|DISCLAIMER: This story makes use
of the *concept* of the characters of Xena and Gabrielle. They
belong to someone else and are used without permission. This is
an Uber story so the resemblance is intentional. The
interpretation of X&G and the rest of it are entirely my
own.Very special thanks to BCavert for information, ideas and
everything LMM. Maud on!Mentions of Lucy Maud Montgomery
and her work are without the permission of the heirs of LMM.
Please don't tell; they might have me dragged off to jail. There
is f/f sex and some violence. This story is as historically
accurate as I can make it. Many books and a few web sites helped
me tremendously. If anything seems *off* to you, blame me and my
use of the materials, not the materials themselves. Despite my
research I did take some liberties when I could not establish
facts with complete certainty. Again blame me and not my
references.Thanks to bj for carrying home armloads of books,
bringing peanut butter and jelly sandwiches when they were
needed most, and listening when I would not shut up. Feed back
*** The Halifax Explosion***
On December 6th, 1917 two ships collided at "The
Narrows" in Halifax harbour. One of them, carrying
munitions for World War 1, began to burn and eventually
exploded. This was the largest man-made explosion the world had
ever seen until Hiroshima.
2.5 square kilometres of the north end of the city of
Halifax, and parts of the smaller city of Dartmouth, were
destroyed. 1630 houses were totally leveled. 12,000 more were
damaged. 6000 people were left homeless and 20,000 more were
without adequate shelter.
The blast broke windows in Truro, 100 kms away and was heard
in Cape Breton and Prince Edward Island. The total estimate of
damage was 35 million dollars ... in 1917 value.
Figures for those killed vary. Officially either 1635 or 1963
were killed. The true figure was probably over 2000. Some were
unidentified, burned beyond recognition, or simply
*disappeared*. 9000 people were injured and 200 were blinded.
The survivors tell tales of horror and carnage; blindings by
flying glass, people trapped in burning buildings, children
under the rubble of smashed schools.
Where there was tragedy there was also hope. Relief in the
form of supplies, doctors and nurses, was immediate- from
Canada, Britain and the United States. At 10:30 PM on the night
of the Explosion a relief train left Boston. Money came from
Australia, New Zealand, China.
Halifax remembers the kindness of these strangers who helped
rebuild a city and lives already touched by war. I hope this
story brings you a little understanding of this tragic and
moving event that is only a small piece of history. Although I
did not live in that age, it is something I will never forget.
Halifax, Nova Scotia
October 1st, 1923
The night was cool and damp and the fog clung to the eaves of the
buildings in long, wispy tendrils reminding me of the skeletons that
once hung from scaffolds out on Hangman's Beach. I thought if
I listened hard enough, long enough, I could hear those weathered old
bones rattling on the wind. The same wind that blew with chilly breath
through that killing ground of deserters and pirates, across the harbour
and up the steep streets to whip around the doorway and disturb me with
I turned up the collars of my coat and pulled my hat down low over
my eyes as I stepped out into the street. Behind me the door to
the 'blind pig' swung open and two young sailors tumbled out. Laughing,
they ignored me and headed off in the opposite direction. They were soon
lost in the dark and fog.
Damp, foggy, cold and with a dark forlorn-ness, this northern
military town stumbled its way through history like so many drunken
sailors on shore leave. Boisterous, thirsty and spoiling for a fight
since the day Cornwallis had hoisted his flag, Halifax was unforgiving
in nature, both human and earthly.
Sailors, privateers and fishermen stopped here on the way
somewhere else. Soldiers and artillerymen garrisoned here or marched up
the gangways on the way to overseas wars. Those who remained for the
crisp, snowy winters were hardy, brawny and unafraid of hard work. They
kept the sailors entertained and their mugs full of rum. The soldiers
were clothed, and their bellies were full of grub. A simple life of
supply and demand for most of the town. But not me, not me.
The tired old town clock began a slow tolling of the midnight hour
as I headed north up Barrington street. I had come here for a different
reason. A very different reason. I had come here to hide out from a dark
past. A past that haunted me like the rattling of old skeletons,
disturbing my sleep and colouring my days in shades of foggy grey.
It would never leave me; never be cut down from eternal torment
and buried in a graveyard. It would cling to me like the cold and the
damp. Follow me like a shadow through the well of an oil lamp's cast
light. Always there, clinging and keeping pace. Step by step.
I turned down Duke, crossed over and made my way along Hollis to
the building that housed my office. Its stone facade was lost to
shadows, the door a black smudge that yielded to me key. Wearily I
climbed the stairs to the third floor and made my way down the unlit
hallway. A dim light shone through the opaque glass on the door of my
office illuminating the words "Allister Burton: Private
Investigator". I turned the key and went in.
Six years earlier ...
Someone was following him. He cast a furtive glance over his shoulder
as he headed south at a fast pace. Going by his room in the hotel had
been a mistake; they must have picked up his trail there. He hadn't
wanted to, but his clothes had been wet and torn and he had been
bleeding. A simple stop for a fresh pair of trousers and sweater, and to
dress the gash on his arm, had cost him dearly.
A pall of acrid smoke hung over the city. People were milling about
confused and scared. Some were injured like him but the further south he
went, the less destruction he saw. At the end of Tower Road, near the
entrance to the park, all he could see were broken windows. Sparse
testament to the power of the explosion which had wiped the north end of
the city with a black TNT hand.
He had been standing on the deck of the H.M.S. Highflyer
looking north when the burning munitions ship went up and morning turned
to night. The next thing he knew he was in the water not far from
Georges Island. When he crawled up on the little dirt mound with its
tunnels and bastions, he knew he had to get rid of it. They had been on
to him for awhile; he had taken the precaution of carrying it with him.
Now with so many dead, his body would not bring any suspicion.
As he began to cross the street, headed for the shelter of the park,
a black motorcar screeched up beside him and strong hands pulled him in.
She was lean and her blond hair hung delicately to the satin
shoulders of her lovely dress, but there was dark obsession haunting her
blue eyes. He was very afraid. "Where is it?" she purred
trailing her fingers along the stubble on his jaw.
"I...I lost it in the explosion," he stammered, trying to
pull back from her cold touch.
