Agent Ramiel walked around the corner to his nondescript black Ford, got in and drove two blocks away from the crime scene. The details were burned into his eyes like afterimages. The detective's words kept coming up in his mind like an irritating song, "She was a nice girl, a waitress. She wasn't a whore."
He parked in front of Clark’s drugstore, killed the engine and sat there watching the red-and-blue neon mortar and pestle sign blink and spin while he waited. He wondered if his would-be informant would actually show up, she was new, someone referred by a friend to his under the table network of eyes on the street.
He needn't have worried. Ten minutes later a striking young woman with improbable red hair paused next to his car. She wore an equally vibrant shade of red lipstick and an attractive turquoise colored summer dress. He glanced at her neutrally and watched while she rummaged through her red handbag and pulled out a compact.
He rolled down his window as she powdered her nose. “Excuse me, Miss, did you make a phone call earlier this morning?”
She met his eyes over the edge of her compact. “Maybe, who’s asking?” she answered cautiously, scanning the sidewalk and windows around them. Her hands were shaking and her vivid blue eyes were glassy.
“I’m Agent Ramiel. Have you had your breakfast? There’s a diner a few blocks away from here, isn’t there?”
She pulled out a tube of lipstick and tried to reapply it with slow, forced nonchalance, but her lips quivered and she messed up the line. “Goddamn it,” she cursed under her breath. “I don’t think I’m ever gonna eat breakfast again.” She capped the lipstick hastily, dropped it back in her purse and pulled out a handkerchief to dab away the errant color.
“I understand,” he said kindly. “How about a cup of coffee then? It will get us off the street and we can talk a bit.”
She glanced up suspiciously, the handkerchief half way to her mouth. “Nobody said anything about talking.” She glanced around nervously, “I made the call, I get a reward. Right?” She shifted her weight from one foot to the other and back again. Her red patent leather pumps, while fetching to the eye, appeared to be cruel on the arches. “Anyhow, it’s way past my bedtime, if you catch my meaning.”
He smiled. Her coloring made her look like a painted carousel pony in the early morning sunlight. “Having a cup of coffee would be more discreet then standing next to my car and taking money through the window.”
She frowned and snapped her compact closed. He had her there.
“Please talk to me, I won’t take very much of your time and I’ll pay extra, Miss…?”
She hesitated. “Ruby. Just Ruby.”
He tipped his hat. “Pleasure to meet you Ruby, my name is Ramiel, Agent Ramiel.”
“Yeah, you told me already,” she commented, as she narrowed her eyes and looked over the interior of his car in an appraising manner. Her gaze seemed to note each item and weigh it in some personal scheme of judgement--his camera case beside him on the seat, a fine, well-used brown leather satchel, open and brimming with files, the day's newspaper hastily refolded, his light weight grey suit coat laid over the back of the passenger seat. The car was clean, but he became aware of how very lived in it must appear to her. He thought it was a good thing she couldn't see inside the trunk.
She abruptly met his eyes again and seemed to continue her assessment. “I didn’t believe you were for real when Belinda told me about you.” She dropped her compact back in her purse. “How do you know her? You a trick?”
He glanced at her upper lip, at the place where the lipstick had gone astray over the edge. She’d forgotten to fix it. He had an urge to reach out and smooth the line with his finger. He met her eyes with a calm, steady gaze. “No. I’m just a friend.”
She nodded and looked away, perhaps unconvinced, scanning the street again for observers. “The nearest diner’s called Jack Flap’s. It’s three blocks down, one to the left.”
He leaned over to unlock the passenger door. “Don’t bother,” she said quickly. He looked up at her, puzzled.
“You’re getting ahead of yourself, mister, if you think I’m getting in a car with you.” She turned briskly and started walking. She didn’t look like her feet hurt once she started moving. “I’ll meet you there,” she said over her shoulder.
He watched her go and thought about Belinda as he started up his car.