Mr. Skeffington entered first, the big yellow taxi cab’s voice booming ahead of him, “Come, Ruby, the detective needs to speak to you about your mother’s jewels! Don’t be shy, my girl, he says it’s just routine! Now, don’t give him any trouble, come on with you!” And he stepped aside and in walked Ruby. Arms took one look at her and was instantly struck by her unique beauty. She was a young woman, probably no more than 21 or 22 at the most and she seemed quite shy. She was the exact opposite of her father in every way imaginable. Whereas Mr. Skeffington was loud, and wore his bright yellow, checked suit stretched across his large belly, the buttons practically on the verge of popping off, Ruby was demure and dressed in a lovely shade of pale pink. The dress she was wearing was tastefully draped over her ample bosom, and accentuated her small waist. Her long black hair was held back with two gold combs on either side of her head, which gave her face a round and healthy look, if a little pale. Her dark eyes struck Arms as two deep pools of emotion and she looked at him wistfully, as if asking him for something but he wasn’t sure what, exactly.
These observations of Ruby came to Arms in an instant upon seeing her though he showed no emotion in their meeting. He was there to do a job, find a thief, and to solve the case. But Arms’s heart was aching for a woman’s love and touch ever since he had encountered Rose in Warehouse 1 and shared that passionate kiss with her, rekindling the fire and longing that he had felt for her so long ago. And this young woman, so unlike Rose, in fact, so far from anything Rose was or ever could be, seemed to awake in Arms something akin to desire. Yet, he was too focused and careful to fall for someone so young; Arms was just 33, not an old man at all, but certainly too old for this young person. And he knew from previous experience that to mix pleasure with business was a surefire way to go down a rabbit hole of trouble and heartache. No, Arms was struck by her beauty, but could steel himself against much in this world and certainly he could move along on the straight and narrow now in the presence of this young woman in front of him.
“Come now, Ruby,” said Mr. Skeffington, “come sit down and talk to the detective about how you found the safe when you come in to look for somethin’. Tell him the same story you told me and don’t be shy, my girl. The detective here, don’t have all day to wait.” Mr. Skeffington’s tone had changed distinctly when he spoke directly to his daughter. He even softened and lowered the decibels of his voice. He was very caring with his only daughter whom he adored and who meant the world to him. He had practically raised her on his own, having never married again since “his Gloria” had died so soon after their daughter’s birth. He had devoted his entire life to making money and caring for his daughter. Yes, of course, he had mistresses and plenty of them, what man wouldn’t these days, but he did not believe that influenced his raising of Ruby. A man had needs, of course, but Mr. Skeffington had sheltered Ruby from those women and given her everything that money could buy. He was a devoted father, if over protective, and always meant to do the best for her. In his good fatherly ways, he now spoke to her with excessive kindness and was exceedingly gentle, a side to the man that Arms did not believe Mr. Skeffington had in him. This put a distinctly different spin on his assessment of the big yellow taxi cab and Arms realized that he should not judge before he knew all aspects of the people involved in the case.
Arms stepped forward and held out his hand to shake hers, which she offered in a demure way while not quite meeting Arms’s eyes but instead looking away slightly over his left shoulder. He would come to learn that this was a habit of hers, but for now he just turned slightly and looked too as if there was something that he might have missed. No, he was not sure what she was looking at and returned to her, offering her a seat on one of the patterned settees underneath a giant flower vase full of purple lilies. In the same way that she had offered him her hand, she sat down demurely and looked up at him with her wistful eyes, which made him feel slightly uncomfortable. He sensed that she was much more of a woman than she was letting on to him and certainly to her father. It would have been nice to interview her alone and to get a better sense of her but that was not going to happen at this point in the case, so near to the beginning of his hunt for the thief.
Arms stood looking down at this young beauty, her father standing behind her squeezed into a space that prohibited him from moving much, the buttons on his suit looking as if with any slight breeze they would fly off and take an eye out they were so tight. “Okay, Miss,” Arms started gently, taking his cue from Mr. Skeffington, “can you tell me your story? What happened, just start from the beginning.” Ruby looked up at Arms wistfully and somewhat disarmingly, and spoke for the first time. “Well, Sir,” she paused and Arms heard a young voice with a distinct sweetness in it; he encouraged Ruby to go on. “Well, sir,” she said again, but then seemed unable able to speak. She looked again at Arms with those dark eyes, and he felt that he was being pulled into something that perhaps was not as it seemed; it was a fleeting feeling and one that he didn’t understand. Only much later would he remember and recognize the early signs of danger, but for now he just looked at Mr. Skeffington for direction with his daughter.
