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The Hardcastle Case

Chapter Text

My sleep mask with built in headphones rested on my forehead as I pulled up a playlist on my phone. Anne sat next to me absorbed in her journal writing. I leaned over and kissed her goodnight before completely cutting myself off to the outside world.

I settled under the duvet, clicked the play button, and put the sleep mask over my eyes. A few moments of that incredible dream still held a place in my memory. Particularly how gorgeous Anne looked in a 1940s wardrobe.

The strings of one song disappeared and were replaced with one of my favorites. Ella Fitzgerald sweetly sang I’m Old Fashioned. A sigh escaped as I pulled the duvet up to my shoulders. Making out with 1940s Anne was wonderful to playback in my head. Her gorgeous brunette hair falling in luxurious curls on the shoulders of a button up blouse tucked neatly into slacks. She was just like Katharine Hepburn.

And then….

I’m pleased to announce that the time I spent healing in Ms. Lister’s bed wasn’t a one-off night of romance. After a couple evenings spent together, we were officially going steady. Now several weeks into the relationship, we were as happy as blissful teenagers. She held me tight as we danced to Ella singing about romantic ways of yesteryear. Just like the song suggested, the sound of rain tapping on my window was pretty swell. Anne raised our hands in the air so she could turn me around in a twirl.

As the record player needle moved to the next song, Anne kissed the top of my head. Begrudgingly, I pulled away from her but kept her hands in mine.

“Would you care for a drink? I have a lunch meeting with my Aunt tomorrow and I think I need some liquid courage.”

“Of course. But let me get it for you.”

Anne was about to drop her hold on me when I pulled her in for a slow kiss. “You’re too good for me, you know that?”

“Please. If anything, it’s the other way around,” Anne went to the kitchen where I kept the liquor.

I wasn’t sure what she meant by that remark, but I decided to drop it.

Anne quickly returned, holding out a tumbler half filled with the golden bracer I requested. She held another close to her chest.

We sat on my two-seater. I put my feet up on the arm of the couch and leaned into my girl’s arms.

“So, what’s the old battle axe going to grill you about tomorrow?” Anne enquired before taking a swig.

“All she mentioned on the telephone was that she saw your name in the newspaper and she is sure I have something to do with it.”

“Mmm. Well, don’t let her scold you out of a good thing, alright?” Anne placed her hand on my stomach. It was comforting like a dog resting her head.

“Of course not.” My brow furrowed and I threw back a slug of scotch.

****

I took a quick once over in the mirror at the Palm Ballroom’s lavatory. I picked at the edges of my sensible blue dress, straightening it as best I could. Ready or not, it was time for inspection.

The dining room was full of older society ladies fussing over tea and sharing whatever gossip they could get their hands on. I easily spotted my Aunt inspecting the lunch menu like it was a doctor’s vital notes.

“Good afternoon, Aunt Anne” I took a seat at the table. Hugs really weren’t her style.

My Aunt slowly looked up. “There you are. I was wondering what was taking you so long.”

“So, have you decided on lunch?”

“The veal as usual. I don’t know why I bother looking at this, always the same offering,” she waved her hand in disgust like the menu was a squirming insect.

I rolled my eyes as the waiter arrived. My Aunt’s constant level of annoyance evident, he quickly took our order and left.

“Now, I heard that Miss Anne Lister required assistance in retrieving a stolen object. All leads point to you, Ann, in providing that assistance. I would like to hear the truth from you.”

I closed my eyes for a second, bracing myself for the whirlwind of intense seniority. “Yes, Aunt. Miss Lister hired me for this situation.”
“I told you to stop playing detective. It’s dangerous and certainly not suitable for a woman. You have no need to work.”

“I am not playing,” I hissed. Like a baker punching down dough, I stamped down the urge to scream at her. “It gives me purpose. I love to help people.”

“You can help people by volunteering at the welfare charity.”

“Aunt, you know I –“

“And only volunteering at the welfare charity,” she snapped, cutting me off.
We sat in silence for a few minutes. My Aunt scanned the room for unsuspecting prey to capture and shine an unnecessary light on.

Our food arrived during the silent treatment. I thanked the waiter as he placed the fried scallops and coleslaw in front me.

Aunt Ann unfortunately found someone in the crowd to pick on. She told me some story about Mrs. McKinley’s dog digging holes in her neighbor’s garden.

I feigned interest when a welcome distraction stood at my Aunt’s side looking smart in a well-tailored jacket and pleated skirt.

“Detective Walker, my dear, what a pleasant surprise,” Mrs. Rawson beamed. “I wanted to congratulate you on closing your recent case. My friend, Miss Lister, gave me all the details.”

I smiled, relieved to have an ally.

Mrs. Rawson looked down at Aunt Anne as if she had just noticed her. “I trust you two are celebrating the victory. I don’t want to take up your time. Do keep up the good work, Ann. We need women like you to take on these important investigations. Don’t you agree, Mrs. Walker?”

My Aunt fumed but said nothing.

“Good day, Ladies,” Mrs. Rawson smiled, then left the restaurant.

There was nothing but silence as Aunt Ann’s face grew as red as a cardinal’s plumage.

****

I just finished the book I was reading when a knock came at the door. I beckoned the visitor to enter. A couple, simply dressed, introduced themselves as William and Alice Hardcastle. William, who looked like he hadn’t slept a wink in nights, immediately went into their story.

“Please, sit,” I gently interrupted him and gestured toward the chairs.

Alice looked at William with a soft smile and placed her hand on his arm. I could tell these poor souls had it rough and begged them to start again once they were seated.

