mxpw's A/N the Final: And that's a wrap, folks! Thank you for joining Frea and I on this crazy, noir journey. It was a lot of fun working with Frea on this story. We had many late nights, sacrificed much to the Muses, and I believe she actually ate the heart of one of her enemies during the process, but it was worth it in the end. I'm pretty darn pleased with how this story turned out. And I hope you are too! Thank you to Steampunk Chuckster and quistie64 for all their help with the story. Thank you to Frea for being the real genius behind the story. Thank you to everybody here for reading. I hope to see you guys around here again sometime.

Frea's A/N the Final: We made it to the end! Yes! I've said thank you to everybody before and I want to echo all of mxpw's sentiments from his message, too. Also, that heart was delicious, and it got me dragons or something. Or at least, that's what mxpw said it would do, but I HAVE YET TO SEE A SINGLE DRAGON, MAXIMUS—and okay, maybe that's besides the point. On the serious, though, I want to thank my wonderful cowriter, mxpw. He says I'm the real genius behind this story, but I disagree. Neither of us could have written this alone. And it was such a fun, educational experience. I got to write something with my best friend. How many people can say that? I'm truly blessed. And on that note, I'm going to present you the final chapter of our wonderful little noir tale. Check my blog in a couple of days for the ebook download! Stay sexy, folks!

The Letter

I careened through the doorway, slamming a shoulder into a wall and bouncing off it in my haste to reach Sarah. When I rounded the corner into the hallway where I'd left Sarah, Carina, and Mr. Colt, it was just in time to see Sarah crack Mr. Colt over the head with a wooden chair. Where she'd gotten the chair didn't seem important when Colt went down like a Redwood. The floor shook beneath my feet; I grabbed the wall to stay upright, and it was impossible to rip my eyes away from Sarah.

I had always known that Sarah was stunning. I mean, it was one of the biggest reasons why I had thought I'd never have a chance with her. But it wasn't until I burst into the room, and saw her standing upright and victorious over the unconscious form of Mr. Colt, that I realized how truly out of my league she was. She stood in profile, a splintered chair leg clutched in her hand. She was breathing heavily, like she had run a marathon. Her blouse was torn and dirty in several places, her hair a wild mess. And yet, she had never looked more beautiful to me.

"Sarah!" I half-ran, half-slid the remaining distance. She put out a hand instinctively, her eyes wary.

I ignored all of that. "Are you okay? Oh, goodness, are you okay? Casey said you were hurt, and I couldn't think, I just had to get to you—"

She dropped the remains of the chair onto the ground and threw her arms around me. I clung back, relief like a physical taste at the back of my throat. She was upright and she didn't seem injured, save for the black eye starting to form. "I'm fine. I'm fine," she said, her voice a little muffled by my shoulder. "He didn't get me that hard. What about you? Are you okay? I was worried!"

"Yes, I'm okay. The Bishop's a lousy shot." I held Sarah at arm's length, desperate to make sure she wasn't lying and secretly hurt. Sarah seemed to be doing the same, so that we studied each other frantically. Neither of us had been shot. We'd survived facing the Bishop. I couldn't believe it.

The sound of a throat being cleared made me blink and look away from Sarah. Carina, panting and looking just as sweaty as Sarah, gave us both a sardonic look as she bent to scoop up Mr. Colt's discarded bowler hat. She dusted it off. "I'm okay, too," she said. "In case you were curious, and I know you were."

Sheepishness rose. I hadn't even seen her in my determination to get to Sarah. I surprised all three of us by hugging her, too. "I'm glad you're okay," I said. "Thank you for helping Sarah."

She stiffened and took a wary step back away from me. "Who says she wasn't helping me?"

"Carina," Sarah said, sounding amused. Carina smirked at that and flipped Mr. Colt's bowler hat onto her head, tilting it jauntily.

"You two are nauseating," was all she said, but I was pretty confident she was pleased at my gesture. Of course, since it was Carina Miller and I suspected sentimentality just wasn't something that went hand in hand with her, that didn't last too long. She raised an eyebrow at me. "So, you're unhurt and that's great, but do you have the part?"

"Please," I said, and fished the Omega Machine out of my pocket. "It's me."

Carina snatched it out of my hand without so much as a please or a thank you. And leaving Sarah and I gaping at her, she turned smartly on her heel and marched away, back toward the back room where the majority of the fighting had happened.

