“So are you gonna come over?” Jackson asked, taking his jacket out of his locker, but not moving to put it on. Around them, a couple of other officers got their things together to leave.
“I’ll come over, I’ll come over,” O’Neill answered. He dug around in his tidy locker for something to do so he wouldn’t have to meet his partner’s eyes.
“I really think you’ll like her.”
“I know. You’ve been selling her all night. Have you thought about selling used cars on the side?” O’Neill scratched his head. How bad could she be? Scott had been talking this girl up all night and that made Dan wonder if she was really Lassie. But Laura was good looking. “She’s Laura’s cousin?”
“Colleen. She just moved out here about two months ago. She’s working at that big new book store.” Jackson grinned. “She’s cute. And she’s smart.”
“The one who was always out working when ever I stopped by?” O’Neill remembered being told on at least three occasions that Scott’s houseguest was at work.
“Tell Laura I’ll meet her cousin.” O’Neill pulled on his jacket. As often as Laura had fixed him up with women, he knew she wouldn’t be upset if he didn’t hit it off with her cousin. And Laura had pretty good taste. “What makes her think I can’t get dates on my own, anyway?”
“She knows you can get dates, she just hates to see a bachelor.”
O’Neill grunted and left the locker room.
Mike pulled open the inside foyer door and held it for Jack. “Man, look at the size of this place. It’s huge.” Inside the foyer alone there were piles of books and through the next set of doors stood tall shelves, completely and neatly filled, all the way to the distant back wall.
“Yeah, it’s big.” Jack headed for the information, weaving around long oak tables piled with more books, so Mike followed. “Hello, we’re here from the fire department and we need to inspect the premises.”
The heavy set blond woman behind the desk stared at him for a moment before she shook herself. “Let me get a manager for you.” She leaned over a paper under the glass counter top and picked up the phone. “Colleen, please call two two two. Colleen, two two two.” The woman stared at the phone intently for a minute and then jabbed a button. “Colleen, there’s some firemen here. … They need to inspect the premises. … Okay.” She hung up the phone. “She’ll be right up.” Then the woman moved to the far side of the desk and started fidgeting with a stack of books and magazines, trying to look like she wasn’t watching them.
Mike picked up a book from a table near the desk and flipped it over to read the back. “Hey Jack, you think they have everything here?”
“I don’t know. Looks like a lot of books.” Jack glanced around. More shelves stretched toward the far wall behind the information desk. It certainly did seem like they had every book ever printed.
“Actually, we don’t have everything.”
Mike looked up and Jack turned at the sound of the friendly voice.
The young woman on the other side of the table of hard cover books smiled. “There are about six million books in print we only carry about five hundred thousand titles.” She moved around the table.
She smiled and held out her hand. “I’m Colleen Duncan.”
Jack shook her hand first. “Jack McMillan and this is my partner Mike Luis.”
“Nice to meet you.” Mike checked the color of her eyes while they were fixed on him. Dark blue. Not bad.
“You need to see our sprinklers, our extinguishers, the breaker boxes, the transformer and the escapes. Is that everything?” she asked, ticking the items off on her fingers.
“Sure is,” Jack said.
“What would you like to see first?”
“How about the breaker boxes?”
She nodded sharply, turned on one heel and walked to the back of the store.
Mike followed Jack, watching her long chestnut hair sway across her back. He could learn to like this new bookstore. Colleen Duncan was medium height, slim, great smile. She moved through the store with authority, radiating confidence and good humor. A couple of heads poked up over shelves as they passed and then disappear, but she only grinned at them as she passed.
She pushed through the warehouse door and led them down a long row of shelves and around a corner. “Hey Gary,” she called. “Fire inspection time.”
Gary looked up from the table where he was sorting books. He glowered at the three of them and went back to his work, tilting his head down so they could only see the top of his dark hair.
“Breaker boxes, transformers, one fire exit properly signed.” Colleen gestured as she spoke as if she were on a game show, revealing prizes.
Jack walked over to the breaker box. Mike peered down crowded back stock aisles. “You should have these clear,” he told her.
She walked back over to him and looked down the aisle. She leaned close enough that her hair brushed his shoulder. “Really? I thought we just needed one route of escape.”
“In an emergency situation, firefighters won’t know which way you planned on them going and might not be able to go that way due to fallen debris.” Mike tried to keep his voice smooth and confident, but it wasn’t easy with her standing so close, looking up at him with those intriguing eyes. Mostly he wanted to ask her what she was doing for dinner.
Colleen bit her lip. “I better take notes.” She walked around a set of shelves. “Hey Grace, do you have some scrap paper?”
Mike heard a voice answer her and then Colleen came back with a legal pad. A person Mike assumed was Grace stepped around the end of the case. “Did we pass?” she asked.
“We just started,” Jack told her.
“Oh. Let me know if we pass.” She disappeared back behind her shelf.
Mike followed her. “Are these all magazines?” he blurted out. He stared at the twelve foot cases packed with shallow shelves, each holding four stacks of magazines.
Grace turned, beaming with pride. “Yes, they are.”
“You must have everything.”
“No, there’s about ten thousand mags in circulation. I carry four thousand titles.”
“Do you have National Geographic?”
“National Geographic is subscriber only. Nobody has that.”
“What about Wheels and Gears?”
Grace looked up at the cases, then climbed up the front of one of them, pulled a magazine off the shelf and dropped back to the floor, holding it out.
“Man.” Mike studied the cover. He could definitely learn to like this place, and for more than the managers. When he turned around he found Colleen watching him too. “You guys have a lot of great stuff here.”
“We do our best.”
“Hey, Collie,” Gary said.
“Yes, West Highland Terrier.” Colleen responded grinning.