“Our boy, Henry, was struck by a passing vehicle. The driver sped away, didn’t even pause. Henry….Henry lost his leg,” William choked out the last words and looked down.

William’s wife continued the account, her hand rubbing her husband’s back. “The police said they’ve done all they could to catch the driver. But it doesn’t seem like they did much in the first place.”

I frowned. “Well, Mr. and Mrs. Hardcastle, you have come to the right place. I will do everything in my power to track down the scoundrel.”

“Thank you, Detective,” Mrs. Hardcastle looked earnestly into my eyes.

“Can you give me any details that might be helpful to track down this person?”

“We were walking along 45th Street. Henry was getting hungry and spotted Sowden’s Café. He ran ahead of us to the crosswalk. He checked for cars then started walking. That’s when this big black car came racing down the street and hit him,” Alice’s voice wavered but she mustered through the information.

“Did you catch sight of the driver at all?”

“A man, maybe in his fifties,” William explained.

I lifted my head from my notes and set my pencil down. I always thought it was important to give folks who were down and out my sincerest attention. I looked up and met their eyes in turn. “That’s a good start. I will get on this right away, Mr. and Mrs. Hardcastle.”

The couple smiled and I escorted them out of the office, wishing them a good afternoon.

I made my way over to 45th street. The smell of fried food carried on a breeze across the street from Sowden’s Café. The allure for Henry was obvious. And it worked on me.

I walked into the small diner. It was well kept, each laminate table shined with cleanliness. I took a seat at the counter. Peggy Lee’s On the Sunny Side of the Street played on the jukebox. I perused the menu on the wall.

“Good evening, Miss. Can I take your order?”

A handsome young man with a pad and pencil at the ready smiled at me behind the counter.

“What’s the specialty?”

“Well, my family has a pig farm in the country. We take great pride in raising them. I would suggest the BLT or the fried ham sandwich.” The man smiled. He was boastful but didn’t lay it on thick.

I thought for a second and decided to go easy on my system. “I’ll have the BLT, please.”

“Strawberry shake?” He raised an eyebrow.

“How’d you guess?”

“Plenty of time spent taking folks’ orders.”

I laughed into a smile and held out my hand, “Ann Walker.”

“Thomas Sowden, but you can call me Tom,” he shook it with a firm grip. “I’ll be right back with that order.”

The Andrews Sisters sang out Rumors are Flying when a boy and a girl took two seats away from me. They held hands on the countertop and made puppy eyes at each other. I moved my gaze down and picked at the paper napkin in front of me. I could never canoodle with my Anne like that in this cafe.

My sandwich and a side of fruit was placed in front me.

“What’s got you down, Ms. Walker?” Tom had a sincere look of concern on his face as he placed the shake on the counter.

“Oh, it’s nothing to trouble yourself about, Tom,” I waved my hand in the air, brushing away my emotions. “But if you’re not busy, I have a question for you.”

Tom did a once over of the seating area. “No, I’m free at the moment. What’s up?”

“Did you see the car accident that happened a couple weeks ago?”

“Yeah, the little boy crossing the street. I was standing over there,” Tom pointed to the far end of the counter closest to the window. “That poor kid.”

“Do you remember any specifics about the car?”

“It was a black 1939 Cadillac convertible,” Tom suddenly looked bashful. “I’m saving up for a car myself. I know I could never afford something like that, but a man can dream.”

I nodded, making a mental note of the make of the vehicle.

“Anything else I can do for you?”

We both heard the door open and two loud teenagers rushed in.

“No. Thank you for your help, Tom.”

I took a bite of the sandwich and practically rolled my eyes backward. The bacon was peppered perfectly, the tomato was juicy, and the lettuce was crisp. Not to mention the mayonnaise was obviously homemade. The shake was delicious as well with real strawberry. They sure put a lot of love in their cooking.

When my plate was vacant except for a few crumbly inhabitants, Tom returned. I took the last sip of my shake and set the glass down. Tom placed the bill in front of me.

“This was the best BLT I’ve ever tasted. And believe me, kid, I’ve had a lot of sandwiches in my day.” I placed several dollars on the counter. “Here you are, Tom. Please keep the change for your dream car fund.”

Tom beamed, “Thank you!”

As I rose, Tom leaned over the counter and whispered. “I know you’ll catch that driver, Detective.”

“Have you thought about going into the business yourself?” I winked. “I’ll see you around, Tom. Thanks again!”

I went home to my usual evening routine of reading before my favorite radio shows aired. I inspected my stack of books yet to be read and pulled out one on Impressionist paintings. As soon as I sat down in my leather chair, the telephone rang.

I rolled my eyes at the interruption as I walked over to the desk and picked up the receiver. I tried my best to mask my disappointment with a chipper greeting.

“Good evening, Ann! I apologize, I know it’s your rest time. May I speak with you for a minute?” Anne’s deeply sweet tone was a welcome sound to my ears. She was obviously trying to be formal since she was calling from her family home.

“Of course, what is it?”

“Well, my family is going to have a get together with some close friends next Saturday. It won’t be grand like the Spring party, just a small gathering. I was wondering if you would like to join us?”

I bit my lower lip with nervous excitement. It would be nice to meet the family, even though I had to keep my lips sealed on a certain topic.

“I’d love to!”

“Excellent!”

There was a pause. I could hear a muffled voice in the background.

“Now, Ann, I hope I’m not keeping you, but I have another vitally important question for you.”

“That’s fine.”

