- Amateur sleuth
Lizzie frowned down at the sticky honey she had spotted on the sleeve of her blue terry cloth robe. When she made a mess, she made a mess. "Quinn, hold on one more second," she said into the phone and reached for another paper towel.
She wet the towel in the sink and dabbed at her sleeve and then at the belt of her robe. A bird fluttered past the kitchen window, drawing her glance to the bright April morning outside.
"Lizzie?" Quinn said on the telephone. "I've got a meeting in about --"
"Sorry." Lizzie said, and caught back a yawn. "I shouldn't do honey jars or conversations until I'm completely awake. As I was about to say, the telephone rang --"
"Ring! Ring!" Quinn said helpfully.
Lizzie smiled. Then she sobered as she remembered what she had heard. "My caller with the British accent said, 'Hello, I. . .someone gave me your number. I need your help quite desperately. You see, the man I'm engaged to. . .I think that he's planning to. . .I hope you can help me before it's too late. The person who gave me your name said that you could provide me with something. Something that I could use to --'" Lizzie stopped. "And that was all, Quinn. I heard a gasp, and then she was either cut off or hung up."
Lizzie heard Quinn sigh. "Have you considered the possibility, Lizabeth, that the woman may have been calling her local Avon representative?"
Lizzie reached for her mug and took a small sip of the piping hot peppermint tea. Being calm and reasonable always worked best with Quinn. "Her Avon representative?" she said, and waited for his punch line.
"To order a bottle of perfume. A seductive scent to reclaim her fiancé's wandering attention."
"Of course, why didn't I think of that? Who better than the Avon lady to solve her problem? She said she was calling because she thought her fiancé was planning something --"
"Probably planning to leave her for another woman."
"Of course, that's what all fiancés plan to do. She sounded frightened."
"Lizabeth, whatever she was upset about, if a crime had been or was about to be committed, any sane person would call the police."
"Oh, come on, Quinn! There are all kinds of situations where a sane person might not call the police. She said 'planning'. That would suggest the crime -- assuming it is a crime -- hasn't been committed yet. And suppose she only suspects that he's planning whatever, but isn't absolutely certain? Are the police going to respond to someone's suspicions about something that hasn't happened yet? Or suppose she more or less knows her fiancé is involved in something, but she still loves him and wants to stop him from getting in any deeper?
"From getting deeper into what?" Quinn said.
"That's the question, isn't it? Or rather one of two questions. What does she think he's planning? And who might she have been trying to call if she needed help but couldn't turn to the police?"
"Obviously you think she was calling you. You seem to have jumped right on it."
"I know she wasn't calling me because she wanted the person she thought she had reached to provide her with something. And, Chief Quinn, if your observation is intended to imply that I'm a busybody --"
"A busybody?" Quinn said, his tone thoughtful. "No, you aren't at all Miss Marple with her knitting. You're a whole lot prettier. In fact, there are occasions -- like last night, for instance -- when you're so beautiful you take my breath away."
Lizzie closed her eyes and smiled. When he said things like that she forgot to breathe. Lizzie Stuart, former spinster schoolteacher, now starring in her very own romance. "Thank you," she said. "I find you attractive too. Intelligent, intriguing, and incredibly sexy --"
He laughed. "Keep talking."
"I would really like to do that, Quinn, darling --"
"I really like it when you call me that."
"Do you? Then I'll do it more often. At appropriate moments, of course." Lizzie paused. "But right now -- although I know you don't want to and I don't either -- right now, if we could get back to the subject of my caller."
"You aren't going to let this one go, are you?"
"I'd like to. This morning when I woke up, all I wanted to do was spend the morning daydreaming about how you make me feel. I was even planning to do that this afternoon at the office in between reading the research journals that I have to return to my students tomorrow. But, unfortunately, this has come up." Lizzie spread her fingers over her mug, feeling the wisp of steam. "And you see the problem is, what if I let it go, and then I find out something happened to the woman who called?"
"Lizzie, she didn't say she was in danger. And it is just possible that she may figure out how to solve her own problem without your intervention."
"That's possible, even quite likely. I hope that she does. But I still feel that I should follow up." Lizzie picked up the damp paper towel and dabbed at spot of honey on her other sleeve. "I don't know how to explain this, Quinn. But I think that if a person, a bystander, becomes aware that something bad is happening to someone else. . .a heart attack or a car accident or a crime. . .I think that the bystander. . .that if he or she pretends not to see or hear . .what I trying to say is that I think that if the bystander becomes aware of what is happening, that person is obliged. . .expected. . .to respond."
"Expected by whom?" Quinn said. "Some force in the universe that happens to put you there at that moment?"
"I know I'm sounding existential. Or maybe just superstitious. But isn't that why you're a cop? Because you believe people shouldn't turn away and pretend not to see or hear?"
"Cops do what they're expected to do, Lizabeth. You aren't one."
"And believe me, Quinn, I don't want to be one. And I'm not about to don a cape and go out looking for people to rescue. But when I'm in my own bathroom washing my face and minding my business and something still manages to happen. . .a wrong number and someone who really might need help--"
"And if you don't check into this and then you find out later that your caller was in trouble. . .Yes, I got that part."
