioning glance.
“Shut it if you want, but she’ll hear us anyway,” Rue shrugged, folding his hands behind his head. “Welcome to the offices of Millicent and Rue, providing both Investigative and Paranormal Communication Services.”