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No doubt about it: the best thing about her second floor apartment wasn’t ornate oak woodwork and intricate parquet floor in the dining room. It wasn’t the stained glass in the pantry or the authentic but very updated kitchen or the luxury footed bath tub. The very best thing about her apartment was the bay window in the living room with it’s window seat. Amy Williams sat there now, reading yet another tale of romance and mystery. She looked up from her book and sighed. Why is it always in a book and not here on my street?
She glanced out the window and down Cole Street. A dozen houses, six on each side, each one a jewel of Victorian splendor. Well, except for the one directly across the street from her which still needed a total renovation. Living here stretched her budget, after the move to Norwich, from Syracuse. The pay was lower and the energy of the bigger city was missing. And her savings and part of her retirement was gone. But she had the place she always wanted, furnished the way she had pictured it, and she even had the time to enjoy it. It had been the right decision then, for sure. And still was. But one issue remained—living life alone. Money and location weren’t going to solve that, true. But she had a feeling that she had at least moved in the right direction. And Pop would have approved, she was sure. Truth was, she was looking for a man who could measure up to Pop—his wit, his warmth and that feeling of an ever-present protection of her. Tall order, true. And without him around to give the ‘thumbs up’ or not, she was even less sure of how to proceed. She sighed and looked out the window again.
It was late Friday afternoon, and it had been raining all day. The rain had slowed to a fine mist, leaving soft, woolly gray clouds in the sky and drops of water on the windowpane that randomly slid down the glass. The June foliage and flowers were lush and even the vacant house across the street looked fresh. But the only living thing in sight was a stray dog sniffing the fire hydrant two houses down. She wrinkled her nose. Not exactly romantic. Not much of a mystery either– same stray dog she had seen two days before, same hydrant. He looked worse than before somehow, and he was limping. Amy sighed again. Nothing she could do about it. No dogs allowed in the building. That had been made extremely clear. She got up to make herself a cup of Earl Grey. Rainy days, Earl Grey, and good romance novels go together.
She passed the full length mirror by the front door on her way to the kitchen, and paused to look. Dark brown hair cut short, blue eyes set wide apart and looking larger and more innocent than she wished, body that… well…. Average, she decided. Pleasant, but average. And that’s not bad. Not great, but not bad. Now, where was her average Prince Charming?
With a huge mug of tea in hand—and two cookies—she headed back to the window seat and her book. It actually was a very good story, even if it was a fantasy. A woman was suddenly transported from modern day to late medieval times. The story told of how she was surviving and adjusting. “Lady Jane McMurray” was full of historical details about daily life as well as the intrigues of court life and how men treated women. And how women treated them right back! Amy smiled. It wasn’t always the man who won, even then.
The book was engrossing and it was almost dark when Amy realized that she was actually hungry herself, not just for the character in the book. A quick supper and back to the book, though. Things were getting dangerous for Lady Jane—the castle was supposedly haunted but she was finding out it was no ‘ghost’. Someone was after her! And Amy didn’t see how this was going to work out. It was just after one a.m. Saturday morning when she laid the book down. Finished. And got Jane back to her own time. Whew! A long read, but oh! So satisfying. And given the choice to stay there or come back to her own time, Lady Jane had still opted to come back. Amy wasn’t so sure she would have made the same choice. Although running hot water was a better option than a surly servant with a kettle of boiling water.
She looked again out her bay window and smiled. Another one of the things she liked about this second-floor apartment was the wider view she got from here. From this perch, she could see the treetops and the sky. The mist had stopped and the moon and stars were out. Only a few clouds still moved across the sky. This view alone is worth the pain of carrying groceries up those narrow, curved, creaking front stairs, she thought.
A cloud drifted over the moon leaving the street in deep dankness. In that darkness, something caught Amy’s eye. Across the street, in the vacant house, she clearly saw a light. As she looked, it flashed across the glass of a window, on the second floor and then moved past another window, apparently in the same room. Someone was looking for something, using a flashlight.
