*Disclaimer: Stephanie Meyer & Little Brown Publishing own all rights*
…And finally, a star of Chicago, Illinois is shining a bit dimmer today. All of Chi-town is buzzing at the news that Cuthbert Hale, famed owner of the La Bella Cosmetics company which was founded here in Chicago was found dead in his home by his daughter, the glamorous Rosalie Hale. Mr. Hale is believed to have had a heart attack early Friday morning. The deceased was husband to the late Lucille Hale, who passed away due to complications during childbirth in 1920 following the birth of their younger child, Jasper. Mr. Hale is survived by daughter, Rosalie and son, Jasper. This morning, Mr. Hale will be laid to rest next to his wife. Rosalie is slated to take control of La Bella Cosmetics and the entire Hale estate. She has some big shoes to fill but Chicago has every confidence in this little lady. This is truly a sad day in our great city.
This is Randall Roberts. I leave you now with Duke Ellington and John Coltrane’s “In a Sentimental Mood.”
I was tempted to turn off my Victrola radio as I stood in my studio apartment in my undershirt and slacks, slowly pouring myself another bourbon. I didn’t really give a crap about some dead blueblood and his family’s problems. Unfortunately, it was my job to know what was happening with the Chicago social set; sometimes they came to me to solve their rich blueblood problems, and hell, they paid damn well. Automatically, I filed the names away in the drawer in my mind reserved for useless bullshit I’d probably never need. I sat down at my desk, unfolded my copy of the Chicago Tribune and eagerly spread it out in front of me. I quickly found the sports pages and began studying the baseball section intently as I tossed back a tumbler of Wild Turkey with a practiced flick of my wrist. The ring of the telephone prevented me from reaching my goal; finding the score of the White Sox game would have to wait.
I reached over lazily and picked up the receiver. “Cullen,” I said just as lazily, once the cold black plastic met my ear.
“Is this Mr. Edward Cullen?” a husky feminine voice asked.
“Yeah, that’s right,” I replied as my brows drew together in suspicion.
“Are you taking new cases, Mr. Cullen?” she inquired.
I pursed my lips in thought and relaxed back into my chair. “Could be,” I allowed nonchalantly as I leaned back and propped my feet up on the desk. “Depends on the case. As a general rule, I don’t decide to take a case until I’ve met with the client,” I answered, grateful again I had made that personal policy. Anything could be a set up, you can’t trust anybody.
I heard her sigh. “Perhaps if you knew with whom you were speaking, you might reconsider,” she returned.
Well la-di-dah! “Look doll, I don’t care if you’re Eleanor goddamn Roosevelt, no dice. We meet first. Why not come to my office? That’s usually how this works,” I offered. My eyes darted around the room and noted the boxer shorts hanging up to dry only ten feet away from my desk.
“No thank you,” she returned and I sighed with relief that I wouldn’t have to hurry and make the place presentable. “Can we meet somewhere in public?” she asked.
I shrugged. “Sure. Any place in particular?”
“Lou Mitchell’s, in an hour.”
“I’ll be there, doll,” I said; I knew the place. “And, just for the sake of propriety, with whom am I meeting?” I asked with a sarcastic smirk.
“Rosalie Hale,” she answered flatly and then hung up.
I put the receiver down and snatched up my pack of Lucky Strikes, pulling one gingerly from the pack and bringing it slowly to my lips. From the pocket of my slacks, I took out my silver Zippo lighter and flicked it open with a snap of my fingers. I took a long, luxurious draw as I lit the cigarette and pulled open that creaky drawer in my head reserved for bullshit that I apparently needed after all.
Rosalie Hale. Of course I’d heard of her, long before today’s news. You can’t grow up in this town and not know about the Hales. The radio had said she stood to inherit the entire estate and her father’s cosmetics company. Why would she be calling me? For Christ’s sake, Cullen, why do they always call? I chuckled blackly to myself. Because they’re usually guilty.
