The first week of December it rained for days, a hard steady rain that turned to sleet in the night and back into icewater in the morning. By Wednesday night it had come to feel as though the rain was simply part of the month of December, or maybe part of the city itself, a stinging miasma that drove itself against cars and windowpanes and ice-stiffened umbrellas as relentlessly as it did against the grimly downturned faces of those unlucky enough to be out of doors without one.
By seven o’clock it was already dark as midnight in the office where Renée nursed a drink and refused to turn the lamps on. Eiffel having evaporated at the stroke of five as usual, no one could crack a joke about her stewing in the dark, and every penny saved on heat and light was another penny less to owe Cutter.
The flickering streetlamps cast only faint light into the office, meeting the sputtering glow of the hall light through the frosted glass of the door and joining forces to paint everything shades of grey: the cluttered desks, the sagging couch, one of Eiffel’s loud jackets slung over his chair, and the cheap rug Renée would have refused to admit was her attempt to put her own sad stamp on the secondhand office. A week without a real case, pouring over old papers and eying their budget bleakly, meant a week since Renée had had cause to hold a real conversation with another person, aside from the unfortunate reality of daily interactions with her nominal business partner, to the extent that one-sided radio announcer patter counted as ‘conversation.’
Aside from Eiffel, their honey-voiced landlord Cutter, and her idealistic sometimes-lover Dominik at the paper, there wasn’t anyone else to talk to. Not anymore.
As the clock chimed eight, Renée was staring at the bottle on the desk and considering a second nightcap before making the couch up for the night when she heard the familiar click of a key in the office door. Eiffel, presumably, having forgotten something important enough to brave the sleet—one of his magazines, maybe? She wouldn’t have put it past him.
But something about the sound and the blurred figure on the other side of the glass made her tense, and a second later, another look confirmed her suspicions. Even through the ripple of the frosted glass, the figure was taller than Eiffel and shorter than Cutter, not that Cutter dropping by unannounced after hours would have boded well either.
Renée steadied her breathing, sliding a hand to her revolver. Hall light, office dark: Even if they had a pocket torch, the intruder’s eyes wouldn’t adjust fast enough.
As the door swung open and the intruder stepped forward, silhouetted against the light, Renée’s first thought was that she was beautiful. Her second was that she too had a revolver, held professionally in a steady hand. Her third was: Got you.
Renée stepped from the shadows behind her desk, keeping her gun trained on the stranger.
“Lady, why don’t you put down the gun and tell me what you’re doing in my office?”
The sputtering light of the hallway fell on the woman’s face as she turned toward Renée, and Renée saw that beneath her beauty, her eyes were as puffy as someone who hadn’t slept well in days, and as haunted as someone who hadn’t slept well in a hell of a lot longer than that.
Slowly, the stranger held up the keys dangling from the fingers of her unarmed hand.
“Your office? This was my office first.”