One of the reasons Amy’s apartment was one of the less exorbitant on the street was due to the opposite house. The house across the street was empty and hadn’t been renovated. Her view was filled with peeling paint and loose shutters—classic haunted house. Considering the prices for these apartments, Amy had been willing to put up with the view. But this light moving in the window was different. The light was real. When the moon came out from behind the cloud, the light faded rather than got brighter, so it wasn’t some reflection off of her building.
She considered calling the cops. It’s Saturday 2AM and I want to go to the Arts & Crafts Festival in Greene in the morning. I am not stay up all night waiting on the cops. IF they even show up, it’s nothing to me. But she kept thinking about the light, as she got ready for bed and in the end decided to call the police anyway. If some tramp over there starts a fire, the whole block would probably burn. Pop said ‘Do Right, especially when it’s not convenient’. As an afterthought, she realized here was that mystery she kept saying she wanted in her life! But why did mystery and inconvenience go together? Maybe a Lady Jane McMurray adventure wasn’t what she wanted after all. So, she called, reported the suspicious activity across the street and told them she didn’t need to be contacted about the outcome. She just wanted someone to know.
* * *
He was six foot, two inches tall, two hundred twenty pounds of muscular cop and he worked out four days a week. Patrol Officer Michael Edwards pulled up in front of the dilapidated house, more bored than excited. A light in the upstairs window? Maybe a homeless guy with a stolen flashlight, or a teen boy looking for a place to screw his girlfriend tomorrow night. He glanced in the rear view mirror before he got out of the patrol car. Pleasing, even features. Average looks, brown hair and blue eyes. Nose just a little crooked from a high school fight. He smiled to himself: he won that one. But now, it was time to earn his paycheck.
Michael’s work life had officially begun his freshman year of high school washing dishes ten hours a week at Garf’s, a local restaurant. It hadn’t stopped yet. He began full time two years later and hadn’t worked less than forty hours a week since. He got his Associates degree at the Morrisville Extension and then on to Police Academy. For all those years of work, he had the job experience and the savings account to show for it.
Life hadn’t been easy but he was grateful for what he was dealt. His father had died before he knew him. His father was an Army officer in the Iraq War. An IDE took out him and two of his best buddies. Two of his father’s buddies who survived the blast had kept in close touch with Michael and his mother, and in many ways they had been fathers to him. One even offered to marry his mother, but she wouldn’t. She had struggled ever since. When Michael started college she got real clingy and it ended in a big blowup. Mike moved out to live with one of the buddies. He and his mother had patched things up eventually, but it was never the same. Probably shouldn’t be anyways, he had thought at the time.
He had his own apartment now, on third floor across from the park in the middle of town. He had his dream job and went to his mother’s for Sunday dinner every week, and made a point of keeping her place in repair. He was his own man now.
He was a saver, saving for a house of his own. A big one. A house big enough that mom would have her own apartment in it and he would have room for a wife and kids. And a big garden. Dad had always wanted one, mom said.
Being his own man was good, but about seven o’clock at night it got lonely. He had friends and co-workers, and he dated. But the women that fell for him seemed as clingy as his mother on her bad days. Or else some kind of tough broad who seemed more interested in his body than anything else. He liked that, but he wanted more than just that. He was looking for the combination of sex with love, not just one or the other. He had friends that went to the titty bars and such. He gone with them a few times, but it was obviously acting: the girls were there for the money, and he didn’t have the imagination it took to make it feel real.
So, he worked out a lot, ran five miles on good summer days, swam at the YMCA in the winter. As a kid he never had time for sports, always the job waiting for him after school. But he was good enough at baseball to coach Little League. He gave those boys something he always felt like he needed more of: a grown man who honestly cared about them and how they turned out.
And there was work: being a patrol man was a dream come true. Keeping the world orderly and safe, helping those who needed it–what better way to spend your life? Of course there were always some individuals who needed more ‘keeping’ than others. But that was to be expected. And unlike the constant crisis of big city cops, they were mostly a change of pace here in Norwich. In short, it was a good life. With that one major shortcoming—no woman of his own.
