Detectives, Ghosts and Romance (Saturday Writing Essential: February 9th, 2013)
This Week’s WritingChallenge:
Pick two of the topics listed below and use poetry or prose to combine them to make a cohesive story.
Detectives, Ghosts and Romance
Being female in a brawny male career field isn't easy. Especially when you are not only female but also little and considered cute. This is what Alli struggled with in the male dominated private detective industry. Other private eyes were either lusting after her, not averse to making overt suggestions, or trying to undermine her investigations.
Peter Hayes was the worst. Ex Marine, short time cop, he irritated her with his tough guy, I can beat anybody any time, image. Their territory was in a southern state with history oozing out of every portal, or at least it seemed like it.
Tour groups were common, especially around Halloween when Ghost Tours were especially popular. It was the day of one of those tours that Alli and Peter came to their biggest confrontation. They were opposing P.I.s in a divorce case. Surprisingly, she was working for the husband, not so surprising, he was working for the wife. Of course he was working for the wife. Women in this town, married or single, couldn't resist his charm. Alli knew some women who hired him for non-existing cases just to be around him.
Megan, the wife, was suing Alex, the husband for infidelity. She hired Peter to get proof. Alli was convinced there was no infidelity. She believed Alex was being taken for his old family wealth, which he had recently inherited. There was no prenup. When they married four years earlier, Alex had no idea he was the bastard grandson of the town's wealthiest and recently deceased millionaire. As the only living heir, he became the town's newest millionaire almost overnight.
That becomes a tale of another story, not needed to tell in this one.
Alli lived in an impressive, but gradually becoming dilapidated, old mansion barely inside the city limits. It had been in the family for several generations and the only reason those generations continued to live there was it was totally free and clear of any mortgage. That had been stipulated in her great-great-great grandfather's will. If anyone ever took out a loan, using the house as collateral, they would immediately be evicted and the house would be turned over to the city to be used as a museum.
The house and acres of land had been maintained fairly well until after WWII. As the town became less and less of a cotton and tobacco agriculture center, the family began selling the acres to resort developers, using the income as a livelihood. Alli dreamed of someday bringing it back to its old elegance. On a private detective's income, that was just a dream.
Stoneridge, the name of her home, was on the tour list. She was paid a small fee for allowing groups to be guided through the downstairs rooms that had not been changed over the years. Exquisite painting of ancestors adorned walls in the three main rooms, two Victorian style parlors and an elegant dining room. The tour company director had devised an intriguing story of silver hidden during that terrible war. Whispers by a tour leader of possible ghosts haunting the upstairs always had tour members glancing at the ceiling.
Alli had made peace with the ghost as a child. The ethereal entity she had seen in childhood dreams seemed friendly. If she felt the presence now, as an adult, she considered it part of her imagination, even though some of the encounters were more real than imaginative. Footsteps, when she was alone in the house, which was most of the time, she attributed to the old house settling more as it aged. Passing images she believed were merely shadows caused by swaying curtains. She never allowed herself to consider that curtains did not sway when windows were closed. Yes, Alli had made peace with the ghost or ghosts, by not admitting that they could be real.
Early morning of an expected Tour group arriving later in the day, Alli was in her office, the old carriage house her father had made into a workroom. She converted it into an office when she came home from Atlanta after his death. It had been her mother's sewing room years before. She could feel the aura of their energies when she took a break from studying files on her computer. She could almost hear the hum of the sewing machine as her mother altered clothes for the town's elite. When she looked at the workbench across the room, she remembered her father leaning over a piece of furniture he was restoring for some of those same elite families. Yes, there were ghosts, at least ghost memories.
The tapping on the door startled her from her thoughts. She wasn't expecting anyone. Taking a gulp of coffee from a mug, she stood quickly and went to the door. Looking out the side window, she was surprised to see Peter. What in the world could he want?
"Alli, I figure you're in there. I tried the house doorbell but there was no answer and I see your car still in the driveway. Open up. We need to talk."
Opening the door slightly, she looked up into stern looking dark brown eyes. His jaw squared and an almost angry set to his mouth. She didn't like the look but then it softened when he saw her.
"Come on. Open the door. I'm not going to hurt you. Why do you always seem so afraid of me?" He began pushing lightly against the door. "
"I'm not afraid of you Peter Holmes." Alli straightened her shoulders and opened the door wide.
"Now you sound just like you did when we were in Mr. Allen's prep school." His smile was alarmingly attractive.
"What do you want?" She wasn't going back to those old days when she had a crush on him and he scared the hell out of her.
