Past Lives: 1945: Screwdriver

Or, how List became the partner in a private investigation agency.

Bang. Bang. Bang.


Melinda bites back a laugh at the noises from her “office”, a tiny room full of planks, dust and plaster. Mort, the landlord, sent the kid – he can’t be more than seventeen – round when she rented this floor, and he’s been valiantly trying to renovate it ever since. Emphasis on the trying, rather than the succeeding.

Bang. Bang. Bang. Crack! Thud.

“Awww, no.” A few creaks and rustles, then Alister emerges, looking at her plaintively. He runs a hand through his hair, unable to meet her eye. “Miss Harrigan…I think I broke your chair.”

She waves a hand, placing her scotch back down on the table. “No harm done. Thank you for trying, anyway.”

He smiles, cocks his head, and his gaze falls upon the book on her desk. “That why you’re playing detective?”

Her face almost matches his own, but her smile is wistful where hers is cocky. “Something like that.”

He looks her in the eye, smile softening in a gesture of bonding, then looks away, pacing the floor in front of her desk agitatedly, blowing out a heavy breath. “The truth is…” he begins, then stops. “The truth is, I need a job. Really need one. And…” He waves his arms briefly, glancing around. “…I admit, I like this place, and I just thought you might need some h…” He seems to think better of what he was about to say, and his eyes drop back to the book. “If you ever need a Watson…” He shrugs.

She smiles, but her heart is sinking. “I…I thank you for all your help. You’ve been wonderful. But I work alone on my cases. I have to. New York…isn’t always the nicest place. And anyway, you have your own career to plan. You don’t want to be stuck in a dusty old office with me, even temporarily.”

“I have been for months,” he admits. “I came with the place. Mort wanted me to fix it up…”

“And you did,” she interrupts. “But I can’t give you a job. I’m sorry.”

He nods, eyes anywhere but her own. “Uh…right. Sure. Thanks for explaining.” He smiles, but it’s small and weak. “I’ll be back on Monday. Thanks, Miss Harrigan.”

She stares into the scotch until she hears the door shut.

The sad smile returns when she sees the splintered chair he’d been standing on, and the bookshelves put up perfectly on her wall. She trips on something as she walks out of the door, and she picks it up, sees that it’s a crosshead screwdriver. He must have dropped it.

She swallows.


He looks at her, confused, as he walks in. “Wha – ?”

“My answer is yes. A trial run. I wish I could give you more, but if you’re up for…coffee-making, and…desk-clearing…” She trails off, realising how weak it sounds. The truth is…she’s lonely. Has been for a long time. She needs…life around the office, his slightly off-key singing and the sound of the wireless and the constant smell of coffee, and he needs a job.

Surprisingly, he grins. “Sure. I’m up for that.” Something seems to occur to hi, and he ducks out of the room. She waits, frowning, and hears the sound of something being dragged along the floor. He comes back in, bringing something with him. “Mort said to give you this.”

It’s a pane of glass, and she reads the words through the frosted effect: M.R. Harrigan. Private Investigator. Office.

She smiles. “Thank you, Alister.”

He nods, finally meeting her eye. “List. Just List.”

Thanks to my friend M for the prompt: the word “screwdriver”.

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