directly follows "Inn"


                             ***December 31, 2021***

The bedroom door swung open and Robert Goren turned in expectation, thinking it was his wife.

Sam was there instead, wagging his tail. The oversized tricolor collie knew something had interrupted the household's newest routine which had begun several months earlier when the friendly human female had entered the dog's life to join the man he adored. Since then new, different-smelling items had appeared in the house, unique scents like paint and cloth, down to the presence of the live feathered chirping morsel that now lived near his sleeping area in the living room, hopping around its metal crate, singing happy songs. From a canine point of view, the chief delight was that the human female let him run with her, and there were two humans for "pets and scratches" instead of one.

"What's up, Sam? Something else odd happening?" He looked fondly at the dog. "Alex is a new broom. And this change is good." More softly. "The best." Then he said coaxingly, "Sit, Sam. Stay. No fur on my pants."

He regarded himself in the antique mirror they'd purchased on a Halloween Eve drive through the southern Vermont countryside. He'd had a fresh haircut that morning and had his beard shaped and the rest shaved, and now was clad in his best suit; in fact the whole ensemble was the same as he'd worn 45 days ago at their wedding, down to the pearl studs that had been a wedding gift from Richard Carver and his partner TJ Gomes, and the high-buff shine on his shoes would have pleased his drill sergeant of his Army days.

"What do you think?" he asked the collie in jest.

Sam, still in place at the door, thumped his tail enthusiastically and woofed.

"Mutual admiration society," Alexandra Eames Goren said from behind Sam.

As always when he saw her, he thought how extraordinarily lucky he had been last October when she'd reappeared on his own doorstep (well, four blocks down was close enough) after ten years apart, tied by mere thin threads of phone calls and e-mail. He hoped he'd never get over the joy of their new partnership, or simply waking up next to her in the morning, seeing her sharp yet soft face with its turned-up nose and pointed chin snuggled in a feather pillow, hair wisped over her face.

"You have 'that look,' again," she observed softly, signaling Sam to vacate the doorway.

"What look?"

"The one you wear when you come downstairs from your office, the one I see reflected in my computer screen. You always stop and stare at me for a few minutes, like you can't believe I'm there."

"Sometimes I can't." He adjusted his tie one last time, then swallowed visibly. "I'm still afraid that it's a dream and I'm going to wake up."

"I'm not going anywhere, Bobby," she said softly, stepping up to him. "And if you're asleep I promise I won't wake you. Because I want to be with you in that dream."

He gazed down at her—not so lengthy a gaze as during the week, as she was wearing her highest heels for the evening—in her wedding dress, the full-skirted winter-blue gown with the V-neck and cape sleeves. The double strand of pearls she still referred to as her mother's graced her throat, and over her shoulders was draped a loosely crocheted white-and-silver stole that had been worked by her sister. Her hair was pulled back in a little chignon with a rhinestone comb securing it.

"Time to leave, Princess Ozma," he said fondly, referencing their alter egos on trivia nights when he ran the most popular game in the area from the Dark Crystal restaurant and bar on the main street of the tiny Connecticut town of Milbury.

"After you, Oscar Diggs," she responded demurely.

Before leaving, they made certain the kitchen was illuminated, and Sam had been fed and given one final dog biscuit, where Alex's eyes flickered from the bright Christmas lantern nightlight to the small bouquet of holly, snow dusted pine branches, mistletoe, and tiny candy canes centered on the kitchen table, and also that in the living room the television was audible from outside, the Christmas tree was lit, and that Bandit, the bright-eyed baby budgie, was partially covered so he could doze if he liked. With a small smile, Alex regarded the sparkly vintage bottle brush trees they'd scattered on both end-tables and at the top of the DVD cabinet on either side of a small carved Nativity that Bobby said resembled the one his mother once had. The simple decorations complemented the homemade "eyes of God" yarn-and-stick ornaments that made up much of the four-foot tall live Christmas tree that would be planted outside in the spring.

"I'll have to wear my parka," she called after him regretfully as he returned to the spare bedroom for their coats; the house being too tiny for a coat closet. "I really don't have anything warm to go with this dress."

He returned already wearing his black topcoat, with something draped over his right arm. "Don't you?" he asked.

"Bobby," she said with mock exasperation, "what have you done now?"

"I saw it in a gift shop," he protested. "It was made for you."

"You spoil me," she said with crossed arms.

"You deserve it," he answered firmly, and a spot of color appeared on each of her cheeks.

"It" was a silvery cape with white faux fur around the collar and hem, lined with soft creamy fleece, with stitched slits for her arms, fastening at the neck with a faux pearl spade-shaped clasp. A pair of silvery, finely-knit gloves were pinned in the clasp. "Besides, Penelope said I'd be paid well for my last consulting job. Why not?" Here he unpinned the gloves and handed them to her, then laid the cape over her shoulders. Self-consciously, she put an arm through each of the slits, and then turned toward him so he could fasten the cape securely with the clasp. Finally she pulled on the gloves; the wristbands covered half her forearm, like evening gloves.

"You do look like a queen," he said lightly, referencing her name, and the glow of the compliment kept her warm until the Honda CRV's heater kicked in. It was in the high 40s that New Year's Eve evening, so she sat back, willing to abrogate driving for the night and enjoy the ride to Waterbury.

"What were you doing this time last year?" he asked in a low voice as he negotiated the ramp to I-84.

She sighed. "Still at Lizzie and Steve's after the fire. They had a few friends over, and Patty and Jack were there. The entire family tried to cheer me up, and all I wanted to do was brood or sleep. The house Joe and I bought was gone, most of Mother's things were burnt or ruined, Robbie was dead- I drank a toast to 2021, but at that point I never expected it to get any better."

He muttered, "We always had each other's backs, and then I wasn't there when you needed me. I'm sorry, Alex. I should have called–"

She said impatiently, "This wasn't about you. Plus we said we would stop the recriminations–"

But he continued bitterly, "What kind of a crazy man thinks by not making a phone call he can make time stand still–"

"Stop it!" she snapped in what he called her "Captain Eames voice." "I don't ever want to hear you use those words in reference to yourself again. Not 'crazy,' not 'whack job,' and...and not 'damaged goods.' You were never crazy, ever. Heedless, times an insufferable know-it-all...but never crazy."

He said, chastened, "Well, at least you knew my shortcomings coming into this," and heard her chuckle, then she ventured, "How about you?"

"Last year? Shard and TJ had a small New Year's Eve party. Mike came in during the afternoon and we went there for a few hours. Everyone was still masked at that point, so no one spotted me as The Wizard...we had a few drinks, and then went back to the house to watch one of the local stations. Times Square coverage, I suppose—hard to remember since we both got a little soused, Mike more than me. When he gets really lubricated he starts talking about Lennie Briscoe, and that's how he saw the New Year in: 'Here's to you, Lennie.'"

