The Trouble with Harriet 3/9

This entry is part 3 of 9 in the series The Trouble with Harriet
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I posted the first chapters during an earlier round, and I’ve finally almost finished this story. It was going along swimmingly until work and the Doctor Who finale ate my brain. But if I can’t finish the last two chapters and epilogue by today, I’ll post them on the free day, July 1. In the meantime, I have several chapters ready now and will post them throughout the day.

Title: The Trouble with Harriet
Rating: PG
Warnings: WIP
Disclaimer: All series characters and good stuff belong to Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy, etc. I am responsible for some original characters (although I stole names from Hitchcock) as well as the lame dialogue and most of the plot. The idea, of course, is stolen from the classic movie, The Trouble with Harry.
Summary: Buffy really needs a vacation, so when the chance arrives, she takes it, even though with a wandering corpse on the loose it’s almost, but not quite, a busman’s holiday. This is set in my cheerful, AU version of Season 6 where everyone sort of gets along and Spike and Buffy are a couple.

Thanks: to keswindhover for the beta and to enigmaticblues for maintaining the comm.

Chapter 1
Chapter 2

Buffy woke up late the next morning, groggy with the aftermath of her first evening as caretaker of the Worp estate. She’d been kept busy locking up the house and the garage, checking out the guest house, and having Chinese food delivered (and charging it to the lawyer) so that she wouldn’t have to leave her post. After dinner, she’d dutifully taken up said post in the guest house Jacuzzi with Spike for an hour or so, after which she’d moved her base of operations to the large bed in the next room. She could say truthfully she’d lost quite a bit of sleep on the job.

For a moment she thought a herd of moaning zombies was attacking the house, but after rubbing her eyes and yawning, she identified the source of the noise as a car pulling up and parking a few yards past her bedroom window. Rubbing her eyes, she peeked between the blinds and saw an elderly pickup in front of the garage. Someone was just entering the main house by the back door.

Quickly, Buffy found her clothes where they’d been tossed the night before and left the guest house with barely a glance at Spike, who was sleeping like the dead thing he was. Not only was it after sunup and fry-time for vamps, she knew from experience that by the time she woke him up thieves could steal every valuable from Harriet’s house with a few minutes left over to tear out the copper plumbing.

She crossed the lawn to the porch at the rear of the house, avoiding the path where her boots might crunch on the gravel and warn the intruder. The knob to the kitchen door turned easily under her hand. She slipped inside and as soon as she was sure the room was empty, she took off her boots and began searching the house.

She’d just glanced around two of the downstairs rooms when she heard a voice upstairs, doing something that its owner probably would describe as singing.

“In the Copa…Copacabana…”

Buffy went upstairs to investigate the sounds and put a stop to the screeching before she started grinding her teeth. When she reached the landing, she saw the door to the front bedroom was open to reveal a woman holding a green evening gown.

“Her name was Lola, she was a showgirl, with…” the lyrics were muffled for a moment as the gown was pulled over her head, “…and a dress cut down to there…”

The dress was hardly daring, or was meant to be filled out by someone more zaftig. (Buffy had learned that word from Spike recently and found it hilarious.) However, the woman standing before the full-length mirror seemed satisfied with it, because after humming a few more lines interspersed with half-remembered lyrics, she burst into the chorus.

“Music and passion were always the fashion…at the Copa….they fell in love!” She punctuated the last line by throwing one arm in the air and flinging back a head of blonde curls with gray roots.

Buffy clapped.

The singer did a surprisingly high vertical jump and shrieked. “Who are you?”

“Uh-uh.” Buffy shook her head. “You’re stealing my line. I say, ‘Who are you?’ and you tell me why you’re stealing clothes from a dead woman.”

“I’m not stealing! I work here!”

Buffy noticed the woman’s tone was indignant, not surprised. So this person, whoever she was, knew Harriet was dead. “As what? Because the deceased don’t usually have much need of live entertainment.”

“I’m the maid.” The woman met Buffy’s incredulous look defiantly. “I am! Ask anyone. I’m Sally Gravely, and I have a key.”

