It was about a month after the end of the vampire case.
Jan Sleet stretched and smiled. She was still in bed, and for once she didn't wince at the morning sun coming through the window, and she didn't pull the pillow over her head.
"No work today," she announced. "No meetings, no mysteries, no articles, no reading, no writing. Just sleeping and eating and smoking and drinking coffee."
"It sounds like you've suddenly decided to start living entirely for pleasure," I commented.
"For today," she said, her eyes still closed. "Is it nice out?"
"It looks very nice," I said. "It's supposed to be warm, too. Warmer, anyway."
"Warmer is fine. Let's promenade along the..." She frowned and opened her eyes. "Promenade along the promenade? That doesn't sound right."
"I think you stroll along the promenade," I said, "Or you promenade along the... something."
"That sound too energetic anyway. Maybe we could sit along the promenade, or somewhere, and have a nice leisurely breakfast, lasting well into early afternoon, with many cups of coffee, and many cigarettes, and some pleasant conversation."
And so it was that, on the first warmish day of spring, we were sitting in an outdoor cafe, sipping coffee, chatting about this and that.
"Ah," she said, gesturing behind me, where I heard a motor approaching. I assumed it was one of the Jinx, since almost nobody else in Utown used motor vehicles, and it was. It was Neil, and he waved as he pulled up to the curb.
"Come join us," Jan called as he cut the motor. "We've decided to spend the day in idle debauchery."
He raised an eyebrow as he approached, but he didn't comment on her fairly quaint idea of what "debauchery" might consist of. He took a chair from an adjoining table and pulled it over as we made room for him at the small table.
"What brings you out in the middle of the day?" he asked. "I thought you'd be in a meeting or something."
She shook her head. "Not today. It's too nice out." She drew on her cigarette and regarded him for a moment. "May I ask a question?" she asked. "Possibly two?"
He shrugged, smiling. The waiter brought him a coffee and he sipped it. "You may," he answered, "as long as it's understood that my answers are not official, and you agree that none of this will appear in print anywhere."
She laughed. "When I do an interview, it's formally identified as such. I don't ambush people. And these questions are probably not of general interest anyway."
"Okay, ask away."
"Why is the Jinx policy so strict against having members who were formerly police officers?"
He nodded. "Good question. It came about because of experience, actually. Twice, in different cities, the police tried to infiltrate us by having a cop 'go bad' and try to join. Both of them were rejected for other reasons, but it made us aware that this was a tactic that they adopt from time to time. And the most obvious way to block it was to make the rule." He sipped his coffee. "That's why it applies specifically to the police and not to the fire department or the military." He smiled. "As you deduced at the hospital, I was in the military myself for some years. And your other question?"
"What happened to Åsa?"
He leaned back and sighed. "We were wondering if you were ever going to ask. Everybody who suffered because of what she did was Jinx, so there was a basis for leaving the resolution to us, but you have made it clear that this is your territory and that you're not sharing authority with us, so a case could also be made that she should have been turned over to you."
"It was a complex decision, and the next time the answer might be different," she admitted.
"Well, I will tell you, but I want something in return, I want an answer from you."
She smiled, lighting another cigarette. "About what?"
"How you deduced that I was in the military, and that my hobby is painting. I've been trying to figure out how you knew that. It's possible that you might have deduced that I was in the military, but how did you know that I paint?" He laughed. "I wash my hands when I'm done, and I don't lug my easel around like that fellow."
He gestured, and we turned around to see that a man had set up an easel and was painting behind us, on the other side of the narrow street. The large canvas was turned away from us, and it looked as though he was painting the small traffic island in front of us, which had once contained a statue. The man was handsome, with unruly hair and a faint stubble, and his smock and his jeans were stained here and there with paint. The only item of clothing that seemed to be clean was the battered tweed trilby he wore.
There was a woman watching him paint, and after a moment she came up and shook her head, pointing at the canvas. She took the brush from him and gestured with it, though it wasn't clear if she was just making a point or if she was applying paint to the canvas. They were both smiling, though, and it seemed that whatever argument they were having was one they had had before and would almost certainly have again.