"Think he's spending the evening with Carla this year?"

"I hope so."

Due to the holiday, traffic was relatively heavy, but they arrived at their evening venue in less than thirty minutes. The "historic Waterbury Inn," as it was always billed, on the north side of town, had barely been saved from the wrecker's ball and transformation into a parking garage back in the 1970s due to the efforts of local citizens and the Connecticut Historical Society. Built initially in 1885 for railway passengers, the hotel had entertained many a celebrity of the time in its Ingersoll Ballroom, first opened in 1905, named for the noted watchmaker in Connecticut's "city of clocks." It was a ten-story brick and sandstone building with a lovingly restored turn-of-the-century lobby and ballroom; the rooms upstairs had been remodeled in a more modern style and boasted amenities including saunas, jetted tubs, free wifi, and OLED televisions. Their New Year's Eve event, "Party Like It's 1952," was, Alex had commented wryly, their only chance to see the place, as they certainly couldn't afford to stay there.

The CRV entrusted to valet parking, they entered the Inn through massive double-front paneled oak doors to admire the dazzling lobby with its brocaded, burgundy upholstered chairs, faux-marble Corinthian columns, and miniature chandeliers blazing with electric candles. A tall pale man wearing a tuxedo directed them to the Ingersoll Ballroom, where they would enjoy a buffet, champagne, a band "in the tradition of Guy Lombardo," and paper hats and horns at midnight, and they strolled down a wide corridor with dark-stained wooden wainscoting against burgundy wallpaper under the chair rail and creamy wallpaper above; the walls themselves were hung with 1890s-era hand-colored etchings of Connecticut locations. This opened directly into the ballroom, which was similarly decorated, except the etchings had been replaced by paintings of noted Connecticut historic figures. The white ceiling was of embossed tin tiles, and two enormous crystal chandeliers, now retrofitted with LED bulbs, illuminated the whole. Underfoot was a reproduction Aubusson carpet.

"Check out the workmanship," he said with admiration. "The woodwork alone is priceless. All the wainscoting was dovetailed and hand-fitted, hand stained and then shellacked. All the wood used in the hotel was hand-milled from Connecticut forests cleared for farms. If you look up at the chandeliers, that's Waterford crystal..."

She let him continue for a minute or two before touching his arm.

"'Mansplaining'?" he asked, arching an eyebrow.

"Lecturing," she responded fondly. She was used to it by now; it was part of him, like the ever-present curiosity, the unending thirst for knowledge, the questioning tilt of his head.

How had she gone ten years without it?

Seating was "first come," and he gestured toward a table next to the dance floor, as she knew he would. She'd never seen a man so crazy about dancing—she remembered ballroom dancing lessons as part of high school gym classes and the boys then seemingly would have strolled barefoot through boiling oil rather than give a girl a twirl around the dance floor. Even her late husband Joe had needed to be coaxed onto the dance floor during their wedding, although he'd seemed happy enough to be waltzing during their first dance.

A server in tie and tails approached to take drink orders, then they were told to help themselves to the buffet. Alex watched Bobby eye the other people in the line and she knew that even in a superficial way he was analyzing each of them. Most of the couples appeared to be their age or older, but several younger pairs were in the mix, including one couple who appeared to be in their 20s who had meticulously tried to emulate the early 1950s, with the young woman wearing a sleek Chanel-style evening gown, hair in a smooth page-boy, and the young man in a tuxedo mimicking, down to his hair, the Sinatra look. There were also couples who would not have appeared in public in 1952—two pairs of men, and two women attending together. One male couple had come in colorful 1960s outfits, down to the "mod" hair- and beard-styles as if they'd emerged from a Woodstock documentary.

The band filed in as they served themselves; six men and two women dressed in matching white suits with black shirts and gold lamé ties, taking their seats jostling and joking with each other. After a few warm-ups, they transitioned into instrumental versions of late 1940s and early 1950s classics, but it looked as if two vocalists would join the performance later.

The buffet line ended near one of the historic paintings, and Bobby looked up to meet the face of a stern white-haired gentleman with a prominent jaw. "Check it out, Eames—Noah Webster."

She smiled as always at his use of her last name in affection. "He does look like a man who'd rap me across the knuckles for spelling a word wrong," she quipped.

"Don't worry; Webster was actually an advocate for spelling reform. He's the reason Americans don't use the letter U in words like 'colour' and 'honour,' and the 'K' that followed 'public' and 'music.'"

He suppressed a grin as she tilted her head at the painting. "You know, maybe it's the light...or the angle? Because I could swear I see stylized letters in the folds of upholstery on his chair." She flashed him a glance. "Alphabet, not correspondence."

"Glad to know I'm not seeing things. I noticed that, too," Bobby chuckled, stepping closer to the artwork. "I see what looks like an 'e,' 't,' and 'o.'"

"There's an 'h' near his knee, too," she said, moving next to him, "and what looks like an 'e' or an 'f' under his left arm."

"'F,' I believe."

A portly, balding men of average height, probably in his late 70s, with very blue eyes and a diamond-shaped sapphire stickpin on his lapel had also just exited the buffet line, and now turned to them, smiling, commenting in a deep baritone, "Are you admiring our Barclay collection?"

"Checking out Noah Webster," Bobby said. "It looks as if letters are hidden in the painting."

The man looked puzzled. "Letters? As in the alphabet?"

"Here in the fabric," Alex offered, and the man also stepped closer to the painting, examined the upholstery, then chuckled. "I've looked at these paintings off and on for years, and have never noticed that." He gave Alex a very warm smile after a lightning visual appraisal. "Looks like you found something unique."

He followed with a polite nod, wished them a happy new year, and threaded his way back through the growing crowd. Bobby watched him retreat with a small grin. "Alex, I believe that man would have stayed to flirt with you if I hadn't been here."

"The way the ladies always do with you? Fair's fair," she answered pertly, then gave a long, appreciative sniff and raised her plate suggestively. "This roast beef is calling my name. Shall we eat?"

For the next twenty minutes they enjoyed their dinner. She expected others to join them at the table, but while the event was well-attended, it was not overly crowded, and no one else did appear—or else (and Alex had her suspicions) Bobby had tipped someone well to reserve it solely for them. After she'd finished a slice of roast beef, chunks of lobster marinated in butter, and two baked stuffed shrimp, she shifted in her seat to survey the other pieces of artwork on the walls.

"As I remember from the brochure," she commented finally, "all of the paintings in this room were done by one of the founders of the Waterbury Inn?"

"Hosmer Barclay," he said, "local eccentric and what several biographers called a 'true Renaissance man.' He worked in oils and was also a watercolorist, studied law and passed the bar but didn't practice, bought and sold real estate, dabbled in architecture, and in the final few years of his life wrote a column for the New Haven Record about Connecticut history. His pseudo-'manor house' a few miles west of downtown was called 'Barleyfields' to annoy a less-successful rival realtor who hated him and constantly mispronounced his name as 'Hosmer Barley.' Unfortunately it was torn down long ago and is tract housing now. He endured endless criticism in his day when he included Sybil Ludington as 'a Connecticut hero,'" and here he indicated the opposite end of the room and a painting of a girl mounted on horseback.