"But you're not about to give me any encouragement?"
"No, I'm not."
"Quinn, just think about it for a moment. Do you remember how we met?"
"I assume that's a rhetorical question. We met when you decided to intervene in a lovers' spat."
"And then one of the people involved ended up dead. And it turned out to be much more complicated. . .Not that I'm saying this is anything like that. But the woman who called sounded --. . ."
"You've told me how she sounded. But you heard her from the bathroom."
"I heard the first part of the call from the bathroom. I heard it well enough to pick up on --"
"Dammit, Lizabeth, I don't care what you picked up on, you --" He broke off and Lizzie heard him mumble something to himself.
He was probably counting to ten while he contemplated the fact that he was involved with a goody too shoes who thought she was required to track down a wrong number and provide aid and assistance. She didn't blame him for being put out. But things happened. And she had been minding her own business.
"So what do you want to do?" he said.
"Well, I thought I would have a try at locating her," Lizzie said. "I did an automatic redial of the number, but no one picked up the phone. I let it ring, thinking an answering machine would come on. But it didn't. And that's odd in itself. Everyone has an answering machine or voice mail these days --"
"All right, not everyone. And, of course, she might have been calling from a telephone booth. Assuming she could find one. Anyway, I have the number from my caller ID. And I thought that if you could check it and find out who it belongs to--"
"No," Quinn said. "I can't. A wrong number isn't a police matter."
"I know that. And I know that technically you. . ."
"Or legally. I don't have any basis for --"
"I know that Quinn, but -- oh, wait!" Lizzie pressed her fingers to her forehead as her brain finally kicked into gear. "I can do this myself, can't I? If I have the number -- and assuming it isn't a telephone booth -- I should be able to go on-line and check one of those reverse directories for a name and address."
Quinn silence alerted her to the fact that he had been hoping she wouldn't think of that. "And then what?" he said. "Are you planning to go to the address?"
"No, of course not. I mean I haven't thought that far ahead. I just want to get a name and address. And then. . .she might even work at the university. Once I know who she is . . .maybe I'll try calling her again later."
"And if you reach her, do you expect her to blurt out her troubles into your willing ear?"
"No, I don't expect that. She won't know me from Adam. . .or rather Eve. And I am certainly not going to tell her that my boyfriend is a cop --"
"No, you are not going to do that," Quinn agreed.
"And I probably won't even mention that I'm a criminal justice professor. Unless, of course, she does work at the university, and then. . ." Lizzie shook her head as she tried to think it through. "I don’t know what I'm going to do, Quinn. I'll just try to find her, and then I'll play it by ear."
"No pun intended?" he said.
"I promise you I won't do anything that you have to worry about."
"Famous last words. Just be careful."
"I'm always careful. You should know by now that I am not brave and/or intrepid. I am not inclined to walk down dark alleys or --"
"Go to the homes of strangers. If this woman should invite you over, Lizabeth, you will not go."
"I'm pretty sure she won't do that, Quinn. Assuming I can even locate her."
"With any luck, if you do find her, she'll tell you to mind your own damn business and hang up."
Lizzie laughed. "Thank you so much for calling me a busybody again."
"But if she doesn't, you will not meet her alone--"
"No, I will not. I will use my good common sense. I do actually have some -- common sense, I mean."
"I know you do. And I expect you to use it."
"I will. Right now, I'm going to go mop up the honey I spilled and let you get back to work."
"Now that you've played havoc with my concentration?"
"I'm sorry to have called you about this in the middle of --"
Quinn laughed. "You do tend to be a distraction, Professor Stuart."
Lizzie touched the rim of her mug with her fingertip as she thought about that. "Do you mind that a lot?"
"Only when you drive me crazy." He paused. "And usually not even then."
"See you tonight, Chief Quinn."
"Call me if you need me."
In his office, Quinn shoved the report he had been reading into his briefcase and stood up. He snatched his suit jacket from the back of his chair. He had a meeting with the president of the university and the vice president of student affairs in less than ten minutes. Lizzie and her mysterious caller would have to wait until later.
He had known about mid-way through that conversation that he wasn't going to be able to divert her from her mission. The best he could hope was that the fiancé who was up to something wouldn't shoot her.
He wasn't at all amused by that thought.
Just his luck to fall in love with a woman who believed the right thing to do was to try to help someone who might need it. Even if that person had made the request by calling the wrong number. . .
And, yes, he was in love. He loved Lizabeth Theodora Stuart.
He had been married, had a wife, and lost her. But this time was different.
No getting around it. No denying it. It wasn't going to go away. It was probably stamped on his forehead.
Torn between laughter and the panic men in love must have been feeling since the beginning of time, Quinn picked up his briefcase and strode toward the door.
At least, boredom wasn't going to be a problem. With Lizzie in his life, it was highly unlikely he would ever be bored.
To Be Continued...
Note: This short story is the property of the author. It is a violation of the author's copyright to publish, transmit, and/or distribute this story in any form without the express written permission of the author. This story is intended solely for the individual reader who visits this web site. By Frankie Y. Bailey ©2006