When America joined the war, able bodied men were in short supply. Ladies like me got our time in the limelight, or the glaring single bulb of a back room as it were. My feminine ways made the job easy at times. To many men, I was just a doe eyed dame without a care in the world except for the right shade of lipstick and my next dance partner. They thought I was just playing at private detective like a schoolyard game. They didn’t think twice about spilling to me. Well did that ever get them in a whole lot of trouble.
Reverend Ainsworth was in a unique situation. He was a jerk who should have known better. But there he was with my fist in his shirt, staring up at me with bug eyes and sweat dripping down his forehead.
“Come on, Ann, I swear I didn’t touch the girl.”
“She says otherwise. I thought you learned your lesson with me. But it appears you need some further education.” I introduced Ainsworth’s cheek to Dearest, her blade glinting in the lamplight overhead.
“You – you can’t do this! This is not your decision to make!” Ainsworth’s voice was rising like a banshee’s scream.
“This is personal, Ainsworth. You didn’t just mess with her, you messed with me,” I pushed the blade harder. “It’s my decision. Everything from now on, when it comes to me, is my decision.”
“I promise I’ll leave her alone!”
I squinted my eyes. It was true. I was a gumshoe, not a hitman. But I enjoyed watching him squirm. I pulled Dearest’s edge away sharply.
“I’ll let you off the hook this time. Not that you deserve it.” I shoved him to the ground as I rose, towering over him. “Now get lost!”
The Reverend slowly found his footing and opened the door. Ainsworth was greeted by a couple of my friends, Lieutenant Samuel Washington and Sergeant James Mackenzie, representatives of the 33rd Precinct.
“Thomas Ainsworth, you are under arrest for the murder of Gretchen Dowd.”
If Ainsworth had his wits about him, he would have realized that I knew all his dirty little secrets. Alone with just four walls for company, I sighed with relief. That bastard was going away for a long time. Finally.
When I got home, I scrambled some eggs for a quick bite. Afterward, I poured myself a scotch. My evening drink of choice was tea, but I was celebrating. Besides, these days the tea was stronger than I preferred on account of the sugar rationing. Most of my handout was used in pie baking when I really needed to take my mind off a case. With my scotch in hand, I slumped in my worn-down leather chair like a seal sunbathing on a rock.
I clicked the radio on. “And now we have the Pied Pipers with their song Dream,” the announcer spoke.
The song was like a lullaby. I closed my eyes. My thoughts drifted to last Saturday evening spent enjoying the tunes of crooner Jenny Bliss down at the club. She was a dreamboat in her snazzy black suit and pristine smile. I would have given her my best come-hither stare, but she already had a girl on her arm.
I woke early the next morning. Finishing up a case always led to a good night’s rest. I dressed in a white blouse, a plaid skirt, and my most comfortable brogues. After a quick bite to eat, I packed up my lunchbox, grabbed my trench coat and fedora and headed out the door.
I waited patiently at my desk, expecting anyone, someone, to come through that door. When no one appeared, I opened the desk drawer to grab the book I was reading. I started this tome on ancient Greece earlier in the month and I was eager to continue.
After I finished a chapter, I looked up and glanced at the door. Nothing. It was a little too quiet, like I was just another stiff down at the morgue. I turned to the radio for company. A song was just ending. “It’s time for our special guest Mildred Bailey with Darn That Dream,” the announcer spoke.
My stomach nagged at me. I grabbed my chicken salad sandwich from my lunchbox and took a bite out of it when the door opened.
There stood a tall drink of water. Long brunette hair ended in curls over a black chesterfield coat, a light blue blouse peeked out from underneath. She stood confidently in khaki slacks. Her feet were firmly planted in black brogues. She was like Joan of Arc readying for battle.
My stomach shut its’ trap for the moment. This woman was a knockout. I quickly turned the radio off, giving her my full attention.
“Hello, I am looking for a private detective and you seem to be the one with the most sense from what I’ve heard. You are Detective Walker, yes?”
“Yes, Ma’am. Detective Ann Walker” I stood up.
“Anne Lister,” she showed off her pearly whites and shook my hand.
“Please, take a seat and tell me how I may be of service,” I gestured to the chair in front of my desk.
