Today's Reading

There were plenty of coppers around, from the men Billy had served with on the local force in Whitby all the way to the chief constable in his medals and braid. Nods and handshakes; Harper was here as a friend, but he'd also come as the representative of Leeds City Police.

Finally they reached Elizabeth. She and Annabelle had been close friends, and still exchanged letters regularly. Now they embraced, and the tears flowed. Soft words that his poor hearing couldn't catch.

Then it was his turn and he couldn't find anything to say. How could you sum up all they'd gone through in a sentence or two?

'Billy was a good man. You know we're all going to miss him.' It wasn't enough, it wasn't anything at all, and he realized that. But it was the best he could manage.

Elizabeth nodded, her lips tight. He pressed her hand between his and moved on to let someone else murmur to her. At the entrance to the churchyard he turned and looked back. The grave-diggers were already busy with their shovels.

'Are you sure you don't want to stay a day or two?' he asked Annabelle. 'There's no reason for you to go straight back.'

She shook her head as she pushed the veil off her face. The tracks of tears had run through the powder on her cheeks.

'I just asked Elizabeth. She has the children with her and all the people she knows up here. I'd only be in the way.' She gazed down on the town, the river, the old, crumbling abbey on the headland across the water. 'It's not right. They were doing so well.'

Eleven years in Whitby, he thought. Billy had enjoyed his responsibilities as police inspector here. Elizabeth had her tearoom that bustled in the summer months. They'd made a life for themselves. They'd found somewhere they loved, but they hadn't had enough time to enjoy it properly. To enjoy it 'together.' Fifty-five years old.

He yanked the watch from his pocket and studied the time.

'You know I need to get back to Leeds.' With no leave due, he'd begged the day off from the chief constable.

Annabelle glanced up at the darkening sky. 
'We'd better get a move on, then. It looks like it's set to bucket down soon.'

They'd come out on the early train, steaming across the moors through a brown autumn landscape. Travelling through the falling leaves to attend a funeral. He'd left Ash in charge at Millgarth. With the inspector around, the place wasn't likely to fall apart in a few hours; he was safe and solid. But Harper was still relieved to be going home. Funerals always left him uneasy. All the solemn endings and gravity. Especially for someone he'd known so long, and the morbid sense that fate could just as easily have picked him. Mortality snapping at his heels.

And there was work to be done in Leeds. Always something needing his attention.

Annabelle, though, had the luxury of time these days. After three terms as a Poor Law Guardian she'd decided to step down at the last election, campaigning for her replacement, a coal merchant's wife from Roseville Road.

'They need some fresh blood in there,' she'd told him with a weary smile. 'Maybe my head's just aching after banging it against a brick wall for so long. All I know is something's telling me to get out. I've done all I can.'

'Then you'd better listen,' he agreed. 'Do you have any idea what you'll do instead?'

Her public house, the Victoria in Sheepscar, almost ran itself these days; Dan the barman looked after everything.

'I don't know yet.' An uncertain look hovered on her face. 'Maybe I'll become a lady of leisure for a while.'

Harper snorted. 'That'll last about five minutes.'

'Something will come along. It always does.'

But it hadn't, not yet, and close to two years had passed since then. She still spoke regularly at meetings for women's suffrage and did bits and pieces at the workhouse, but nothing had really caught her eye. She was in limbo and it didn't suit her. It worried him to see her that way, so undecided about the future.

'Penny for them,' he said as the train pulled out of York. Not long now until they were back in Leeds.

'You'd be wasting your money.' She hesitated. 'I was remembering Billy, that's all. Same as you. How we never know what's Going to happen. Or when.'

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