"Now you don't expect me to believe that, do you?"
The two thugs who had grabbed him off the street and brought him here
to her south end house shifted behind him in response to her tension.
"Something as valuable as that, just lost," she gave
a dismissive flip of her hand, "in the harbour."
"It's true!" he implored but even to himself he did not
Brows drawn together in consternation, she stood in front of him with
one hand on her narrow waist. "Hmmmph," she clucked her
tongue. "I really hoped you wouldn't be like this. But since
you are," her eyes brightened with delight, "we can have some
One of the men behind him laughed and he knew nothing more except
darkness as a heavy blow struck him on the neck.
Stunned, she stared at the dead man at her feet. "You killed
him! How am I supposed to find it if he's dead?!" she raved at her
minion. "Theodore! You fool!"
October 2nd, 1923
The boom of the noon-day cannon echoed down from Citadel Hill,
rattling the windows of the third floor office. That wasn't what woke
the sleeping form on the sofa. The slamming door was. Then the sound of
a soft feminine voice in the outer room cleared the rest of the cobwebs.
"I need to see Mister Burton."
"Honey, you are so out of luck with that." The
squeaky voice of the agency's secretary.
"Why? Is this not the office of Allister Burton?"
"That's what the door says, doll."
A moment of deadly silence. "I am not your doll or anyone
else's. Now please answer me a simple question: is Mr. Burton, the
private investigator, in or not?"
Another moment of quiet with only the soft scritch scritch of
a nail file then ... "Let me put it to ya this way, sugar..."
"Is that Mr. Burton?"
"Oh, alright Boss! Go on in, sugar. I believe the beast has
"Thank you." Though the words were kind, the incline of her
head as she delivered them made clear the lack of any sincerity.
Josephina tsk-tsked to herself as the young woman went into the
inner office and closed the door.
"Mr. Burton, you have been recommended to me for a matter of
great importance." She addressed herself to the back of the figure
across the room. The detective was washing from a large ceramic bowl. A
water pitcher stood to one side.
"Yes. Mister Salieri at the Green Lantern told me you are good
at what you do and..." she hesitated. "Discreet."
A disinterested 'hmmmm' was the only answer. As time crawled forward
with no other comment, she took the opportunity to study the detective.
A good six inches taller than herself, thin with rumpled pants and
shirt. Suspenders hung loose from a narrow leather belt. Hardly the look
of a successful man. She was beginning to have doubts; something about
Mr. Burton wasn't right.
"Do you have any dough?" Dipping a comb in the water the
detective turned. "I don't work without an advance." The comb
was dragged through short, black hair.
Virginia's eyes narrowed with suspicion. The detective had expressive
brows, narrow somewhat gaunt cheeks and a lean, sharp nose. Dark circles
coloured the space under the eyes.
"Wait a minute..." The young woman took a step back.
"You're not Allister Burton!"
Keen blue eyes met her startled ones and twinkled with amusement.
"No, I'm not." The voice shifted upward several notes.
It was all making sense now to the surprised would-be client.
"I'm Allison Burton. Allister was my father."
Some women indeed. When that dame walked into my office the world
stood on end. It was as if a ray of sunshine had burst in a pot of gold
right there before me. Or an angel had descended from on high to treat
me to a little taste of heaven. Or a nymph in a cool forest glade
had turned to ... well, you get the picture. She was sweet.
And confused. She stood in front of me her brows knit together and
her ample mouth turned down at the corners. Soft blond hair framed her
smooth features and fell over her shoulders. She wore a simple but
elegant dress in a rich green to match her eyes. A small purse was
clutched in her white gloved hands.
Standing there she was wondering if I was really a woman, but
looking at her made every inch of me painfully happy I was. Drawing out
the moment, I finished combing back my hair. I seriously wondered if she
would turn on her heels and leave. If I knew anything, I knew I didn't
want her to.
"Oh..." she shifted her weight from one foot to the
other. "Then it was to you Mr. Salieri referred?"
"It was." Allison Burton, Private Investigator, dried her
hands on a towel. "He's a friend of mine and was a friend of my
father." She crossed the floor to the desk, propped one hip on the
corner. "So... who are you, and how can I help you?"
The young woman settled herself into the chair in front of the desk,
carefully crossed her legs, and began. "I am Virginia Elizabeth
Potts. From Charlottesville. I would like you to find my fiancé."
Allison's eyes traveled from the serious but hopeful expression in
her eyes down her lovely body to where a tantalizing glimpse of leg
could be seen below the hem of her dress. With a jolt she pulled her
gaze away but not before Virginia flipped her dress over the exposed
part with an exasperated sound.
"Well?" she prompted.
"This man disappeared? Here in Halifax?" It was a struggle
to keep her eyes on the client's face. "When? How long has he been
gone?" She wanted to ask if maybe he had changed his mind, but she
had a very hard time trying to envision anyone not wanting to spend the
rest of their life with this girl.
"Since December the sixth, 1917."
Allison blinked hard. "The Halifax Explosion? Lady, do you know
how many people are still considered missing from the
"I'll leave all those details to you... if I hire you."
The investigator hopped off the desk and circled behind it to look
out the window. Part of her was thinking this could be the easiest cash
she would make in a long time. The other part wanted to be honest. The
honesty won out. "Have you done anything? Looked through the
mortuary reports of the unidentified at the Relief Commission
"No." Virginia recrossed her legs.
"Talked to anyone who knew him? Gone to where he worked?"
"Neither," she leaned forward earnestly. "I only just
arrived by train this morning. I don't know my way around or have any
contacts here anymore. Perly has been gone a long time and I've decided
I need to know what happened to him." A subtle snap of the closure
of her purse reinforced her next words: "May I hire you to look
into this matter for me?"
Allison leaned over her desk, palms flat on its surface. "I
require an advance payment. Usually three days work, but in this case I
don't think it will take that long. Ten dollars will do."
"I only have US currency." Virginia carefully extracted a
bill from her purse and placed it on the desk. Folding it twice, Allison
slipped it into her breast pocket. That much accomplished, she dropped
into her chair and began writing on a form. When it was completed, she
turned it toward Virginia, extended her pen and nudged the ink bottle
"This is a standard contract. You will note I filled in the ten
dollar advance, and that my rate does not include expenses."
