Abbie wasn't home when Jenny arrived, but that was fine. Jenny had lifetime Crash Here Whenever passes from Abbie and Joe both, but at Abbie’s she could usually parlay that into Crane giving up the guest room out of good manners. After almost two months of traveling, Jenny wasn’t quite ready for close quarters with Joe in the cabin. Anyway, Abbie was a lot more likely to have both junk food and fancy moisturizer in stock.
And she had cable.
Jenny was most of the way through a box of Girl Scout cookies and an episode of Top Gear when she heard the front door opening. It wasn’t Abbie, though, or Crane. The guy was too short and slight to be anyone Jenny had seen hanging around Abbie's place before, and he was carrying a stack of books so comically tall it blocked his face from view.
This had to be their new stray living relic. Abbie had sent a few increasingly terse and aggravated email updates in the last two weeks, keeping Jenny in the loop on the joys of housing a man with the curiosity of a toddler and an ego the size of Texas. Jenny muted the TV but kept her feet up on the coffee table. She silently watched as Alexander Hamilton shuffled through to the dining room, dropped off his mountain of books, and went back to lock the door.
His peripheral vision wasn't worth a damn. He got all the way through locking up and was halfway back down the hall before he saw her and yelped. Decent reflexes; he had his hands out and low, his center of gravity dropped a few inches, kept hold of his keys. She grinned.
"Mr. Hamilton, I presume. Or do you prefer Alex?" She popped another Thin Mint in her mouth.
"Miss, ah." He drew himself up to full height, lifting his chin. "You have the advantage of me, miss. But, yes, as I am more than a little conspicuous in a number of respects, I've been advised to go by Alex as often as is feasible. Should you need a surname, I am using Fawcett. And you are?"
"Impressed at how many words you can cram into a sentence. I don't suppose Abbie mentioned she had a sister?" She unfolded herself from the couch.
"Only in passing, and I fear she didn't think to offer your name."
"Jenny Mills." She shook his hand. "And if you can manage to just call me 'Jenny' without adding a 'Miss' every time, you'll be ahead of Crane."
"I'll attempt it to the best of my ability, Jenny. I hope you'll be so good as to remind me, should I prove forgetful."
"We'll get along fine," she said. "Did you get enough books or are you headed back to the library with a forklift?"
"I have enough for the moment. If you would like to see?" He headed for the dining room.
There was no way he knew what a forklift was yet. She was half tempted to keep throwing more modern words into the conversation to see how long he could keep dodging, but that would be mean.
She looked at the collection of titles on the table, definitely more than one trip's worth. World War II, Civil War, Cold War, politics and economics, MLK biography, one called How Stuff Works, and... "Harry Potter?"
"Recommended to me by a fellow literature enthusiast. It's a popular touchstone in its own right, and apparently I won't be taken seriously by anyone under thirty years of age if I can't name my house affiliation." He didn't look like he was joking.
Jenny kept a straight face. "Well, that should keep you pretty busy."
"I have nothing but time." He sounded frustrated. "Chernow has no work for me until Monday, and I can only compose new thoughts of more than facile relevance when I have drunk in a goodly measure of what I have missed."
She scanned back through the sentence. "You found work?"
"My biographer believes he may make some use of me." His smile wasn't quite right. It was a sore spot. "I'm joining him in the city on Monday to see what comes of that."
"The city, like Manhattan?"
She looked him over again. He was wearing a plain white button-up, an old man sweater three sizes too large for him, and old-fashioned pants and boots like Crane wore. The combined effect was pretty painful. His face tightened, watching her watching him.
"Yeah, we gotta get you some better threads if you're going anywhere more fashion-forward than Sleepy Hollow."
"I have one full set of modern civilized clothing."
"And you're wearing two hundred year old pants today because?" When he didn't say anything, she shook her head. "Get in the car, we're going shopping."
This one didn't knock over as easily as Crane. "Your sister has already taken me shopping, thank you."
"Yeah, it shows." She sighed. "She took you to a department store, right? Four kinds of shirts, three kinds of pants, everything looked exactly like everything else, each piece cost at least fifty bucks, and none of it really fit."
"You'll like this better. Come on. I know a guy."
“So, you should know that Abbie’s a snob about secondhand,” Jenny told Alex, as they got in the car. “Once she was old enough to buy her own clothes, as far as I know she never darkened the door of a thrift store again. And I think Crane just makes Mr. Darcy eyes at historical reenactors until they spontaneously gift him with new shirts.”
“I’m not familiar with the gentleman you name,” said Alex, “but when I asked Crane who’d been outfitting him, he turned pink and changed the subject. So I grasp the meaning, I think.”
“You totally do,” said Jenny, and resolved again to cut back on the really hard-to-guess language. Being able to translate from 2015 to Ye Olde Time Traveler wasn’t a common skill, but Jenny was pretty fluent after a couple years of knowing Crane.
“Me, I’m tough on clothes and I move around a lot,” she said. “So I like being able to grab a bunch of stuff for cheap when all my old clothes are ripped or covered in monster blood. And I know a guy who owes me a favor, and we’re heading over to his wholesale warehouse.”
“A ragpicker, then?” asked Alex. He didn’t look too enthusiastic. “We had those in my day.”
“Probably not quite the same,” said Jenny. “These days people have a lot more stuff, and are a lot more likely to give it away barely used. Mostly to charities that run secondhand shops. They get so much in donations that the charities can’t process it all for their own stores, so they sell the extra on to third-party processors, like the one we’re going to see.”
Alex still didn’t look all that thrilled. “You know, I was a man grown before I owned my first new coat,” he said. “I had not expected to find myself in castoffs once again. But my options are limited at present, I suppose.”
“Think about it like a treasure hunt,” Jenny said. “Sure, a lot of it’s crap. But that makes finding the good stuff feel like more of an accomplishment.”
The warehouse didn’t look like much, to be fair: an anonymous brick building on a street lined with other warehouses and auto body shops. But there was a mannequin standing next to the front door, wearing a hideous 70s pantsuit that made Alex do a hilarious double take.
“Please tell me that is not the current fashion,” he muttered to Jenny as they passed it.
“Not for about forty years, thank goodness,” Jenny told him.
Dmitri ran a vintage shop out of the front: mostly hipster-bait stuff Jenny wouldn’t touch, with a smaller section for nicer, fancier things from the 40s and 50s. Lots of ugly sweaters, loud polyester mini-dresses, plaid flannel shirts, enough to outfit half of Williamsburg. There was also, mysteriously, almost a whole wall’s worth of cowboy boots.
While Jenny caught Dmitri up on her recent travels, she watched Alex browse out of the corner of her eye. Well, less browsing and more looking at every single thing in order, starting just inside the door and working his way around. He wasn't touching anything, but his hands twitched at his sides; he probably wasn't sure if it was allowed.
“So you ruined all your clothes again, right?” Dmitri asked her. “I mean, I figure you have, because you never visit me until you’re down to two t-shirts and a ripped pair of cargo pants.”
