When it began, it as merely a number, nothing more. It was a number on his cell that told him that he'd missed a call from the person at that number.
One thing about John Chamberlain was certainly true: he was conscientious. Really, he was conscientious to a fault. For him that was the cornerstone of business success, and he certainly knew quite a bit about that: business success. He felt that being conscientious with the way that the business was run and the way that relations with employees was carried out was sure to 'win the day'. It's the way that he worked from day to day.
Those who worked with him would agree also about his conscientiousness. Especially his 'assistant/secretary/woman about everything Evie Williams.
For her, for Evie, John Chamberlain was one of the best. She had stood by and watched him take care of his dying wife, whose early life cancer took the joy and the light out of John's life for a long period of time But during that trying period, she never saw him falter or fail to take the very best care of Clair, his lovely young wife.
In Evie's book John Chamberlain was all but a saint.
At 48, John was a successful, a successful but fairly lonely man. He did have his compensations; namely, his compensation, these days, was the business. He devoted his time and energies, after his Clair was gone, to building up the business and he was very good at that kind of thing. It was succeeding in grand fashion, and making, in the process, John Chamberlain a very rich man.
He also had Dorcas, Clair's cat. That's the way the association with Dorcas began. She was Clair's kitty and, after Clair was gone, Dorcas and John seemed to mourn together. And after a time period, Dorcas was always there for John, awaiting his return and anticipating those periodic times, when John was home for lunch, more in order to see Dorcas than any other reason.
Evie kept a weather eye on John and his progress. They talked now and then about Dorcas and how things were at home.
After Clair had been dead for a while, John talked to Evie about his plan to do some renovating at home. She approved, hoping that it would give John some forward looking thoughts.
He had the work done and liked the results but he had also done over only various parts of the big house: his den/library, the master suite and the kitchen. Other areas were simply left alone. They seemed to remind John about Clair and were left that way.
So, it was a phone call that John had missed because he was, at that time, in the shower. But his conscientiousness prompted him to call the number back, though it wasn't one that he recognized.
John was home that day, a Sunday, and was lounging and talking to Dorcas, planning what he might do for dinner that evening would be a treat for him.
He put the number into his cell phone and waited as it rang.
To his utter surprise a rather cranky sounding woman's voice came on the line and demanded to know: "What do you want now?"
There was a pause, with John so surprised that he had nothing immediately to say.
But he woman went on: "Will you stop calling? It was you who left and wanted your fucking 'new life', so enjoy the damn 'new life' but LEAVE ME ALONE!"
John was stunned. She was actually shouting at him over the phone.
"Excuse me!" he said, and there was a silence on the other end for a few seconds.
"Who is this?" the woman's voice demanded to know.
"Um," John began, stunned still, "It's John Chamberlain."
"John who?" said the cranky voice.
"John Chamberlain," he said again.
"Why are you calling me?" she demanded to know.
John was determined to get this straightened out with the woman and then erase her number but he did want to get that done first.
"Madam," he began softly, "I am calling you because someone from your number called my cell number and left no message. I am only returning the call."
"Ohhhhhhhhh!" the woman's voice now wailed.
"Are you okay?" he asked.
"Do I sound okay?" she demanded to know.
"Well, no!" he said.
"Would you be okay if your fool of a husband, never a very good one, never a good provider, never fun to be around, never very considerate, up and left you for a fat young, blonde with money? Would you?" she barked at John.
"Well, I guess not!" John said.
"No, you wouldn't!" she said, and then she broke down and cried.
"Can I maybe help?" John asked, going out on a limb now.
"How?" she wailed.
"Well," he said, "It seems to me that sometimes you can talk to a stranger in a way that you can't talk to a really close friend."
"But you're not a stranger," she said, "You called me!"
"Well, yes," he reasoned, "But only because you'd called me first."
"That was a mistake!" she said.
"Yes, I realize that!" he said but then she was off again reciting her problems:
"He left me poor! No, that's not true. I'm not poor but I'm struggling. But then I've always had to struggle before I left home and all the while that I was married to the jerk, that Anthony."
