We'll Fly By Day

by fearlessfan

"I'm afraid we won't be very much help to you if we don't know the whole story," Maddie says, ducking her head to better see the woman sitting across from her, whose face is hidden by a veil attached to her pillbox hat.

"It's difficult for me to say this, but Maddie's right," David says, with a smile that shows he'd anticipated and appreciates the irritated glare Maddie sends his way. "It feels like you're holding out on us, Miss-"

"deComplot," the woman answers, pushing the veil out of her face to reveal a petite, pretty face. "I apologize. In my haste I neglected to properly introduce myself. My name is Appareil deComplot."

"Gesundheit."

"David," Maddie says, "Don't be rude. My apologies for my quite uncultured partner, the only accents he's familiar with come from Jimmy Cagney movies."

"I said it in German, doesn't that count toward being cultured? Gesundheit is German, right?" David says, looking to Maddie for confirmation. He must see something else on her face – true disapproval, not the kind that barely concealed her amusement before. He turns toward Miss deComplot and says, "I apologize. I suppose that was a little impolite. Truth is, I'm a huge fan of France and all things French: the fries, the doors, the kissing. Even the bulldog, though it's a bit on the small side, dog-wise, for me."

Maddie rolls her eyes.

"Your apologies are quite unnecessary," Miss deComplot says, waving a white-gloved hand. "I appreciate the humor, as it has been a quite distressing time since I last saw my sister."

Maddie sees the expression shift on David's face as Miss deComplot does her best to fight back tears and doesn't quite succeed. "How long has it been, exactly?"

"Three weeks," she says. "And I know that does not seem very long, but you do not know Yvette. She would never disappear like this. And then there is – it is just not like her."

Maddie looks at David, who seems to have also noticed Miss deComplot almost confiding in them but falling short. He sits down in the chair next to Miss deComplot and looks at her. "As I said earlier, we won't be very much help to you if we don't know the whole story."

"I said that," Maddie says, under her breath.

"I knew someone said it, does it matter who?" David says. "What really matters is this: you said you hoped we might be able to help you because of our familiarity with unusual circumstances – not sure how we got that reputation exactly, though I suppose hanging off a clock downtown in the middle of the day might have done the trick."

Miss deComplot shakes her head. "I did not hear about that. What drew me to you was a case I read about in the newspaper, about person who was murdered but turned out not to be dead after all."

"You'll have to be more specific," Maddie and David say in unison.

"In the end, it doesn't really matter," David says, shaking his head. "What does matter is your sister. We need to know everything you know about her disappearance, and what you've discovered already in your attempts to find her."

"There's nothing you can tell us that will shock us," Maddie says. "Trust me."

 

*****

"I should have realized I was tempting fate," Maddie says after Agnes closes the door behind Miss deComplot. "You'd think I'd know better by now."

"She didn't seem crazy," David says, leaning against Maddie's desk. "I mean, the hat was a bit much-"

"The hat was lovely. Quite elegant," Maddie says, edging around David to sit behind her desk. He knows she'd never admit it, but she moves a little closer to him than she necessarily has to. David will never call her out on it because he does the same thing himself.

"Quite deranged, and therefore befitting its wearer," David says, turning to face Maddie. "It's funny. Crazy people don't usually doubt their particular brand of crazy, but she seemed fully aware of how nuts she sounded."

"That's true," Maddie says, fingering one of the necklaces around her neck. "She didn't want to tell us about it at all. We practically had to drag it out of her."

"But she did say it," David says. "Reality shifting around her? Never knowing from one moment to the next what world she'd be living in?"

"To be honest, that's a fairly good description of my life since I met you," Maddie says, with that sideways look she gives him every time she makes a joke.

"Ha ha," David says, plucking a glass paperweight off of Maddie's desk. He tosses it from hand to hand, considering. "She does seem to have a sister, though, based on all the pictures she showed us. Would it hurt to look her up?"

Maddie stands up and plucks the paperweight out of its flight from hand to hand. "You're not saying we should take this case?"