“A rather important family heirloom has been stolen. It’s a small golden statue, a hedgehog. I believe it was taken during my family’s annual Spring party.”
I nodded, jotting down notes. “Was anyone with an interest in this item in attendance?”
“No one who has shown a particular interest. But I have my suspicions. There are two men who I do not trust completely, the family doctor, Kenny, and John Abbott. He’s a carpet salesman.” Ms. Lister took a gander at my desk while I wrote. “I do apologize, I seem to have interrupted your meal.”
“Oh, it’s fine,” I waved her off.
“Please, eat. I don’t mind.”
I smiled. She was more than just a pretty face. “Would you care for some tea, Ms. Lister?”
“Call me Anne. A cup of tea would be lovely, thank you.”
I jumped up and heated the kettle on my portable burner.
“So, tell me about these men,” I returned to my desk and took another bite of my sandwich.
“Dr. Kenny is always nosing his way into my family’s business. And Abbott, he’s a sycophant and he’s boastful. He’s trying to court my sister, not that I’ll let him.”
The kettle announced its’ work to be complete. I ran back to brew the tea.
“They sound like unsavory types,” I remark, handing her a mug.
Our fingers brush and it’s like Sappho sparked a flame between us.
If Anne was interested, she didn’t show it. “They certainly are,” she said, all business.
“How about I have a chat with these men and see what I can dig up.”
“It would be much appreciated,” Anne blew on her tea. “How much will I be owing you for your services?”
“We can discuss that later, no need to worry now,” I grabbed a strawberry from my lunchbox.
As I took a bite, I spotted Miss Lister licking her lips slightly. I wasn’t sure if the lady was hungry for some fruit or me. “Would you care for one? I asked, nudging the lunchbox closer to her.
“Thank you,” she carefully picked one out and slowly brought the strawberry to her lips. Our eyes locked.
I knew the weatherman called for an overcast sky, so my office wasn’t getting any hotter. I pulled at my shirt collar.
Anne pulled out a pocket watch and eyed it briefly. Why she had an accessory like that in this day and age, I did not know. But I knew it looked swell on her.
“I do apologize, Detective Walker, but I have an appointment. Thank you for the refreshment. I will call again soon to check on any developments,” she rose from her chair.
“Of course, Anne. Until then,” I rose with her and opened the office door. She nodded and smiled then made her exit. I closed the door and put my back to it. As the sound of her footsteps grew softer, a grin grew on my face that I couldn’t wipe off.
I knew I shouldn’t get tangled up with clients, but this one was different. Ladies like Anne weren’t a dime a dozen. Maybe I could take a chance.
My mind was still full of Anne Lister as I strolled up to Abbott’s Carpet Emporium the next day. I tried to get my head into the game as I checked out the joint. Stacks and stacks of area rugs were everywhere. Large rugs hung upright in displays. A man and a woman were huddled over a table eyeing carpet samples. They seemed to be the only customers. A jovial man in a green suit and a clashing orange tie greeted me. “Welcome, what brings you in today?”
“I’m looking for John Abbott, I need to speak to him.”
“That would be me, what can I do you for?” the smile still plastered on his face seemed to be genuine.
I asked a few questions. Anne Lister wasn’t kidding when she said this man was boastful. He talked a mile a minute. He kept going on about all the high-class people he conversed with at the party. He briefly mentioned how beautiful the younger Miss Lister looked but I wasn’t sure he was that smitten. I asked him about the spiny statue, but it barely registered for him. He seemed to be low on my list as a possible thief. I thanked him for his help and turned to leave.
“And don’t forget, Detective Walker, twenty percent off for friends and family. I’d say you definitely fall under the former category by now,” Mr. Abbott called out.
I nodded and tipped my hat in his direction.
The next afternoon, a certain brunette returned to my office.
Anne placed a small box on my desk. “My cook baked a cake yesterday. My family didn’t finish it. I thought you would enjoy some.”
I tried not to salivate as I opened the box and eyed the slice of vanilla cake topped with caramel and coconut. This woman knew the fastest route to my heart, through my stomach.
Anne smiled and held out a fork for me.
I took a bite. “Delicious, thank you!”
