To catch up on the rest of the Charlie and Declan Cowriting Project, find the other chapters here.
Fun fact about this chapter: the Sherlock Holmes references are nods to my solo writing project Detectives and Debutantes, a Sherlock Holmes retelling which features a fake psychic by the name of Niko Devon as a supporting character.
Declan stared up at the ceiling of Charlie’s basement, and then back at his pocket watch. It was morning. She’d never said when she was coming down to get him, and he didn’t want to risk heading upstairs on his own.
As if on cue, the door at the top of the stairs opened and Charlie slipped inside, closing the door behind her. “Brought you breakfast,” she said to him, tossing a roll down the stairs into his hands.
“Good. I was beginning to worry you’d forgot about me.” The roll had small raisins in it. Perfect.
“Forget about you?” She put a hand to her chest in mock astonishment at the suggestion. “Never, darling.”
Darling. What on earth were they doing here? Being friends, Declan forced himself to think. He’d come back because she didn’t deserve to have him go. It would have been wrong to go. So now they would be friends.
Charlie briefly sat down on the bottom step, then shivered and stood up again. “I didn’t expect it to get this cold down here… Declan, you could have said something.”
“To whom? The walls?” Declan joked. He pulled off his coat and put it around her. He was beginning to realize that it wasn’t just the sunlight—she always looked fragile.
She hesitated, like she was about to hand the coat back, but then pulled it tighter. “We can go upstairs. Father’s out for the day.”
“Lovely.” Declan glanced at the roll. “Then why’d you bother to bring me breakfast?”
She grinned. “Just wanted to test your reflexes.” Charlie took his hand and ascended the stairs.
Declan looked around. The front of the first floor was fake psychic shop, covered in purple hangings, skulls, and mysterious bottles. A narrow door behind a curtain led to the parlour that he’d been in last time he was there. Charlie sat him down at the coffee table, and moved over to a stove in the corner.
“So, what do you want to do today?” he asked, tearing off another piece of roll. That was another reason he didn’t go home all that often—his mother couldn’t cook. At all. The food here, provided it was of any decent quality, was exponentially better.
“I think… it’s time to look at the crime scene,” she said softly. “We’ll need to eventually. May as well go now.”
“No tea?” Tea was important.
She laughed slightly. “All right. We can make time for tea.” Charlie stood from the table and grabbed a tea kettle from a cabinet that was very precariously stacked with random dishes, filled it with water, and set it to boil.
“Make time. A funny phrase, don’t you think?” Declan bit his lip. He really had to stop talking about time so much. She’d figure it out soon enough if he didn’t. Declan felt a moment of uncertainty—did he want her to figure it out?
A friend didn’t have to figure it out. That was the thing. A friend didn’t need to know. Anyone more… did.
“I don’t think it means stopping or adding time,” Charlie said, sitting back down next to him. “Just making the most of the time we have.”
“Hm.” Good, that was a practical, normal answer. She wasn’t suspicious. And why should she be? Fake psychic or not, people would only believe so much.
“Besides,” she added. “I feel like we do a pretty good job of escaping the norms of time when pursuing… other endeavors.” Her cheeks flushed slightly. “Surely we can do so for tea.”
“For a girl who seduces men in order to rob them, you sure like to beat around the bush,” Declan said, sitting back and finishing the roll. “Why do you do it, anyway? Your father seems to do pretty well with his business. Surprisingly.”
She shrugged. “It’s fun. I’m bored. And…” She reached across the table to grab a roll for herself, then proceeded to systematically destroy it over the tablecloth, tearing off small pieces, letting most fall, and putting one of ten crumbs into her mouth. She left all the raisins on the table. “My father won’t let me work here yet. He doesn’t think I’m ready.”
“And why’s that?” She’d certainly been intuitive about Fitzgerald. “Here—test me. I’m quite impartial, you know. Let me tell you if you’re ready to con people into giving you their money for a glimpse of the future.”
Charlie smiled. “If you’re sure that you’re okay with me prying into your secrets.”
