Next morning they came to change the locks. It was Valentine’s Day. Shop windows were full of cupids and chocolates. Love was in the air but the man I had chosen had a cat that came first in his heart. We would never make it together. Dinner tonight would be our last date, I promised myself. Why go on making us both miserable?
At noon a dozen red roses came to the office. The card inside said, “Thanks for giving us another chance.” It was signed by Jerry but there was a pawprint underneath.
I fussed around till five, then cleared my desk and called Lou Ann. “Could you doubledate at such short notice? “
“On such a romantic evening? Of course. Laurence probably doesn’t even know what day it is. And who knows? Maybe Jerry will fall for me. You saw ‘When Harry Met Sally’, didn’t you?”
“Jerry and I are probably finished,” I said, “but until I let you know, hands off.”
“Bringing another couple along isn’t going to help, you know,” Lou Ann said.
“It’ll keep us from having an unpleasant memory on Valentine’s Day. Which we will, if you don’t come.”
“We’ll be there, don’t worry.”
I pulled my little blue corvette out into rush hour traffic and turned the radio on. “An elderly woman was attacked and killed today in her apartment at Main and Charles…”
My apartment was at Main and Charles. I braked for a yellow light and turned the sound up. “Police believe Mrs. Gilroy Patrickson, 75, was another victim in a series of assaults that have terrorized this South side community…”
How awful for Mac, I thought, as tears ran down my face. How awful for us all.
The carpet outside my door looked as though many pairs of dirty boots had been trampling it. There was yellow police tape criss-crossed outside Mrs. Patrickson’s door, with an official notice forbidding entry. I felt tears in my eyes as I looked at it. The elevator opened behind me. I turned and Mac stepped off.
“Oh, I’m so sorry,” I opened my arms and Mac fell into them. I patted him awkwardly on the shoulder. “Did they catch the man who did it?”
He shook his head and stepped back. “I’d just left. He must’ve been watching for me to go. If only I’d stayed a little longer…”
“Don’t think about it. Will you need any help with the arrangements?”
“No. My mom’s taking care of the… funeral and all that. But thanks for offering. I just came from police headquarters. I thought maybe if I came back I’d see something they’d overlooked but…”
“I’d just leave it to the police. They’ll will find him, sooner or later.”
“I guess you’re right. She was very fond of you, you know.”
I nodded. It was hard to talk. Mac punched the ground floor button and held my hand till the elevator came.
My apartment seemed very vulnerable when I opened the door. I stood in the doorway, looking around. Whoever had killed Mrs. Patrickson could crawl in any of the windows. We were only on the third floor. Terrorized. The radio had it right.
“Bad news, Donna,” Mr. Jaspers, the retired plumber across the hall, opened his door. “Fine lady.”
“Yes, she was. “
“Some guy came around looking for you, right before.”
“Said so, didn’t I? Had your keys.” He started to close his door.
“Wait! Mr. Jaspers.” He eyed me suspiciously.
“Tell me what he looked like. Please?”
“Tall. Dark hair. Tweed coat.” His door closed firmly.
Cat hairs, I added, mentally. Keys? Mrs. Patrickson’s spare key had been on that ring. What if–? No. It couldn’t have been Jerry. Besides he wouldn’t know what key opened what. He could have tried them, a small voice in my head said. He might’ve tried your door and then hers and she wouldn’t’ve thought anything, supposing it was just Mac coming back, till it was too late…
I crossed the hall and pounded on Jasper’s door.
“Go away.” He was looking through the peep hole.
“Mr. Jaspers. Did you tell the police?”
“None of my business.”
Oh great. So it was up to me to let them know that possibly I was dating Mrs. Patrickson’s killer and then they’d want to wire me up for our date to get some incriminating evidence on Jerry. And then they’d arrest him but his lawyer would get him off and he’d come looking for me…
But I didn’t call the police either. It couldn’t have been Jerry. He was too nice, too honest. But he’d lied about not having the keys, a little voice said. He probably wouldn’t have mentioned them at all if Mr. Jaspers hadn’t surprised him holding them, in the act of breaking in. What other explanation could he have given?
Perhaps he was planning to let himself in and wait for me, like he had for all those other women. When he found my locks were changed, he settled for my neighbour…
But how could he know Mr. Jaspers wouldn’t tell the police? That was easy. Anyone talking to the old curmudgeon for two minutes would know he didn’t give up anything voluntarily. It was only by chance he’d told me.
I’d talk it over with Mac. Maybe he could decide if I was just imagining things. I went downstairs and got his number from Masterson. “Anything I can take care of, Donna?” the old fellow said. “No need to bother the boss with every little thing.”
“This is personal, thanks.” I went home and punched in his number.
“Mac, I–” There was a little beep as his answering machine came on. “Call me,” I said and gave my number.