Suzan Dwyer tried to concentrate on the work before her, but her thoughts kept slipping from her notes on the results of her blood serum tests to Ellen Lambert. The woman was certainly intriguing and a bit mystifying. Plus the situation with Ellen and her husband appeared baffling to say the least. One day Charles Lambert had made a visit to the lab and begged the doctor to help him reverse what he called a rapid aging process, so rapid he went from the age of thirty-something to sixty-something in one afternoon, his deterioration almost crippling; and yet the next day he supposedly flew to Europe to seek treatment there.
A part of Suzan—the common sense side of her—knew she shouldn’t go any further with the Lamberts. She hadn’t been able to help Charles Lambert, and so had referred him to a qualified colleague...as any doctor would have done. End of story. But it wasn’t the end of the story for Suzan. As a scientist and researcher, she plumed the depths of those things that stymied, puzzled, mystified and intrigued her...like Charles Lambert. He had come to represent the enigma or problem she wanted to explore, dissect, examine and then try to find an answer for—if it could be done.
Now, setting aside her reading glasses, Suzan sat back in her desk chair and let out a sigh of both reflection and indecision. She had a standing invitation to visit Ellen Lambert, and a continued follow-up on her husband’s situation and condition would not be out of line. And she drove the car to work today, a rarity since it was easier to take the Metro across town. Perhaps, subconsciously, Suzan had done so because she wished to make another trip to see Ellen Lambert.
The doctor picked up her cellphone and consulted her phonebook log where she had set up a listing for Ellen Lambert, both her personal cell and her landline phone at the house. Suzan tried the house phone first and got Ellen on the fourth ring.
“Why, hello, Suzan,” the woman greeted with warmth and pleasure in her voice. “It’s good to hear from you again. In fact, I was just thinking about you.”
Funny, I was thinking of you, too, Suzan thought but refrained from saying it out loud. “I was wondering if I could stop by, just to see if there is anything else I can do for you and your husband. I won’t stay long.”
“You are more than welcome to stay as long as you wish. In fact, have you lunched yet?”
Suzan glanced at her watch. Almost twelve-thirty. She had been working and fighting indecision without regard to time or the fact her stomach now growled in protest. “No, not yet.”
“Then please come for lunch. I’ve made a chicken salad with grapes and nuts, nested in grape leaves with tomatoes and avocado. And I’ll add some croissants from the local bakery. How does that strike you?”
Suzan laughed lightly. “It strikes me just fine! I usually eat a sandwich I make it home or pop something frozen and premade in the microwave. Your menu sounds much more appealing.”
“Good! Then I shall see you shortly.”
“In just a few.”
As soon as the call ended, Suzan wrote a hurried note to her assistant who had gone out to lunch. Vanda wouldn’t mind her boss’ sudden decision to leave the lab. For the time she expected to return, Suzan put a question mark—maybe in an hour, maybe two. Then again maybe she should take the afternoon off since she hadn’t made much headway in her work.
After grabbing her purse, Suzan left the note on Vanda’s desk and headed for the ladies room to comb her hair and touch up her makeup. For some strange reason she wanted to look her best for Ellen Lambert.
As she drove toward Georgetown, Suzan debated about bringing something with her. After all, Ellen had gone to the trouble of making lunch for them, and Suzan should contribute something in the way of a thank you for the woman’s effort. A bouquet of flowers? A bottle of wine? Since she didn’t know if Ellen cared for flowers she opted for the wine, making a quick stop at the liquor store where she chose a decent Zinfandel to go with the chicken salad.
In the old days, Suzan might have chosen a modest brand of sangria, but her time spent with Davis had proven educational when it came to the finer things in life. Now she could select a wine with some modicum of knowledge as to what went well with what. She certainly wasn’t a connoisseur of wine, or even drank it that much. But Davis had put together a sophisticated selection of wines for the mini “wine cellar” he had built adjacent to the kitchen, and some of his expertise had rubbed off on her.
Now as Suzan arrived at the Lambert residence, Ellen greeted her with a warm, pleasant smile. “I’m so glad you could come,” she said, and then accepted her guest’s offering of the Zinfandel. “Oh, how very nice of you! I certainly appreciate it.”
“I just thought,” the doctor hedged, “that we could splurge a little and have some wine with lunch.”
“An excellent suggestion! Now shall we eat?”
Suzan followed the woman inside. Again, Ellen sported fashionable and attractive attire, a Swiss dot sundress, heeled slip-on sandals and jewelry fashioned with cloisonné flowers. This time she wore her hair up in a loose chignon, her finger and toenails painted with mauve gel polish. Suzan wondered if the woman owned a pair of jeans or even a sweat suit...not that it mattered. Ellen Lambert looked terrific, just about perfect. Now Suzan put aside any comparison to her own lackluster appearance and limited apparel and just appreciated the woman’s sense of style.
Because they day proved so warm and beautiful, they had lunch on the back patio, the table and chairs of white ironwork in a café design, the table topped with a Spanish lace cloth and rose linen napkins. The townhouse came with a small backyard lot, and the Lamberts had done wonders in transforming the little square into a garden paradise. A Japanese bridge spMariond a small koi pond and tiers of flower beds on each side featured lush blooming flora in rainbow hues.
Although her knowledge of flowers and gardening remained next to nil, Suzan did recognize lemon-yellow daffodils, lavender-blue dahlias, and bright red geraniums. When she commented on such a lovely garden, Ellen smiled fondly. “A little hobby of mine. I enjoy working with the earth. Charles did as well, until he developed arthritis in his hands.”
