Carstairs massaged his temples, sighed, and turned over another page of the report. The intercom buzzed.
“What is it?” he snapped irritably. Damn this case.
“Mrs. Poll—ax — here to —ee you,” Bishop’s voice crackled over the machine. Perhaps it was time to consider investing in new equipment.
“Send her in.”
A moment later, Bishop ushered the woman inside.
“Mrs. Pollifax, what a pleasant surprise,” Carstairs stood to shake her hand, as Bishop plopped himself down in an armchair. “What brings you here?”
She settled into the remaining chair.
“I wanted to let you know that I’m going to California for a couple of weeks in January, with my daughter. We’re going to the Rose Parade in Pasadena. I’ve seen it on the television before, but I’ve never been, and I’ve always wanted to go. As a bonus, Pasadena apparently has an excellent haberdashery as well. I don’t suppose either of you need anything there?” she added, with a significant look.
“Well, I could use a new fedora, and Carstairs would look just ravishing in a Homburg,” Bishop quipped.
Mrs. Pollifax chuckled.
“We know what you meant,” Carstairs replied. It would probably be unprofessional to toss a wad of paper in Bishop’s direction, so he settled for shooting a half-hearted glare in the man’s direction. “And no, I don’t think we anticipate coming up during that time for which we would need you. Still, as always I appreciate the heads up. I assume that wasn’t your only reason for coming, though, as you could have just phoned Bishop about your plans.”
“Since you mention it, there was something else,” she admitted. “I’d like you both to come to my Christmas party this year.”
“Christmas party?” Carstairs raised an eyebrow. He was struck with a vision of Mrs. Pollifax in a bright red hat trimmed with fur and a partridge in a pear tree.
“Terribly domestic of me, I know,” she replied breezily with a twinkle in her eye. “But please do come.”
“Well, it’s hard to say whether we’ll be free. I might be able to spare Bishop…”
“I know your job is terribly unpredictable, and I would be delighted to have Bishop of course, but I would really love for both of you to come. I’m making crab cakes by the way, and there is this wonderful French bakery with the most marvelous eclairs…”
“I’ll see what I can do. It’s difficult in this business to make guarantees about one’s availability, but if it’s possible, I’ll be there.”
“Wonderful!” she replied brightly, as and Carstairs had the feeling he’d somehow managed to promise they’d both come even though he hadn’t meant that at all.
“I will expect both of you on the twenty second at seven thirty, sharp. I’ll show myself out.” Bishop half rose but her hand was already on the handle of the door.
Carstairs shook his head in wonder. “That woman never ceases to amaze me Bishop, never.”
“If her Christmas parties are anything like her fruitcakes, we won’t recover for days,” Bishop murmured happily.
Carstairs’ stomach growled. “I think I may have forgotten to eat lunch today, Bishop”.
“You did forget sir,” he confirmed. “And breakfast as well,” he added a touch reproachfully. “I did bring you a carton of coffee and a Danish several hours ago.”
“I suppose you mentioned that when you brought it in?”
“I did, sir. You were ranting about Wilkinson’s writing ability at the time. Possibly you didn’t hear me.”
“Any chance the coffee’s still good?”
“I’ll bring you new one.”
“What would I do without you, Bishop?”
“Probably starve to death.”
“Did you say something? I didn’t hear you.”
“No sir, I didn’t say a thing.”
“That’s what I thought. Good man.”
Seven fifty, and the party was in full swing. Mrs. Pollifax cast her eye over the scene, pleased. It was a little premature of course to declare victory, but she thought so far her party was a success. Farrell was over in a corner conversing animatedly with her son. She’d have to grab him later.
As she stood there, a very handsome young man with a brilliant smile walked up to her and seizing her hand exclaimed: “The indefatigable Mrs. Pollifax in the flesh! What a pleasure to meet you at last! Captain Jack Harkness, at your service.” He raised her fingers to his lips and kissed them. “I’m a friend of Farrell’s,” he added, in answer to her questioning look.
“Any friend of Farrell’s is most welcome,” she replied, intrigued. “Forgive me, I don’t remember seeing you when he arrived.”
“I didn’t come with him,” Jack admitted. “I’d apologize for crashing your party, but now that I’ve met you, I’m not sorry at all.” He gave her a roguish grin and a wink.
“You’re worse than he is,” she laughed, flushing slightly. “You do realize I’m probably older than your mother?”
“True beauty knows no age,” he parried.
“You are hopeless,” she laughed. “Nevertheless, it is nice to meet you, Captain.”
She turned and saw Bishop and Carstairs shaking snow from their boots.
“Well, hello,” Jack said, zeroing in on Bishop.
Carstairs, who had been steadying himself on Bishop’s shoulder while he knocked snow off his feet, suddenly tightened his grip, though he had both feet firmly planted once more. Interesting, thought Mrs. Pollifax.
“Jack Harkness,” Jack said—was he flirting? “And you are?”
“Uh, Bishop” Bishop stammered.
Carstairs looked daggers at Jack.
“Ah, I see,” Jack backed off. “Perhaps I’ll get myself a glass of wine. Mrs. Pollifax, can I get you anything?”
“No thank you, Captain.”
“He’s a friend of Farrell’s,” she explained.
“I’d keep an eye on him if I were you,” Carstairs said darkly. “Farrell’s had some pretty odd friends over the years, present company excluded of course.”
“He was just introducing himself,” Bishop protested. “I think. He seemed friendly, at least.”
“Yeah, a little too friendly,” Carstairs muttered under his breath.
“It’s so delightful to see you both,” Mrs. Pollifax broke in. “I’m glad to see they still let you have a little fun, at least.”
“There have to be some perks to my position,” Carstairs grinned.
“You’re very lucky, Mrs. Pollifax,” Bishop added. “You’ve no idea how hard it is to get Carstairs to take time off for anything, even if it’s only a couple of hours. I don’t think he’s taken a proper vacation in years.”
“Surely not years,” Carstairs protested.
“I’m afraid so,” Bishop confirmed. “I believe you promised eclairs, Mrs. Pollifax?”
“I think there might be a few left…”
Two weeks into the Pasadena trip, Mrs. Pollifax received a call from Carstairs.
“How do you feel about Finland?” he inquired.
“Sounds marvelous! When do you need me?”
“Can you manage to get back her in four days without making your daughter suspicious?”
“I’m sure I can think of something to tell her.”
“Excellent. Phone me when you have your travel arrangements and I’ll make sure there’s someone to pick you up at the airport.”
Finland! she thought. How exciting!