“Come on, Ruby, the man needs to know what happened when you came in to get the jewels. What did you find when you came into the office two days ago? There’s no need to be bashful or shy, my girl,” and here Mr. Skeffington raised his voice just a tiny fraction and Ruby flushed pink enough to match her dress color. Arms could see that he had better move things along and change tactics or else he was never going to get anything out of the girl. He stepped towards the safe, walking away from Ruby and saying, “okay, Miss did you see anyone in the room when you entered?” He suspected he knew the answer to this question, but asked anyway to get the conversation going on a different path. He looked at her, and Ruby shook her head. “Okay, so no one was in the room when you entered, but what did you notice?” Arms looked at Ruby again, and she said, “the curtain in front of the safe was drawn back, sir, and the safe door was open and I could see that my mother’s jewels were gone and the cases empty.” All of this came out in a rush of air like she was exhaling the information to get rid of it once and for all. “Very good,” said Arms, satisfied for the moment. “And anything else? Anything unusual or different about the room that you can remember?” Ruby looked down at her lap and seemed to be considering her response, and then she put her hand into a pocket in her dress and pulled out a single, large sapphire gem and held it out for Arms and her father to see.
“Ruby!” her father’s voice bellowed out into the room, “where did you get that!?!” And Ruby, who seemed unable to sit under the shadow of her father’s huge voice, jumped up and turned to him, saying emphatically, “I found it on the floor father by the safe, and I’ve kept it as the only thing from my dear, loving mother that I have left.” “But my girl,” said Mr. Skeffington, “why didn’t you produce it before and show it to me?” He seemed very confused by his daughter’s behavior and Arms actually felt sympathy for him. Of course, there was no use really examining the jewel at this point; all traces of a thief’s fingerprints were gone, if they had been there in the first place. But he wondered at this clue that she had held back from her father. Her response about cherishing something from her mother seemed slim at best. Arms didn’t question the exchange between father and daughter at this point in the case. He merely acknowledged that there was some tension between the two and that not all was idyllic as he might have thought before the short interview with Ruby.
Mr. Skeffington was clearly nonplussed and his daughter seemed embarrassed by this exchange in front of a stranger. Arms felt that he needn’t stay much longer in the office, he wanted to look at the grounds further and he had an uneasy feeling that he couldn’t shake. Perhaps it was the insane asylum patterns of the room getting to him, he wasn’t sure but it was certainly time to move along. He looked at Mr. Skeffington and said, “Sir, I believe I’m done here. Perhaps you can send me a list and description of the jewels that were taken? He let this question hang in the air, and then turned and said, “Thank you, Miss for your help,” and he turned to go, walking towards the office door. But just before he exited, Ruby’s voice rang out behind him in what seemed like a rushed confession of sorts, “Sir, I just remembered that when I came into the office on the day, one of the windows was open!” Arms stopped immediately and turned around and looked at the girl. She seemed almost frightened at what she had said and Arms peered at her to see if she was telling the truth because he felt distinctly like this was a piece of information that didn’t quite sit right with his assessment of the robbery. “Ruby!” her father’s voice rang out once again in the office space, “yet another thing that you failed to mention to me!” and this time Mr. Skeffington did not hold back on his decibel level. He practically roared at his daughter, who stepped away from her father but held her ground.
Arms’s hunch when he arrived at Mr. Skeffington’s home was that the robbery was an inside job, and he was still feeling that way when Ruby made her declarative statement about the open window. He asked calmly, “and which window would that have been, Miss?” Ruby looked uneasy, but pointed to the window near the vase of lilies that her father had been standing in front of for their initial interview. Arms sized up the window, which was quite small, the position of the settee and the tiny area and was doubtful that anyone would have been able to enter or exit such a space. But he would examine every clue, and he walked back into the room and made his way over to the window in question.