Michael got out of the patrol car, walked up the front steps of the old house and rattled the front door knob: locked, with a realtor’s key safe around it. He didn’t’ think much of these fancy houses or the people who thought they need to live in them. But it didn’t mean they should burn down or get broken into by strangers. He walked around the house, checking doors and windows, but found no sign of forced entry. Two of the back windows were boarded up, one on the back porch. It could have been reattached after being opened he noted in his report but there was no sign of recent tampering.
He finished the inspection and was walking back to the patrol car when he noticed the light on in the second floor across the street. Someone was at the window, watching. He glanced at the call and figured that would be the person who called in. A nervous old lady who wants to be reassured, he thought. So, he walked across the street to the house,. It was a near-clone to the one he just investigated except it has had some work done on it, he noted. He rang her doorbell and waited. No one showed up, and he decided she wasn’t going to chance opening the door this late at night. He walked back over to the car and opened the door to get in.
As he did, he heard a stage-whispered shout. He looked back and saw silhouetted against the open door was a woman in a bathrobe leaning out over the porch rail, waving in his direction. He shut the cruiser door and walked back over to the porch. As he walked back, she stepped back under the porch light— a woman his age stood wrapped in a bathrobe, hair messed, her nightgown trailing a torn piece behind her. Her face showed a mix of embarrassment and irritation. As he came up to the porch steps she limped over to him.
Amy looked out her window. She wasn’t sure why she even cared if they showed up, but she did. And it wasn’t long before a cruiser pulled up. Thankfully no lights flashing. She really didn’t want to make a scene of this. It just needed to be checked out. A cop got out, a young one, in his thirties, and began to inspect the house. After a few minutes he returned to the car. She saw him look up at her window and tried to step back, but she was too late. He saw her and began walking toward her house. As she stumbled over a footstool, her doorbell rang. Oh my God! Really?? At two thirty in the morning, the cop is at my door? She struggled into her robe and hurried for the door and the stairs down to the door. On the way down she stepped on the back of her nightgown. It tore but not before it sent her tumbling to the landing, hitting her head on the railing. She cursed, got up, inspected the damage–no blood but a two foot strip of nightgown was now trailing her. She got up and continued down and yanked open the front door in time to see the cop already back across the street, opening his car door.
She hesitated. Maybe just let him go and get to bed. Obviously he found nothing. But something pushed her to call him back. So out to the porch rail she limped and almost shouted to him. It seemed so loud that late at night. He turned. Amy waved. He turned and walked back over to the porch. Suddenly Amy realized she was outdoors on the porch in her nightgown—torn nightgown now–and bathrobe, preparing to talk to a strange man in uniform. She stepped back against the wall. What was I thinking?
As he came to the steps, Amy limped over to the railing. She looked down onto the officer’s face. He was gorgeous. For several seconds she just stared at him.
He stared back. This is no old lady. Hell, I’d take her to dinner! Dinner and then maybe home. Then he spoke. Deep rumble to his voice, confident as could be, he asked her name, confirmed it was her who called in. Amy mumbled something.
“No break in that I could see, ma’am.” He kept it professional.
“Are you sure?” Oh God! What a stupid question!
“Yes Ma’am.” That was annoying. But maybe it’s just late. “I checked all the doors and windows on the ground floor: they are all secure.”
And the windows?”
“Yes ma’am. I checked them too, yes.” Really annoying now. What did she think he was doing back there? “Ma’am.. Uh.. How did you notice the lights in the windows across the street? Why were you looking in the windows of a vacant house at—” he looked down at the tablet he was carrying“— at 1:25 a.m.? You just happened to be up and look over there?”
Amy was unprepared for that. “Wh-a-a-t?”
Michael blushed. OK, that went over the line there. But dammit! What kind of dope does she think I am?