I stood and went in search of a shirt to put on. As I was putting my cuff links in, I remembered another snippet of useless bullshit. This dame was supposed to be beautiful, the toast of the town at one time. I cringed. Beautiful broads were trouble.
Nothing but trouble. The kind of trouble and the kind of dame that got a fella nothin’ but a black eye and broken heart. To be strictly avoided at all costs.
After I made sure my Colt .32 revolver was loaded and secure in my holster, I deftly knotted my blue tie around my neck and shrugged into my navy blue suit jacket. Carelessly, I tossed my dark grey fedora hat on my head and walked out the door for my rendezvous with Chicago’s sweetheart.
Thirty-five minutes later, I got out of the cab on West Jackson Boulevard and squinted up at the red neon sign of Lou Mitchell’s Restaurant that buzzed above me with an electric hum. Nothing had changed since the last time I was here. A decade ago, I lived on this side of the city and Lou’s was where I got my morning joe. I didn’t recognize any of the faces in the joint, but I saw the same cheap red vinyl chairs, the tabletops that were scuffed and carved from years of servitude and the same bell over the door announcing my entrance.
Not seeing anyone that looked like a blond heiress Betty Grable type either, I got a table in the back and ordered a coffee and a slice of apple pie from the tiny black haired woman that came to wait on me. I could hear the cook’s radio playing the Andrews Sister’s “In the Mood,” mingled with the satisfying sizzle of bacon frying.
“Ma’am,” I called to the waitress just as she had turned to leave, “forget the pie, steak and eggs over easy instead, with a side of bacon.” It just smelled too damn good. She nodded and headed toward the kitchen.
I took off my hat and ran my hand through my hair before lighting a smoke. Wonder what makes her think there’s more going on? The radio said heart attack, I mused, my thoughts falling back to the Hale case. I took a long deliberate pull on my smoke and exhaled. The waitress brought me my coffee.
“Cream?” she asked. I shook my head no and she left me to myself. I pulled out my little silver flask and quickly topped off my cup. As I brought the cup to my lips, my eyes went to the door of the diner where a customer was walking in, making the little bell that hung over the door ring insistently.
I nearly choked on my coffee as my eyes drank in the sight of what I could only assume was dollface herself. I mean I am a man; I couldn’t have helped it if I’d wanted to. Her presence demandeda reaction. Her golden wavy hair framed her porcelain face like a gilt frame around a priceless painting. Her eyes were brilliant sapphires as they searched the faces of the patrons of the diner, searching for me, I assumed. Rosy cheeks perfectly complimented by luscious red lips that you just want to have on you… Anywhere.
I stood up slowly, honestly in awe of her, and her eyes flew to me. I smiled at her to show her I was who she was looking for. Her chin tilted up ever so slightly as she started towards me. Saunterwas the only way to describe it; there was no way what she was doing could be called walking. Every man in the room felt the searing burn of her smoldering sensuality.
The creamy white fabric of her dress trimmed with red roses swayed seductively around her calves as she came toward me. I caught a glimpse of a set of long, muscular gams that would put a derby winning thoroughbred to shame. Her feet were encased in a tiny pair of red high heels and her fingernails were painted fuck-me-red to match. I was pretty sure La Bella didn’t have a color called that, but they needed to, and call it Rosalie.
“Edward Cullen?” She purred like a kitten and put out her hand for me to shake.
“Rosalie Hale,” I said and took her hand, turning it over and kissing the top of it. “It’s my pleasure,” I murmured and smiled wryly at her.
Absolutely nothing but a fistful of trouble right smack in the kisser.
Edward Cullen looked like he was nothing but trouble with a capital T.