Mr. Skeffington was looking at his daughter with an expression that resembled confusion and wonder. This young woman who stood in front of him did not seem like his little girl, who waited for her father every night to come home so that she could have a chat before bed. It was as if he was realizing for the first time with another man in the room that his child had grown up. It was a startling moment for him and an unsettling one too. He had almost forgotten Arms was still there examining the window sill, looking for any sign of forced entry and carefully checking for fingerprints. Of course, there were none, Arms hadn’t expected any, but he went through the motions, if just for show. Nothing. He turned to Mr. Skeffington and Ruby. It was time to leave; he felt that he was being toyed with and the girl who stared at him from across the room with her wistful eyes was hiding something. But there was no way of telling that unless he was able to speak to her alone and that simply was not possible at this time. He would have to return on the pretense of looking at the grounds around the house for further evidence and clues. He would simply postpone this to a later date and return to the house once again; he hoped he would find Ruby alone this time, for he felt sure that without her father’s presence she would tell him the truth.
Hog at Home
It had been a very long and hard week for Hog. He had received the package with the silver key attached to the red ribbon on Monday. It was Saturday now and he was at home with his family. He cherished the weekends when he had no case commitments and this was one of those rare times when he wasn’t out chasing criminals. Lilly and James, or Jimmy as he was known to his family, were in the backyard playing and he and Laura were sitting on the patio, watching the children run around. Their dog, Mandy, a middle-aged Golden Retriever, was lolling on the ground, tired out from chasing anyone who moved. It was a breezy, sunny day and at any other moment of Hog’s life he would be relaxed and enjoying his beautiful family and homelife. But today he was tense and very worried. The silver key was on his mind constantly now and he couldn’t shake a feeling of utter dread attached to it. He was trying very hard to be normal and relaxed with Laura and the kids, but he found himself entirely distracted and replaying over and over again in his mind that meeting with his old friend, Tommy Hitchens. He hadn’t seen Tommy for years, not since the war when they were both soldiers together in France. Tommy had been seriously injured and sent home with an honorable discharge before the war ended, or at least Hog thought he had. But when he met him again on that fateful day, Tommy told a different story.
Hog cast his mind back to his wedding day and shuddered to think of the utter stupidity and foolishness of his actions. He was so happy, he wasn’t even worrying about the future, except his and Laura’s honeymoon. Laura had said yes, and their wedding was planned by his sisters, Jane and Violet, along with Laura’s mother, Greta Harris. Mr. Harris, or Louis, as he urged Hog to call him, was considerably helpful and kind. Not only did he pay for the entire wedding but he had given Hog (or Seán as everybody called him then) and Laura some money towards their honeymoon. Louis was such a generous man and Hog felt truly welcomed into Laura’s family. His own parents, Lucille and Henry, and Laura’s older brother Anthony had all been there to celebrate this joyous event; these were two families coming together to support these newlyweds, and Hog remembered feeling extraordinarily blessed and unbelievably happy. Laura had walked into the church on the arm of her father to marry him – him! – and as he watched her come towards him to the altar, his heart leapt with joy. He never thought he could be so satisfied and content, but he knew Laura was the woman for him. He knew it when he met her, on the day he married her, and now as he sat in his own backyard looking at her laugh as the children ran around in the sunshine of the day.
She was his rock and she, even before the children, came first in Hog’s heart. Yet, he was struck with the truth of the fact that he could not tell her about the silver key, or Tommy Hitchens or what danger lay ahead of him. He realized the mess that he had made of everything in his life on that day that he spoke to Tommy, seemingly accidently, but now he wasn’t so sure. He felt that probably their meeting had been a set-up, if not by Tommy himself, at least by someone who had a long-term plan in store for Hog. But what? Hog knew that he was about to embark on something extraordinarily dangerous and even insidious. Already, he felt the folly of his decision and recognized that Tommy’s story about the reasons why he was discharged from the army lacked significant and important details. There was something more besides that which troubled Hog about their meeting, and he wasn’t sure what it was. He had been trying all week to piece together every single detail on his wedding day, but he simply couldn’t remember and this bothered him greatly.
