Monday, April 20, 2020

Come In Number Seven by Madeline McEwen

A California State Trooper pulls over a characterful British woman for speeding; by Madeline McEwen.

When she'd rolled down the window, I caught a sniff of hot leather upholstery, the unmistakable smell of a virgin vehicle fresh off the lot.

"License and registration please, Ma'am," I asked. From her paperwork, I guessed she was a Brit with that name - Hermione Trees. She'd pulled off the freeway, turned on the interior light and the flashers. A good sign. She'd remained in the driver's seat of the Mercedes convertible.

Her hands - I'd have preferred them on the steering wheel - clutched a jeweled purse large enough to conceal a gun. I thought of the rosary on my dashboard - a keepsake from my ex-wife, my sixth, a superstitious type. Only five weeks until my retirement after twenty-seven years as a State Trooper. I hoped my luck would last.

"I'm frightfully sorry, Officer," Hermione said in a crisp British accent. "I do apologize for speeding."

That's all I needed, a talker, talking foreign. I'd watched enough Masterpiece Theatre to know her kind. Vacationer stops were a pain. Too much paperwork for zero results. Then she smiled, and I recognized expensive dentistry. You don't get that kind of work done without a Green Card. An immigrant, yes, but legal.

"Occupation?" I said, curious, noting her emerald green suit, silk blouse, gray temples, crows feet, and pale cheeks. No wedding band.

When she answered, she swallowed her syllables. I could have sworn, she said, "genius." Turns out she meant genealogist.

"You from London?" I asked.

"No, I'm from a tiny little place that nobody's ever heard of."

"Try me. My mom's from London."

"Blandford Forum, near Poole, in Dorset."

"How long have you lived in California?"

"Nigh on three years."

She had answered slowly, enunciating each word with exactitude. Should have been an elocution teacher. Wouldn't mind lessons from a looker like her, well-preserved, well-heeled, and well over the speed limit. I took her papers and checked them back in the cruiser. Her license was clean. My memory logged her address - 7 Tranquilo Boulevard - a narrow residential Cul-de-sac, two blocks from Main Street, where the millionaires had bought up all the real estate. I hadn't heard anyone ever use the word "nigh," except my mom, also a Brit. Nobody ever understood her anyways, except me. "Why does no one appreciate sarcasm in this country?" Mom used to say. Her sense of humor left most people cold, but I missed it, missed her.

Hermione signed the citation without a murmur. I waited until she pulled out into traffic. I'd met each of my wives in civvies, out of uniform. Kept my profession a secret for as long as possible. Mom always said I got that wrong too. "What do you expect?" she'd say. "Why start a relationship on a falsehood? No wonder you always pick duds." She wasn't talking about casual clothing, but my string of failed relationships. Like I said, no one could make her out, an alien who never sold out for citizenship.

Hermione's taillights disappeared into the night.

Nine days later, Dispatch sent me to Tranquilo, a drunk driver, and I felt a flicker of something. I cruised into a collection of open-plan, manicured yards - managed by landscapers - and knew immediately which one was hers. A white picket fence corralled a riot of color, like something out of ancient England, petals strewn over onto next door's yard. I parked alongside the truck.

Had Hermione called it in?

I kept my eyes on the scene, an old Ford truck wrapped around a street light. No sign of the driver. Checking out the vehicle, I heard a gate-latch click, but I sensed her before that. Sensed something.

"I don't think anyone was hurt," she said. "Oh, it's you again."

She glanced at the cruiser and then back to me again.

A smile, more of a grin, threatened to break my face.

Her hand rested on the hood of my cruiser, holding a pair of clippers, short, blunt, and soiled. No gloves, a smear of dirt across her nose. I tried to think of something to say. The cute suit was gone. Instead, she wore cut-offs and a man's long-sleeved shirt - working gear.

"I have to dead-head before my first client," she said, snipping the empty air with the clippers. "The roses."

I read the sign on her fence - "Family Trees, Find Yours."

"I specialize in Celtic ancestry," she said. "I work from home."

"Celtic?" Had she seen the Irish cross on the rosary? "But you're English."

"A Brit. Technically, I'm half-and-half, like creamer. Irish and Scottish. A mutt like most Americans."

She sounded weird, saying "mutt" in a snobby accent, but I liked her freckles. Made her less intimidating. Was she serious? Hard to tell with that smile. Was she teasing me or soliciting for business?

"How are you handling the divorce?" she said.

So much for British diplomacy.

"The white band of skin on your finger," she said. "And I suspect you've lost weight."

Sharp woman. My fingers slipped to my belt buckle. I wouldn't get much past her.

"Not your first," she said, "I'm guessing."

She guessed right, but I couldn't admit to six. Two or three seemed careless, more was an outright scandal.

"I'd offer to cook," she said, "but I'm better in the garden than the kitchen."

I've never been asked out on a date by a woman. I kind of liked it.

"I know a great diner," I said. Nothing to lose. "Paddy O'Keefe's."

"Brunch or dinner?" she said, snapping the lock on the clippers.

"Dinner."

"Is that a date?" she said, folding her arms.

"Sure."

"As long as it's not six pints and a potato," she said.

"Excuse me?"

"That's an Irish seven-course dinner."

"Seven," I said. A funny woman, brave and bold. Could I cope with a joker? Did I even want to try?

"Seven's lucky for some," I said. Maybe, she'd be lucky for me.

9 comments:

  1. Engaging story. I expected more, wanted more. But that's good. Definitely better than the opposite. And in reflection, its open-endedness worked, made it my story to complete as I like. Reads like a snippet from something larger, not in the excerpted sense though, but as having been deliberately designed as a pinhole into a much larger picture. Interesting work.

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  2. Flirtatious and fun, with an ending to fill in. I enjoyed the delightful playfulness. A good read. Thank you.

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  3. Light and playful... most women are attracted to men in uniform. I'd say it's number seven for the retirement years.

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  4. Short but sweet with a hopeful ending...loved the subtle repetition of the lucky number at the very end.

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  5. Really enjoyed the story. Brought a smile to my face. The MC might be the most persistent person ever. Thanks for sharing the story with us.

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  6. Yes, good ending. Sneaks up on you, and very quick, but definitely satisfying.

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  7. Good tale and well-written. Number 7 isn't likely to be lucky for the woman though unless the MC has learned some things from nos. 1-6.

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  8. I enjoyed this story, though I expected some sort of treachery at the end. I don't know why. I, like other readers, enjoyed the open-endedness of it. I would love to read a sequel!

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  9. I liked the dialogue and how the MC brought out his flaws and was aware of them. And he sounds just like a cop - good job on that. But six marriages, and still listening to his mother! Those are some serious issues. What I didn't like was how it just ended and left us hanging. It's a great beginning, but it definitely needs some kind of resolution.

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