“He asked if I was a freed slave on our first meeting.” Lt. Abbie Mills cocked her head and arched her eyebrow.
“Charming,” Joan said.
Martha Jones expelled air through her teeth rapidly in exasperation. “Oh, those guys.” She mimicked a dumbstruck male voice. “ ‘Gosh, a Negro woman without an owner, it’s the marvel of the age!’ Yeah, you know it’s their century talking, but it’s one more turd on the pile of crap you have to deal with.”
“Yeah, it was.” Abbie Mills grinned wryly and hoisted her Irish Coffee in acknowledgement. (This time Joan had picked the venue – so it was a nightclub in New York City at 1 a.m.) “To give him credit, once I corrected him he never repeated that mistake. And the fact that he has no problem treating a woman in authority with respect, let alone a black woman, is a pleasant surprise.”
“Maybe it’s a woman-with-power thing for him.” The young woman next to Lt. Mills grinned slyly and elbowed her, one eyebrow in an arch that outdid the former’s. “Come on, Abbie, you can’t tell me you two haven’t –”
“No, Jenny, we haven’t, and you can wipe that smug look off your face,” her sister snapped, taking a swig of her coffee. “I need some pie with this.” She signaled to a passing waitress.
“He treats you with respect?” Sgt Sally Donovan rested her chin in her hands and smiled wistfully. “I’ve heard of that. I can handle the boss getting mad ‘cos a case isn’t going well, but taking it out on me? Never even bloody apologised for hitting me with the car door.”
“Bugger that! Sorry.” Maggie Habib grinned apologetically at the Americans for the outburst before returning her attention to her fellow British policewoman. “But that’s just wrong, Sally. Tell the Union.”
“Right,” Donovan said bitterly. “They’ll take the word of the black woman who single-handedly ruined the reputation of a white man who’s ‘the greatest detective of the age’ – who apparently wasn’t so dead after all and is once again swanning around London in that bloody coat.”
(“What is it about white men and their coats?” Martha muttered to her drink; “Seriously,” Abbie slurred, nodding in agreement till Jenny elbowed her again.)
“Yeah, I read the papers.” Habib tapped her coffee glass to Donovan’s. “You got crucified in the press for doing your job and following the evidence – and it sure as hell wasn’t single-handed.”
“Oh yeah - me and Anderson, Team Rocket.” Sally laughed with no humour in it. “Anderson’s been forgiven by the press already because he went bloody starkers afterward from guilt and now he’s Fox Fucking Mulder babbling about trying to figure out how The Coat did it. And he sure as fuck was never called ‘bitch,’ ‘whore’ or ‘slut’ - let alone the racist crap - by those nutter detective groupies.”
Joan nodded. “Funny how fast they forget that they’re ‘not sexist’ and ‘don’t have a racist bone in their bodies’ when they’ve decided you’re a threat, isn’t it?” She took a drink amid the groans and nods from the other women at the table and set the glass down. “I don’t get the same level of garbage most of you have to handle, but being Asian-American comes with its own fun set of microaggressions. To say nothing of the white boys who think they’re honoring you by fetishizing you.”
Habib made a disgusted face. “And you expect the racism from skinheads, but to be told to go back where I came from by the people I’m helping? No bloody way am I going back to Manchester!”
The laughter at the table was tinged with the sadness of those who understood the pain behind the words.
Now it was Joan’s turn to mimic a clueless man. “’Hi! Where you from?’ ‘Queens.’ ‘No, I mean originally!’ ‘Um…my mom?’”
Jenny snorted. “Joan, next time that happens ask him to speak some Gaelic or German from his own home soil. You know, something like Viele Weiße Männer sind Arschlöcher.”
Abbie winced. Joan snickered. Habib pursed her lips to hide a smile.
“I said Viele, Abbie, not Alles. Good God.” Jenny rolled her eyes. “It’s not like your fellow Witness doesn’t slip up and start talking dreamily about what great guys those slaveowners were - oh excuse me, I meant Our Founding Fathers,” with a hand pressed mockingly against her heart. “I’d have liked to ask Sally Hemmings what she thought about the man who owned her writing passionately against tyranny and human bondage.”
Abbie made a moue. “Maybe she got together with Phyllis Wheatley to start an 18th-century poetry slam.” Her eyes narrowed as if witnessing a horror beyond the horizon. “But even if we could go back in time to see or talk to them, why would any of us want to?”
“Amen,” Sally said. Habib nodded vigorously. Martha said nothing, but she looked at her hand with a sad and thoughtful expression, waggling the fingers.
“Seriously.” Jenny shook her head. “At least go with a purpose. If I could time-travel I wouldn’t be recording conversations with famous people, I’d be handing out a shitload of guns and ammo to African rulers and warning them about the white slave traders. Do the same thing on the American coasts with the Taino and Arawak – Columbus would have been in for a surprise.”
“If I time-travelled, I’d bring a few metric tonnes of birth control pills and hand ‘em out like Smarties,” Habib added.
“Penicillin, anti-tetanus, and teach hygiene,” Joan said.
“Books. I’d bring books,” Sally said, grinning at the game. “Disguise ‘em as Bibles if I had to. Free their minds.”
Abbie thumped the Scotland Yarder’s shoulder, beaming. “ ‘Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery.’ You preach the good word of Reverend Marley, Sister Donovan.”
Jenny stared at her sloshed sibling. “I’m more surprised you knew that one.”
“But, but Hab-bib is right, Sally,” Abbie pronounced the words carefully to show she was not drunk at all. “You can’t, can’t stay some place where they don’t know who you are, don’t give you the respect you’ve earned.”
Donovan nodded, her head drooping. “I know. It’s bloody poisonous for me now in London. I know I’ll at least get a good write-up from the boss, he’s that fair. Now I just have to figure out where I can go.”
“You’ve got the world!” Abbie spread her arms wide, nearly knocking the pie out of the startled waitress’ hand in the act of setting it down. “Come to New York State – I work in a small town, but it’s more dangerous than it looks.”
“Or try the NYPD,” Joan piped up. “My partner and I could give you a good introduction.”
“If you want to stay in England?” Habib smiled, shrugging. “Gasforth’s bound to be dead boring after London, but Inspector Fowler’s a good boss. Real stick-up-his-arse type, but he’ll defend you with his last breath.”
Martha smiled as if about to spread a royal flush on the table. “Or? You could come with me, Sergeant.” She handed Sally a card.
Sally’s jaw dropped as she read the card. She looked up at Martha again. “This is real?”
The tone of Donovan’s voice – incredulous, eager, hopeful - made the other women smile; they knew she’d already made her choice.
“Oh yes.” Martha Jones stood to head to the toilet. “I think this particular unit could use your services.”