Melynnda looked up from her desk at the sound of the front door. "Back here," she called, putting down the pen and shifting her chair.
...... "I didn't know if the office'd be open." Irwin shook snow from his coat. "That new motel, where I'm staying now, is only a block away from here. So I thought I'd take a chance and walk over. Quite a snow, wasn't it?"
...... "Last year, when you first came here, it was a dry winter. Cold and clear. This winter, you'll see what it's really like." She picked up the ballpoint and gestured. "There's coffee ready in the Utility Room."
...... "How did you get in today?" He folded his coat and tucked it over one arm.
...... "The way it was coming down last night, I didn't want to drive. So I stayed the night. Two of our clerk staff, who both live within easy walking distance, have made it in. You're number three."
...... "I'll go pick up my coffee mug. Since we're open, I'll stay and finish my work here." He started to turn, then stopped.
...... "Anybody home?" a heavy baritone demanded, following the sound of the closing main door.
...... "Jay!" She jumped up from her chair and stopped.
...... He strode in from the hallway, tossed his coat on the visitor's chair, and hugged her. "I thought I saw the Mustang peeking out from under a snow drift. The storm canceled my last appointment, so I came on in."
...... "I'll go get coffee," Irwin said as he left.
...... She moved back to her place; he plopped down in the spare chair, leaned back against his damp coat, and stretched out his legs. A tiny pool of water formed under each heel boot.
...... "I thought you might have snowed yourself in with Cynthia Wilson," she teased. Steepling her arms on the desk, she rested her chin on her folded fists.
...... "Actually, I came home to beg your forgiveness. For the first time, I've slept with another woman." He clasped his hands behind his head and looked at the ceiling.
...... She made an improbable noise and flipped one hand at him.
...... Momentarily, Irwin stopped in the doorway, then walked in with three cups of coffee balanced on a tray.
...... "Hi, Dave." He looked over. "Is one of those for me?"
...... Irwin handed around the coffee. "I'll pick up my papers, and be on my way," he advised Melynnda.
...... "Stick around. I'm interviewing a comedy act." She gestured outward with a fast movement. "Better still, bring in another chair. You'll be needed to tell me when I'm supposed to laugh."
...... He straightened up. "Well. I like that! I come here immediately and confess to my only marital infidelity, and she calls me a liar. Outright! Do you have this much trouble with your own legal wench, Dave?" He brushed that away. "How can you be so sure I'm a liar, Lynn? Don't you read the women's magazines?"
...... She stuck out her tongue for two seconds, then looked over at Irwin. "Sit down and drink your coffee, Dave. Jay's in such a good mood, he might be worth listening to. Not much else is going to be done today."
...... "Might be," he repeated. "You just go on to sleep, and I'll talk to Dave. He's been on the road enough to have met some peculiar situations himself. Life actually is stranger than television." He slouched back and sipped some coffee. "It was a dark and stormy night, about four in the afternoon . . . ."
General Adminstration Archives - Case 1637 [Ref. No. D1174-478] |
The depression was floored with a thin layer of loose snow, blown in by the light wind. Already, the edges were crumbling and breaking off in lumps.
...... I stood in the open doorway, the knob still in my hand. "I don't know how you got in here, or what you want, but gather up your things and get out. Right now!"
...... She looked through the corners of her eyes. "It's cold out there. Come in and close the door."
...... "If you think this is a joke, it isn't." A gust of wind from behind tossed a stream of snowflakes along the carpet. "I am not kidding. Get your clothes on, and get out of here." The rug was turning dark from the puddles forming around my boots.
...... Her sultry expression wavered. "Close the door! It's cold out there. I know what men like. I like it too. Come in and get warm."
...... "If I have to go over to the office and raise hell, there will be more problems. Like breaking and entering! If you don't start moving in ten seconds, I will." In the dim light from the bedside lamp, I finally recognized her -- the red-headed reporter from the pawprint site, Charlene something.
...... She twisted and held out one hand. "No, wait! I'm sorry. I meant . . . well, you seemed a good-looking, very nice man . . . I hoped . . . ." She ran a hand through her hair, tousling it further. "It's snowing cats and dogs out there, sled-dogs at that. And there isn't a room left vacant in this entire town. I don't even have a car here. The only other thing I could do, was throw a rock through the police station window and get locked up for the night." She shook her head. "God, it's just my luck. I proposition a guy, and he's not only handsome and decent, he's the last faithful husband in the whole country. Wouldn't you know it!"
...... Another gust of wind dumped a handful of snow down the neck of my coat, and I started to feel ridiculous, standing on the threshold and holding the door open. Shutting it, I dropped my gift box and my hat on the chair and unsnapped my coat. "The Mayor seemed to know you. Are you actually a reporter?"
...... "Williamsville Daily," she answered automatically. "I've met the Mayor before. I'm sorry. I'll leave. There's still time to pick up someone else, I think."
...... "That's a rather dangerous occupation." I shoved the hat and box out of the way and sat down. The melted snow from my hat had dampened the upholstery.
...... "I'm old enough to know what I'm doing." She slid out from under the blankets, making it obvious that her entire wardrobe was piled on the dresser chair. "I'm just a little bit desperate tonight."
...... "I've had the opportunity to know the problem. Is this town filled up that much?"
...... "I tried every hotel, motel, roominghouse, and flophouse in this entire model-train village. There isn't a doghouse to rent. Even Budget is sold out. There aren't any wheels available, unless I steal a car."
...... "No friends here in town?"
...... "Not a one. And everybody's house is filled to the brim with relatives. No hospitality left for a stranger."
...... "The snow is getting worse." I shrugged and shifted farther away from the hat-size wading pool. "Under the circumstances, I suppose we can manage something."