We stood in silence for a second. "Are you sure she's your sister?" I asked Sarah.

"Half-sister. And yes." Sarah laughed a little and looked around. "Did you get Morgan? Where is he?"

"Morgan!" I couldn't believe I'd actually forgotten my best friend, even in the panic that Sarah had been hurt. I spun around, searching in vain. "Where is he? Have you seen him? He should be here—I told him to find you."

Sarah nudged the prone Mr. Colt with a toe. He didn't even stir. "He might have run by? I was a little busy, I must confess."

"Oh, no," I said, and started to shove doors in the hallway open, looking for my pal. This was all I needed. Sarah was okay, Jill'd run off, Casey had survived the gunfight, but if something happened to Morgan, I didn't think I could handle it. My stomach dropped to my knees as I frantically looked about, trying to find him.

"Chuck?" Sarah had moved to the doorway to the back room. "Something you need to see here."

"Oh, no, he didn't get shot, did he? He's always getting into trouble." I hurried up to join her and had to rock back on my heels in surprise.

"No," Sarah said dryly. "I would say he's probably fine."

She wasn't lying. While I had been off dealing with the Bishop and Sarah had been facing her own nemesis, the cops of the 42nd had handled their own in the gun battle in the back room. Soviets and the Bishop's thugs alike were being slapped into handcuffs while Captain Montgomery looked on, arms folded over his chest in satisfaction. And there in the middle of it all was my best friend, free of his bonds and scribbling hurriedly in his little reporter's notebook as he asked rapid-fire questions at cops and criminals alike.

"Looks like he's doing okay," Sarah said.

I watched Morgan, who seemed in his element as he ducked in and out to talk to different people, writing the whole time. Finally, I thought, his big break. "Yeah," was all I could say to that.

"Chuck," Sarah said, putting her hand on my arm. "Where's the Bishop? Did he get away?"

In my rush to get to Sarah, I had completely forgotten everything about the Bishop. "What? No, he didn't get away. Casey showed up. I left them back in the alley—"

Casey chose that moment to emerge from the door behind us. I drew up short. Why was he alone? Where was the Bishop? Had Casey handed Karpazzo over to another one of his men? That didn't make sense. There hadn't been anybody else in the alley when I'd left, and all of the surviving cops looked like they were busy in the room in front of me.

It hit me like a sock to the gut why Casey was alone. I recalled the loud noise I'd heard as I had run inside. I had brushed it off, assuming it was from the room with all the fighting, but looking at the stony set to Casey's face now, I knew better. Horror flooded me and I stared at Casey.

"You didn't," I said. "Casey, please tell me—"

To his credit, Casey looked me right in the eyes. I couldn't read his face. "I did what I had to do," he said.

Bile rose to my throat. "He wasn't armed. You shot—"

"He was right," Casey said, interrupting me. "Everything he said in that alley was the damned truth, Carmichael. With his money and connections, he'd never see the inside of a jail cell. You think he would have let you live? What about your secretary here, huh?"

"Partner," Sarah said, looking from him to me.

I wanted to sit down. My knees had begun to shake too uncontrollably to keep me upright, and I felt like being sick right there on the floor in front of Casey and Sarah. Casey had killed an unarmed, defenseless man, a man I had helped capture and hand over. I was complicit in a murder. Certainly, nobody would miss Vincent Karpazzo, and he'd caused the city so much grief during his reign of terror, but that didn't make it right.

"That doesn't matter," I said. "It wasn't right."

"It must be nice to cling to those ideals of yours, Carmichael. The rest of us have to live in the real world."

"I can't accept that," I said. "I won't accept that. Murder is—it's wrong, Casey."

"I did what had to be done." Casey took a deep breath and would have brushed past me, I think, but I stepped right into his path with a strength I didn't know I had. We went a long way back, ever since he saved my rear from being beaten to a pulp, but now I felt nothing but sick. He gave me a long, almost sad look. "You're a Boy Scout, Carmichael. That's why I've always liked you. But I'm not like that, and if the city's going to see any justice, I can't be like that."

"Casey," I said, and trailed off. Was I really a Boy Scout? No, I couldn't have been. I'd let Jill run when I knew full on that she'd killed a man. How could I condemn Casey for essentially doing the same thing? And hadn't I wanted to shoot the Bishop myself when he had started going on about hurting everybody I loved? I told myself I didn't care for outlaw justice day in and day out, but a good, honest Boy Scout of a man wouldn't have let Jill run free. So as much as it disgusted me, I bit my lip, hard. "That may be so, Casey. But what you did was still wrong."