“That’s the point of being psychic, isn’t it?” Declan grinned.
“Still, some people are unprepared to be confronted so blatantly with their ghosts. I wouldn’t want to hurt you…”
“You won’t hurt me.” All of the things that really hurt were hundreds of years away, after all. As before: there were things that people just didn’t guess because they didn’t believe.
She put down the shredded remains of her roll, wiped her fingers on her dress, and took his hands. She closed her eyes, her expression going blank. Then her eyes opened a crack and she smirked. “You realize that it’s going to be difficult to make you believe anything. You’ve already told me a fair bit about yourself.”
“That’s true. All the more challenge. Tell me something I haven’t told you.” A ‘fair bit’ didn’t involve the time travel, after all.
She smiled at him again, then shut her eyes. “I can see many shadows in your past,” she murmured. “They pull at your mind, at your heart, dividing you between two homes, two worlds. You avoid your home—your family home—out of fear, and shame. You feel you can never live up to their expectations for you. Yet you can’t stand to disappoint them. Better to stay away for… five months, sixteen days, than face that disappointment.”
Declan shuddered a little. That was exactly the count. Or, it had been. Now, he was just on day one again—a fresh start, a few weeks without guilt. But that had been the last count. Precisely. How did she do that? Yes, he knew it was a trick… but he was tempted, for just a moment, to wish that Charlie was like him. For security reasons, he didn’t know who any of his colleagues in the 1920s were—so it was possible, right? How else could she know?
“For all the masks you put on, though, all the distractions…” She paused, her grip on his hands tightening ever so slightly. “You will never truly be able to escape. You flippantly bet with your memories, you act willing to sell them away as if nothing more than trinkets… still just pretending. You treasure them more than you let yourself believe. The good ones…” She released one hand, then, eyes still closed, reached into her pocket and pulled out a small, grey button. She held it up in front of him. “And the bad ones.”
“I told you that,” Declan accused.
“Perhaps.” Charlie slipped the button back into her pocket. “You didn’t tell me that it was always your mother’s idea. You only collected them to keep her happy… at first. But the fact that I stole your button makes you more upset than I think you realize. Which means you do care. At least a little.”
“Maybe I’m just worried about your kleptomania,” Declan lied.
A slight smile graced her lips. “Or you’re worried that you’re falling for me, and if I keep taking things from you, you’ll keep being forced to come back.”
“I wouldn’t say forced. It’s just a convenient excuse.” His tongue was so much smoother than his mind, which was reeling. How had she gotten that bit about his mother?
“Then you admit that you’re falling for me?”
Declan was acutely aware of the blood in his wrists beating against her fingers. “I want a friend, Charlie,” he said softly.
“That’s not an answer. And I’m psychic, remember?” She opened her eyes and stared at him. “I know what thoughts are really going through your head.”
“That must be overwhelming. You’d have no idea what I thought of you if you could really see my thoughts.”
“I think I must see your thoughts more clearly than you yourself can.” She met his eyes, lightly biting down on her lip and stroking her fingers over his wrist. “Because right now, I can see that you want to kiss me. Even if you don’t want to admit it.”
The tea kettle whistled, and Declan sat back, relieved. “And then you now know that all I want is the tea.”
She let go of his hands and stood. She grabbed two chipped tea cups and poured out tea for both of them, then set one cup in front of him. “Your verdict, Mr. Falker?”
“On your psychic abilities?” Declan raised an eyebrow. “Very impressive. Not as good as me, of course… but definitely good enough to work with your father. The trick with the dates…” He shook his head. “Impressive, that.”
“Thank you. Now try to convince my father of that… Please, though, prove that you are better than me. I’d love to see you fail.”
Declan took his tea cup. “You know about tea leaf reading?” She was so cocky. She thought he’d fail. And she’d taken his first trick so well… another couldn’t hurt.
And maybe she’d figure it out. And maybe she’d turn out to be… like him. It was a slim hope. But it was hope.