"Ludington. She was a New Yorker and, if I remember correctly, a distant ancestor of Barclay, so nepotism may have been a factor of her inclusion. She's been resurrected and acknowledged publicly only recently, although first mentioned in a 1907 Revolutionary War text...some scholars still don't take her story seriously."

When Alex's face still wore a questioning expression, he continued, "In April 1777, the British attacked Danbury and Ridgefield to confiscate ammunition and supplies stored there. A rider was sent to Henry Ludington fifteen miles away, over the New York line, asking for help. No one else was available, so Ludington sent his 16-year-old daughter—or she volunteered, the details vary; Sybil herself wrote to John Adams that she wished she were a militiaman so she could fight the redcoats—riding off on a horse named Star to roust the local militia and direct them to defend Danbury. Sybil rode forty miles in the rain to get the word out, carrying only a stick to defend herself and to bang on doors so she wouldn't have to dismount."

"My type of woman," Alex said with a smile.

He resumed eating his dinner for a few minutes, then added, "Of course there's the mystery surrounding this hotel as well."

She nodded, nibbling a stick of celery. "I saw that in the brochure, too. Sounded slightly Nancy Drew to me."

"The fact that Barclay supposedly hid something of great value in the hotel? Along with the cryptic clue 'The secret lies in the sober citizens of Connecticut'? I suppose you could call it that."

He patted her arm. "I need to hit the john," he explained, then vanished in search of the men's room while she sipped sparkling blackberry water and nibbled happily on one of the two delectable cream puffs she'd liberated from the dessert table, watched the other attendees laughing and eating, then finally alerted as the bandleader, a crew-cut young Black man with sparkling sequins on the lapels of his suit jacket, came to the microphone.

"We're now open for requests, folks," he said cheerfully, "and I hope you enjoy our two vocalists tonight, Mr. Martin Innocenzi and Ms. India Sanchez. Opening for us tonight, January 31, 2021, the final day of the year, here's Ms. Sanchez with the classic 'Begin the Beguine.'"

As the dark-haired woman in the gold lamé gown began to croon the sultry Cole Porter classic, Alex saw Bobby reappear, approaching the stage to speak to bandleader Ken Hotchkiss, and smiled to herself. He then came striding up to the table to take his seat again, setting a long, slim red box in front of her without losing a step.

She sighed. "Bobby, this has got to stop."

He settled down next to her. "It has. It's...the last of the gifts I bought for you—it didn't arrive in time. Mike knows a guy who knows a guy–"

"And this fell off the back of a truck?" she responded whimsically.

"I hope not. It's personalized."

She opened the box to reveal a silver bracelet made with individual links like rectangular baguettes, fastened with a square clasp set on an angle so that it formed a diamond shape. It was a little less than two centimeters square, and cunningly etched to look like four blocks of sidewalk concrete which had been scratched into with a stick before the cement had completely dried. The marks read "R♡A."

"Should I return it?" he asked soberly.

She flashed a tender glance at him, reached for the bracelet, put it on. "Thank you for the very last gift."

"Yes, Captain Eames," he responded.

"It's beautiful," she whispered in his ear as she kissed his cheek.

"I had the idea from Mike, when we were talking about the house and he said we were both kids who grew up in 'the city that never sleeps.'"

"I remember."

"Ladies and gentlemen," said Ken Hotchkiss from the stage, "we have our first request of the night. Prepare yourselves for a little do-wop. The dedication is 'for Alex.'"

The moment the intro music began, she recognized the song. Bobby stood up gracefully and extended his hand for her to grasp as she rose to join him on the dance floor, where the band segued into the Flamingos' version of "I Only Have Eyes for You." They moved slowly in each other's embrace, and for the duration of the song it was as if no one else was there although she knew the dance floor was full.

Since both were slightly misty-eyed when the song concluded, she suggested, "Why don't we check out Sybil Ludington?"

While the other Barclay paintings were done as traditional portraiture, the artist had done a lively turnabout in his dramatic portrayal of Ludington. His colonial teen was riding astride a nondescript brown horse with flaring nostrils and wild eyes plunging down a country road under heavily clouded skies, her face set in determination, wielding what resembled a shillelagh more than a stick.

Bobby remarked idly, "The statue of her in Carmel shows her mounted on a side saddle. The Ludingtons were fairly prosperous, but I wonder if she really would have used one. Most of the paintings have her astride."

She observed thoughtfully, "You always seem to know something about these people, Bobby."

He tilted his head at her, smiling. "Historical figures aren't any different from the modern people I profile—that's the enjoyable part of history. The dates, the events are significant—but they're only part of the story. Every person who's lived had something that motivated them, made them tick, from luminaries like Washington and George III and Stalin and Chang Kai Shek down to an Indiana farm girl living during the Civil War, the Indian bride from the Raj era, and a Masai warrior in pre-colonial Africa. All the stories. That's history."

She leaned her head against his arm. "Am I imagining things or do I see letters in the leaves?"

"You're not imagining anything."

"Is this a signature style of Mr. Barclay?"

Bobby reached into his suit jacket and withdrew a pocket-sized spiral-bound notebook and a small pen from the inner pocket. "I hadn't seen it noted in any of the publications about him. Is that an 'r' next to the horse's hoof?"

In the end, they found seven letters hidden in foliage, and he said, "Well, now I'm curious–" and she knew they'd have to check the remainder of the paintings. These included Nathan Hale, long-time Nutmeg State resident Samuel Clemens (in a rare smiling pose), then in succession P.T. Barnum, Charles Goodyear, Frederick Law Olmstead, Eli Whitney, Israel Putnam, Jonathan Trumbull, and Henry Ward Beecher before returning to Noah Webster. While Barclay's technique wasn't as skilled as Gilbert Stuart or John Singer Sargent, it was expert enough to be pleasing, so that the examination wasn't a chore, and it confirmed that each painting had letters hidden somewhere in the portrait; in carpet underfoot, or curtains, or upholstery pattern.

"Sybil must feel very lonely among all those men," Alex observed as Bobby jotted down Beecher's letters.

"Pity he didn't include Charlotte Perkins Gilman," Bobby said wryly. "Based on the other paintings, he would have worked the letters into yellow wallpaper."

"Wait, is that the creepy short story we had in school—the woman who goes crazy and finally peels all the paper from the walls because she sees something hiding in it?"

He nodded. "Driven mad from 'the rest cure.' Neither of us would have survived." Then he shoved notebook and pen away and took her hand. "Let's dance. I didn't mean to get distracted."

"If you hadn't been distracted," she answered fondly, "I would have asked you who you were and what you did with Robert Goren."