"Can I come in? We need to talk."
"If you are here to tell me Megan is dropping the divorce case, you don't need to come in."
"Come on Alli, the least you can do is offer me a cup of coffee. I was up most of the night watching your client."
"I'm sure you didn't find anything going on with a woman, did you?"
Peter shook his head. "No, I didn't, but that's not what I'm here to talk to you about. Come on, a cup of coffee, some talk, and I'll be out of here before you know it." There was that attractive smile again, this time in his eyes too, which were no longer stern looking, but soft and almost admiring.
Turning abruptly, she motioned for him to follow her towards the house. "I'll make a fresh pot, you talk and leave." There was no way she was going to let him charm her. She allowed that to happen in high school. He broke her heart when he joined the Marines.
She led him around the side entrance to the kitchen. It had once been a separate building in old plantation times. One of the ancestors had extended the house to encompass it and remodeled it, which needed to be done again. Top of Alli's redo list when the funds were available.
Nothing was said as he sat at the chrome table watching her empty the pot, rinse, fill it with water from the tap, added a filter and coffee. She finally looked over at him.
"Come and sit down."
"I'm fine where I am."
"Alli, I'm not going to hurt you. I've never physically hurt you. Why do you always act like I will?"
Looking at him, her thoughts were of the emotional pain he'd brought her. To her it was as physical as if he had hit her.
"I'm not afraid of you Peter."
She poured coffee into two mugs, put them on a tray with cream and sugar bowls and placed them on the table. Standing quickly, he pulled out a chair for her. The nearness of him standing there, waiting for her to sit in the chair, was unnerving. She sat quickly, reached for the cream pitcher and distracted herself from his nearness.
He sat across from her. "I think we should be partners."
She gasped, nearly spewing a mouthful of coffee. "What?"
"I think we would work well together."
"You are out of your mind." She slammed the mug down.
"Not at all. I've watched how you work. You can handle the soft side of cases and I'll do the hustling, or the strong arm stuff when necessary."
"Are you implying I can't handle the rough stuff in this business?" It was a part of the business she didn't like. Being tough with some of the, not so nice people, she had to deal with.
"I'm implying that you are better with the softer part of it than I am. I'm considered a tough guy. That's what clients expect of me. I don't handle women very well."
"No one would guess that from the number of female clients you have."
"I'm not good with the things they want me to do. Find out if their kids are on drugs. They should know that without hiring me. They ask me to follow husbands and I know the guys aren't fooling around. Why the heck would they suspect him?"
Alli smiled, knowing why those women hired him, at least most of them. She also knew if they became partners, those women would suddenly drop their cases.
"I like it when you smile, Alli. I don't see you do that very often."
"Peter, I don't think a partnership would work."
"Why? I think we could be good together. We were good together in high school."
Alli looked down at her mug wanting to keep those memories out of her mind. Shaking her head she said, "Don't go there Peter."
"I don't know what happened, or why you broke up with me. I joined the Marines because I wanted to serve my country. It was a family tradition since the Revolution. You know all the males in my family served in the military. It was my duty."
Finally looking up at him she felt tears beginning to form in her eyes. He was dislodging memories she had kept deep inside her. "I begged you not to go. Your grandfather was killed in Viet Nam, your father wounded in Kosovo. I believed if you loved me you wouldn't go." The tears overflowed. She felt the heart break all over again. Pushing back her chair she stood. "I want you to leave."
He got up, without a moments pause he was holding her as she struggled against him. "It's been 8 years Alli. We've both had relationships since then. None of them worked. Why do you think they didn't work?"
She stopped struggling, letting him hold her. Shaking her head against his chest, her lips trembled, her throat too tight to answer.
He reached down, put his finger under her chin, and tipped her head towards his. "They didn't last because they didn't have what we had. If I've acted like a tough, uncaring guy around you these last couple years, it's because I didn't think you cared and I wasn't about to let you know I still loved you."
"I thought you hated me for breaking up with you."
"I did for awhile. I wanted to grab you and shake some sense into you. I was going to when I came back from Afghanistan, but you were in Atlanta and I'd heard you were seeing some executive up there."
"I was." The tears stopped as a new wave of emotion replaced the hurt.
"He wasn't you."
After a very long and mutual kiss, Peter smiled down at her. "Well, if you won't be my partner in the Private Eye business, how about being my partner for life?"
She looked over his shoulder at the swaying curtains. The windows were closed. She heard footsteps on the stairs, and in the distance she thought she heard the whirr of a sewing machine and the soft thump of a hammer.