Even from a distance he looked cold, hard, and dangerous. And sexy too. Can’t forget that, Rosalie. Those types usually were. Emmett had told me about him, saying that he was the best in the business. Hard to work with, but the best Chicago has to offer in the way of private detectives. I would deal with “difficult to work with” to have the best. And who was I to call someone else difficult anyway? Emmett had heard about Edward Cullen through a few friends and had met him at a pool hall a few months back. I wasn’t sure at first that I needed to hire a private detective; after all, I spoke to the police officers and they said it was open and shut. My father had passed away from a heart attack, end of story. Only, I was pretty sure that it wasn’t the end of the story. The more I thought about it over the weekend, the more I realized that I could not rest until I knew, for certain, that there was nothing out of the ordinary with my father’s death. One name was on a constant loop, repeating over and over in my head: Edward Cullen.
“That’s him, isn’t it, Emmett?” I questioned softly through the glass divider of the car as I watched him walk into the diner, hat on and head low, keeping his face shielded from the wind. I was separated by glass all around me. Separated from where Emmett sat in the front seat of the Cadillac Fleetwood by glass. Separated by the glass of the car window and the glass pane of the diner from Mr. Edward Cullen. I lived in a glass box with everyone looking in at me, watching my every move, and waiting to see what I would do next. It allowed me to take in others as well, though, and that’s what I was doing. I sat watching him, sleuthing the detective. The thought was somewhat amusing to my slightly hysterical mind.
“That’s him, Rosalie,” he answered, resting his arm on the back of his seat and slightly turning to look at me. A few short years ago he would have referred to me as Miss Hale or even Miss Rosalie. Things changed a lot in a few years, though. We had a thing together, Emmett and me. He took me out, we went dancing, and I learned more from Emmett about the city and the world than I had from nearly anyone else. Daddy knew and approved of our relationship. Daddy had always told me that class does not divide us, attitude does. I think that’s one of the things that made Daddy such a good businessman; he never looked down his nose at people. I tried hard to do the same and follow in his footsteps. Emmett and I mutually decided that our relationship worked better as just friends and we remained as such. He stayed on staff after we broke it off and it didn’t prove to be uncomfortable. Emmett was a good egg and still one of my very closest confidants. I didn’t have many so it made me hold tight to the ones I had.
“Are you sure you don’t want me to join your meeting?” Emmett offered to me as I continued to watch the diner out the window. I was no longer able to see Mr. Cullen. Instead I watched the pigeons looking for crumbs and the people bustling by, eager to get wherever they were going. I was stalling and I knew it. Emmett’s offer to escort me was a tempting one. It would have been so much easier to have Emmett there during my meeting with Mr. Cullen. Security and a friend rolled into one. But I knew that this was something I needed to do alone. I needed to start relying on myself now that Daddy was no longer here to watch over me and protect me. I shook my head in answer to Emmett’s question, my hair moving gently around my shoulders with the motion.
Leaning back on the mohair tan seat, I closed my eyes and inhaled deeply. The car still smelled of cigars and my father’s cologne and it surrounded me, enveloped me. I wondered how long it would stay that way before the smell would completely disappear. Oh Daddy. A few small tears made their way to the corners of my eyes and I gently dabbed them dry. My embroidered handkerchief never seemed to leave my hand, although I knew I’d have to toughen up to do what needed to be done. I reached in my purse for the silver compact engraved with the letters LRH. It was one of the things I’ve held on to that was my mother’s. I flipped the compact open to make sure everything was still in place. Make-up and hair both looked perfect, as was expected from the now owner of La Bella Cosmetics. Even in my darkest hours, when my world was filled with sadness like I’d never experienced, my appearance had to remain perfect. It’s what everyone expected of me. I took the powder puff and lightly dabbed on a quick coat of powder to freshen my face. The cold metal warmed quickly, pressed into my hand, and I traced the three letters etched into the silver. I had few memories of Momma, I was so young when she passed. But I remembered her using this compact and it gave me a connection to her that I was otherwise so often lacking.
Sighing and pulling myself together, I moved to pull on my mink stole and get out of the car. Emmett watched me through the rear view mirror and exited the front seat. He tipped his hat and swung open my door for me, offering his hand as I stepped out of the car. He looked a bit concerned as his eyes met mine.