After more treats from the buffet and more dancing, and Alex availing herself of the restroom, once again Hotchkiss approached the microphone with an amused smile. "Our next request comes with an apology for shifting us into the 1980s, but I was told the second verse of this particular piece 'says it all' to that special someone in her life. We know Marty will do justice to Joey Scarbury."

This time it was Alex who extended the invitation to dance and a bemused Bobby who followed her on the dance floor, only for him to grin as the verses began:

Look at what's happened to me;
I can't believe it myself.
Suddenly I'm on top of the world,
It should've been somebody else–"

("Never!" Bobby whispered to her.)

"Believe it or not I'm walking on air,
Never thought I could feel so free.
Flying away on a wing and a prayer,
Who could it be? Believe it or not it's just me."

Here Alex began softly singing along as she swayed with the rhythm and Bobby spun her out and in again.

Just like the light of a new day,
Hit me from out of the blue—
Shaking me out of the spell I was in,
Making all of my wishes come true...

"All that?" he asked her much later, after more dancing, the countdown, the noisemakers, the New Year and the kiss, snug in the car on the way home and humming the song to herself, and she ran her fingers over the bracelet clasp and added, "All that and more."

. . . . .

They slept luxuriously late on New Year's morning, having continued the celebration in private upon arrival home. She woke with him spooned around her; she had worn the bracelet to bed and now ran her forefinger over the engraved letters.

"Like it?" he whispered in her ear.

"Pretty," she said sleepily.

"Breakfast request?" he asked, too comfortable to stir.

"Buckwheat pancakes," she returned, "but not just yet."

Breakfast ended up as brunch, eaten in front of the television while watching the Tournament of Roses Parade while Sam cadged for pancake bits and Bandit tweedled in unison with the marching bands. When Bobby finished eating, he retreated to the bedroom to emerge with the notebook he'd used at the Waterbury Inn, pausing for a moment to smile at Bandit as the little bird ruffled feathers at him from his high perch near the bars of the cage.

"Didn't someone give us a Scrabble set for Christmas?"

Without looking up from texting a message to her sister, she said. " was a Sherlock Holmes edition. On the stairs."

In a few minutes he was seated next to her on the sofa instead of in his Laz-Y-Boy, having wiped the wooden folding tray he'd eaten breakfast on, laying the notebook down, and pouring out the letter squares from the Scrabble box.

"What's up?"

He sat down, opened the spiral-bound notebook. "The letters last night, in the paintings–"

When she tilted her head in unconscious imitation of him, he grinned and added, "Anagrams."

"Like in Sneakers," she said immediately.

"You like that movie?" he asked, brightening.

"I love that movie—besides, it has Robert Redford," she responded.

"I have it," he said, indicating the DVD cabinet under the television on the wall. "You should have asked."

Alex stifled a grin. "And when have we had time? Moving out...moving in...your book...therapy...Big Brothers...remodeling...our wedding...Thanksgiving in Michigan...not to mention all last month- I'm nearly as busy as I was before I retired."

He threw up his hands, chuckling. "I surrender. Want to watch it tonight?" He arched an eyebrow at her speculatively. "Does this mean you'll watch All the President's Men with me? No one ever wants to see that one."

"More Redford? Bring it on." She placed the other tray table next to his, and they set to work. Presently he said, "This seems to be the one for Sybil Ludington: 'chamber.'"

"And I have 'sawyer' from Samuel Clemens."

"Well, 'sawyer' is related to Clemens, but 'chamber' and Ludington? 'Horse,' I'd think. 'Star,' 'warning,' 'stick'—but 'chamber'?"

"One thing at a time. Let's unscramble the letters first. I'm getting my reading glasses–"

"That makes sense," Bobby said triumphantly ten minutes later. "Barnum is 'a sucker.'"

"And I'm pretty sure Whitney is 'the gin.'" Alex continued. "Was Henry Ward Beecher related to Harriet Beecher Stowe?"

"Her brother. One of the United States' first 'rock stars,' a nationally-renown minister who opposed slavery and shockingly declared that Darwin's teachings weren't incompatible with Christianity—and, according to the standards of the day, was considered extremely handsome."

Alex paused a moment to consult her phone and found a photograph. She gave a sniff. "No accounting for taste."

He added mischievously, "Take it as you will. When he spoke it was standing room only, the ladies swooned, and there were several scandals involving him with married women. He was said to have a 'silver tongue.'"

She retorted cynically, "Was that for his sermons or did he use it for something else?" And while he laughed, she crowed, "There. Beecher's word is 'romantic.'"

A half-hour later they had a list and two combinations that didn't make sense.

  • Noah Webster — EFHOT
  • Sybil Ludington — CHAMBER
  • Mark Twain — SAWYER
  • P.T. Barnum — A SUCKER
  • Charles Goodyear — SULPHUR
  • Frederick Law Olmstead — PUBLIC
  • Eli Whitney — THE GIN
  • Nathan Hale — CLOAK
  • Israel Putnam — RAFTERS
  • Jonathan Trumbull — EHINPTU
  • Henry Ward Beecher — ROMANTIC

"I must have missed some letters," he said in frustration.

"I was standing next to you, Bobby," she responded. "You didn't miss anything—you never do."

"I missed the clues for James Croyden," he said a little bitterly, recalling an old case of theirs that still stung.

"Only because Nicole Wallace knew which of your buttons to push," Alex responded bluntly. "Besides, this isn't a murder investigation, it's some eccentric painter's idea of a scavenger hunt."

The parade was long over, and she idly switched through television channels. "Oldies is playing one of the 1930s Perry Mason might be good for a laugh."

He waved his left hand at her, which indicated he wasn't going to give up on the puzzle anytime soon, but she settled on Oldies and sat back in the sofa to half-watch the film and half-watch him puzzle over his notes.

"Wait a minute," he said a few minutes later. "Barnum's answer was two words, and you had Whitney at two words. The other two are probably multiple words, too."

She returned to the Scrabble tiles. "'Of the'?"

He said triumphantly, "Along with 'up in the.' What was the 'mysterious clue' again—the specific words?"

"Um–" She fished on the end table next to her, then around the end table at the opposite side, finding the Waterbury Inn brochure. "'The secret lies in the sober citizens of Connecticut.'"

"Wait...some of the subjects of the paintings were serious–"

"And some of them were smiling," she finished. "Of course. Good grief, this is Nancy Drew."

"More like Augusta Huiell Seaman," he said absently.


"Nancy Drew for smart kids," he answered, abstracted, raising a forefinger as he crossed out names on the list. "I'll find you a link later. Wait a sec–" And he numbered the names left, so she could then read in order:

  • Jonathan Trumbull — UP IN THE
  • Israel Putnam — RAFTERS
  • Noah Webster — OF THE
  • Nathan Hale — CLOAK
  • Sybil Ludington — CHAMBER

"Cloak chamber? Like a coatroom?"