“Of course.” She drained her cup and passed it to him. “What do my tea leaves spell for my future?”
“Hm…” Declan looked into the cup, at the same time reaching under the table. He felt a bit of paper there, stuck to the underside with a bit of putty. Time was on his side, then. He was on his side. “Ah, today, the spirits say that they have given me the gift of divining… ah, this is a rare gift indeed. Take a piece of paper. Write down whatever you like, and I’ll read it off to you.” Declan slipped the paper into his lap, hastily memorizing the words on it.
Charlie tapped her pen against her lips for a moment, then slowly wrote out a sentence and folded the paper. “What did I write, then?”
Carefully looking her in the eye, Declan replied, “There is nothing more deceptive than an obvious fact.”
Her face went pale. “You cheated.”
“Do another,” Declan said, smirking. “There’s no way I could know. In fact—go to another room, write it down, and don’t bring the piece of paper back with you.”
She stood up defiantly, grabbed the paper, and left the room. Declan looked down at the paper in his lap. Apparently, after this, he would do one more sentence… then there was a random list of numbers… and then at the bottom, a short note: eat the paper before the numbers. Declan smiled. So nice to have advice from the future.
Declan memorized the next line—another Sherlock Holmes quote, he thought. The girl was obsessed.
Charlie entered the room again, crossing her arms and raising an eyebrow.
“Once you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth,” Declan said.
She pursed her lips. “Tell me how. Tell me.”
“Sorry, darling,” Declan said, smiling. “Do it again. One last time, to see if you can figure it out.”
Declan glanced down at the paper, and had to hold in a guffaw. That sentence would be easy to remember. He also memorized the numbers on the sheet of paper, and then stuffed it into his mouth. The future knew best, after all.
After a moment she returned, slightly maniacal smile on her face. “Tell me.”
“Declan Erikson is a cheating bastard and if he tells me how it’s done, I will give him back his photograph,” Declan said after swallowing the last bit of paper. “Really, Charlie? A cheating bastard? You’re just envious.”
“The offer stands, Declan.”
He hesitated. “You’d never believe me. I do want the photograph back… but you’d never believe the trick.” He grinned. “Anyway, I’m not allowed to tell you. It’s a secret between just the spirits and I.” And he couldn’t think of any way he could plausibly be doing this. Pity. He needed the photograph back.
“One more time,” she demanded. “I’m thinking of four numbers. Read my mind, Mr. Falker.”
Declan’s smile widened. “Twenty, thirty-seven, four, and three and a half.”
“You are pure evil.”
“No, just psychic.” Declan reached for Charlie’s tea, washing down the paper.
“I’ll tell you mine if you tell me yours.”
“I told you. You wouldn’t believe mine. And I don’t want to anger the spirits.”
She huffed. “One day you’ll tell me. One day.”
He flinched, just a little. He wanted her to already know. That was the only way this could work. Fudging the rules about romance? Sure, he could do that. He wasn’t even sure if he was, yet—this was still mostly a game, after all. But breaking the rules about revealing who he was? No.
“Maybe. If you’re lucky.”
“It’s just that the only way you could have possibly figured that out is if…” She threw her hands up in exasperation. “I don’t even know. If you had traveled through time or something. This is impossible, Declan. Even I’m not that good. Even my father isn’t that good.”
Traveled through time—was that a hint? Was she trying to tell him that she knew?
“I told you. I’m psychic.”
“No one is psychic,” Charlie said. “I’m just perceptive and dramatic and you’re… I don’t know what. But not psychic.”
“Then it was the time travel,” Declan said, trying to sound a touch too sincere.
She studied his expression carefully for a long moment. Then shook her head. “One day you’ll tell me,” she repeated.
“I hope so,” Declan said, finally relenting. That was the one true thing he’d said so far. The one thing he knew to be true.
She offered him her hand. “Shall we go to the crime scene, then?”
“If you’re ready for it.” Declan wasn’t sure that he was. Befriending Charlie was against the rules. Going to a crime scene—risking arrest—was even more so.
