Most of my clients have appointments, but I get some walk-ins. And though I have plenty of work, there are days when there is actually room in which to fit walk-ins. It was one of those days and one of those times when I was sitting at my desk looking over some numbers Sara had prepared for me, no case then requiring me to move about the city. I'd decided that I'd like to have an idea of how the trends were going – how many of my cases were murders, not that I get many murders; how many were thefts; how many were missing persons; all that sort of thing. I had no plan in mind for using the information; I was just curious. Being curious is a necessary attribute of scientists and detectives.
There was a knock on the door frame and Sara came in. She's what they call a Chicana, Hispanic but born in the United States, with a soft voice and a soft accent, dark hair and eyes, and with looks that my boyfriend assures me are "drop dead gorgeous." I take his word for it; I'm better at judging male looks than female. She stood in the doorway and said, "Kim, I've got someone who'd like to see you. She says it's urgent."
"Everyone says it's urgent," I said smiling. "But show her in."
Sara vanished and I put the scattered sheets of printout back together and set them to the side. In about 30 seconds Sara was back, ushering in a short dumpy woman in what at first seemed to me to be a purple burlap bag. It wasn't, of course, it was just one of those shapeless dresses which make short thick women look even shorter and thicker. This woman was just a few inches taller than I am, but she was considerably broader; I would have guessed her weight at perhaps 150 pounds. I couldn't tell if it was fat or muscle underneath the dress, but her jowls inclined me to think it was the former.
Sara said, "Kim, this is Madeline Hawthorne. Ms. Hawthorne, this is Kim."
Madeline Hawthorne took a seat in front of my desk and looked at me. "Just Kim?" she asked.
"Just Kim. It's actually my family name, but it's easier for everyone than my first name."
"Yes – my parents compromised. I have the fully Korean name and my brother has the American name. Until they came to that decision they fought over what they'd name him."
"He's older than you are, then." She wasn't getting to any sort of point, but I was willing to play along for a while at least. I wasn't doing anything to earn money anyway, so she wasn't costing me money by taking her time with whatever she wanted.
"Yes, by two years."
She seemed to run out of small talk at that point. She looked around the office, taking in the photos of Korea and the spotless white walls and the dark brown trim.
I cleared my throat and her attention returned to me. "I don't mean to be rude, Ms. Hawthorne, but you told my secretary that you have something urgent to discuss with me."
"Yes. I am being harassed by a stalker."
"That certainly seems to be a problem." I clasped my hands in front of me on the desk, my purple nail polish – an experiment that I was beginning to think hadn't worked – contrasting with the blotter. "How severe has the harassment been?"
"He has poured gasoline on my lawn. He has thrown eggs against my house, and a brick through a window. He has left filthy messages on my answering machine and made disgusting phone calls while I've been home. He has threatened to harm me."
"I take it that the voice on the phone and the machine is male."
I wasn't surprised. Women aren't immune to anything, but certain types of crimes do seem to have some sort of relation to gender. For example, when women set out to kill they tend toward poison, rather than firearms or knives – though in cases of passion, women can be fully as violent as men.
"I understand your problem," I said. "Allow me to extrapolate: You wish me to stop the harassment."
"I need you to find this man and stop him, and in the meantime prevent him from hurting me."
I unclasped my hands and rested them on the arms of my chair, leaning back as I spoke. "That's a job for at least two people, and realistically it'll take more. I'll have to hire outside operatives."
"I shall not allow myself to be saved by men."
I blew air up into my bangs. My brother Michael tells me I'm far too judgmental, especially when it comes to other women, but I couldn't help it. "You're going to write off half the human race?" I asked.
"No men!" For the first time she seemed to be showing genuine emotion, rather than rehearsed emotion to fit a preconceived notion of how she ought to react.
"Look at me," I said.
"I am, as you see, small. I have a gun, and I have an ASP – a tactical baton – and I know how to use them. I keep myself in shape. But I can only be in one place at a time, I can only do one thing at a time, and I am no match, physically, for any man who's not a little person. If I'm going to do as you ask, I'll have to hire outside help, and some of them at least will be men."