“You know me so well,” Jenny said, grinning at him. “But actually I’m here for Alex. He’s a friend of my sister’s, and he’s staying with her for a bit. Water leak wrecked his apartment and most of his stuff, poor guy. Landlord’s being a dick about it, too.”
Dmitri was a soft touch, Jenny knew. “Oh! Well, that’s something else entirely,” he said. “C’mon, let’s go back into the warehouse.”
“What, you don’t trust me to help him pick stuff out?” Jenny asked.
“Of course not!” Dmitri said, laughing — which, rude. “You head straight for the military surplus bin and buy the first ten things that fit. You’re a lost cause. I’m not letting you two shop without at least one person who cares about how things actually look.”
He hammered on the window of the little partitioned-off office, mostly covered in taped-up fliers and handwritten notes. After a minute a girl with an acid-wash denim jacket and creative hair emerged. “Yeah, boss?”
“Watch the front, huh? I got a wholesale buyer.”
Dmitri unlocked the big double doors at the back of the shop, then walked in ahead of them, arms spread dramatically. "Welcome," he boomed, "to my warehouse of wonder!"
He snuck a look to see if Alex looked suitably awed. Alex looked slightly concussed, his eyes unfocused as he took in the dimensions of the room: the long double rows of heaped-high cardboard boxes big enough to live in, the thousand-pound bales stacked almost to the ceiling. Jenny gave Dmitri a thumbs-up, and he headed down the center aisle, saying something about starting on the left.
Jenny started in on the sweaters, but Alex just stood there, still taking the place in.
“I did warn you it was a lot,” Jenny said.
Alex tugged at a stray sleeve, hanging over the edge of the nearest overflowing box. "The sheer extravagance of it," he said quietly, not really for Jenny’s ears at all. "That all this is just discarded for the ragpickers..."
Jenny frowned. This was the discount option, after all; shouldn’t that help? "I figured sticker shock was part of the problem," she said. "That means getting riled at how much things cost."
"I was appalled by the pricing of new garments," Alex agreed, still not looking at her.
"You should hear Crane when he gets started. You probably already have." This wasn’t playing like the ‘how dare you, price of an apple!’ rant that Jenny was used to, though.
Alex turned to look at her and, okay, whoa, he wasn’t stunned; he was furious. Jenny had once ritually burned a haunted wedding dress in this very warehouse, with an angry ghost bride trying to rip her hair out the whole time, and that hadn’t been half as alarming.
"Unlike Mr. Crane, who has never architected a national bank, I understand how inflation works." His hand tightened on a wad of clothing. "The only way to make a profit at those prices is slave labor. Which I had been assured we had outgrown as a society."
Okay, maybe he'd earned some of that ego. "Sorry. We just moved it offshore."
"So I have since read." He looked across the vast aisles of boxes, the sudden burst of anger draining away as Jenny watched. Or, no, not down the drain, but bottled up for later. Jenny knew what that looked like. "But you've brought me here to help me look less like a vagabond. Let's proceed."
There's an art to working through a rag house. Know your size, know your colors, drop anything with a bad texture without wasting more time on it, and be ready to dig.
Dmitri had a tape measure handy, and he whistled at Alex's torso measurements. "You, my friend, are in luck if you like vintage. Most guys are just too big."
"By vintage, do you mean out of fashion?"
"I mean classic, distinctive, adding that extra eye-catching flair to an otherwise dull wardrobe." Which was kind of hilarious, coming from a guy in a ratty old Metallica t-shirt over a thermal, but when Jenny laughed Dmitri glared at her. “Hey, you think I dress like this outside of work? You’re the one who lives in combat boots. I’m dapper as hell.”
"I wish only to look respectable," Alex said.
"We can do that. Let's start with some basics.” Dmitri rattled off a series of questions: what was his dress code at work? Any fiber allergies? Jewel tones, neutrals, or brights? Solids or patterns? How did he feel about raw denim?
“Whoa,” Jenny said. Alex was starting to look panicked. “How about we start with shirts?”
That turned out to be a good idea. With all three of them sorting, Alex quickly had a pile of options to winnow down to his favorites, and start trying on. Dmitri nodded approvingly at his choices. “These are nice, the Brooks Brothers slim-fits you’ve got,” he said. “Good quality. And these, these are — sixties, yeah? Maybe late fifties. Glad to see you’re not afraid of color, man.”
Alex tugged at the hem of the bottle-green button-up he was trying on, frowning thoughtfully into the big scratched-up mirror bolted to the wall by the doors. “It’s not bad,” he said. “Eliza has always said I look well in green,” but then he cut himself off mid-sentence, and turned back to the pile of shirts so neither the mirror nor Dmitri nor Jenny could see his face.
Jenny decided she was urgently needed in the athletic gear section on the other side of the warehouse.
Giving them space may have been a tactical error. By the time she worked her way back, Dmitri’s enthusiasm had won Alex over, and they’d moved on to jackets.
“No,” Jenny said. “Alex. No.”
“The color brings out my eyes,” Alex pointed out, adjusting the lapels on a violently purple silk blazer. Oh god, it was checked.
“You are not a seventy-year-old Baptist and you don’t need a church suit,” Jenny said. “So, no.”
“Sorry, bro,” Dmitri said, “but I’m with her on this one. And you don’t want a double-breasted suit anyway, it’s too boxy on you.”
It took some convincing, but eventually he put it back. Thankfully. And he’d cheered up a little, too, once he finally got into the spirit of the thing. Soon he was climbing into the bins to chase after a corner of color he'd spotted.
“I had no idea you were such a clotheshorse,” Jenny said, watching him pile up a careful selection of sweaters. They were all bright, soft things that she’d ruin in ten minutes: wine red, grass green, cobalt blue.
“Then you clearly have not read even one of my biographies,” Alex told her, after checking to make sure Dmitri was out of earshot. “In my own time, I must admit, I was known as something of a dandy.”
“That’s not so much of a thing, anymore,” she said. She briefly considered trying to explain hipsters to him, then decided that was a terrible idea.
“Alas, no. All that somber, plain Beau Brummell nonsense seems to have persisted.” He paused, glancing at Jenny, and apparently realized she had no idea what he was talking about. “I beg your pardon. Beau Brummell was —”
“It’s okay,” Jenny told him. “Unless he was secretly a warlock and I’m going to have to fight a fashion monster he summoned at some point, I don’t need his life story.”
“That is unlikely, at best,” Alex said, “so I shall refrain from expending further breath on a vapid and tedious individual. Ooh, waistcoats.” He made a beeline past Jenny at a bin full of vests.
After a few hours in the warehouse, Alex had a more-than-respectable wardrobe pulled together. He was also a little gray in the face, and coughing a lot, and kept insisting he was perfectly fine.
“It’s okay, bro, the dust in here can get to you,” Dmitri said. “I’m used to it, but some of our sorters gotta wear face masks.”
