Set in the "Cold Burn" 'verse, as proposed and originated by savvygal.
Gregory Sanders and the Mysterious Miss Grey:
In which Communists, Canadians, and a Typewriter Appear
by Jessica (la_belle_dame)
Greg Sanders vividly remembered wanting to be a detective as child. More specifically, Greg wanted to be Sherlock Holmes. On snowy Minnesota evenings, Greg’s father would select a volume from his meager library to read aloud to his three sons for an hour or so. Most of the time, the stories concerned intrepid, hard-working young men who achieved success through what Greg privately thought to be an equal mixture of reliance on proverbs and blind luck, and what his father called “character.”
Greg would have gladly suffered through any number of Horatio Alger´s novels to hear his father read from the large, leather-bound copy of The Complete Works of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle Vol. 3. Greg’s uncle on his mother’s side had given his father the lightly used book under the misapprehension that his brother-in-law either appreciated or approved of crime stories. Greg’s father had originally been of the mind to burn the wretched thing on the first chilly night that presented itself, but Greg, who even at the youngest age, was transfixed by mysteries of all sorts, persuaded him that the stories offered useful cautionary tales, and thus Holmes entered the Sanders household. Greg adored the master detective from the sizable distance dividing reality from fiction. The methodical thought process, the careful evaluation of all the clues, all the tiny pieces of the puzzle leading to the infallibly correct conclusion drawn just in time to bring the culprit to justice.
Greg’s father disapproved of Conan Doyle’s depiction of his youngest son’s hero, saying that perfect logic had no place in the realm of business, and if his sons had any hope of taking over Eliot Sanders’s place as the town’s primary financial advisor, for Mr. Sanders thought the word ‘accountant’ did not fully encompass his work, they had better stick to building character. Greg’s two older brothers joined the Army ostensibly in search of character, although he didn’t discount the lure of three squares a day and a free ticket out of their backwater town.
As much as he admired Samuel and Dean their respective bids for freedom, his lack of talent with numbers became his father’s favorite topic of conversation, replacing both the relative unpleasantness of the weather and the increasing frequency of his backaches in one fell swoop. Therefore it was to both their relief when Chip Wellison, a clerk at the general store, expressed an interest in learning the trade, leaving Greg free to buy a bus ticket to the big city of Minneapolis and make his own way in the world, though pesky feelings of abandoning the family business occasionally bothered him.
Once off the bus, Greg made a beeline for the only place in the whole world he wanted to work: the Twin Cities Municipal Police Department smack dab in the middle of it all on First Avenue. Greg had marched right up those steps with purpose in his soul and his heart on his sleeve, and Sergeant Robert Goren, in a move he would claim to regret loudly and frequently, took pity on the kid and gave him a job filing paperwork and checking facts for Detective Michael Patrick O’Flanagan.
That was a year and a half ago, Greg thought from the dimly lit back room of the station as he sullenly rubber-stamped his way through a pile of H31 forms, denied requests for lenient interrogation techniques, like the kind that had made the Sergeant a legend in the district. Apparently, Greg thought as he shuffled them into order by date requested, with Srgt. Goren it’s more do as he says, not as he does. Greg sighed and stretched, his white workshirt a little stiff at the elbows where he’d overstarched it.
Okay, so it wasn’t 21 Baker Street. Hell, it wasn’t even really all that glamorous, but in his own way, Greg was fighting crime, keeping the criminal-catching machine of the 51st District going from behind the scenes. Greg even took a certain amount of pride in going to the cinema on Thursday nights to see the latest P.I. film and knowing exactly how much paperwork was behind each of the hard-bitten detective’s renegade actions. Occasionally, Greg would ask a girl from the mailroom or the diner next door to go with him. They were never as impressed as he’d have imagined they would be. Greg usually went to the movies stag. Dames, he’d shrug when asked by his older co-crusaders for justice if he had a special lady. Nothing but trouble. He had a feeling O’Flanagan agreed with him, even though he was married and Srgt. Goren had gotten to the top without the help of a good woman, so Greg saw no reason to keep asking out girls who could allegedly spend an entire Friday evening washing their hair. I mean, he thought as he pulled up the next stack of forms, how long could that really take?
