My Testoni wingtips were framing the newly-etched letters on my office door when she first walked through it. Waste of fifty bucks. The glass, not the girl. Business had been slow. Who am I kidding? Like a snail in cryogenic suspension slow.
I became a private eye for the glamor, for the excitement of the hunt, for the dames. Spent the next twenty years taking naps at my desk in an office with no heat or air-conditioning, ignoring the phone when it rang unless my ESP told me it wasn’t another lost kitten.
This was no lost kitten. She was just a kid in her twenties. Not much to look at. Skinny little thing about five feet tall, with a face that looked like it belonged to a twelve-year-old boy. Hyper too. They say some girls light up a room. This girl could plain light one. The power company probably buys her excess energy.
“Toss the resume in the bin,” I said. “Don’t call us, we’ll call you.”
She looked around. Disdain was painted on her face like bad makeup.
“Wow. Alrighty then,” she piped, in a distinct drawl. I couldn’t place the dialect, Carolina maybe. “Hope your new assistant gets her own office.”
She pulled up a chair and sat down, sat being a loose definition, unless you can measure sitting on a seismograph now. Her feet didn’t stop bouncing the whole time she was there.
“How much you charge to follow someone?” she asked.
I stopped admiring my letters and gave her a once over. Money is money. “It’s fifty an hour plus expenses,” I said.
She was supposed to walk. No college kid in cargo pants and sneakers was going to pony up that kind of dough. She looked around my office again and studied my desk. The way she was shaking the floor was starting to make my butt numb.
“You’d do it for half that,” she said. “But I’ll give you thirty. Here’s five hours in advance.” She slapped an envelope on my desk. “If you haven’t lost her by then, there’s more where that came from.”
Already didn’t like her, but she was right, and money was still money. “Who am I following?” I asked.
“You?” I pushed my hat up to get a better look at her. “Most people do a pretty good job of following themselves, and no offense, but you don’t look that hard to follow.”
“I ain’t,” she said. “It’s the other girl.”
“I’m following two people?”
“In a manner of speakin’,” she said with a coquettish smirk. “I turn into someone else.”
“Maybe you should lay off the Rock Star,” I said, eying her bouncing legs with some annoyance.
“Maybe you should spend less time with your feet on your desk,” she said, standing up.
“Hey, where you going?”
She didn’t answer. She bounced out the same way she bounced in. Crazy dame didn’t leave a name, or a number, or anything. I picked up the envelope. I could just keep the cash and tell her I lost her. Easy money. I opened it up. Three fifty dollar bills and a ticket to the Cinderella ballet, with a little note that read:
Your first expense.
Something about her rattled me, and I don’t just mean her feet working at my office floor. She knew how much she was going to pay me before she walked in. And no one turns into someone else, not even Cinderella. I got up from my chair, locked up for the day, and caught up to her out on the street.
I was right. She wasn’t hard to follow. She even smiled and waved to make sure I knew which car was hers. I tailed the silver Toyota to an apartment and watched her go in. The ticket to the ballet said 7:00. My Rolex Explorer said 4:48. I got out and cased the apartment. Unless she was jumping from a two story window to a cement walkway, there was no way out but the front door. So I went back to my car and waited.
She didn’t make me wait long. Just after 5:00, I followed her conveniently to the theater where the ballet was playing. She rang at a stage door in the back and someone let her in. A minute later, my rake clicked the tumblers into place, and I was inside behind her.
Reasoning that they would only let her in if she was a performer, I found the dressing room, and inside I found her. I said she wasn’t much to look at. The appeal from the neck down was a little more inviting in her birthday suit, but I’m a private eye, not a peeping Kasey. I decided to let her dress, and use the ticket she’d left me.
The box office opened. I took my seat before anyone else, missing a place to put up my feet and push my hat down. Ballet is for someone, but it’s not me. It would have been a good time for a nap. I waited for the show to start.
My nameless client danced the part of Cinderella. I couldn’t help the feeling that she really had changed into someone else. She certainly wasn’t the obnoxious, hypertensive, brat who short sold me earlier that afternoon. She was beautiful, elegant, and graceful. Having caught her dressing, her lines suggested a little more than they should have. I might have watched a different story than the one danced on the stage.
A different dancer danced the part of the princess. I began to feel like I’d been had when the final act played out and it was the princess who danced the last dance. Suddenly, I was fidgeting in my seat as much as she had been back in my office. But when the curtain call came, she took her curtsy with the rest of the cast.
When it was over, I stood from my seat to fight my way to the stage, but I was wasting my time. She didn’t go to the dressing room. She came down into the theater to greet me, still in her tutu and slippers. I couldn’t believe I was looking at the same girl. Relaxed, if a little tired, and radiant in her stage make-up.
“I saw the way you were watching me. Did you like the ballet?” she asked, taking my arm in hers and putting her other hand to my chest.
Her accent was gone. Replaced might be a better word. She spoke in too-perfect Queen’s English, like it really was a princess on my arm.
What could it hurt? Old man like me, young girl like her. I was harmless. “Picturing you naked helped,” I admitted.
“Picturing?” she laughed. “Is that all you want to do? Picture me?”
This was no lost kitten. This was no princess either. She escorted me out past the box office and onto the theater steps.
“Oh, be a dear. Wait here just a moment,” she tip-toed to kiss me quickly on the side of my mouth and dashed down the steps, disappearing into a group of people.
The moment it took me to recover from the kiss was a moment too long. The people cleared away and I stood alone on the stairs. She’d vanished. I walked to the spot where I’d seen her last, and picked up a single pointe shoe that lay there. I’d lost her.
No one turns into someone else, not even Cinderella. I put the shoe in my pocket and went to where her car was still parked. There was no sense waiting for the girl who hired me. There was little I could tell her she didn’t already know.
Maybe I should stick to lost kittens.
© 2013 Anne Schilde