“I’m quite all right, I assure you,” Alex insisted, but he didn’t look it.
“Even if you are, I’ve hit my limit on fashion for the day,” Jenny said. “C’mon, let’s ring up.”
They emerged from the warehouse, each with a double armload of clothing, and Dmitri waved the acid-wash girl back into the office. With everything laid out on the counter, even Jenny could see it was a nice selection: shirts and sweaters, a fistful of silk neckties in coordinating colors, a few patterned vests.
And then the jackets: a couple were plain brown tweedy things that would let Alex blend right in with the history nerds, but the rest were definitely not blending-in jackets. Some were brown plaid, yeah, but shot with brighter colors — red and yellow, or blue and purple. The brightest was the deep peacock blue one that Alex had fought tooth and nail for. Now that they were out of the warehouse, Jenny had to admit it was really nice, and wouldn't strike anyone blind.
Finally, a wool overcoat, midnight blue and sharp-looking, a couple pairs of shoes, and trousers in neutral colors so everything would match. As they laid out the haul, Dmitri was saying something about where to find pocket squares to match the ties, and did Alex already have a tailor to help with alterations, and...
Alex was not focusing well. He nodded politely and gave short, non-committal answers. He was leaning against the counter, and it didn't look as casual as he probably hoped it did. He asked for directions to the bathroom and excused himself.
Jenny added her own selections to the pile: her usual heap of dark-colored thermals, t-shirts, tank tops, and easy-to-wash pants. “What do I owe you?” she asked. “If I pay now, he won’t have a chance to fuss and insist on paying me back.”
Dmitri quoted her a price that seemed suspiciously low. Jenny raised an eyebrow at him.
“Just make sure he mentions me when the Humans of New York guy takes his picture,” Dmitri told her. “I give it a month, tops.”
“I can do that,” Jenny said, laughing.
They’d almost finished bagging everything up when Alex returned. Sure enough, he tried to insist on paying Jenny back, but she waved it off. “If your example gets Crane into clothes from this century, it’ll be more than worth it,” she told him, as they piled bags into Jenny’s backseat. “I’d settle for last century, even.”
When they had buckled in and he had caught his breath, Alex picked up the conversation again. “Crane does seem remarkably set in his ways, sartorially,” he agreed. “And terribly drab, compared to what I wore during the war. Even my uniform was more colorful.”
“Oh my god, you were a hipster even then!” Jenny said, delighted. Alex frowned.
“Dmitri used that word as well; I don’t believe I know it,” he said.
Jenny had only herself to blame for that one. She fumbled her way through an explanation, made harder by the fact that she couldn’t use terms like bougie or white nonsense: mostly young people, mostly trying too hard to impress, obsessed with authenticity but mostly faking it. She didn't even try to explain trucker hats.
“Oh, them,” Alex said. “Yes, we had those in my day. The youth of every age seems afflicted by the malady. I recall a lengthy letter of complaint from Lafayette, bemoaning the young people of the Directory and their ridiculous new modes. Is that the impression I will make? I don't wish to seem absurd.”
“Nah, you’ll just look dapper,” Jenny said. “That means, um, put-together? Sharp?”
"A dandy, but within the bounds of propriety?" He sounded amused, a good attitude if he was going to go around trendsetting.
"Which you said is exactly where you belong, so there you go. Mission accomplished." She glanced over at him again. Now that he thought she was focused on the road, he was almost collapsing in his seat. "Alex?"
"I'm fine," he said, way too quickly.
"Uh-huh. You gonna pass out on me?" She glanced at the dashboard clock; it was almost four o'clock. "When's the last time you ate?"
"I broke fast at seven and —" He stopped, overcome by a coughing fit. There was some serious wheezing under there.
"Do you have asthma?"
He waved a dismissive hand at her, still catching his breath. "Not worth mentioning."
"I don't suppose you have an inhaler yet, either." His color was really not good. She pulled over at the next side street. "Hold still a minute, I'm gonna touch your face and hands. I'm just making sure you won't die."
The results weren't promising. He was clammy and sweating, and his pulse was pretty fast. That and he was barely sitting up, even strapped into the bucket seat.
"Have you been to the doctor yet? Here in 2015, I mean."
Alex shook his head. "Until I've taken the time to learn what I'm expected to say, I'd be taken for a madman, and I have no photo ID. I have survived to this age, I can carry on a little longer. Rest, the one true physic, will mend me well enough, and there is aspirin, a great innovation which requires no discourse with men of medicine. People of medicine. Medical personnel." He trailed off again.
Jenny fought down a deep, gut-wrenching panic at the thought of taking someone to the free clinic just to see him get 5150'd and left to rot in a psych ward. She'd survived. He wouldn't. "Okay. But we're making a stop before I take you home."
She'd been putting this off anyway. Time to get it over with. She pulled out her phone and dialed. "Joe, are you at the cabin?"
The hipsters of the Directory, as complained about by Lafayette.
Chapter 2: In the Living Room, Stressin'
Joe's to-do list gets shot completely to hell. But at least he gets to be a part of the narrative.
Joe Corbin had a to-do list. He didn’t have to work a 9-to-5 and there wasn’t an impending supernatural apocalypse to worry about at the moment, so unless he gave himself some structure he’d never get anything done. So every day, he got up, made a list, and did everything on it.
Today’s list was a three-mile run, laundry, a bunch of repairs around the cabin, weeding out the expired canned goods from his dad's giant doomsday stockpile, rotating his actual food stores because he might accidentally be turning into his dad, and answering a couple emails from his few surviving friends in the Corps.
He also had a pretty hefty to-read pile, because he had a hell of a lot of magical lore to catch up on and no idea how to tell which stuff would be important. Crane was a walking encyclopedia, sure, but having all your useful information locked up in one person’s head was lousy strategy. Joe couldn’t count on Crane being around every time he came across something weird.
A to-do list was more flexible than a schedule, but it could still get blown apart by a single glitch. Getting a phone call from Jenny Mills after two months of radio silence?
"Joe, are you at the cabin?"
Yeah, he wasn’t going to get those hinges replaced on the back door. And forget about the canned goods.
"Hi, Jenny. I'm doing great, thanks for asking. Yeah, I'm at home. I assume you need something?"
"A medic. I've got a friend who's not in great shape, but I can't take him to the doctor."
Joe shifted gears instantly. "Bring him up, I've got the field kit here. First things first, have you stopped any bleeding?"
"No, he's not injured. He —"
"Breathing trouble? Any toxins in his system? And I can't believe I'm asking this, but since it's you, is he 100% human?"
"Joe!" Jenny cut sharply through. "He's not dying, he's just old." There was a faint noise of objection from her side of the line. "Sorry I freaked you out. Yes, wheezing but he can breathe, no toxins, and yes, he's human."
"Okay." Joe sat down more abruptly than he meant to, adjusting to the new intel, then stood up again and went to dig out the medical supplies. "Okay, I don't know how much I'll be able to do, but come on up."