"I'm saying, what's the harm? She produced plenty of pictures, it certainly seems like she does have a sister. And based on the rocks around her neck, she's loaded. You're the one always saying we need to bring in high-rolling clients."

"Well, yes, but I think the more pressing concern is her mental health," Maddie says. "We should figure out how we can help her, not how we can reinforce her delusion."

"Finding her sister would help her!" David says, snatching the paperweight back. "She's clearly upset."

"She's clearly crazy," Maddie says, moving around the desk to stand in front of David. She grabs at the paperweight. "You can't be serious."

David holds it above his head. "I'm not arguing about the crazy. What I'm saying is, we find the sister, we tell her about Apollo's delusions, the sister probably knows the kind of help she needs, since I'm guessing this isn't the first time this happened. Bada bing, bada boom – not to mention ka-ching – and everybody wins."

Maddie makes a few attempts to retrieve the paperweight, including two hops that result in her hair brushing his nose before giving up. "It's Appareil."

"What?"

"Her name is Appareil deComplot. If she's going to be our client, you may as well know her name," Maddie says, crossing her arms. "I don't know why I'm battling you for that paperweight."

"Me either. The thrill of the chase, I suppose." David leans in close to her. "One of these days, just you wait, I might slow down enough to let you catch me."

"Ugh," Maddie says, blowing her hair out of her eyes and walking past him to open the door. "Agnes-"

She slams the door shut. She opens it again, peers out, and looks back at David with a considering expression after closing the door carefully.

"What's this?" David says, placing the paperweight back on Maddie's desk. "Did you forget how a door works? Now, I'm not usually one to stoop so low as to make a blonde joke – so hackneyed, so trite, so cruel to a class of people already struggling so much, what with their disproportionate share of wealth, beauty, and, yes, I'll say it, stupidity. But your inability to open this door is making it really hard for me to stick to my principles. You see, Miss Hayes, you place your hand on the knob like so-"

David reaches around Maddie to place his hand on the knob, standing so close that she nearly knocks into his nose when she turns her head. "David-"

"And then you turn it – I go with the traditional half turn, figuring the less the better, you know, reduce the wear and tear on the knob construction –"

Maddie turns her head further, to look into his eyes. There's real confusion and panic there, and David steps back, pulling Maddie with him. "What's going on? What's out there? Is it someone with a gun? The police? The police with guns?"

"No guns." Maddie is looking at him in a sharp, assessing way. "You really didn't do this."

"Do what? What could possibly be so alarming, if it's not someone here to shoot at us the way someone does every other week?"

"I promise you, it's worse," Maddie says, and before she can elaborate further, someone knocks on the door.

xx

Maddie can see David doesn't believe her, and so she does the only thing she can think of to convince him: she opens her mouth to tell the person on the other side to come in, which results in David placing his hand over her mouth.

"What the hell's the matter with you? You're terrified one minute, telling me there's something worse than people with guns on the other side of the door, and now you're about to let them through?" David's eyes are wide and disbelieving, his hand annoyingly firm across her mouth.

She reaches up and takes his wrist in one hand – it sends a thrill through her to touch him that tiny bit, and she can tell he feels it too, not that he would ever admit it – and when it doesn't budge, she does her best to talk around it. It comes out a little like, "Yuveebleefit."

The knock comes again, followed by Agnes's familiar voice asking, in a tone slightly more anxious than usual. "Miss Hayes?"

Maddie raises an eyebrow and David lowers his hand. It takes Maddie a second longer than it should to let go of his wrist. "Come in, Agnes."

She's prepared for what she's about to see, but it still surprises her when Agnes walks through the door wearing a pointed cap, green tunic, curled-up shoes, and candy-cane striped tights.

Maddie's reaction is nothing compared to David's, though. "Holy - what on earth are you wearing, Agnes?"

Agnes looks at him curiously and puts a hand to her head. "Is my hat crooked?"

"Is your hat crooked?" David asks disbelievingly as Maddie says, "What is it, Agnes?"

