Fic: "Missing Laura"
Title: Missing Laura
Fandom: Donald Strachey Mysteries (movies)
Pairing/Characters: Donald Strachey/Timothy Callahan, Bub Bailey
Summary: Bub Bailey has been alone a long time. Maybe, just maybe, he ought to do something about it. About 1,500 words.
Notes Many thanks to nyteflyer for the beta. With each rewrite, it actually got better! Written for smallfandomfest. The story will be crossposted on donaldtimmy and nick_n_nora.
I leaned back in my desk chair and closed my eyes. We’d had a long day, and we were in for an even longer night. And I was starving. I looked over at Strachey. He was on the phone with his office manager, a smart-mouthed kid I liked to keep at arm’s length. I had no idea why Strachey hired a goofball like Kwon, but that was his problem.
Strachey stuck his phone back in his pocket. “Hungry? Wanna get some dinner?” He checked his watch. “We’ve got two hours until dark. We can’t get anywhere near Hunt’s place until then.”
“Sure. Burgers at O’Hara’s?”
Strachey got out his phone and tapped a button. “Let me call Timmy first.”
I put my feet up on my desk, trying to relax a little. I had nobody to call, nobody to worry about where I was. Laura used to worry — a lot. Looking back, she had reason to worry. I didn’t call her as often as I should have. But it was too late for regrets — years too late.
“Honey? Yeah, I’m sorry to call so late. Bailey and me are going to O’Hara’s to get a quick burger … what? Really? That would be great. See you in ten minutes.”
He slipped his phone back in his pocket. “Let’s go.”
“My house. Tim’s got dinner ready.”
No way was I going to some happy couple’s house for dinner. After Laura and I divorced, well-meaning friends had invited me to dinner almost every night. But playing third wheel wasn’t my style. The invitations dwindled to nothing after a while, and that was fine with me.
“You go ahead. I’ll grab something and meet you back here at nine.”
Strachey got to his feet and opened my office door. “You’re eating dinner at my house.”
“No, I’m not.”
“He made lasagna.”
My stomach growled. “Strachey, I’d rather not.”
“Believe me, you don’t want Tim pissed off at you. And if I don’t bring you along, he’s gonna be pissed off at me.”
He had a point. I’d seen Callahan’s Irish temper in action, and it wasn’t pretty. There were times I needed Strachey’s help, like he needed mine. We had a decent working relationship, but I knew how easily that could change, especially if a pissed-off spouse was involved. I’d seen it happen plenty of times.
Besides, I was hungry. Sitting in the bar alone and eating a burger among the regulars who lived their lives at O’Hara’s didn’t appeal to me. Lasagna? Now that appealed to me. I supposed I could break my rule this one time.
A huge grin spread across Strachey’s face as I got out of my chair. He sort of knew about my rule, but hopefully he wasn’t stupid enough to remark on it.
“You’ll love Timmy’s lasagna,” he said as I locked my office door. “He puts in about fourteen kinds of cheese, and he’ll only use that imported sausage from Marco’s Deli.”
“Cut the sales pitch,” I said. “I’m going, aren’t I?”
I got in Strachey’s crappy car, and as we drove off, I found myself wishing Laura and I had been able to work out our differences. I’d like to have been going to my own house for dinner, maybe even inviting Strachey to sample Laura’s terrific cooking. But what was done, was done. A guy couldn’t have everything in this life.
The first floor of the house was all lit up. It looked welcoming, unlike my dark apartment. I pushed aside that stupid, sentimental thought and followed Strachey up the walk and into the house. I smelled lasagna, and my stomach growled again.
Callahan was there to greet us, pecking Strachey on the lips and offering his hand to me.
“Come in. I know you don’t have much time, so I’ve got everything ready.” He took my coat and hung it up in the hall closet. “I’m glad you could come. I always make too much.”
“You don’t make enough,” Strachey corrected him. “I could eat about six pans of that lasagna.”
