Let Sleeping Babes Lie.
The question wasn't where the girl had got the kid – that was easy enough to guess. The question was, where had she kept it? Where, on that narrow, perfectly proportioned body, had she stored the damn thing?
Red satin. I close my eyes and all I see is red satin. It clung to her like a drop sheet on a stiff, showing off what it was put there to cover up.
The kid was still pink, tiny and wrinkled, its eyes barely open. She had it wrapped in a white flannelette; I don't think it had ever been dressed.
The girl was a force of nature. In this business, you have to have a secretary, pretty and perky or deadly no-nonsense. Gladys is an ice queen. She has this stare that can make a crook turn tale or a welch pay up. It sends grown men weeping to their mothers. And no one sees me without an appointment. But the girl wouldn't take no for an answer. She sat in the anteroom, in that red satin gown, clutching her baby and staring right back at Gladys until curiosity got the better of me and I went out to have a look.
Gladys glared daggers at me without adjusting her gaze and the girl stood to greet me.
Red satin,unwrinkled and sweat-free – miraculous, in the stale, damp heat of the office – swirled around her feet, while the baby slept in her arms.
“Dix, this is Miss—”
“I've got money,” she interrupted.
“I can see that,” I told her. Although, in that dress, where she had the money was also a mystery. “What do you want?”
She glanced down at the baby in her arms.
“Oh no,” I told her, before she had the chance to ask. “Lady, I'm a P.I., not a nursemaid.”
She squared her perfect shoulders and her desperate little girl demeanour melted away with the heat. “How much do you want?”
“It isn't about the money. I'm not a goddamn—” I caught the look on Gladys' face. It was a look that clearly said, You're two weeks behind in my pay, Dix. You'll be a nursemaid and you'll damn well like it.
I looked a the girl. There was nothing for it. “Why don't you step into my office?”
My office was cool – relatively cool. Gladys prefers to keep the reception hall unconditioned, frigid in the winter and sweltering throughout the summer. I think she does it to keep people on edge. I don't question her methods; that area is entirely her domain. I have a desk fan and a slow, lazy ceiling fan, so my office is an icebox in comparison.
The girl followed me in, breathed the familiar sigh of someone no longer at risk of melting, and burst into tears. She handed me the kid wordlessly and I had to take it; I think she would have dropped it if I hadn't. She stepped back and collapsed into a seat without turning or slowing her sobs.
I leaned against my desk and watched her cry – and only felt mildly lecherous for noticing the way the air from the fan beside me made her her nipples harden under her red satin gown.
The crying didn't last long, and thank God. As nice as the view was, dames crying is one thing I can't handle for more than a few minutes. I think if the baby had started in, I would have chucked it out the window.
When it was over, the girl looked up at me, calm and collected, every bit of her perfect and in place, except for her eye makeup, which had run down her face. She leaned back in her chair.
“I've got people after me,” she said. “How much do you want?”
The baby cooed and squirmed in my arms. I gave it back to its mother. “For how long?”
“Just until tomorrow night. After that, it won't matter.”
“You planning on getting yourself killed?”
She shrugged “Maybe. If I do, the kid will looked after. How much do you want?”
It's good to have a number in your head, in case the question ever comes up. In my experience, it almost never does. “My standard rate is five hundred a day.”
She didn't react. Just asked, “Five hundred?”
“Plus expenses,” I added. It came out a little more hurried than I'd intended.
“So, a thousand will cover it?”
“A day?” A thousand a day? Yeah, I could get used to that.
She sighed a long, tired sigh, one that was too old to have any business coming out of a skinny, freckle-faced girl like her. “Of course.”
“That will do,” I said, struggling to sound like it was my regular fee.
I was expecting her to reach into her brassier for the money – Except, of course, she wasn't wearing one. So where—
The girl unwound the first layer of flannel from the kid and pulled out a wad of cash the size of a brick. She carefully peeled two bills off the top, then shoved the rest into its makeshift pocket and wrapped it back up.
She handed me my two thousand and with the same hand, pulled my pocket square out of my vest and used it to dab her eyes.
She didn't say another word. She handed me the kid, leaned over me to kiss its forehead and walked out.
I stood in the doorway and watched her leave, the crimson fabric of her backless gown swishing just below the dimples in her back, not a single wrinkle or drop of perspiration to be seen.
I watched out the window and waited until she was in a cab before I unwrapped the kid. That brick of money was gone – and damn it, so was my gun.