Rue rang off and leaned back in his desk chair, lazily swinging from side to side as he enjoyed a moment of sweet triumph. Suddenly thrusting his head forward, he looked out into the other office and, seeing that Millicent was indeed deeply engrossed in her own phone conversation, rose and quickly crossed the room, uncapping a black dry-erase marker for his white board as he did so. Adding a hash mark to the small collection sitting in the corner of the board, he smiled around the cap he’d thrust between his teeth – at least they were even now. Two weeks of partnership chalked up in two competing lines of marks, a record of his cases versus hers. Glancing again into the other office, Rue stepped back from the board and then stepped forward to indulge in a quick doodle. The board was his domain, a corner of the office left blessedly alone by maelstrom Millicent. She didn’t know that, amongst all his notes and scribbles, the private eye was keeping score. His business versus hers. Partners – bah!
Oh, he appreciated the money, no doubt. The crazy woman’s bereaved clients really did help keep the place firmly afloat. And as far as office mates – he’d had worse. Yes, all in all, things were shaping up to be pretty good… With a satisfied sigh, Rue stuck his thumbs in his waistband and surveyed his domain, nodding to himself as his eyes made a sweep of the room before stopping at the bottom righthand corner of his desk. Hand automatically checking for the key to said drawer, Rue again wondered why he bothered to keep such a damning letter.
The front door banged open, a huddled figure pitching forward into the room. Startled into inaction, Rue could only stare dumbly as the young man stumbled backwards into the wall, hands now clutching at his chest.
Rising to her feet with a startled shriek, Millicent – magnificent in royal purple skirt and blouse – rushed forward, her motion as she crossed Rue’s plane of vision drawing attention to the bloody streak the stranger’s hand had drawn across the door.
Strangely calm, Rue took a deep pull on his cigarette and exhaled slowly, the gently curling smoke dancing across his vision. A beautiful tableau – smoke, blood, the long-cracked frosted glass of the door…
The man, clad in dark jeans and hoodie, locked eyes with Rue, gallantly showing aside Mrs. DeLange’s frantic ministrations, “Rue Dobbs…”
“I… I need to know who did this. Only you can help me… I,” the man shuddered and coughed, a red froth gathering in the corner of his mouth, “I can’t go to the cops. Please, save them.” Another shudder and the man sank to his knees, sliding down against the wall, his words as final as the red stain of death that graced his lips.
“Rue,” Millicent’s voice cut in, interrupting his train of thought, his questions.
“Rue!” more insistently.
Blinking, Rue looked at the black wipe-board marker that he still held in his hand cigarette-style. Turning from the white board, his eyes darted their gaze through the door to the outer office – no blood, no stranger slumped against the wall… He focused on Millicent who stood just inside his office and was regarding him with a worried frown.
Capping the marker and feeling just a touch foolish – What had that been about? – he reached to take from her the day’s mail, now seeing the source of her concern.
While it was nice having someone take care of the secretarial duties – it gave the place a more professional spin – sometimes it bothered him to have someone else on the down low before him. Reaching for the official-looking envelope from the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation, he frowned. Apparently the State of Illinois had a problem with his operating without a license.