"I was actually wondering if you wanted to see me, since you just called my name and then slammed the door."

"Oh. Right. I've actually forgotten what I was going to ask you about," Maddie says.

"All right. But since I'm here, there is actually something I wanted to ask you about." Agnes looks more nervous in this moment than she's been since Maddie first met her. "Miss Hayes, the staff is wondering whether they should come in to work tomorrow."

"That's what they're wondering about?" Maddie says.

David throws up his hands. "Is no one going to mention the fact that Agnes is suddenly dressed like an elf?"

Maddie gestures toward the door. "Look out there, David. You'll see she's not alone."

David walks over to the open door. "This is incredible! In the true sense of the word, it is not to be believed. And yet I'm seeing it. I am seeing this, right, Maddie?"

"Yes, you are." Maddie places a hand to her temple and considers Agnes's question. "Today is Thursday – it is still Thursday, isn't it? Which would make tomorrow Friday, a day people when people traditionally go to work, so why wouldn't people come to work?"

"Well, yes, usually people would," Agnes says, in the tone of one explaining a difficult concept to a child. "But I wasn't sure if it still applied what with you firing everyone a few minutes ago."

Maddie takes a sharp breath. "What? I didn't-"

"Whoa whoa whoa," David says, shutting the door and turning to face Maddie. "Back up. First, the elf outfit."

"Is there a problem with my uniform?" Agnes says. "It's the same as yours, Mr. Addison. You have one yourself, you just didn't wear it today because you had to meet with Miss Hayes."

"Oh, does he," Maddie says, relieved to find at least one silver lining in their current situation. "There wouldn't happen to be a spare one in Mr. Addison's office now, would there?"

"Of course," Agnes says. "I could go –"

"No!" David says, loudly enough to make Agnes jump back a step. "I mean, that won't be necessary, Agnes. I guess I'm just – Miss Hayes and I both are – it's just – "

Agnes squints at David's halting sentence and then, finally, smiles. "Is this one of your jokes, Mr. Addison? Is that why you're pretending you don't know what's going on?"

David meets Maddie's eyes and says, "Yes, let's just say it's one of my jokes. One with a very complicated punchline that's far, far in the future."

"Another way of describing my life since I met you," Maddie says, doing her best to ignore the way her heart is pounding in her chest.

"You know me, always a kidder," David says, grinning, but with a wild look in his eyes that matches Maddie's racing heart. "Okay, Miss DiPesto, pop quiz! What is the name of the company you work for?"

"The Blue Moon Ornament Company," Agnes says, with a cooperative nod.

"And what does the Blue Moon Ornament Company do?" David asks, pacing across the office.

"We make the best ornaments in southern California. All handmade in this very office," Agnes says.

"And who is Miss Hayes?"

Agnes shoots an uncertain look Maddie's way. "She's an efficiency expert from the corporate office."

"Interesting," David says. "And she just told the whole office they were fired?"

"Yes," Agnes says, sounding so sad that Maddie can't help feeling guilty even though she knows she hasn't fired anyone at all. "She says that we don't produce enough profits to justify our existence."

"To be fair, it's hard to imagine an operation this small would be able to – never mind," Maddie says, at David's hassled expression. "Carry on."

David comes to a stop in front of Agnes, looking at her with a particular fondness only Agnes seems to bring out in him. "And who am I, Agnes?"

"You're our boss," Agnes says. "The best boss ever."

"Some things never change," David says, looking over at Maddie.

Maddie rolls her eyes. "All right, Agnes, I think that's all for now."

Agnes nods and leaves the office, only to open the door again just after closing it. "Miss Hayes, my question-"

"No one's fired, everyone should come to work tomorrow," Maddie says, dropping down into her chair behind her desk, a little less gracefully than she usually would, mainly because the adrenaline of the last few minutes has left her weak in the knees.

"Oh, wonderful," Agnes says. "Thank you, Miss Hayes! Thank you, Mr. Addison. You said you'd do it, and you did."