“So, any progress on the case?”
“I chatted with Abbott yesterday, seems to be a dead end.”
“Mmm,” Anne frowned.
“I’ll call in on Dr. Kenny tomorrow. Better luck with him, eh?” I tried to lift her spirits.
“Yes, hopefully.” Anne’s big brown eyes stared into mine. She sighed and looked away before it could get too sappy between us. “I’m afraid this will have to be a short visit. I have some errands to run. Thank you for bringing me up to speed, Detective,” Anne rose and winked as she left.
I sighed wistfully. This dame seemed to always be on the go.
The next morning, I opened the door to Dr. Kenny’s office. A perky red-headed receptionist greeted me. She had me take a seat while the Doc was with a patient. I pretended to peruse a magazine while eyeing my surroundings. It was a typical waiting room, certainly nothing out of the usual.
“Miss Walker?” a skinny man in a lab coat stepped out from the office.
“Detective Walker,” I corrected him, holding out my hand.
“My apologies. I’m Dr. Kenny,” he shook my hand hesitantly.
He looked at me like I was a chicken in a dress. I guess I was the first woman detective he had encountered.
“Would you please join me in my office?” He stepped aside to let me in.
I took a seat across from his desk. A small bookcase caught my eye. It was filled with books of a wide variety of sizes.
“I was told that you are inquiring about a stolen object.”
“Yes, a small golden hedgehog from the Lister Estate. Do you remember seeing it at their recent party?”
Dr. Kenny looked away slightly, his fingers on his chin. “I think I do. In the study. I noticed it while discussing a private matter with Captain Lister.”
The receptionist peeked her head through the door. “Excuse me, Dr. Kenny, there is a man with urgent business out front.” The woman fidgeted as she spoke and gave me the side-eye.
“This shouldn’t take too long, Detective.” The Doctor left quickly, barely glancing my way.
Well, this seemed fishy. I got up and took a closer look at the bookcase. Many of the books seemed to be standard medical titles. But one stood out like a sore thumb. I picked up a copy of Dickens’ Great Expectations. I skimmed it. Halfway through a small velvet bag was tucked into a hole cut out of the pages.
“What a waste of good literature,” I took the bag out. Opening it, I found a small key.
Suddenly I was startled by a loud thud coming from a closet. I opened the door and found an even bigger surprise. Anne was bound and gagged lying on the floor.
“Anne! Are you alright?” I quickly removed the cloth from her mouth.
“There’s no time, you need to get out of here,” Anne attempted to instruct me as I reached for my knife to undo the rope around her wrists. Her eyes went wide as she stared up. “Behind you!”
I barely had time to catch a quick glimpse of a large man before I was on the floor.
* * * *
I felt like I was swimming to the surface as the murky sound of music became clearer. When I came to, I gazed into the face of an angel.
“Good to see you awake,” Anne cooed, placing her hand lightly on my cheek.
“Wh- where are we?”
“My bedroom, actually,” Anne seemed to be hiding a blush. “I had you brought here so I could nurse you back to health.”
“So, nothing serious?” The pain in my jaw suddenly caught up to me.
Anne smiled, “A few bruises, you got knocked out.”
“Why were you in the closet?” I squinted as I touched on the bruise.
“I was in the neighborhood and saw Kenny’s goons hanging around his office. I called the police, but I didn’t have the patience to wait for them. I went in to give Kenny a piece of my mind.”
“Did they get caught?”
“They’re locked up for now. Kenny confessed to me that his attempted side business did not go as planned so he stole the statue to pay off a debt. But obviously he didn’t say much. I was in the way so he sicced his men on me.”
“Really? A Doctor needs a side business? Must not have too many clients.”
Anne rolled her eyes, “I never knew what my sister saw in him.”
“This all sounds like you’re chomping at the bit to steal my job.” I winced as I tried to sit up.
“Slow down, baby, I’m taking care of you,” Anne placed a couple pillows behind me so I could comfortably sit up in her bed. “And no, I’m not going to steal your job. I was worried about you.”
“We are pleased to have the Glen Miller Orchestra performing tonight. They are ready to begin the program with Moonlight Serenade,” the radio announcer interrupted us briefly.
