Over the last year or so, I’ve interviewed many of Nan Sampson’s characters. One of those characters was Charlie. If you would like to read the first interview I conducted with him, you can find it on Nan Sampson’s site here: https://nansampsonauthor.com/2015/07/30/an-interactive-character-interview-meet-charlie-mccallum-from-my-ellie-gooden-mystery-series/.
In this interview, I was able to catch up with Charlie and see how life was treating him. As always, ‘Kelly’ was written by me while ‘Charlie’ was written by Nan Sampson.
Charlie McCallum sat in one of a pair of broad, chintz-covered, wing back chairs in front of the fireplace in the study of the Birches Inn, crossing one leg over the other and vice versa, drumming his fingers on the arm of the chair. He ran long fingers through his mop of curls, which had grown overlong during his recuperation from his broken leg. He really needed to find a place in Horizon to get it cut—maybe Per, his new landlord of sorts, could recommend a barber.
The Birches Inn was a lovingly restored Queen Anne Victorian that sat on a hill just outside the small, southwestern town of Horizon, Wisconsin. Once the home of a mining baron, it was now the premier place to stay in the county for tourists, wedding parties, honeymooners and even the occasional temporarily displaced local. Filled with period antiques and seamless replicas, it was genteel, elegant, and yet homey and comfortable. He loved the place—the lace curtains, the damask wallpaper, the oriental rugs, the rich, mahogany furniture and best of all, the pocket doors. If he ever had a house, he wanted one with pocket doors.
The study today was lit by firelight and table lamps, the pale winter sun shining ineffectually through the windows. Outside, snow covered the ground, decorated the birches and aspens that graced the property, and the temperatures were closing in on zero again. The study, however, was toasty warm and delightfully cozy. It was the perfect setting and he’d asked Arabella, who owned the Inn with her husband Seth, for private use of the room today. Since tourists this time of year were few and far between, she’d readily agreed.
He’d met his anticipated visitor, a woman named Kelly Blanchard, once before, at her little shop. That had been almost a year ago, back when Ellie had first moved to this little one-horse town. It had been the strangest meeting he’d ever had.
And now, here he was, meeting with her again, and much like the previous time, he wasn’t really sure why. But he didn’t mind. Their conversation had been fun and, in a way, incredibly helpful in terms of his relationship with Ellie. In fact, without Kelly’s advice, he might not even have a relationship with Ellie. Not that Ellie was ready yet to admit they had one, but hey. Baby steps.
He grinned, scrubbed his finger through his curls then stood to pace, trying to keep his hands off the plate of chocolate chip cookies he’d asked Arabella to bake. Tit for tat, he thought. Kelly had served him cookies last time, it was proper he return the favor. His stomach fluttered nervously as he waited. What on earth, he wondered, would they discuss today?
Kelly entered the inn and was grateful to get out of the cold. She was a Texas girl for a reason! But she did enjoy the occasional snow. The woman at the front directed her to the study, and when Kelly pushed open the door, she smiled at the warm and cozy atmosphere. “Now this is a place I could spend forever in,” she smiled at Charlie when she saw him there. She headed over to him with a plate of chocolate chip cookies she had made just for this meeting, but then she noticed the cookies already on the table. Kelly laughed. “I made these for you because I knew you liked them from our last meeting. Guess great minds think alike. But still.” She placed them on the table and shook Charlie’s hand before sitting down across from him. “So, Charlie, how have you been since our last chat?”
“Aw, you’re so sweet! Thanks!” He still remembered the taste of those chocolate chip cookies from their last meeting. “I’ll save yours—I know they’ll be better, even though Arabella does a bang up job.”
He sat nervously, then stood up again almost immediately to pace. “Things are good.” He gestured down at his leg, which was finally cast-free. “Leg is healing well. I still limp some around Ellie, just to yank her chain.” He paused. “Oh, wait, you probably didn’t hear about that. I broke my leg in November. And Ellie nearly got herself shot. One of her college friends was murdered and Ellie had to jump in to investigate.” He shook his head. “Girl needs to learn to wait for back up.”
“Hold up.” Kelly lifted her hand. “First off, was this another murder Ellie has solved? And secondly, she almost shot herself? How? And…how did you break your leg.” Then Kelly paused, realizing she had asked a lot of questions. She chuckled, sitting back in her chair. “And answer those in whatever order you want.”
He grinned, grabbed one of Kelly’s cookies. The things were like crack. “Maybe I should start from the beginning. Ellie came back to Chicago in November—she and Kate were going to meet up with their old college friend, Lacey. But before the three could get together, Lacey turned up dead in an alley. No one, not even me, believed it was a random street crime, so Ellie hired me to help her investigate. In the end, we identified the killer and Ellie cornered them. The killer had a gun, and before I could get into a position to help her, nearly shot Ellie. As I raced to help, the killer fell and knocked me down a flight of stairs, resulting in me being laid up for eight weeks.” He grinned. “So just to keep my hand in the game, so to speak, I decided I’d recuperate up here in Horizon. Gotta keep an eye on that girl. I’m staying at her neighbors house, officially, since Per had a spare room, but I try to spend every waking moment in her cabin. Worming my way into her affections.” A chuckle. “And I’m growing on her. Like fungus!”
