So, of course, Rebecca Dawes’ check bounced…
Ok, bounced might not have been the optimal word – it appeared that Rebecca had put a stop on it – but it amounted to the same thing, as far as Rue was concerned. Three minutes of angry gesticulating and language that would have had him banned from a greator establishment left Rue fuming and still broke.
The teller was impassive.
Imperiously, Rue demanded he see the bank’s manager but the best they could do was assistant manager. The irate PI’s tirade repeated itself for the benefit of his new audience. The assistant manager was similarly unimpressed.
“Sir,” the man began, the honorific boding ill for Rue, “We are very aware that it is not your fault that the check is has had a stop payment put on it and we sympathize with you on the inconvenience. However, the bank cannot knowingly cash a bad check when the person who wrote it has asked that it not be cashed. It would be-“
“Yes, yes,” Rue waved the argument off as the impossible man started to repeat what he’d already heard from the teller. Bleakly, he turned from the counter, not sure whether he was more angry or depressed. The former won out and he resolved to confront Mrs. Dawes straight away. Let her pay him in cash for all he cared! Based on what he could see of her place, that rich bitch could afford it.
On the train ride up to Mrs. Dawes’ place, he found his anger cooling. An honest mistake, that’s all, he reasoned, for if the woman was counting on his discretion – possible involvement in her husband’s death aside – the last thing she’d do would be to incur his displeasure with a bad check. By the time he’d disembarked, he’d concluded that it was indeed all a big mistake, something they could have a laugh over. Maybe it was the bank’s fault after all. Really, the assistant manager had been less than helpful… Yes, definitely all a big mistake.
Feeling much better, and slightly foolish for having to bother Mrs. Dawes early on a Saturday like this, Rue turned the corner onto her block and strode forward, eager to get this whole affair over with.
A purple and teal-clad nightmare hurriedly crossed the road to greet him. Cringing inwardly and shocked to the core, Rue set about finding a way to avoid Mrs. Millicent DeLange. No viable option presenting himself – what was he going to do, dive into the bushes in broad daylight? Tempting, but no – Rue sighed and slowed his pace while Millicent rapidly navigated her path in embarrassingly loud stilettos.
“Rue!” she waved at him, unnecessarily for she’d clearly already had his attention. “Rue!” she exclaimed again, drawing close and gasping for breath, glancing apprehensively across the street.
“What in the hell are you doing in front of Rebecca’s house?” Rue was incredulous and only barely remembered to not shout at her.
“Don’t go in there, Rue,” Millicent gasped and pointed, shifting her weight from one foot to the other. “She did it. She’s dangerous, Rue, and I don’t think…” She glanced worriedly to the house, trailing off.
..."Your reward, Mr. Rue Dobbs,” Ruby’s voice glinted cold as the steel in her hand. “I really am sorry, you know.” Wide, limpid eyes radiated cruel cunning.
The gun went off...
Distractedly, Rue wondered why on earth the woman had worn such heels for such a vigil and wondered how long she’d been out here waiting. Her concern was either really creepy or really touching.
Rue let his anger towards Rebecca and her false check surface a little, “Proof?”
In answer, she thrust an envelope towards him. Eyes widening, he read over the notes and attachments – apparently Millicent had real pull indeed with Chicago’s finest.
As if reading his thoughts, Millicent gave a small smile, “They’ve used my services before and it’s allowed me to call in a few favors of my own.” She shrugged and looked anxiously to the Dawes house.
“Not quite proof,” Rue began and, seeing her eyes begin their frown, hurried to conclude, “But certainly damning once you know what we know.” Thankfully Ted had been a meticulous man – oil changes every 3,000 miles. Every little bit of work on his car documented and saved away… The last entry in his records? Day that he died. Odd enough, but not reproachable until you looked all the way to the work order on Ted’s car, his usual mechanic not in that day, the work instead done by one Mark Rawley – known in some circles as… Marcus Traccone.
There had to be an explanation, Rue’s brain tried to override a sinking feeling in his heart. He removed his bounced check from his pocket and regarded it absently.
“Well, if she’s out to get me, she missed her chance yesterday…” Eyes narrowing as he looked to Rebecca’s house, the PI started forward, intent on an interesting detail that’d caught his eye.
A digital padlock, such as was typically used by real estate agents, graced the front door. Barely aware that Mrs. DeLange had followed him up the walk, Rue emitted a low whistle of surprise and turned to peer through the window, crashing through the hedge bushes as he did so. Curtains held slightly ajar inside by window sashes, he could see enough to ascertain his suspicions.
Empty. Like Rebecca Dawes had never been there.
Flummoxed, he stood and regarded the scene of his defeat, crumpled check in his hand, wondering what he might do next.