"Could be," he said with a satisfied grin. "We can drive there on Monday and find out."

"We can't be the only people who have noticed the letters in the paintings, Bobby..."

"The guy flirting with you last night claimed he hadn't. But—probably not," Bobby said, leaning back. "Although—if the h-hotel has found this valuable item, why still publicize 'the mystery'? Just for...intriguing copy? That's deceptive."

"Who knows?" Alex said, sliding next to him, and he put his arm around her.

"If you're going to read a Seaman book, try The Sapphire Signet. It's a good historical mystery. I think it's on"

"I didn't know guys even read so-called 'girls' books,'" she responded, surprised.

"A good book's a good book," he said with a grin. "The library nearest us when I was a kid was abysmally funded, so the children's books were all 1940s or earlier. The books and authors I read are practically unknown today: Seaman, Frank Stockton, Baum's non-Oz books, Hilda Van Stockum, Ralph Barbour...besides, Seaman's girls weren't precious or always thinking about clothes and boys, didn't own roadsters or get help from a well-heeled father. Her mysteries involved old houses and secret historical documents...the Revolutionary War or French history, chiefly—one of her most popular books postulated that the 'lost dauphin'—the son of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette—had survived." He squinted at the television screen. "Do I understand this story correctly? Famous criminal attorney Perry Mason is also a gourmet cook?"

"Everybody needs a hobby."

"Erle Stanley Gardner must be turning in his grave..."

. . . . .

She was scrambling eggs next morning when he came behind her and kissed behind her left ear. "You didn't have to get up to make me breakfast."

"Couldn't sleep. Washed up, did my almond oil for the day, figured I'd make something to eat."

He said, as she had last night, "You spoil me."

She used his own words against him. "You deserve it."

She sprinkled chives into the eggs, added chopped ham, seasoned to taste, and was ready to serve by the time he'd set the kitchen table and toasted some bread and extracted butter and blackberry spread from the refrigerator. When she turned from the stove with the frying pan and a spatula in hand, Sam was seated beside Bobby, wagging his tail. "We seem to have acquired a dog."

"I noticed. Sam, eat own your breakfast," and Bobby pointed to the dog's bowl.

The collie laid his ears back, widened plaintive eyes at him, and attempted to look as if he hadn't had a square meal in three days.

"Ever notice how he sucks in his cheeks?" Alex said, amused, serving Bobby, then herself. There was a tiny bit of egg left over, the size of a silver dollar, and she extracted it from the pan, made Sam sit up for it, and then put the pan and the spatula in the sink.

"'I'm a poor, starving dog who hasn't eaten in fifteen minutes.'" Bobby watched Sam lick the inside of his mouth several times in anticipation, stare at each of them pathetically, then amble to his dish to finally crunch his food.

She could hear quiet voices coming from the living room. "I assume you turned the television on for Bandit."

"Radio. Morning Edition."

"So what's on for today?" she asked, sampling her eggs.

"We're relaxing, remember?" he said, mouth quirked. "Four days to ourselves? Decompressing..."

"Maybe I wasn't born to relax," she said restlessly.

"I know. I keep checking my e-mail hoping there's a message from Penelope." He patted her arm. "You'll feel better after your morning jog."

For them it was a lazy day: Alex and Sam took their daily run, while Bobby put in his walk. It had rained the previous evening, and was now in the mid-50s, the ground squelching under his feet as he circled the pond down the road from their home. Alex passed him once with a "Warm, isn't it?" to which he responded "And snow tomorrow. As Sam Clemens said, 'If you don't like the weather, wait a minute.'"

Since the Scrabble box was still out, they played a game, then sat down with sandwiches and All the President's Men. Before dinnertime she was so fidgety she retrieved her laptop and continued work on her manuscript, and he changed channels to Discovery to placate Bandit while he returned to reading Applications of Entomology in Forensic Pathology. For supper they walked to the Dark Crystal for their customary Sunday night dinner, taking the opportunity to wish Shard, TJ, and the rest of their friends a happy new year, and also ran into Alex's cousin Phil and his girlfriend Becky.

"It's been a wonderful Christmas, but I wasn't made to sit and do nothing," she said later, reflective, as she discarded her clothing into the hamper preparatory to taking her shower, only to turn to find Bobby equally disrobed behind her. She met his eyes with an impish grin, then her gaze drifted downward.

"Well," he responded when she met his eyes again, "it definitely wouldn't be 'doing nothing...'"

. . . . .

"Aren't you coming?"

Alex glanced up from her laptop. She was relieved to be back to normal: up by eight, breakfast, the morning walk/jog, and then back to work on her manuscript—that morning she was tackling some later cases she'd worked after Bobby had taken his position with the FBI, the least-battered of her records' boxes set at her feet—while Bobby climbed upstairs to his "lair" to absorb himself in his latest consulting inquiry. She recalled Penelope Saltonstall's remark about wanting her input on something upcoming; had she really meant what she said? Penelope, according to Bobby, did not say things she didn't mean.

"Coming where?" She'd noticed Bobby was in an open-necked flannel shirt over a T-shirt and in jeans and the ubiquitous Dr. Martens, but she thought he'd simply planned to run an errand since he wasn't working a new case yet.

"Back to the Waterbury Inn."

She resisted the impulse to say "You still want to do that?" because it was evident that he was energized by the prospect, shifting restlessly even with his hands stuffed in his pockets. "I'm sorry. I already had some ideas about this chapter...give me a minute while I jot them down, then I'll change. Maybe you can get Bandit some water? I thought he looked low."

Bandit had already realized that the tall human and the short human meant no harm, and brought him daily treats of millet and fruit. He only tilted his cherry-sized head and blinked as Bobby whisked away his water bottle to refill and then return. By then Alex had slipped into the bedroom to change out of her sweats. Overnight temperatures had dropped into the high 20s and snow was forecast for the afternoon, so she dressed accordingly: boot socks, wool slacks, a pale pink-and-white sweater, and suede snow boots, plus a sweatshirt-fabric headband which could double as ear warmers. She was glad, too, for when they stepped out the back door in thick parkas, lined caps, and gloves, the wind whipped around the edge of the house and burrowed through every available opening with a vengeance.

The Inn was quiet now that holiday festivities were over; indeed outdoor Christmas decorations were being removed by men bundled in warm jackets and work gloves when they arrived. They lingered a few minutes to admire the lobby once more, then at the registration desk asked a clerk on duty if they could speak to someone in Public Relations. The young woman directed them to an unmarked door that led to several offices, including that of Donna Varela, a young Cape Verdean woman who greeted them with a lilting voice. "Ms. Roland told me you wished to speak with me?"

Alex extended her hand to greet her. "Hi, I'm Alexandra Eames and this is my husband Robert Goren, and the first thing we'd like to say is how much we enjoyed your New Year's Eve event."