Had he seen someone else lurking in the churchyard? This was something he had wondered after he received the silver key on Monday; but all he could muster was a strange, troubling feeling that settled in his heart and wouldn’t go away. But the memory of someone else, a hazy someone he saw out of the corner of his eye as he spoke to Tommy remained with him as he touched the silver key absent mindedly in his pants pocket. “Daddy,” called Jimmy, “come play with me,” and Hog was shaken out of his thoughts by his five-year-old son who he saw was holding a bat and ball, and looking at his father with appealing eyes. “Yes,” thought Hog, “it’s good to focus on the kids right now.” He needed to shake off these shadows and concentrate on the sunshine and his family. “Okay, Jimmy,” let’s play some ball!” said Hog as he strode across the lawn towards his son and set about organizing some serious T-ball, being careful not to show anything but joy and happiness to his children on that Saturday in May. Then Lilly came and wanted to join the game too, and finally Laura entered the fray and the entire family was out on the lawn enjoying their time together and having fun. And for the afternoon Hog’s mood was lifted by the joys of his children, his wife, and even his goofy dog, Mandy, who once she saw everyone together again, could not help but run around and chase the ball and the children every time they moved.
That night after the children were in bed Laura and Hog sat together in the living room on their most comfy couch. The room was dim and neither had bothered to turn on any lights. It was just the two of them in a cocoon of love and tenderness. Laura snuggled up to Hog, leaning her head on his shoulder, feeling the warmth of his body against hers. They were both tired and quiet; it had been a lovely day and Laura felt a little sleepy and happy in a rather hazy way. Hog liked this time, late in the evening with Laura. He kissed her head, feeling her soft hair against his lips and reached for her hand to draw her closer to him. And here they sat just being together and holding one another. But Hog’s mind was drifting off to old memories that he had locked away since the war, and he felt a creeping uneasiness move into his heart. To Laura he seemed relaxed, but his thoughts were elsewhere. Yet, he kept Laura close to him so that he would not relinquish entirely his hold on reality. Being near to her gave him strength and hope. He felt that not all was lost to him forever, even with the dangers that he knew lay ahead of him.
He shifted his body a little bit, and Laura looked up at him; he turned to look at her and she saw something in his eyes that she did not understand. She leaned in to kiss him and though he kissed her back with his own loving passion, she felt a distance in him. She wanted to ask him, but something prevented her from doing this. It wasn’t respect for his privacy, but a sense of warning that anything he said to her in answer to a question would be evasive and unsettling. These feelings left her a tiny bit sad and confused, just like on her wedding day when she couldn’t find Hog. She nestled even closer to him now, wanting never to move or be away from him again. And here they sat together in the dark not speaking, holding each other and sharing their deep love for one another. But both, in their own way, sensed a change coming that neither of them wanted.
Mildred was at home getting ready for work. She was a woman of routine. She ran a tight ship at the Swine’s Detective Agency and her own home reflected this same organized sensibility. She lived in a small bungalow in a little neighborhood that she liked. After her marriage fell apart and she had to go back to work, she began to save her money for a home of her own. She had never worked before, believing that marriage was everything and that she would be taken care of by her husband. But when she tragically lost her only child, a son, and her marriage disintegrated, she knew that she would have to take care of herself. She had just enough money to get by for a short time. She took a secretarial course and found a job at a small insurance company working for a man whom she didn’t care for much, but he paid well. And she was able to save. Her boss paid punctually at 5:00pm every Friday and she went immediately to the bank to deposit almost the entire amount, keeping just enough back to eat and to pay her bills at the boarding house where she now lived. She learned how to be very creative with a can of beans and found that she was able to grow a few vegetables on the windowsill of her little room, which had one south facing window that allowed in beautiful light every day. She was young and grief stricken by the loss of her son and then her husband, but she was a hard worker and determined.