Jenny rolled up half an hour later, grimly supporting a middle-aged man about her height who kept up a continuous stream of bitching about how he was fine and didn't need her help with the simple act of walking. He fell mercifully silent the second he was eased down onto the couch.
"Joe Corbin, Alex Fawcett. Joe, can you please make sure Alex doesn't drop dead on us?"
"Sure," Joe said. "But he can't go to the doctor because?"
Jenny just crossed her arms and did that thing with her face. Mills family business, Joe Corbin not invited unless he had something that could be used, check.
He sighed. "Right. Alex, without moving your head, follow my finger with your eyes."
He went through the basic observation checklist, then asked, "Okay, so, what do you think is wrong with you?"
Alex exhaled in exasperation, which made him cough again. "I have spent the better half of today in physical exertion, inhaling more than my customary portion of dust and debris, I neglected to take lunch, though Miss Mills, Jenny, has since thoughtfully offered me a food bar, and my bowels are less than settled today. As Jenny so graciously pointed out, I am no longer a young man. There's no need for all this damnable... fuss and fluster!"
His language was straight-up Crane, but his accent was different. Crane sounded like he should be reading announcements for BBC World News. What was this accent? Closer to East Coast, but just... weird. Joe studied the floor, trying to place what he was hearing, which was how he got a good look at Alex's boots.
He sat back. "You could have just said, Jenny. All you had to do was say." He didn't look away from Alex, whose expression hardened defensively. "Alex, have they talked to you about vaccinations yet?"
Jenny put a hand over her mouth. He looked up at her. "Has Crane even gotten his shots?"
"Not sure," she said.
Joe scrubbed his face with his hands. "Some of us have spent time overseas and understand that when you cross an ocean, you get your shots first, so you don't catch all the new diseases. I'm pretty sure that goes double for crossing a century." He looked back to Alex. "Okay, what else have you got that you don't want to tell a real doctor?"
Alex gave him a sharp, delighted grin. This asshole liked being found out. Great. "I have bouts of malaria every summer and I've survived yellow fever twice. Possibly others. I honestly have no idea what might have a name now, which we simply lined up rank and file under the banner of 'fever.'"
Joe didn't flinch. "Smallpox?"
"No, by the grace of God. Not for lack of chances."
"Good. That's the one thing we'd have trouble explaining. We're getting you to a real doctor."
Jenny said, "No. They'll lock him up." She moved to block the door. "We'll deal with it ourselves."
Sometimes Joe missed the brief, terrible exhilaration of being able to shred things in half with his claws. "No, we won't. We don't have the vaccines, we don't have anything for post-exposure malaria, and we don't have to hide this! There are still places all over the world with yellow fever. Africa, South America, a lot of the tropics."
"Nevis," Alex said.
Both Jenny and Joe stopped to look at him.
"Saint Kitts and Nevis," he said slowly, "in the West Indies. I was born and raised in Charlestown, and have only come lately to Sleepy Hollow. I have never had the luxury of what you would consider proper medical care. Will that satisfy the curiosity of your doctors?"
"Is that true?" Joe asked, despite himself. It didn't matter if it was true, but just a chance to learn something real...
"It is. Barring several crucial omissions." Alex smiled again, smug about his own private joke. Keeping that smile off his face would be the real problem.
"We can't risk it," Jenny said. "I won't let you risk it. We'll figure out another way." She was shaking, and her eyes were too big.
Joe took a deep breath. He knew, from that one smoking-hot sparring match that they were apparently never going to mention again, that Jenny was a match for him even at normal strength. Hopped up on bad memories and survival mode, she might break his neck and honestly believe he started it.
"Jenny, what happened to you was terrible."
"Little bit of an understatement."
"I won't let it happen again. I promise. I'll go in as his personal advocate. I'll give him cover. And if they even suggest a psych eval, we leave. Immediately. I will fight my way out if I have to, and bring him back to you in one piece. Word of honor."
He stood up as slowly as he could and held out his hand at arm's length. There was a long wait before she uncrossed her arms and shook his hand. "Lose him and I'll kick your ass. And then you'll help me break him out."
"Fair." He’d have to call his GP and see if he could fit in a new patient. With no insurance, either; that’d be a pain.
After another hour on the couch, plus a liter of Gatorade and a plateful of the plainest leftovers in Joe’s fridge, Alex looked a lot better. “I’m in your debt, sir,” he told Joe. “Though regrettably it may be some time before I can balance the account. Two weeks in this century have hardly been enough to catch my breath, let alone find my bearings.”
“Well, getting your medical stuff sorted out will help with that,” Joe said. Jesus, two weeks was no time at all for a change that big. Crane was worse at blending in, and he’d had at least two years as far as Joe knew. “Jenny, can I call you when I’ve got an appointment set up?"
“Yeah, of course you can.” Jenny looked surprised that he’d asked her permission. He didn’t know why. It wasn’t like she’d shown any sign of wanting to talk to him lately.
But maybe this was a chance to change that. He caught her arm on her way out the door, after Alex had already gone ahead. “Hey. Can we talk soon, the two of us? When there isn’t a crisis?”
And there it was again: the hunted, anxious look Jenny’d worn for most of the time he’d spent with her before she skipped town two months ago. “I — yeah. Soon. I promise.”
Maybe she even believed it.
That was Thursday. By waving around his dad's name and emphasizing "friend of the family" and "recent travel," he managed to get an appointment for Tuesday. He left voicemail for Jenny. She thanked him by text.
On Tuesday, Alex answered Abbie's door before Joe even had time to ring the bell. "Mr. Corbin! My thanks again for your assistance with this. Shall we go?"
Joe looked at him in surprise. “Hey, Alex!” he said. “You look… different.”
“I should hope so,” Alex said. “You hardly met me at my best.”
“Well, yeah, you do look a lot more lively,” Joe said, “but I meant the clothes.”
“Ah, yes,” Alex said, and stood a little straighter. He had a sport coat on, with a vivid green tie and matching vest. He looked like an antiques dealer. Possibly a very gay antiques dealer. “Jenny was kind enough to assist me in outfitting myself, in fact.”
“She took him to that awful warehouse she likes,” Abbie said from the hallway. Alex startled. "Nice to see you, Joe."
“Hey, I get most of my plaid shirts there,” Joe said. “Modern flannel's too thin, doesn't last worth a damn. But I didn’t know they had anything that fancy.”
“The trick, I am informed,” Alexander said, “is to dig.”
"What brings you by?" Abbie asked. "You want to come in?"
Alex said, "We really must be going," at the same time that Joe said, "Taking Alex to his doctor's appointment."
Abbie's eyebrows went way up. "Doctor's appointment? Alex, what's going on?" Oops.
"It's of no matter," Alex said. "Mr. Corbin suggested I obtain my routine vaccinations, a sensible precaution."
"So.... Nothing to do with you spending half the weekend in bed." Abbie wasn't buying it.
"I'm told it's customary to indulge in repose on the weekends."