There was no immediate answer; Virginia was intent on reading so
Allison watched her.
The hands that held the paper were small, clean and well manicured.
The knuckles prominent and strong. In fact, everything about her spoke
of neatness and good grooming in a reserved, unpretentious manner. Her
accent, when she spoke, was from the southern United States, cultured
and educated. There was money behind that upbringing and her clothes
continued the upper class presentation. Five dollars a day plus expenses
was hardly going to break this woman's bank.
"This seems in order," Virginia dipped the tip of the pen
in the ink and wrote out her signature. She waved the paper several
times to allow the flowing script to dry, then passed it back over the
desk to the detective.
Allison pushed it to one side taking the short pencil from the spine
of her notebook. "Now I need a little more information on your
fiancé." She flicked out her tongue and licked the lead of the
Virginia shifted in her seat.
"Tell, me something first," the blond woman evaded.
"What?" Somehow Allison had a hunch where this was going.
She waited, curious how her new client would broach it.
"You are a woman doing a man's job," Virginia began
confidently. "Do you feel you need to look like a man to be taken
The private investigator leaned back in her chair regarding the woman
in front of her. Virginia was unapologetic about her question, which was
good because no apology was ever offered anyone about this particular
question. The question of an apparent lack of femininity.
"It's less about what I do than who I am." Allison
moved out from behind the desk back to her perch on the corner.
"Does who I am bother you?" A quizzical brow arched upward
into her forehead as she looked down at Virginia.
"No," was the answer and the beautiful young woman held her
gaze without a blink or a twitch.
Allison felt the power balance shift away from her. Very deftly the
tables had been turned.
She might look like a pushover in her dress and heels, but this
lady was no amateur in the business of words. She drove the damn
turnip truck, no riding in the back for her! A couple days work
searching through boring records with descriptions of dead people, and
asking questions around town was all this job would take. Then she'd be
gone. Gone back to her life of clean fingernails and quiet privilege.
Away from me with my slept in clothes and ambiguous gender.
Not that that bothered her.
But it bothered me that it didn't bother her. This was a
new game. Gals like her didn't usually go for my type. Nope, most times
they couldn't get their expensively tailored selves out the door fast
enough and most times I couldn't care less. She was different. I wasn't
really sure why I felt that way, but I knew I wanted to know more.
I was intrigued by her confidence and the bold way she established
her territory right there in front of me. She had faced my
nonconformity, my oddity, with a clear-eyed lack of judgement. Very few
people accepted me for what I was: a woman who made her own rules to the
established game. Maybe, in her own way, she lived life in a similar
I took down the particulars of the case as she remembered them.
Full name, last known ship berth, any friends of his she might recall
... you know the drill. For someone she was engaged to be married to,
she didn't know a lot. A little alarm bell ding-donged in the back of my
head, but I didn't give it too much thought. Like I said, a couple days
work. Then again maybe I'd stretch it out a bit. I could use the dough,
and she wasn't at all hard on the eyes. And that little bit of attitude,
well that, if nothing else, could use more investigating.
In the outer office, the detective and client shook hands and said
their good-byes under the watchful eyes of the secretary and a visitor.
As the door shut, the two exchanged a long, knowing glance. Allison
"Umm hmmm! Do tell all." The visitor, a young woman with
chocolate brown skin, short hair with tight curls, and bright, playful
eyes began. "What's a rich dame like her doin' slummin' with the
likes of you?"
"That's what I want to know," Josephina chipped in.
"She's a client, wants to throw away her money trying to find a
sailor disappeared during the explosion." Allison's eyes were on a
paper bag the visitor had in her hands. She licked her lips. "Is
that from Mama, Effie?"
"Uh huh. Smoked meat on rye, two of Mama's best dills and a nice
cold bottle of milk." She extended the bag toward the detective but
snatched it back at the last second. "Your sorry lips ain't goin'
no where near it till you tell all, you hear?"
"Uh huh, girl! All of it!" Josephina added.
Allison crossed her arms over her chest and rolled her eyes.
"Well, where's she from?"
"What's her name?"
Effie waggled an indignant finger. "You're messin' with my head!
You want me to tell Mama? Tell that sainted soul who graces this earth
with her humanly presence, that you've been fooling with her
Allison laughed lightly. "Mama already knows you and me
fooled around, Effie." Josephina let out an elegant gasp though she
had heard this story before, down to the last sordid detail. "She
caught us in bed, remember?"
"Oh, I remember." Effie's expression softened and she held
out the bag again. "You're the only one she ever approved of, bless
her God fearing heart. She loves you like the white child she never had.
Not that you and your father, bless his kind departed soul, pulling her
out of that burning, busted up house had anything to do with it."
Allison took the time to chew a bite of sandwich before replying.
"Your mother is a saint!" The bread was fresh, the
flavour of the meat exquisite. At Effie's harsh look, Allison added,
"And a damn fine cook too."
Effie started to the door, paused. "Mama says we'll be singing
"Rock of Ages", "In the Garden" and "Down By
the Riverside" this Sunday. You look over you hymnal before then,
you hear?" With a last waggle of her finger, she was gone.
Perlman Albert Casin was not listed as a resident of Halifax in
either the 1917 or 1916 City Directory. As a sailor, she hadn't really
expected he would be, but it was a logical start.
With Josephina off to the docks to check the DeWolf, MacKay, Bennett
and Roche Steam Ship Company, his last employer, Allison took the
electric tram car north up Gottingen Street toward the Hydrostone
Started a year after the explosion and completed in 1921, the
Hydrostone was a planned community of houses and joined flats.
Stretching north for ten blocks from Young Street, divided by treelined
avenues and narrow service lanes, the sparkling new arrangement of pale
grey stone occupied the site of some of the worst devastation caused by
the explosion. Allison and her father had lived for a short time in a
four room flat on Cabot Street. After his death, the twenty-five dollar
a month rent had been too much for her and she was forced to leave.
Despite those memories, she still liked to visit the area.
