- Amateur sleuth
Lizzie frowned at her computer screen. She had entered the telephone number displayed on her caller ID into the reverse directory. The name and address for that telephone number was there in front of her:
710 Parkview Drive
The website even provided a map showing the location of the address. Now, the only question was how far she wanted to go with this. She had gotten the reverse directory information for free. The website offered her the opportunity to do an "instant background check" that would provide information about any misdemeanor or felony arrests and/or convictions Nadine Collins might have all for the price of $49.95.
Wonderful, Lizzie thought. Any ordinary citizen could pry into someone else's life for less than the cost of a date night out. If you were so inclined you could even check out a prospective date for criminal records before greeting him or her at the door.
"And, Ms. Holier-Than-Thou," Lizzie mumbled. "Aren't you sitting here snooping into this woman's life? You're just like anyone else who comes to a site like this?"
She clicked the mouse, shutting the site down.
Quinn was right. A wrong number was not an invitation to offer unsolicited help.
She sighed and pushed back her desk chair. She would go get dress and go to work. She had an afternoon's supply of student papers to read and grade.
Lizzie reached for her empty mug and stretched.
Maybe she'd take Quinn out to dinner with the money she hadn't spent doing a background check on Nadine Collins.
Of course, after last night, Quinn should buy her dinner.
Smiling, Lizzie headed to her bedroom to find something to wear.
But she made the mistake of listening to the voice mail message again while she was getting dressed. She was at the stoplight on Riverside Drive, waiting to cross the bridge, when the message started replaying in a loop in her head.
Nadine Collins had sounded upset. She had said that she needed help "quite desperately." And something -- or someone -- had made her hang up the telephone.
But if the fiancé had come home and heard her on the telephone and the two of them had gotten into a fight, if it had gotten violent, surely the neighbors would have heard and called the police.
Except it was a weekday, and the neighbors might have been gone to work. And sometimes neighbors didn't call the police even when they heard yelling and screaming.
The light changed, and Lizzie turned onto the bridge. "Stop it," she instructed herself. "Stop it now."
She glared at the rear bumper of the car in front of her. "You get a wrong number and your imagination is off and running."
Lizzie punched the button on the radio, shutting off the country music that was filling the car. She didn't need a song about a love affair gone wrong right at that moment. She was supplying enough drama all on her own.
She was talking to herself. So she might as well just talk it out of her system.
"All right, Lizabeth. Let's be logical about this. It's possible that Nadine Collins realized she had the wrong number, and that was why she broke off her message and hung up. It is also possible that she too has caller ID. So when you did your re-dial, she saw that the person whose number she had dialed by mistake was calling her back. And she was too embarrassed to answer the phone and have to try to explain her message. That, Lizabeth, is the logical explanation for what happened. Right now, the woman is fine and going on with the rest of her day."
Lizzie had this conversation with herself as she was crossing the bridge. When she got to the other side, she took the exit toward campus. She had work waiting for her on her desk.
"Dammit!" She swerved into the lot of the Nissan dealer. Making a U-turn, she caught the traffic light on green and headed back toward the bridge.
She had no trouble at all imagining Quinn's comments about her decision to drive over to Nadine Collins' house and have a look. Quinn would say this was how she always got into trouble. Thinking she was the person who had to check into something.
John Quinn was sitting in one of the leather armchairs that flanked Eric Sorenson's desk. Kent Durbin, the acting vice president for student affairs, was occupying the other chair. Sorenson, the university president, was observing the exchange between Durbin and Quinn with all the interest of a man watching a tennis match.
Quinn had learned that was Sorenson's style. He liked to let any difference of opinion play itself out until he decided it was the moment to offer his decision.
Durbin, red in the face and scowling, seemed not to have observed that Sorenson also preferred the people who worked for him to adopt his own restrained way of communicating.
Durbin's red face was unfortunate, Quinn thought. Durbin was pudgy. Even when he was at his best, he looked as if he would giggle if a finger were poked into his soft middle.
With the temporary promotion to acting vice president for student affairs -- courtesy of his former boss's fatal heart attack -- Durbin had reached his highest level of incompetence.
The problem was he didn't know it.
