Big Brother

HIS PHONE RANG. Luke looked at the caller I.D. and knew it's time to gear up for war. Hope McKenzie was calling no doubt to complain that he had ruined her love life AGAIN! He answered after the fourth ring, 'Good morning,' he greeted, trying to sound cheerful.

'There's nothing good this morning, thanks to you,' by the sound of it, the young woman was extremely annoyed with him.

Luke tried to placate her by feigning ignorance, 'What did I do?'

'Don't act dumb with me!'

He heard banging. He cringed as his surrogate sister tossed things around as a means of releasing pent up frustration. She said accusingly, 'You scared him off. I really like him, Luke. I really, really like him. YOU… YOU… scared him off!'

He gave out a soft laugh, not concealing his delight, 'What made you think I did anything?'

'Because I know how you operate, okay!' Hope was not backing down; the outbursts came thick and fast. 'You were the last person he talked to at the party last night. After talking to you, he left in a hurry, and now he won't return any of my calls.'

'I understand you're upset with me, but later you'll thank me.' He pressed a button on the espresso machine; it went to work to make him a cappuccino, the aromatic scent made his stomach growl. 'Hope, please, believe me, I didn't do anything to frighten him off. All I did was ask him five questions; that's all. Five questions.'

Hope also was making her cup of coffee, the instant variety. She played with the bottle of instant coffee, at least, it's Moccona. She asked, 'What did you ask him?'

Luke smiled to himself as he inhaled the coffee before sipping it, 'I asked him if he knew anyone called Andrew Wilkins. And, I asked him if he was a known associate of a certain John Cavanaugh.'

'So, what did he say?'

'Well, he denied it.'

'I'm still not getting it. He denied knowing those people, what's wrong with that?'

'I asked him if he was aware that it's a sin to lie.' Hope groaned and stomped her foot, 'Luke! Grrrr! okay, what else? You said five questions.'

'I asked him if he had ever stayed on Bauchet St.'

Hope plonked herself down on a stool in her kitchen; exhausted from pulling in two straight days of overtime. 'What did he say?' she asked as she waited for her instant black coffee to cool down a little.

'Well, he said, he had never set foot on Bauchet St.'

'Is that the wrong answer? I mean would it be wrong for him not to know where that is?'

Luke sensed Hope had calmed down a bit, not as angry with him. 'No, it's not wrong not to know, but he lied because he was an inmate there for eight months.'

'An inmate?' Hope asked confused.

'He was an inmate. Okay, Hope, the men's central jail in Los Angeles is on 441 Bauchet St. He was a jailbird, sentenced for the attempted rape of a young woman. Andrew Wilkins and John Cavanaugh were his cellmates.'

Hope couldn't believe her ears. She sat in silence as she tried to absorb the severity of the news. It dawned on her that she wasn't a good judge of character.

Victor Carabella had swept her off her feet. Two months ago, he came into the bistro where she'd been a Manager for three years. He was well dressed, always acted in a gentlemanly way towards her and the other staff, and paid her a lot of attention. Well, truthfully, she met him online first, and then they met in person when he came in for coffee at the bistro.

She knew Luke's information would be accurate; after all, he was an ex-L.A. cop before changing careers and becoming a hot firefighter. She wanted to know more, 'How do you know this?'

Luke tried to lighten her sombre mood and failed miserably when he said, 'A fortune-teller told me.'

Hope had had enough, 'That's it! I'm furious with you now. I hate you. I really, really hate you. I'll never find a boyfriend! I'll never, ever be able to find a husband. And it's all because of you, Mr. Meddling Self-appointed Big Brother!' She abruptly ended the call.

Luke was still looking at his phone when Faith stepped out of the shower, 'Who was that?'

'Who?' he looked at his girlfriend rather vaguely.

In reply, she playfully tugged a few strands of his hair, 'Who was that on the phone?'

'Hope,' he said and gave her an abridged version of the conversation.

Faith listened while she prepared breakfast. She was on first shift at the local hospital and had to be out of the house soonish if she wanted to make it on time. 'I'm sorry she's upset with you. But that's not the first time, and it won't be the last,' she said sympathetically.

'I know you're only trying to protect her, but you won't be there all the time. You need to trust her to make her own value judgment.' She looked at the time and decided to eat on the run. She grabbed her toast, leaned to give her boyfriend a kiss, 'Don't worry; she'll come around. She never hates you for more than ten minutes.'

As soon as she finished the sentence, Luke's phone rang, caller I.D. said, H McKenzie. Faith winked, 'What did I tell you? Bye now. See you soon.'

Hope still sounded upset but was conciliatory, 'Sorry, I didn't mean what I said. I still hate you. But I don't really, really hate you.'

Luke laughed. She did, too, but her laughter sounded forced. She's understandably upset. And, hurt.

They made an arrangement to meet at the bistro just before the start of his shift.

When Luke Walker promised her Dad, the late Sergeant Lewis McKenzie that he would look after his little girl, he meant it.

Four years ago, the young woman in his charge lost both her mother and her father within a year of each other. Now, still only in her early twenties, she had an overwhelming need for her parents. I'm all she's got now.

Indeed, Miss McKenzie's one significant person in her life was Luke. But in him, she's got a mother and father, a big brother, a friend and a protector. If anyone wanted to hurt her, they would have to pass through him first.

They ended the call, and he looked forward to having lunch at the bistro. But someone wasn't keen on having him there.