"Then I'll go to someone else."
"That's your privilege," I said, waving a hand. I really wasn't happy with the purple nails, I decided.
"Are there any other women detectives in town?"
"There are some other female detectives, yes," I said. I couldn't help correcting her. Michael would have not been proud of me, especially since the woman's usage was the popular one, but it galls me when people use nouns as though they're adjectives.
"How good are they?"
"They range from so-so to very good."
"And how good are you?"
I smiled. "I like to think I'm in the very good category."
She shook her head – whether disagreeing with me, or thinking that my opinion of myself was arrogant, I didn't know.
"How large are their operations?"
"Most are one person outfits," I said, "and remember that there are only a few female detectives anyway. The largest is four people including the owner – and the other three in the organization are all men." I smiled again. I have nothing against women – I'm one myself, after all – but I don't like bigotry.
"So what you're telling me is that either I submit to men, or endure this harassment."
"Ms. Hawthorne, no one said anything about submission. That's a ridiculous notion." Once again I couldn't stop myself. "When you want someone to build a house, you look for the person who can do the best job at the best price; you don't accept shoddy construction just so you can have a woman do the work. When you buy a car you don't insist that only women work on building it. You look for quality and price.
"This is the same way. You want a bodyguard – though many detectives do, as I do, provide security service – and what you ought to do is look for quality and price. Gender isn't an issue, not in a rational assessment of things. The only relevance it has here is that women are weaker and smaller than men."
Madeline Hawthorne stared at me for a few seconds. Then she got up and bustled out. Sara poked her head in a few seconds later. "What bug bit her?"
"I have this evil tendency, Sara – I don't hate men."
No, I don't hate men at all. My boyfriend can verify that. I cling to him all the time when we're together. When you're as small as I am clinging is fun – for both the clinger and the clingee. At least my boyfriend likes it when I cling to him. He says it proves that even tough women are still women. I don't argue. I just cling a little tighter and wave my nails in his face to show him that I know it already.
Madeline Hawthorne was back the next week, hysterical. She barged in past Sara, who isn't very big or very strong and who wisely dodged so she didn't get run over. I was with a client at the time, and when the door burst opened I looked up and saw Ms. Hawthorne standing there in the same sort of dress, but pink this time. "I need your help!" she wailed.
"Then you will take a seat in the outer office," I said coldly, "and wait until I am finished with a paying client." I glared at her as though I were three or four times my size, and finally she turned and stomped off. Sara shut the door and I turned back to my client, apologizing for the interruption.
When we were done with our business I showed him out, and since Ms. Hawthorne was still waiting and I didn't have any appointments for half an hour or so, I ushered her into my office. When she was in her chair and I was in mine, my feet barely reaching the floor, I asked her, "What's happened?"
"He set fire to my car!"
"That is not good." I drummed my nails on my blotter. Their fiery red was much better than the purple, even if it was more predictable. I'd have to find something that worked without being common. "As I told you before, I can't do everything you want by myself."
"Okay, okay, I'll let you use men, just don't bring them around me."
"You will let me do nothing." I could almost hear Michael chastising me, but I was grouchy that day. It was partly the fact that her manners needed help, and partly the fact that my innards were acting up. "If you hire me I'll do the work my way and you'll like it, and pay up." I clapped my hand over my mouth; that was witchy even for me.
"Okay," she said, her shoulders slumping. "Do it your way. I just want this to stop."
"That I can do," I said. "Tell me everything you know, and then I'll ask questions to fill in the gaps." I ran my hands through my hair – the nearly black coarse hair my father bequeathed to me – and lifted it off my neck. The air conditioning wasn't working as well as it ought to and I was just slightly sweaty back there.
"Aren't you going to take notes?"
I tapped my temple. "In here. I have a perfect memory for conversations, when I turn it on." I added the last because I make sure I don't remember what I don't need to remember. I held a hand in front of me. "Do you think international orange would work?"
"Sorry – I was thinking aloud. Go ahead with your account."