“I’ll never be ready,” she said softly. “But we need to.” She stood up, then hesitated. “Did you bring your camera? We should take it with us…”
Declan nodded, and jogged back down to Charlie’s basement. He grabbed his portable camera off of the bed, and, thinking of it, grabbed an extra handkerchief as well. Who knew how Charlie would react to seeing the crime scene. He wanted to be prepared.
When Declan came back upstairs, Charlie was donning a long coat as well as the hat she had taken from his apartment. “Let’s go, before my father returns,” she said, adjusting the hat in the tarnished, dusty mirror that covered most of the wall in the front room.
“You look lovely,” Declan said out of habit. He silently cursed himself. He only ever saw girls in speakeasies, and then, it was just so easy to flirt to keep his cover up and to coax them into letting him take their photographs. It was a hard habit to break.
She glanced over at him. “It’s your hat. Why do you have so many costumes in your apartment, by the way? They can hardly all be for photography.”
“They’re all for photography,” Declan contradicted. And lied.
Charlie raised an eyebrow. “Even the construction worker? The street urchin? You dress people up as who they want to be. I doubt anyone would want to be that.”
“You never know. I like to take unusual photographs. Of unusual people.” He really did take pictures of street urchins.
She hesitated a moment, then shrugged. “If you say so.”
“I do.” He held the door open for her, and they headed out onto the busy street. Charlie linked her arm in his, holding tighter than necessary, like she was using him as a pillar to stay stable.
“Do you think we’ll actually find anything at the crime scene?” she asked quietly.
“I don’t know,” Declan replied honestly. But he’d been to a few crime scenes before. After the police got done, they were usually pretty barren.
“I hope there’s something…” She took a breath. “There has to be something…”
They turned a block and reached the milliner’s shop. Charlie tripped over her own feet a moment, gripping Declan’s arm even tighter.
“It’s going to be okay,” he said, putting an arm around her waist. “We’ll find who did it. If there’s nothing there, then we’ll go get records from the police. You kiss them while I grab the files.” He winked, though he didn’t actually want her to go kiss policemen. She smiled weakly at him and opened the door.
“Morning, Mariette,” she said to the attendant, making a brave attempt at sounding flippant. “Mind if we poke around downstairs?”
“Charlie…” Mariette said, coming over and pulling her into a hug. “I didn’t know if you’d come by again.”
“Couldn’t stay away forever,” she said.
“You’re still open?” Declan asked, surprised.
Mariette wiped her eyes. “Norman always told us… if something happened to carry on. That’s what we’re doing.” Charlie sniffled and hugged her again.
“We’re going to make things right, Mariette,” she said quietly.
“Charlie…” Declan said. He didn’t think the police would take kindly to amateurs interrupting their investigation, so he didn’t want the word to get around about what they were doing.
Charlie looked over at him. “She’ll keep quiet, Declan. She wants this solved just as much as I do. And we both know not to talk much to police, don’t we?” She smiled and winked at Mariette.
Declan shuddered, just slightly. How awful, to live in a world where the police could not be trusted. Then he shook himself—he lived in this world, too, now. How easy it was to forget that, after he returned from home. This was his world. This was more his world than the other was.
“Can you show us to the room where the… body was?” Declan asked.
Mariette nodded hesitantly, then unlocked the door to the basement and motioned a hand for them to go down.
Declan went down the familiar staircase. On occasion, when he’d brought larger shipments—once in a blue moon, he was so lazy when it came to smuggling—Norman had had him bring the crates down to the basement himself. The air smelled musty, a strange combination of alcohol and mildew on the air.
“No blood…” Charlie murmured, surveying the scene.
“So how was he killed?” Stabbing people was messy, as Declan’s parents had always taught him. And shooting people wasn’t very clean, either.
“Maybe strangulation,” she said. “Maybe poison. Hard to tell from just the scene.”
