Sutter, you big chicken, this isn’t so big and scary.
At 10:00, Holly had just rinsed the last ice cream dish when McCallister approached from behind and slid her arms around her.
“Hol, would it be okay if I borrowed your baby car?”
She nearly dropped the dish as she spun around. “My baby car? It’s not spring yet.”
“Close enough, I figure.”
“Does that mean I can drive it now, too?”
“As long as there’s no snow or ice, you can.”
“Yes!” she screeched.
She savored the smile that spread across her face. When her car came out of winter storage, Holly experienced it as a glorious milestone, the surest sign of spring. She realized she was so lost in her excitement that she forgot the original question. She tried again, “So, can I use your car?”
“Of course, you can,” she answered as she placed the dish in the drainer and grabbed the towel. “Why do you need it anyway?”
“Because a little red sports car does not look at all like a cop car.”
“True, but what does that have to do with anything?” Suddenly, her face twisted with dread. “A stakeout?”
“Actually, I’m going to spend the night in it, um, by Granger Bridge.”
“Laura, you can’t—”
“Hol, I have to do something. After the other night, how close another came to jumping, I have to. We can’t let our guard down. The number of patrols drops at 11:00 on weeknights so I’m going to pick up the slack, off the clock.”
“Then I’m going with you.”
“No, you’re not.”
“Yes, I am.”
“No, Hol. Stay home where it’s warm. Get some sleep.”
“I’m going with you.”
“Fine, then you can’t have my baby car.”
She could not help but laugh. “That is not fair.”
“Neither is not letting me go with you.” Her hands went to her hips to make her point. “They’re kids, babe, hurting kids. It’s not like they’re armed and dangerous, and besides, I won’t do anything but keep my eyes peeled. If something needs to be done, I’ll just stay out of your way. I promise.”
“So is trying to sleep without you.”
A smile overtook her face. “You are very stubborn and highly manipulative.”
She whipped the towel around McCallister’s neck and pulled her near. “Yes, but did it work?”
* * * * *
An hour later, McCallister eased the car close to a streetlight. “Is this enough?”
Holly cracked open the book and quickly determined her ability to read in the orangish light. “Perfect, babe.”
She took the car out of gear and set the emergency brake as she said, “I still think you should have just stayed home in bed.”
“I’d rather be with you.” She grabbed the paper cup from the holder. “Have a sip of the hot chocolate before it gets cold.”
She took the cup from her and the suggested swallow. She handed it back, gesturing her head in a way that would make her reciprocate. “I like that you’re here with me, though,” she told her. “Thank you.”
“Always,” she replied. “Now, get comfy.” She returned the cup to the holder, and the two of them wriggled to comfort in the seat. Then, she spread a soft brown blanket over their laps. She opened the worn paperback again, tilted it toward the light, and read, “‘Chapter 1. Mr Sherlock Holmes.'” She cleared her throat before continuing, “‘Mr. Sherlock Holmes, who was usually very late in the mornings, save upon those not infrequent occasions when he was up all night, was seated at the breakfast table. I stood upon the hearth-rug and picked up the stick which our visitor had left behind him the night before. It was a fine, thick piece of wood, bulbous-headed of the sort which—'” She giggled. “I always liked the word ‘bulbous.'” She repeated the word and prepared to resume reading, but instead, she said, “Babe, I still don’t get why you read mysteries all the time. Don’t you get tired of always trying to make sense of things?”
“You’re an artist. Do you get tired of looking at art?”
“Well, no, but I do get tired of painting sometimes. But looking at other people’s art usually inspires me to get back to my own.” She closed the book and looked at its cover. “There’s no art here, though. This is a very boring book cover.”
“I didn’t pick it for the cover. Sorry. The Hound of the Baskervilles is one of Doyle’s most popular Sherlock Holmes. I thought you’d like it.”
“Because I like dogs?”
“Hol, I don’t think you’d like this dog very much. He’s very cranky, and he glows in the dark.”
“Because I like detectives, then. I do like detectives—well, one anyway.” She returned to the book’s first page. “Does this stuff inspire you like art inspires me?”
She thought for a moment and then answered, “It kind of teaches me. I’ve read them so many times that I know what to expect. When I read it again, I learn to look at everything but what’s right in front of me. That’s what I need to do when I work a case of my own.”
“And, if you ever encounter a cranky glow-in-the-dark dog, you’ll know what to do.”
“Something like that,” she replied, and they both laughed.
Again, Holly tilted the book to read. A couple of paragraphs later, she stopped and said, “Sitting here, helping you keep an eye on the bridge … that would kind of make me your Watson.”
“I guess it would.”