"And I'm told you're one of our nation's most famous workaholics."
Alex pushed past Joe. "We shall be late for our appointment. Your pardon, Miss Mills, we'll discuss it later if you insist."
In the truck, Joe said, "Sorry. I didn't know it was a secret. A lot of those around here." If he sounded bitter, he didn't give a shit. He pulled out of the driveway. "I take it Jenny couldn't make it."
"She sends her apologies, but she was otherwise engaged in the Adirondacks."
"That is not a surprise." Joe set it aside. "So, your appointment. I managed to talk to my doc directly, told him what to expect so you shouldn't have to do as much talking."
"Thank you. As for Jenny's concerns about fighting our way out to avoid capture, how likely is that circumstance?"
"It's not," Joe said firmly. "Jenny... It's not my story to tell. It was bad, and she's within her rights to be twitchy about it, but this is a totally different situation. And just to make sure, I, uh, may have implied that you recently escaped from a fundamentalist religious cult that shuns modern technology and medicine. You don’t have to stick to that story if you don’t want to, but...”
“It may cover a host of errors on my part. Yes, that will have to do, though I cannot like the deception. Are such religious orders common now?”
“Not really, unless you count the Amish,” he said, “but it happens occasionally, and it’ll do for a cover.”
Alex spent most of the ride asking more about the Amish, and seemed to actually be interested in the answers, quickly ranging outside what Joe knew. He wasn't avoiding talking about the real stuff, he just wanted to know everything about everything. It made a nice change.
After checking in, they settled down in uncomfortable waiting room chairs. Alex played briefly with the spring mechanism on the clipboard, then clicked his clinic-provided pen three times and set to work on the intake forms with way too much enthusiasm. He was treating most of the sections like essay questions, writing in the margins everywhere. He carefully wrote his name in large letters on the line at the top of each page, smiling each time. That smile.
Joe said, "So, you're famous." Alex's pen froze in place. "Abbie said. A famous workaholic. Are you going to make me play Twenty Questions?"
"By no means." Alex clipped his pen to the form, pulled his wallet from a coat pocket, and handed Joe ten bucks. Joe looked at the money, confused. He turned it over in case there was writing on the back.
“Is this one of Crane’s Masonic things? If it is, I'll need a hint,” he said.
Alex snatched the bill, flipped it over, and handed it back; then he struck a pose, angling his face and lifting his chin. What the hell? Joe glanced down at the bill again. Oh. Oh.
"Ha," he said. "How long have you been waiting to pull that stunt?"
Alexander Hamilton grinned wide enough to split his face. "Since I was shown it myself. You have been the first successful opportunity. Thank you."
Joe leaned back in his chair until he knocked his head on the wall. "I swear, this family." He crumpled the portrait in his hand. "And they're rubbing off on you already. Or did Jenny make you keep the appointment quiet?"
"I insisted," Alex said sharply. "There is precious little anyone makes me do, your frustrations with Miss Mills notwithstanding."
"Sorry," Joe said. Alex went back to gleefully checking boxes for all of his health problems. "It's just — wait. Is Crane secretly Thomas Jefferson? He quotes him enough."
Alex actually shuddered. "He is not. The fact that he is not may be proof of a merciful God."
Joe smoothed out the bill. "They never actually told me. About Crane. After a while, I said something implying he was a reincarnated old dude, and no one contradicted me. I guess they all assumed someone else had told me. Abbie made a joke once about brushing the grave dirt off his clothes, so it must have been resurrection. But that's all I've got."
"Ah, well," said Alex, "those Culper Ring fellows were always a close-mouthed lot. Secrets were their stock in trade. And, on the rare occasion someone did manage to extract the truth from them, it was too fantastic to be believed in full."
Joe shook his head. "Maybe, but I think that's the wrong way around. Jenny and Abbie got in the habit of keeping secrets long before they met Crane." In instant replay, he realized Alex hadn't confirmed or denied a damn thing. "It is resurrection, right?"
"It is." Alex didn't look up. "But you could have asked Abbie Mills, or Crane himself, that question at any point and they would have answered you directly, I believe." He finished the last page and clicked the ballpoint closed again. "Their secrets are not your complaint."
"And no matter how many favors you do for her of your own free will, Jenny Mills owes you nothing." Joe was getting the Stern Dad look from Alexander Hamilton. When had this become his life?
"Uh, whoa. No. It's not like that."
"No." Joe handed back the money so he wouldn't start crunching it again. "We're both adults here." He lowered his voice. "Look, I'm not trying to buy her, okay? She... we had something. The beginning of something, anyway. If she never does anything about it again, that's her choice. But she hasn't told me to go away, either, and she would. With sharp objects, if I didn't take the hint. She's still into me."
"Which she demonstrates by going to every length to avoid you, even fleeing to the woods like Diana with her hounds, unless she has need of a surgeon?"
"Exactly," Joe said. He leaned his head against the wall. "I wish I was joking."
"I see." Alex straightened and re-straightened the papers on his clipboard. They'd arrived good and early, leaving plenty of time for the world's most awkward silence.
"If you're correct," Alex finally said, "and Jenny is, as you say, 'still into you,' then I can guess at the trouble. I know it too well." He creased the corner of a page with restless fingers, then made a dismayed noise, straightened the crease, and put the clipboard under his chair. "When life has taught you, via harsh repetition, that you may depend on no one but yourself, it is — difficult, at best, to allow any sort of intimacy."
"Intimacy's not even the point anymore, I just wish she'd trust me."
Alex frowned. "We may be misunderstanding one another. Do you find it more intimate to lift a petticoat or unlock a heart?"
This conversation was not happening.
"Because your wish is lofty indeed, sir, when it regards one who has, how did you put it, 'twitchy' stories to tell. It is, without exaggeration, terrifying."
"To trust someone?" Joe said.
"To want to," Alex said, "which is far more dangerous." He got up to investigate the water cooler, and didn't come back to his seat until the nurse came out asking for Mr. Fawcett.
For the record, Amish communities do not participate in insurance or social security, but do vaccinate their children at or above the average American rate. There's no prohibition on medical care.
Chapter 3: Gotta Fend for Yourself
Alexander Hamilton and Jenny Mills are totally responsible adults. Responsible adults with tequila.
When contrasted with the physicians of Alexander's prior acquaintance, his appointment with Mr. Corbin’s doctor was blessedly easy. Not enjoyable, certainly; physical examination lacked dignity by its essential nature, and he was asked a great many intrusive questions, which rendered the doctor more and more quietly aghast as the interview progressed.
But there seemed to be outright cures for several of his ailments, and treatments for the rest, none of which relied on relentless purgatives or alternating freezing and scalding water, and if the doctor treated Alexander as if he were fragile — which he was not — then at least he was not forced to speak of anything beyond the medical.
With one exception: while perusing the forms Alexander had filled out, the man had said, “It says here that you’re married?”