Not for long, thought Buffy. The lawyer had already arranged for the locks to be changed. “I’d like to see your job description, then.”

Sally’s cheeks were bright red and her brown eyes glared at Buffy under an unbecoming shade of blue eye shadow. “She said I could have them!”

Buffy opened her mouth to speak, closed it, and thought about that for a while before saying, “So she knew she was going to die?”

“What?” There was a pause as the implications of her lie struck Sally. “No! I mean, I think she killed herself. Yeah.”

“And you didn’t try to stop it?” Buffy felt almost guilty about making Sally squirm, not least because she was stuffed into the green gown like a sausage and it bulged hideously when she trembled.

“No! I mean, yes. I mean, I didn’t know she was going to die. She just gave me the clothes, okay?”

Buffy didn’t think it was okay at all. “Why would she give them away?”

Sally took a deep breath and her voice stopped quivering, as if she found herself suddenly on firm ground. “She only bought them to go places with husband, okay? But she said she didn’t like country club parties and now they’re divorced, she said she’d give them away.”

“To you?”

“Why not me? How would you know she didn’t? I bet you didn’t even know Harry.” Sally’s brain caught up with the situation at last. “Who are you, anyway?”

Buffy decided that since scorn and disbelief were no longer working, it was time to take a different approach. She crossed over to the bed and sat down. “I’m a caretaker hired by Harriet’s attorney. And you’re right, I didn’t know Harriet. What was she like, then?”

Sally slumped into a chair. “Rich kid, you know. Always had everything she wanted. She never thought about how unfair it was, when other people didn’t get shit unless they fought for it.”

Buffy blinked at Sally’s angry tone. “I guess you’re not a big fan of that not speaking ill of the dead thing.”

“Why should I feel bad? She killed herself, you know.”

“I always throw a party when one of my friends commits suicide.”

“We weren’t friends.” Sally’s tone was so vicious Buffy stood up and took a step closer, looking into her eyes. Sally gulped and jumped up, shuffling sideways until the bed was between them. “She was just my boss, you know. She was a real pain sometimes.”

“What kind of a pain?”

“She was always watching me, okay? Checking up on me when I was working.” Sally began tugging off the gown, splitting a seam in the process.

“Maybe she was worried you’d swipe some of her clothes.”

Sally’s face went red and she bent to grab a pair of jeans that had been lying on the floor. Buffy thought she was on to something and added, “Or other things.”

“Who told you that? It’s a lie! It’s not fair that I always get blamed.” Fully dressed, Sally headed for the door, intending to brush past Buffy.

But Buffy stood in the doorway, an immovable object sublimely unaffected by the bigger woman’s attempt to shove her aside. “Oh, no. You don’t leave until you tell me why you think Harriet killed herself.”

Sally chewed her lip, obviously shaken by the realization that Buffy was much stronger than she looked. After a long pause, she said, “Harry was down a lot, you know, depressed. Didn’t go places. If she wasn’t outside working on her precious garden, she was alone reading, or on the computer.”

Buffy pointed at a framed picture from the dresser near the door. It showed a young woman standing between an older man and woman. “Is this Harriet?”

Sally glanced at the photo. “Yeah. A long time ago. I think those are her parents. She doesn’t look like that now.”

Buffy looked at the cheerful young face framed by a neat cap of brown hair. “Why? Changed her hair? Had plastic surgery? Gained a hundred pounds?”

“Just got older, you know. She dyed her hair until her marriage fell apart, then she just gave up. Cut it short and let it grow in grey. I heard her talking on the phone to someone about how she was getting fat too, but I think that was just her feeling really crappy. ‘Fat and ancient.’ I told you, she probably killed herself.”

A real detective would probably have asked other questions, but Buffy was very tired of Sally by this time, so she stepped aside and followed the woman down the stairs and outside the back door. Sally hopped into the pickup, nearly flooded the engine in her haste to get it started, and was soon just a cloud of dust in the driveway.

Chapter 4

Originally posted at

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