"Thank you! I've been receiving all sorts of complimentary tweets and other social media posts, and answered a few phone calls this morning," Varela answered, delighted, "but you're the first to come by to thank me personally! Really, this was a group effort between the hotel staff and our parent group, Denmark Hotels Ltd."

"We're actually here on a different matter," Bobby said as his eyes wandered her office, which appeared very bare, with shadowy outlines of removed framed items visible on the wall. "Just as a matter of curiosity, were you recently promoted to this position?"

"On the nose," Varela laughed. "This morning, in fact. I was supposed to take over later in the month, after they painted, but the previous head of Public Relations retired this morning due to health reasons. He was the one who originally proposed the idea of the event last April. We're so happy people enjoyed it and we'll probably do it again this year. But what was it you wanted to speak to me about? And do please sit down!"

"We were curious about the hotel 'mystery,'" Bobby continued, easing himself into a vinyl-covered upholstered chair.

"That's one of the most interesting things about working here," Varela admitted with a smile, taking a seat behind her desk. "You hear about it from the moment you're hired."

"So the mystery has never been solved?" Alex asked curiously, slipping out of her parka and draping it over the back of her chair before sitting down.

"No. We have no idea what was supposed to have been hidden in the hotel. My predecessor in this position spent his entire career here—nearly forty years!—looking for it. During every remodeling phase, he'd thoroughly investigate the area after the walls were removed, or windows uncovered, floors redone, anything involved with the structure, hoping to find whatever object was hidden. It eluded even him."

"The clues didn't lead him anywhere?" Bobby inquired, puzzled.

"Clues?" Varela asked blankly.

"The words—or rather letters—in the Barclay paintings. We thought surely others had noticed–"

Now the young woman was confused. "Letters?"

In a few minutes they were following her at a brisk clip down the long hallway to the ballroom, which was now silent, freshly cleaned, and locked, looking almost forlorn after its sparkling night of revelry. Varela snapped on the room lights and then slid the dimmer switches as high as possible to check out the paintings. She turned away from the portrait of Noah Webster shaking her head.

"I feel so stupid," she admitted. "I've worked here four years and never noticed those details. To be fair, I worked in the business office, and that was a 12-hour a day job. It's possible Mr. Cattaneo spotted them—he was very detail oriented. Nothing missed his eye."

"Do you know if there was ever a room in the hotel called a 'cloak chamber'?" Bobby asked.

"Oh, yes! I'd just started here. Another of Mr. Barclay's fancies, they told me; it's what he called the coatroom that every old hotel used to have, complete with the very sexist 'hat check girl' who presided over the room. It was obsolete years ago, but we only closed and remodeled it recently, right after I began working here. It's now our handicapped-accessible restrooms."

"Do you suppose," and now Bobby's face was alight with anticipation, "I could borrow a tall ladder?"

. . . . .

Donna Varela craned her neck with a look of amazement as Bobby patiently moved the ladder a few feet at a time and, using a construction-rated flashlight, investigated each rafter under the drop ceiling that had been installed in the newly-constructed handicapped-accessible restrooms. Luckily for him the ceilings in that part of the hotel were only twelve feet high. He was just considering abandoning the first restroom and start on the second when he called out, "Eames! Found it!"

Alex grinned at Varela's surprised look. "It's okay. He does that. Found what, Bobby? The mystery item?"

He was backing down the ladder carefully with his left hand cradling something and he smiled. "The mystery item is long gone, but I know where it was." He held out the hand to Alex. "Masking tape."

"And torn burlap," she said, examining a ragged bit of cloth. "Something was wrapped in burlap and taped to the rafter. So Barclay hid some...'treasure' up there?"

Varela was checking out the masking tape curiously. "They had this type of tape in Barclay's time?"

"Hosmer Barclay died in 1935, ten years after the invention of masking tape. It's in good condition, considering its age and that it would have been exposed to both heat and cold."

Alex detached the shredded masking tape from his hand and it cracked and left a fine powder on her fingers. "Is exposure what caused this gritty residue?" and he nodded. "Any clue who might have taken it?"

He looked up to where he'd replaced the soulless square of acoustical tile that had replaced the original tin ceiling. "It could have been anyone—construction crew, curious hotel staff–"

Donna Varela protested, "Oh, it couldn't be. I'm sure any of the staff would have reported it to management. Everyone knew the story."

"What if the item was valuable?" Alex asked skeptically. "The person who found it could have needed money—or just have been greedy."

Bobby was working his hands, trying to get the last of the residue from his skin, leaving himself with the torn strip of yellowed burlap, which was browned with age at the edges. He examined the material closely, looking pleased.

"What did you say your predecessor's name was?" He gave Donna Varela the maximum wattage of his full, friendly smile. "The history of this hotel fascinates me. I'd love to speak with him."

"Henry Cattaneo," she said, straightening, a little blush appearing on her cheeks, and Alex swallowed a grin; Bobby had that effect on women most of the time. "I could give you his phone number–"

And Bobby knew full well the effect, too. "I would really appreciate it," he responded gratefully, meeting her eyes, voice laced with sincerity.

Varela pulled her cell phone from her pocket, then gave them both a puzzled look. "Are you two...mystery buffs? Or just history buffs?"

"Something like that," said Alex, with tongue in cheek.

. . . . .

"This looks familiar," Alex observed as they drove through the side streets of an older neighborhood north of the hotel that greatly resembled the Milbury area, with Colonial homes, ranch houses, and Cape Cod styles side-by-side, the odd Dutch Colonial and triple-decker making a welcome change, and a few lots where the original structure had been mowed down for new faux-Craftsman construction.

"The quintessential New England neighborhood, from Greenwich to Bangor," Bobby answered, amused. "There it is, 430 Swiftwater."

"And that definitely looks familiar," she said.

Henry Cattaneo's Cape Cod home was straight out of a history magazine. Set between two modernized Colonials with vinyl siding, one with an added Victorian front porch, the other with a wheelchair ramp, and surrounded by an obligatory white picket fence, it was centered on the lot, clad in barn-red clapboards broken by white-framed six-over-six windows, a forest-green plank door with black ironwork hardware set in the center, with a wreath made of bittersweet hung upon it. The same style as their own home, but with the front door located on the longer side of the house which faced the street, this house had a central dormer, which theirs did not. A meticulously shoveled, stone-paved sidewalk led to the front stoop, which was brick with ironwork railings. No television antenna nor satellite dish marred the roof; the only decorations were copper gutters and downspouts, plus a cheerful copper weathervane shifting back and forth, featuring a colonial Minuteman, at the west end of the roof nearest the driveway where a conservative Volvo was parked, still blanketed in snow.

"Bobby, I think the window shutters really work," she said, impressed.

