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All Around the Mulberry Bush (Ep.2, Pt.8)


Brain alight with coffee and inspiration, Rue Dobbs practically skipped down the darkened street. Though he could tell that most of the evening's unsavories had come out to play, Rue wasn't necessarily concerned. He cut an odd enough figure himself that he was rarely approached. Millicent however... he hoped the good lady would think to get herself a cab.
     And of course, as he jaywalked an empty intersection, Rue's eyes alit on a discarded newspaper that lay crumpled in the street.  With a start, Rue felt his blood run cold as he read the headline and saw the picture beneath:

"BRUTAL ASSULT AND MURDER IN WRIGLEY STATION-"

     The block letters frowned up at him accusingly and Rue tore his eyes away from the words, instead fixating on the carefully angled journalist's photo - showing police tape and just enough gore to satisfy the macabre, a high heel and purse abandoned by an owner no longer in need of either.  The insert picture, the typical glamourshot or year-book print of the victim, very clearly belonging to one Millicent DeLange, a local character and middle-aged widow who lived alone.  Rue was conscious of the unflattering epithet and found this irked him more than the news itself could.  Peering closer, Rue's brain got to work on the image while his eyes scanned the article above the fold.
     Jumping back in alarm and cold fear as he read the basic facts, Rue glanced up and down the empty street.  Was this some sort of sick joke?  He glanced back down at the paper, now unreadable and greyed out after a damp night and the trampling of too many cars and pedestrians.
Wondering what guilty conscious had dreamed all that up, Rue repaired to his office with haste. "You're just overtired, Rue. You're just stressed, Dobbs," he repeated the mantra over and over and he walked, head bowed, legs pumping. But in his mind he could still see the grainy newspaper image of a brutal murder and blood spattered wall that bore a word. One word. One that only he and a handful of others would know the meaning of – a group of five, all dead save him.

#

Bleary-eyed, Rue raised his eyes from where he'd last rested them as he lay, head down on the desk. He didn't even need to rub the sleep from his eyes, such were the restless few hours he'd spent in his office, at first in an effort to work through the new directions his case and then in the vain pursuit of rest.
The strange newspaper vision had haunted his fitful sleep, cropping up menacingly as his brain pursued the elusive Jack down shadowy alleys and dead ends. He'd finally woken just before dawn, his mind reverberating with the children's nursery rhyme normally associated with that old-fashioned toy, the Jack-in-the-box.
And chasing this damned weasel is indeed making me feel like quite the monkey, he grumbled, lurching to his coat rack to unearth clean shirt and tie. The reassuring snap of suspenders onto his shoulders, the routine of perfecting his double-Windsor, brought Rue further into alertness and out of the vapid doldrums into which he'd sunk.
He almost felt ambitious.
But true ambition came with coffee for Rue Dobbs and so he set about hunting for change. Three coats, two pairs of pants, and the tray of the white board later, Rue had sufficient coin to purchase a strong black cup of motivation.
At the corner magazine shop, Rue couldn't help but slow and scan the front pages of the wares displayed for the hustling businessmen passing by. No image of Mrs. DeLange greeted him from any of the papers and Rue let out his breath at last, though he still made haste back to his office.
Humming that damnable song that still ran 'round in his head, mocking him mercilessly, Rue was still somewhat frazzled when he reentered his office and found Millicent calmly tap-tapping out an email at her desk.
The relief he felt at seeing her there, alive and well, sporting an orange-dream theme today, was acute. Not a demonstrative man, Rue wanted to kiss her, or at least greet her warmly. The guilt he'd felt washed away and he realized how deeply responsible he'd felt for the lady's imaginary bad end.
"Oh. Rue?"
He paused in mid-stride, half-way in and out of his own office, a quizzical expression on his face.
"I'm not sure if you'd gotten the break you wanted but realized I'd better clarify one thing." She had his full attention and, surprisingly, seemed to squirm under his shift in attention, "When Dawayne sent me the detail about who'd killed him... it came as a ...feeling." She blushed, "It's hard to describe, really, unless you've conducted a connection yourself. The name – that was a hard, spelled-out sort of detail. And the rest just sort of filled in behind it. Like the maleness of the killer – how Dawayne felt towards him was male. And familiar." She paused, "I'm sorry, it takes a bit to really sink in, you know? And I'n not even sure I'm articulating very well – but our elusive Jack felt close to him. Someone not just encountered in the course of business but someone with more interpersonal meaning."
"So, Jack's a friend?"
"No, I wouldn't say that," Millicent mused, "The feeling towards Jack was definitely not friendly. But, as I said it was familiar. Like a brother 'cept you'd said he was an only child, yes? It was like... like he was forced to get along with Jack for some reason." She stopped and shook her head, "Sorry, no. I'm not helping one bit, am I?" She smiled wanly and shrugged, "I just thought that if you're trying to get a better handle on things before the police do, that sort of detail might help guide your search."
Rue had already backed out of his doorway, hat in hand, a far-away look on his face, "Mrs. DeLange, I think it does." And with that enigmatic statement, he was gone.