The commercial block fronted on Young Street and housed a bank,
barber, a cafe, and shops. The Halifax Relief Commission's office was
located at number 139. After stating her intention to find a record of a
person missing from the disaster, the clerk gave her reams of mortuary
records to peruse. These included 1400 identified dead and the 150 who
had been buried unidentified in the Catholic and Protestant Potter's
The first problem became immediately apparent: Perly Casin could
easily be among the 95 listed as "charred remains". Where
there was enough information to suggest a body was male, or better yet,
appeared to be a sailor, Allison took notes and recorded the numbers.
Some were listed only by approximate place found, others by things
discovered on or near the bodies. She carefully went over them all
before moving on to recognizable but unclaimed.
Virginia Potts had given her a general description of her fiancé; of
this remaining group several seemed possible matches but one stood out: No.
441. Male. Brown hair, sandy moustache. Black work shirt, blue sweater,
grey pants. Fleece lined underwear. Gold signet ring on third finger of
right hand. Pockets contained one key, coins, and a small piece of
paper, writing on which is indecipherable.
Allison wrote all of this down as well as the information on where
and when he had been buried. Number 441's effects were kept in a cloth
bag and those bags were now in the basement of Province House. They
might be worth a look. A full description of his ring might be the
determining factor in Virginia's definitive identification.
Before returning the records, she went through the list of the
identified dead just in case he was listed there. As she suspected, he
She slipped into the bank to exchange the American money just before
they locked the door for the day. When she came out the tram-car was
just leaving her stop so she began the walk back downtown.
The sun was slanting into the afternoon sky and the air was cool and
refreshing. It was a pleasant walk and it gave her time to think and
plan her next steps in the investigation.
Josephina was pulling on her coat when Allison entered the office.
"Is he dead?" she asked before Allison could ask what she
had found out at the waterfront.
"It sure looks that way. One of the unidentified matches him
"Damn! Excuse my French. That rich doll could've kept us in
business for a year."
"Yeah, I know," Allison sighed. "What did you
Josephina handed her some papers on the way to the door. "He
started there in 1911. His last pay form was for December 1st 1917. They
don't know what happened to him after that. No one bothered to try to
identify him at the Chebucto Road School Morgue. I guess he didn't have
"That's that then," Allison said but she was still thinking
about the effects bag. "Say, Jo, when does Jock Senior start work
down at the Legislature? I need to look at some junk in the
The secretary made a face. "At five. If you want him he'll be
out back by now. He always goes to work early to shoot the breeze. Ta ta,
honey. See you tomorrow." She walked off down the hall wobbling
slightly on her high heels. Though they caused her trouble, she felt
they were necessary to proper dressing.
Allison remained in the office only long enough to read through the
papers Josephina had supplied, and label a file folder to put them in.
Then she locked the office and walked the short two blocks south to the
front of Province House.
Completed in 1819, the Palladian style building, with its Ionic
pillars and triangular pediments, was designed not by a famous British
architect, but by a local paint contractor and it's building supervised
by a stonemason. Rising three stories, it fronted Hollis street and was
surrounded by a wrought-iron fence. It housed the legislative assembly
for the province of Nova Scotia.
She entered through the wide gate, walked past the Boer War Monument
and circled around back. Two men sat on the steps leading down to the
basement entryway, talking and smoking pipes.
They were both dressed in the rough clothing of everyday working men.
Heavy shirts, wool pants, boots and slouch caps. Past middle age, their
faces bore resigned, weathered looks. It was all to familiar an image to
Allison; in his last few years, her father had looked like that. One of
them recognized her as she approached and smiled broadly.
"Allie! How are ya dear?"
The man beside him fixed an odd look on Allison as he tapped out his
pipe on his heel. When she only ignored him, he gave Jock Senior a nod,
descended the steps and went into the building. "Don't mind him,
love. He just thinks your pants are nicer than his." Jock patted
the stone beside him.
"Don't worry, it doesn't bother me." She sat. "My skin
is thicker than Josephina's. And that's saying a lot."
Jock grinned. "Yes siree, but you make a more better lookin' man
than Jock Junior does a woman. My boy behaving himself at the office
"She makes a fine secretary." Allison purposely stuck to
referring to him as a "her".
"That's good. The work's just as good as being a janitor like
me. A little easier on the hands too." He rubbed the calluses on
one palm. "Where you off to? Spying on some MLA?"
"Nope, not that today. I was hoping you'd let me in to see one
of those bags from the unidentified explosion dead."
"Yup, there's a storeroom fulla them bags." He scratched
his chin. "I don't have the key though."
Allison moved a few inches closer to him and lowered her voice.
"I got this client, see, pretty young doll from Virginia lost her
fiancé in that mess. I think I've found him for her. If I can get a
look at the ring in one of the bags, I'll know for sure."
Jock Senior nodded and patted her knee. "Now that's a sad story.
C'mon, I'll get you in."
She waited in the hall outside a heavy locked door for a few minutes
until he returned with a key. Once inside the dark musty room, he left
her to her search. There were crates of bags on the floor and on
shelves. Each bag had a tag with a number. After twenty minutes of
hunting, she found the bag marked 441.
Under the overhead light she spilled the contents on the floor. Out
tumbled fifty-five cents in coins, a large key, a piece of paper and the
ring. She picked up the ring first.
The design was of a ship's anchor, almost worn off. Inside the
letters PAC were just barely readable. She sighed; it had to be the
missing man; and it had taken only a day to find him.
The key was inscribed with the letter "C" and the number
16. She popped it back into the bag. The ink on the paper was smudged,
as if it had gotten wet. One word, written across a fold, was almost
legible. Allison squinted in the dim light. It looked like
"redhead" or "redhide" or maybe "red
hair".. She put that back in the bag too, along with the coins. For
a long moment she held the ring. Virginia would surely want it but it
was not her place to take it now. When she officially identified him and
the effects, it would be hers to keep. Forever.
Walking slowly back to the office she felt depressed. The thought of
looking into her client's eyes and removing her last shred of hope was
completely unappealing. Something about the thought of the young woman
tearful and hopeless caused her a twang of pain. That thought slipped
away transforming itself into an image of running her fingers through
soft blond hair as she held a crying Virginia to her chest.