This was in the early 1930’s, before the war, but then the workforce began to change and Mildred joined the growing ranks of young, middle-class women who supported themselves. After a time, she had saved a tidy sum in the bank and she thought that she was ready to buy a house of her own. But fate intervened and she met a man. He was a bit older than she and at first, she was wary of him. He seemed a little too slick, a bit too much of a fast talker. She learned to listen to her hunches about men after Harry came into her life, but initially she was so lonely that she embraced this new man who was dashing and sweet, despite her initial reservations. He brought her presents to the insurance company, arriving with flowers and showering her with compliments. He was tall and lean; he wore sensible grey suits and drove a car that to her said he was practical with money. He was everything she could have wanted in a man and she was tired of being alone. She was a real blonde then, thin and reasonably good looking or she thought of herself that way.
Harry said she was beautiful, a word that she had never applied to herself. He seemed besotted with her and she felt sure that her luck had changed with him. When he took her out, they never spent a lot of money but seemed to have fun anyway. They traveled around the city in his car and he took her to museums or for walks in parks where they had lovely picnics, just enjoying the simple moments. He seemed to know a lot about nature and he always had the name of a tree or a flower ready for her eager questions. He opened up a whole new world of ideas and thoughts to her, and she slowly let him into her heart, telling him about her former husband, the loss of her child and even her dreams of owning a home. He encouraged her to talk about her dreams and she felt safe and content with Harry. Well, clearly marriage was on her horizon and they would own a home together now that they had been going out for an entire year.
In her heart, Mildred was happier than she had ever been before in her life, except perhaps when her son was born. She was so in love with Harry that she didn’t see what was up ahead and when the crash came, she was ill prepared for the calamity that befell her life. Throughout this time of dating Harry, she still went every Friday to the bank to deposit her check, holding a little bit back for herself and now for her outings with Harry. And one Friday, as was her routine, she arrived at the bank to deposit her paycheck and the teller at the counter informed her that she was overdrawn and would have to pay a fee that would come out of the money she was depositing. “Oh, there must be some mistake,” Mildred declared. “Every week for the last three years I’ve been coming into this bank to deposit money. You’re clearly new here and simply don’t know what you’re doing! Check again! And hurry up about it!” Mildred’s voice was annoyed and people turned to stare at her. She was incensed by this unbelievable error that this little girl was making.
The girl did check again and even called over the bank manager. Oh, the story was an old one. Mildred’s “husband” had come in with all the required documents and taken all the money out, telling everyone that he and Mildred were going on a whirlwind trip around the world. “Oh, he was a dashing man,” said the teller to Mildred who saw it all in front of her then and realized her utter stupidity and foolishness. But on this day, she just stood in the bank overwhelmed with heartbreak and anguish. She was like an automaton then; she said thank you to the bank teller, and the manager, deposited her check as usual, took the meagre amount that was left after the fees and walked out of the bank into the bright LA sunshine. She didn’t know what to do or where to go. She was walking in a daze and instead of going home to the boarding house, she went to the park and sat on a bench watching the pigeons mill around in front of her waiting for any crumbs she cared to toss their way. But even she barely had any crumbs to hold on to. She had nothing. No money, no savings, no man, no house, no marriage, no child; she had absolutely nothing. And now she had to start over again from the beginning and she could hardly wrap her mind around the horror of it all.
She thought about Harry and where he might be with her money. She would never be able to find him; she knew that and did not bother even trying to think about seeking revenge. She was not that kind of woman. But her heart had been severed in two in that moment of realizing that she had been so easily conned by a smooth-talking man. “And for so long! How could it have gone on for so long?” she said out loud to herself and the pigeons. She let herself cry, not quite openly, but the tears streamed down her young face with some abandon. She didn’t want to look at herself then, but maybe the signs were there all along; Harry’s evasive answers to her questions about his past, the suits that looked a little worn and frayed around the edges. He was even vague about his age and his occupation, something in sales, he said; even though she knew he was older than her, she was never sure by how much. Mildred was always paying for the gas in his car, but never thought much of it since he did all the driving. She just chalked it all up to him being a bit stingy and overly practical. But he never stinted on her and now she knew why. Oh, she had been so lonely and alone.
