"You're my boss, Mason, not my man."
"Ah, hell. Ya know what I mean."
"Even still. I can't be a PI."
I wanted to tell him I didn't know how, but he knew that was a lie. So I said, "I'm afraid."
"Hell you are, Quick. I never saw the likes of you when it comes to guts."
I had been on a few stakeouts with him and never showed any fear even when we got into close shaves.
"If you're thinkin of some of those cases we did together, well, I had you with me, Mason."
"Ah, you coulda handled them alone."
"How'd ya know?"
"I know ya, Quick. I knew it from the first day I laid my headlights on ya."
"You were hungover and ya woulda hired King Kong."
"But I didn't. I hired you, and now I gotta get my rump overseas and knock off some Nips. Ya gotta take over."
"What if I'm so lousy at this I lose the agency."
And so far I hadn't.
I'm not what you'd call a raving beauty, but some even call me pretty, and I agree I'll pass. Take today. I was wearing a short-sleeved cream-colored dress that was covered with bright blue intersecting circles, cinched below my bosom and belted at the waist. My hair was black, the long sides ending in a fringe of manufactured curls, and every hair in my pompadour was in place. But I was getting sick of this style, and I'd been thinking of changing. Maybe I'd get it cut short, shock the pants off my pals. Rolling and pinning were getting to be a pain in the derriere.
My mouth was small but full; my nose had a little bump, but it was okay. So the point was that even though I looked like any twenty-six-year-old gal ankling round New York City in '43, there was one main difference between me and the rest of the broads. Show me another Jane who did my job and I'd eat my hat. And I wouldn't relish that cause my brown felt chapeau had a bright red feather sticking up from the left side of the brim, and I knew the feather would tickle going down.
Once or twice I had some numbskull who thought a dame couldn't handle his so-called important case, but most people didn't care that I was a girl, and they knew any self-respecting male private dick was fighting to keep us safe.
So I wasn't hurting for things to do when my secretary, Birdie, showed the Wests into my office. But I was surprised, even though it was no mystery why they'd come to me as I was the one who'd discovered their daughter's body and no one had been arrested so far. I lit a Camel and listened while they talked.
The man and woman who sat on the other side of my desk were in their late forties to early fifties and looked fifteen years older. Having yer child murdered will do that to you.
Porter West was a big man, but he slumped in his chair like a hunchback. His thinning blond hair was turning the color of old corn. And his brown eyes were dull and defeated.
His wife, Myrna, was a brunette, spear-thin with skin that looked like tracing paper and eyes too sad to look into.
"Will you take the case, Miss Quick?"
Excerpted from This Dame for Hire by Sandra Scoppettone Copyright © 2005 by Sandra Scoppettone. Excerpted by permission of Ballantine Books, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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