Casey's frown deepened. "Maybe, but it was necessary, and I'm not talking about it anymore." He pushed past me and stalked away.

I watched him go and talk to one of his men, and turmoil swirled through my chest. Suddenly, I felt nothing but exhaustion. Carina had her part of the Machine, two officers were carting off the unconscious Agent Shaw, another officer had put Mr. Colt in handcuffs, Sarah was safe, Morgan was finally getting to do the reporting work he'd dreamed about, Casey had killed the Bishop in cold blood, Jill was on the run, and me? I needed a vacation.

"Come on, let's go home," Sarah said, and I let her lead me away.

"'An anonymous source claims that the police have no suspects in the mysterious death of Mr. Karpazzo, who was discovered after the raid in the alley behind his own club. Chicago police have yet to issue an official statement, but this writer wonders what repercussions might be had from the rather infamous crime king's death,'" Sarah read aloud, flicking the newspaper a little as she did so. She was sitting on the only clean surface in my office—the desk—her nose buried in today's edition of The Chicago Tribune. The front of the paper held two important things: a headline that said "POLICE RAID LOCAL WAREHOUSE AND UNCOVER SOVIET ACTIVITY" and even better, my best friend's byline.

I'd already read the article, but it was soothing listening to Sarah's voice as I cleaned, so I let her read on.

She paused, though. "Huh," she said. "For somebody who's trying not to mention us by name, Morgan seems awfully fixated on how pretty both of us are."

"It's just solid logic. You can't deny I'm a handsome devil," I said. I gathered up a stack of files and was tempted to shove them straight into the garbage bin, but Sarah would only scold me.

"No, I can't deny that." Sarah folded one side of the newspaper down to wink at me, and went back to reading.

A solid night of sleep had helped put things in perspective, but the past few days felt like a blur nonetheless. Though we'd tried to sneak out as unobtrusively as possible the night before, the police had detained us for questioning. I think they suspected we had been the ones to shoot Agent Shaw, though we had been completely honest when we asserted that we were innocent. They'd let us go, but it had been almost midnight, and the both of us had been too tired to do much but stumble to my apartment. I had let Sarah take the bed and instead fell, fully dressed, onto my sofa. I had stayed there for a full twelve hours, and it had felt like glory.

Now, a full meal in my stomach and rested for the first time in days, there was nothing to do but pick up the remaining pieces. Unfortunately this happened to be literal, as my office looked like a tornado had torn through it.

Sarah closed the paper with a satisfied look. "I think he embellished a little unnecessarily a few times, but this is more or less on the money. It's a good piece. He should be proud."

"Oh, he's definitely that. In fact, his head's going to be swollen like a hot air balloon for weeks. Strap a basket to him and we can give tours of the Windy City," I said, sorting papers back into their files. I eyed Sarah. "Say, you mind pitching in here, maybe? Given that half of this detective firm is now yours, partner, I find it mighty fair."

Sarah flicked a piece of lint off of her skirt. "It's not official yet. I'll take my vacation while I can."

"Ha, ha," I said, though I had to smile at the look on her face. It had been nearly twenty-four hours since I'd discovered that Sarah was really my guardian angel and that she loved me, and I still couldn't quite wrap my head around it. To have something so perfect in my life seemed beyond surreal: it seemed impossible, but there she was, grinning mischievously from my desk.

I almost wanted to pinch myself.

"Oh, Ellie rang while you were out getting us lunch," Sarah said, making me look up from the cleaning. "They've cleaned up things at the Lady."

"How mad is she at me?" I asked.

Sarah grimaced. "There might have been some threats? She's willing to forgive you if you're free for dinner on Tuesday. She wants to check out that new club near the Broken Monkey, the one with the absurd name, oh, what was it called?"

"The Orange Orange?"

"That was the one, yes. I told her you were free. I think she's bringing that new doctor friend of hers—or I should probably say beau. Oh, don't make that face. You liked him just fine yesterday."

I wrinkled my nose at her. I still didn't know how I felt about Dr. Devon Woodcomb, but I supposed I could give him a shot, given that Ellie had always displayed far better judgement that I had. Though the thought of meeting them for dinner had me wincing. I'd been by the Orange Orange and the prices had been mighty steep. "I hope I get a new case by then," I said, thinking of the growing list of people to whom I owed quite a bit of money.