Keeping his own voice level, Quinn responded to what Durbin has just said. "The 'misunderstanding,' as you call it, happened because you extended the hours of the Student Center ballroom to accommodate a fraternity event that you might have predicted would get out of hand." Quinn held Durbin's gaze. "When one of those students not only refused to obey an order from my officer but groped her--"
"He denies doing that. He says he fell against her and--"
"And who do you think is the more reliable witness?" Quinn asked. "A student whose blood alcohol level --"
"No alcohol was being served at the party," Durbin said.
"The student in question was drunk when he arrived," Quinn said. "If my officers had not been ordered away from the door by you --"
"The students were finding the presence of your officers unsettling. Your officers were demanding to see student IDs and interrogating students like Gestapo --"
"My officers were ensuring the health and safety of our students as they have been trained to do. They were also maintaining the security of a university facility."
Eric Sorenson cleared his throat. "I think we've had sufficient discussion of this matter. Kent, we have statements from everyone involved, including the other officers at the scene who collaborate Officer Finesong's account of what occurred --"
"Of course, they back her up," Durbin said.
"Did you see what happened?" Quinn asked.
"You know I had left by the time the altercation occurred," Durbin said. "The university is probably going to be sued by the parents of the student who your officer punched in the --"
"I believe the student's parents may be re-thinking that," Quinn said.
"I was about to tell you, Kent," Sorenson said. "It seems we may be able to resolve this. As I was telling John before you came in, I heard from the university attorney about an hour ago. The attorney for the family has reviewed the university police report, including the information about the student's blood alcohol level. Given that and the young man's prior brushes with the Gallagher Police Department for disorderly conduct --"
"That --" Durbin's face got redder. "Even if they don't sue, Chief Quinn's officers' approach to dealing with students is completely unacceptable. They used handcuffs, for Pete's sake!"
"My officers followed protocol for dealing with people who are resisting arrest," Quinn said. "Would you rather they had handed out lollipops and distributed free tickets for a nice ride in a police vehicle?"
"I don't appreciate your sarcasm, Chief Quinn. You --"
Sorenson cut in. "Kurt, I -- we both --" A cool blue-eyed glance at Quinn. "Recognize and appreciate your commitment to being an advocate for our students. However, there are times when we have to require that they accept responsibility for their actions. We need to keep order on this campus."
"We can do that without the use of strong-arm tactics."
Sorenson held up his hand. "I think we have discussed this enough. I'm satisfied with the protocol followed by John's department."
Quinn saw Durbin's teeth sink into his lip. He glared at Quinn.
Sorenson said, "John, if you would like to summarize your report on crime statistics for the quarter. . ."
Twenty minutes later, Quinn left Sorenson's office. He had left Durbin with the president, undoubtedly waiting until Quinn was out the door to complain some more about the University "Gestapo" who were riding rough-shod over innocent students.
Quinn smiled as he remembered the description one of the other officers at the scene had given him of the solid right to the jaw that Jill Finesong had planted on the drunken student who'd groped her. Not that Quinn approved of getting physical with students. In spite of what that little weasel Durbin thought, that was not how his department operated.
Quinn had reminded Finesong of that in no uncertain terms when he called her into his office. He had told her that if she wanted to keep her job, she'd learn to control her temper. He couldn't have officers in his department that overreacted.
But given where the student had put his hand and what he'd said to her, Quinn wasn't too surprised that Finesong had slugged him.
With any luck, the kid had learned some manners.
Quinn glanced at the elevator that was taking its time arriving and then turned toward the stairs. He could use the exercise.
As he took the stairs double-time, he pulled out his cell phone. He needed to find out what Lizabeth was up to.
Lizzie sat in her car staring at Nadine Collins' house. It was a snug-looking white house with a robin-egg blue front door and matching shutters. The woman who lived in that house should be calm and serene, a gardener who liked to putter in the yard Lizzie could see in back.
The woman who lived in that house should not be making frantic telephone calls in search of someone to help her with her fiancé.
Lizzie considered her options. Now that she was here, she could go up to the door and knock and explain that she had gotten Nadine Collins' message by mistake. Since it had seemed rather urgent, and she hadn’t gotten an answer when she tried to call back. . .
Of course, the woman might be suspicion that a stranger would go to all the trouble of coming to her house to tell her that she had gotten the wrong number.
In that case, Lizzie thought, she could let drop that she was a criminal justice professor and had been worried that something might be wrong.
A car was in the driveway, so Collins was probably there.
Lizzie was reaching for her door handle when the cell phone in the bottom of her shoulder bag gave a muffled ring.