"Someone who loves historic architecture lives here." Bobby mused. "This home is his life. Look at the holly out front. Kept trimmed even in winter. Even the snow caps form a box. He has window shades..." He squinted. "Window shades like the ones used in historic homes, the ones with pull cords that were banned for the commercial market because children would get caught in the cord. He either has no children or they're grown and long gone."

"What do you want to bet the inside corresponds with the outside?" she nodded.

"Sucker bet," he said, amused. "Remember, friendly history lovers."

"Blatant admirers," she agreed with a wink.

She couldn't say that she was surprised when the affable man who had chatted to Bobby on the phone and then invited them by after speaking to Donna Varela answered the doorbell. He was dressed in, of all things, a vintage blue-and-grey quilted smoking jacket over what looked like a navy blue turtleneck and soft black trousers, corduroy slippers on his feet—a portly, balding man of average height, probably in his late 70s, with very blue eyes. The same man who had shown such interest in Alex on New Year's Eve, and claimed that he'd never noticed the letters in the paintings—the same man Varela had said examined every step of the remodeling projects.

"Mr. Cattaneo?" Bobby queried brightly.

"Yes? Are you Mr. and Mrs. Goren?"

"Yes, we are," was the enthusiastic response, and Alex bit her lip. Bobby was going the fanboy route. "We're not...bothering you, are we? Ms. Varela said something about health problems?"

"It's a long-term condition, and not usually painful. I realized it was foolish to wait for the middle of the month to retire. My leaving early gives Donna a full month's salary instead of half, which she deserves—she's a wonderful young woman," Cattaneo responded. "You are vaccinated, correct? Good—come in and welcome! Donna said you were history buffs interested in the story of the Waterbury Inn."

Alex was puzzled that Cattaneo didn't recognize them from Friday night, but simply smiled cheerfully. "My husband is the one who wanted to stop by, but I love your home. We have a Cape Cod as well, but not one that looks quite like this."

"I'm not much of a party guy or traveler," the older man answered with a cheerful smile. "Even before my wife died years ago, this house was always my hobby. I was lucky that she loved primitive furniture, too. Again, please do come inside. It's freezing out here."

She could tell that Bobby was truly impressed once they walked through the door. Alex had discovered after the fire that had consumed her home that she cared very little for material items any longer; Bobby, she realized, only coveted his books and research materials, so together they had bought serviceable, plain furniture, and most of their decor would have been called, by horrified interior decorators, wildly mismatched. Cattaneo's home was a colonial Americana fan's dream and she watched Bobby pivot right, then left, taking it all in. The front door opened directly into the living room, with the stairs to the second story on their right next to the wall, and the "parlor" was filled with colonial-style furniture: plank settees, Windsor chairs, candle-holder side tables displaying hog-scraper candlesticks. Electric lamps were disguised as oil lamps, as close as possible to colonial artifacts, and a rough-hewn pie safe in front of the stairs hid a television. A large penny rug centered the wide-planked painted floor, a electric candolier hung from the ceiling, and between the door and the window that faced the home's front, Cattaneo had installed a 1770s-style fireplace surround, complete with a shelf mantelpiece still decorated for Christmas with a collection of primitive Belsnickels.

"This is remarkable," Bobby said. "I read 'Early American Life' and your home could be in the magazine. Are these pieces all antiques, Mr. Cattaneo?"

The other man looked flattered. "It's a mixture, Mr. Goren. The settee is an antique I purchased, the Windsor chairs are reproductions from American artisans. The entire house is a mixture of both. Incidentally, you're the first person I've ever talked to who reads EAL!"

"I get 'BBC History Magazine,' 'American History,' and 'Smithsonian,' too."

"A kindred spirit," Cattaneo said in delight. "And you, Mrs. Goren?"

"I'm not a magazine reader," Alex admitted, "but I am curious how you manage a colonial theme in the kitchen."

"Well," chuckled Cattaneo, "obviously I had to fudge a little there."

With pride he conducted them through the remainder of the main floor: his own bedroom had a vintage pencil bed, late 1700s dressers, a large hand-painted Pennsylvania Dutch chest. The guest room was similarly furnished, and the kitchen was fitted with a retro black gas stove and a batten-wood enclosed refrigerator to hide modern accoutrements as much as possible, with a sink of soapstone and the faucet fashioned to look like a pump spout. A vintage drop-leaf table and four ladder-back chairs completed the room, and there was a miniature penny rug as a piece of art gracing the wall next to the table.

Cattaneo pointed to the latter. "That was the first antique I bought, when I was eight years old. My mother and father were both collectors. Most of the items on this floor are theirs. Most of my own collection is upstairs."

The wall of the stairwell to the second story had been painted as a mural of the countryside in the style of the itinerant painters of the 1700s. He told them its story proudly, indicating a classic white-spired church and several other brick-and-wood buildings. "It's based on an etching of 19th century Waterbury, around the time of the War of 1812. Adrienne Doremus painted it for me. She's a Danbury artist."

"I saw her at an exhibition last July," Bobby supplied, "at an outdoor art show. Her work is much different from this—more of a Gustav Klimt style."

"She's versatile," Cattaneo agreed.

Where the upstairs of their own home looked like "a branch of the public library," as Alex had once termed it, Cattaneo's second story resembled a museum. The dormers next to the chimney and opposite it made the area more open, and the magnolia milk-painted walls were covered with treasures that Cattaneo enumerated with enthusiasm: hand-crafted shelving filled with more hog-scraper candlesticks, betty lamps, face jugs, Shaker baskets. A huge woven winnow took up a corner, another contained a full-size weathervane, but this one an antique with a warhorse upon it. More shelves held keys and locks, small penny rugs in frames. There were two display cases running down the center of either side of the area, filled with period coins, scent bottles, wire-rimmed spectacles, and other memorabilia.

"This," Cattaneo said with adoring eyes, standing before the wall which faced the left side of the stairwell, "is my prize. It came from another collector."

Bobby stared at the glass display case, impressed, then peered closely at one end of it.

"Is this," he said, with an awed hush, "what I think it is?"

Alex examined the item in the case, intrigued. "A Revolutionary-era sword?"

"Not just a sword, Eames," Bobby said, forgetting himself. "General Israel Putnam's sword. Check the inscription on the guard."

She saw it now, in quaint crabbed engraving. "I. Putnam."

Cattaneo watched them happily, as if they were praising his child.

"This isn't his sword from Bunker Hill, is it?" Bobby asked in admiration.

"No way of knowing," the elderly man responded, "but it is a genuine Putnam sword. I have the provenance papers, and I had it examined by Sotheby's."

Bobby was so close to the item that his nose almost grazed the glass, examining it with approbation. "This is really something, Mr. Cattaneo. Wow." Alex saw his eyes flicker, then, as he moved down the blade of the sword, he cocked his head. "Too bad about this...what is that, Mr. Cattaneo? Is the sword...damaged?"