Kelly chuckled at his last statement, but she shook her head. “Hate to say this, but it almost sounds like Ellie attracts murder. It’s a bit dangerous to be her friend.” However she shrugged and grinned at Charlie. “But that’s why she has you there at her side.” She winked then leaned forward, took a cookie off the plate and met Charlie’s gaze. “So how are things progressing between the two of you?” She lifted her brows as she sat back in her chair and ate the cookie.
He stared out at the snow for a moment. “Um…I liken it to the growth of a glacier. A little progress everyday. While it’s happening it’s hard to tell, but if you stand back and look at the big picture, you can definitely see the change.” He rubbed his jeans, watched the fire dance. “We’re getting somewhere. Not sure where exactly, but somewhere. I just need to be patient.”
“And how are you doing with needing to be patient?” Kelly tilted her head to a side. “Do you consider yourself a naturally patient individual, or is that a trait you need to strengthen?”
“Well, I’m not Yoda. But I guess I’m more Yoda than Han Solo. Ellie would be Han. She needs to charge off in a direction—any direction—to feel like she’s getting somewhere. I’m okay waiting. One day she’s going to realize we’re an “us”, and it will have happened so gently and so naturally, she won’t feel the need to rail against it.” He grinned. “Meanwhile, living with her, around her, certainly isn’t boring.” He leaned back in his chair. “But hopefully she won’t trip over another body before spring. I can’t remember ever being this cold. And I’m a Chicago boy!”
Kelly tried not to laugh when he said what he said about Yoda and Han, but finally she cracked a smile. “Well, Charlie, gotta tell you somethin’. If she’s Han, then you need to be Princess Leia. Just forgo the whole golden bikini thing, okay?” Kelly laughed but then forced herself to regain her composer. “Okay, okay, I know that’s not what you meant, but just had to say it.”
He laughed, hard. “So glad you’re one of my tribe, Kelly!” He glanced down at himself. “But hey, you don’t think I could pull that outfit off? Have I gained that much weight?”
Kelly laughed again then tilted her head, giving him a thorough look. “Well, maybe you could pull it off. If you did, there would have to be pics for proof!” She grinned at him, but then shook her head still chuckling. “Okay, but back to the questions! What do you think of Ellie’s habit of stumbling upon dead bodies, and she’s not even a detective or anything. I mean…isn’t that a bit…odd?”
He paused, his expression darkening. “Ellie…Ellie’s a magnet for shit like that. I mean, I want to say it started with the murder of her parents. God, what a horrific crime. But really, based on stories I’ve heard from Kate about some things that happened back when they were in college and first learning about “the Craft”, it seems like dark stuff—woo-woo creepy stuff—has been following her around for a long time. So the fact that dead people harass her, or that she stumbles over fresh corpses at the drop of a hat, at some level doesn’t really surprise me. Death and tragedy seem to follow her around like Erik the Red.”
Kelly frowned. “It’s just odd…to me. But at least she has you there.” She smiled at him. “Are you still working for the police?”
He ducked his head, looked away. “Um, no. No, I’m freelancing now. I got my Private Investigator’s license over the summer.”
This caused Kelly to furrow her brows, and she leaned forward. “What happened that caused you to leave the police?”
“It…the…the job just wasn’t what I thought it was going to be. Dan says I’m just being a flake, a spoilt prima donna.” He gave a shrug. “Maybe he’s right. Maybe I’m just better off working for myself, doing my own thing.”
Kelly narrowed her eyes, and she regarded him for a long moment. “By all the ‘maybes’ you’re saying, it sounds like you’re not convinced yourself. Leaving your job like that isn’t something you just wake up one day and decide to do. It’s a decision that takes time to process and think through before committing to it. Did something trigger it? Did justice not get served on a case?”
He jerked upright, met her eyes, looked away again. How did she do that? “It wasn’t a knee jerk decision, I’ll tell you that. As for justice…” His tone became bitter. “Well, apparently justice is a subjective thing. Contrary to what I’d always been taught, it doesn’t apply equally to all people. Whore, junkies, minorities, all those disenfranchised folks at the bottom, they don’t get justice unless it fills a quota or it helps someone’s political ambitions.” He stood, paced back to the window. “Hell, it isn’t even just the poor who get the shaft. Look at Ellie. Her parents’ were solid upper middle class and their murders were never solves nor will they be unless someone like me…” He pressed his lips together, shook his head before finally turning to face her again. “I still support the Force. There are damn good cops, damn good men putting their life on the line every day. But justice, the kind with a capital J? Looking for that these days is like going on a snipe hunt.” He shrugged again. “So I got out. Now I can give justice to people on my own terms, or at least kill myself trying.”