That was appealing.
From street vendors she bought an "Evening Mail" and a hot
pretzel. She needed a drink but didn't have the energy to go to the
blind pig she liked to frequent. The bottle in her desk would have to
The bottle was half empty. I tipped it back and took a long draft.
Alcohol always eased the pain, dulled the emotion. Even if it was
home-made gin. What was it about this case that got my hackles up? Not
just a pretty, rich dame from Virginia? No there was something more,
something more about her.
When I closed my eyes I could see her face. Composed and
unflinching, even when I'd challenged her. That image of her, of a
tightly controlled and disciplined woman, didn't jive with the weeping
I began to wonder how she would react when I told her the news.
Hysterical denial? Not likely. She never had seemed to have much real
hope of finding him alive. What sorrow I had seen in her hadn't rung
true. It was there but it was tempered with a resolve as if she had
accepted the fact of his death a long time ago.
Some other secret hid behind those hooded green eyes and I
couldn't put my finger on it. She hadn't told me the truth, or all of
the truth, about this case. That wasn't unusual in my line of work
but this was a straightforward missing person. Truth mattered.
As much as it ever did. I snorted at my own irony and took another
drink. What she did with the information after I gave it to her was none
of my business. She could run crying home to Charlottesville for all I
Or lay that sweet, blond head on my shoulder and cry on me. I
don't know why I got such a tingle when I thought of that. She wasn't
the first woman in my life and wouldn't be the last. I couldn't make
sense of it; how when she looked at me I thought of all those sappy
lines like "love at first sight" and "she was the one I
was waiting for all my life."
All my miserable, wasted life. And that's why it wouldn't
work. A woman like her would look inside me and see the dark. I'd never
be able to hide it from her. She would see the shadow lurking behind me
It would be the smartest thing she ever did.
Effie Tynes, a long dark coat over her faded but neat dress, breezed
through the empty outer office and into Allison's inner, private room.
Her purse swung from the crook of her right elbow, and in the other hand
she carried a folded umbrella and a brown paper bag.
The detective sat at her desk writing in careful pen strokes on a
sheet of paper. She didn't look up.
Effie opened her mouth to speak, but hesitated. Her friend looked
different today. Her hair was parted down the middle and short, dark
bangs hung over each eye. The light from the window over her shoulder
made each strand shine. She wore a long sleeved white shirt, dark work
pants with a belt but no suspenders. Over the back of her chair was a
freshly brushed suit jacket.
"Well, what made you lose your fear of bath water?"
Allison looked up. Her eyes were clear, without the usual dark
circles. "I never had a problem with bathing. I just don't have the
convenience." Her eyes took in the small space of the office.
"I know, honey. I just like to tease you. You stop by Ada's?"
Allison nodded. Ada was a mutual acquaintance who lived over on
Buckingham Street. A kind-hearted prostitute who often supplied Allison
with street information and a place to bathe and wash her clothes.
"Dunn the Dumb's been hassling her again. I had a word with the HPD
detective at the coffee-house. Reminded him there were worse
crimes in this city than a poor woman trying to make ends meet."
What she didn't say was the policeman owed her father some long ago debt
and every once in a while he needed to be reminded of that as well.
"Why so spiffy? That redhead getting to you?"
"Who?" Allison's brows drew together. Effie searched her
face for signs of coyness but there were none. As she watched, though,
her friend's cheeks began to colour. She grinned triumphant.
"It is the redhead!"
"If you're talking about Virginia, she's blond."
"Blond? No way. Her hair's as red as Anne Shirley's!"
Allison put down her pen, getting interested in the conversation.
"Oh, I forgot," Effie laughed lightly. "You didn't
read girl's books."
Allison wanted to tell her she didn't read any books when she was
young, girl's or boy's, but she didn't bother. That she had not learned
to read until she was almost twenty didn't matter anymore. Besides,
knowing Effie, she might've already figured that out. "She's
"Never mind," Effie dismissed the disagreement with a wave
of her hand. "Speaking of Anne," she dug a piece of
paper out of her purse and pushed it front of Allison. "Lucy Maud
is coming to Halifax to talk to our women's group."
Allison glanced at the flyer, set it aside. "That's nice,
I know you're really into this Anne of Green Gables stuff. You
and all the college educated suffragettes will have a good time
with your tea and chat."
Effie graced her with a hard look. "Don't you make fun of my
education. And don't use that suffer word! I'm a women's
rights activist and a promoter of racial equality."
Allison sighed and leaned back in her chair. "I know, love. And
it's good work you and the ladies do. I believe in all of it. I just
don't have the energy you do."
"Well you should, you know. We're out there marching for people
Allison sighed again. "I have my own approach."
"Isn't that the truth!" Effie softened. "You're just
so caught up in living day to day you've lost sight of the greater good,
Allie. You have a heart in there somewhere. I know it and so does my
Mama, who knew my secrets as soon as she laid eyes on me. Knew
them and forgave them and everyday pushes me forward on the path to
redemption. Not for her good, but for mine. And not because Papa
and I pulled her out of that burning house. Her reason was so much more.
I had to believe she saw something in me no one else could. Saw what I
feared most: that without help I would give in to those dark impulses
and slip downward into the gloom and never get out. Papa could never see
it, but then, he had demons of his own.
Effie had placed the brown bag on Allison's desk and was standing
looking at her. She misunderstood the detective's introspection.
"You like that redhead, don't you?" Allison didn't answer.
"Well, good for you girl! That's just what you need, a clean, educated
woman to take care of you." She had started out the door when
Allison finally spoke.
"She's blond! Not redheaded!" The word was getting on her
nerves. Redhead. Redhead. Her eyes narrowed in concentration, but the
ringing telephone in the other room interrupted the thought process. She
pushed all the papers on her desk into the file folder and ran to answer
Allison stepped off the tram-car at the corner of Barrington and
South Streets and checked her pocket watch. Ten minutes to six; right on
time. She crossed the street and headed diagonally through the parkspace,
toward the front entrance to the railroad hotel.