O’Flanagan poked his head around the door. “Sanders, you’re on.” In his enthusiasm to respond to the call of duty, Greg managed to knock over his chair not once, but twice while O’Flanagan waited in the doorway. When Greg had unhooked a long chain on paperclips from his sleeve, the detective began a brisk walk through the bullpen back to his desk as Greg jogged to keep up. “How long have you been here, Sanders?” he asked without looking at him.
“Eighteen months, sir.”
“Don’t call me sir. And how long have I been telling you to mind your own business about Charlie Murdock?”
Charles M. Murdock. The smartest and slickest of the cities’s private eyes. Greg had seen Murdock just the once, when he’d come into the station hauling a red-eyed, weasel-faced man behind him whom promptly confessed to a murder-kidnapping charge that had been keeping the entire force up nights. Greg felt giddy with excitement. “About seventeen months, boss.”
“Don’t call me boss. Sanders, I had sincerely hoped this day would never come, but I need you to run over to Murdock’s office downtown and pick up a case file I left there.”
Greg stopped dead as O’Flanagan smoothly sat down in his cracked leather chair. “You left a police document with a civ?”
O’Flanagan raised an eyebrow. “Must have slipped out of my briefcase. Look, junior, I don’t have the time…well, that’s not true, I just don’t want to explain this all to you. I’m completely swamped by the Addams disappearance.”
Greg smirked. “So the brass is still calling it a disappearance, huh?” Greg knew nothing about the Addams case, but he’d overheard a beat cop in the canteen say that this morning and thought it sounded worldly.
O’Flanagan was less than impressed. “This is what I’m talking about, Sanders. You’ve seen one too many Cagney flicks and I don’t want you romanticizing the P.I. job. Murdock is a lone wolf with charisma on tap, and I can see how a guy like you, how any guy could buy into that. Stay sharp. Get in, get the file, get out.”
O’Flanagan sighed deeply, the picture of a long-suffering saint. “Just go.”
Two bus transfers later, Greg was in the down-and-outs, past even the warehouse district. Plumes of white spouted from the tops flour mills on the outskirts and covered the high windows on the tenement building’s upper floors with a grimy, translucent film. Bits of trash swirled around his shoes, caught in an eddy of early autumn breeze. Posters promoting or demonising local politicians clung to the brick walls of the alleyway in tatters. Greg rechecked the address. This was the place, all right. Why was it, Greg wondered, as he rubbed his shoe on the ineffectual shoe scraper in an attempt to dislodge a wad of what he hoped was chewing gum, that the dive offices of private eyes never looked this dirty in the pictures?
A busted elevator forced Greg up eight flights of musty stairs on foot. By the time he arrived panting and sweaty at the door marked Mister C. M. Murdock, Investigative Services for Hire, Greg was seriously wondering how anyone could possibly romanticize this job. Then he opened the door and saw her.
She was sitting at the desk between the open door and a second that no doubt led to Murdock’s inner office. She had her shoes off and one foot propped up on the desktop, an open bottle of red nail polish filling the room with the heady scent of Acetone. She was squinting at her toes and blowing her short black hair out of her eyes to better frown at the little polish brush as if it had said something particularly stupid. She was wearing a grey suit like a normal secretary, but the heels on the floor next to the desk were a bright, poison green. She caught sight of Greg and hauled her herself to attention fast enough to do his military brothers proud.
“Welcome to Murdock Investigations. Do you have an appointment, mister…?”
“Sanders, and no, I don’t.” He could feel the tops of his ears turning pink. “I’m—I’m from the police department.” The woman’s face shut down.
“Listen, what we do here is perfectly legal and I have no intention of letting some jumped-up errand boy –”
“—on a power trip try to scare us out of doing our job!” She sucked in air for another bout and Greg pounced.
“It’s not like that. O’Flanagan sent me to pick up something for him.” She relaxed, for which Greg was grateful, but not by much.
“Pick up what?” she asked, suspicion heavy in her tone.
Greg shrugged and tried to look causal. “A case file he left here, probably by mistake. He’d come himself but he’s still tied up by the Addams disappearance.”
