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Christmas Cheer

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The holidays were the hardest time of year for Sgt. Goodfellow. Christmas, in particular, was painful. It had been almost thirteen Christmases since she died, but he still expected his wife to walk through the door with a thermos of hot cocoa and a new plan to help London’s street children. He spun the golden band on his ring finger, willing whatever genie he could summon to bring her back.

The door burst open as if in answer to his wishes and he sat up straight in his chair. Had the genie come through?

The Right Honorable Penelope Windermere shook the snow from her coat and slammed the door behind her. “Why are you looking at me like that?” She asked, removing her gloves. “I know I must look a fright, but you look as though you’ve seen a ghost!”

“I thought I had for a moment,” he murmured. “What are you doing here, Miss? It’s well past midnight.”

She shrugged. “I thought you could use the company. Father Brown let slip that you always take third shift on Christmas—something about wanting the other constables to spend time with their families.”

“Something like that. I appreciate the sentiment, but I don’t think it’s right for a lady to be out at,” he consulted his watch, “two in the morning.”

“Oh, foo. I’ve been out much later than this.” She set a picnic basket on the desk and pulled a bright red thermos from her pocket. “I brought sandwiches and a little something to keep us warm.”

“I can’t drink on duty, Miss!”

“What duty? The cells are empty and so are the offices and, as you helpfully told me, it’s two in the jolly A.M. Besides, you wouldn’t let a lady drink alone, would you?” She produced two glasses from her other pocket and poured two glasses of amber liquid. “There you are, that’ll put some warmth back into your bones.”

He took a cautious sip of the proffered drink. It proved to be a rather good brandy. “No offense meant, but, what are you doing here? Shouldn’t you be at some glamorous Christmas Eve party? Or at home tucked up in bed waiting for Santa Clause?”

Bunty frowned at Goodfellow. “I’m not that young. And as a matter of fact, I was at a glamorous Christmas Eve party. But I left.”

“Why?”

She frowned at her brandy. “Someone made a pass. I had a little spat with Peter Collinsworth and we parted ways.”

“Who’s this Peter Collinsworth when he’s at home?”

“Oh, the earl of something or other.” She plopped down into the chair opposite him. “Either way, it didn’t seem cricket to stay at his house after I’d thrown champagne in his face. So I left.”

“And your first thought was to come here?”

She pulled a sandwich from the picnic basket and handed it to him. “Well, like I said, Father Brown spilled the beans about your good works. No one should be alone at Christmastime. Although, I suppose I should tell you that my visit is partly selfish. I didn’t want to be alone.”

Goodfellow, who had been about to take a bite of the sandwich, set it down and looked his visitor in the eye. “It must be terribly lonely for you—so far away from your friends and family.”

“I s’pose,” she sniffed. “Have you ever been to London, Sgt. Goodfellow?”

“I live there for a time.”

Bunty frowned at him. “You lived in London?”

“Don’t look so surprised, Miss! It’s not only film stars and rich folk who live in London. My wife and I lived in the East End.” He fiddled with his ring. “She grew up there.”

“What was her name?”

“Grace.” He could hear the floorboards creaking and the wind buffeting the windows. “I lost her in the Blitz. Sometimes,” he murmured, “Sometimes I wish I’d been in the house with her.”

She seized his hand. “That’s no way to talk!” She insisted, leaning forward. “Especially at Christmastime! I’d wager your Grace would want you to remember her instead of wishing yourself— yourself dead!”

He winced at her words. “You’re right. She’d want me to remember how she always had a cup of cocoa ready for me when I got home. She stayed home that night because she wanted to sew a new jacket for one of the kids. She always had spare blankets for them, too.”

“She sounds wonderful.”

“She was the best woman in the world—just full to the brim of love and joy. You know, her favorite thing to do at Christmas was dancing. She always said that Jesus deserved a good knees up for his birthday.”

“What a wonderful idea! I’ll get the records!” She was out of her chair in a trice and clattering across the room. “You get the player out,” she called over her shoulder, darting into Inspector Mallory’s office.

“Where am I meant to find one?”

“Oh, I’m sure there’s one in confiscated property or something of the sort!”

There was, indeed, a record player, but it took Goodfellow a good five minutes in the evidence locker to find it and check that it wasn’t part of an ongoing investigation. When he returned to the lobby, he found Bunty leafing through a stack of swing records.

“I always knew that Inspector Mallory had a secret vice.” She grinned. “I just never thought it would be Glenn Miller!”

The needle jumped and scratched for a few moments before In The Mood blared out at full volume.

She clapped her hands and laughed. “It’s perfect! Let’s follow Grace’s advice and have a jolly good knees up.” She picked up her glass from the desk and raised it. “Happy Birthday, Jesus, I hope it’s a cracking good one!” Bunty downed the brandy in a gulp. “Now, let’s dance!”

He barely had time to set his glass down before she grabbed him by the hand and led him through an intricate set of steps.

“Don’t you think that was just a little blasphemous?”

“Oh, terribly,” she cried. “But tonight is for celebrating! Merry Christmas, Goodfellow!”

He laughed, letting himself get caught up in the rhythm of the music, and dipped her. “Merry Christmas, Miss Penelope!”