Disclaimer: All of these characters belong to someone else, not me. I promise to put them back when I'm done with them.
(based on a screenplay by Jackson Gillis)
~~ Chapter 1 ~~
Alfred Pennyworth blinked slightly as he stepped out into the bright afternoon sunshine. The crisp weather and clear sky made quite a contrast with the dark, slightly dingy interior of the Wayne clinic's storeroom. He surreptitiously pulled his shoulders back to stretch them after a long morning of unloading, checking, and putting up supplies in the small clinic. As he walked down the street to retrieve his car, he was surprised to see a well-dressed woman walking ahead of him. Her attire was in sharp contrast to the run-down buildings around her. His surprise turned to dismay as two young street toughs also spotted her. He quickened his steps.
"Listen, lady, just give us yer cash, or I'm gonna have ta take it from you th' hard way!"
As he got closer, Alfred could just barely hear the woman's reply. She sounded tense but not terrified.
"I'm sorry, young man, but I'm afraid I don't have very much cash on me. You would be making a lot of trouble for yourself for not much reward. Why don't you let me pass, and we'll just forget all about this?"
One teenager positioned himself in front of her, while the other stood slightly behind her and to the side. They were concentrating on her, which allowed Alfred to get close enough to see that the would-be muggers were armed with knives. He readied his umbrella and jogged forward.
Alfred slammed his steel-shafted umbrella against the back of the rear thug's knees, dropping him to the ground. He followed up with a blow to the teen's head, stunning him, and turned to attack the other thug. The woman had taken advantage of the disturbance to bash the head of the teen in front of her with her purse. Although he was still conscious, he was dazed enough for Alfred to kick the knife from his hand and an additional hit with the umbrella caused him to join his friend in unconsciousness.
"Oh, thank you!" the woman exclaimed. "I wasn't sure how I was going to get out of this mess!"
Alfred smiled grimly. "You are quite welcome, madam, but I would suggest we leave here as quickly as possible before they regain consciousness."
"Shouldn't we call the police?"
"I would like to, but I'm afraid we have no way of securing these … persons until the authorities arrive, and they might have friends lurking about. I have a car nearby." He led her around the building. "My name is Alfred Pennyworth, by the way."
She hung back a little, obviously not completely sure she could trust him. "Thank you again, Mr. Pennyworth, but if you could just direct me to a bus stop or cab, I'll be fine."
Alfred stopped and gave her what he hoped was a reassuring smile. "I can certainly understand your caution, madam. Unfortunately, this street is not on a bus route, and cabs rarely venture here. In any event, I believe we would be safer near my car than standing out here in the open."
He started walking again and was pleased to see her follow him this time. She was a trim-looking woman of medium height, probably in her late fifties, if he was any judge. She had short, reddish-gold hair with just a few touches of gray and bright, piercing blue eyes. He also noticed that she did not wear a wedding ring.
"Would you mind telling me how you ended up here? Were you looking for someplace in particular?" he asked gently.
She smiled ruefully in return. "I'll be honest and say it was my own fault for not paying attention. I'm visiting a friend here in Gotham on a combination business/personal trip. I had some errands to run downtown, and I didn't really pay attention to where my friend's house was in relation to where I was going. When I finished, I noticed on the bus map that I was only two blocks away from my friend's street … at least, what I thought was my friend's street!" She sighed.
"So you decided not to wait for the bus, but to walk instead," Alfred finished.
They arrived at the nondescript sedan Alfred used for his trips to the clinic. He stood next to the car as an idea occurred to him.
"Since we were on Royal, I would assume then, that your friend lives on North Royal Lane?" At her nod, he continued, "By any chance, does your friend employ any servants? A housekeeper or butler, perhaps?" Most of the houses on North Royal were of the multi-story, multi-room, urban mansion type. Bruce Wayne was an oft-invited guest to these houses, so Alfred was reasonably acquainted with almost all of the staffs. If he was lucky …
"Why yes, she employs a butler," the woman replied.
Alfred pulled out his cell phone and handed it to her. "Let's try this: call your friend's house and ask the butler if he would consider me an acceptable person to escort you home. If he doesn't, you'll at least be able to have him send someone to pick you up."
He could see that the idea appealed to her, so she dialed.
"Franklin? Yes, this is Mrs. Fletcher. A gentleman named Alfred Pennyworth has offered to take me back to the house, and he thought you might be acquainted with him? … You are? … Yes, that sounds like this gentleman. Thank you very much, Franklin. Good-bye."
She handed the phone back to Alfred and smiled. "You certainly come highly recommended, Mr. Pennyworth! Franklin said you would take good care of me."
Alfred opened her car door and handed her in. "I will certainly do my best, Mrs. Fletcher. I assume you are staying at Mrs. Taylor's?"
"That's right," she laughed delightedly. "Very good! Please, call me Jessica, though."
Alfred closed her car door and experienced a sudden epiphany. Sliding into the driver's seat, he asked, "Forgive me if I presume too much, but would you also happen to be J.B. Fletcher the mystery writer?"
"Why, yes, I am!"
"Christine, are you absolutely clear on what you have to do tomorrow night?"
"Are you sure we have to do this?"
"Baby, I've told you before – you deserve the best, and the only way I can give that to you is to get what's rightfully mine. Now remember, you have to meet me no later than 10:45 and make sure no one sees you."
"And then we'll be together?"
"Of course, we will, sweetheart. I promise."
Author's note: Yes, this is Jessica (J.B.) Fletcher from Murder, She Wrote, created by Peter S. Fischer, Richard Levinson, and William Link. The plot for this story is adapted from a screenplay by Jackson Gillis for Columbo (also created by Levinson and Link) called "Suitable for Framing".