I followed them into the dining room. The rectangular table was set for three, complete with crystal water glasses, expensive china and heavy silver. A covered baking dish was in the middle of the table, along with a bowl of green beans and another of glazed carrots. Salads that looked nothing liked the bagged stuff I sometimes bought were waiting at each place setting.
“Sit down.” Callahan indicated one of the chairs. “We don’t stand on ceremony around here.”
Right. Everybody decks out the table with crystal and china on a Wednesday night.
Callahan must have been reading my mind. “Don and I usually eat in the kitchen, but since you were coming, I decided to drag out the good stuff.”
“I appreciate the invitation,” I said.
“Everything looks great, honey.” Strachey waited until Callahan sat down at the head of the table before taking a seat himself. “He never puts on the dog just for me, Bailey. Consider yourself lucky.”
Callahan just smiled and served the food. We ate in silence for a few minutes, the better to appreciate Callahan’s cooking skills. The lasagna was even better than Laura’s, which was saying something. I wasn’t much on vegetables, but the beans and carrots were better than I expected.
Once the initial hunger pangs were satisfied, Strachey and Callahan began to talk. It was all mundane stuff, like getting the washing machine fixed, whether to upgrade their cell phone plan and which set of parents they were seeing for Thanksgiving. They made sure to include me, with Callahan asking if Stenski was still a jerk and how the police were handling a rash of car burglaries.
I missed that kind of talk, that day-to-day stuff you don’t think about until you don’t have it any more. I missed relaxing at the end of a long day, yakking with Laura about the neighbor kids or whether the dog needed to go to the vet. Yeah, I missed it a lot.
“We’ve only got brownies for dessert,” Callahan was saying. “Don —”
Strachey got up from his chair and kissed Callahan’s cheek. “I’ll get the coffee, too.”
That was another thing I missed, being able to almost read another person’s thoughts. Sometimes I knew what Laura was going to say before she said it. She was the same with me. A thing like that could drive people nuts, but it was nice not having to spell out everything.
Strachey returned with a plate of brownies and a carafe of coffee. Just what we needed — sugar and caffeine. Callahan served those as well, using small dessert plates. I’d have put my brownie on my dinner plate, but he whisked it away before I could do such a thing.
We didn’t linger over coffee and dessert. Strachey tried to help Callahan clear the table, but Callahan shooed us toward the front door. I thanked him for the meal and walked out to the car. Strachey emerged from the house a minute later, a paper bag and a thermos in hand.
“More brownies and coffee,” he said, stowing everything in the back seat. “Timmy thinks we’ll fall asleep if we don’t keep caffeinating ourselves.”
We drove back to the station and went up to my office. I told Strachey I had a call to make, so he went back into the hallway, closing the door behind him.
I sat down at my desk, breathed deeply for a few minutes, then picked up the phone and dialed before I lost my nerve. She answered on the fourth ring.
“Sean.” Laura didn’t sound all that surprised. “What’s going on?”
“I was wondering something.”
“Yeah? Wondering what?”
I closed my eyes and said a quick prayer. “I was wondering if you’re busy on Saturday. I’d like to take you to dinner.”
She laughed, the quick, easy laugh I’d often heard before our marriage went south. “Why? Getting lonely in your old age?”
“Something like that.”
She paused for a few seconds. “I won’t be a convenience, Sean.”
“Never that. I … just want to see you. I’d like to talk.”
“Old times. Us.”
“Sounds serious. In that case, we’d better have dinner at my place instead.”
A weird feeling came over me. I think it might have been hope. “You sure?”
“What, you don’t miss my cooking?”
“Yeah, I miss it. A lot.” I took a chance. “I miss you, too.”
She didn’t say anything for a few seconds. “Same here.”
Strachey knocked at the door. It was time to leave.
“I have to go, Laura; I’m sorry.”
“Work, I suppose.”
“Yeah.” I cleared my throat. “What time Saturday?”
“Come over at seven.”
“How about six?”
She laughed. “OK, six. But you’d better bring the wine.”
I told her good-bye and went to the door.
Strachey nodded. His expression was all business now. We had a job to do.
But when that job was done I was going to spend some serious time figuring out how to get back what he had — a life.