“Pity. It would tell us a lot about the criminal…” Declan started to poke around the crates. The police had taken all of the actual alcohol, so only empty boxes were left. “Whether or not they could physically overpower Norman. Whether or not they had access to his food, or whether it was a syringe…”
Charlie stared down at the floor across the room. “Wine stain. Can you ever remember a time when Norman let a bottle break?”
“I can remember a time when I let a bottle break and he nearly flayed me with the pieces of glass,” Declan said.
“Exactly.” Charlie walked behind the bar, running her fingers over the top of the counter. Then she briefly dropped to the floor, and when she came back up, her face was pale—or, paler than normal.
“What is it?”
“Nothing,” she said. He saw her hand disappear into her purse, though.
“No.” He grabbed her wrist, a little more roughly then he’d meant to. “It could be important.”
Charlie hesitated, then pulled out a cigarette butt, holding it in front of his face. “Evidence. Probably not important. But the police overlooked it.”
“That’s the brand that you smoke,” Declan noted.
“Yes, it’s a brand lots of people smoke.” She slipped it back into her purse.
“I wasn’t saying you did it. You were with me, after all. We’re each other’s alibi.”
“Unless he was poisoned…” she muttered, turning back to examine the walls.
“Are the walls going to tell you what happened?” Declan joked. The walls only did that in his house.
“No. But I’m curious if the police found his wall safe.”
“Wall safe?” Declan perked up. He liked cracking safes.
Charlie pressed on a section of the wall and the wood popped open to reveal a safe built in. She turned the dial a few times and door opened to reveal a packet stuffed with dollar bills, and a dusty book. Charlie took out both.
“Oh. You know the code.”
“Of course I know the code.” She pocketed the money and placed the book down on the bar.
“What’s in the book?” Declan dragged a stool that had been knocked to the ground over to the counter. He tried to convince himself that the police had knocked it over, and not Norman’s last, wild death throes.
Her expression tightened and she ran a hand over the cover. “Photographs. Mostly of me. Which is why I needed to make sure the police hadn’t found it.”
Declan flipped the album open. The first image was that of an infant—a very unhappy looking infant.
“Is that you?”
“Yes,” she said curtly, turning the pages.
“You’re adorable.” Declan slid the album across to himself. Most were studio portraits, and even though Norman’s face looked up from most of the pages, Declan couldn’t help smiling as he watched Charlie grow up. She really did look petulant in most of the photographs. But that was what you got in a time where you had to sit so still for photographs to be taken. Around age eight, though, she seemed to get into it—and soon after that, fake psychic photographs began appearing with the studio portraits: a ten year old Charlie reading a crystal ball, a fourteen year old with tarot cards.
“You’ve been into this for a long time,” he commented. “Did you ever want to do… anything else?”
“Not really… It’s all I’ve ever known. And I’ve needed a lot of practice, you know.”
“You’re very good at it. I still can’t fathom how you knew exactly how long I’d been gone.” And that it would hurt him so much.
She looked up at him. “Do you really want to know?”
“I looked at the dates on your amassed collection of newspapers and made an educated guess.”
Declan had to laugh. “A very educated guess.”
“I did tell you I’m quite intuitive.” She turned a page in the album and made a face. “Sixteen was not a good year for me.”
Declan looked down at the album. He didn’t see what she meant. “You don’t look all that different.” Declan bit his lip—if she thought that she looked awful in that picture, and he’d just said she hadn’t changed… that wasn’t good. “I mean— er— how old are you, now?”
“Eighteen last September.” She smiled. “I guess I don’t know how old you are, either.”
Declan hesitated. It was so easy to lie about his age. Make himself look older, and more confident? Or younger, and closer to her own age, and thus trustworthy? Then he cursed himself for even considering manipulating her…
“Wait,” she said, closing her eyes and putting a hand on his shoulder. “Twenty-one years… five months… twenty days.”
Declan pulled out his pocket watch and flipped it open. “Exactly,” he said.
She smirked. “I also have a very good memory. Though, why do you need a watch that counts your age, anyway?”
Declan grimaced. If she’d actually been a time traveler, it would have been the perfect moment for her to take out her own watch. But as it was… “I’m just a very forgetful person,” he joked.