She snorted. Greg had never heard a girl do that before. He hadn’t known they could do that. “They’re still calling it a disappearance?”
Greg rolled his eyes. “They’re the brass. They could call it a smash and grab if they wanted to.” Greg sincerely hoped the case did not actually involved larceny. She laughed, which Greg took as a good sign, and stuck out her hand.
He took it. “Viv?”
“Vivian Grey. Pleased to meet you.”
“Likewise.” Viv got up and walked, still barefoot, around her desk to the filing cabinet. She slid open the drawer and flicked through the folders with both hands, like a pro. A filing pro. Greg’s heart rate kicked up.
“So you run errands for the precinct?”
“No, just for O’Flangan. You know, when I have a free moment.”
She paused and stared at him, a smile playing around her mouth. “I understand. He’s a good guy.” Greg felt an unreasonable spike of jealousy as Viv smirked down at the manila folders. I’m a good guy, he thought. I wonder if she likes the movies.
Eventually, Viv surfaced and brought up a smooth, cream-colored folder that Greg recognized as office model number 173C, legal sized. “Here it is!” she chirped and bounced over to Greg for the hand-off. “We kept it nice and safe.” She smiled and added helpfully, “And unread.”
Her faux-cheer was contagious. “Must have slipped out of O’Flanagan’s briefcase,” he grinned.
“It’s a sad world,” Viv giggled, “when you can’t even trust a briefcase to work properly.” She cocked her head to one side. “So how long have you been O’Flanagan’s young thing?”
Viv’s eyes snapped wide. “Oh.” She let her eyes travel over Greg from top to bottom and back. “Oh.”
“Never mind.” She waved it off and the intercom on her desk buzzed.
“Miss Grey,” came a tinny voice from the speaker box. “Why, pray tell, do I smell alcohol?”
She winced and leaned over to hit the reply button. “Because I’ve been drinking on the job?” she asked hopefully.
“No nail polish, Viv. You know that.” She rolled her eyes and the intercom went again. “And don’t make faces. Didn’t your mother ever tell you it’ll stick that way?” Viv stuck her tongue out at the frosted glass door and turned her attention to Greg.
“Well, Mr. Sanders, all our compliments to Minneapolis’s finest.” She screwed the top back onto her bottle of blood-red polish. “Tell O’Flanagan hello from me and to send you around more often.”
“O-okay,” Greg stammered, floored at the prospect of having more than one consecutive, successful conversations with Viv. “I’ll see you around.”
Viv grinned, a wide, brilliant smile. “Not if I see you first.”
That phrase repeated over and over in Greg’s mind all the way back to the station. Not if I see you first. Not if I see you first. What did it mean? Was it some kind of threat, a veiled comment on the unwelcomeness of a return visit? It deeply wounded Greg’s entrenched Midwestern upbringing to think he had overstayed his welcome, but didn’t she say to come again? Or at least, to tell O’Flanagan to send him around? Was that some kind of P.I. code?
“I don’t understand,” Greg burst out as O’Flanagan flipped through the recovered file. “We were talking and laughing, and I thought it was going so well. And then, ‘not if I see you first?’ What the hell does that mean?”
O’Flanagan set down the file and put a comforting hand on Greg’s arm. “Oh, kid. Didn’t I warn you?”
“I thought she really liked me –”
Greg threw up his hands. “Viv—Miss Grey. Is there some kind of secret P.I. slang I need to know about? Be honest with me.” Greg caught himself before he added ‘sir.’
O’Flanagan tipped his head to the side and gave him a once-over before his eyebrows shot up and he said, “Oh.”
“Like that!” Greg cried, pointing at O’Flanagan and drawing the notice of several desk cops close by. “She did that, too! What does that mean?”
“Nothing, kid. Go back to work.”
But Greg couldn’t work. He couldn’t do much of anything except think about Viv. At home in his decrepit rented room above Harrison’s Shoe Repair. At the movies while Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Becall made eyes at each other in occupied France. As he carefully and methodically stamped three piles of A19 forms, parking violations, with the stamp for JR86, approval for shots fired in the line of duty. He thought about it until his head ached and until Srgt. Goren said one day as he dropped by to ask why a list of officers requesting new uniforms had been granted early retirement, “Sanders, I don’t care if it’s a bank robbery, stop thinking and start doing.”
