Legs up to there and a smile that could melt the rocks from a glass of Bourbon. That’s what I see when I look at Universal Bureau of Investigation’s officer, Edmund St. John.
The impeccably dressed man strolled across the sidewalk and shoved the gate aside. He stepped around a small dog lying on the ground next to its lunching owner.
Now, I’m no expert on men, but I know what I like, and sister, I like the way the green eyes of this UBI agent simmer when he looks at me. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not in the market for a man, but if I were, he’d be a damn good choice. Not that any of this matters.
The federal bureau went universal somewhere around 2020 and with it came a new breed of investigators. There was no choice when things changed. The crime in America grew at alarming paces after the turn of the new Millennium. Space exploration opened our country, hell our earth, to a new kind of terror. Growing up, we’d watched movies about aliens and space creatures, but no one would have ever imagined that the worst kind of creature would look just like us. There is no way to distinguish between humans and otherwise. I’ve never seen one of the outsiders, but that don’t mean I’m not on my guard all the time. There are some things that a girl can’t help but notice. Which brings me back to St. John.
Now, I make it a point, like everyone else, to notice St. John, but my lifeless long brown hair don’t offer an extraordinary enough view to attract more than a passing glance from him. I keep in good enough shape, but sometimes it’s not enough. Edmund’s eyes hold the same murky shadows of a jungle’s deepest greenery, fierce and dangerous, while mine are slightly darker than my hair. Nothing anyone chooses to gaze into, but I can live with that. With my usual long pants and button down blouses, most men don’t look any further than my smart mouth and knack for trouble. I don’t mind—much, since I don’t’ really need the complications of romance.
Our little neck of the woods doesn’t instill a keen sense of romance in anyone’s heart. Then again, what do you expect from Illinois. However, I’m certain that if I did decide I needed a man, Miller’s Pit would pull something out of its hat for me. Time didn’t change things that much. At the turn of the new Millennium, the United States had slipped quietly into the past, taking Miller’s Pit with it.
Boris Miller was the brilliant man who decided that since he had more money than anyone else did, he’d name the town after himself. The pit part came when his wife died by falling into a pit on his property. But none of that really matters. With my job, I don’t have time for love, or I wouldn’t if I could get a gig, which is why I’m here today. Well not exactly.
Gangsters are on the move and history is hell-bent on repeating itself. Prohibition has reared its ugly head once again and the UBI has its hands full with a ton of small battles destined to roll themselves into a full-scale war. At this rate, the twenty-first century will no doubt prove as thrilling as the last.
St. John sauntered up to my table. He leaned his head to the side and tipped his hat at the slender blonde sitting at the table behind me. I looked at my watch again. Quarter to ten. So much for our nine-thirty meeting. I often wonder if it’s not a G-man’s nature to be late. Maybe they think it will unnerve us and we’ll throw ourselves on the mercy of justice and confess to all our sins. If we had any that is.
As far as I can figure, St John’s biggest flaw is his lack of punctuality. My watch says that this is the fourth time in two weeks that I’ve had to wait for him to join me at The Shoppe. If I didn’t need his help, I’d be on my way to the office for some scintillating conversation with my cousin, Stuart.
“Hi ya, Doll.”
St. John’s voice wrapped around me like a smooth shot of brandy and I forced my mind back to the matter at hand. “If you refuse to call me Miss Gumshue, then I will gladly respond to Gloria, but please refrain from calling me Doll.”
The man has a habit of comparing me to any number of objects. I find the habit somewhat amusing, but to acknowledge this could settle us onto a new level of familiarity and that will not benefit our relationship.
I dab the fine mist of perspiration from my cheek and settle back in my café chair. The soft cotton fabric rustles as I make a show of arranging my skirt around my legs. I slip my feet out to the side and cross my ankles. With a little lean to the left, I offer St. John a healthy look at my legs, covered with sheer black stockings. I need something from him and there are very few ways of loosening his tongue.
This is not my normal attire, mind you, but some situations call for drastic measures. Once I discover what he knows and finish this meeting, I can head to the office and slip back into my slacks. In my line of work, I don’t have time to dawdle along in high heels and snug skirts. Thank you, dear women. I offer my silent gratitude to the dames of nearly a hundred years ago who made long pants the fashion for working girls during wartime. They do not, however, suit my needs at this moment.
St. John glances down and I know he’s noticed my slight shift in posture. He has a reputation for being hard as nails on the job, but a shapely leg supposedly turns him to a simpering charmer. He looks at my legs, whistles, and looks to my face again.
The sharp blast of a Ford horn rings out, but neither of us pays much attention. I’m too busy watching St. John, who is too busy eyeing my gams. He tosses his hat onto the table before carefully laying the jacket he’d been carrying, over the back of his chair. He folds himself into the small seat with an impressive display of masculine elegance. His navy blue trousers, freshly pressed pleats running down the front of decidedly slender legs, hug against his thighs. The pale yellow shirt contrasts sharply with his darkened skin. A brightly decorated tie, splashed with red, yellow, green, and gold sets off his entire ensemble.
That might seem like a strange word to describe a man’s clothing, but St. John is not your average G-man. He has flair. It shows in the way he dresses, each item perfectly coordinated to supply a certain style, and the way he works, meticulous and precise. Everywhere he goes people notice him. Mostly women, I note as a slender red head shimmies past him.
I chose The Shoppe for our meeting because of its very public location. The outside café tables offer a good view of Main Street as well as being close to my office. Being on the job makes my time valuable. Not having to get the car out saved me time. Having long legs has more than one good use, I think, watching St. John who keeps glancing down. I can walk to work in less time than it takes to get the Olds out of the parking garage. Lord knows why the lightweight sports car ever fell to the side of oversized heaps of metal.
