“Eric, my friend, how are you?” asked Michael.
Michael listened for a few moments to his Belgian friend’s customary monologue of opinions on the state of American politics. Their phone calls, texts, and emails often began this way. Michael was well aware of his friend’s conservative views and would normally and politely let him go on for a while. But this morning, as he sat at his now-usual table with the delicate tablecloth and worn chairs, the smell of baking in the air and steam rising off a cup of hot tea, Michael was restless. His friend chattered on from the other end of the line, but Michael had other priorities.
“Eric… if I might get a word in edgewise… can I change topics?” Michael asked over his friend’s nattering.
With a hearty laugh that could be heard beyond the normal range of the cell phone’s speaker, Eric abruptly concluded his little speech well before reaching his intended destination.
“Okay, sorry for my shortness, my friend. I’ve got a quick question for you, one that will take you back a few years to our time on Camino in Spain,” Michael said into his phone. “Remember when we finished up our trek in Santiago? We stayed at the San Martín and went out for dinner with those two women we had met there at the hospedería that evening.” Michael listened intently to Eric’s reply. “Yes, Nina was one of them. The other, what was her name? Do you remember?” asked Michael. “Yes, it was Elisabeth. You remember them. That is amazing. Do you remember anything more about her specifically?”
On the other end, Michael’s Camino friend described what he remembered from that evening. For example, he recalled how the four of them had tried and failed to get seats for the limited free pilgrim meal at the Parador Hotel but had found a reasonably priced restaurant on the Rúa da Raíña instead.
“Very good, Eric. You have a fantastic memory, sir. You see, the thing is, I believe I’ve run into the one called Elisabeth here in England. What more do you remember about her?” Michael wished to direct the conversation to where he most needed it to be. “Yes, I remember I might have had a chance with her then, Eric. But maybe I have another chance with her now—with your help, of course.”
Michael listened to Eric chattering on about their evening with Nina and Elisabeth. Unfortunately, Eric did not remember much about either of the two women, since Nina and Elisabeth had mostly talked between themselves. However, he did remember that Elisabeth had said she worked on an estate in California’s Napa Valley. He was not exactly sure what she did, but her job may have had to do with the estate owner’s daughter. Perhaps she was a teacher for the girl or played a similar role.
“Do you remember if she had mentioned any name, the name of the family or the estate?” inquired Michael.
Michael listened some more and then said back to his friend, “Yes, fantastic! You are sure it was Meeks, or was it Weeks?” A few more moments passed. “Perfect!” Michael shouted into his cell phone. “You are a lifesaver, Eric,” he said, just before remembering how true that statement might actually be. “I will do some online research and see what I can find out. That may jar my memory, fill in some blank spots, and help me out with her. Thank you. You are amazing, my friend. My best to Véronique.”
Michael tried to contain his excitement. “Yes, that’s all I needed. I’ll call you back and let you know how it all works out,” Michael replied to his friend on the other end of the line, not sure when he might get to make that call or what he would have to report. Only good news, he hoped.
* * *
Working on the next action item on his list for that morning, Michael said into his cell phone, “Inspector, I hope it’s not too early to call. I remembered something more and have made some inquiries back in California about Lilibet.” He winced to himself, knowing he was still using his nickname for Elisabeth. “Do you have some time for me?” he asked with a hope that she still held an interest in the case and that something of a higher profile had not stolen her away. “Yes, I’m at the B and B. Sure, I’ll be here. Shall I save one of Mrs. Neil’s strawberry scones for you?” Michael politely asked in response to her questions. “Okay, see you soon.” Michael finished up and set the phone aside.
* * *
Within ten minutes, the inspector entered the dining area of the Banes-Flatt and found Michael sitting at a corner table, where he could see everything happening in the room around him—and who might be coming and going. The inspector took note of his apparent wariness, certain she knew why the man was on guard. She walked the short distance to the table and eyed the perfect little strawberry scone placed at the edge of the table where Michael had offered her a seat.
“Thank you for coming so quickly. You must have broken all local speed regulations by getting here so fast,” Michael said in a friendly, jovial manner.
“No speed laws were infringed upon,” the inspector responded, her voice maintaining a stern tone. “I live closer to here than to the nick… sorry, I mean the police station. You Americans don’t say ‘the nick,’ do you?”
