Police Precinct House
St. Louis,12:15 pm
The sergeant of the watch forced a placid facade as Theodore Colson whined and ranted through the handkerchief he held to his nose. The cloth, saturated with blood, had turned brown around its embroidered edging. Each time he drew it away from his snout, a fresh stream sprung forth forcing him to quickly re-staunch it.
“There needs to be a man-hunt!” Theo thundered. He looked about and reduced his voice to a hiss, “All your men should be combing the streets to find them! Look at what was done to me.”
To emphasize his anger, Theo stood on tiptoes, reached up to the officer’s desk and pounded his fist righteously. He removed his hand, flinging drops of blood onto the white blotter before the policeman.
The officer winced at the sight of Theo’s face. “You need to see a doctor about that, Sir. You don’t get that tended to, it may be permanently . . . sideways.”
Theo’s face purpled. “I pay my taxes and I demand satisfaction! Satisfaction, I say!”
“I told you, we have better things to do than go chasing a girl who left your care of her own volition. We surely are not going to chase her to Arizona, as that is quite out of our jurisdiction.”
This news of Arizona stunned Theo speechless. He let his hand fall carelessly. Blood streamed freely down his shirt, wetting it anew. It splattered at his feet.
“Look here!” the seargent said, rising from his perch to look at the growing mess on his precinct floor. “Go bleed somewhere else!”
Theo’s mind worked quickly, Arizona still burning in his ears. “What is this mention of Arizona Sir?”
The officer sifted through a set of notes and recited the words absently. “A few of the hotel employees were interviewed and the rumor is the two men were heading out west to some fellow named Colson, near Prescott. We assumed it was a relative of the young girl the men were escorting her to and that was that.”
“The relative you mention would be my father, Gideon.”
The sergeant added that to the notes and pushed the papers aside. “There you go! Now why don’t you go on and find a Marshall to help you, or better yet, get one of those detectives at Liberty Investigations. Just get your sorry self out of my sight.”
Theo collected his bruised ego and found his way to the suggestion of the policeman: the offices of Liberty Investigations. It was several blocks from the precinct building, on a street noted for its large law firms and even larger bank accounts. His queries for directions along the way were often met with gasps from the ladies or the occasional scornful glower of the men. His appearance was ghastly, but his resolve buoyed him beyond caring.
The entire building—all six floors—belonged to the detective agency. The large sign shingled out front depicted an ambiguous six-pointed silver badge flanked on one side by the blindfolded scales of justice and on the other by a cocked revolver. Written across the badge was “Justitiam coram Deo.” Theo had no idea what it meant, but being in Latin, it was sufficiently impressive.
Soon he was standing alone, waiting in what the young male receptionist had called the “Library.” Theo was pleased to discover his nose stopped spouting like a boiling coffee pot, but he found it difficult to breathe freely through his left nostril. He tucked his shirt, though it was streaked crimson. He pulled his coat tightly over it and buttoned up.
He paced idly around the furnishings; a fine, dark wooden desk with a brass lamp and a stained glass shade, a high black leather chair behind the desk, two wing-backed leather Chesterfields with attendant thin-legged side tables and a world globe in an ornate cast iron stand.
One feature dominated: books lined every wall floor to ceiling. The only spaces not crammed with books were two tall windows on the south wall and the opening for the door on the north. The St. Louis Library would be proud to have this as a branch, as nearly every known subject was touched upon.
Theo found city directories covering every major metropolis from New York to San Francisco. He was able to locate a “Who’s Who” for Saint Louis 1875 and was pulling it out to see if he was listed when the door opened. He quickly shoved the book back, hoping he hadn’t been noticedbeing nosy.
“Please!” A deep voice said from the doorway. “Help yourself, sir. This is, after all, a room of knowledge. One must not impede the curiosity of his fellow man. Curiosity is the nature of our business.”
Though he was indeed curious about his social standing in St. Louis, he stifled his conceit and instead moved to greet his host.
The man who had addressed him was in his sixties, tall and handsome, dressed in a expertly tailored three-piece suit of a light grey wool. His hair was thick, well-groomed and silvery white. He had an aristocratic face, with high cheekbones lined by tiny flocks of crow’s feet around his bright grey, sharp eyes. He had no beard, but his mustache was full but trimmed and brilliantly white. He had the mien of a man of justice.