"Oh, the white flecks?" Cattaneo looked abashed. "No, that's not damage and it's easily removed. I'm saving money to have it professionally cleaned. The previous owner stored it improperly. A reliable restoration shop just over the Massachusetts line, near Sturbridge, does such cleaning, and I'll take it there."

Alex opened her mouth, but Bobby's head shook minutely. Instead she remarked, "I'm impressed, Mr. Cattaneo. You have your own little museum."

Cattaneo's face suddenly changed. "You know, when you were first at the door I thought you looked familiar. I remember now: you were at the New Year's Eve event! We talked–"

"Near the buffet table, yes," Alex said brightly, adopting a more wide-eyed persona.

"Yes, we were discussing the letters...we'd noticed letters in the painting of Noah Webster, hidden in the fabric," Bobby continued, almost dismissively. "The funny thing was, we found letters like that hidden in all of the Barclay paintings. And it led us interesting discovery."

The older man appeared surprised. "Wait, you say there are letters hidden in all the paintings?"

"Yes. For instance, in Sybil Ludington's painting, they were part of the underbrush," Bobby rambled on.

"In the Nathan Hale painting they were in the curtains," Alex offered. "I'm surprised you never noticed them. They...practically popped right out at me, and I'm not much for finding hidden meanings in things."

"I wrote them down and we figured them out," Bobby added cheerfully. "Made a nice distraction on New Year's Day from all the football games. They turned out to be anagrams."

It was very subtle, but even Alex noticed when Cattaneo shifted nervously. "Anagrams? Did they have something to do with the paintings?"

"A few of them did. The other words seemed to form a clue." Alex said.

"We thought it might have to do with the valuable item Hosmer Barclay supposedly hid in the Waterbury Inn," finished Bobby regretfully. "But...uh...we did a search, following the clues to where they led, and didn't find anything. I guess...perhaps Barclay had a joke at our expense."

"Well, they do say Mr. Barclay was quite a character." Cattaneo responded, and Alex thought she sensed relief from him. " late wife...was a descendant of his, you see, and I got involved in researching his life. I had never picked up on the letters in the painting, though. I can't believe I missed them."

"Well," and Bobby tossed the last in offhandedly, prowling from item to item as if distracted still by the remainder of the memorabilia, "Alex and I were used to that level of detail in our previous work. We were partners at the NYPD for eleven years."

Now it was evident Cattaneo was feigning surprise. "Police officers? I would have never guessed–"

"Detectives," returned Alex blandly, "for the Major Case Squad." She shrugged, palms up. "You know—murder, kidnappings, hostage situations, large dollar thefts–"

Bobby cleared his throat, signaling that she was about to upset the virtual apple cart. "Mr. Cattaneo, I want to thank you for allowing us to visit! This is a phenomenal collection—I really loved seeing it. We appreciate the tour of your beautiful home."

Alex chimed in her thanks as well, and they descended the stairs slowly, Bobby chattering about where they might find a pencil bed, asking how much they might cost, Cattaneo answering his questions thoughtfully, but clearly distracted.

In another minute or two, they were once again bundled against the cold and standing on the stoop. He offered her his arm, and they walked toward the car in silence, but at the gate Alex stopped.

"So what shall we do now?" she asked.

He looked over his shoulder where he could just discern Cattaneo peeking out the window at them. "Let...nature take its course, I think. There's no vice in that man. He simply loves every piece in that house." He paused. "I would wager he found that sword not long after his wife died. It probably provided some comfort to him."

"Sucker bet," she responded quietly. "Did you know he had it?"

"I wasn't certain, but...who else c-could it have been? I did know that the item we were looking for was a sword. The edge...left a deep indentation in the scrap of burlap that was left in the rafters." He smiled at her. "How'd you like to take a ride?"

"Why not?" she asked, and, as they buckled their seatbelts, she added soberly, "You know, Robert Goren, I used to lead a tidy, well-ordered life, and then you came along." When he glanced at her, a troubled look passing over his face, she added, "I wouldn't have missed it for the world."

One of the SiriusXM stations was still playing Christmas music and she switched to that as Bobby made his way back to the freeway headed for Danbury.

"Any hint where we're going?" she asked lightly.

"Someplace I heard about when I was thirteen. My mom always encouraged me to watch educational programs; one was a history of the United States hosted by Alistair Cooke. Mom approved because he gave the Native Americans their due, as she thought he should, rather than just mentioning Columbus and the other European explorers. I came to love it because he talked about little things that never made history classes: the mistreatment of Tories following the Revolution; how John Winthrop, the Puritan leader, would be all for big business today; readings from obscure diaries and journals; stories about the immigrants who came through Ellis Island. And he mentioned a monument–" He paused. "I've always wanted to see it."

He bypassed Danbury and instead headed for smaller Ridgefield, due west, then, after consulting the GPS several times, turned into the entrance of a condominium complex and parked at the side of the road. "It's private property, so we can stay only a few minutes. This was the battle Sybil Ludington rode in support of—but her father's militia didn't make it in time for the battle. I'd like to come back in the spring to tour the town-." He flashed her a smile.

"How could I resist an invitation from my favorite history buff?" she replied, as they crunched down a snow-covered sidewalk to a granite monument set into the stone wall surrounding the complex. It was very plain, carved with simple words.

In defense of American Independence
at the Battle of Ridgefield
April 27, 1777
Eight Patriots
who were laid in this ground
companioned by
Sixteen British Soldiers
Living, their enemies, Dying their guests,
in honor of service and sacrifice
this Memorial is placed
for the strengthening of hearts.

"There's what enters the history textbooks: the dates, the big names, the stats, the affect on the future," he said, regarding the monument. "and then there are things like this, that make the past special."

"'For the strengthening of hearts,'" she repeated aloud, then smiled at him with love. "For that I can count on you."




"Did you two catch the news tonight?" Shard asked as they arrived via the rear entrance of the Dark Crystal on Saturday evening. "Completely thought of you, Bobby, when I saw it."

"We spent the afternoon putting away Christmas decorations," Alex said briskly. They were both bundled in parkas, her with Bobby's weathered portfolio tucked under one arm, Bobby hefting the customary duffle bag over his shoulder, both spattered with the cold rain falling outside. "What did we miss?"

The slim, nattily-dressed co-owner of the restaurant and bar gave her a big smile. "Check it out," he bade, handing Bobby a copy of the New Haven Register. "Made the front page of the paper, too. Get back to you in a minute—have a table waiting for wine," and he bustled toward the dining room as they ducked into the service closet, as always, to put on their trivia togs.

Bobby's eyes scanned the Register, eyes crinkling with a grin, then he handed the newspaper to her, front page and banner headline up front.

General Israel Putnam's Sword
Left at Historic Waterbury Inn

For a second it was as if time had trembled a little and blipped in reverse.

"Fancy that," said Detective Alexandra Eames lightly. "But was it conscience or fear of punishment?"

"We'll probably never know," answered Detective Robert Goren. "But...maybe it doesn't really matter."


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