“How was last week’s episode of that new series you were so excited about? Suspense, right?”

“Anne! Really, it’s my turn!” Anne’s sister, Marian, could easily be heard in the background.

I stifled a laugh. “Yes, that’s the one. It was an adaptation of Wet Saturday by John Collier. Have you read it?”

“No! Do you have a copy you can loan to me?”

“Enough, Anne! You can talk about this later!” Marian’s voice raised to a higher pitch.

I couldn’t help but cackle louder.

“Hmm, well, I guess I must give my dear sister a chance with the telephone. I’ll catch up with you tomorrow, Ann. Have a good evening.”

“Bye, baby,” I whispered, hoping Marian couldn’t hear me.

The phone clicked. I squeezed my eyes shut and sent Anne silent good night kisses in my thoughts.

I went back to my old reliable seat and turned to the first chapter of my book. A wide smile that was solely the result of my girl’s antics spread across my face.

Chapter Text

It was the day before the Lister Family's get together and I was keeping my nerves occupied with work. Not that I wasn’t looking forward to it. But the ever-present threat of being found out and torn asunder made my palms sweaty.

I walked into the local Cadillac dealership and tried to get some information out of the salesman. No dice. The sharks were sniffing for the blood of folks ready for a new ride. I wasn’t one of them. Like a cat chasing a mouse, I wasn’t done yet. I turned my attention elsewhere and spotted the dealership’s garage. I knocked on the entryway.

A worker in grey coveralls leaned over a car engine. “Hold on, be with you in a minute,” a woman’s voice called.

She came up for air and adjusted the green bandana keeping her brunette curls tamed. “Alright now, what’s your problem?”

“I don’t have one.”

“Really? Usually dames like you who visit my garage are upset about something. If it’s not the time it’s taking for a fix it’s a ding in their door that they blame on me” she rolled her eyes.

“Actually, I’m a detective here about a case.”

The woman grinned at me like she won big in a poker game. “Well, isn’t that a relief. Can I help you take down one of these snobs?”

I smiled. “Possibly. I’m investigating a hit and run accident involving a black 1939 Cadillac convertible. It happened a few weeks ago.”

The woman looked down in thought and wiped her brow. “You know, there was this real edgy guy talking to one of the boys out there,” she pointed to the sales area. “He was insistent on returning his convertible. I looked it over and found a dent. It looked like it hit something rather sizeable.”

“Are you at liberty to tell me who the owner was?”

“I can’t but one of those boys is a friend of mine, owes me a favor. I can ask him to take a look and I can ring you when I have the name.”

“Thank you so much, Miss…”

“Hemingway. Rachel Hemingway.”

“Miss Hemingway, thank you. Ann Walker,” I shook her hand, slightly greasy with oil, and gave her my business card.

Ever since my first visit, Sowden’s Café had a loyal customer for life. I spent the late afternoon shooting the breeze with Tom and a strawberry shake. I mentioned that I was just making a quick stop before visiting the Hardcastles. That’s when Tom’s charitable side appeared. He suggested that I take over some sandwiches since Henry was so keen for one on the day of his accident. I complimented his generosity and told him that he should join me. After getting the go ahead from his mother in the kitchen, he packed a bag with a freshly prepared meal for three.

We made our way over to the small Hardcastle residence in a part of town that my Aunt Anne would have unsavory words for. Not that I paid her heed.

Alice looked a bit weary when she opened the door. I was worried that she already started on dinner. Fortunately, that was second on her to-do list for the rest of the day. It was only appropriate that June Christy and the Stan Kenton Orchestra started up with Shoo-Fly Pie and Apple Pan Dowdy on the radio when Tom presented the spread.

“Oh, Detective Walker, this is too much,” Alice cried.

“It’s no trouble, Mrs. Hardcastle. Besides, it was Tom’s idea,” I placed a comforting hand on Tom’s shoulder.

Spotting Henry laying in a bed in the corner of the living room, I grabbed one of the BLTs and made my way over.

I knelt before him. The boy was tired but there was a glint in his eye that I recognized. “Henry, this is one of the best sandwiches I ever had. Now as a fellow connoisseur I want to get your review.”

The boy smiled and slowly grabbed the sandwich. He took a bite. His eyes went wide.

“What do you think?”

Henry nodded enthusiastically. As he chewed his next mouthful, his eyes focused on my trench coat. “Do you have a girl er, I mean fella to go out dancing with?”

The heat rose in my cheeks like a blooming flower. I looked down to hide it. “Well yes, we have done some dancing.”

The cogs in Henry’s mind turned before he spoke again. “I would like to take a girl out dancing. But I can’t ‘cause of my leg.”

I frowned. As Henry continued eating, I considered his family’s situation. “I’ll see what I can do about that, Kid.” I patted his arm. The last thing I wanted in this world was to see this boy suffer even more.

Tom knelt next to me and held out a plate with a slice of banana cream pie. “How about something sweet?” He smiled and offered a fork.

I gave Tom and Henry some time alone and joined Alice and William at the dinner table.

“I haven’t seen him this happy in a long time…before the accident,” Alice was filled to the brim with satisfaction.

I nodded. “I hope to continue on that trend, Mrs. Hardcastle. If my resources follow through, I should have the name of the driver soon.”

*****

In a far cry from the Hardcastle homestead, I stepped up to the entryway of the Lister Estate, Shibden Hall. Anne was waiting for me by the door. “Thank goodness you’re here,” she gave me a quick peck on the cheek after surveying the area. “I’ve been dodging Mr. Abbott for a half hour. The man showed up ungodly early.”