Quinn. No one else had the number.
He had given her the cell phone as a gift. It had already been programmed with his home, office, and cell phone numbers, and with "911".
She still objected to cell phones on general principle. They were annoying and intrusive. And people who used them were often downright rude.
But she'd had to agree with Quinn's argument that she should have one in case of an emergency.
And she didn't object to talking to Quinn. He was her exception to her cell phone rule.
Although right now, he was probably calling to check on her.
"Hello," Lizzie said as she stuffed her wallet and address book back into her shoulder bag with her free hand. "Quinn?"
"Where are you?" he said.
Lizzie made a face. He would ask that.
She glanced toward the house. "Not minding my own business," she said. "I found my wrong number's name and address and when I couldn't reach her by phone, I decided to drop by and--"
"Quinn, I'm only going to --" Lizzie broke off as the door of the house opened and a woman rushed out. "Quinn, I'll call you back. I've to go."
"She just came out of the house. I've got to catch her before she gets in her car." Lizzie clicked the phone shut and jumped out of her car. "Ms. Collins! Excuse me, Ms. Collins!"
The woman, a willowy brunette, in blue jeans and a quilted jacket, turned as Lizzie came up her driveway. She was pale. She looked as if she had been crying.
She had her car keys in her hand, the driver's door open. "I'm sorry -- whatever you're selling -- I've got to hurry --"
She got into the car and started the engine.
Lizzie jumped to the side as the red Saturn shot backward. Nadine Collins swerved into the street and took off like she was going to a fire.
Lizzie ran for her own car. She was probably too far behind. . .
"No, there she is!"
Lizzie slowed down, two cars behind Nadine Collins, who had been stopped by the light at the intersection.
The light turned green, and the red car turned right.
Lizzie turned right too, hoping that her own beige car would fade into the traffic.
Quinn would say this was not one of her brighter ideas.
But what if the woman was about to do something desperate?
"And then, Lizabeth, you heard about it tonight on the news and realized you might have stopped her," Lizzie told herself.
A church? Nadine Collins had turned into the parking lot of a church on West Main Street.
Lizzie pulled up to the curb across the street.
A service of some kind was going on. Cars were in the parking lot.
What kind of service could it be on a weekday? A funeral? But there was no sign of a hearse or the black family limos.
Nadine Collins seemed uncertain about what was going on too. Or maybe she was waiting for something. Or for someone. She had gotten out of her car and was standing there beside it.
Lizzie couldn't see if she had anything in her hand. But she was feeling increasingly uneasy. Maybe she should call Quinn.
But before she could reach for her cell phone, a tall, blonde man in a black suit and gray silk tie crossed the street toward the church.
At the sight of him, Nadine was galvanized into action. She called out something that Lizzie couldn't hear with her car windows closed.
The man glanced at Nadine and quickened his pace. Nadine ran after him, following him up the steps and into the church.
Lizzie jumped out of her car, dodging traffic, as she darted toward the church.
In the vestibule, Lizzie stopped, startled by sound. Applause? "What on earth?"
Nadine and the man she had followed into the church were standing together in the aisle. Beyond them, a church full of people were on their feet, applauding.
The women were wearing silk dresses and hats. The men in suits. The church was decorated with flowers.
"Our wedding?" Naomi said in a strangled voice. "This is our--"
She pressed her hands to her face. She had flushed bright pink.
The man drew her into his arms and hugged her. "I wanted to surprise you, Nay. It's so hard to keep a secret from you --"
"So you let me think that -- you came up with a whole elaborate plot -- about your boss. About how you were so upset about his treatment that you planned to do --"
The man threw back his handsome head and laughed. He pointed at a pew toward the front of the church. "My boss and his wife are right here helping us celebrate."
Boss and wife waved. "Hello, Nadine, honey," the wife called. "This is so romantic."
"Yes," Nadine Collins said. She smiled ruefully at her guests and gestured at her blue jeans and jacket. "But I'm afraid I'm not quite dressed for --"
"Never fear, darling."
Lizzie jumped as the woman spoke behind her. She pressed back against the wall as a buxom, smiling woman with big hair bustled forward from the vestibule.
"We thought of that," the woman said. "Mark picked you out a lovely gown. I did tell him it wasn't quite proper for him to do that. But he said he wouldn't be seeing you in it until you came down the aisle."