“You forget your own birthday?”
“No. But my father dabbles in… clock making… and so he made me a watch that keeps track for me. As a project.” Not a lie, even.
“Your family has very strange hobbies.”
“Yes,” Declan agreed. “And you haven’t heard the half of it.”
Charlie smiled and looked down at the book. Her expression saddened as she looked at a picture of her and Norman, probably taken less than a year ago. She was reading his palm while he smiled at the camera. “I miss him,” she said softly.
Declan hesitated, and then put a hand on her shoulder. “We’ll find who did it.” He looked down at the photograph. “They won’t get away with this.”
“No,” she agreed. “They won’t.” She shut the book and picked it up, holding it close to her chest.
“We probably shouldn’t leave that here, in case they come back,” Declan said. “We don’t want them linking you to this. I’d be your only alibi—and you know what they think of me.”
“My thoughts precisely. And I was hardly going to leave this here for the police to get their grubby fingers on. This was ours. It belongs with me.”
Declan looked around the room. “Is there anything else? This is… not much to go off of. So we think he was poisoned—but he could have been strangled, or shot very carefully…” Declan didn’t actually know if that was possible. His parents had always kept him away from guns. “And there’s a wine stain on the floor. More evidence for poisoning—or at least there being some sort of physical struggle… I guess…” He looked at Charlie, lost. “I’m not good at this. Help.”
“We need the coroner’s report…” she mused, eyes flitting about the room. “Details of the crime scene when they found it…”
“Well, that shouldn’t be too hard,” Declan joked. “Nothing like breaking into the police station. Nice little warm up for crime.”
“Good, I’m glad you’re on board.”
“I can’t be arrested,” Declan warned. He should not be doing this… but one look at the album clutched in her arms against that slight frame of hers and he had to try.
“And you won’t be.” Charlie reached out one hand and touched his arm. “Please, Declan?”
Declan sighed. “Yes. I’ll help. Just… if I have to disappear, and if I don’t get a chance to say goodbye… don’t blame me, Charlie. I can’t be arrested.”
“I know.” She lightly took his hand. “Declan… if you did need to disappear… would you take me with you? Because chances are if you need to disappear, then I will too.”
“You can’t come. And you wouldn’t want to.” If she looked out of place in her own time, she’d never fit into his.
She looked down, releasing his hand. “That’s the way to win a girl’s heart,” she said, a bit teasingly. Also a little bit wounded. “I thought we were in this together.”
“We are.” He took her hand again. “It’s just… complicated. But I would never leave if I thought you were in danger, too.” He forced a laugh. “But you’d just talk your way out of anything, wouldn’t you?”
She winked. “Of course I would. But… you promise? You wouldn’t leave?”
He wasn’t ready to make that promise. Not to her—he barely knew her—but he couldn’t even make that to his family.
She picked up on his hesitation and pulled away. “Right. I… I understand. This is my trouble, not yours.”
It would have looked so stupid to go after her again, to keep dancing back and forth with their hands. But Declan didn’t want her to pull away. “It’s… it’s not just your trouble. It’s too big to be just your trouble. I’m going to try to share it.” He sighed. “If there’s any other way, I won’t leave.”
“Thank you,” she said softly. Then she cleared her throat. “We should go, in case the police decide to come back.”
Declan nodded, and took her hand and led her back up the stairs. It felt good to escape the dank smells of the basement, and to step up into the clear air of the level above—and even better to be back out on the streets.
“Where to?” Declan asked.
“We’re going to break into the police station,” she said. “You have costumes at your apartment.” She grinned up at him. “Shall we go get into character?”
“Is it safe to go back there?”
“We can court a little bit of danger before diving all the way in.”
“That logic just doesn’t work,” Declan said—but it was a half-hearted protest. What had he got himself into?
“The logic doesn’t have to work.” She kissed his cheek. “Just follow my lead.”
And that didn’t really work for him either. But it was such a lovely distraction.