“Oh, my poor darling. I should at least say hello, where did you spot him last?” I looked over her shoulder.

“No!,” she grabbed my arm swiftly. “You can’t be that cruel. Let me introduce you to some civilized society.” Anne guided me to the back garden.

An elderly woman in a chair watched the young folks gathered further afield. A man of similar age sat next to her, his eyes half-closed.

“Aunt Anne, Father, I’d like you to meet my friend, Ann Walker.”

The man’s eyes suddenly lit up. “Well, well, well” he exclaimed as he rose from his chair and reached out a hand. “Ms. Walker, thank you for hunting down our old knick-knack.” He winked.

I took his hand and shook it.

“It is not a knick-knack, Father. It is an heirloom,” Anne muttered.

I shared a smile with the gentleman.

Anne lovingly held her hand on the small of her Aunt’s back.

“It is a pleasure to meet you, Anne.”

Aunt Anne took her hand in mine and patted it.

“Thank you for inviting me. You have a lovely home.” I looked up at the estate as jitters rose from my stomach like hummingbirds buzzing into flight.

“You two should go mingle. You don’t need to be wasting all your time with us old folks.”

“But Aunt, won’t you be retiring soon?” Anne asked sounding slightly nervous herself.

“Anne,” she sternly eyed her. “Go and chat. We will be up late tonight. It is a party after all.”

With a hand on her arm, I steered my girl over to the younger group. Anne’s eyes rapidly scanned the crowd, neither of us saw the jovial carpet salesman.

A young woman in a high-necked dress suddenly stood in our way. “Anne, where have you been? I’ve been looking all over for you. I managed to lose John in the process. Aren’t you going to introduce me?”

“My dear sister Marian, this is Ann Walker.”

“Wonderful to meet you, Ann. I’d be delighted to share with you all the scandalous memories I have of Anne.”

“I want to hear all the details. Let’s schedule tea then,” I nodded, Anne’s discomfort obvious in the corner of my eye.

“Enough of that, Marian. How about Ann and I search for your beau in this direction?” Anne pointed to a small gaggle of people in close conversation.

“If you must.” Marian grumbled, knowing her sister’s lies all too well.

Anne led me away when I spotted a tie with a questionable combination of yellow, gold and brown attached to John Abbott. Before he could see me, I shoved Anne behind a large shrub and stood in front of it. John spotted me and waved his hand in the air like a hurricane flag flapping in the wind.

“Detective Walker!” He sang out as he ran over. “It is so good to see you! It’s been ages. You really should come visit my shop again. Our summer sale will begin next week.”

“You know, I was thinking of putting a little area rug in my living room. It would really spruce up the place.”

“That would be lovely,” he grinned as Marian joined us and latched onto his arm.

“Where is Anne?” Marian’s question was insistent.

“Seeing a man about a landscaping issue.”

Marian looked around, almost frantically. “I can never pin her down when you’re here, John.”

Without warning, we were pummeled with rain. Partygoers scurried inside as fast as possible. John busied himself with guiding Marian. As soon as their backs were facing me, Anne emerged from hiding. We ran over to her aunt and father and helped them inside.

By the time we made our way into the house, someone had already turned on the radio. A few couples were dancing away their worries over the change in the weather. I focused my attention on the dark paneling on the walls until Anne grabbed my hand.

“What are you doing?” I panicked.

“It’s alright. All the young men are taken. It’s perfectly fine for two women to dance together in this day and age. Trust me.” Her smile never failed to soothe me. I followed her to the makeshift dance floor.

Per usual Anne took the traditional male role and we started to sway.

“Thank you for saving me. You truly are my knight in shining armor” she whispered into my ear.

As the next song began, I recognized the first notes of Jimmy Dorsey’s orchestra playing A You’re Adorable. “Well, in that case,” I swapped positions with Anne, “let me lead for a while.”

Anne’s eyes were as big as billiard balls.

“Trust me.”

Anne eased into my movements. If there was anything I learned from that damn finishing school my aunt sent me to, it was how to dance both roles. That and the fine art of making a pass at girls.

As we danced, it would have been wonderful if Anne could rest her cheek against mine. I wanted to take in the woodsy scent of her shampoo. Perhaps nuzzle into her soft hair. At least I was able to hold her at all.

When the song went through the alphabet and got to the letter Z, we decided to take a load off. I found a chair, but Anne was distracted.

“Excuse me for a minute, Ann. Business matters.” She briskly made her way to an adjoining room.

Partygoers still bopping to the music stole my attention. Without notice, Aunt Anne took a seat next to me.

“I do miss my dancing days. Several handsome gentlemen were nice enough to fill out my dance card,” she paused, musing. “How is Anne treating you?”

It took every muscle in my neck not to whip it around in surprise. I cleared my throat. “S-she’s very kind to me,” I managed to squeak.

The elderly lady nodded. “Anne hasn’t said anything directly, but I know. As far as I’ve seen tonight it’s clear to me that you adore her just as much,” she paused to squeeze my shaking hand. “Don’t let her stubbornness get to you, dear. It’s her armor. She just needs some coaxing once in a while to see her soft side.”

A shadow suddenly loomed over us. “What have you two been discussing?” Anne questioned.

“You, of course,” Aunt Anne looked up and smiled.

“Excuse us, Aunt. I’d like to show Ann something.”

I smiled at Aunt Anne before Anne could pull me away. The elderly woman nodded reassuringly. My heart swelled. She was the first person of her generation who seemed to be alright with my secret.