"Perhaps you could put an ad in the paper," Sarah said, turning her wrist to get a look at the other side of the half-folded paper in her hand.

I frowned at a receipt and wondered why I had written "Red Dog" on it. This was why I had always trusted Sarah to keep track of everything. "A wonderful idea, but with what money? I happen to be flat broke at the moment, Miss Walker."

"Oh, I've got money," Sarah said.

I looked up, receipt forgotten. "You do? I must say, I'm mighty surprised, since I'm pretty sure your last employer didn't pay you enough for your skills."

"I did the work for fun, rather than pay." Sarah smiled at me, and it was that partially exasperated, mostly amused look I remembered well from years of working together. "No, I have quite a bit of money because when I told you my real name was Sarah Wechsler, I may have forgotten to mention that Hamish and Marguerite Wechsler are my grandparents."

I dropped the file. "Hamish and Margu—your grandparents own H.M. Wechsler's?"

"Yes," Sarah said.

Suddenly, I wanted to sit down, but the chair was on the other side of the room, so I stuck with bracing a hand against the wall. H.M. Wechsler's took up some very prime real estate down on Michigan Avenue. Their main competitors were Sears and Roebuck, so they weren't just a tiny Chicago boutique anymore.

"Is that a problem?" Sarah asked.

"I...I bought this tie at Wechsler's," I said, looking down at my outfit. I was pretty sure I'd brought my shoes there, too. And the entire time, they'd been Sarah's people.

"Oh, you should have told me. I would have gotten you a discount."

"So when you say you've got money," I said, "you mean…"

"That I'm rich, yes." Sarah set the paper down and recrossed her legs, primly, resting her elbows atop her knees. She put her chin on her knuckles and gazed at me. "I was actually on my way to pay a visit to my grandmother when you ran across me the other day, come to think of it. She had a broken lamp that she wanted me to pick up for the shop. Of course, I had to cut our tea short because it seems like you had gotten yourself in some trouble."

As much as that explained the mystery of the lamp, I couldn't stop the exasperation from rising to the surface. "So, let me get this straight: you're Black Jack Burton's daughter, your grandparents own Wechsler's, you've been following me around in disguise and saving my bacon, and you weren't a nurse in the War."

"Oh dear." Sarah sat up straight, a concerned line forming between her eyebrows. She nibbled her bottom lip. "I do seem to have lied to you quite a bit. I hadn't realized it was that much."

I decided that maybe I did want to sit down, so I moved to my desk chair. I ran my hand down my face. "Yes," I said. "It's a lot."

"I am sorry," Sarah said, turning so that she faced me. "I didn't want to lie all the time, but some of the truths are easier to deal with for me if people don't know. My father hurt a lot of people in this town, so being his daughter isn't something I'm always proud of."

"Are there any other things that I should know?" I asked instead. "Got an Uncle Moneybags? Cousins that work for Barnum and Bailey? Are your eyes blue or are they green?"

"Green? Why would you—oh, that's right. The contacts." Sarah frowned a little. "We were issued those during the War, when we ran missions, so if we were caught, our true eye color wouldn't be on record anywhere. So when I became your…" She trailed off, her frown deepening.

"Angel?" I suggested.

If anything, Sarah's frown turned into an outright scowl. "Protector," she said.

"You don't like the term angel?" This, like pretty much everything I'd discovered about my ex-secretary in the past few days, was news to me.

Sarah shook her head, violently. "Angel is her," she said.

"But you are…"

"I know that." It was Sarah's turn to run a hand down her face. "Do you know why I left?"

I rubbed my forehead in frustration. "You left so many clues, so of course I did," I said, the sarcasm dripping from my voice before I could stop it. "No! I've been tearing my hair out, trying to figure it out. I'm guessing it wasn't a sick mother like you told Ellie?"

She at least had the conscience to wince. "No, my mother is—that's a story better not told. I left because you asked me where the invoice for the Fleming case was, and when I gave it to you, you said 'Thanks, Angel,' and I realized that I was just tired of the competition."

"Your competition with yourself," I said, since it still made my head ache a little, even though I was certainly not questioning my incredible luck.

"Yes, and it was a fine mess, but I was tired of the secrets and double life, so I left. And that wasn't fair to you, so I'm sorry for that."

The look on her face made me instinctively reach forward so that I could put my hand on hers. "It's going to take me awhile to get with the program about all of this, but I promise to try. And maybe I needed the kick to the rump."