“Widowed,” Alexander said, and added, in a tone he hoped would discourage either sympathy or inquiry, “recently.”
This, at least, proved effective.
He was sent on his way with an antimalarial prescription, two sore arms and an aching buttock from the bevy of vaccinations, an acute memory of being bled not as a remedy unto itself but as a means of divining the further course, and a long list of instructions, both for his own care and to gather particulars that would be of use at his next appointment, in a week’s time.
Thankfully, Mr. Corbin (“No, seriously, call me Joe,” he insisted, “the only people who’ve ever called me Mr. Corbin are Crane and my worst teachers in high school”) agreed to keep the specifics of Alexander’s ill-health in confidence. He did insist on the necessity of at least informing Crane and Miss Mills that Alexander was feeling ‘under the weather,’ and would be requiring further consultation with Joe’s physician.
Alas, that was more than enough for Miss Mills to regard him with a keener eye, and for Crane to pry shamelessly into his personal affairs. The former was unnerving, the latter obnoxious. To crown it all, it rankled to have his suspicion confirmed that neither of his hosts had even attempted to read Chernow's biography, which addressed his health in some detail. He was not about to give them a hint at this point.
“I cannot recall any ill effects, upon my own resurrection; I assumed it should be the same for you,” Crane told Alexander, in a transparent ploy to elicit a response in kind.
“Yes, well, you had the advantage of youth, I’m sure.” Alexander was making a valiant effort at good humor, but the temptation to be snappish was powerful, as it always was when he felt so poorly as this.
Oblivious, Crane persisted. “I have wondered, I admit, as to the precise nature of the magic that preserved us both. Do you think some variance between the circumstances could be responsible?”
Alexander did not desire in the slightest to debate magical theory, which he knew little of in any case. What he wanted was to take to his bed for a week. The medicine he’d been given to rout his malaria once and for all, though assuredly more effective than the remedies he’d suffered previously, troubled his gut even more than usual, and engendered a pounding headache. He’d endured worse for far less, but that did not mean he had to submit to Crane’s prying with a good will.
In such a mood, he was not above prodding another man’s weak spots if it would earn him a bit of peace. “I cannot say. Perhaps your late wife’s skill in spells of that kind surpassed my Eliza’s,” he said. “You’ve spoken of her so little, though, that I can’t be sure.”
This won him Crane’s withdrawal from the field, and ended the matter for the time being. He had no doubt that he was the subject of much private discussion between his hosts, but if he could not prevent such speculation he could at least be spared knowledge of the particulars.
He also seemed to have inspired in Miss Mills a concern for Crane’s well-being, for he overheard an argument between them on the subject of vaccinations, offering him some small measure of vindictive satisfaction.
“I can’t believe I never thought of it before,” she said. “You’re incredibly lucky you haven’t caught chicken pox, let alone measles or whooping cough.”
“I caught plague from the Horseman of Pestilence and survived,” Crane pointed out. “I daresay I have less to fear from the chicken pox.”
In Alexander’s opinion, it was sheer idiocy to have access to the wonders of a new age and decline to make use of them. Especially the medicine. He had passed some hours reading upon medical history, having mastered search and navigation of the Wikipedia, and now felt a strange sort of pride at the accomplishments of posterity. Smallpox eradicated, so many common illnesses so greatly diminished — had he been born to this time, he might have escaped most all the maladies he’d suffered in his life.
He resolutely turned his thoughts from those he’d loved, and lost too soon, who might have lived had they been given such a chance. To dwell on it was more than he could bear. He set to work on finding public health statistics to support his next essay without delving into personal matters.
The next morning's awakening was dire. His headache raged on, untamed by aspirin, and the entire list of 'possible side effects' attached to his vaccination papers seemed to have arrived in the night and made camp. He made his way to the living room, being careful not to disturb Crane's slumber on his way out, then haltingly typed a letter to Chernow and posted it.
To: Mr. Ron Chernow
I find myself too ill to hazard the city this morning. Before you urge me to seek out a doctor, let me assure you that I already have; that was the engagement that occupied me yesterday. Making this poor mortal frame proof against all the world's plagues has its toll, which I will pay gladly, but I will not pay it on a train to Brooklyn. I trust you understand.
If there is any work or study I might undertake for you with an economy of movement, I will happily set myself upon it.
From: Ron Chernow
For God's sake, Hamilton, get some rest. Please.
Alexander winced when the machine chimed. He read Chernow's response and groaned in frustration. He had to do something. He reclined as comfortably as he could on the enormous overstuffed sofa-bed, angled himself so the muted dawn light would illuminate his reading, and set himself upon The Cold War: A New History.
He next woke with the sun on his face and a tortured neck, the book collapsed on his lap at page 10. Someone had left a pitcher of water on the low table beside him, and cans of soup were lined up behind it in mute rebuke.
He sorely missed having servants.
Fortified by food, drink, and more aspirin, he barricaded himself in bed and tried again. The Wikipedia's articles lacked depth, but might allow him a sampling of knowledge when he lacked focus for more. The day before, Joe had provided what seemed a deeply muddled history of the Anabaptists in America, leaving Alexander rather more baffled than he had begun. He'd never had occasion to pay them much attention, as pacifist farmers in Pennsylvania had little bearing on his interests. A brief summary could be enlightening.
He woke again with a dry mouth, a detailed understanding of the social practices and geographic distribution of the Amish and Mennonites, the history of the nearly-extinct Shakers who had sprung from the still-thriving Society of Friends (a temperate sect, common in his New York, and he found himself glad they continued well), the bizarre definition of "Moonie weekend," and a resolution not to look further into the life of Charles Manson unless it was absolutely necessary. All attempts to steer himself back to judicial rulings on freedom of religion had led to meandering side paths. The laptop sat open to a page on the furore of musical celebrity ironically titled "The British Invasion."
That sounded familiar. Promotional articles and annotations on his musical persisted in mentioning the term regarding King George's songs. He should find some notable examples of the genre for comparison. He would ask Miss Mills, as his attempts to navigate YouTube independently had thus far been disastrous. Perhaps one more attempt.
Had he been asked to speculate as to the pastimes of future Americans, he could not have dreamed that performances of their cats consorting with ferrets, hopping into boxes, or riding mechanical toys would feature so prominently on the list. They were hypnotic.
The Internet was infamous, he had been warned, for its power to distract. He had to return to the printed word if he was to accomplish anything. He grimly surveyed his options, most of which exceeded his current faculties.
Well, he could at least apply himself to answering Jessica's question. He heated more soup and picked up the children's book.
Two hours later, he bundled himself up and staggered off to the library for the sequels.
When Jenny Mills next called on the household, Alexander was rather better prepared for company. She, however, seemed ill-pleased to be company; when she entered with Miss Mills, the air was charged with the distinctive aftermath of a sisterly argument. Alexander mustered what social graces he could, and set out to smooth ruffled feathers with a will.
“Ah, Miss Jenny!” he began, but apparently the dispute was not yet quite concluded.