Anne led me to a staircase in the kitchen hidden by a small door.

“I spotted Abbott back there. Let’s escape to my bedroom.”

I raced ahead of Anne. Once I reached the top of the stairs I flopped on the bed. Anne joined me and laughed. I held out my hand and she played with my fingers.

“Were you ok back there? You were as white as a sheet.”

I bit my lip and shook my head. “It’s nothing. I’m fine.” I wasn’t going to let on that Aunt Anne knew about us. I didn’t want to ruin that heart to heart.

Anne’s brows furrowed, “you’re sure?”

“I’m positive!” I laughed and leaned in for a kiss.

Chapter Text

I was about to close my eyes for a nap in my office chair when the telephone rang. The disgruntled voice on the line could only belong to one woman. Rachel Hemingway.

“I’ve got a name for you.”

I held the receiver closer to my ear. My pencil was at the ready.

“Some wise ass named Christopher Rawson.”

I dropped the pencil. “Thank you, Rachel.” I tried to hide the shake in my voice.

I knew my cousin was not the most likeable of people. But this was a new low.

I grabbed my trench coat and hat and just remembered to lock my office door behind me. As soon as I made it to the sidewalk, I stuck my hand out to hail a cab. I needed to get to that money pit with the gaudy façade known as the Rawson Family Bank. And fast.

The driver tried to make chit-chat but I was having none of it. Tight lipped, I stared out the window. When we arrived at my destination, I made sure to tip the young man a good deal since he took a short cut.

One by one every teller’s head rose like groundhogs popping out of their holes as I quickly made my way to the back. I didn’t even care to knock on the door with the Gold “Christopher Rawson, Sr. Manager” name plate.

When I opened the door, Rawson was chortling with some old geezer.

“Ann, what are you doing here?” he asked mid-laugh.

“I need to speak to you alone.”

“You can see I’m in the middle of a conversation,” he snidely remarked gesturing to the man across the desk like he was invisible.

“Now, Christopher!”

He looked slightly sorrowful at the man. “I do apologize, Robert. It seems my cousin has urgent matters.”

I stepped back as the man walked out. He didn’t fail to give me a dirty look as he passed.

I brushed his glare aside and took his seat.

“Would you care for a drink, my dear?” Rawson went to grab a large glass decanter.

“No, thank you. I came here for one reason.”

“It’s quite obvious that something is on your mind.” He stifled a laugh.

“Your new Cadillac. Why did you return it?”

He raised an eyebrow. “How did you know about that?”

“I have eyes and ears in important places.”

“It wasn’t the right model for me,” he waved his hand in the air as if it was nothing.

“Did you realize that after you hit the boy?”

Rawson’s eyes went wide.

“You made it too easy, Christopher. You thought no one would notice? Or that no one would care about a poor boy?” The rage was starting to boil in my stomach. My fuse was about to blow when Rawson jumped out of his seat and ran out.

Thank goodness for the folks who had enough sense to make shoes available for women to actually move in. I was in hot pursuit in my brogues.

Rawson was only making a fool of himself as he raced out of his own bank. I saw which street he turned on and decided on my tactic. I took a back way.

I met him in an alley as he rounded a corner. I had a tight grip on my knife. Dearest kissed his neck. She made her presence known but didn’t break the skin.

“You’re so despicable. Can’t even deal with your own problems. Wouldn’t it have been easier to stop and offer to help? Everyone knows you could afford it.”

Rawson was shaking in his boots. For as long as I waited, he didn’t have anything to say in reply.

I grabbed his arm and put my knife back in the sheath.

“Let’s cool down back at your office and make a call to my friends at the 33rd. Alright?”

Rawson nodded and begrudgingly followed me back.

By the time I handed my cousin over to Lieutenant Washington and Sergeant Mackenzie, I was ready to put my feet up.
I had my usual post case celebration of eggs and a scotch, but I knew there was still one loose end. I mused on my plan to tie this one up before I drifted off to sleep in my chair.

********

I held a rectangular gift box in the crook of my arm as I knocked on the Hardcastle front door.

“Detective Walker, what brings you to this part of town?” William answered the door, a shocked look on his face.

“I have a gift for Henry,” I held up the box.

William’s eyebrows narrowed. He called for the boy over his shoulder.

Henry, all wild hair and smiles from playing, grabbed his crutches and met me in the entryway. William pulled out a chair for the boy. I knelt before him as he took a seat.

I held the base of the box as he lifted the top to reveal a prosthetic leg.

Alice stood next to her husband and held a hand over her mouth.

Henry’s face brightened but uneasiness paced around in my mind like a caged panther. I didn’t want my kindness to come off as a performance and I certainly didn’t want to push the boy into something he did not want. It was a risk.

“You don’t have to accept it if you don’t want it,” the words fell out of my mouth quickly.

Henry looked me right in the eye. “Wow, Detective Walker! Can I try it now?”

I let out the air I was apparently holding onto in fear. The boy’s enthusiasm was infectious, and I smiled all teeth. “I got you set up at the hospital with some lessons. I think it would be best to learn from the experts before having a go.”

Henry nodded. Before I knew what was happening, he grabbed me and pulled me in for a hug.

I held back tears for as long as I could. As he let go and I raised myself off the floor, my cheeks were not as dry as I hoped.

Alice held her hand out to me. “We can’t thank you enough.”

“I hope I haven’t overstepped.”

“Ann, if I may, what with all we’ve been through now, we don’t think of you as a superior. We consider you a friend.”