Armed with words equally full of irritation and wisdom, Greg Sanders set off after his shift to figure out the mysterious Miss Grey. Naturally, the best and most direct form of attack would be to march right up those eight flights of stairs, spend twenty minutes catching his breath, and then walking right into Murdock’s office and talking to her. So naturally, Greg stamped one too many uniform requests and was now following Miss Grey up a side street in the warehouse district. He was dressed in a set of blues at least a size too big. Someone in processing must have misread his scrawl and now his pant legs swished back and forth like pyjamas.
Miss Grey was lugging a Radio Flyer with a lumpy parcel wrapped in brown paper and string behind her. Greg had decided three blocks back that while it was definitely not a firearm of any sort, it might still be full of confidential documents or even communist literature. Miss Grey came to a sudden stop in front of a repair stop and Greg immediately buried his face in the crumpled newspaper he’d brought along for that expressed purpose.
He listened as she banged on the door and stole a glance over the bold-type by-lines just in time to see a wizened man with an unlit cigarette hanging out of the corner of his mouth hefted the package from the wagon and disappeared into the store. Oh my stars and garters, thought Greg, who had never quite gotten the hang of cursing. She’s selling state secrets to the Canadians. He always, always knew you could never trust those wily Canucks. Just sitting up there across the border, biding their time. He wondered when they’d invade, protected by armor-like winter parkas, invincible with their superior hockey skills…
“What do you think you’re doing?” Viv demanded from just over Greg’s left shoulder, causing him to both drop the newspaper and emit a decidedly unmanly squeal of surprise. Viv continued, ignoring the unfortunate noise either out of courtesy or sheer annoyance. Greg was banking on the former. “I mean, I know what you think you’re doing. You think you’re following me, with your newspaper from last week and your lousy, fake window-shopping. But what I want to know is what you’re actually doing. I mean, besides making a fool out of yourself.”
Greg looked down at last Thursday’s headlines and plucked at a stray string on his pant leg. “Well…umm.”
Viv tapped the toe of her green shoe on the grimy sidewalk. “Come on, officer. Dazzle me.”
“Listen, Viv –”
“Miss Grey to you.” She wrinkled her nose.
“Miss Grey, then. Listen, I don’t care if you’re selling secrets to the Canadians. God knows the exchange rate must be killing them, and I’m sure they have some legitimate complaints, but the thing is I like you and –”
The shop door banged open and the cigarette man back out holding a significantly smaller package. “Here ya’re, Viv. Mr. Murdock did right by ordering this for you. Top of the line, 300 model with smaller keys made for lady typists.” He carefully placed the bundle in the Flyer and dusted his hands off. Viv kept staring at Greg while the man spoke. “Tell Mr. Murdock I’ll have the old clunker up and running by Saturday if he’s still sure he wants to keep it.”
Viv never blinked. “Will do. Thanks, Marv.”
Marv smiled at her and tipped an invisible hat to Greg. “Officer,” he said and vanished into his store.
Greg stared at the wagon and gestured at the shop door. “So that was a typewriter.”
Viv nodded. “Yep.”
Greg said, “Not communist literature or fighter plane blueprints?”
“Murdock finally got me a newer model. It’s thinner, takes up less room on my desk.” She gave Greg a long once-over, taking in the uniform hanging off his frame. “I like ‘em slim.”
Greg, who had always been of the opinion that it was a universally shared trait among women to prefer the kind of guy who beat up Greg’s kind of guy in school, brightened. “I’m sorry I thought you were a spy,” he said.
“And I’m not a real cop.”
Greg frowned down at his uniform. “How?”
Viv poked a freshly polished nail into his chest. “Your badge is on upside down, errand boy.”
Greg hastily righted Detective Stabler’s badge, which he’d borrowed from his locker this morning. He was sure the ex-Marine would understand. “Actually, I prefer the term ‘justice assistant.’”
Viv laughed and looped her arm through his. “So tell me, Mr. Sanders, do you like the movies?”