Time lapse – a life in six moments: Mary

Been meaning to do this with several characters, but recently realised that I haven’t written nearly enough about Melinda’s lovely secretary. So here goes…

You may remember Steven from The Case Of Miss L. Barber. Toldja he’d be important later…

Lastly: Over-description? What do you mean over-description? This is inspired by noir, there’s no such thing! *wink*


Her mother is a relic from the Depression, a statue who looks down at her with steel-grey eyes and crossed arms, immovable and sure.

“When you’re older,” her mother says. “When there’s more money.”

Mary looks longingly at the dress, her fingers reaching out to touch the glass; mist spreads at the touch of her breath. A moment frozen in time, in which a small girl dreams, and then her hand falls. They move on.



Her hand is shaking, but her eyes are steady. The carefully-laid trail of red along her lips spreads, for a moment in the dim light looking like blood – or war paint.  The thought makes her smile, though there is bitterness in it. There is a small click as she replaces the lid, slipping the lipstick into her bag and staring at herself in the mirror.

Elaborately curled hair; scarlet lips; hesitant, unsteady smile.

It cost a week’s wages, and she doesn’t even want to imagine her mother’s reaction, but in that second she is someone newer, better, prettier – not plain old Mary-Ann Coolidge – and she doesn’t care.



The latest customer nurses a coffee, gazing out of the window, her eyes constantly moving to take in the people outside.

A peoplewatcher, then.

A fedora sits low on the woman’s head, obscuring most of her face, casting shadows onto prominent cheekbones – strangely mannish, but that somehow casts a spotlight even more onto the fact that she is a she. Black curls escape the hat, lying across tense shoulders like a temporarily dormant animal, waiting to strike. Pale, short-nailed fingers drum an irregular rhythm on the mug.

A mannish, practical, tense peoplewatcher. Ooh, interesting.

Mary exhales, plastering a smile onto her face, and approaches the silent coffee-drinker.

The head is raised, the fedora, too; blue eyes, sharp, bright and curious, meet hers.

“Everything alright, ma’am?” she asks, somehow feeling like she’s intruding, interrupting something important.

The woman’s lips twist in a small, silent half-smile before she replies, “Yes. Thank you.”

A Brit. The woman notices that Mary notices and seems unsurprised when she asks, “How long you been over here?”

“Six months, at the last count.” The fedora-wearer’s eyes are far away, memories Mary can’t see playing behind them, and then the sheen is gone, and she’s looking at Mary again – still with that perpetually curious expression, as if she’s something fascinating. Worth looking at. She doesn’t know whether to be flattered or nervous at that.

She supposes she should be surprised when she finds herself gravitating to the table in the corner, with the view of the street and the quiet Brit, at the end of her shift.

She isn’t.



A suit, grey, and again with those bright, curious eyes. (Mary wonders, briefly, if it’s a Miss Harrigan – “Melinda, please”, but that’ll probably never happen – thing: if that weird, constant interest in people is infectious. Maybe if she spends enough time round the PI, she’ll catch it, too.) He’s too young to be a Mister Kord, his smile too open, and so she greets the lanky guy that strides towards her as she enter’s the investigator’s office with, “Alister.”

He looks a little surprised – and, in that moment, not very grown-up at all – and hastily corrects her, “List. Just List.”

Somehow, “just List” rather than “Alister” is far easier on her tongue than “Melinda” instead of “Miss Harrigan”. Maybe “Melinda” will come with time.



Sitting at her desk, she looks up at the sound of the door.

The man’s eyes are haunted, the faraway orbs of a man who has seen too much. He no longer has the easy grace of unmarked youth, a stick his companion, one of  his legs noticeably a burden to him.

Old, though? No. There are few years between him and herself – war has aged him prematurely, unfairly, and the lines on his face aren’t earned.

Steve is shivering as he steps into the office, limping slightly as always, even in a greatcoat. He pulls his scarf from his neck, asking quietly, “Your boss in?”

“Uh,” she says, still slightly surprised at his sudden entrance, “no, actually.”

He seems startled, looking at her – and then swiftly away, his face seeming clouded with something she can’t for the life of her name – as he moves to hang his coat by the door. “I… ah, thought you were Alister. My apologies.”

In all the times that the veteran has come here, it has usually been List who has greeted him first, offered him a clap on the back and – soon enough – a steaming mug of coffee. She nods, and the words slip out of her mouth without her thinking about them. “Easy mistake. Our taste in ties is very similar.” She looks down at her dress, a simple, red number, and then gives him a small smile.

He grins – genuinely, warmly, the fear in his eyes and the premature lines on his face disappearing – and she suddenly realises that she wants to see that smile more.

A lot more.




List nods, gesturing to the wax sticks tucked into his belt.


He nods again, holding up a heavy, leather-bound tome that looks like it’s seen many better days.


List looks alarmed, and she passes the small golden instrument over her desk with a smile. He takes it, his eyes drifting to the wedding band on her finger; it’s the first time he’s seen it up close. “Nice,” he concludes approvingly, looking up as Melinda emerges from her office.

Their boss wipes the blood from her mouth – a souvenir of the demon they’re returning to to exorcise – and carefully shuts her door. When she looks at them, her eyes are expectant. “Are you prepared?”

Mary stands, crossing her arms, and List nods.

“Good,” is Melinda’s short reply, and then the three of them are exiting the office; Mary’s walk is confident, sure, lipstick pristine and not a hair out of place.

As they make their way out into the street, Melinda meets her eye, a silent accord between them. There is respect in the woman’s eyes.

Finally, Mary thinks, but then she realises that the look is familiar.

She recognises it from the diner, given by the silent, window-seated customer.


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