I nodded as fresh tears started.

William offered up a handkerchief.

I dried my tears and paused before speaking again. “I’m sorry to say that the driver is a relation of mine.”

“As Alice made perfectly clear, we aren’t going to hold it against you.” William took the handkerchief as I handed it back to him. “But I think you owe my wife the cost of cleaning this. It’s sopping wet!” He jokingly held out the cloth between two fingers.

Alice playfully pushed his shoulder and laughed.

Clients entering my close circle of relationships seemed to be a growing trend. I couldn’t be happier.

I couldn’t help but walk out of the Hardcastle household with a lighter step. A worry lifted off my back. I was ready to celebrate.

I managed to get my girl and I tickets to the big charity ball in the grand ballroom at the Lightcliffe Hotel.

Anne ‘s jaw nearly hit the floor when she took a gander at my burgundy cocktail dress with capped sleeves. I had the same reaction to Anne’s black blazer and trousers with a sleek button up blouse.

The ball was already abuzz with couples dancing to the tunes of the live band. The singer sure looked familiar. I recognized her voice, too. But for the life of me I couldn’t place her.

When this beautiful woman’s name reached the tip of my tongue, Anne swept me onto the dance floor. We swayed into the middle of the dancing masses. Our eyes met. We both wanted to lock lips, but we were hiding in plain sight of a crowd. Anne leaned in to tell me something. Neither of us noticed an unwelcome visitor until his hearty voice cut through the song.

“Miss Lister, what a wonderful surprise!” John Abbott clasped his hands together in delight. “And Miss Walker, too, always a pleasure.”

“I was just –“

“Miss Walker, do you mind if I take our lovely Anne away from you for a few minutes. I’ve been dying to talk shop with her.” He was practically giddy.

“Not at all. I’ll meet up with you in a bit,” I turned to Anne.

She was smiling but her eyes told a different story.

I waited in a quiet corner as Mr. Abbott talked Anne’s ear off. Anne was barely holding it together as her smile slowly turned into a grimace whenever Mr. Abbott looked away.

As I stared at Ann, I noticed a brunette’s gaze slowly burning into the corner of my eye. She made eye contact with me and weaved her way through guests like a tiger advancing through tall grass towards her prey.

“Ann Walker.” It was more of a statement than a question or even a friendly greeting.

“Yes?”

“We both know Anne Lister very well,” She stepped closer to me in order to whisper. “That is to say, we both know her intimately. Anne and I had quite a cordial visit recently. You can ask her yourself. It was a week ago.”

The crowd seemed to sweep over me like wave. I was drowning and this woman was standing over me with her head up out of the water. How could Anne do this? I thought I was her one and only girl.

The murky sound of the band suddenly became clearer as I recognized the song starting up. Goody, Goody.

“Who-who are you?” By the time I managed to get the words out of my mouth the woman had disappeared.

The singer started on those lyrics which stung so much. A song about a dame praising the woman who replaced her for leaving the scoundrel they both loved. How timely.

Across the dance floor, Anne fiercely gripped the brunette’s arm. She was trying her best not to make a scene. But was Anne was barely holding onto her anger as she scowled.

That horrible woman walked away as Anne rushed over to me as quickly as possible.

“Ann! I can explain!”

“Who is that?” I tried not to yell but I had to fight with the trumpets to be heard.

“Mariana Lawton,” Anne scrunched her nose like she smelled something off. “Look, I promise you things are over between us. It was a mistake.”

“You still did it.” I gritted my teeth, practically snarling at her.

Anne’s head slowly lowered like a guilty dog. It seemed that she was a loss for words.

I could feel a gaze on me once more. I turned to see Mariana smiling in the opposite corner.

I wanted to get far away from her. As much as I didn’t want to admit it, I wanted to get far away from this sad sap in front of me, too. I returned my attention to Anne and caught her eyes up from the floor with a finger on her chin. “I’ll be seeing you around then.”
I took a direct turn away from Anne.

I tried not to shove anyone out of the way as I hurried to a back door. The band members clapping to the beat spurred me on as my heart sank lower.

I stepped out into the alley and shut the door. I leaned against it in relief.

Blissful silence.

The tears fell down my cheeks like raindrops sliding down a window. I recovered enough to make my way over to the main street and hail a cab. Luckily one was nearby.

As I got in and the car started to drive away, I saw Anne rushing out to the sidewalk. But it was too little too late.

Chapter Text

It had been two weeks since Anne showed her true colors. My recent knack for getting chummy with clients was starting to rub me the wrong way. There were sweet memories of her in the office and my home. When it came to escaping my now bitter thoughts, I had few options.

Business was slow. I started reading a book on Egyptian archaeology to busy my mind. The subject was fascinating. But Anne’s sad eyes kept appearing in front of me.

All that sadness couldn’t make up for what she did. I thought we had it good. We shared so much joy in our quiet evenings together at my home as well as our public outings. Right before the charity ball I was mustering up the courage to tell her I love her. She threw that chance away.

All this talk to myself called for a pick me up. I started up the kettle for a cup of tea. My thoughts were so focused on the rising boil that I barely noticed the soft knock on the door.

I told the guest to enter as I placed the tea bag in my mug.

“I hope I’m not bothering you,” a voice, not usually shy, quietly announced.

My heart hammered in my chest. It wrestled with my anger as I poured the hot water into my mug. “Would you like a cup?” my words came out just as shyly.

“Please.”

I continued focusing on the tea makings, too nervous to look her in the eye.