He shook Theo’s hand and Theo winced. He did not let Theo free, but held tight as he drew the other man just a bit closer. He secured Theo’s eyes. “You have given my aide some details of your situation, but I need a few more prior to us agreeing to take on your case. This will not be a problem, I hope?”
“Well, no, Mr . . .”
“Sorry,” the older man said. “Benjamin Free. And you are Mister Colson, correct?”
He finally released Theo’s aching hand.
“Yes, Colson. Yes,” Theo said. Blood trickled once more from his nose and down his lip. He withdrew the over-saturated handkerchief and dabbed his face.
“That is one nasty injury, Sir. Here, take my handkerchief, please. Yours has found its limit.”
Theo took the cloth, noting the fine silk.
“Perhaps I should send for a physician. There is a doctor just two doors down.”
“No, really. It is appears much worse than it is.”
“I insist. I doubt sincerely it could appear much worse. While we wait, we can discuss the intricacies of your problem. I will go retrieve the detective who will be working on your case, and then the secretary will go for the doctor.”
“Oh, I was under the impression you would be handling this matter for me.”
The older man chuckled at this. “Oh, my. I am sorry if I may have given you that notion, but I haven’t been in the field since seventy-two. Getting shot twice in the line of duty has unfortunately sidelined me. Though I own the company, I am now merely reduced to office work such as client interviews and detective assignment, but I assure you, the detective I am giving this case to is my most trusted and productive. Now, please sit down and make yourself comfortable while I—”
The door opened and a woman entered. She was in her mid twenties, and tall—much taller than Theo. Her hair was quaffed high in a series of light brown circles. Her face was pretty with round, full lips and beautiful bright grey eyes, yet she was of a sturdy build. Despite being dressed in vogue with a highly embroidered waistcoat, long linen skirt and blouse buttoned to the chin, she carried herself in a vaguely tom-boyish fashion.
“Ah, Alexis,” Free said. “This is the prospective client I told you about, Mr. Colson. I fear he needs medical attention. Could you see if Doctor Stockton might be summoned—”
Instead of exiting on the errand, as was being asked of her, she strode over to inspect Theo herself. “There may be no need for all that,” she said as she poked her face right into his and closely examined the mess that was his nose. “May I?”
Before Theo could ask may she what, she placed her hands upon his face, thumbs against each side of his broken proboscis, and pressed firmly. This produced a high yelp from Theo and a fresh, hearty stream of blood from his nose. Alexis was not deterred as the blood streamed down over her palm. She crisply jerked his nose in the opposite direction it was pointing, resulting in a sharp, wet snap.
“Oh, Lord,” Theo keened, but immediately he noticed only a simple, dull throbbing and the bleeding stopped outright.
“Alexis, I really do wish you would refrain from being so . . . rough,” Free said with a sigh.
“Some things are not as complicated as we tend to make them out,” she shrugged. Taking the handkerchief her father had given Theo, she wiped the blood from her palms.
Though relieved of his pain and his nose being straight once more, he was annoyed with this woman’s brusqueness and the tone she used in addressing himself and Mister Free.
“I appreciate your help, ma’am, but—”
“But what, Mr. Colson?” she asked. “Would you rather wait another hour or more for the doctor to do the same thing and charge you on top of what we will be billing? Let us just say my medical treatment is included in your total.”
His tone grew cross. “Ma’am, you have no right to speak to me in such sarcastic fashion. Besides, what if you were wrong about your ‘treatment,’—if you can call it that?”
“Please, Mr. Colson,” she laughed. “That was not sarcasm and it was a simple nasal fracture. I was raised in a pack of five rough male cousins, so I have done it many, many times. Most often the noses were broken by me anyway.” She tossed the soiled handkerchief on the edge of Mr. Free’s desk.
Theo turned his back on the woman and addressed Free. “Sir, may we get down to the matter of my case? Perhaps your secretary here can call in the detective so we can begin?”
“Oh, my word,” Free chuckled, “in my old age, I must be handing out misconceptions like candy. This is the detective assigned to your case, my daughter, Alexis Free.”
The smirk she wore was but a small tell as to how delicious her next words were to her, “That is, Father, if we decide to take his case . . .”