Gord and I had just finished shooing a few last gawkers away from the crash site when a car pulled into the driveway and a young woman got out and walked toward us, an inquisitive look on her face.
Gord rolled his eyes heavenward. “Whenever there’s a crime everyone and his pup wants to see the blood,” he grumbled.
I winked at my fellow officer. “I don’t see any pup. Just a nice looking lady.”
“Well, you deal with her, Mike. Tell her, ‘Sorry. No bodies today’.” He turned to talk with the tow truck driver and the two of them walked away.
As I watched the woman coming toward me, I guessed her to be in her late-twenties. Not pretty, exactly, but neat. Sandy blond hair fastened behind her head with a clip. Her outfit, a soft green skirt and matching flowered top, coordinated nicely.
Amanda always liked color-coordinated outfits. A twinge of grief hit me. Poets probably call this feeling “bittersweet.” Sweet memory; bitter grief. Co-ordinated sentiments?
This lady didn’t look like your usual crime-scene spectator. Did she have some business here? Neighbors had told us the owners were away on vacation so perhaps this was some friend or relative checking up on things.
She watched the tow truck driver haul away the car the young hoods had totaled, then she turned to me. “What happened, Officer?”
“We’re still investigating, ma’am, but it appears a couple of teen boys held up a gas station and tore off when police tried to stop them. They lost control making a turn, spun out, and hit this garage.”
She frowned. “I hope they weren’t killed!”
“No, just stunned a bit. They ran when our officers got here, but they’re in custody now.”
“Well, I’m sorry they crashed, but at least they’ll get the chance to think it over.”
“Yeah. Probably for six months or so.” I noticed her different accent. Out of state. “And what brings you here this morning, ma’am?”
“My friend asked me to meet her here. I wonder if she knows about this? She didn’t say anything when I talked to her earlier.”
“Brianne Rancourt. She’s been house-sitting for these folks while they’re on holidays.”
“Ah. We’ll need to talk to her.”
“We planned to meet here, check on the place, then do lunch. Shall I call her, sir?” She turned her huge peepers on me — nice denim blue ones — and my pulse did a quick double blip.
I took a deep breath. “Uh… Just give me her number and I’ll get the investigating officer to contact her.” I grabbed my notebook and she rattled off the pertinent info, then waited as I relayed it to headquarters.
She eyed the damage. “Brianne will be so shocked. She’s been house-sitting here for the past two weeks and never had any trouble. I feel sorry for the owners, coming home to this.”
Her tone, soft and gentle now, reminded me of the folks at my wife’s funeral. They’d give me a hug or pat me on the shoulder as they filed past, murmuring, “I’m so sorry, Mike.” Or they’d look at my kids and say, “This is so sad!”
I jerked my mind back to the present. “How long have you known Ms Rancourt?”
“Only ten days, actually. My Aunt lives here in Houston. She had a bad fall and broke her hip, so I took time off work and drove down from Great Falls to help her out. I met Brianne at the hospital; her aunt’s on the same ward.”
“Great Falls, Montana? Ah! That explains your accent.”
Her eyes sparkled. “Actually, we don’t have an accent. It’s you Texans that talk funny.” I chuckled at the way she drawled this last sentence.
I flipped to a new page in my notebook. “I should take down your name and number as well, ma’am.”
Her eyebrows lifted. “Really? But it’s purely coincidence that I’m here now, sir.”
I put on my best stern-cop frown, avoiding those curious blue eyes. “Perhaps we’ll need to contact you for some reason.”
“Okay. I’m Shannon Ryan. As I said, I live in Great Falls. Age thirty-one — in case you need that, too.” I couldn’t miss the hint of teasing in her voice.
I grinned. “I admire your honesty, ma’am. Most women I know stop at twenty-nine.” That made her smile.
Amanda had always joked that she was going to quit counting birthdays when she hit thirty. I’d laughed and told her I’d just have to grow old all by myself then. Those words came back to haunt me now. We never dreamed she wouldn’t live to see thirty; we never foresaw a fatal aneurysm snatching her away from me and the kids.