Gary licked his lips, studying her for a long minute. He seemed torn between amusement and exasperation. “Do you want me to work on clearing those aisles?”
“When you finish that skid. I’ll be back to help you.” She turned to Jack . “Did you check the transformers and the sprinkler?”
He nodded. “What’s next?”
“Office. It’s close.” Colleen led then our of the warehouse and across an alcove to another door. She gestured over her head. “Sprinklers. The fire extinguisher is in the kitchen.” She led them to the back of the cluttered office and into a small crowded room. “What? Is everybody on lunch?”
“Yes,” one of the men at the table said.
“Well, scooch in.” She walked behind the table to the sink and opened the cupboard under it, taking out the fire extinguisher. She brought it out to them. “It’s only two months old so it should be alright.”
Mike filled out a tag while Jack checked the list. Mike hung the tag around the neck of the extinguisher. Then Colleen put it back under the sink and led them out.
“Almost done,” she announced, escorting them across the store to the fire exit in Literature. “Unblocked and properly signed.”
Mike looked along the shelves. If he didn’t say something soon he was going to lose his chance, but he didn’t know what to say. “So, do you recommend anything?” he asked.
She turned her bright eyes on him again. “What do you like?”
“What do I like?” Mike repeated.
“I can recommend until I’m blue in the face, but I might not come up with anything you’re interested in. Do you like literature or science fiction or mysteries? Do you like nonfiction? Do you prefer true stories over technical manuals? We have a whole section of books on cars.”
“Really? Oh man.” Mike scanned the store again. His gaze came right back to Colleen’s bright eyes.
“Do you have kids books?” Jack asked.
“Oh, yes. Lots of kids books. Do you have kids? We have storytelling too.”
“Really?” Jack brightened. “I’ll have to tell my wife.”
“Is there anything you’re looking for now? I can help you find it.”
Mike looked over Colleen’s head, nodding enthusiastically.
“Why don’t we finish the inspection first? We are on duty,” he reminded Mike.
“Well, there’s just a little bit left. The ebar is right over here.” She walked out of the literature section and into a clean tiled area. “Most of our dangerous appliances are here. Sonya, fire inspection.”
“Get out!” Sonya leaned through the kitchen door. “Quick, hide the wetbacks.”
Colleen put her hands on her hips. “Sonya, it’s the fire department, not immigration.”
Sonya cackled. “Come on in then, we’ve got nothing to hide. From you.”
Mike raised an eyebrow at Colleen as they passed her.
“She’s full of it to her eyeballs,” Colleen said.
Sonya cackled again.
There was no one in the kitchen. Mike and Jack checked the outlets and the various appliances before moving out to the counter area and doing it there also.
“So, you guys are firemen,” Sonya purred.
“Firefighter/Paramedics,” Jack said.
“So the next time Sonya poisons somebody we’ll be calling you.” Colleen smiled.
“Hey, I told you, the last time wasn’t my fault.” Then she cackled again. “Paramedics,” she said. “You know, all the sudden I feel faint.” She started fanning her face. “I may need mouth to mouth.”
“I’ll get Gary to do it.” Colleen put her hands on her hips.
Sonya scowled. “Never mind then. I feel just fine now.”
“Miracles never cease.” Colleen turned to Mike and Jack. “Do you have everything?”
Jack read over the sheet. “Looks like we got everything.” He separated the carbons and tore off her copy. “We’ll be back once a year to check. I don’t think we need to revisit this time. You are going to get those aisles cleared in the warehouse.”
“As soon as I’m finished with you.” Colleen folded the report into her back pocket. “Did you want to look for something while you were here?”
Mike smiled at Jack hopefully.
Jack groaned. “I guess I would like to look at the kids books.”
“okay, this way.” Colleen led them back across the store. “How old are your children?”
“My son is five, my daughter is eighteen months.”
Colleen veered into the picture books. “I suppose you’re overloaded with fire truck books.”
“Actually, no we don’t have a lot of books around the house,” Jack said.
Colleen looked horrified. “You don’t?”
“No. My wife and I, we don’t read a lot.”
“You should get your kids into the habit early. It’s the best thing you can do for them. What about you?” She turned to Mike.
“I’m not even married,” Mike protested.
She studied him for a moment before smiling. “Well, okay. We’ll let you pass today. Dr Suess is always great.” She pulled a book off the shelf and handed it to Jack . “I love this stuff. ‘I do not like green eggs and ham. I do not like them, Sam I am. I do not like them in a boat, I do not like them on a float.’”
Jack paged through the book. “Maybe I should bring Joanne and the kids here.”
Colleen went to the desk and picked up a paper. “This tells when we have storytelling. Your wife might like the chance to get out with other moms while the kids are entertained.” She looked at Mike. “And you. I’ll get you into a book too.”
“I read. I like to read.”
She laughed. “I’m not the Gestapo. I don’t even have a pop quiz.”
“You look terrified every time I look at you.” She folded her arms and smiled.
“Oh, well, I don’t mean to.” Mike clenched his hands behind his back. He was screwing this up. Completely screwing this up.
“Do you guys have time to sit down for a cup of coffee? We give the cops free coffee. Oops, not supposed to call them cops.” She rolled her eyes and laughed. “We give the police free coffee.”
“We really are on duty,” Jack said before Mike could open his mouth.
She shrugged. “Okay, maybe when you’re off. Thanks for stopping by. I’ll go work on those aisles right away.” She watched them walk out of the kids’ section, before turning toward the warehouse.
Mike glanced back in the direction they had come as he held open the door for Jack. “I think she liked me,” he told Jack as they walked to the next shop in the plaza. He shoved his hands in his pockets.
“Doesn’t it ever occur to you that she might just be very friendly?”
“Do you think she was just being friendly?” Mike frowned.
Jack sighed and opened the door of the furniture store next door.