“Never mind. I don’t need that for my report. Any questions, call the station in the morning.” He turned, went back to the cruiser and pulled away from the curb. He was angry with her for questioning his thoroughness, but he couldn’t get out of his mind that picture of her calling and waving to him from the porch. And how hot she looked in the moonlight.
What a jerk! Amy stomped up the stairs, tripping twice on her torn hem. That’s the thanks I get for being a good neighbor? Accuse me of being a Peeping Tom? No wonder nobody wants to call them! She was angry at him for the mean question. OK, well, she was also angry at herself for doubting him doing his job. He’s one of the good guys not one of the bad guys. As she lay in her bed, though, what she couldn’t forget his gorgeous face in the moonlight.
Amy woke up with alarm, but then couldn’t remember why she’d set it. Two hours later, her room was so hot she couldn’t sleep even without the sheet over her. Grumpy, sweaty and grungy feeling, she lay there trying to remember…. what was she supped to do today?
“Oh…NO!!” Today was the Greene Craft Fair! Two years in a row she had missed it for various reasons, and this year she had promised herself she’d make it both days!
She hustled through shower and dressing and then slowed down long enough to eat a good breakfast. She smiled a little sadly. Pop always said eat beforehand because they charge way too much for food at those places! The weather announcer on the radio predicted hot temperatures with scattered heavy showers in the afternoon. Great! And it’s already ten o’clock!
By the time Amy got to Greene, the sun was hot, it was very humid and parking was the pit’s. The street parking was long gone. Her only option was the huge mowed field that had been marked for parking. As she jounced into the field, she spotted a perfect spot near the street by the actual fair. All she has to do is get there before the car ahead of her. She started to cut a ‘wrong way’ down the orange string-and-stick aisle. At the end of the row, a man in a orange vest stepped out in front of her, holding up one hand. As he walked up to her driver’s side window, the other car slid into her intended space.
“Ma’am, please back up and use the aisles as directed.”
It was him! The same jerk cop from last night! If he was gorgeous in the dark last night, he was more so now in an army green tee and khaki cargo shorts. The orange vest barely fit around his chest. His massive arms completely hid the vest’s sides. But obviously, between the different setting and her sunglasses, he didn’t recognize her. What a relief!
Amy began to protest, but he cut her off.
“Ma’am everyone wants to park as close as they can, not just you. Please follow the signs and the attendants like everybody else.”
He bent down and brought his face even with hers, less than a foot away. She watched his lips as he spoke slowly.
“Ma’am, do you have any special needs? We have assigned parking for that.”
Why, the simple-minded, smart-mouthed hard ass!
She didn’t answer. With a huff, she looked away, put the car in reverse and started to back up. A car had followed her and she almost backed into it as they laid on the horn. By the time she got away from him and found a spot she was easily a quarter mile from where she wanted to be.
For all the parking hassle, Amy liked the show. She saw several things she would have liked to get, except for the prices they were asking. One painting in particular called her name. It was huge and would take up a whole wall, but she had the exact spot for it in the dining area: it would provide a view during meals.
The weather man was right for once—the day was hot and humid and the clouds threatened rain the whole time. About an hour into her browsing, Amy got thirsty, and headed for the beer tent. A cold, foamy beer just sounded good. The line was long and seemed to be moving very slowly, but she was in the shade. She pushed her sun glasses up on her head and did some people watching. About half way to the front of the line, she noticed a man walking toward her with two cups of beer, one in each hand. She looked again—it was that same cop, in shorts and tee shirt minus the vest. And a sunburn that made him that much more…. man.
* * *
When Michael had signed up for parking lot duty, he didn’t know he would be on third shift the night before. He had gone from one job to the other, and the lack of sleep made it harder to keep a good attitude. He had had no sleep since the afternoon before, though and by the end of his shift he was a little short with some of the more obstinate drivers. The sun was hot, he could feel the sunburn coming on and he had to pee. He’d done worse though. The four hours of morning traffic directing were not all bad. The people coming in to the parking field were here for a good time and they were still fresh. And some were pretty good looking.