"Don't I always?" David says, with a self-satisfied grin that disappears the moment the door closes behind Agnes. He turns back to Maddie. "Either crazy is catching, or Miss deComplot was telling the truth."

"I don't know which is scarier." Maddie reaches forward and picks up a delicate silver Christmas ornament, which is sitting in the same spot where David placed her paperweight minutes earlier. "What are we going to do, David?"

"The only thing we can do," David says, taking the ornament from her hand to hold it to the sunlight. "Find Yvette."

 

*****

"Are you sure this is the right place?" Maddie asks when they reach their destination, a dark-wood door with a panel of frosted glass with the numbers "417" embossed on it. "This doesn't look much like an accountant's office."

"I called earlier to be sure," David says, looking up at the bare lightbulb that offers flickering, uncertain light. "This is it, Suite 417, where Yvette worked as a receptionist for CPA Arnold Ramroth."

Maddie nods, clearly uneasy. David sees the moment she swallows it down and feels a rush of familiar admiration a moment later when she stands straight and raises a fist to knock on the door. "Mr. Ramroth?"

"In here," a rough voice calls out.

Maddie looks at David, all the uneasiness of before back. David shrugs and reaches for the door, but before he can push it open, it swings open from the inside to reveal a middle-aged man with a cigarette clenched between his teeth. "Who's asking?"

"David Addison and Maddie Hayes from Blue Moon Detective Agency," David says. "We spoke earlier?"

"You may as well come in," Mr. Ramroth says, turning his back to them. "I'm on my way out, so I've only got a few minutes."

"I think that's all we'll need," David says, glancing at Maddie, who still looks unsettled. He leans down and whispers, "At least he's not wearing tights."

Maddie smiles and leads the way into the room. "Mr. Ramroth, thank you for taking the time to see us."

"Time," Mr. Ramroth says. "People talk about time like it's something precious, and then they treat it like water – let it drain down the sink when there's plenty, and then mourn for it when the tap starts running dry."

"What on earth does that mean?" Maddie whispers.

David shrugs and whispers, "This guy's intense."

Mr. Ramroth pulls out a bottle of dark-colored liquid and pours himself a drink. "You ask me, this is the only cure for the trials of time. Would you care for a drink?"

"Sure," David says at the same time Maddie says, "No, thank you."

Maddie glares at David. "It's eleven in the morning. That's no, thank you, from both of us."

"Or maybe it's sure from one of us. To be sociable," David says, taking the glass from Mr. Ramroth's hand. "We wanted to ask you a few questions about a former employee of yours, Yvette Marchand. She worked for you, correct?"

"She did," Mr. Ramroth says, taking a sip of his drink. "And then she quit, no notice. Ain't that just like a dame."

Maddie mouths the word 'dame' in disbelief, giving David a Can-you-believe-this-guy? look. Usually, she's giving someone else that look in response to something David did himself; it's a nice change of pace to be on the other side of it.

"You got that right, some dames do," David says, deciding to roll with it. "But this dame in particular might be a different story."

"Her sister says it's quite unlike her to disappear with no notice," Maddie says.

"Unlike her, like she's special. You say some dames do, like they're all different," Mr. Ramroth says, gesturing in their direction with his nearly-finished drink. "Do you know the dark corners of the human soul I've seen in my work?"

"As an accountant?" David says.

"I've seen it all. You wouldn't believe the lies people tell on their balance sheets."

"Trust me, I would," Maddie says, her voice a little sharper than usual. "But about Yvette Marchand in particular-"

"You want to hear about Yvette? I'll tell you about Yvette. She comes in here one day, a tall drink of water in a silk pantsuit and she tells me she can answer the phones, says she knows double-entry bookkeeping, says she wants to learn about the job," Mr. Ramroth says. "All the while, she's working her own angle, the way dames always do."

"I'm hearing a lot about dames," Maddie says. "How about the fellas? Do they ever cause any problems? Because in my experience-"

David places a hand on Maddie's arm, and gestures with his drink toward Mr. Ramroth. "Back to Yvette. You said she was working an angle. What's the angle?"

