It had taken Mistah Steel four months and five days after becoming a Private Detective instead of an officer to shrug off the remains of the HCPD dress code.
Not that he’d stopped wearing suits and sensible shoes.
The worn jacket stayed on and so did the constant scent of cheap cigarettes and bad coffee.
But he’d always worn a boring shirt underneath his jacket, with an even more boring tie. Coffee-stained and off the deep discount rack, only there to cover the body up so that he’d look somewhat decent as he’d ran after criminals and spent too much time in the gun range.
So, when Mistah Steel had wandered inside the office one morning wearing a deep green dress underneath his usual jacket, Rita had complemented it. It was a flowy number with long sleeves, complimenting the peridot necklace around his neck.
Next came the heeled boots and torn tights underneath a black skirt.
The dresses after that had all been muted purples and blues, never long enough to cover up as much as the HCPD would have liked. And when they were ankle-length, they had the sort of side split that reached far up the thigh. Because a lady had to be able to run at top speed.
He’d never stopped wearing them, even when he’d been in that slump before the kitty case. That had been an awful time, especially since that had been when he’d even stopped putting on jewelry and flinched whenever his hand touched his new eyepatch.
But Rita had never seen the electric blue nail polish decorating Mistah Steel’s nails before. Certainly not when they’d still been on Mars. Forest green polish one dreary Friday after they’d solved a murder case, and a silvery gray one when they’d infiltrated a party during a case when they’d been searching for a missing musician.
After all, detectives had to blend in with the crowd.
And he’d never put on burgundy lipstick like this on either when he’d been working as a police officer. Such things were frowned upon in their old station, as anything that could cover up the fact that an employee’s lips and nails were becoming blue due to lack of oxygen was not considered proper work attire.
Rita grinned at him when he hurried into the kitchen at dawn, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed as he could be. And ready to make them all breakfast.
Yesterday he’d made pancakes.
And the day before that Rita had woken up to the smell of bread baking in the oven.
“Good morning, Boss!” she said, watching as Juno heaped oats, nuts of all kinds and almonds into a big bowl. She’d have to get him a nice apron the next time they’d be on shore leave.
“Morning, Rita,” Juno said, pouring honey into the bowl as the coffee machine hummed.
“Makin’ granola bars, are you?” she asked, peering into the bowl as Juno added dates and the rest of the berries Jet had brought home.
“They’re good for finishing up stuff that you have lying around,” Juno said, pressing at the stuff with his spatula.
“And tasty too,” Rita said, handing over the packet of cacao nibs she’d found at the very back of the pantry. Technically speaking, they were a snack, but there was so little left of them that putting them in the bars would just mean that they all had bigger snacks to eat.
Rita washed the dishes as Mistah Steel made oat cake batter that he scooped up and put in a mold that went into the oven.
The black skirt floated around him as he bustled around the kitchen, eyeing the oven every so often as he drank his syrupy coffee through a bendy straw and handed out granola bars to a grumpy Vespa and a pleased Jet.
The boss would never have allowed himself to behave like this down at their old station, where he’d barely stopped working to sleep, running so much that the back of his heels became bloody when his cheap shoes cut through his socks and into the skin.
Not even close.
He’d have forgotten to even look at the cat eye tutorials she’d sent him way back when she had seen the copper eyeliner peeking out of his makeup bag on his desk at the HCPD, still in its package. And if he had, it was likely that he’d have deleted it instead of high-fiving her as he did now when she sent him more complicated tutorials.
Instead he was humming along with the radio, pouring coffee into mugs and buttering toast for Ransom, who apparently hated the very idea of granola bars.
Rita kept an eye on Ransom as he flirted with the boss, leaning on the counter and eating toast in an oddly charming way that left no crumbs on his beautiful suit. A blush rose up Mistah Steel’s face as Ransom complemented the scent of the oat cakes in the oven.
She’d met Ransom before, of course.
One of the problems about being a secretary was that people in general tended to believe that you were stupid, or that you were like an NPC in those old Earth video games that one just had to select a different question to get a better answer that they liked more.
But Ransom, or whatever his name really was, had never treated her like that. Sure, he’d flashed that sharp smile of his and been polite to her, but she never felt like he treated her as a thing to be tolerated and then discarded.
Many of the detectives at the HCPD had been downright rude to her, demanding that she’d do all their admin and run errands for them even though she wasn’t even their secretary.
She’d seen the hopeful flicker in Mistah Steel’s eye when he’d seen Ransom again sitting on the Ruby 7, heard the stutter in the boss’s voice that was so exactly like the one he’d made when Ransom had pretended to be that deliveryman and given the boss flowers on his birthday.
That flicker in the boss’s eyes was a full-on fire by now.
Rita kept washing the dishes, thinking about how the word secretary originally meant a person who kept and knew about their superior’s secrets.
And Rita was good at that.
But she’d also seen enough movies to suspect where this storyline was headed, and she could not wait for what would happen next.