The pale winter sun shone through the kitchen window. I cleaned up the last of the mess from my adventure. The caper hadn't gone as planned. How many do? In my many years of life, most of my plans had taken an unexpected turn.
"Merup." Robespierre, my Maine Coon cat, announced a visitor on the way. He's almost as good as a doorbell. The firm rap on the door told me this wasn't one of my female friends. "Come in."
Pete Duggan strode across the room and thrust a bouquet of bright carnations into my hands. A red hue, almost as vivid as his hair, stained his face. "Mrs. Miller, got to hand it to you. I've come to eat crow."
To hide a smile I buried my face in the flowers and inhaled the spicy fragrance. "How about chocolate chip cookies and mint tea instead?"
"Sounds great." He straddled one of the chairs at the table and picked up the local newspaper. "Local Woman Thwarts Robbers." His grin made him look like the ten-year-old who had moved into the corner house on my block. He cleared his throat. "The guys at the station ribbed me about this. Did you forget the plan?"
How, when the idea to catch the real thieves had been mine? A series of burglaries had plagued the neighborhood for months and had troubled me. Especially when the police had decided two teenage neighbor boys were the culprits. I knew the pair and had disagreed strongly enough to set myself up as a victim. Then I informed Pete.
"Did you forget?" he repeated. "When I crept up the stairs and saw you grappling with one of the men, I nearly had a heart attack."
Heat singed my cheeks. "How was I to know my date would poop out early?"
After filling two mugs with mint tea I opened a tin of freshly baked cookies. How could I admit to a nagging doubt, or tell him I had wanted to be part of the action? In July I had turned sixty-five and in September retired from the nursing staff at Tappan Zee Memorial Hospital. Six months of placid existence had made me edgy. Lunch with friends, coffee with the neighbors and weekly bridge games with old cronies bored me. These events held none of the challenge of meeting crises at the hospital.
Pete scowled. "You could have gone to the Prescott's house."
"They're away." I sipped the tea and savored the cool mint flavor.
"The Randal's' then." He pulled the other mug across the table. "The guys insist the two of us make one perfect cop. Want to hire on?"
"I've no desire for a third career." Until my husband's death twenty-five years ago I had been the organist and choir director at St. Stephens Episcopal Church. Needing a way to support myself and my son, I enrolled in the nursing program at the community college. "Besides, I'm too old."
"Old, never. You look the same as when we moved here."
"It's the dye." His puzzled look tickled me. Dyeing my hair makes me look younger. "I came into the world with red hair and I intend to leave the same way."
Laughter rumbled deep in his chest. "A worthy ambition you nearly fulfilled last night." He touched my hand. "Thanks again. You kept me from making a mistake that could have ruined those boys."
I lifted my mug and inhaled the aromatic steam. The evidence against the pair had been circumstantial and strong. They had done odd jobs at all the houses that had been burglarized. "I've known them since they were infants. Nothing I've ever seen in their actions to make me believe they were guilty."
Pete made a face. "I've known them just as long. Didn't stop me from suspecting them. How could you be sure?"
"Forty years of living in the same house has attuned me to the rhythms of the neighborhood."
"Twenty years hasn't helped me."
"There's living and living." Some people are so concerned with the melody they never hear the underlying harmonics. As a musician I've learned to listen. As a nurse I know how to evaluate symptoms that are sometimes similar but are caused by different diseases. Those traits are a vital part of my nature.
I set the mug on the table. "Don't blame yourself. You weren't the only one to suspect the boys. No harm was done."
He finished the cookie he held and rose. "No harm. Maybe some good. I'll try looking beneath the surface."
"That's a great idea."
He grinned. "I'm out of here. Work tonight." He zipped his green down jacket. "How about acting as my silent partner?"
I laughed. "Go away with your nonsense."
Just them the cat door opened. Robespierre made a grand entrance. Flakes of snow dotted his brown and black fur. His gait suggested a mission. He halted in front of Pete and banged the young policeman's leg with his head.
Pete crouched and scratched the cat's head. "Not my fault, old man. She jumped in on her own."
Robespierre's rumbling purr suggested he understood and accepted Pete's explanation.
"He's been out of sorts since the thieves visited."
"Me, too." Pete hugged me. "Never again. Promise. We need you around. Think about being a silent partner. There are times when I need someone to listen."
"If listening is all you need, I'll be here. No more active involvement in crime for me."
"See you." He clattered down the stairs.
Until I heard the front door close I remained at the top of the steps. Silent partner, no way. I rubbed the tender spot on my head where I'd been bashed. I had enough experience with crime to last the rest of my life.