I focused on my notebook. “Married or single?” Police records didn’t require that, but hey. We can do things different here in Texas, right?
“I’m a widow.”
That got my attention. “I’m sorry to hear that. For long?”
She sighed. “It’s been ten years for me. And Brianne was widowed two years ago. I guess that’s why we hit it off so well when we met. We can commiserate.”
My brain did the math. “You must have been married real young then?”
“Yeah. I was seventeen when we got married; Brad was eighteen. Young and foolish, folks said, but we were very much in love. He was killed in a car accident on his way home from work one night. Four sweet years — far too short.” She blinked back some tears.
I nodded sympathetically. “I hear you, ma’am. I lost my wife four months ago. Feels like our time together was far too short, too.”
“My condolences,” she murmured. “Those first few months alone are a long, hard walk.”
“You’ve never remarried? Not currently, uh, involved?” Man, you’re nervy, Mike, I chided myself. But I had to ask.
“No.” She hesitated a moment. “I was engaged briefly three years ago, but that really blew up in my face. I run a daycare and it turned out he had an agenda. An ‘unnatural interest’ in children. I’ll admit a few red flags did pop up, but I so much wanted a home and family of my own that I reasoned them away.”
“The snake!” I spat the word out, thinking of my own innocent kids.
“Yeah. How could I have not seen it? And the scandal when he was arrested really sank me. Headlines like: ‘Day care operator’s fiancé arrested for trafficking in kiddie porn’ and ‘Police investigate pedophile’s involvement with day care owner.’ I’d never left him alone with any of the kids in my care — I testified to that in court — but my business was toast. I had to sell my house and start up elsewhere.”
I gritted my teeth. “I know what I’d like to do with someone like that!”
“So I’m sure you can understand why I try not to think about marriage anymore. I’m scared to hope again for fear it’ll be ‘Three strikes, you’re out’.” She smiled then, but the tears made her eyes glisten.
She shook her head and fixed her eyes on the garage. “Anyway, this isn’t all about me, so I’d better get on my way.” She turned and walked toward her car.
Should I just let her go? Something about this lady impressed me. She’d been through the mill and could still smile. I could use someone like that in my life — someone who’d understand.
A nagging voice piped up. It’s too soon to get involved, Mike. Just drop it!
Yeah, too soon. Yet I was so lonely! The emptiness had set in as soon as the last relative left. Every day my house felt empty: the loving greetings, the noisy meals together, the hugs and kisses were all gone. Every night my bed felt lonelier.
What will people think? They’ll say you didn’t love Amanda much if you find someone else so soon.
Stuff it, I retorted. I need someone. The kids need a mother. I’ve prayed God would send me someone who’ll love my kids. And if this is my someone, I’m not letting her walk away.
“Shannon, wait…” I called. She stopped and turned around.
“I’ve been thinking — since you’re down here alone and don’t know the city, perhaps you might, uh, like an unofficial police escort? Maybe for some shopping or sightseeing? And there are some really neat cruises in the Gulf you might want to take in while you’re here.”
She was quiet for a moment. Wrestling with her own nagging voices, most likely.
“Don’t give up on finding love,” I encouraged her. “After all, not everybody strikes out. Sometimes you hit a homer on the third swing.”
Something seemed to click and her face broke into a beautiful smile. “You know,” she said, “a police escort might not be such a bad idea. Might save me from some other slippery snakes. Yeah, I’d like to look around this town more, with a little help. Since you’re offering.”
Her smile seemed to bring the sunshine into my world again. I held out my hand. “My name’s Mike Andrews, by the way. And I have a five-year-old and a two-year-old who’d be glad to spend time with someone who likes children.”
She reached out and shook my hand. “Pleased to meet you, Mike. And I do like children. In fact I always wanted house full.”
I gave her my biggest smile. “I’m with you on that one.”