The hotel directly joined the new south end train station. The old
station, at the foot of North Street, had been destroyed in the
explosion and not rebuilt. The city had opted instead to locate a single
station here, just north of the new deep water terminals. A subtle but
distinct shift in services from the working class north end to the more
affluent south end.
When she entered the front lobby she turned left into the dining
room. She could see Virginia seated at a table near the front windows.
Before she had gone far, the Maitre D'hôte stepped in front of her.
"And where might you be going?" he started accusingly then
broke out in a smile when he recognized her. "Oh, it's you,
Burton." They were drinking friends from several speakeasies around
Allison jutted her jaw in Virginia's direction. "I'm here for a
dinner meeting with a client."
"The high-class dame? I hope she's buyin'."
Allison laughed and brushed past him. Virginia's eyes were anxious
when she sat down. "Did you really find him?" Allison couldn't
distinguish between the two separate but opposing emotions she saw in
her client's face. There seemed to be both disappointment and hope.
"Like I told you on the telephone, I think it's him." She
took her hand written report out of the file folder she carried and
handed it over. While Virginia read, she looked over the menu.
So much good food! Roast chicken, turkey and beef; lobster, salmon,
halibut, scallops, Italian and French dishes she didn't recognize. Her
mouth began to water and her stomach grumbled in anticipation. She had
not eaten so grandly since her father had finished that high paying case
for the Dominion Atlantic Railroad in ... she couldn't remember the
Virginia looked up. "You may order whatever pleases you.
Consider it a pre-paid expense." The waiter was now at her
elbow so she ordered roast loin of beef with pan gravy, steamed potatoes
and creamed carrots. Virginia ordered a lobster dish with a French
sounding name and continued to read.
Allison found herself wishing for a good red wine to go with her
meal, but Prohibition made that impossible. Now booze was the domain of
the underground; of blind pigs and speakeasies, bootleggers and
rum-runners. Allister Burton had been wise enough to see the profit in
rum running and had turned his sights on the lucrative New York market.
He had only just broken into the game when he died. With no contacts or
friends in the United States end of the business, Allison had gone back
to the agency, to what she knew better. That she knew every illegal
gin-shop owner in town was only a bonus in her sometimes shady line of
Virginia had finished the report and was staring unseeing ahead with
pursed lips. "That was his ring," she finally said.
Then that was the end of it, Allison sighed to herself. Not even two
days work. "Then it's done. You can officially claim his body;
they'll tell you where to dig him up if you want." As soon as she
said it she regretted the insensitivity of the remark. "I mean, I'm
sorry. Now that you know he's really gone, I'm sorry."
Virginia smiled serenely and said with practiced politeness,
"Thank you for your kindness, but he wasn't from Virginia. I met
him when my family had a summer home in Cape Breton and he used to work
on the cable ships." She broke open a roll and began to butter it.
"I'm curious though, these other items you mention-especially the
scrap of paper-could you tell what it said?"
Allison shook her head. "No, it was too smudged."
"And the key? Could you tell what it may have opened?"
Their meals arrived just then so Allison delayed answering as she cut
into the beef and took several mouthfuls of carrots. She was aware of
the other woman watching her closely if not impatiently and again the
warning bell sounded in her head.
The detective felt the subtle jibe in the use of her feminine title.
Still she chewed slowly before setting down her fork. "It was
probably the key to the flat or boarding house where he lived."
"Could you tell the name of the place?"
"No. Didn't you know where he was living? Where did you send his
Virginia flushed slightly and dabbed at her mouth with her napkin.
"I had not written him for some time," she looked away
uncomfortable. "We were somewhat estranged you see. The last
time he wrote me was a year before. The stationary was from a hotel in
They continued to eat in silence. Allison stole glances at the blond
woman, could see that behind her carefully contained exterior, she was
thinking hard. It was not until they had ordered dessert that she let
her dinner guest in on those thoughts.
"I gave you enough for two days of work. As all you did today
was write your report, I believe you still owe me half a day's work.
Will you use that time to try to locate where he was living when he
Allison took a large mouthful of rice pudding; licked her top lip.
"What're you getting at here?" she allowed her agitation to
colour her voice. "Finding out where he was at while ashore can't
possibly mean anything. What does it matter? Besides if he was staying
in the north end, the place was probably flattened."
Virginia turned her face away, spoke into her hand. "Then I'll
never find it."
The young woman, so carefully composed most of the time, suddenly
Like a deer caught in the headlight of an on coming train. But
only for the barest of moments and she was able to wipe her face clean.
God, but she was good! If I hadn't learned the hard way so many times
about people and their deceptions I just might've believed her. Believed
her when she covered her slip by spinning me a story about love letters.
How she had written him sometimes sweet, sometimes risqué letters.
And she wanted them back. Or wanted to know definitively, her
word, they had been blown up, burned or buried in the Halifax Explosion
of December the sixth, 1917.
Like I said, I didn't buy her motives but another day of work and
a few more expenses run up wouldn't hurt my bank account. Or lack there
After we had finished supper and she had settled the bill, I
walked her upstairs to her room. I watched her fine hand as she turned
the key in the lock, was still thinking about those soft, delicate
fingers when she stopped short ahead of me and I bumped into her.
I breathed in a noseful of her jasmine scented hair and my hand
went to her hip to steady us both. Unfortunately for me she pulled away
quickly going to the desk to turn on the lamp. The light illuminated a
messy room. Her suitcase was on the floor and several drawers in the
dresser were open. I was still in shock from being so close to her and
when she apologised for the untidy state of her room, her voice was
flavoured with more of the south than I had ever heard before. She
Allison handed the file folder to Virginia and in trying to place it
on the desk, she fumbled it and the papers spilled out. On top was the
flyer for the women's meeting Effie had left on her desk earlier in the
Virginia's eyes were drawn to it. "Oh, my," she breathed
her features taking on a soft calmness. "Lucy Maud Montgomery will
be speaking here. How wonderful. Will you be going?"
"Ah, no. A friend of mine left that this morning. It wasn't
supposed to be part of the report." Allison reached for it to take
it back but Virginia didn't notice.