Once more, she began to read, and McCallister managed to pay attention for only a few moments before her mind began to wander. Not unlike Holmes and Watson, they were indeed a team, and yet, she withheld from Holly a vital piece of information. Every time her mind went to the woman in the hospital, she knew that. In ways she hadn’t yet even admitted to herself, something loomed before her. She wondered why her first thought hadn’t been to share it with Holly. Was she afraid it would make it real if she said it aloud, or was she fearful that Holly would immediately see the truth and make it unreal? She grew very tired of the war inside.
She maneuvered under the blanket until she reached Holly’s thigh. With her hand resting there, she savored the feel of her, focused on her reading, and monitored the bridge.
When Holly finished the second chapter, McCallister coaxed her into laying her head on her lap to get some sleep. Covertly crossing her fingers, she promised to wake her up in an hour so she could take a turn sleeping. She gently stroked her forehead and whispered her own version of Holmes and Watson: a modest, top-notch detective who fell helplessly in love with her beautiful sidekick. It lulled them both: one to sleep and the other to contentment through a night that would pass ever so slowly.
* * * * *
With gritty eyes and a splitting headache, she took a seat at her desk and grabbed the two pink phone messages. One was from Sharon Pierce, the DA, who was probably calling about upcoming trial dates that required her testimony. The other came from the garage to remind her of an overdue oil change.
She set them back down just as Captain Greeley’s secretary breezed through to dispense a sheet of paper to each person and vacant desk. McCallister outstretched her hand as she approached.
“Good morning, Detective.”
“Good morning, Lois.”
“Already stole more than my fair share. Thank you.”
She snatched the paper from her as she passed and immediately looked to discover the photo of a dead man. The text on the bottom indicated that a body had been found in a rural area early that morning. The man was described as a white male, 55-65 years old, gray/brown hair, 5’9″-5’11”, blue trousers, gold shirt, brown loafers. The Sheriff’s Department was hoping for identification or any information.
She stared at the picture and recalled the details of all active cases. Then, she stretched her mind to closed cases and to incidental things. Nothing. The man’s face brought no recognition.
She grabbed the phone and dialed Detective Sergeant Willis. His greeting was terse, and she bristled.
Cooly, she informed, “This is McCallister. I’m calling about the man you found this morning.”
“Do you know who he is?”
“He doesn’t look familiar, but I’m calling to find out cause of death.”
“We don’t know yet. Dr. Hastings just got him.”
“I’m sure you’re aware there’s been a rash of suicides lately. Does it look like suicide could be a possibility?”
“Everything’s a possibility this early in the game.”
“It’s not a game.”
“That’s not what I meant.”
“But it’s what you said.”
“Nice talking to you, too,” he said and promptly disconnected.
She groaned as she hung up the phone. She wrapped her arm around her head and castigated herself for being antagonistic. He was notorious for being a jerk, and she had just outdone him. Reflexively, she grabbed the phone and dialed again.
“I’m sorry,” she said after his reluctant greeting. “I apparently got up on the wrong side of the bed this morning.”
Surprising her, he said, “Apology accepted. Is that really what you wanted? To know if it was suicide?”
“Yes. It’s been hell around here lately. What’s your gut tell you, Willis?”
“My gut says he was killed and dumped here. Dr. Hastings said he’s more decomposed than he should be this time of year.”
“Well, the photo’s just making the rounds here. Maybe somebody can identify him and make your job easier. If you need anything from me, just ask. And again, Willis, I’m sorry.”
“Thanks, Detective McCallister.”
Ending on that positive note made her feel a bit better.
She seized the stack of open cases and perused them, making a list of productive things to fill her day. In need of adrenaline to counter her fatigue, she decided it was a day best spent rattling cages: a convenience store clerk who claimed to have been a victim in a robbery; the suspected owner of a hard drive containing child pornography that had been chucked in an electronics recycling bin; a woman thought to be helping her boyfriend elude an arrest warrant. And through it all, she would weave a path that included every bridge in the city at regular intervals.
* * * * *
Late in the afternoon, she turned onto the road by Granger Bridge, and she smiled to see the white van containing Dylan and her newly appointed bridge watchers. She parked behind it, grabbed the six-pack of soda from her backseat, and headed to the driver’s side door.
Dylan lowered the window, and all of them greeted her. To her, it did not seem at all as though they engaged in a serious activity. It was relaxed, joyous even, and she surmised that was a good thing.
“How are my bridge watchers? How’s it going?” she asked as she passed the soda in through the window.
“All quiet, Detective,” Dylan answered.
“Not a thing to report, Detective,” Jonathan said, craning his head from the backseat.
“Then it’s working,” she affirmed. “Keep up the good work. I’ll head back to Macy.” She turned to leave but pivoted with the intent of jokingly warning them about mom laws that prohibited excessive consumption of sugary, caffeinated beverages. That was when she heard it.
“She’s hot,” one of them said. “Is she married?”
Anger rose within her. Boys, she told herself. Adolescent boys. It meant nothing, and yet, if attitudes that reduced women—anyone—to looks went unchallenged, it would never change. She had just opened her mouth to speak when she spied Dylan peering at her in the side-view mirror, a reassuring smile on his face.