It was about thirty minutes before he was off duty when a shiny new car came charging down his aisle the wrong way. He saw the parking place they were headed for. He also saw the car that was closer to it and traveling in the correct lane at a reasonable speed.
He stepped in front of the car, blocking their way, and walked up to the driver’s window. The woman behind the wheel was wearing sunglasses and wouldn’t take them off to talk to him. He made sure the other car got the space, then let her go after she almost backed into the car behind her. They had followed her bad example. By the time he got the two of them headed where they belonged, his relief was there—his buddy of ten years. Chris Carney and he had met in college and they had stayed close all through police academy. They worked out at the same gym and generally shared life. The one difference between them was their work ethic: Michael had been handed nothing while Chris grew up in one of the ‘big name’ families in Norwich and expected automatically more for his efforts. They joked about it most of the time, but there were times it rubbed Michael the wrong way.
“Hey bud! How’s parking? Getting a nice burn there.”
“Easy day, not too many hassles. You’ll probably have it harder, when they come out tired and broke, carrying all their ‘treasures’.”
“Well, we’ll get through it. You hear a weather report? Is the rain supposed to hold off?”
“Haven’t heard an update. Showers this afternoon, supposed to be.” Michael grinned.
“Sorry for you buddy. Help you keep your cool, eh?”
“Thanks.” Chris gave him a shove and they laughed.
After parking duty, Michael wandered around, mostly looking at the ladies, and a little at the “junk” for sale. Most of it he had no use for and no room for. There were some cool carvings, a knife or two, and one painting in particular that caught his eye. A very peaceful scene on a bend in the Chenango River. He thought he might know the spot even, a great fishing spot just below there.
He got thirsty and headed for the beer tent. He got there just after the lunch crowd and almost fell asleep waiting in line, it was so long and slow. When he made it to the front, he decided to get two cups of beer. They were small and he didn’t want to wait in line again.
As he walked away, he glanced back down the people still in line. There, in line, is the girl from last night, looking just as sweet, her hair held back by her sunglasses, floppy sun hat in hand.
He who snoozes, loses, he thought. What was the worst she could do to him in public? Without waiting for the long list of the painful answers, he walked up.
Oh. He…hello!” She looked startled, and grabbed her sunglasses.
Feeling a little clumsy now, he said, “The line was so long, I got an extra. I’d be happy to share…”
Amy looked him in the eye and clearly said, “ No, thank you.”
“Hey, I’m sorry about last night, if I offended you. I was tired and…”
“Last night? How about this morning?” Amy slid her sun glasses on. “ Ass!” And she got out of line and walked away.
Michael stood there holding two sweating cups of cold beer, dumbfounded. Then it dawned on him. The sunglasses woman. The wrong-way car. Oh shit! No wonder she looked familiar. And she’d the same girl from last night? Dammit!
Without even thinking, he took off after her.
“Hey! Wait!” She hadn’t gone very far.
“What?!” Amy whirled around and looked up at eyes so blue she forgot what she wanted to say.
“Hey!”Michael slowed down, hesitated. His voice got deep as he relaxed. “I’m sorry about this morning. And last night. Both. But when I’m on the job, it’s the job, not my personal life. It’s not my personal preferences. The guys who do that are…not my idea of good cops.”
Amy broke gaze with him and she got angry all over.
“Well if law and order is that important to you…. good bye again.”
“You’re prejudiced! You don’t even know me.” He didn’t want her to go, but dammit! How could he give in?
“I don’t think things need to be as ‘orderly’ as you seem to think, Mr. Cop. That’s all I need to know about you.”
“You want to live in some kind of romantic chaos? That only works if someone imposes some limit’s on the bad guys. Like last night.”
“Whatever!” And turned and walked off head down and determined.
Michael didn’t see the tears beginning to streak from under her sun glasses.
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