...... She stopped in mid-reach. "Thank you. Really. I promise I won't be any trouble. You can lock your wallet and stuff in your Jeep and sleep with the key under your pillow." She hesitated. "And the offer is still open."
...... "I've sworn off Thursdays. Besides, I have to be up early tomorrow." I took off my coat and draped it over the back of the other easy chair. "One word of warning. If you hog the blankets, I'll use a foot to shove you out onto the floor."
...... "You would, too," she laughed.
...... By the time I was out of the bathroom, she was back in bed, lying just next to the edge. I lay down on my side but couldn't resist the impulse to tug on the blankets. She yanked back and giggled.
...... "I do appreciate this," she said. "Thank you."
...... I clicked off the bedside lamp and punched the pillow into shape.
...... "If you're a Fed, what were you doing looking at those tracks?" she asked. "What else do you do for the government?"
...... "Look at other hoaxes. I investigate, file a report, and let Upstairs decide what to do. If anything. It's not a glamorous job, but it pays the bills." I paused for a yawn. "You don't have to prove you're a news reporter. I believe you."
...... "Thanks for the ride, too. It got me out of a bad jam."
...... "Weren't you there for the story?"
...... She scooted around uncomfortably. "Not exactly. I'd come over from the airport. The boyfriend, I'd gone there with, was meeting a plane, and it looked like something illegal was going on. I didn't need that. So I ran away from the building and joined the first group I saw."
...... "With the Sheriff's car there?"
...... "That big gold star on the door was the best thing I could have found. It didn't bother me, but it sure kept my problem from catching up with me. Only I didn't have any transportation home, and I couldn't go to the authorities. They'd have too many questions." She suddenly twisted around. "And why not? It's not common that a gay guy is married, but it happens. But you were sneaking looks at that bitch in the ski outfit at dinner. So why not? My ex-husband wouldn't have hesitated ten seconds."
...... "Which undoubtedly contributed to the ex." I paused for a moment to collect words. "Because I have my own quite delightful love affair going on with my own lady, and because I don't wish to dilute it with casual and pointless matings. That's not intended to put you down. Another time, it might have been different."
...... "Faithfulness is quite a compliment to a woman," she admitted, turning away again. "Good night. And if you have a brother, give me his phone number."
...... "I don't. Good night. If you're too warm or too cold, just change the thermostat. It won't bother me."
...... I woke when the telephone rang. According to my watch it was two in the morning. It was surprising that the switchboard was still operating at this hour. I answered it.
...... "Driver? You awake?"
...... "I am now. It sounds like the Sheriff. Is it still snowing?"
...... "Just startin' to taper off." He spoke almost inaudibly to someone in the background. "We found the practical jokers," he continued. "Just like you called it. They had a backhoe on a trailer behind a dump truck. The pawprint shoe was metal and welded together, not plywood, but that's about the only thing you missed on. The two boys confessed as soon as we found them. Couple of kids hoping to sell the story to a news magazine. And I had to call out the Government!"
...... "Just my department. And that's what we're paid for." I changed ears on the phone. "In that case, I'll be moving along in the morning. Thanks for all your hospitality. By the way, how's the hotel bookings in town tonight with the Craft Fair and all?"
...... "We're rakin' in our year's revenue. Everything is sold out. You probably could rent out the back of your four-by if you got enough blankets for the weather. If you've met a colleague, plan on sharing your room with him. Good night, Driver. Nice to have met you, anyway. If you're in the area again, stop by the station for a cup of coffee."
...... I acknowledged suitably and hung up the phone.
...... "Like I said," she remarked from the bed.
...... "I cross-check automatically." Yawning, I slipped back under the warmth of the blankets.
...... "Good habit," she agreed. "But you didn't lock up your valuables."
...... "I forgot."
...... "I won't honor that fib with an answer."
...... It was the sound of a snow shovel on the walk outside which ushered in the morning. The first shred of daylight was showing through the crack between the curtains. The storm had passed by.
...... "Oh, God! That can't be morning already."
...... I had to laugh. "You sound exactly like my wife. The bath's yours."
...... "You first." She rolled over and shoved the pillow into a different shape. "Turn up the heat while you're at it."
...... I wasn't that long. While she dressed, I went outside to start the engine and brush off the Jeep. With its curved hood it could toss up a fair blizzard across the windshield. The tach was down to a usable idle and the heat gauge had started to climb by the time she bounced into the front passenger seat.
...... "I've taken care of check-out," I advised. "Where do you need to go?"
...... The vehicle balked a little at the tightness of the turn, as I eased out of the narrow space. A stop at a bank machine, then the Big Burger lot again. The building lights were on, people were working inside, and a couple cars were parked at the back of the lot. The half-hour, when they'd open for the hoped-for breakfast crowd, was just coming up on the dash clock.
...... "Here." She held out several bills. "Half the room rent."
...... "Send me a check. Keep the cash 'til you make it home."
...... Someone was unlocking the doors to the building, glancing out at us.
...... I handed her a business card from the visor loops. "Be okay?"
...... "The bus'll leave in an hour, and the station is just across the street." She looked at the glass-fronted restaurant. "And that's just enough time for a good breakfast." She held out her hand. "If you're ever in Williamsville, the paper'll know where I am."
...... An echo of the closing door and a line of fresh boot tracks across the tread patterns in the snow -- I pulled out, turned left, then right at the route signs by the main intersection. A few last snowflakes pattered down on the windshield and melted away.
|chapter seven||CHAPTER EIGHT||chapter nine|
PLEASE NOTE: The above story is fictional - the characters and situations are imaginary. Resemblances to actual persons are accidental (and in some instances appalling!)