“Can we talk when I get back?” Miss Mills asked her sister. “Assuming I don’t get eaten alive by zombie crows?”
“You’re being ridiculous,” Jenny informed her sister. “They’re carrion birds. They wouldn’t eat you until you’d been dead for a while, obviously.”
“Right, silly me,” Miss Mills said. “Either way. Please still be here.” She turned to Alexander. “We might be out for a while. There’s enough dinner fixings in the fridge for both of you, I think.”
“I assure you, Miss Mills, this will not be the day I lose the ability to locate and consume victuals,” Alexander said. He suspected that Jenny had been asked to attend him in her sister’s absence, which verged on insulting.
But Miss Mills only sighed, said “Right, of course, no one has ever needed help with anything since time began, I got it,” and stomped to the door.
Jenny and Alexander watched the closing door (not quite a slam, but close), then each other, with a certain caution.
"Looking sharp, Alex," Jenny said.
"Thanks to you," he said. "Thank you for insisting on a few more moderate tweeds. Columbia's history department is not the most colorful of places."
"I bet." She looked around, assessing.
"Can I offer you anything? Tea? Coffee? Strong drink?"
That got her to laugh. "You didn't strike me as a two-in-the-afternoon kind of guy."
"Until a month ago, I drank watered wine with breakfast, and full strength with luncheon and supper, often followed by a round of toasts." He went to the kitchen. "And if I am to be left with a minder, I can at least do my damnedest to remind Miss Mills that we are all adults here."
Jenny had stopped in the doorway. "Wait. I thought you were my minder." Her mouth twisted slowly into a smile, which Alexander matched. "Adults, my ass. I'll get the glasses. What kind of juice have we got?"
They found lime juice, which Jenny pronounced sufficient and traditional as a mixer for tequila, and she demonstrated how to salt the rim of a glass. They retired to the living room, where Alexander cleared his papers from the sofa-bed and made room on the table for drinks.
Jenny raised her glass. "Adults."
Alexander clinked it. "Adults." He took a swallow of the mouth-assaulting concoction. It was his first taste of the liquor outside a sickly sweet margarita, so he gave it his full attention. Not as sweet as rum and lime, it left a woolly feeling on his tongue, and the salt added a keen edge. He controlled his face and tasted it again. "Yes, this will do."
"You don't have to drink it if you think it's nasty."
"I enjoy the chance to expand my palate."
"I'm sure you're getting plenty of chances. You get the health stuff sorted out?"
"I feel twenty years younger," he said, and mostly meant it. "Your discretion was much appreciated."
Jenny winced. "I heard from Abbie that Joe blew it at the last minute. Sorry about that."
Now that he had recovered, Alexander was in a mood to be magnanimous. "He didn't know, and I couldn't hide it forever. The preceding peace allowed me to fortify for the storm, at least."
"I get that. So how is Joe?"
"He seems well enough," he said carefully. "He escorted me to both appointments without fail, and we have one more to attend in a month's time."
"Are you staying in touch?"
"I have his number should I need it. We have precious little in common, though, so I don't expect to make a habit of his acquaintance."
She relaxed at that, or seemed to. "He say anything about me?" Not as relaxed as she might be, then.
Alexander considered his answer, sipping the tequila to buy time. "Nothing improper." Blow these childish games. "He hasn't the faintest idea how to court you, but I deem that he won't overstep, and he believes himself sincere in his affection."
"Uh." Jenny gulped her drink.
"I'm sorry, was I supposed to pretend I didn't understand either your question or his answers? I'm hardly a stranger to the dance, even if the meter has changed somewhat." He took another sip. It really was vile. "I fear we are most probably kindred spirits, Jenny. Which means no matter how good my advice, you would do the opposite on principle. Therefore, I decline to offer it, and simply state the facts."
"But you have advice." If she were a cat, her tail would be a brush.
"Perhaps you haven't heard. I can offer an opinion on practically anything, and in absence of better judgment, I usually do. It's rarely counted among my virtues."
She paused. "I think I like you better now that you've got your feet under you."
"Thank you. I know I certainly do. Interesting as it is, I am done with this particular foray into new flavors, and am switching to beer." He downed the rest of his glass, licked the remaining salt from the rim, and waited for his face to finish contorting so he could go rinse his mouth.
When he returned with some Sam Adams (a brand he purchased solely for the pleasure of watching Crane turn colors), Jenny had turned on the television and was moving through the channels in rapid succession. He watched her work all the way through the numbers and begin looping around again. "Are you looking for something in particular?"
"Then if I may offer a suggestion. There's a documentary portraying one of my contemporaries, John Adams. I attempted to watch it with Crane and your sister, but..." He left the space for her to calculate the inevitable.
"But she couldn't deal with the two of you shouting at the screen."
"And then at each other. The attempt lasted all of ten minutes."
Jenny laughed and poured more tequila. "Okay, I think this is about the only way I could enjoy a show like that. I feel like I should get popcorn."
"Would you like some? I've become something of an expert at its preparation."
Armed with popcorn and strong spirits, they embarked upon the life of John Adams, with Alexander providing what Jenny called 'color commentary.' After two hours, she was hooting with laughter.
"Enough!" she cried, waving her hands at the screen. "Okay, no more episodes today. We'll pick this up next time."
Alexander switched off the television. Jenny kept giggling. "You're alright, Alex."
"As are you, Jenny." They were far too alike in some respects. Her entire manner had opened like a flower once it seemed sure that he wouldn't ask her anything of substance.
Her phone rang, a shrill beeping. She glanced at it, made a distasteful face, and silenced it. "Ugh. Some people will not take a hint."
"Client." She glared at the offending device. "Do a little international travel and all your locals freak out."
"You deal in antiquities and articles of power, yes? The buyers must be fascinating people."
"The buyers are best kept at arm's length. This one I think has an actual shopping problem. Either that or she's eating the stuff for energy. She gets antsy if I don't find her something at least twice a year. But since she pays cash instead of trade, and doesn't really care what I find her, I keep her on the list."
Alexander laughed. "Cash on the barrel has sweetened the patience of many a tradesman. Hm. Tradesperson?"
"Hm. Not sure that one has a good fix. It's fallen out of style. People still say salesman, though. I mean, they say salesperson too, but it sounds like they're trying too hard. Stores make up specific words like 'sales associate' or 'customer solution specialist.'" Jenny let her head loll back to study the ceiling. "Yet another reason I am so glad I have never, ever had a real job."
"When contrasted with traveling the world to hold buried treasures in your bare hands, the choice seems incontestable."
Jenny's hands curled in on themselves. "Pro tip: wear gloves until you're sure how it works. Trust me on this one."
"I'll take it to heart, should the occasion arise." Alexander opened another beer. "What is the most remarkable thing you found in your most recent foray? You were gone for some time, I understand."