“I’m sorry to hear that,” Suzan expressed. “Does he take anything for it, any prescribed medication?”
Ellen shook her head. “No, not recently. I’m sure though the doctors at the clinic he’s attending will help ease his pain.”
Suzan had no knowledge of European treatment centers. “I certainly hope so.” She changed the topic to the artwork she spied along the walls in the hallway that led to the patio. A vivid surreal painting had caught her attention, signed by the great artist Pablo Picasso. Suzan wondered if it was a print or the real thing.
“Oh, it is very real,” Ellen confirmed as she sipped her wine. “You see, Charles and I enjoy attending auctions, particularly in New York. We have acquired a marvelous collection. Perhaps another time I could show you some of the treasures I have yet to put on display, that’s if you’re interested.”
Suzan gave an eager nod. “Oh, yes, I’m very interested.”
In the meantime she gladly listened to Ellen’s account of world history as it pertained to works of art, from the icons and sculpture of the various Egyptian dynasties to the Spanish and Dutch influence of religious painting.
Not only did she find the impromptu lecture stimulating and fascinating, but the lunch she now ate received five gold stars in her gourmet book, the chicken salad in a homemade aioli base with piñon nuts, grapes and water chestnuts superb, the tomato and avocado salad with grape leaves divine, the croissants flaky and buttery—all served on stoneware plates with a bright, mosaic Moroccan pattern, their Zinfandel in Waterford wine glasses. Even Davis, with his refined if not snooty palate, would approve.
Ellen Lambert, fashion plate, interior designer, gourmet chef, expert gardener, knowledgeable historian and art critic...what other talents did the woman possess? Something inside Suzan tingled with the expectancy to find out. Now as she happened to glance at her watch, she realized it was almost three o’clock. No doubt, Vanda was wondering what happened to the boss. In her note, Suzan said she’d be back no later than two. Oh, well! Regrettably, she ended their pleasant lunch and offered her sincere thanks to Ellen for the delicious food.
“My pleasure,” the woman stated as she walked with the doctor into the house. “We must do this again soon.”
“Yes, very soon.” Suzan turned and gave her hostess a mildly curious look. The thought of going back to work prompted the doctor to wonder about Ellen Lambert’s previous employment. Surely she hadn’t been a piano teacher all of her life. “By the way, have you ever worked in an office setting?”
Ellen offered a light laugh. “I’ve worked in so many jobs that I can’t even remember them all! Let’s just say I’m a Jill of all trades and leave it at that.”
“All right,” Suzan agreed, laughing as well.
Their pleasant bonhomie and walk to the foyer was interrupted by the ringing of the doorbell. Ellen frowned. “Hum, I don’t believe I have a student this afternoon. So, whoever it is will certainly be a surprise.”
As she opened the front door, Ellen and Suzan stared at the tall, rather prepossessing man who stood on the doorstep. He had a swarthy look about him, dark unruly hair, penetrating eyes and a firm, no-nonsense mouth. He possessed wide shoulders, a barrel chest and thick, muscular limbs, his overall shape indicative of a wrestler. Because of the growing heat, his cotton shirt and khaki chinos had acquired damp creases, his knit tie askew.
“Hello, Mrs. Lambert? Ellen Lambert?” he queried in a husky voice.
Ellen confirmed her identity. “Yes, may I help you?”
“I’m Detective Mears with the metro police.” He took his ID folio from his back pocket and opened it to display his official credentials—Detective Aiden C. Mears, District of Columbia police department. “I’m following up on a missing persons report. Actually it involves two teenagers, one who lives across the street.” When he turned his head to glance back at the townhouse across the way, the tendons of his thick neck stood out like tension wires.
“Do you mean Autumn Chen?” Ellen questioned with a sudden look of concern.
“Yes, Ms. Chen,” the detective confirmed as he returned his attention to the women. “When she didn’t come home last night, her parents called us. She’s been gone since. I’m just checking to see if she told you where she might have gone after her lesson. You do have her as a violin student, and she did have a lesson with you yesterday afternoon, correct?”
“Yes, on both accounts. Autumn’s been my student for two years now. She comes after school, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Oh, let me introduce you—” Ellen noticed the detective had trained his astute gaze on Suzan. “This is my friend, Dr. Suzan Dwyer. She’s just leaving.”
Mears acknowledged the doctor with a quick flick of his eyes. “Ma’am, perhaps you might be of assistance. Do you know the girl, Autumn Chen? She just turned fifteen and lives across the street there.”
“No sorry,” Suzan said. “I never met her. Plus I don’t live in the neighborhood.”
Detective Mears’s use of the term Ma’am bugged her a little. The only guys who ever called her that registered in the teen-ager department, brief encounters between her and a kid at some place of business like the grocery store or fast food restaurant. Now she wondered if she looked old enough to be called Ma’am even by mature, discerning males who at one time found her attractive.
“And there’s a boy, too.” Mears continued. “His name is Taylor Holloway, also fifteen. You never met him?”
The doctor shook her head. “No. I really don’t know any teenagers.”
“Well, thank you anyway, ma’am.”
As Suzan made her way around the detective, Ellen added, “I’ll call you tomorrow, Suzan. Thanks for the company.”
On the outside stoop now, Suzan turned and nodded. “Thank you for the delicious lunch, Ellen. I look forward to doing this again.”
“Same here. Like I said, I’ll call you.” For a moment Ellen watched the doctor jog down the steps and across the street. Then she pivoted her attention back to the officer, trading her congenial smile for another look of concern. “Now then, Detective Mears, please come in and sit down. Both Autumn and Taylor are missing? Oh, I do hope I can be of some help to you...”