The lights gleam golden, filling a room full of fancy tables and dinnerware, and couples and friends dressed even fancier. It’s a beautiful setting, breathtakingly romantic even without the roses he brought just for your table, and you must admit—he made a spectacular choice bringing you here.
You feel like a schoolgirl being courted for the first time. Oh, you’ve been woo’d before, you’ve been wined and dined by all those sleazy men hoping for a taste of your fine curves and a quick peek into the cookie jar that is your bank account, but none… None were this genuine, this… guileless. He is a true gentleman who admires you and you think he might even profess to be in love with you if he weren’t far too noble to make such a claim so soon.
He has no interest in money. You know that because you’ve worked with him long enough to see how he behaves, and money is meaningless to him except that he always made sure he had enough to take care of his son growing up. He has no interest in sex; you’ve made discreet advances once in while, when you were particularly tipsy, and he always declined as a true gentleman would.
No, he wants this: romance. He wants to win your heart, and you’ll be damned if he isn’t going all out to do it.
And boy, is he doing it.
You smile, and you mean it; you can’t help but feel mildly embarrassed by the effect he’s having on you, but you hide it behind a glass of wine as you regard him fondly. He’s spent half the night listening to you talk about yourself, and only when you invited him to answer some questions did he finally return the favour, and when he talks about his hopes for the future…
You can’t help but be pulled into his dreams.
He’s a wonderful man. It’s a wonderful night.
It’s like you’re in a dream yourself, almost too good to be true.
It’s when you step out of the restaurant onto the street two hours later, that that dream is finally shattered.
An engine roars to life; he sees the car before you do, and, shouting, he’s suddenly shielding your body with his. The sharp bark of gunfire, an automatic weapon; a Thompson, you realize numbly, and you can feel the jolt of his body as some of those bullets hit home.
He took those bullets for you. He shielded you with his own body.
It’s purely reflex that has you reaching for the handgun in your purse as other people on the street start screaming; you draw your weapon, and as he falls, you finally see them—and you know them.
Rage, hot and thick, boils within you.
You take aim, and fire. But so do they, and even as you see your bullets strike, you feel the sharp agony of more ripping through your own flesh. The next thing you realize, you’re down on the ground.
Someone’s screaming to call the police. But all you can think about is him…
2:30 in the morning, half an hour after the incident, the streets were thick with police. Even the chief was there; Chief of Police Adam Redcliffe, a very strongly opinionated and passionate man who few had ever seen as subdued as he was right then, staring at the pools of blood on the sidewalk. He was silent, alone in the middle of a crime scene surrounded by questioning spectators and reporters, until another man joined his side. He glanced up, his mouth thinning into a grim line.
“The hell're you doin' here, detective?” he snapped gruffly. The man smiled—a strained look with no pleasure at all behind it—and tips his hat politely.
“Got a call from Ace,” he stated simply. “How are they?”
“Miss Lalonde and Mr. Egbert are both at Midnight Hospital now,” Chief Redcliffe replied. “We still don’t know if they’ll make it. Miss Lalonde is an upstanding citizen of the city, she runs several charitable organizations and works closely with the mayor, I’ll be damned if I let the Crew get away with a heinous crime like—”
“Whoa whoa whoa, hold up just minute!” The detective held up his hands in a time-out gesture. “The Crew? You saw ‘em do this?”
“Got a dozen witnesses who saw a black car go tearin’ past here, an’ a huge man stickin’ a tommygun out the passenger window to shoot down Miss Lalonde and her accountant. You know anyone else who’d pull a stunt like that in the middle of a crowded street?”
“I can think’a two other gangs that would, right off the top’a my head,” he retorted, scowling. “I ain’t fans of the Midnight Crew, Chief, but I don’t see a motive for ‘em here. They got their hands all over this city, but Miss Lalonde weren’t in nothin’ that’d get this kinda reaction outta them.”
“Then who would you figger for this?” The Chief turned to face him properly, face darkening as he challenged the thinner man. The detective, however, didn’t back off.
“I don’t point to anyone ‘til I got the evidence to hang ‘em with,” he replied darkly. “The lady was a friend’a mine, too, Chief. I intend to find the sons’a bitches what did this.”
“This is an official police investigation,” Chief Redcliffe declared, scowling. “We don’t need a private investigator getting in the way’a things. You keep your nose outta this, we’ll find the bastards and bring ‘em to justice.” With that final statement, he turned and walked away towards where his officers were gathered, leaving private investigator Paul Standford to stare down at the blood-stained concrete pensively.
“Just what were ya in, Marilyn?” he asked the night air quietly, tugging his hat a little lower across his face before turning to leave the scene of the crime.