"This is a fine mess." Sarah sighed. "Anyway, back to the point of the story, when I became your protector, it seemed natural to continue forward with using the contact lenses. They were mostly so others who I might have fought wouldn't recognize me either, but they seem to have worked on you very well, so I am sorry about that. We were taught to do anything we could to disguise ourselves, and I am afraid some things became habit. I hope you'll be patient with me."

"If you can forgive me for being an oblivious idiot, I'm sure I can be the most patient man in the world," I said, finally lifting my head.

Sarah beamed at me and leaned across the desk to kiss me. "For that," she said, leaning back, "I'll help you with the rest of this mess. Provided you don't call me 'Angel' again."

"Deal," I said, and she looped her arms around my neck. It took us quite a while to get to cleaning up the mess, as there were much pleasanter things to do in the meantime. Reluctantly, Sarah eventually climbed off the desk and headed for the office door. "Too bad we can't just lock that," I said without entirely thinking about it. I picked up the ever-reliable Cubbies ball and began to toss it from hand to hand.

She shot me an arch look over her shoulder. "That will not be happening until you make an honest woman out of me."

The look on her face made me grin. "Is that your way of asking me to go steady?"

"Steady?" Sarah straightened her shirt. "Mr. Carmichael, we are long past the idea of 'going steady.' That was my way of saying we will be going to the courthouse tomorrow."

"The courthouse?" I asked, my brow furrowed. "What business would we have at the—"

It suddenly occurred to me why most people—the good folk who didn't spend their lives tangling with the law or breaking said laws, at any rate—would have reason to visit the courthouse. Needless to say, I dropped the ball and just stared.

It let out a metallic clunk as it hit the floor and to my surprise, broke open like an egg. I looked down and blinked to see my favorite baseball on the ground next to a shiny contraption about the length of my pinky finger and a rolled up piece of paper.

"Uh," I said.

"Well?" Sarah had her eyes on my face and not on the ball. "What do you have to say to that?"

"Were you using the baseball for storage?" I asked.

"Chuck, I—oh, Gott im Himmel, what is that?" Sarah stepped closer and together we crouched over the shattered remains of my beloved baseball. "Where did this come from?"

"I'm more concerned about how long it's been in there." Wonderingly, I picked up the contraption. Upon closer inspection, I could see tiny wires running throughout it. It was thin, a flattened piece of metal, and I couldn't see any transistor tubes or anything, though I did notice some funny etchings on one of the sides. Gold filament ran lengthwise down the entire piece. "I've never seen anything like this before. I don't think it was in the ball when we caught it." Somebody, after all, had to state the obvious, and given how oblivious I'd been over Sarah's dual roles in my life, it might as well have been me.

Sarah picked up the rolled up piece of paper and carefully unfolded it. After a second, she went still. "This is for you, I think," she said, holding the paper out to me. "It's a letter."

"That's actually helpful. Does it say what the device is?"

"I think you'd better read it." She nudged the letter at me. I took it, puzzled, and handed her the device. The handwriting on the page wasn't familiar to me, so I took the letter over to my desk chair and sat down. A peek at the bottom of the letter told me it was from Bryce Larkin.

"Sarah, that's the missing piece from the Omega Machine," I said. "This is from Bryce. He must have hid it in the baseball."

"I think you're right," she said, turning the piece over in her hand.

I looked at the letter again, and felt a solemn wave wash over me. I was, I realized, about to read the words of a dead man.

Dear Mr. Carmichael,

I know you probably don't remember me, but that's fine. You saved my life in the War, when our B-17 went down. I wasn't even supposed to be on that plane. In fact, there's no record of me fighting in the War, courtesy of Wild Bill, so I'm very much afraid that I have deprived you of a well-deserved medal. You pulled me out of that plane when you could have saved yourself, and for that, I'll be forever grateful. I tried to find you afterwards to thank you in person, but they had already transferred you on to another hospital, and our paths never managed to cross.

"Holy mackerel." I had to set the letter down. "I knew I recognized him."

Sarah's head shot up. "You knew Bryce Larkin?"

"Not personally. I…" My leg twinged with the old wound and I instinctively put a hand on it. We'd had to crash land not too far from enemy lines. The pilot and copilot had died, and I would always know when rain was coming, but I thought that was the only thing to come from that crash. The minutes after the crash were nothing but a blur of pain and confusion for me. It was possible Bryce had mistaken me for somebody else, but something in my gut told me the letter was the sterling truth. "I pulled him out when my plane went down, according to him. I don't remember."