And now she had to start all over, alone once again. But not lonely. No, she had learned a life lesson in that moment of loss. Loneliness was a worthless feeling and only got women into trouble with men. From now on, she would rely on no one but herself. And she stood up from the bench, and walked home instead of taking the bus, which would have eaten into the little money that she had left. She went back to her boarding house room and to her vegetable plants on her windowsill. She got creative again with her cans of beans and took more walks to work, feeling herself getting stronger by the day. And she went back to saving. There was nothing else to do. If there had been family to turn to, she might have done that but she was an only child, her parents had died many years ago, and she had seen her marriage and her own child as the way that she would live out her years. But life changes; it doesn’t change quickly like some people say, but it is always changing around us. Sometimes we notice the changes and other times we do not. But when we do, we are suddenly struck by what change offers us and this was the case for Mildred.
Change offered her a chance to stand on her own two feet once and for all and to live the life that she dreamed of for herself. And so, she continued to go to work for the insurance man who she didn’t like much but who paid her well, and she began to save her money again. When the war came for American men there were more jobs for women available, as men went off to fight overseas. Mildred got a better job working for a large, fancy architecture firm that was getting in on the ground floor of constructing new houses. This job paid more of a man’s wages and she was able to put double the amount of money into her bank account for several years. During this time, she continued to live in the boarding house with her windowsill full of vegetables and with her dreams still intact. She wanted to own a house and she was going to make that happen for herself.
And finally, just before the war ended, Mildred had enough money to buy a small bungalow in a quiet neighborhood where she would be happy and safe. She knew what she wanted and she waited for the right house to come along. She did not and could not afford something brand new. She liked a bit of wear and tear on a house because that gave it character. She dreamed of a small front lawn, a larger backyard with a fair-sized tree and at least two bedrooms. She had a scrapbook of dream houses that she had created and kept by her bedside. She looked at it every night in her boarding room bed, sending out prayers to God to send her the house of her dreams. And then one day, she found it. Just by chance, as these things go in our lives, she saw a notice about a house for sale right in the neighborhood that she had loved for some time. It was a bit of a fixer, but not by much and she knew that she could afford it. She bought it outright and felt that first moment of satisfaction as she crossed the threshold through the front door and stepped into her house. “That’s right,” she said out loud, so that she could hear it for herself, “this is my house! Mine and no one else’s,” and then she set about moving in what she owned, which wasn’t much at the time.
It was ownership that Mildred enjoyed and knowing everything was hers and hers alone. When the large architecture firm moved to a new city to get in on yet another housing boom, she found the job at Swine’s Detective Agency and settled in there, thinking that she would probably never leave. And that morning, as she gathered her sweet treats for the boys to take into the office, just like she had done for the past many years, she heard a noise at her front door. Not a knock exactly, but a sound that caught her attention and made her rise and go check. As she walked up to the door, she saw a white envelope that had been shoved through her mail slot, lying on the floor. Having worked for detectives for as long as she had made Mildred suspicious of letters and packages that arrived without a sense or a purpose. She picked it up. It wasn’t a bill or a card from a friend. It wasn’t a junk mailer or something from Publisher’s Clearing House. It was a white, nondescript envelope. She turned it over and saw nothing on it, not even her name. She felt it, and knew there was nothing of distinction in it. She had learned from Hog, that smelling something gave a person a lot of clues, but in this instance, there was nothing to be gained.
She pondered it for a moment and then opened it, pulling a folded white sheet of stationary paper out and reading:
My dearest Mildred,
It has been so long since we last saw one another, but you are in my heart still.
I’ve missed you every day more and more since we parted and now, I hope that
we may rekindle our long-ago romance and connect again since I have always
loved you. As the days go on, I cannot imagine my life without you.
Mildred felt two emotions at once upon reading this letter: rage, which came bubbling up out of nowhere and that she did not even know she could feel so intensely, and fear, which to her felt palpably real. If she opened her front door now would she see this horrible man standing there looking at her? She hesitated and then flung the door wide open but saw nothing. She stepped out on her front porch but the street was empty. Still, he could be lurking anywhere. She worried more for her house, than for herself. She had lived long enough at this point to understand that this was no mere request for her heart, but a threat to her entire life and sanctity of home. Harry had returned to take more from her and he clearly felt, from the tone of his letter, that she was an easy target.
She stood in her open front doorway feeling overwhelmed with her rage and fear and thought that she would talk to Foil; she trusted all the detectives, but Foil would know exactly what to do. Foil always knew what to do.