I let out a deep sigh as I handed her the mug and slowly raised my head to meet her gaze. Those chocolate browns were red around the edges from so many tears shed. I hid my emotions behind tight lips as I sat back down. Anne cautiously eyed me as she pulled out the chair in front of my desk and sat down. She didn’t make any sudden moves lest I run off like a scared rabbit.

I couldn’t hold back any longer. “You really hurt me. I was so happy with you, Anne. I don’t think I have ever been happier. And you treated me like dirt! Thank goodness for your loud-mouthed girl or else I would never have known. Don’t you think I should find a new job? It’s obvious I’m too dim witted to be a proper detective.” I seethed and shut my mouth again. My nostrils flared as I tried to stop myself from crying.

“You have every right to be angry. I was a complete idiot, and I certainly did not want to make you out to be one. I don’t know if you’ll ever forgive me,” she paused, rubbing a finger along the mug. “I’m not sure I forgive myself. But I wanted to speak my peace.”

I nodded, giving her permission to continue.

“Mariana and I, we go a long way back. We met when we were teenagers. I was fairly comfortable with myself by that time. Mariana was just starting that process.” Anne shook her head slightly as if she was brushing away a memory. “We made promises that we shouldn’t have. Promises of being together always. Mariana let her fear get to her though and married a man. Before I met you, she kept telling me that we would be together when Charles dies. Well, who the hell knows when that’s going to happen? So, I left.” Anne took a sip of her tea. Her brow furrowed as she seemed to sort out her next words. “There was one recent evening. She came running to me crying. She told me she needed me. And I, well, you can guess…” her head lowered.

“Is this supposed to make me feel better?” I gritted my teeth.

Anne raised her head, tears streaming down her face. “Please. Just give me a chance to finish. The truth is, Ann, that she could never love me for who I am. She was always trying to get me to wear dresses. She told me to let my father take care of Shibden and the land. That it wasn’t my place. Before she left that night, I told her we were through. I told her what we did was a horrible mistake. We could never be together again.” She leaned in closer. “I know that you accept me for who I am, Ann. That’s not something I take lightly.”

I turned my face away. It was a start. And yes, my heart broke for her for the way Mariana treated her. But her speech wasn’t enough.

Anne looked up to the ceiling for a moment, collecting herself. She looked back at me. “Before you, I thought I was just stuck waiting for Mariana. That there could be no one truly right for me. Then I ended up needing some help. The more I spoke with your past clients, the more I wanted to meet you. Not just for your detective skills but your feisty spirit. A spirit which I so desperately hoped was interested in women like me. When I met you, you were so much more than I expected. You have a fire, Ann, like nothing I have seen before. You throw caution to the wind in pursuit of your goals. You stand up for what is right. You are so gentle and tender to those you care for. I am fortunate to have been embraced by it. This fire of your’s. To have played with it, as a snobbish friend of mine would say. Her eyes would surely pop out of her head if she knew about us.” She almost laughed.

Her eyes slightly brightened for a moment dulled quickly as she stared at her mug. “I just don’t know if I’m worthy anymore. I don’t know if you’ll take me back.”

I tried to hide my heaving chest as I clenched back sobs. Her words softened my hard heart a bit more. I had never been told anything like that. My family wasn’t exactly the touchy feely type. They just wanted me to get married and have kids. I just wasn’t sure about Anne. She cheated on me. She didn’t believe in me enough to be mine only. As much as I didn’t want it to, the incident still hurt like a thousand bee stings.

The heat from my tea seeped into my fingers tightly interlocked around my mug. The tea was cold as I drank from my mug. I frowned but it wasn’t due to my refreshment. “I appreciate your honesty and your kind words. I just don’t know if I can…right now. I need some space.”

“I understand.” Anne rose from her chair. “Thank you for letting me talk” She made her way to the door. “If I don’t see you again, I wish you all the best. You deserve it, Ann.”

My bottom lip quivered as she closed the door behind her. Was I wrong in letting her go? My heart twisted in uncertainty.

I almost jumped out of my skin when the telephone rang. I picked it up with a shaky hand. The stern yet comforting voice of my sister, Elizabeth, came through the other end. She had just reached her hotel with my nieces and nephews. They were in town for a few nights to visit my family. It had been six months since I had last seen her and the children. Longer since I last saw her husband, Captain George Sutherland. He was serving in the Navy at an undisclosed location. We made plans to meet up the next day. It was a brief phone call as Elizabeth had to excuse herself to break up a scuffle between her kids.

I put the receiver back in the cradle and rubbed my forehead. Maybe I could find some relief in family.

* * * *

I decided it would be best to immerse my thoughts in some baking. I focused on measuring and mixing the ingredients for an apple pie. Cab Calloway singing Everybody Eats When They come to My House on the radio kept me company as I tapped my feet. I tried not to spill the contents of my dish as I placed the pie in the oven.

I found myself moving my party of one to the living room as I continued dancing to the music hour on the radio. Before long the sweet smell of baked fruit wafted in the air. The timer buzzer caught me out of my blissful state. As soon as I placed the baked pie on the countertop my doorbell rang.

When I opened the door, three little heathens ran in, followed by my sister with baby John.

“Where are your manners?” Elizabeth called out looking like a tornado swept her in.

“Good to see you, sis” I gave her a side hug and caressed John’s head with my free hand.

Elizabeth raised her head and closed her eyes. It looked like she just got herself comfortable in a steaming hot bath. “Is that Mother’s apple pie recipe?”

I smiled and nodded in reply, happy to spoil my family with the product of my baking.