The guests laughed, apparently amused by Mark's remark. Or maybe it was the woman's delivery that had them all smiling.
Nadine Collins seemed to take a deep breath. "And Iris. . .you're here too," she said to the woman. Her British accent was more pronounced now. "When you called me from the office to tell me that Mark had gone running out --"
Iris laughed. "I was calling from right here, darling. Wasn't I great? Mark said I had to be good to get you here."
Nadine said, "To get me down here before he disrupted the christening that his boss was attending --"
"With that gun I told you he might have," Iris said.
Mark laughed and hugged Nadine. "I told Iris the gun bit was a little over the top. I told her you would never believe that I might actually --"
"No, of course not," Nadine said. She swiped at her eyes. "But I have been a little concerned. I knew you were keeping something from me and--"
"And now you know what it was." Mark hugged her again, grinning widely. "So go slip into your wedding gown, beautiful, and let's get married."
The delighted guests applauded again. Mark told them, "While Nadine's changing, the string trio will entertain up with a selection."
"Classy, buddy," a man in one of the pews called out.
Mark grinned and bowed.
"Come on along, darling," Iris said to Nadine. "I've got your gown in the office."
As Nadine started past, she noticed Lizzie. "You're the woman who was at my house. Who are you?"
"You called me this morning," Lizzie said. "You started to leave a message--"
Nadine looked startled. "Oh, I'm so sorry. I feel like a fool now. I thought a therapist might. . .Someone had given me your name --" She shook her head. "But you came. . .do therapist usually come looking for people who --"
"No, I'm sorry," Lizzie said. "I'm not who you think I am. You called a wrong number. That's what I came to tell you."
"A wrong number," Nadine pushed her fingers through her hair. "Well, it's been that kind of day, hasn't it?" She smiled. "It was good of you to go to so much trouble. Please do stay for my wedding."
"Nadine, darling," Iris said. "We need to get moving--"
"Coming," Nadine said.
Lizzie watched her go down the hall leading to the rooms off the vestibule.
Lizzie looked down at her own skirt and sweater. Dressed for a wedding or not, she was not going to miss this one.
"What I want to know," Lizzie said to Quinn over dinner that night, "Is what on earth gave the man the idea that making the woman he was engaged to think that he had flipped out and might actually try to shoot his boss --"
"Didn't you say the gun part was Iris's contribution?"
"Yes, that part was. But the rest of the crazy scheme. . .the man must have watched one too many reality television shows."
"His scheme did work," Quinn said. "He got his bride to the church for a romantic wedding. And from what you say, she was surprised."
"Try stunned," Lizzie said. "And I'm not sure how romantic she thought it was. She certainly didn’t look blissful when she was standing at the altar." Lizzie reached for a whole wheat roll. "I give that marriage six months."
Quinn laughed. "Lizabeth, you are a true romantic. And are you sure you aren't just irritated that you did all that sleuthing for nothing?"
Lizzie made a face at him. "Not for nothing, Quinn. I found convincing evidence that some men are utter idiots."
"Allow me to observe, Professor Stuart, that none of the women he brought in on his scheme seem to have pointed out to him that it might be problematic." Quinn took a sip of his wine. "And it sounds like the guy had good intentions. Men just get it wrong sometimes."
"We've already established that," Lizzie said.
Quinn held his wine glass up to the light, studying the ruby color. "Maybe he'll be able to make it up to her with the honeymoon."
"He's taking her to Las Vegas. She looked really thrilled when he announced that."
Quinn said, "I gather Las Vegas isn't on your list of favored honeymoon spots either."
"No, it isn't." Lizzie said. She forked a slice of cucumber from her salad. "Unless gambling and cigarette smoke --" She stopped in mid-sentence. Raising her head, she frowned, staring at Quinn.
"What?" he said.
"Quinn, what I said about some men being idiots. You did realize I wasn't including you in that group? I have great respect for you as member of the male species."
Quinn's gray eyes gleamed with amusement. "Thank you, Lizabeth. I'll try to keep it that way."
She tilted her head and smiled at him. "And it's only fair that I forgive you if you should happen to get something wrong. That way if I should ever happen to screw something up --"
"I'll be just as forgiving," Quinn said. He reached for her hand and tugged her gently toward him. "Either way, we'll always kiss and makeup."
"Always," Lizzie said.
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