Monday, May 7, 2018

Deception or Duty?

A Pink Lady continues…

It was a few minutes past four in the afternoon when Amanda trudged through Mrs. Davis’ front
door and gratefully shut the world out on the other side.
“Rough first day?”
Startled, Amanda looked into the parlor.
“Chris,” she exclaimed. “What are you doing here?”
“I thought I’d check in and see how you were doing,” he replied, crossing the floor to meet her in the archway. “Mrs. Davis said I could wait for you. But if you’d rather not have any visitors….”
“No,” Amanda assured him. “You’re about the only person I do want to see.”
Chris smiled appreciatively. “Want to tell me all about it?”
“Not really.”
“That bad?”
“It was mind numbingly brutal. Mrs. Webster must love the sound of her own voice.”
“She is impressed with her own importance,” Chris admitted. “But she won’t be your only instructor.”
“Thank heavens.”
“Barbra McMillian should take over on Monday.”
“It can’t come soon enough.”
There was an awkward pause in the conversation until Chris thought to ask, “Anything else happen today?”
Her interview with Eric immediately sprang to mind, but she was not about to start a quarrel with Chris about it. So, she shrugged and said, “What am I thinking? Wouldn’t you like to sit down?”
She started into the parlor and took a seat on the far end of the sofa. Surprised by her abruptness, Chris followed and sat beside Amanda, noting how hard she was trying to appear relaxed.
“I thought we might go back to Helen’s for dinner,” Chris began again.
Amanda’s face flushed. “So soon?”
“I thought you enjoyed yourself?”
“Of course. Only....”
“There isn’t any reason you don’t want to go back, is there?”
Amanda swallowed. Could he know I’ve already been back? No, she thought. How could he?
“No,” she blurted out. “Yes. That is… I’d rather not go out at all tonight,” she amended, trying to appease the look of consternation on Chris’ face. “I’m tired. But I’m sure Mrs. Davis wouldn’t mind if you joined us here.”
“I don’t know. It might be awkward with Marion around.”
“You don’t have to worry about her. She left last night.”
“Yes. Apparently, it’s quite a mystery.” Amanda bit her lower lip, as soon as the words were out of her mouth.
“Sounds like just the sort of news Eric would love to exploit.”
Amanda blushed and looked down at the rug. Misinterpreting her reaction, Chris edged closer to her on the sofa and reached out to take her hand.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “I didn’t mean to bring up a sore point. Fact is, I really came here to tell you I changed my mind.”
Amanda turned towards him. “About Eric?” she asked in surprise.
“No. I still don’t trust him. But I do trust you and if you want to help with his investigation, then so do I.”
“You mean it?”
“I figure the best way to make sure the mole is found and no one gets hurt is if we work together….provided that’s acceptable to you?”
“Chris, you’re wonderful!” Amanda cried, leaning in to kiss his cheek.
“There is one condition though,” he amended, holding her at arm’s length. “I don’t want you to take any information you uncover to Eric…at least not without me. Deal?”
Amanda’s face went pale.
“Why?” she asked, trying to appear nonchalant.
“Because Eric intends to use this investigation as an excuse to dismantle the Women’s Bureau. If we aren’t careful about the type of evidence we hand over, he could easily twist our findings to suit his own purposes.”
“He can’t. He wouldn’t.”
“He told me as much last night,” Chris replied.
“And that’s why you hit him?”
“I hit him because he said he intended to let you do his dirty work for him.”
“I don’t understand.”
“He figures if an accusation against a female agent is made by another female agent, it will only strengthen his argument.”
“By making him look entirely impartial. Then he can go to work building a case against the Bureau and you’ll not only be out of a job, you’ll be the one all the other women will blame for losing theirs.”
Suddenly sick, Amanda clutched her stomach and shot up from the couch.
“Amanda? What is it?”
Too ashamed to explain her folly, she hurried over to the open window and tried to take a deep breath.
“What’s upset you?” Chris asked, rushing over to stand behind her.
“I just wish you’d told me all this last night,” Amanda bemoaned.
Chris scowled and forced her to turn around.
“Because I already went to see Eric today,” she confessed. “And I gave him Marion’s name.”
“Amanda, you didn’t.”
“It seemed to make perfect sense…this morning.”
Chris sighed with exasperation and started to pace.
“Why would you single out Marion like that?”