He nodded knowingly at her ire and said to them, “If hot’s all you see, you’re missing a lot.”
Trusting him and feigning oblivion, she swallowed hard and hurried to her car.
She had just revved the engine when her cell phone announced a text message, a most welcome diversion from Holly. It read: Dinner @ 5, Holmes. Be there! Smiling, she texted back: 5:45 w/ bells on, Watson. Need anything?
Halfway to the other side of Granger Bridge, she read a reply that informed her all Watson needed was her Holmes. Knowing the reverse proved just as true, she trolled the area until she saw Dylan’s van pull away, and then she hurried home.
* * * * *
She and Holly had just taken seats at the dining room table when her phone sounded. She dashed to the console to answer it as Holly plated the frittata, both silently hoping that dinner would proceed as planned.
“McCallister,” Holly heard her say and then grimaced. A moment passed before she eavesdropped, “Ah, the philosopher who likes cappuccino. What can I do for you? … If your doctors say it’s okay, I’d be happy to take you. … How about tomorrow at 12:30? … Great, and you’re sure you’re up to it? … I’m glad to hear that. I’ll see you tomorrow then. I’ll come up to get you. No front doors this time. … Have a good night.”
McCallister returned to the table and made a boisterous comment about being famished. Holly tossed an English muffin onto the plate and then slid it in her direction. They bided an awkward silence.
Holly didn’t generally pry, but this time, she obviously couldn’t resist. “Okay, I’m dying to know. Who’s sick?”
She apprehensively answered, “Remember when I got called in because of that woman who had the car accident?”
“You mean the one with your business card?”
“The same,” she said and then took a forkful of the frittata.
“So, why did she have your card?”
“She doesn’t remember. She has amnesia.”
Nodding, she swallowed. “Her doctor said it’s because of her head injury and the trauma of the accident. He thinks it will come back on its own.”
“And you’re helping her? That sounds medical, not criminal.”
“I’m not helping her as part of my job,” she said with a deliberate avoidance of eye contact. “Actually, I’m not really even helping her. I just took her downtown the other day, hoping something would jog her memory.”
“She can’t remember anything?”
Holly stared at her for a moment, and McCallister feared what ran through her mind. Were her feelings apparent to her? Did she question how the woman’s call—something so serious—managed to lighten her mood so considerably?
Suddenly, Holly smiled reassuringly and said, “That must be scary not to be able to remember anything.”
“No kidding,” she replied and took another bite. “I figure it’d be like being a stranger to everyone, including yourself.”
“And now you’re going to take her somewhere else?”
She nodded as she chewed and swallowed. “To the spot where she had her accident. She’s hoping it’ll bring everything back to her.”
“You’re good to help her. She’s lucky to have you.”
She shrugged. “This is a very good dinner. Thank you. Orange juice?” Without awaiting her reply, she seized the carton. As she filled the two goblets, she overzealously inquired about Holly’s day and how her new painting was coming along. She knew her attempt to change the subject was neither slick nor suave. Still, she hoped it worked, that Holly would simply move on. A moment later, she relievedly realized it had.
Soon, they finished eating, and Holly said, “Leave the dishes. I’ll take care of them in a little while.” She grasped her hand. “Come with me.”
She followed without question, but untypical apprehension swept through her. Was she going to make an issue of her helping the woman? Was it already clear to her that she allowed herself to become emotionally involved? Still, if she wanted Holly’s trust, she had to give her own. But was she trusting her?
Holly led her to the living room and gestured for her to have a seat on the sofa.
She did so and refused to give into the need to wince. Cautiously, she looked up at her.
“I assume you’re going to the bridge again tonight.” When she sheepishly nodded, she said, “I won’t squawk on two conditions.”
“I go with, and you sleep until then.”
“That’s my final offer.”
“Offer? Conditions aren’t offers.” She laughed, and that ensured a no-win, but still, it proved much better than what she had feared. She conceded, “Fine, but I get two conditions then, too.”
“I’m afraid to ask.”
Dramatically, she cleared her throat. “Number one, you skip the dishes. I’ll do them in the morning. Number two, you lay on top of me.” She extended her hand, but Holly ignored it and simply narrowed her eyes. Sensing a self-care lecture a breath away, she pushed, “That’s my final offer.”
Holly laughed. “Fine. Set the alarm on your cell, and I’ll make sure the coffee pot’s set to go off.” She wagged her finger. “But do not get any big ideas, babe. You need sleep.”
“That sounds an awful lot like a condition. I should get another one then.”
Gently, she cuffed her arm. “Set your alarm, Laura. I’ll be right back.”
She did as instructed and then stretched out on the couch. Within a moment, she realized just how achy and tired she was, and by the time Holly returned, sleep proved the only option. She held her and quickly drifted off.