“Rosalie, be careful. Word on the street is he’s a bit of a hothead,” he warned as he shut the door behind me.
“So am I, if you remember correctly,” I smiled a watery smile up at him. My Patriotic Red lips grazed the side of his ear. I whispered a breathy thank you. He smiled back and said, “Knock him dead, kid.”
The local greasy spoon was probably the last place Mr. Cullen would have thought I’d suggest. Daddy and I came here all of the time. The people were warm and friendly in a city that could, at times, be anything but. My hands moved to my thighs and smoothed my custom tailored dress down over my legs, pressing out the folds that had come from sitting in the car. Daddy had it made especially for me, with hand painted roses along the skirt. Some might think it was ostentatious to wear something so flashy following his death. I didn’t care what they thought. I knew he would smile if he was here with me. I drew a sense of comfort from wearing the dress that my father had had made especially for me, his Rose. I had worn the standard black frock earlier to the funeral and it felt stifling. This was me.
Putting on a neutral face, I walked with purpose across the street and to the diner. Pigeons scattered from the sidewalk in front of the restaurant as my heels clicked on the pavement near them. The bell chimed over my head as the glass door opened and I immediately started searching, giving the illusion that I was searching the familiar setting for an unfamiliar face. I had seen him from a distance but didn’t get the opportunity to really get a good look at his face. I saw him stand up from his spot in the corner booth and I hung my stole on the rack near the front door before making my way to the table. His eyes travel up and down my body and I have to try hard to hold my smirk at bay. That’s not to say that my eyes don’t take in his stature: slim, lean, and looked like he could use a few good home-cooked meals. His hair was in need of a good cut and his face of a shave. He had a five o’clock shadow and it was nowhere near five o’clock. His eyes gleamed as they made one more pass along my body and he gave me his best Valentino smile. I know I’m in mourning, but I can’t ignore the tingle I’m feeling. It’s been too long…
After we introduced ourselves and he pulled the old “kiss the hand instead of shake it” trick, I moved to sit down on my side of the booth. Before I was able to sit, Alice came over and pulled me into a tight hug, standing on her toes and whispering her condolences up into my ear. Mr. Cullen looked on, a mixture of shock and confusion evident on his face. She asked if I would like my usual order and after nodding my confirmation, she patted my hand and walked to the back of the counter to talk to Lou.
I let out the breath I didn’t realize I was holding while I slid into the booth across from Mr. Cullen. Showtime, Rosalie.
“Mr. Cullen, I do appreciate you taking time out of your busy schedule to meet with me. I hope that this isn’t too much of an inconvenience for you.”
“It’s Edward, dollface. None of the ‘Mr. Cullen’ bullshit. Why don’t you give me the skinny as to why we are meeting.” His voice was low and raspy, and he looked at me skeptically as he took a long, slow drag from his cigarette. I started to speak but paused as I saw Alice coming back to the table with my fruit salad, omelet, and tea. Balanced on her other arm she has what I can only assume was his food, if it could be called that. For such a small woman, she had an amazing amount of strength. After depositing the plates in front of us, she grabbed the coffee pot off the burner to top off his mug. Edward dug into his food immediately, grunting out a quick thanks to Alice. I looked up and smiled my thanks at her and she gave me a look. The look that basically said she was ready to take this guy on, if he so much as laid a finger on me. The thought was absurd, of course, but comforting.
I turned back to Edward, ready to tell him the purpose of our meeting when I saw him tipping a flask toward his coffee. A boozer? I hoped that it wouldn’t affect his ability to get the job done, if he acquiesced and took the job. He opened his mouth while chewing his food and said, “From what I’ve heard, your father’s death was pretty standard fare.”