"Her new book, "Emily of New Moon", was just
published this year. It's a sweet story but I still love dear Anne
Shirley the best." Her voice was distant, and she seemed to be
talking more to herself than Allison. "I even got Perly to read Anne.
But then, he would do anything for me." For a long moment she was
lost in thought. Finally she came back to herself.
"Well, Miss Burton," she spoke formally. "I will bid
you good night and hope to hear from you tomorrow."
Allison didn't respond immediately. As when Virginia had become
melancholy thinking of her favourite author, she was lost in the soft
scent of the beautiful woman's hair. She felt herself tingling and bit
her lip to bring back her focus.
"Uh, sure. I'll let you know what I come up with."
Walking back toward the center of town, Allison couldn't get Virginia
out of her mind. If it were not for being so close to her for that brief
but intense moment she would have been able to focus. Instead,
concentration was elusive. Clear thoughts of Virginia and her motives
were lost to images of running her hands across the blonde's slim waist
and burying her face in her hair and touching her lips to her soft neck.
She began to walk faster.
Back at the office, she skipped the nightly bottle that had been so
much a part of her routine for many years. Stretched out on the couch,
her body humming with arousal, it took her a long time to get to sleep.
When she did sleep, she dreamed of following Virginia through the rooms
of a hotel.
Waking in the morning she had the answer.
Allison stood on the corner of Prince and Argyle streets munching on
a roll scavenged from last night's dinner. It was nine AM on a cloudy
Saturday morning, and the nearby Halifax Herald building was bustling
with trucks and carts coming and going, loading and unloading papers and
She waited for a break in traffic and crossed the street to the front
door of the Carleton Hotel. Overlooking St. Paul's church and The Grand
Parade, it was constructed of stone from the defeated French fortress of
Louisbourg in the late 1700s, and was once the private residence of
Richard Bulkeley, Adjutant to Governor Cornwallis.
It was also where Allison and her father had first stayed when they
came to town in the summer of 1912. She knew it well.
A couple stood at the front desk in conversation with the clerk.
Acting as if she belonged, Allison walked past them and up the stairs.
On the third floor she found room 16 and knocked. If someone answered,
she'd make some excuse, if not ...
After two full minutes there was no answer and no sound could be
heard beyond the door. Allison slipped a small metal tool from her
pocket and began to pick the lock. The lock gave way and she swung the
door open slowly. There was no evidence of anyone occupying the room and
the bed was neatly made. For a long time she stood still and let her
eyes rove over the small room with it's simple furniture.
There were very few places where anything could have remained hidden
after six years. Methodically Allison checked the bed and mattress, the
desk, the tiny fireplace, the curtained closet and one by one the
floorboards. Nothing was loose, looked like it could be removed and
replaced or appeared to hold any secret compartments.
Finally she stood in the middle of the room and looked around one
more time. If secret love letters were hidden in this room, they were
beyond finding now. Satisfied with her search, she closed and locked the
door. Something must have been done with his things left in the room
and, as she descended the stairs to the lobby, she thought who might be
able to tell her what.
"Is Mr. Creighton still living here?" she asked the desk
"The old codger? Sure is. He's in the parlour."
Allison went down the first floor hall and through open French doors.
Shelves of books lined two walls and tall windows with their curtains
mostly drawn occupied the others. There was a writing desk, a sofa and
several wing backed chairs. A man's grey haired head, seated in a chair,
faced away from her. Before she could speak, a voice called out loudly
"Mr. Crieghton?" Allison moved to stand in front of him.
"Yes, Ma'am. That be me!"
His two knurled hands clutched a carved cane planted solidly on the
floor between his knees. He was thin, bony and wore a suit that had once
been well made but was now shabby. Although his actual age was less than
seventy, he looked much older. His face was well wrinkled but his eyes
were what caught her attention. They were closed, apparently, and criss-crossed
with bluish scars. Another longer scar marred his forehead.
"Who are you? Do I know you?" he asked when Allison hadn't
"I'm not sure," she began. The cane he held and his sharp,
strong voice reminded her of the old man who lived in the hotel when she
and her father had, but something wasn't quite right. "My father
and I lived here for a few months in 1912, and we knew an old man name
of Edgar Creighton. He had a cane like the one you're holding."
"Papa!" the old man burst out and he smiled broadly though
his eyes remained shut. "He died in '14. Were you a friend?"
"Yes, sir. My father and I knew him."
"Who was your papa, girl?"
The old man smiled again. "Yes, ma'am I know who he was. He's
dead now, innit he?" Allison nodded. The old man remained silent as
if waiting. "Well?" he prompted. "Speak up. I'm blind.
Lost my eyes in the explosion."
"Oh, I'm sorry, I didn't realize." Allison felt her cheeks
begin to flush. "Yes, sir. He's dead."
"Ha! You did so, realize! You were just too polite to say
so!" He was smiling as he spoke so Allison accepted the gentle
reprimand. "I know you, too. You're the pretty girl likes to dress
like a boy! I seen you one time, you and your father came to visit Papa
here. You was sittin' right over there," he gestured with his cane
to a chair in the corner under a fringed lamp. "I stuck my head in
the room to say bye to Papa. I was on my way back to the barracks."
"You sure got a good memory."
"Yes, ma'am, 'bout all I got now." He sighed and was still.
Allison took that moment to ask her question.
"Did you father ever mention to you anything about what might've
become of things left in one of the rooms after the explosion? The man
I'm looking for was killed, I found out, and he was staying here. His
things would never have been claimed."
The old man pursed his lips. "Now I wasn't here then, I was down
at the Wellington Barracks, but Papa... he told me once there was some
stuff down in the basement." Allison felt herself surge with hope,
only to be quickly dashed. "You won't find nothin' down there,
though. They cleaned it all out early this year. Threw all the junk
"Everything?" she pressed. "Could there be anything
that might've been picked up by someone else?"
"Books!" the old man thumped his cane on the floor.
"Papa loved books. If there were any books, Papa woulda got em and
put em in here. Most of these books were his you know."
Allison gazed at the shelves. There were hundreds of books. It would
take hours to go through them all. "I'm gonna take a look
around," she patted the old man's knee. "See if anything
catches my eye."
