As 1880 comes to a close, the O’Farrell Street boardinghouse servant, Kathleen Hennessey, expects to spend a quiet week while her employers, amateur sleuths Annie and Nate Dawson, are off spending the Christmas holidays with Nate’s family. However, when she agrees to help out one of her friends, Kathleen discovers that a simple case of a servant being dismissed without notice has turned into a complicated and dangerous puzzle that she is determined to solve.
Kathleen Catches a Killer contains all the light romance, humor, and suspense of the longer works and chronologically, this novella comes right after the events in Pilfered Promises.
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ChapterOne Sunday, late evening, December 26, 1880
San Francisco, California
She should go to bed. At half past ten, it was already too late for Patrick to stop by. He knew she always went to bed early on Sunday night. She just sort of hoped he’d make an exception tonight.
Kathleen Hennessey walked over to where the small Seth Thomas clock sat on a shelf in the boarding house kitchen. She took the clock down and wound it with a small key and then turned the wheel at the back of the clock to set the alarm for four-thirty. Each night she took the clock back with her to her room tucked away behind the kitchen pantry. Even though she was usually awake before the shrill bell rang, she still felt better having it with her, just in case.
Her bedroom never got much light from its single window facing the narrow side yard. But on winter mornings, it was pitch black, and she couldn’t count on the sun waking her up. She wouldn’t be able to hold up her head if Mrs. O’Rourke, the cook and housekeeper, came down from her attic room to start breakfast and found her still asleep.
Kathleen sighed. Monday mornings, washday, always came so early, and she should go to bed. Instead, she shooed Queenie, the kitchen cat, out of the rocking chair and sat down, still holding the wooden clock. Too many things to think about.
First of all, there was all the excitement of the past few weeks and the role she had played in helping her mistress solve the crimes going on at the Silver Strike Bazaar. Then came her mistress’s extraordinary revelations Christmas eve, followed by Christmas day itself, with all the merriment of gift-giving and hard work of preparing and serving a scrumptious Christmas dinner.
And then there was today, the day after Christmas, and her eighteenth birthday.
Really, except for the fact that Patrick hadn’t been able to come by, it had been a lovely day. After mass, her three brothers took her out to lunch at a nice restaurant––their treat. Colin, seventeen, was almost a man now. Soon he would finish his apprenticeship and start to make good money as a bricklayer. Aiden, only fifteen, had joked that with the skills he was learning as an apprentice carpenter, and Colin’s skills as a bricklayer, someday they could start a construction company and become rich, with their little brother, Ian, as the brains behind the enterprise.
Kathleen was grateful that Aiden agreed that their youngest brother needed to stay in school as long as possible. Colin was another matter. Like their father, Colin had a dark side, and he thought that school was a waste of time. She worried it was Colin who had convinced Ian to start working as a newsboy after school and weekends. Ian was only eleven, and she so wanted him to have the opportunities that his older brothers never had, to go further than the fourth grade in school and have the time to just be a boy.
Ian looked tired at lunch, having been up by four to get his share of the Morning Callto distribute. But he’d frowned at her when she mentioned fear that his work might hurt his grades. She’d let the subject drop. Ian had a good head on his shoulders. Besides, she didn’t want to ruin her birthday lunch.
For a long time, she hated that her birthday came the day after Christmas. Her mother would try to set aside something special for her––a piece of candy, a hair ribbon. Something different from the presents she and her brothers found in their stockings on Christmas morning––like the lumpily but lovingly knitted socks, new caps from the second-hand store, or a comb with all of its teeth. All useful…all very un-special.
After her mother’s death, her father seemed to have forgotten she even had a birthday. And the boys…the day after Christmas, they were too busy playing with the small toys Santa brought them to think about her. Toys she had bought with the few pennies she snuck from her pa’s coat pocket when he was dead drunk.
Then, when she was twelve, her pa died, the boys were farmed out to live with different uncles, and she was sent to work as a scullery maid for mistresses who didn’t even bother to learn her real name, much less her birthdate. And the day after Christmas became just like any other day––filled with hard work and terrible loneliness.
All that changed nearly three years ago when the young widow, Mrs. Annie Fuller, hired her to help Beatrice O’Rourke run the O’Farrell Street boarding house.
Mrs. Fuller, now Mrs. Dawson since she married the lawyer Mr. Nathaniel Dawson, turned out to be an entirely different kind of mistress. She not only called Kathleen by her name and paid her decent wages, but she treated her like a real person…like family. And she always remembered Kathleen’s birthday.
For instance, early this morning, even as Mrs. Dawson was busy packing so she and her husband could catch the first train to San Jose, she had taken the time to give Kathleen a special card and a wonderful gift. A beautiful cameo pin that would go perfectly with both her brown herringbone suit and the smart navy tweed outfit that her mistress and master had given her for Christmas.
She couldn’t wait to see how Patrick reacted when he saw her all fancied up, with the new suit, and pin, and the matching hat that had been Laura Dawson’s Christmas present to her. Hadn’t Mr. Nate’s sister been sly? Noticing how much Kathleen had wanted the hat when she’d tried it on at the Silver Strike Bazaar.
No, all in all, the only disappointment today came when Patrick had to cancel his plans to join her and her brothers for lunch. The past few months, between his regular job with the police and his second job working security for the Silver Strike, it seemed he didn’t know whether he was coming or going. But the note he’d sent round promised to make it up to her Wednesday evening, her night out. He said he’d take her someplace special to celebrate.
A sudden rap on the door startled her. Could it be Patrick come to surprise her?
She got up from the rocking chair, put the clock down on the kitchen table, and went over to the back door, whispering, “Patrick, is that you?”
“No, Kathleen, it’s me. Mary Margaret. Please let me in.”
Mary Margaret was a friend who worked as a maid just a few streets away, and it was highly unusual for her to be out at this time of night. Opening the door, Kathleen said, “What is going on? Is there something wrong with Mrs. Ashburton?”
She then noticed that her friend was staggering under the weight of several baskets and over-stuffed carpet bags, and as she pulled her all the way into the kitchen, she said, “Heavens above, what ever are you doing with all this? What’s happened?”
The young woman dropped everything with a thump and wailed, “I’m turned off. No notice, no references, nothing. Whatever will I do!”