The lines around Sarah's mouth whitened. Wordlessly, she put her hand over mine. I turned my palm upward so that I could lace my fingers through hers, and turned my focus back to the letter.

I'm afraid I must ask for your help again. A man in the employ of the agency I work for was killed because of his research into a device that—well, I don't want to put down in writing what it does. If it falls into the wrong hands, thousands of lives could be at stake, so I've split the device into two pieces, one for me to keep safe, and one for you. Hopefully you'll never have to see this letter because I'll get a chance to return for the missing part, but in the event you do, please deliver this safely to a Mr. L. Graham at 409 Lancashire Street in Madison. I've left your reward for your service with him.

"Reward?" I asked, blinking and reading that sentence twice to make sure I hadn't read that wrong. "He wants us to take the part to Madison. A man's waiting to receive it, and he says there's a reward."

"How much?" Sarah asked, looking down at the piece in her free hand.

"It doesn't—oh, here we go. 'I know your normal fee isn't nearly this high,'" I read aloud, "'but I think we can agree that ten thousand dollars is'—urp!"

"Are you okay?" Sarah's eyes widened.

Again, I had to read it twice to make sure I hadn't hallucinated it, but there it was in Bryce Larkin's neat, looping handwriting. Ten thousand dollars. My heart thumped hard against my chest twice, and I thought of Mr. Colt and Mr. Delgado sitting across from me in this very office, offering me that much to find Bryce Larkin. I'd thought about never earning that much money in my life, and here it was again, printed in black and white by a man who was now dead.

I had to swallow several times. "I'm okay," I said. "Sarah, he's giving us ten thousand dollars."

Sarah made a noise in the back of her throat. "Sounds about right for our pain and trouble," she said. "What's the rest of the letter say?"

I had to clear the watering in my eyes before I could go on. "'I think we can agree that ten thousand dollars is enough for a job well done. Mr. Graham will know what to do. Thank you again, for saving my life and for helping me with this. Your country appreciates your service, Chuck. Sincerely, Bryce Larkin.'"

There was a post-script, of course, which I read aloud:

PS - Sorry about having to trash your office. I needed to fool some people into thinking the piece wasn't here.

PPS - If you could do me yet another favor, would you mind telling Carina Miller that she owes me ten dollars? It only took me three hours to discover she was in Chicago, not the anticipated twelve. Much obliged.

"He sounds just like Carina's type," Sarah said, sitting on the desk once more.

"I must say, I'm sad I never met him, officially," I said. "I think I would'a liked him. If they let him have a funeral, I think I'd like to go to it."

"I'll get in touch with Carina," Sarah said. "But first, we need to go to Madison."

"You think so?" I asked, doubt rising. What if Bryce's letter had been a plant? What if this mysterious Mr. Graham wasn't who Bryce thought he was? After all, Bryce had let Jill close enough to stab him in the back. "Maybe we should contact Carina instead."

"I never thought I'd see the day you suggest my half-sister as a viable option," Sarah said, but she stood up and brushed off her skirts. "But we're going to Madison. Carina won't give us ten thousand dollars and it sounds like this Mr. Graham will."

"I thought you were rich," I said, squinting at her as she pulled me to my feet. When she handed me my hat, I absently put it on, straightening the brim.

"I am, but ten thousand dollars will still pay for a really good honeymoon, and I don't intend to miss out on that."

My brain caught on one word. "H-honeymoon?" I asked, and suddenly, my tongue felt thick and slow and stupid. "You mean, like the thing people do when they get married? With sitting on beaches and sipping cocktails?"

"Yes, that one. don't want to get married?"

Not want to get married? To Sarah? There could be only one answer to that. Without a word, I calmly pulled off my hat and tossed it toward the rack (it landed neatly on the peg, which was more of an accident than anything else). And then I stepped forward and dipped Sarah like I'd seen the movie stars do, and kissed her.

"Answer your question?" I asked.

She smirked and grabbed my lapels to bring my face down to hers once again. "It'll do," she said.

So in the end, it took a mysterious cipher, a couple of spies, a Chicago crime lord, a crooked cop, a cub reporter, some Soviets, and a secret message hidden inside of a foul ball, but I won over my girl Sarah. Or, I should say, she finally won me over.