Davis Breen had a dilemma on his hands. For the past week and a half, he had been searching for his ex-lover and partner, Dr. Suzan Dwyer. She had left some of her personal items behind when she moved out, and he wanted to know if he should box them up and send them over to her, or if he should simply donate the items—a pair of ski boots, several cable-knit sweaters, a couple of handbags and some costume jewelry—to a thrift shop. Davis tried her cell phone several times but received only a faint buzz, similar to the sound of a flat line on a heartbeat monitor, her voice mail no longer available. Had she disconnected her phone service?
With an uneasy feeling in the pit of his stomach, Davis decided to go in search of Suzan Dwyer, her work place a logical starting point. Her assistant, Vanda Portillo, told him that the doctor had taken a leave of absence to do some research at Johns Hopkins University. She couldn’t say when her boss would return, but she did reveal that Suzan seemed involved in some kind of personal research. Personal research? That didn’t sound like Suzan who put universal research before her own narrowed interests. Still, Davis felt stumped. Although he always tried to keep up with Suzan’s work, he had no idea of the type of research she now chose to undertake.
Off to Baltimore, Davis sought out two of Suzan’s former professors at Johns Hopkins, but neither one had seen her for some time. Next, he tried the various medical labs on campus, but no one fitting Suzan’s description or occupation had used the facilities.
Finally, he went to see Ellen Lambert, whom he considered a temptress, an enchantress, a destroyer of men’s souls. Davis hated to approach the woman who had taken away his love, as if he would stir up some kind of hornet’s nest involving female rights and sexual expression. He wasn’t so much afraid of what he’d find as he was irked by the situation. Davis knew he could have accepted Suzan’s desire to leave him if she had fallen for another man, but when she ditched him for another woman, his ego had taken a beating. Logically, he knew this was Neanderthal thinking, but he couldn’t help such deep-seated feelings. It was if he had some how failed as a man, the kind of stereotypical man who flexed his muscles and marked his territory and possessions—including women—with testosterone-fueled vigor; a guy who never cried or revealed his feelings, and covered his fears with anger and physical confrontations. But fuck that!
Davis wanted Suzan back, but not if it meant resorting to he-man behavior. Besides, he never hit a woman, even though he considered Ellen Lambert a strange woman, hard to fathom, like some kind of ethereal figure who dwelled in a mist-shrouded forest. He suspected that she donned her mysterious, mythical guise as a device to lure innocent prospects to her bed, both men and women. Who wouldn’t want to explore that kind of blonde, sexy mystery?
The last time he spoke with Suzan, Davis found out that Ellen Lambert’s husband had been suffering from some kind of rare disease and had gone to Europe in search of treatment. What would happen if he recovered and returned home to his wife? Would the man accept another woman in his bed? Probably. The most common male fantasy involved two women getting it on, and Davis had to admit he was no exception to the rule. Yet, just the thought of Ellen Lambert kissing and fondling Suzan made him gag with disgust.
Gathering his nerve, Davis went to see Ellen Lambert. Interestingly enough, she greeted him with more than cordial interest but with friendly aplomb, inviting him inside for tea. She wore a lavender crepe dress with a pleated skirt, a string of pearls, opaque stockings and white pumps, her blonde hair done up in a classic chignon. For a moment, Davis wondered if she had been expecting him, but quickly nixed that idea. Mrs. Lambert was probably on her way out when he arrived, perhaps to some ladies’ club meeting as indicated by her attire. She probably had a violet-studded hat and a pair of white laced gloves standing by. Well, he’d make the visit a short one.
Leading him to the back sunroom, she indicated that he take a seat in one of the wicker chairs while she fetched iced tea, unsweetened so everyone had their preference. Davis opened his mouth, ready to say his peace, but Ellen Lambert disappeared like a flash of plum-gold light.
When she returned with two glasses of iced tea, tea spoons and a bowl of various sweetening agents on a tray, Ellen resumed conversation as she set the tray on the nearby table. “I’m sorry to say, Dr. Breen, that you’ve just missed Suzan. She’s gone to Europe to pursue some research. It was a last-minute decision on her part, so she did not inform people.”
Davis donned a small frown as he accepted the glass of tea she handed him. “Did she happen to tell you what it is she’s researching?”
Donning a vague smile, Ellen sat in the chair opposite her visitor and set about adding a packet of sweetener to her tea. “No, I’m sorry, Dr. Breen. Suzan’s interest in medical research is beyond my comprehension. I’m supportive, but that’s all.”
“Well, do you know how I can reach her, and when she’ll be back?”
“I believe she’s staying in Vienna at the moment, but plans to move on to another research location, perhaps in Germany.” She paused to pick up her glass and take a quick sip of her tea, the ice cubes within tinkling like wind chimes. “We stay in touch but I can’t give you an exact address or a specific date when she will return.”
Setting aside his untouched tea, Davis cleared his throat. He hated verbal sparring and confrontations, especially of a sensitive nature. “Well, could you at least give me Suzan’s new phone number? I would like to get in touch with her.” He held up a staying hand. “But don’t worry; I don’t plan to plead with her to come back. Suzan is a big girl now and knows what she wants.”
Ellen’s smile remained sweet and amiable. “I’m not worried, Dr. Breen. Perhaps I can be of assistance. What is it you need? I’m willing to help you in any way possible.”
Davis’ sigh contained a modicum of relief. The woman seemed to sense the nature of his quest, and he was ready now to dump it all in her capable lap. “I have some things of hers, clothes and such she left behind. Does she want them or not? I’m willing to box it all up and send it off to her, or give the stuff away.”
“Why don’t you put her belongings in a box and I’ll come around to pick it up? I don’t want you to worry about it anymore. I’m sure, as a busy physician, you have much more important matters to attend to than worrying about Suzan’s leftover clothing and such.”
“Thank you, Mrs. Lambert.” Still not quite satisfied, the doctor rose to leave until he thought of another question—a new tact to take. “By the way, I heard your husband went to Europe for treatment. I hope it was successful and that he will return soon. Or has he returned?”
Ellen shook her head, her expression curiously serene. “I’m afraid, my husband, passed almost a month ago. He had bone cancer, and although he sought medical treatment from a highly-regarded source, it did not help him live longer.”
“Oh, I’m sorry, my condolences.”
Ellen rose, ready to see him to the door. “Thank you, Dr. Breen. Now, if Suzan calls me, I’ll be sure to let her know you stopped by. And I will be sure to retrieve the last of her possessions from your home.” At the front door, she smiled and offered Davis her hand. “No hard feelings I hope?”
“No, no.” He gave her hand a quick, conciliatory shake, noting the smooth, cool texture of her flesh, like the middle pages of some antiquated book, rare, expensive and beautifully printed, stored for a long time in a cool, dark place. Of course, Ellen Lambert didn’t smell like old, dusty parchment, but pleasantly of violets and patchouli. “We never had a totally exclusive relationship,” Davis informed her. “She’s always been free to choose whomever she wants to be with, and she chose you. So, I wish you both all the best.”
“Thank you, Dr. Breen. We wish you the best as well. Good day now.”