Just for effect, I lean to the side, run my hand up the length of my calf, and check the seam of my stocking for straightness. Edmund never takes his eyes off my legs.
“Hmm,” he groans softly.
I look him directly in the eyes as I cross my legs. “When you’re done.”
His head snaps up and for a split second, he looks disoriented. His usual demeanor returns quickly and he slips back to his usual aloofness. “So, Gumshue, what’s got you all fired up today? Cat in a tree? Dog in a well?”
Edmund can’t possibly be so dense, then again G-men aren’t known for their IQ’s.
“St. John, I could take this to anyone, but I thought maybe your career could use a boost.” I take a sip of my joe. “Perhaps you missed that email.”
He snickers and the chase is on. My heart skips a beat at the possibility of going head to head with him and I smile.
“Does the name Eleanor Van Dresden set off any bells for you?”
Edmund pulls out a silver case and leans his arms against the edge of the table as he rolls a smoke.
I find myself enjoying the sweet smell of his imported tobacco as the smoke wafts in my direction. After a long and visually appealing pull on the cigarette he leans back in his chair.
“She’s a classy one,” he noted. “My kid sister claims her fashions are adored all over the world.”
I tap my fingernails against the glass tabletop as he ogles the shapely server tending the next table. The man has no shame. His intensity offers me the opportunity to notice a snag in my thumbnail. Maybe once I get a check for a gig, I’ll get myself a real manicure at one of those fancy salons in the city.
“I’m guessing the precinct boys haven’t clued your office in on the latest.”
St. John’s brow wrinkles as he turned his gaze back to me. “Cut to the chase, Gumshue.”
Ah, so now I have his attention, not that it bothers me, him watching the small brunette lean across a chair. “Van Dresden’s assistant filed a report several days ago. She claims someone has been threatening Dame Van Dresden.”
He shoots forward in his chair, his eyes blazing with a newfound determination. “I don’t get it, Doll. How is it you get the skinny before the Bureau of Investigations?”
His irritation sparks something inside me and I can’t stop myself from gloating. I make a mental note to keep it down to a minimal. “Well, let me think. I might have overheard old lady McGarrity talking about it when I was getting her cat, Milo, down from the tree.” His cheeks turn a pesky shade of pink as he glares in my direction.
“I’ve got better things to do with my time than hang out with a wiseguy in drag.”
“Keep it down, St. John. I’m willing to share what I know if you’d be so kind as to consider a partnership of sorts.”
I find his snort of laughter very unattractive. Downright rude, if you must know. I prefer to work alone, but in this instance the Bureau representative in question, in spite of his annoying tendencies, could offer me a few links I might not otherwise be privy to.
An older woman, with more than a little bustle backing her up, squeezes between Edmund and the chair behind him. The wind picks up and plucks a feather from her overzealous contraption of a hat. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so much pink and yellow settled on a puffed up bed of orange. While most of the women of the decade are wearing sleek sophisticated haircuts, this gem is boasting a horde of curls unlike any I’ve ever seen.
The feather settles on Edmund’s lap and I swallow past a moment of envy. I’ve never wanted to be a feather before.
“Gloria, I think you’re cracked. Even if I thought you knew something that we don’t—couldn’t find out on our own—why would I partner up with you?”
I signal the server for my check and then gather my purse and hat. I’ve gathered all the info I need and now it’s time to get to work. Oh, I have plans for Edmund St. John, but all in good time. For now, I have to take care of some things at the office so I can join the rest of our sleepy little town at a new kind of shindig.
At seven this evening, I will be sitting in the front row of the Cascade Theatre. Dame Van Dresden has chosen Miller’s Pit—although I can’t get a grip on why—to debut her new fall line of fashions. The town’s folks have been buzzing for weeks about this event and my mother managed to get prime seats for the entire family. Television crews from all over the world will be sending the show via the link, but we will count ourselves among the elite.
Lucille, that’s my mum, has got an in with just about anybody who is anybody in this town and the next three in every direction. She’s a homemaker, mother, and social guru, that’s what my dad calls her, unstoppable. No one ever tells her no. Well almost no one.
It’s taken me almost two years to rebuild our relationship. I told my mother no.
“Gloria, won’t you please stay at home a few more years, at least until you finish nursing school?”
“No, Mother. I know what I want to do and that’s not it.”
So, out I had moved and shortly after that I got my PI license. That’s Private Investigator. Dad was pretty pleased. Mum on the other hand cried for weeks and didn’t speak to me for twice as long. But anyway.
Tonight, we will be living the high life as special guests to the designer. Mum and Eleanor had been school chums at Miss Chatterham’s School of Etiquette for Demure Ladies. I could live without all the hullabaloo, but Mum deserves a night out and if Dad can do it, so can I.
I thank the server when she brings my change and I nod my goodbye to St. John.
“You dragged me all the way across town for this?” he asks, his annoyance clear in his caustic tone.
“I was mistaken that you could be of service to me at this time. I apologize for the inconvenience. See ya around, St. John.”
The slight tick in his jaw kicks up as I make my way around the table. The sensor catches my approach and the door swings open. I watch him from the corner of my eye as I pass by on my way out the side gate.
“One of these days, Doll, I’m not gonna jump when you say so.”
Maybe just not so high. A smile curves my lips. I can’t help liking the control I have over this particular man. He doesn’t know it, but Edmund St. John is as intrigued by me as I by him.