"First day she came in I thought, what's a dame with diamonds like that doing working in a dump like this? Enough money around her neck to pay off my mortgage and then some. Sure enough, they're fake, and the real ones had been hocked to pay her bills after her sister's ex-husband and accountant cleared both of them out. She came here saying she wanted to learn how to be an accountant, but really she was learning how the books get cooked so she could catch her sister's sleaze of a spouse."

"That's quite informative. And alliterative," David says.

"Now if that's all, I'd better go," Mr. Ramroth says, going over to the coatrack in the corner. He pulls on a double-breasted overcoat and places a dark gray fedora on his head, tilted forward, and in that moment, the scene falls into place for David. "I've got to see a gentleman about a quarterly tax return."

 

*****

"It was The Maltese Falcon! Sam Spade! The whole thing! He even had a bird statue in the corner, did you see that?" David can barely contain himself, skipping sideways down the row of cars in the parking garage. "Can you believe it?"

"I was there," Maddie says, following at a more sedate pace. She feels none of David's enthusiasm.

"Seriously, none of this excites you? None of it gets your motor running?" David turns around and starts walking backwards in front of her. "Do you know how many nights I stayed up late to watch those old movies? And I just walked into one! This is incredible! How are you not more excited about this?"

Maddie stops in her tracks. "How are you enjoying this at all?"

"Listen, I get it, I was right with you at the start," David says. "The whole Christmas thing, that was very disturbing. But film noir? We can definitely make that work! We're private detectives!"

"David! Who knows how long this version will last? Ten minutes from now, we could be dealing with aliens, or I don't know, talking dogs –"

"These are all sounding pretty great to me, to be honest," David says. "I'm waiting to hear a downside."

Maddie stomps her foot. "We can't spend the rest of our lives careening from one version of reality to another, never knowing what the next moment is going to bring us! Although -"

"That kind of describes your life since you met me, I get it," David says, taking a step back toward her. "And who says this is forever?"

"Appareil DeComplot, for one," Maddie says. "She said she'd been living with this for weeks; you saw how scared and nervous she felt."

"She said it started when her sister disappeared," David says. "Our goal hasn't changed. Find the sister, bring her to Apple –"

"Appareil," Maddie says.

"Reunite them, and boom, craziness is over. But Maddie," David says, stopping a foot away from her. "For now, why don't we enjoy it?"

Maddie feels it, the familiar pull toward David – it should have its own name, the gravitational force he exerts on everyone and everything around him. The Addison Effect, maybe, but as strong as it is, it can't overcome the sick feeling in Maddie's stomach. "I can't enjoy it."

"Why not? No fun allowed? I thought we left that Maddie behind a while back."

"No, fun Maddie keeps our business afloat and you know it, but that's not it," Maddie says. "I'm frightened, David. What if we can't find Yvette? What if this is what our life is like forever? Everyone will think we're crazy, the same way we thought Appareil was crazy!"

"Not gonna happen," David says, with comforting confidence.

"How can you be so sure?"

"Because we always find who we're looking for, Maddie," David says, as if it's that simple. "Not to mention the fact that it would definitely not be in keeping with the Yuletide exchange for this story to have a sad ending."

"That's true," Maddie says.

"And hey. We've got one thing Appomatox doesn't have to get through this," David says, reaching out to take her upper arms. "Each other."

It takes Maddie a moment to collect herself. "It's Appareil."

"I know," David says, and the smile that comes with it is the most dangerous application of the Addison Effect– Maddie would do just about anything in the face of that smile, so full of affection, humor, and warmth.

Luckily, David never lets it stay too long on his face, as if some part of him or perhaps the universe itself knows how powerful it must be. He drops his hands and turns toward their car, just a few feet away and says, over his shoulder, "Now let's stop at the few other leads we have for Yvette and then head back to the office and see if we've got office workers, elves, or femme fatales to deal with. Or would it be femmes fatale? Either way you say it, that's what I'm rooting for."

