Ruth Engler had the binoculars, and seemed disinclined to give them up. Lucy Eliot could see the target perfectly clearly without them, but wanted more detail. She had been threatening humorously to grab them away, and, just when she seemed on the point of doing so, Ruth handed them over.
The two young ladies had decided, just prior to opening their detective agency, to practice on the neighbors. The Rolfes hadn't been very appealing candidates, and Dr. Stowe seemed only marginally more likely to have interesting secrets. But Sink Stowe was another matter.
Ruth and Lucy had been watching intermittently for several days. Lucy's bedroom faced Sink's second floor abode only some twenty yards away, and, while a tree partially obscured the view, one of his windows was completely in the clear. The binoculars enabled them almost to read the titles of the books that he read, and to see the details of his sculpting. To their amusement, he sometimes engaged in both activities in his underwear.
On this occasion, Lucy delightedly zeroed in on a tall lissome young woman standing in the middle of the room and gesturing dramatically. Lucy said,
"Dr. Stowe's car is gone, and he's probably on the golf links. Could she be a relative or family friend on a surprise visit?"
"She hardly looks like someone the Stowes would be related to or know. How about a girl friend?"
"Sink can hardly scratch his rear end in privacy. I think we'd know if he had a girl friend. Besides, the way she's standing and talking, it's as if she's trying to make an impression on him. I don't think they're all that intimate."
Ruth was non-committal, replying,
"She looks rather like an actress on stage. Whoops, she's unfastening her dress!"
"That's it! She's a model."
"Does he usually sculpt models?"
"Well, I don't think Babe Ruth modeled for him. Still less, Mary Baker Eddy."
"She seems quite professional. She doesn't look embarrassed in her underwear. Here goes the slip."
Just then, Sink moved quickly across the room and embraced the woman. She embraced back, and they quickly exited the room, apparently to go to Sink's bedroom on the other side of the house. Lucy and Ruth began talking at once, but then settled down. Ruth said,
"I think she must be a prostitute. A very expensive one."
"Yeah, most likely."
There was a natural euphoria on the part of both Ruth and Lucy. The point of being detectives was to penetrate secrets, and they had certainly succeeded in doing that. After a little mutual self-congratulation, Ruth said,
"I'm not sure whether she's very beautiful or just exotic. Perhaps even ugly in a dramatic sort of way."
"I know what you mean. She'll never be a movie star with that big hooked nose, but she's perfect in her way."
"As far as endowment, she's about like us. Nothing huge, but well-shaped."
Agreeing, Lucy added,
"She has a nice arched back and rear end, but I bet she has back trouble."
"Like me, only a little smaller waist. Anyhow, Sink must have gone to great lengths to find this woman and make the arrangements."
Lucy, having another look and seeing nothing, replied,
"Well, he's certainly smart enough to find a way if he has the will. Which he seems to. I wonder why he doesn't go to her place. You'd think it'd be safer."
"Maybe her neighbors know about her. Then, men who came to her door or were seen with her would be compromised."
"And, of course, it'd be safe to bring her here if we weren't on the job. He can pull into the garage, and from there it's only a few feet to the house."
"I wonder if she crouches down in the car when they drive up."
"I guess she must. Mrs. Rolfe watches the street like a hawk. She'd be sure to notice."
The obvious thing was to follow Sink's car when he drove his friend home, but Ruth cautioned,
"We can't come roaring up behind him the way you usually drive."
"It's going to be hard to be inconspicuous without losing him."
"It's better to lose him. There'll be other chances."
They had to wait and watch from Lucy's car in front of the Eliot's garage, which was down the street in the middle of the block. When Sink finally did emerge, Lucy turned out to be rather good at tailing. She once let him get almost out of sight, but then cut through a used car lot to catch up. As it turned out, they were half a block behind Sink when he stopped in front of the most luxurious apartment building in town.
Of some eight stories of recently cleaned red brick, the General Nathaniel Banks Arms had a gold-braided doorman standing under a rose-colored awning. The doorman was nearly round, and the awning, stretching from door to curb, had the shape of the upper half of a cylinder. There were also little awnings of the same color, each in the shape of a quarter of a sphere, over the front windows on all floors. In the precision of its geometry and the romance of its coloring it was thought to be a bit much for a town which, after all, had heavy industry and immigrants from many lands. The wags made much of the fact that the building was named for a home-town hero whose forces had been routed by Stonewall Jackson. Sink didn't get out of the car, but they got another look at the woman. Tall and slim, she waved languidly back at Sink as she floated casually past the doorman in her long loosely-cut dress. Ruth commented excitedly,
"I've decided that she really is beautiful."