“I told you, she disappeared last night without a word to anyone. And Penny Newlan told me she’s frequently made mysterious trips that weren’t related to agency business.”
“And so naturally you assumed her reasons for these trips were all bad.”
“Why shouldn’t I? I had no reason to doubt Penny’s word. And Marion certainly proved how capable she is of being two-faced when she tried to poison me against you.”
“So you decided you’d get even.”
“I did not! And stop shouting at me,” Amanda said.
“Alright. I’m not shouting now. But you still haven’t explained your reasoning. Did you even try to find out where Marion was going before you decided she was the mole?”
Chris threw up his hands in frustration.
“But I really don’t think any harm has been done,” she continued. “When I told Eric my suspicions, he said the same thing you did. That I didn’t have enough evidence to prove anything.”
“Oh, I’m sure he’s already busy making up the deficit. And I do mean making it up.”
“He wouldn’t try to blame Marion for something she didn’t do.”
Chris gave her an incredulous look. “Wouldn’t he.”
“How can you be sure?”
“Because I know Eric better than you do.”
Amanda wandered back over to the sofa and sank down on the cushions with a defeated air, while Chris remained by the window to ponder their predicament.
“I suppose it wouldn’t help, if I said I’m sorry,” Amanda ventured.
Chris looked up from his trance and offered a sympathetic smile. “It might not be too late,” he replied. “What time did you see Eric?”
“Around quarter to one this afternoon.”
Chris glanced down at his watch. “We might still be able to stop him.” He rushed over to grab her arm and pulled her along after him.
“Where are we going?”
“Upstairs. Marion may have left a clue in her room as to where she went last night.”
“What good will that do?”
“It may disprove your accusation against her and that could save both your necks.”
Amanda fell in step behind Chris, as he mounted the staircase. When they reached the landing, Chris immediately turned right and went straight to Marion’s door.
“How did you know which room was Marion’s?” Amanda asked, following Chris inside.
He looked over his shoulder at her and noisily cleared his throat. “We’d better start looking for clues,” he evaded.
Amanda uncrossed her arms and went over to the dresser, while Chris busily searched inside the nightstand. Among the furnishings supplied by Mrs. Davis, Marion had added distressingly little. Apart from a few bottles of perfume, a small wooden jewelry box, a tattered umbrella and a modish straw hat, there were no personal effects to investigate. It appeared Marion had packed most of her clothes, leaving behind empty hangers in the closet and crumpled bits of tissue from the laundry all over the floor.
“Anything?” Amanda asked, when she heard Chris shut the nightstand drawer.
He scowled and shook his head. “You?”
Amanda dropped the lid on the empty jewelry box. “Nothing.”
“Did you try the closet?”
“Empty,” Amanda replied.
Chris sighed. “There has to be something.”
“What did you expect to find?”
Chris shrugged, still looking around the room. “I thought maybe…hello. What’s this?”
He stooped down to pick up the trash can beside him and pulled out a rumpled bit of paper.
“What is it?’ Amanda asked.
“Salvation!” Chris crowed. “Look.”
He handed the paper to Amanda who instantly recognized the telltale stationary of Western Union.
“This must be the telegram she received last night,” she declared, pausing to read the brief message.
“Oh, no” Amanda gasped, handing the telegram back to Chris. “I never thought she could be sick.”
“I had my suspicions something was wrong with her when we were down in Mexico.”
“What do you think it could be?”
“I dunno. Obviously something serious enough to send her running.”
“Yes, but where?”
“The address for Dr. Barnes at the top of the telegram says St. Louis.”
“Why wouldn’t she go to a doctor here in Chicago?”
“She probably didn’t want to risk anyone at the agency finding out about her illness.”
“What difference would that make?”
“Depending on her condition, it could mean her dismissal.”
“And I just put her right under the magnifying glass. Oh, Chris what have I done!”
He tried to bolster her spirits with a gentle smile. Then a moment later, he added thoughtfully, “We’ve got to take this telegram to Eric.”
“Why? Wouldn’t that just ensure she gets sacked?”
“Better to be relieved of duty for health reasons, than charged with treason and imprisoned,” Chris replied.
“I suppose you’re right.”
“C’mon. We don’t have a minute to waste.”

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