 

*****

When they reach the office, they both stop in front of the door.

"At least the red and green is gone," Maddie says, an attempt toward hopefulness in her voice.

"Blue Moon Industries," David reads off of the door. "And a very intense font."

Maddie turns to look at him. "Fonts can be intense?"

"This one sure is," David says. "Well, you know what they say. Ladies first."

He gestures toward the door and Maddie smirks. "Funny how your gentlemanly side comes out when it's time to head into uncertain situations."

"Hey, take it up with Miss Manners, not me," David says, but he's sure to follow close on Maddie's heels just in case there is trouble.

Maddie opens the door and the sight on the other side is closer to normal than the one they left earlier in the morning – no more sparkly worktables or elf uniforms – but still unsettlingly not-quite-right in a way David can't quite put his finger on. He looks over at Maddie and sees that she feels the same way, and so they both hurry past the empty reception desk and the rest of the main room to Maddie's office, where they leave the door ajar just enough for them to take turns peeking out.

"It's like a funhouse mirror," Maddie says. "All the same people are here, and it looks like our office, but…"

David takes his turn looking out, and he figures it out. "But they're all like you."

"What do you mean, they're like me?" Maddie says, pushing him aside to look out into the office. "Wait. Are you seeing a dozen versions of me walking around? Because that's not what I'm seeing, David. Has it gotten so bad that now we're not seeing the same thing?"

"No, it's not copies of you," David says, a little uncomfortable with how to put what he sees, exactly. "It's just that everyone out there looks, you know. Like you."

"I am now worrying that our predicament has left you even less articulate than usual," Maddie says. "Which is very troubling, since I find you almost impossible to understand on a good day."

"They all look beautiful!" David says, as quickly as he can, because even though he knows he shouldn't feel embarrassed to say it, he does. "Now, don't get a big head over it. You know you're beautiful, you were professionally beautiful for years, of course, you're beautiful. And now everyone else in the office is, too."

"It's impressive how much work you put into finding a way to keep that from being a compliment," Maddie says, but with color in her cheeks that David knows means she's pleased. "I suppose everyone does look a bit more polished than usual."

"Polished is the right word, it does look like a few of them have had a layer of varnish put on them. And to get the hair to those heights – how do you think they did it?"

Maddie nods. "You can accomplish a lot with the right comb and Aqua Net."

"Apparently," David says, stepping away. "Okay, so what have we got: big hair, beautiful people, a vague name on the door…"

Maddie claps her hands in excitement. "I know! It's a soap opera!"

David groans. "Oh man, one of those?"

"Don't be so grumpy, if I had to sit through that awful man complaining about dames, you can endure a little sojourn into daytime drama."

Maddie walks around her desk and sits down behind it, thinking through their predicament. She leans forward and picks up an object on her desk – what had once been a paperweight, then a Christmas ornament, is now a metal dollar sign. "What do you think this means?"

David squints at it. "We're no longer in the ornament business, I guess."

"We're in the money business instead? Let's hope that part carries over when all this is over," Maddie says, placing the object back in its place with a smile. It takes everything in David to keep the façade of irritation in place, because he's so grateful to see her enjoying herself. David would never admit it, but he likes just about every version of Maddie: bossy, happy, loud, sarcastic, even relentlessly responsible. The only two versions of her he can't stomach are sad and scared, and so he's glad to see those versions of her fall away.

"Secrets and intrigue are a big part of these shows. I bet there's a good chance we'll be able to make some headway on finding Yvette," Maddie says, just as someone knocks on the door. "Maybe that's our cue. Come in!"

The office door swings open, revealing Agnes DiPesto in a striking red suit, hair bigger than David has ever seen, and shoulder pads almost up to her ears. Agnes stands framed in the doorway for a long moment, and just as David is about to say something, she takes a deep breath and says, "Mr. Addison and Miss Hayes. There's someone here to see you."

She doesn't elaborate, and so David says, "And that someone might be?"

