[I originally received this writing prompt from my favorite high school teacher (thanks, Mr. H! One day I’ll get into the habit of calling you Jason, I swear.) and I wrote in the style of Robertson Davies. I hold it to be true that this was my first foray into fanfiction. Here, I’ve written a character I’m using for a different story into my take on an introduction into a Harry Dresden novel, with all credit for that universe going to the talented Mr. Jim Butcher.]
It’s very rare that my day at the office resembles the old pulp detective stories. You know the sort: beautiful femme fatale walks into the dick’s office, all long legs and helplessness, swooning into the PI’s arms. Not me. There’s not a whole lot of demand for a wizard PI. Especially in a town where so few people believe in wizards. Usually, my day consists of drinking cheap instant coffee and going through a stack of bills I’m not sure how to pay. Occasionally, I get a job that will pay for one of them. No, scratch that. Occasionally I get a job that will pay for part of one of them.
But sometimes, when the stars align, a beautiful woman does walk through my door with a big stack of cash, and I am reminded yet again why I’m glad it doesn’t happen more often.
It started like any other day. I made my way though heavy Chicago traffic to my office, hoping to make enough to grab dinner down at Mac’s after I closed up shop, or at least enough to keep my doors open. By three forty-five, I’d almost given up hope of eating at all.
It was just after four o’clock when she walked in.
I heard the rattle of the ancient elevator as it stopped, and then the muffled click of her shoes on the rough wood floor. There was a hesitant knock, and when the door opened, I mentally cursed myself for not doing laundry this week.
Or last week.
The woman standing before me could have been dropped into an old Bogey film without so much of a “here’s lookin’ at you”. She was tall, with a figure you could tell time to. Her pleated wool skirt started high on her waist and stopped just below the knee, and a silky white blouse framed her elegant neck, hugging every curve beneath it like she’d been sewn in. Rich waves of copper peaked out from beneath a forest green beret, and eyes the colour of summer grass sparkled from her leonine face. She must have noticed me look her over, because when I looked again at her face, her cheeks had turned a gentle shade of pink. I stood, and motioned at a chair opposite me. I suddenly felt very warm. “Uh,” I cleared my throat. “Good afternoon. I’m Harry Dresden, Miss…?”
“Alexis Meagher.” Her voice lilted with a soft Irish accent, and I felt butterflies beneath my ribs. She smiled a little nervously, and it made my heart do strange things. Sitting delicately, she crossed her ankles and lay a bag that I guessed cost more than my car across her knees.
“What can I do for you, Miss Meagher?”
She opened her bag, pulled out a polaroid photo, and handed it to me. “It belonged to my mum.”
The piece in the photograph was exquisite. A finely wrought Celtic knot framed by emeralds and diamonds that seemed to glitter on the page. “Do you remember when you had it last?”
She nodded, looking up at me without quite meeting my eyes. Now that was interesting. “It was two weeks ago, now. I was walking home and a man came up behind me. Grabbed me, spun me around, and pointed a gun at me. Told me if I didn’t give him everything he’d shoot me. I begged him to just take my bag and then started shaking so bad I couldn’t get the clasp open, so he yanked it off.” Miss. Meagher rubbed the back of her neck, and cast her eyes down again as she wiped away a tear.
Call me old fashioned, but there’s nothing I hate more than seeing a woman hurt.
“Did you happen to get a good look at him?” I asked, handing her a take-out napkin.
Miss. Meagher laughed a little sadly and took it, dabbing at her eyes. “I did, actually.”
“It was… it was my ex-husband.”
“I’ve known him a number of years, Mr. Dresden. I think I know what he looks like. But that’s not all he…” Her voice faltered, and she blushed deeper as she reached into the bag once more and pulled out a small white envelope. She held it in her lap for a moment before handing it over to me. She moved to grab the missing necklace at her nape and jarred when she remembered it wasn’t there. Her hands then returned to her lap, where she intertwined her fingers tightly. “I found this on my doorstep this morning. Go on.”
I opened the envelope, and inside found a single, softly-lit photo. It took me a second to realize what I was looking at, and when I did I turned almost as red as her hair. The photo was unmistakably of the woman in front of me, but she was wearing much less clothing. Almost birthday-suit amounts of clothing. The only things blocking my view of her most sensitive places were a small scrap of silk between her legs, and long red hair draped across her chest. I had to bite my tongue until I tasted blood to stop myself from responding. Stars and stones, Dresden, you’re not an animal. Clearing my throat, I returned the photo to the envelope and placed it on the desk between us. “Have you gone to the police?”
She laughed bitterly as wiped away tears of shame, and the urge to hurt the man that did this to her roared in my chest. “I went to them when he stole my necklace, and nothing happened. I don’t know where he’s living and they couldn’t find him. And then this morning when I found this. Nothing could be done, they said. The only thing they can do is send a patrol to check up on me.”
“Has he made contact? About the photo?”
She shook her head. “And I hadn’t heard a peep from him since the divorce was final last year until he robbed me.”
I nodded and pulled out a legal pad from my desk. “Do you have any guesses of where he might be? Any associates?”
Miss. Meagher reached into her bag again and pulled out a manilla envelope. “This is everything I could think to bring.”
I took it from her and pulled out the stack of papers. On top was a wedding photo of Miss. – Mrs.? – Meagher with a man shorter and stockier than me, but with a kind face. I couldn’t imagine what had gone wrong in his life to go from being in love with a woman to blackmailing her and robbing her at gunpoint.
“I was such a fool. He was perfect until he wasn’t.” Tears began streaming down her face, and I had to fight the urge to cross my desk and pull her into a hug. Instead, I handed her a small stack of fast food napkins I found in my desk. Wiping tears away and blowing her nose in a most unladylike fashion, she laughed softly and shook her head. “Look at me, I’m such a mess. I’m sorry, Mr. Dresden.” The apology caught in her throat as more tears fell.
That did it. I stood, rounded my desk, sat down in the chair beside her, and took her hand in mine. For a half second, she looked up at me and met my gaze, pulling her eyes away just as a familiar tug at the back of my mind began.
“I… I’ve heard about your sort, you know. Back in the old country. The things you can see if you make eye contact too long.” She looked down at her hand in mine but didn’t remove it.
“It goes both ways. It’s called a soul gaze.”
We sat in silence like that for a while, her eyes on our intertwined fingers, my eyes on her face.
“Thank you, Mr. Dresden.” She squeezed my hand, and then released it to reach into her purse again. This time, she removed another envelope, this one very thick, and placed it in my vacated hand. “I… I wasn’t sure how much. I hope it’s enough. I can get you more if it isn’t.”
Enough? I was pretty sure that envelope would keep me in electricity and running water for at least a month. I tried not to let it show. “This is more than enough, but I usually bill after the job is done.”
She stood, lay her hand on my shoulder, and squeezed before stepping around me to move towards the door. “Think of it as a mark of my faith in you,” she said as she pulled the door open. Before stepping through the frame, she glanced back at me and said, “Call me when you find something, please, I… I just want this to be over.”
I stood to join her at the door. “I will,” I replied, and I watched as she walked over to the stairs and begin her descent. When she was out of sight, I shut and locked the door behind her.
“Merlin’s beard,” I muttered to no-one, hefting the envelope in my hand. I peeled it open at my desk and counted it back at my desk, finding five thousand dollars in crisp twenty-dollar bills.
I should’ve known it was too good to be true.