“No, but I know the term well. I watch more British TV shows than American ones,” Michael replied. “Please enjoy Mrs. Neil’s scone. She tells me it is a prize-winning recipe. Can I order you some coffee or tea?”
“Yes, coffee would be fine. How is the old woman’s coffee?” she asked, almost as an afterthought.
“I’m a tea drinker, but I haven’t heard any complaints about the coffee,” he said.
“Very well. Coffee it shall be.”
Michael requested a cup of coffee from Mrs. Neil for the inspector. “Now, may I get started?” he asked in a rush.
“Yes, of course. You seem in quite the hurry this morning, Mr. Seltzer. You must have some news, something exciting.”
Michael began at the beginning and told the inspector everything as it unfolded since he had spoken with her the evening before. He told her that he remembered meeting Elisabeth in Spain years earlier but had not recalled that fact until the early hours of this very morning. He had also phoned his Camino friend, the Belgian, for more information about Elisabeth and had asked him for anything he could remember. After a short pause to ensure the inspector was absorbing what he was relaying to her, Michael told her how his friend, who had spent much time with him on the Camino, had miraculously recollected where Elisabeth had lived and worked in California. Then Michael described his Internet search that helped him to locate the estate where Elisabeth earned or had once earned a living and the winery that the estate’s proprietors owned in California.
He told the inspector about his eventual phone call to the California estate and about getting the runaround from whoever was on the other end of the line. The person, a woman and presumably an employee, would not tell him anything about Elisabeth or the owners of the vast estate. He had explained to the woman that he understood her role in protecting the privacy of the family and of the estate’s employees. He also described to the inspector how he had pleaded for the woman’s cooperation and had begged to speak with the estate’s owner, but his efforts were to no avail, even after he noted the urgency of the situation at hand. Michael finished his story by stating to the inspector that the woman on the other end of the line seemed to be hiding something and that he felt she was under additional pressure to say nothing.
The inspector listened to Michael’s account with rapt attention and began contemplating any promising revelations. Having been focused only on Michael’s story, though, she was stunned to find that she had eaten her strawberry scone and had finished off her coffee without paying much attention to their consumption. She thoughtfully sat back in the old wooden chair. “Well, that’s quite the tale there, Michael. You have been busy this morning, and it’s still quite early.”
“Does that mean you believe me or not, Inspector?” Michael asked. He noticed, too, that she was now using his first name. A good sign, he hoped.
“You said you were an attorney before retiring, didn’t you, Michael?” she asked rhetorically. He nodded in the affirmative, and she proceeded. “How often did you hear the truth the first time—or the tenth—in court or from your very own clients? I’m not accustomed to people telling me the truth or the whole story. That makes my job all the more difficult, of course. From my many years of training and experience, I suppose, I very often assume everyone is lying to me or holding back details—at least initially.”
Michael sat there quietly. He was pleased that the inspector was doing the talking for once. He did indeed know what she meant. Most people he had come across in court or at depositions—and even other attorneys—quite often could not be counted on to tell the truth, or at least the whole truth. These recollections led him back to the morning of the inspector’s original questioning when he had called her about the incident on the street side. That morning now seemed so long ago. The inspector had shown a very different attitude toward Michael back then, just the day before yesterday.
Michael heard the buzz of a cell phone and quickly looked down at his own device on the table. His phone sat there quietly. The inspector slowly reached into a jacket pocket to retrieve hers, a smile on her face as she recognized an urgency in his response to the phone.
“What is it?” she said into the phone with no more decorum than any other cop Michael had ever met in his life. “And where is this car, you say? Near Kendal? Well, I’m not all that far away,” she told the caller. “No, don’t bother. I’ll check on it. Thank you for watching out for that sedan and for your call,” she added. “No, we’re not yet sure what is going on, if anything,” she said while looking at Michael, who appeared to be very interested in the conversation.
“Well, this must be our lucky day, Michael,” the inspector said after she ended the call and put the phone back into her pocket. “How would you like to go for a ride with me to Kendal, not far from here?”
To purchase this cozy mystery for your Kindle, click this link: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07HQY23TR
Or to purchase a paperback version, click this link: https://www.amazon.com/dp/1724103164