"Are you still married to Anthony?" he asked softly.
"No, of course not!" she said, "He wanted that damn quickie divorce and I saw no reason to hold him back from his fat, rich bimbo."
"I see," he said then.
"All I seem to do is cry, when you call," she said, and John grinned in spite of himself.
"Well," he said, "This is the only time that I've called."
"I know," she answered and he stopped trying to challenge her logic, knowing how upset she was.
"He called yesterday and told me, actually told me, the damn fool, that he wanted to see me, 'for old time's sake'. That's what he said," she went on then.
"I see," he said.
"Do you know what 'for old time's sake' means? Have you even a clue about what it means?" she demanded to know.
"No, I'm afraid that in this context I have no idea what it means," he admitted.
"It means he wants to screw me! That's what it means. And I'll be double damned if I let him do that!" she said forcefully.
"Good for you!" he said.
"What did you say?" she asked then and he was afraid that he'd made some other kind of unwitting gaff with this rambling and emotional woman.
"I said 'Good for you'," he repeated, waiting for the next explosion.
"Oh," she wailed, crying again, "You're so nice! Why wasn't that damn Anthony like you?"
"I don't know," he said.
"Of course you don't, and I don't know who you are, and I don't know your name but I know that you're nicer than that Anthony, who wants me to be his piece on the side!" she said.
"I'm John Chamberlain," said.
"Yes, that's right," she admitted, "You told me that."
"And I say don't let him," he went on.
"What?" she asked, very softly now.
"I say don't you let him talk you into being his 'piece on the side'," he said.
"John Chamberlain," she said, "You're wonderful!"
"Why, thank you," he said.
"Will you, can you ... um ... meet me for coffee? I'd like to talk or ... or is there a wife and all?" she asked in a hurry
"No," he said, "No wife, and 'yes' coffee. Where?"
He decided to go out on a limb and meet and talk to this very emotional woman.
"How about 'The Coffee Clatch'?" she said, "Do you know it?"
"Yes," he said.
"Good," she said, "In half an hour."
She hung up then. He was stunned and called her number again.
"Hello?" she said. "Who is this?"
"It's John!" he said.
"Oh, yes, John," she said.
"I don't know your name or what you look like," he said.
"I'm Marian, Marian Conte, and you can tell which one I am, I'm the one that looks like Anthony Conte dumped me for a fat rich woman."
She hung up again and it left John simply grinning.
He turned then to Dorcas, who was there. She seemed to be there whenever John needed to talk.
"That was a crazy a thing as can be imagined, Dorcas, honey!" he said, and got an immediate cat noise response from her.
"But I will meet her at the coffee place and maybe talk with her," he said, determined now.
"Yeow!" Dorcas added to the conversation.
"Yes," he replied, "I'm glad that you agree, then it's a go."
He went to 'The Coffee Clatch' and looked around. No one looked expectantly at the door, when he entered. He decided that she must not be there yet.
Then the door opened and petite, redheaded woman entered. He guessed that her age was probably in the mid thirties, he was right about that. She looked around as though she were expecting someone. As her gaze scanned him, he held up a hand and waved.
She came in his direction, and he stood. He extended a hand and said: "Hi, I'm John Chamberlain!"
She ignored the hand and simply wrapped her arms around him for a hug, surprising him.
"I'm so sorry that I yelled at you on the phone," she said.
They broke the hug and he was smiling: "No," he said, "No sorries; you probably needed someone to yell at or complain to and I was convenient and a stranger."
"But you're not anymore," she said. "A stranger, I mean."
"You're right!" John said.
"Glad you came," she said next, after he'd gone and gotten them both coffee.
"Dorcas told me to!" he said.
"Dorcas?" she reacted, "I thought you weren't married."
"Am not," he said, "Dorcas is my cat!"
"Ahhh," she said with a faint smile. "She has good sense, this Dorcas."
"I have always thought so," he said, as he sat.
"Thank you for coming," she said.
"My pleasure!" he answered.
.... There is more of this story ...