"We saw a lot more of her earlier."
"Yes, but it's partly a matter of the way she dresses and moves around. We've seen a lot of pretty girls with good figures in locker rooms, but this woman has a quality that goes beyond that."
Lucy laughed and replied,
"That's the quality we don't have, isn't it?"
"Yeah. Maybe we can pick it up by observing this woman and copying her."
"I don't think that will work."
"Maybe not. Anyhow, I wonder why she operates in a town like this."
"It's a fairly mixed place, but there are still a lot of wealthy businessmen here who commute on the train to Boston."
"I guess a man would leave work early, play with his friend for a while, and then get home at the regular time."
Lucy nodded and replied,
"He'd have to go to her place, but it's a big enough building so no one would know who he was visiting."
"So why doesn't Sink go there, too?"
"He probably likes bringing her home. She can look at his sculptures and stuff."
"She must be expensive. I wonder if Sink sneaks money out of his father's wallet to pay for her. Isn't Dr. Stowe too blind to notice?"
Lucy, sounding a little shocked, replied,
"I don't think Sink would do that."
"Remember, now that we're detectives, we have to be cynical."
"Yeah, but I do know that Sink gets an allowance. He's joked about it with me on the golf course. Knowing his father, it's probably fairly generous."
"Does he spend much as a general thing?"
"Not at all. He always takes me somewhere cheap after golf. I assumed that he didn't like fancy places, and, of course, I don't like them either. So that seemed natural. But he may also be saving up for his friend."
"Okay. With detectives it's either money or sex. I guess this is sex."
"You know, Sink and I are really pretty good friends. I could just tell him that I know, and promise not to tell anyone else."
"How would he react to that?"
"He'd be surprised at first, but he'd probably laugh. He might decide to go to her place instead of bringing her home."
"Why don't you just wait a little, Lu? We might as well follow this as far as it goes. For one thing, good detectives would be able to find out more about the woman."
"Okay. The first thing would be to find out her name."
"The apartment building probably has mail boxes on the ground floor. That would take us part way."
"We can look the names up in the phone book and call them, pretending to be selling something. Some would be old biddies, and we could narrow it down."
"I'm sure a woman like that would have a super sophisticated voice. We'd be able to tell."
"Okay, let's do it."
Lucy found a back way in to the Banks Arms from the parking lot. Ruth, in her dress and heels, went in alone, and found that she could copy down names from the mailboxes just out of sight of the doorman. She emerged with a list of a dozen names, presumably those of single women. Lucy, driving away, concluded,
"You can do something like that a lot better than a sleazy- looking private detective."
"One woman came in and looked at me, but I told her I was soliciting for the Red Cross. When I asked her if she were interested in making a donation, she disappeared fast."
Returning home, Lucy and Ruth, after visiting briefly with Mrs. Eliot, went to the upstairs telephone. Ruth had once made charity calls, and now made them in the name of the Salvation Army. They put the receiver right between their ears so that they could both hear the responses.
There were some cracked voices, obviously those of aged women, and there were a few others that were borderline, hardly matching the elegance and presence of the woman they had seen. Lucy asked,
"Are you sure that you got them all?"
"Well, there are these three that didn't answer."
"But we know she was home."
Ruth laughed and said,
"She might be in the bathtub, washing off the traces of Sink.
"We can call those back in a while."
"There's also this one with the first name of 'Lee.' I couldn't tell if it's a man or woman."
When Ruth called, and got an answer, she quickly became quite nervous, botching her spiel. They could both hear the clear knowing laugh from the other end, and Ruth simply hung up. Lucy said,
"Shit! She knows something's up."
"I'm afraid she does now. It was so obvious that she was the one, that I lost my nerve."
"Lee Howsam. I wonder what kind of name that is."
"I guess it could be English, but she's much too exotic for that."
There was a moment of silence between the two friends, and then both, almost at once, started laughing. They soon fell into each other's arms and Lucy whispered into Ruth's ear,
"At the rate we're learning, we'll have our little agency pretty soon now."