I eased into Anne’s touch as she placed a cold compress on my face. The music was so soothing. We stayed silent for a while, ears on the song and eyes on each other.
“Thank you for saving me,” I said softly.
Anne stroked my hair gently with her empty hand. “On the contrary, you saved me.”
My heart started tapping like a snare drum. “Oh?”
“I’ve never met a woman like you. A lot of spirit in a kind and beautiful little package.”
“You’re not too bad yourself,” I gulped.
“Wasn’t that wonderful, folks? And now Mr. Miller will share with us the song At Last.”
At this point, I wasn’t sure if the man on the radio was commenting on the music or the two of us in the bedroom.
“Did I tell you today is my birthday?” My head was getting a little foggy with sappiness.
“Well, happy birthday, Ann. I didn’t buy you a present,” she leaned in closer. “But I can give you something better.”
She kissed me gently. I did my best to carefully reciprocate with my bruised jaw. Even with my faulty mouth, it was still sublime. I closed my eyes as she slowly worked her way down my neck.
“Oh, Ann,” she breathed out my name. “Ann.”
My mind went blank suddenly.
I opened my eyes, returning to the 21st Century. “Oh fuck,” I cursed to myself, rolling my face into the pillow.
“Ann, happy birthday!”
Anne was way too perky for this time of day. But I shouldn’t be too surprised, she was a morning person after all. I turned to face her. Anne Lister was still dressed in a black t-shirt and blue boxers patterned with goats.
“You didn’t go for a run?” I asked with a yawn.
“No, I made you breakfast,” she grinned. She held out a tray bearing a cup of tea, a plate of scrambled eggs and a strawberry scone. A small package sat in the corner.
“You baked? I’m impressed!”
“Thank you, Anne. Hold on,” I gave her a peck on the cheek then ran to the bathroom in need of the toilet.
I turned off the faucet after washing my hands and stared at myself in the mirror. It was a bit startling to see my messy hair and not the perfectly set 1940s hairdo from my dream.
“Ann, your eggs are getting cold!” my wife scolded me.
I raced back, careful not to spill any of the tray’s contents as I pulled the duvet over me. I happily placed the tray on my lap and started eating.
“This is amazing!” I praised between mouthfuls of scone. “What’s this?” I pointed to the package.
“Open it,” Anne was ever impatient.
I took the present and unwrapped it carefully. “Oh, Anne!” It was a small stone sculpture of a hedgehog. I saw it in a shop a few weeks ago but decided not to buy it. I already had a small collection of hedgehog figurines. I wasn’t sure Anne would speak to me again if I bought another one. “Thank you so much, Dearest,” I kissed her.
I was quiet as I finished my breakfast. I ran through my dream in my mind before the best moments slipped away. It was so nice to be brave without all the insecurities that engulfed me.
Anne placed her hand on my back. “You seem distant.”
I shook my head. “Oh. You just woke me up from a very good dream. I got to be a total badass!”
Anne looked shocked. She smiled with concern in her eyes. “But you are a total badass.”
I averted my gaze.
“I hope you know that” Anne placed her hand on my cheek so that I would face her.
I breathed out slowly and sat up as straight as I could. It wasn’t the first time Anne had referred to this courage she saw in me. I usually brushed it off. As silly as it was, the dream was an impetus to fully embrace this courage. Starting with small steps was best. “I do,” I committed to it, without faltering.
Anne smiled widely. She started to lean in when I pressed my hand to her chest.
“I need to set the mood.” I turned to my phone and pulled up my music library. At Last by Glenn Miller and his Orchestra was easy to find in the Big Band playlist I made.
I turned back to Anne as the music started. I softly kissed her lips and ran my fingers through her long raven hair. Anne moaned softly and wrapped her arms around me. She suddenly pulled away about a minute into the song when the lyrics started.
“Wait, I know this. Why aren’t we listening to the Etta James recording?”
I kissed her again, hoping she would forget the question.
“Have you been listening to those old radio shows again?” she grinned, trying not to laugh.
“Shut up, Pony.” I moved the breakfast tray out of our way and pushed Anne onto her back. With all the confidence I owned, I straddled her hips and lowered my head for an impassioned kiss.