He gave a snort. "Were you hurt in the explosion, girl?"
"Not really. Our house was wrecked though, we lived on Duffus
Street then." She pulled out a dusty volume, flipped through the
pages, put it back. The old man had grown silent and after a few minutes
she heard him snore softly.
Allison allowed her mind to turn inward and her concentration to
become fuzzy around the edges. Carefully she read each title clearly in
her mind letting her attention process it and allow any random thoughts
This went on for at least a half an hour until she stopped on a book.
She pulled it off the shelf and read the title again. "Anne's
House of Dreams". The author: LM Montgomery. Eagerly she
flipped it open, found an inscription. To Ginny, With love always.
From Perly, December 1917
This was it. Had to be, but to be thorough, she carefully went
through the rest of the books. Nothing else stood out. Standing with the
book in her hands, she fanned trough the pages. No love letters fell
out. She didn't think any would. There were no love letters; that was a
story to hide a secret. She didn't know what that secret was, but this
book defiantly had something to do with it.
Hiding the book inside her coat, she left the sleeping old man and
exited the hotel by the back door.
The noonday cannon boomed just as Effie entered the outer office.
Josephina didn't work on Saturdays so it was empty. Inside the inner
room Allison was sitting still, staring at a book on her blotter.
Effie plunked the brown paper bag in front of her friend and picked
up the book. She smiled broadly when she read the title. "Lucy
Maud? Are you sick? Got a fever?"
"She's been lying to me."
"Who? The redhead?"
Allison nodded, opened the paper bag and began to eat the sandwich.
All the while her eyes remained distant.
"About what?" Effie sat down with the book on her lap.
Effie waited. Finally Allison leaned forward and planted her elbows
on the desk. "She told me she was looking for love letters she
had sent him. I knew that was a story to cover something."
"What?" Effie was intrigued.
"This." She handed Effie a ragged piece of paper. Stained
and slightly torn it was dominated by a graphical pencil drawing in the
center. At the top a piece seemed to have been removed. There was
writing just below and Effie began to read aloud.
"I don't mind the other things so much-the freckles and the
green eyes and my skinniness. I can imagine them away. I can imagine
that I have a beautiful rose-leaf complexion and lovely starry violet
eyes. But I cannot imagine that red hair away."
Effie grinned he face lighting up as if she had just been given a
present. "That's from the first book. Anne of Green Gables when
Anne is riding home from the train station with Matthew."
"What's missing? What's torn off the top?"
Effie looked at it again, thought hard. "Oh," she snapped
her fingers. "That's where she says something about not being happy
because she has red hair."
Allison stood abruptly. "That's what was in his pocket!"
She moved out from behind her desk and began to pace the small space of
the office. "He left her a clue. When he knew they were after him
he made this and left her a clue to where to find it."
"After him?" Effie said, clearly confused. "I thought
the man died in the explosion?"
Allison stopped beside her. "He didn't. He survived the
explosion." Her eyes were bright, her breathing short with
excitement. "They must've killed him after, left him where it would
look like he was dead from the explosion."
Effie was even more confused. Her brows lowered, she opened her mouth
to speak but was interrupted by a knocking on the hall door.
Instantly Allison was a flurry of motion. She snatched the paper from
Effie, folded it quickly and slipped it into the inside pocket of her
suit coat. Then she practically pulled her friend to her feet and pushed
her toward the door. "It's her! I called her, she's here. You have
"All right, Allie. I get it." They were in the outer office
now. Effie paused to straighten her dress.
"Let here in." Allison went back to the inner room.
Effie huffed dramatically but she went to the door and opened it for
the red haired woman. "Her detectiveness is expecting you."
She inclined her head toward the other door. As the young woman walked
toward it she called out, "I'll see you at the Green Lantern
"Yup, I'll be there." Came the hurried reply.
When Virginia walked into the inner office Allison was sitting at her
desk. There was a book in the middle of her blotter. She kept her eyes
on it as she walked closer and Allison kept her eyes on Virginia.
She could see her lips move slightly as she read the title, saw her
pupils dilate and her face start to flush. If she did not recognize the
book, she at least recognized its significance.
"Where did you find this?"
"The Carleton Hotel." Allison was still watching her
closely as she picked up the book, turned the cover and read the
inscription. Virginia then took a deep breath, calmed herself visibly
and began to fan through the pages.
"You won't find it in there, Virginia."
Her eyes betrayed surprise and annoyance. Allison remained cool.
"Find what? What are you implying?"
"Sit down," Allison gestured to the chair in front of the
desk. "You and I need to talk to get some things straight."
Virginia didn't sit. She gritted her teeth and spoke slowly. "If
you have found something you are to give it to me. You are in my employ,
might I remind you."
"I know." Allison stared her down and finally she sat,
carefully going through the ritual of crossing her legs, and removing
her broad, ribboned hat.
They continued to stare at each other. A Mexican stand-off,
Allison was thinking. Eventually she broke the tension by reaching under
her blotter and removing a folded piece of paper. She held it out to her
Virginia's eyes widened again and she took it eagerly. Allison saw
something else in her expression. She knew Virginia thought this paper
valuable, but it wasn't what she expected. It wasn't it. Whatever
the elusive it might be. She watched as Virginia read the
My Dearest Ginny, They are on to me. Someone has been
following me around since we got into port. They must have known
what ship I was on. I'm afraid, Ginny. Afraid of what might happen
to me and what might happen to you if they don't get what they want.
But I can't let them have it. I can't. I know you will understand
though in the past I have not been fully truthful with you about it.
You know how special it is. I trust you to understand. December
6thThe most horrible thing has just happened! There was a collision
in the harbour between two ships, one of them must have been loaded
with munitions. My God, the explosion! I don't know how I lived. I
was blown through the air a great distance and landed in the water
but I survived. I have to hurry, I know they will still be watching
the hotel. I don't have time to write anymore here except to say I
love you, Ginny, I always will. Find it. You will know what to do
with it. Love, Perly.
"What is it?" Allison asked softly.
Virginia slowly raised her head, met the detective's eyes. "I
don't know," she answered with perfect honesty. "I don't
Continue to Part 2 (the
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