Two uniformed police officers stood in front of the Cliff House. One of them motioned Larry to the nearby patrol car.
“Could you step over here for a moment, sir?
Larry nodded and walked toward the officer, leaving the young woman standing near the top of the stairs. The other officer, a woman, approached her and asked, “And you are, Miss. . .?” She paused to let her witness fill in the blank.
“Thornton. Jill Thornton, officer.”
Larry heard her answer and realized he had never even asked the woman her name. Jill. Nice name.
“Did you see someone push a woman into a car?” the officer continued.
Larry was distracted from Jill’s answer by the other officer’s questions. He didn’t hear Jill say, “No. I didn’t.”
“And what about your friend? How did he see something you didn’t?”
“First of all, officer, he’s not my friend. I don’t even know his name. I was in the curio shop.”
“Then how are you involved?”
“I just happened to be here on my day off. He asked me to look for something in the water. A bag or a briefcase. He said a man tossed it over the edge.”
The policewoman’s face was a blank mask. Jill couldn’t tell if the woman believed her or not.
“I’m a nurse, officer. He appeared to be extremely agitated, and I wasn’t sure what would happen if I didn’t do what he asked.”
“Then, you saw nothing.”
Jill shook her head, “No.”
“Did anyone else see what happened?”
“I don’t know. As I said, I was in the curio shop.”
“You said he was,” she looked at her notes, “extremely agitated. Do you think he’s dangerous? Should we take him with us?”
“As I said, I’m a nurse, not a doctor, but he just seemed confused. He seems much calmer since you arrived.”
The policewoman handed Jill a card, “Take this and call me if he should say or do anything you think we should know about.”
“All right. But, honestly officer, I doubt I’ll ever see him again.”
The officer nodded to her and motioned to the other officer who appeared to be through questioning Larry. They stepped to one side to confer, while Jill and Larry stood silently nearby. He turned to Jill, “What did you tell her?”
“Just that I really didn’t see anything.”
The female officer, who seemed to be in charge, came back to where they were standing. “We’ll check for other witnesses,” she said, “and then go back to the division and follow our leads and see if we can come up with something there. You’ll need to come in tomorrow and give us an official statement, but if you can’t describe the woman or the car. . . ” She let the statement hang in the air.
She nodded at Larry and Jill, and then the two officers entered the restaurant. A few moments later, they came back out, walked to their unit and drove away.
Larry shook his head in disgust, “They didn’t believe a word I said.”
“You don’t know that. They said they would follow up on their leads.”
“What leads?” he snorted in disgust. “But what the hell, if San Francisco’s finest don’t care if people are getting grabbed off the street, why should I worry? I don’t even live here.”
Jill looked away from him. She shifted from one foot to the other as if she wanted to get away but didn’t know how to, gracefully.
“I’m sorry I have to keep saying ‘I’m sorry,’” Larry began. “How ’bout I buy you a drink to thank you for hanging in there with me?”
“How about a cup of coffee instead?”
The Cliff House has maintained a reputation for gracious dining ever since its creation in the late 1800s. In its third incarnation and now a historic monument, it boasted several dining rooms and bars, all of which were renowned for their cuisine.
Jill and Larry sat at a window table sipping their coffees, watching the few stars that were bright enough to shine in spite of the glow of the city lights.
“Anything to eat?” Larry had asked.
“No, thanks. Just the coffee and then I’ve got to run.”
“I wanted to thank you again.“
She shrugged, “It wasn’t anything.”
“Well, this is the least I can do. By the way, my name is Lawrence Wheeler. . .Larry, and I don’t usually run around commandeering strange women. However, considering how this turned out, maybe I should try it more often,” he ended with a smile.
“Jill Thornton,” she replied.
He nodded, “Yeah, I heard you tell the cop. So, you live in San Francisco?”
“Oakland. With my aunt,” she said. “But I’m new to the area. Just a tourist at heart; still sightseeing, like today. How about you?”
“I live in L.A. I’m a journalist. At least that’s what they tell me.”
“Then you’re here on assignment?”
“No,” he said in a tone that invited no further questions on the subject. “What do you do?”
“I’m a nurse. I do home health care.”
“Well, it gives me the freedom to work when I want to. I like that aspect, but I admit I do miss the security of hospital work.”
There was an awkward lull in the conversation. Jill sipped her coffee, added a little more cream and sipped again. Larry stared out the window at the dark ocean. In distance, the lights of a large ship could be seen, whether coming or going, it was impossible to tell, but Larry wasn’t really looking at anything.
“Somebody must have seen that car,” he finally broke the silence.
“Surely they would have said something when the police were asking questions.”
“Maybe. But you know how people hate to get involved.”
“True,” she agreed.
He turned his cup around with both hands for a minute or two and then abruptly said, “Are you about through? I’d like to have another look around.”
“Oh, sure,” she answered, gathering her things. “I have to get back anyway.” She rose from the chair and extended her hand. “It was. . .interesting meeting you, Larry.”
He looked up at her in surprise. “You don’t want to come with me?”
“No. I think I should be on my way. My aunt will be worried.”
“Excuse me,” he said coldly as he also rose. “I guess you don’t want to get involved either.” He threw down some money and began walking toward the door.
Jill noticed that other diners were watching them with mixed interest and irritation. She hurried after him, anxious to be out of sight of the curious. When they reached the door to the outside, he opened the door to let her proceed, but she turned to him.
“It’s not that,” she began, but Larry cut her off.
“Don’t you want to know who was taken or why?”
“But I didn’t see anything. What can I do?” she protested.
“Maybe nothing. But I can’t believe you, a nurse, don’t care that a woman may raped or maybe killed tonight, and nobody is doing anything about it.”
She looked at him for a moment and then sighed, “Let’s go.”