As she was talking, he lit a cigarette, and, when she had made her final point, she took the cigarette from his mouth and kissed him lustily, then she took his hat, perched it on her own full, dark hair, and strolled off, still smoking the cigarette.
"If you did lug your easel around," my employer commented to Neil, "maybe you'd meet some cute girls like her."
Neil laughed and looked at me. "Someday, Marshall, you should educate the great detective here about the difference between 'cute girls' and 'beautiful women.'"
I laughed as well, and he turned back to Jan. "So, do we have a deal? I answered your question, and I will answer another, then you'll answer mine?"
She was stuck, and she knew it. She did want to know the answer, and he had already answered one of hers, and she knew I was also curious about how she had made those deductions about Neil (during the hospital case).
She nodded. "Deal," she said.
"Contrary to what some people think," he said, "the Jinx don't take vengeance. Åsa was taken to the bridge and told never to return to U-town." He smiled. "Not very dramatic, I know, but sometimes part of the way we protect ourselves is to seem more threatening than we are."
"On the other hand, I assume that the threat Christy made to Ashford was real."
He nodded. "Good point. Yes, that was the literal truth. If he had harmed Åsa, we would have killed him and destroyed his house. But, as you pointed out at the meeting, Åsa was not the villain here, not really. Spence was. She had to be kicked out, but we weren't going to do more than that." He sipped his coffee and then continued. "It's a moot point now, of course, but I'm curious as to whether you approve. We did release a murderer, after all."
She shook her head. "What she did was wrong, but it was under duress, and under circumstances which were very unlikely to be repeated." She smiled as the waiter poured more coffee, topping off my cup as well. "The detectives from whom I take my inspiration usually reserved the right to make those sorts of decisions themselves, to allow a murderer to escape, or to let him commit suicide, if they thought that the situation warranted it."
"But you're talking about fictional characters, aren't you? Can those rules really be applied to real life?"
She smiled. "When people make that objection, it's usually because I think The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes is a better fictional guide for life than, for example, the Holy Bible."
Neil hooted a laugh and said, "Point taken." Still chuckling, he peered over my shoulder again. "In illustration of my earlier point, by the way," he said as we turned again, "that's a cute girl."
She was indeed. Shorter and younger than the other woman, blonde and curvy, with full, lush lips, she approached the painter from behind, clearly planning to surprise him. "His daughter?" Neil murmured.
The man turned (he had apparently been aware of her approach), and they kissed.
"Not his daughter, I would think," Jan said sotto voce after a while, as the kiss continued.
"I certainly hope not," Neil said with a chuckle. The girl finally stepped back to look at the canvas, still holding the man's hand, and I noticed a camera around her neck. She nodded at the canvas, and then tilted her head up to kiss him again.
"Uh oh," Neil said, and I followed his gaze to see the dark-haired woman approaching from down the block, looking irate. "Paint will fly in a moment," he said. "She looks like a fighter."
"I deduce that no violence will ensue," my employer said quickly, and indeed the dark haired woman's ire was apparently still directed toward the canvas. She gestured at it, frowning (but again trying not to smile), and as she made her points, the younger woman came to stand beside her, squeezing her around the waist.
"I still want an answer to my first question," Neil said as the man started to pack up his supplies, the women kissing and then starting to help him, "but how did you know this was not going to end up in violence?"
The dark-haired woman had removed the hat, and she playfully plopped it on the younger woman's head, where it fell down and nearly covered her eyes. Laughing and turning as she tilted it back, she spotted us and waved. "Hi, Marshall! Hi, Jan!" she called, and the others noticed us for the first time and waved as well.
Neil raised an eyebrow at my employer. "Apparently, it seems that you knew them already."
Deciding that this had gone on long enough, I said, "We were present at their wedding."
"Whose wedding? Who's married?"
"All three of them."
He looked thoughtful, then he laughed and turned to my employer again. "So," he said, "sometimes when you come to amazing conclusions, it's because you have inside information?"
She smiled. "Occasionally, I confess, that is the case."
The three had joined us by that time. We moved to a larger table, and the question of Jan's deductions about Neil was dropped. However, at one point, when the three painters were comparing notes on where they bought their paints, Jan did mention offhandedly that she knew what store Neil patronized, since she'd happened to see him shopping there once, some months before.