Just One of Those Things
The Chinese have a saying:
"Dangerous enemies will meet again in narrow streets."
.......The way I remember it, business was slow that November. Carl von Ossietzky won the Nobel Peace Prize and everyone was learning to Rumba. We were between World Wars and the Pinkertons over on Euclid Street were catching all the fast balls. When the royal summons came I was engaged in rubber band warfare with Mike Mosley and Stan Stannislaus. Since I was getting the worst of it, it was a relief when Miss Appleby, the office manager, showed up.
......."Mr. Brannigan wants to see you in his office," she announced. I came out from behind the file cabinets pretending that I had actually been doing some filing while Stanni and Mosley shuffled papers and opened and shut drawers and cleared their throats noisily. Miss Appleby was unamused. A rubber band hit me on the keister on my way out the door.
.......The boss was on the phone when I poked my head in his office. He nodded towards a chair and I sat down and straightened my skirt over my dusty knees; Miss Appleby must have stopped the cleaning crew beatings.
.......Plain and functional, Brannigan matched the office like a coordinated accessory. He was about forty, tall and lean and pale. He wore horn-rim glasses that disguised the color of his eyes. Or maybe they didn't have a color. Everything else about him, from his hair to his voice, was colorless, why not his eyes?
.......Mr. B. concluded his phone call and got right down to business. "I've got a job for you, Kelly, if you think you can tear yourself away from the funny papers."
.......That crack was because he'd caught me reading Black Mask magazine at my desk a few days earlier. He hadn't said anything at the time, but I should have known he wouldn't forget. Him and the Elephant Child.
......."You'd be surprised, Mr. B.," I said. "Some of those Black Mask boys know their stuff."
.......He just gave me one of those long, level looks.
.......The scuttlebutt is that it used to be impossible to tell Mr. B. from a genuine human being. That was before Mrs. B. ran off with David Parker. Back in the days when the sign on the front door read Parker and Brannigan Investigations; before my time.
......."Have you ever heard of Millicent Hurlburt?"
......."The society matron? Sure."
......."She has a son. Jack. He's getting married."
.......I tried to look like I knew where this was leading. The boss was being uncharacteristically mysterious.
......."And Jack Hurlburt requires our services?"
.......Mr. B. tapped his pen against the ink blotter as though calling his thoughts to order. "Hurlburt will explain the situation to you," he said. "I'll say only that I believe this case calls fora woman's touch."
.......I knew he wasn't kidding because he has no sense of humor, but I held my hand out like I was admiring my nails - or my woman's touch...
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by Diana Killian, exceopt where otherwise noted.