“Rue…” Millicent’s voice arrested his ears and he turned to see that she held an envelope out to him.
A simple white #10, the envelope had his name scrawled across the seal and nothing more.
“It was sticking up out of the mail flap,” Mrs. DeLange explained as he looked sharply at her and then hurried to open the letter. Reading aloud for the benefit of his companion, Rue read:
“Mr. Rue Dobbs,
“I again would like to rely upon your discretion but know that to be a futile plea. It has come to my attention that your investigation deviated from its true objective in a direction rather alarming to myself. For obvious reasons there are details about my late husband’s death that I am anxious should never come to light and so have written this note as insurance against you going to the police with your findings.
Rue stopped short and eyed Millicent warily. Reading the rest of the letter silently, he held up a hand for silence as his face turned deathly white. Questions raced through his mind and he found himself sitting on the front stoop moments later, his head in his hands. It was a stupid mistake! We were just kids! he told himself, the familiar mantra returning to him as his heart hammered in his chest, How did she come to know of it? He realized Millicent had sat beside him, concern radiating from her brilliant features.
“What is it? What did she say?” she pressured gently.
“I can’t-“ he choked. Damn the woman! If she wasn’t here I could keep this quiet… The hand that held the letter trembled and Rue took several shaky gulps of air.
“No.” He shook his head emphatically, his fingers neatly folding away the note and securing it inside his coat pocket. “We… we were wrong about her.” He couldn’t believe how easily the lies came to his lips. “I…I can’t explain but… We have to bury this.”
“Don’t you understand? There are lives that would be ruined if all this came to light?” he exploded. “This letter… was meant to protect-“
“Ted’s children…” hand to her lips, Millicent was led along effortlessly, easily concluding what Rue had hoped.
“Do you think?-“ Rue pressed.
“It’s the only thing that makes sense…” Millicent broke in. “The cover up with Ted’s death… it was all to protect them from Rebecca’s vengeful family.”
“They can never know,” Rue suggested gently.
“No. No, of course not,” Millicent glanced uneasily at the house behind them. She paused, the two of them sat in uneasy and stunned silence, Mrs. DeLange turning over in her mind the vast implications of their unintended discovery, Rue wrestling with feelings of triumph and shame over his having pulled one over on Millicent. The mystic watched as Rue inspected each fingernail with deliberate fascination, the man barely resisting the chance to reach up and touch the letter in his pocket less than three times in the space of a minute. Finally she ventured, “And what’ll you do?”
“I really don’t know,” Rue replied with a broken shrug, “Go back to the office, hope I can pack before things get tossed into the alley…” He pulled out the now crumpled check and stared at it, as if the act would will it back into the bank’s good graces.
“Stiff me for poking my nose where it didn’t belong?” he raised an eyebrow, “She did.”
“Oh, Rue. That’s just not fair,” Millicent cooed.
Another shrug and Rue was on his feet, “No worse than I’d have expected. Guess I just wasn’t cut out to be a private eye.” He turned and regarded Millicent, hesitating before awkwardly thrusting his hands in his copious coat pockets and turning on his heel, “Was nice working with you, Mrs. DeLange.”
From her perch on the stoop, Millicent watched Rue’s receding form until he disappeared around the corner, leaving her alone with a quizzical smile on her face.
The lobby buzzer sounded and Rue shot an ocular dagger at the com on his desk. They really couldn’t leave him alone long enough to pack, could they? Shoveling another armful of papers into a dusty cardboard box, Rue ignored the summons.
The buzzer rang out again, eliciting no response from the man except for perhaps an imperceptible hurry to his actions.
A third and final buzz prompted a breathy curse, Rue stamping over to his desk to finally answer his insistent caller, the visitor’s buzz choking off just before his exasperated answer of, “What?”
Muttering black curses against leases, landlords, and ding-dong-ditchers, Rue resumed his hasty packing, knowing that if he stopped for too long, he’d simply torch the lot and call it a total loss. Already the cigarette that perched between his lips had come dangerously close to lighting the whole mess on fire without his leave.
The tell-tale squeak of his front door opening arrested him in mid-move, the measured soft click of high-heels on the wooden floor announcing someone other than his landlord. Looking up sharply, arms still full of hastily bundled papers, Rue Dobbs stared open-mouthed across the office at one brightly-attired Millicent DeLange.
Meeting his gaze and slowing her steps, Mrs. DeLange gave the PI a shy smile before turning to the long empty desk in the outer office and laying her copious handbag down on its polished surface. “Mr. Roberts told me about your … um, rent difficulties … and I was thinking,” she fiddled a moment with the zipper on her purse then looked up, her wildly opaque eyeshadow – pink today – seeming to flash as she winked at him, “I need an office … and we really do make such a lovely team… How ‘bout it, Rue? Partners?”