My blood boiled. I leaned forward, quite intent on showing him exactly how serious I was about this. “My father’s death was not, as you say, standard fare. I do not, for a moment, believe that he had a heart attack as the police and coroner suggest. Daddy was healthy! Sure, he had his vices, but don’t we all?” My eyes flickered down to his food and drink. I took a sip of my tea and ate a bit of omelet before I continued. “He was not a sick man. He took great pride in being active and taking care of his body. It went along with the whole image as being the Cosmetics King of Chicago, but he truly believed in the way of life too. Every morning he and Emmett ran together.” His brows rose infinitesimally at the mention of Emmett’s name. I cut up some more of my food while I briefly decided how much to reveal.
“Our driver and friend,” I explained, my face flushed a bit. Rushing ahead, I continued, “And Daddy often played tennis on the weekends with his friends from the country club.”
He mumbled something under his breath that sounded a lot like, “Of course, the country club.” I could not be certain, as his mouth was stuffed with food once again. I took a dainty bite of my fruit and chewed before opening my mouth to talk again. Maybe he’d learn by example?
“Tell me about your father’s friends, his habits. Did he enjoy socializing? Who were his closest friends?” He took a big gulp of his spiked coffee and winced a bit.
“He does. He… did. He was friendly with most of the members of the club, the people we’d see at parties. He had a lot of business acquaintances and social acquaintances. My brother, Jasper, always poked fun at how many people he knew. It seemed like every time we’d go out somewhere, he knew every single person we passed.” I ate some more of my food. I hadn’t realized how hungry I was or how I had ignored eating the entire day. There had been too much going on. “As for close friends, he only had a few that I think he’d consider ‘tried and true.’ Walter Montgomery. James Smithe. Reginald Williams.” The names were all Chicago royalty, heavy-hitters in the city. If Edward was surprised, he didn’t show it.
Ella’s version of “Satin Doll” floated through the air from Lou’s radio. I leaned forward again, pushing my plate out of the way so that I could get as close to him as I could without joining him on his side of the booth. I reached my hand across and gently picked up his hand, running my fingernail lightly across the top. He watched my finger making soft circles on his hand and it almost looked like he mouthed the words “fuck me.” Certainly, even he wouldn’t say something so crass in front of a lady. I realized then and there that it was time to turn on the charm.
“Edward,” I murmured his name and I saw him go slack-jawed. “Something does not add up with my father’s death. It does not make any sense and I truly believe that there is something more to this. That’s where you come in, should you decide that my case is worthy of your time. And I sincerely hope you decide to take me on,” I said, breathlessly, as I lowered my eyes and pursed my lips, “because I am more than willing to take you on. Whatever the price, I can tell that you are worth it.” He had actually given me no indication whatsoever of either the price or his worth during our meeting. But, I figured that a little ego stroking never hurt anyone. I wanted him – no I needed him – to take this case; Daddy deserved the best, and Emmett said he was the best. “Would you consider coming to my home? Looking around? Maybe there are some clues floating right in front of my face that I am not noticing?” I could tell from his expression that I nearly had him. I quickly got up and moved my body around from my side of the booth to his, sidling up right beside him. I circled my nails on his forearm. “Please, Edward?”
He grabbed my hand with his, effectively stopping me in my tracks. He leaned into my ear and to an outsider, I’m sure we appeared quite cozy. The growl in my ear told me otherwise. “I am not easily played, dame. And you might want to take note of that. I will help you out and take on the case. But knock it off with the act. I ain’t buying what you’re selling, you see?”
Right-o, Eddie-boy. Whatever you say. I nodded my head and pulled out my purse, leaving bills on the table covering our tab and a hefty tip for my sweet friend, Alice.
“Whaddya say we blow this popsicle stand and head to your estate?” he asked, as we both rose from the booth. He grabbed his hat and tipped it forward, covering the mess of hair. I almost missed seeing it and had the overwhelming urge to run my fingers through it.
“Walk this way.”
From the way he’d watched me walk into the room, I had to believe he’d be watching me walk out just as closely. At least now he had a reason.