She shrugged. Yes, that had tickled a nerve. "Nothing too amazing. I was mostly daisy-chaining trades. Get a search and retrieve job, see if I can barter for something interesting, see if I can barter that for something more interesting plus a finder's fee, just hopping from contact to contact down the Silk Road. Came home when I got bored."
"Free as a lark, no one to fear for but yourself. That must have been marvelous."
She slowly rolled her head to look at him. "Did Abbie send you to talk to me?"
Alexander snorted into his beer. "Hardly. It's more than my life is worth to insert myself in a battle between sisters. But as I said before, I fear we have enough in common to allow me sympathy for your flight."
"You run away from your problems a lot?"
"Straight for them like a bantam cock, but with much the same result. I..." He could say this. He could keep his voice steady, and he could say this. "I was fortunate, in my life, to be loved by steadier individuals, who acted as a rudder to my wayward sails. When I put my faith in them, my life went the better for it. I pushed them aside at my own peril."
She sank further into the sofa-bed like a sullen child.
"I don't presume to know who you can trust as your rudder. But if you do know, hold on for dear life."
"Or else end up like you?" Ah yes, she even fought like he did, but lacked the experience to sting a veteran of the technique.
"I destroyed my political career by self-publishing our nation's first sex scandal, then died in a duel with a man who, political differences aside, I considered a friend and colleague. Yes, I think I am qualified to submit myself as an example of poor judgment with profound consequences." That woke her at last. "I also had a loving wife and family, and an irreproachable mentor, who stood by me even at my worst. I could not always bring myself to heed them. But I never doubted that I should."
She said nothing, staring at the black screen of the television.
"But I have done what I said I would not, and offered advice. Please forget all of that and make your own disasters. We none of us can truly learn from the mistakes of history. It happened to someone else, after all." He stood. "Lest we give your sister further reason to doubt our maturity, I'm going to make supper."
He surveyed the options in the fridge. If he felt more adventurous than microwaving something packaged to completion, Abbie probably intended for him to braise or bake the chicken parts, with the squash and carrots as a side course. He had successfully done so once already and repeating the trick seemed tedious.
He took The Joy of Cooking from the shelf and opened to the index for Chicken. Chicken Soup with Dumplings, using the dumpling recipe with the shortest instructions, seemed entirely achievable. After a moment, he heard the television again, cycling through the channels.
He diced vegetables, deboned meat, employed exactly as much from the spice rack as the recipe advised, and found the concentrated bullion in the door of the fridge. After a few minutes with a frying pan, during which almost nothing burned, the soup was combined in the pot, requiring nothing more than time.
On to dumplings. He could stir the recipe by hand, but having seen the mixer demonstrated, it seemed the far superior choice. He found the blades and successfully fitted them into the mechanism. The mixer's cord was affixed firmly to the wall. The labeling on the dial was clear. He measured the dumpling ingredients into the bowl and turned the dial to 6.
Jenny came out to the kitchen some minutes later when he cursed, having set his knee down in a puddle of milk. He was trying to mop up the floor with a cloth, despite the counters still being more smeared than cleaned; flour mixed with any sort of liquid, including chicken blood, made a stubborn paste. "Yeah, Abbie will have no doubts that you are a real live adult." She leaned against the doorframe with her arms crossed and an unbearably smug smile on her face.
"It got on my tie," he said, and silently cursed the plaintive note in his voice.
"Among other things. If Abbie hasn't shown you to the dry cleaner's yet, now will be the time. The trick with the mixer is to start it slower and add the flour a little at a time."
"I see. I shall remember that if I ever touch the God-damned piece of shit again." The new mode of swearing really did have its satisfactions.
Of course Miss Mills would choose that moment to arrive at the door, and Crane in tow. Alexander spoke before she could. "Miss Mills, would you please assist me in finding the dry cleaner's at your earliest convenience?"
Alexander would have given good odds that Jenny would use the clean-up as cover, slipping away without resolving anything with her sister. To his surprise, when the last stubborn streaks of flour were gone, she was still there, though she very much looked as though she would rather not be.
“My apologies again, Miss Mills,” he said. “Jenny, this has been a lovely afternoon, and I should very much enjoy it if you joined me to see what becomes of Adams in the next installments.”
She managed a crooked smile for him. “Next time I’ll bring gin,” she said.
“I await it eagerly. For now, though, I find myself too exhausted by the cooking to concern myself overmuch with eating. Crane, do you intend to retire soon, as well? I had a question for you, if you’d be so kind.” And that was enough to clear the field for the Mills sisters. If they were anything like Eliza’s sisters, they were best left to settle matters between themselves.
In the morning, one further shock: Jenny had slept on the sofa-bed, and was now hunched over a bowl of oats, bleary-eyed. “Morning,” she said. “‘m not here for long. Gotta deal with this client. Ugh. Gonna end up halfway to Pittsburgh chasing dead ends for her, I know it.”
“I thought you said she wasn’t picky,” Alexander said.
Jenny propped her head on one hand, and prodded her oatmeal with the spoon philosophically. “In the sense that she doesn’t care what I find as long as no one else has one, yeah. It’s the second part that’s tricky.”
Alexander was struck, suddenly, by a flash of inspiration. “Do you know,” he said, “I happen to know the location of an enchanted glass coffin, in a crypt beneath Trinity Church in Manhattan?”
Jenny frowned. “Wait,” she said. “You mean…”
“Well, I certainly don’t want the wretched thing,” he said. “It’s not as though I have any further use for it.”
“Are you sure?” Jenny asked. He suspected that she knew as well as he did that he was trying to be helpful; he only hoped he was managing it with as much aplomb and as light a touch as she had, guiding him through the rag house.
“In all truth, I’d consider it a favor if you were to ensure it never again enters my sight,” he said.
“Well, if you insist,” Jenny said.
“I’m afraid I must,” Alexander said. He hesitated. He didn’t want to overstep, but he also was wildly inquisitive by nature, and had limited social outlets of late. “Your sister. That is to say, I hope you...”
“Everything’s basically fine and if we could never talk about it, ever, that would be great,” Jenny said.
“Excellent,” Alexander said. “Glad that’s settled. One more thing?”
Her grip on her spoon tightened.
"It's my understanding that you barter not just with goods, but skills, craftsmen, experts. Contacts, you said. Knowing the correct agent for a given task."
She kept pinning him with the grim glare of a woman who had not drunk enough coffee.
"I just wish to make it clear, unlikely as the eventuality might be, that if you need someone buried under a torrent of words, whether via oratory or written rhetoric... You know a guy."
She nodded and turned her face back to her oats. "Thanks."
As Googling "Moonie weekend" may not actually give you enough instant context, it's an initiation practice of the Unification Church which got a huge media splash in the 1970s.
Here is a video of a cat.
"Stand mixers are powerful, and this power can translate into a mess if a fast-moving attachment hits a big pile of flour or powdered sugar and sends it flying out of the bowl." - 6 Things to Know About Your New Stand Mixer
Video example at 0:04 (staged) and 1:06 (accidental). Thanks for the link, scarylady!