Elizabeth walked toward the kitchen to help dish up, but I insisted that she take a load off on my couch. She obviously needed it.

As I sliced the pie, I could hear Sackville playing a small drum and dancing around the room. Mary was at his heels in tears. Little Lizzie was too busy enjoying the drum beat to be annoyed.
“Sackville, give Mary a chance, alright?” Elizabeth scolded.

I tried not to laugh as I made my way to the living room with a tray full of pie. My nieces and nephews could sure be a handful.

After serving, I took a seat in my favorite chair across from Elizabeth. “So, have you visited Aunt Ann yet?”

“I decided to come to you first. I need a bit of calm before heading into that whirlwind.”

“Well, maybe a few kids full of pie will start a helpful distraction.”

Elizabeth raised an eyebrow and glared at me in the superior way of the older sister.

I asked Elizabeth how things were at home. She told me of her gardening and how much she missed cooking with a full pantry. I started absentmindedly picking at the crumbs left over from my dessert.

“What’s up?”

I shook my head. “Nothing, just work as normal. Some interesting cases recently.”

Elizabeth adjusted John in her arms and spoke without looking at me, “There’s something you’re not telling me.”

I blushed and fidgeted in my chair. I set my plate down on the small table next to me. “I just…a friend hurt me recently, emotionally. I don’t think the relationship can be salvaged.”

“Is it a relationship worth salvaging?”

I paused. As brusque and haughty as Anne was, she was also quite gentle. She always had my back when it came to my work, especially when my aunt tried to knock me down a size. Anne was ready with a cup of tea or a much-needed cuddle after a stressful day. She was an excellent dancer, not that it was vital to the relationship. But it sure was fun. She was willing to let me take turns as the lead on and off the dance floor. That was vital. Even though Anne’s butch ways made me weak in the knees, I certainly did not want to be treated as a subordinate. We were equals.

As much as Anne did for me, I did the same for her. I encouraged her to pursue her interests. When she was willing to open up and shed a tear, I was ready with arms spread wide and attentive ears. In all honesty, I truly loved her.

I finally looked my sister in the eye. “Yes, it is worth it,” I let out a shaky sigh. The water works were doing overtime in my body lately.

Elizabeth smiled. “And you made it clear to her that she hurt you? Did she give you a worthy apology?”

My left eye slightly twitched. I never said my friend was a woman. “Of course I did. And yes, she apologized.”

Elizabeth nodded. “Of course you did. You never let anyone get away with anything.”

John became fussy and started crying. Elizabeth cooed. She got up and walked around the living room, bouncing John on her shoulder which he seemed to enjoy.

“You know, it’s honestly been nice with George away. We honestly spend little time together,” she stared out the window.

My heart sank for her. “Liz –“

“Don’t feel bad for me. I just want you to understand something…,” she turned toward me. “Sometimes a good friendship is better than a marriage.”

At that I really couldn’t help but blush. It was obvious Elizabeth knew what was up. Why wouldn’t she? She was my sister, after all.

She placed her hand on mine and looked intently into my eyes welling up with tears. “Go get your girl.”

 

* * * *

The Able Grable Club was hopping when I arrived. As I waited at the bar for my scotch, I looked around for a glimpse of Anne. I didn’t spot her. I managed to grab a table just as Jenny Bliss took the stage. She sure was dishy with her slicked back hair and dapper suit, but she didn’t have the same hold on me as she used to. There was only one girl for me. I was searching the crowd for Anne like a hawk looking for a mouse in a field.

As soon as Jenny started on the song I’m Gonna Love that Gal (Like She’s Never Been Loved Before), I caught those warm brown eyes in my stare. My heart thudded like my nephew’s drum. I nodded over to a back hallway and made my way through the crowd, hoping that Anne would follow me.

The hallway was empty and far enough away from the stage to have a chat. I turned around. Anne’s hair was a bit unkempt, and her dress shirt was wrinkled. I grabbed her shirt and pulled her further down the hallway. When we reached a secluded corner, I pushed her against the wall. I pressed a hand to her neck and kissed her, long and slow. “You promise not to run off like that again?” I asked, my eyebrow firmly raised.

“Absolutely, I promise,” Anne’s hands roamed my back like they were memorizing every mole and scar through my shirt. “I don’t know what I would do without you. Aunt Anne found me weeping like a baby in my room. She gave me all the details of your chat at the party. We agreed that you are too good to give up. If you’ll have me?”

I placed a hand on her cheek and smiled. “I’ll have you, Anne. I love you. I hope you know that.”

Anne looked away briefly like she couldn’t believe it.

“I love you, too.”

I leaned in for another kiss. And a few more after that.

My mind went blank once again. The reality of the 21st Century came back to me.

My eyes opened. My sleep mask was clenched in one hand. Sweat dripped down my chest. The summer heat didn’t seem to be the only cause for it.

“Really?” It was frustrating to be pulled out of another dream when it was just getting steamy.

The thing was, I returned to the dream world I experienced earlier. It wasn’t a reoccurring dream. There were different events. How was that possible? More importantly, why did Mariana show up? I haven’t thought about her in about a year. Anne and I fought about her one-night stand, but we kissed and made up. Everything had calmed down completely since then.

I heard the door open as Anne returned from her morning run. I hurried out of bed and met her in the doorway before she entered the bedroom.

Anne was in the middle of taking a swig from her water bottle.

“Have you heard from Mariana recently?”

Her eyes went wide. She nearly choked on her water as it started dribbling down her mouth. “What?”