"A man who says he might know exactly what you're looking for," Agnes says.

David and Maddie wait for Agnes to elaborate, but she doesn't. David says, "And did he have a name?"

Agnes looks down at the message she holds in her perfectly manicured hand. "Maurice deComplot."

Maddie jumps up. "As in Appareil deComplot?"

"The sleaze of a spouse!" David says. "Well, show him in, Agnes."

Agnes looks between them. "If you think that's best."

"Yes, we think that's best," David says, watching as Agnes walks to the door and pauses in contemplation before moving back into the main office. "Could she walk any slower?"

"It's part of the whole, you know," Maddie says, gesturing around them. "Everything moves at a glacial pace."

"That might work to our advantage, actually, since we hadn't actually worked out a plan regarding how to talk to this guy," David says.

"Since when do you work out plans?"

"I plan, I scheme, I plot," David says. "Usually, I do it so skillfully that you don't even notice, which makes sense - the best of the best always make it look easy."

"I'm not sure making-it-look-easy has ever really been your calling card," Maddie says.

"All right, enough banter - about Maurice. First of all, he has a guilty name. Second of all," David says, glancing out into the main office, where Agnes has only just now started to lead the man away from the reception area. Maddie wasn't kidding about the slow-moving part. "He fits the description of the man Yvette's neighbor saw her arguing with a month ago."

"You don't think he did something to hurt Yvette, do you?" Maddie says.

"Let's hope not, for all our sakes," David whispers, as Agnes arrives at the door. "Mr. deComplot! Just the man we've been looking for."

 

*****

"You have been looking for me?" Maurice deComplot has the bearing, styling, and presence of every soap opera villain Maddie has ever seen, and having spent so much of her youth on modeling shoots with TVs playing in the background, she has had quite a lot of material to compare him to. "I was under the impression you were in search of my sister-in-law, Yvette. That's what my secretary told me, at least."

"Yes, we have been trying to locate Yvette," Maddie says, looking to David as she gestures for Maurice to sit down.

David glances her way, and even though he doesn't nod or smile or wink or do anything that another person might see, she knows as sure as anything that he's noticed the same thing she has: no mention of his wife.

David clears his throat. "Yes, you see, she's been named as an heir to a rather large estate-"

Maurice sits forward in his chair. "She has?"

David nods. "Yes, of a Mr. Philip Marlowe. Are you familiar with him?"

"I can't say that I am." Maurice leans forward, looking hopeful. "Is he perhaps a distant relative of my wife as well?"

"No," Maddie says. "Their relationship was of a more delicate nature. I'm sure you understand that confidentiality prevents us from providing any more detail than that."

"Of course," Maurice says, bringing his steepled fingers to his mouth. "Well, as you know, I handle all of Yvette's finances, so I'm sure I could be of assistance in processing this inheritance."

"It would be best if we could speak to Yvette directly," Maddie says. "When was the last time you saw her?"

"Not in quite some time," Maurice says. "Two months ago, perhaps? My wife has been quite concerned, but I have been telling her, this is simply Yvette's way. She is, uh, how-do-you-say-"

Maddie's office door flies open to reveal a striking woman, as petite as Appareil deComplot but with none of her timidity. She tosses her hair over her shoulder and says, "She is here. You lying scoundrel!"

"Yvette!" Maurice jumps out of his seat. "You cannot believe a word of what this woman says! She is a liar!"

"It is you who is the liar," Yvette says, striding across the room to slap Maurice across the face. "You betrayed my sister, you betrayed me-"

"It is you who betrayed your sister," Maurice says. "You are a crazy woman! You are in love with me, and you have fabricated this story about me stealing your money to hide it!"

"I am not in love with you!" Yvette turns to the window to pose in front of it. "I am in love with God. I leave to join a convent as soon as I confront my sister with proof of your treachery."

"A convent," David says, having sidled up close to Maddie in the dramatics. "I did not see that coming."

"Shh, I want to hear the rest of this," Maddie says.

