The Night Is A Harsh Mistress
by A. Catherine Noon
Fine. If Viktor Khrushchev wanted to pretend this was some kind of bad crime novel, then fine. She would show him that Rachel Carmichael was nobody’s fool. After all, it did say “Rachel Carmichael, Private Detection and Security Consultation” on her door, not “Damsel in Distress” or “Idiot in Need of Coddling.” And most especially not “Someone Who Can’t Be Told Anything Useful For Their Own Good.” She lit one of his cigarettes with precise, angry movements and then regretted it. The scent made her think of him.
“This is stupid,” she announced out loud to the room and then flinched. Then felt completely ridiculous. “It’s not like there’s anything to it,” she muttered out loud spitefully. She got up and moved around the office, straightening her belongings and neatening.
It took about five minutes and then she was back at her desk, staring down at the blotter. Outside, the sun sank toward the horizon, stealing the light from the day. She started to reach for her desk lamp and froze.
A person stood outside her door.
Rachel wasn’t sure how long she froze, staring at the door and the shadow outside of it. The unknown visitor didn’t knock or do anything, just loomed. Rachel cast about for something to do or say that wouldn’t be so ridiculously like a deer in the headlights. She cursed Viktor in her mind for making her so paranoid. When the handle jiggled and she heard the scrape of a lock pick, she did the first thing that popped into her mind.
She ducked under her desk.
Mr. Singh’s voice startled her so badly she squeaked.
The stranger responded, and said something Rachel couldn’t quite make out. Mr. Singh said something and then the voices moved away, toward the elevators. Rachel stayed where she was, thinking, even though her mind refused to come up with anything useful. Finally, deciding that the stranger would be long gone by now, she got up and turned on her desk lamp.
“Miss Carmichael?” Mr. Singh called, tapping the glass.
She jumped. “Coming,” she called. She grabbed a file to use as a prop and went to the door.
Mr. Singh beamed at her. “You just missed him!”
“Your friend, of course. Look, he left a message on your door while you were in the bathroom. If I knew you were here, I would have had him wait.”
Rachel frowned. Taped to the outside of her door was a folded sheet of paper. “Thank you, Mr. Singh.”
He waved his hand airily and turned away, bustling already. “No worries, Miss Carmichael. No worries!” His cheerful wave over his shoulder made her smile.
She retreated into her office and pushed the door closed. She unfolded the sheet of paper and stared at it.
It was blank.
She set it on her desk and studied it. A blank note. A missing boy who wasn’t missing. The Russian mafia somehow aware of her business, and Viktor Khrushchev, White Knight. Don’t forget Mrs. Dawson.
No, it definitely wouldn’t do to forget Mrs. Dawson.
Rachel sat down and turned her chair to the window, staring moodily out at the sunset. The sun continued its descent, oblivious.