Va-voom!! She was a "looker" all right--slim, mid-twenties, fashionably dressed. She lent instant class to my rather shabby, stuffy little office. I stood slowly as she entered the room and nodded toward the lone extra chair in front of my cluttered desk. "Have a seat, Ma'am."
I settled back in my old leather swivel chair and enjoyed the captivating view before me as I offered her a small gold case. "Cigarette?"
"No, nothing, thank you."
The ceiling fan made a faint "click-click" as it rotated, ruffling her perfectly-coiffed auburn hair the slightest bit. Does she have a job for me, or is she out collecting for some charity? I cleared my throat.
As if the sound roused her from a momentary daze, her large emerald eyes puddled with tears and she blurted, "He's taken my baby! Can you help me?"
Hmmm...this sounds promising. With my rent due next week, a good kidnapping case would come in handy. I leaned forward, "Who's taken your baby, Ma'am?"
"My ex-husband. He sneaked in last night while I was sleeping and stole Mollie out of her bed. I didn't notice until I got up to fix her breakfast." She dabbed at damp eyes with a rose-scented hankie.
"How old is Mollie?"
"She's just turned two and is probably very frightened to be away from me. Will you help?" Her bewitching gaze pled with me and her luscious, red lips quivered.
"Have you notified the police?"
"Oh, no! I don't want to involve them. Dex wouldn't hurt Mollie. He just wants more money. He knows I can't live without my baby and will give him whatever he asks for. But I can't really afford to bail him out every time he gets into trouble because of his gambling. A typist's wages only go so far."
"You mean he's done this before?" I asked incredulously.
"Well, what do you expect me to do about it?"
"Get her back for me. I'd rather pay you than Dex, and if he realizes he won't be able to squeeze any extra money out of me, he might quit pulling this."
"Maybe. Do you have a photo of Mollie with you?"
"No, I forgot to bring one, but she has long golden hair and beautiful brown eyes ."
I scribbled the description in my pocket notepad and then asked, "So where does Dex live?"
She gave me the address and then added, "I did remember to bring some of her favorite treats, so Mollie won't put up a fuss when you take her."
She handed me a small paper bag, and I peeked inside. Phew! These cookies smell strange! She must be a rotten cook!
"Well, Ma'am," I began, but she interrupted.
"Please, call me Lorraine. "
"Okay, Lorraine, I'm not sure I want to do what you're asking. Breaking into a house to rescue your daughter would put me at considerable risk. I'd like to live long enough to get my money's worth out of the new suit I bought last month."
"Oh, Dex doesn't carry a gun or anything, and you're bigger than he is, so I wouldn't worry. But I'm afraid you're a bit confused. Mollie isn't my daughter."
"She's not? Hold on here. If the kid's not yours, who does she belong to?" Gorgeous or not, I don't think I want to get involved with the lovely Lorraine and her sticky little mess.
"She's my cocker spaniel, not my daughter!"
"Whoa, Lady! You have the wrong person! I'm a private eye, not a dog catcher. I can't waste my time on a trivial job like this."
Threatening tears again, she rose with clenched fists. "So you're one of those "hard-boiled detectives" like Sam Spade or Phillip Marlowe on the radio--all business and no heart! Well, I love Mollie and am willing to give you five hundred dollars to get her back for me!" Her eyes sparked defiance, and I noted she looked even more alluring when she was riled.
Maybe I was being too hasty. Half a grand wasn't anything to sneeze at. "Listen, Lorraine, my stomach's growling, so why don't we stroll down to this little diner I know? Maybe we can work out a plan while we eat a bite."
Brushing past me as I held the door open, she leaned close with a coy smile and whispered, "Maybe you're more soft-hearted than you appear."
"Let's spend some time together investigating that possibility," I suggested with a wink.
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