"You have no proof," Maurice says. "You are clearly bluffing."

"Am I?" Yvette says, turning away from the window so that the dimming sunlight behind her casts a glow around her. "Do you know where I've been the last two weeks? In Paris. Finding proof of your dirty dealings, which I've delivered to detectives just now."

"You didn't," Maurice says, going over to Yvette. "Oh, Yvette, no! You must know that it is you I've always loved, from the very beginning. Come away with me!"

Yvette turns her head away. "But I love God-"

"Can your God do this?" Maurice asks, taking Yvette in a crushing embrace.

"I see now that you were right to let this play out," David says. "Holy cow, he is really going for it!"

Yvette pushes Maurice away and slaps him again. "How do you think I would betray God and my sister?"

"We can go away to Switzerland, where I've hidden your money, and make a new life with each other. Your sister would never have to know!"

The door flies open again, this time to reveal Appareil deComplot, standing with a handkerchief clutched to her face. "But she does know. And she can never forget! Maurice, how could you? Yvette, you were right, he is a scoundrel!"

 

*****

Two detectives arrive in short order to arrest Maurice, who struggles against the handcuffs he's placed in. "Forgive me, my beloved! I will return! I love you, I did it all for you!"

Both sisters give him a disgusted look, and David can't help himself. "Who are you talking to, Maurice?"

Maurice looks at the two women. "Both of them. Either of them. I don't know."

"Kind of takes the air out of your declaration," David says, shutting the door behind him. "Well, ladies. Let's hope that's the last you see of old Maurice."

"Good riddance," Appareil says.

"Let's hope that's the last of a few things," Maddie says. "Yvette, I'm not sure if your sister mentioned some of the strange things that have been happening-"

"She did," Yvette says, nodding. "I believe this is all my fault. I have already confessed to my sister that I had concerns about Maurice for quite some time but did not share them out of, well... cowardice. I found myself troubled by my inaction and visited a fortune teller one night."

Maddie folds her arms. "Seems like a strange thing for someone headed to the convent to do."

"The convent? Oh, that," Yvette says, shaking her head. "That was – I don't know what that was. Part of the effect of the fortune teller's curse, I suppose. She said that until I made things right with my sister, everything in my life would become unsettled. I am sorry to find out that this extended to Appareil and, it appears, to you. But it is over now, I think."

David goes over to the door and peers out. "Agnes's hair is back to normal, so that's a good sign."

"Agnes is still here? It's after six." Maddie walks over to the door and calls out, "Agnes, thank you for staying, but you can go home."

"Good night, Miss Hayes," Agnes says, gathering her coat. "I'll see you tomorrow."

Appareil stands. "Thank you both. You have saved me in more ways than you know."

"You're very welcome," Maddie says, walking them to the door. When they leave, she shuts the door behind them and leans against it, letting out a long breath. "What a day."

"You said it," David says, picking up the glass paperweight on Maddie's desk. "Looks like we're back to our old reality."

"Looks like," Maddie says, taking it from his hands. She looks down at it for a long moment, and David stares down at the top of her head. How can the top of someone's head be beautiful? But somehow she manages it. "David, I know it's late, and things are all right now, and you probably want to go home –"

"Listen, Maddie, you don't need to come up with all of these excuses to get me to go out with you," David says. "I told you, I'd let you catch me eventually."

Maddie spins on her heel. "Forget I said anything."

"Maddie Maddie Maddie." David takes her by the shoulders and turns her around. "I'm sorry. Maybe I'm a little nervous too. How about we get dinner, just to be sure things are all right?"

"Just dinner?" Maddie asks, staring up at him in that way that makes him want to be the kind of man she hopes to see there.

"Just dinner." He lets go of her shoulders and crooks one arm. "Let me take you someplace nice."

Maddie puts her arm through his and gives him that sideways look. "The fact that a place gives you a crown with your meal does not make it nice, David."

"Hey, Burger King is a very fine establishment," David says, pulling her a little closer than he needs to as they walk through the door.


THE END

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