(Sorry. A little late this week. Stuff happened. Y’know.)
The Dragon, The Wench, and Her Wardrobe
© 2013 Sheila McClune
Lucinda pulled up outside Maddie’s apartment building and switched off her car. Maddie’s windows were dark, but that didn’t mean anything–the living room was on the other side of the two-story building, and if Maddie was kicking back after a stressful day, that’s where she’d probably be.
Except…her car wasn’t in the parking lot. That wasn’t a good sign
Lucinda pulled her laptop and suitcase out of the back of her car, then climbed the stairs to the apartment door. She knocked first, but when there was no answer, she let herself in and switched on the light. “Maddie? You here?”
“Rew?” A long-haired calico cat padded out of one of the bedroom doors and came over to rub up against Lucinda’s legs.
“Hallo, Paisley.” Lucinda set down her bags and crouched to stroke the cat’s silky fur.
Instantly, the cat began to purr, butting her head against Lucinda’s knee, then curling back around so Lucinda could stroke her again. “Rew?”
Laughing, Lucinda complied. “You never did learn to meow properly, did you, cat? It’s “meow”. C’mon. Repeat after me: Meow.”
Lucinda snorted. “Fine. I give up.” Giving the cat one last stroke, she stood and looked around. Maddie’s keys weren’t on the hook near the door. Another bad sign.
“Rew.” Paisley head-butted Lucinda’s leg, then stalked pointedly over to her empty food dish. “Rew?”
Lucinda followed the cat into the kitchen. “Guess that means Maddie’s really not here. Either that, or you’ve just figured out how to trick me into giving you a second supper.” She opened a cupboard and squinted at the stack of small cans.
Paisley stropped herself against Lucinda’s legs with renewed vigor. “Rew? Rew? Rew?”
“Either you really are hungry, or you’re the best method actor I ever saw. ‘Cause if I didn’t know better, I’d say you hadn’t been fed in weeks. Maybe even months.” She sorted through the cans. “So what’ll it be? Grilled salmon and cheddar cheese? Ocean whitefish and tuna? Turkey and giblets pate? Damn, cat, you eat better than I do.”
“Rew! Rew! Rew!”
“All right, all right. Pate it is.” Lucinda popped the lid emptied the can into the cat’s dish. Or at least she tried to, but Paisley thrust her head between the can and the dish, and she nearly dumped the food on the cat’s head instead. “Hey, you gotta let me put it in the dish first.” Pushing the cat aside, she finished emptying the can. “There.”
Purring madly, the cat began to wolf down the food.
“At least you’re easy to cook for. And you have better table manners than some of my roommates.” Lucinda tossed the empty can into the garbage and started toward the sink to wash her hands.
The sound of a ringing phone interrupted her. “Holy crap. Maddie still has a land line?” She located the phone on a table beside a stack of mail and debated whether or not to answer it. After all, it could be Maddie, checking to see if she’d gotten into the apartment okay. But why wouldn’t Maddie call her cell phone?
While Lucinda debated, the answering machine picked up. “Hi, this is Maddie. I can’t talk right now. Leave me a message and I’ll call you back.” The message finished with an emphatic beep.
“Maddie?” Lucinda didn’t recognize the man’s voice. “Maddie, it’s Paul. If you’re there, please pick up. I’ve been trying to call your cell phone for over an hour, and it just goes straight to voice mail. I stayed up waiting for you to text me when your plane was ready to take off, but you never did, and then I saw the news on the television, about the thing at the airport there, and I started to get really worried—”
Lucinda snatched up the phone. “Hello?”
“No, this is her sister, Lucinda. I’m house-sitting for her.”
“Oh.” Lucinda could practically hear the man’s shoulders sag even over the phone. “So have you heard from her?”
“No. Her boss tells me she sent her off to the airport at about nine o’clock. And she can’t reach her either.” Lucinda’s knees suddenly went wobbly. Fortunately, the phone cord was long enough to reach the nearest armchair. “Say, are you that guy she was going to Boston to meet?”
“She told you about me?”
“Not in so many words. But I put two and two together.”
“I see. Well, yes. I’m Paul. Paul Rogers.”
“Pleased to meet you.”
“Likewise. So how do we get in touch with your sister?”
Lucinda sighed. “I wish I knew. I wonder why her phone’s turned off?”
“What if it’s not turned off? What if it’s broken? I mean, if she was on that train when the tunnel collapsed, her phone might have gotten smashed. Then it would go straight to voice mail. Wouldn’t it?”
“I suppose.” Lucinda didn’t want to think about that. If Maddie’s phone had gotten smashed, Maddie might have, too. “I don’t know how we tell the difference.”
“Me either.” The man sighed. “Look, surely there’s something you can do from your end. I mean, can’t you drive out to the airport and look for her?”
“I doubt it. They said the airport was closed. If I try to go out there, they’ll probably just arrest me. Hell, they’ll practically arrest you if you take too long getting out of your car at the drop-off.” Lucinda reached over and grabbed the TV remote from the coffee table. She switched on the set, then hit the “mute” button. “I’ve turned on the TV. Maybe one of the local stations has a number you can call for information.”
“Or maybe it’s on their website. Hey, that’s a thought.” Lucinda heard clicking noises. “Here it is. Got a pen?”
“Hang on.” Lucinda fished around in her purse for a pen and grabbed an envelope from the pile of Maddie’s mail. “Okay.”
Paul read off the number. “After you call them, will you call me back right away and tell me what they said?”
“I’ll need your number, too. Oh, and Maddie’s flight information, if you’ve got it.”
Lucinda scribbled more numbers. “All right. I’ll let you know what I hear.”
“Thanks. I’ll stay up until I hear from you.”
Lucinda settled more deeply into the armchair and dialed the information number. “Your call is important to us. Please stay on the line, and we’ll answer your call in the order it was received. Thank you.”
“Argh!” She studied the phone until she found the “speaker mode” button. Then, keeping an ear open, she hauled her suitcase into the spare bedroom and pulled out her pajamas. Not that she expected she’d get to use them anytime soon.