“And justice is supposed to be blind, but sadly it isn’t.” Kelly shook her head, but she leaned forward, intertwining her fingers as she locked eyes with Charlie. “But is it right for you to take justice in your own hands? You may be right on all accords, but…there’s a very thin line between the vigilante and the villain in all spheres of life.”
He clenched his jaw, forced himself to relax. “Look, I’m no vigilante. When we cornered Lacey’s killer, I had a cop buddy of mine with us. He did the Law and Order thing. I don’t intend to be judge and jury. But I want like hell to make sure the alleged criminal gets to trial. That’s all. I just want to give Truth the chance to be spoken. What happens after that is in the hands of the system. I still believe in the system. Just not some of the people who fancy themselves in charge of it.”
Kelly stared at Charlie for a long moment. She could feel his irritation with her questions, but that only probed her to dig deeper. When she spoke, she spoke with a soft voice. “What was the case that has troubled you so much? Is it Ellie’s parents’ case being unsolved and that is troubling you because you are getting closer to Ellie? What was the case that finally made you take that step?”
He sighed. She wasn’t going to give up. And maybe, just maybe, he was ready to talk about this. “No, it wasn’t Max and Serena Gooden’s murders, although I haven’t given up on that case. I have the files and one day…” He ran his fingers through his hair. he felt sweaty, nauseous. “There was a young girl. A young Asian girl. Fifteen. She was turning tricks in around Chinatown. I knew her from working the beat there, knew which pimp she worked for. I’d even tried to talk her into getting out, getting her into a shelter, but sometimes these kids can’t see the forest for the trees. Anyway, she turns up in a dumpster near Ravenswood area—hell and gone from her normal haunts. She’d been raped, strangled and tossed into a dumpster behind shop like a piece of trash.”
He paused, swallowed. Felt the lump in his throat, the bile rising. “There were no wits, very little in the way of physical evidence, at least in the official file. My partner and I worked it hard for three weeks, but every day that passes, more cases pile up on your desk and she was just a girl, just a low class run-away hooker. She didn’t rate. So we had to let it drop. Officially.” He glanced up at Kelly. “But I couldn’t. I knew her. She was a sweet kid. So I kept digging, on my off time. And eventually I turned up a witness, someone who’d seen her getting out of a fancy car and heading into a building on the arm of a man. A very well-placed man. I took the evidence to my superior…” He fell back against the chair. “Well, you can guess what happened.”
“He told you to drop it, and you couldn’t, so you left the force,” Kelly guessed, but allowed him to confirm this or correct her.
“Basically. I tried going over his head, to the DA, but got shot down there too. The guy was untouchable.” He rubbed his face. “The hell of it is that I’ll bet money this wasn’t the only girl this guy killed. And I can’t do anything about it.” Outside, snow was falling again. A white blanket, covering over the ground. Hiding all the defects in the landscape. “So yeah. I left. I suppose that makes me a coward, part of the problem. But I just couldn’t face it. Plus, by doing what I did, I’d pretty well screwed my chances to advance anyway.”
“Charlie, it doesn’t make you a coward.” Kelly shook her head. “You hold to a higher standard than most people, especially when it comes to justice, and when other people won’t adhere to your standard, you have to move on. It is better to do that than to compromise and lower your standard because if you did *that*, years from now you would look in the mirror and not recognize the man you have become. But standing firm on what you believe, *that* takes strength.” She gave him a reassuring smile then sat back in her chair. “However, have you thought about encouraging Ellie to get her PI license too? I mean, she’s the one who keeps stumbling upon the dead bodies. You two might as well be a team.”
He grinned but shook his head. “Oh, no. No, no, no. I want Ellie to stay a civilian. She’s a great business woman, and she makes a mean latte, but law enforcement would drive her absolutely crazy. She’s not exactly a rule-follower. Even as a P.I., there are a ton of rules to follow. Besides. Her getting a PI license would just mean she’d get into even more trouble. And I don’t think I could take that.” He considered a moment. “Besides. We’re already a team. She just hasn’t realized it yet.”
Kelly laughed at that then reached for another cookie. “Fair enough, and true, I would say you two make a good team.” She smiled at him and broke off a piece of the cookie to eat while she contemplated her next question. Once she had swallowed, she asked, “Now though, you are a PI, so you have other cases than just Ellie’s, right? Have you taken a break from all of that while your leg heals, or how does that work?”
He blew out a breath. “To be honest, paying cases are hard to find. I’ve been kind of coasting since I broke my leg. I mean, it’s not like I’ve actually moved up here. Not for real. Most of my stuff is still at Dan and Kate’s – I’m sort of between formal addresses at the moment, since apparently being a PI doesn’t really pay very well and I lost my lease.” He scanned the room, the book cases, looking anywhere but into Kelly’s penetrating gaze. “I’ve sort of been helping the local Chief of Police out with a couple of things. And once in a while I get tagged by a friend of mine who works for the Feds. But really, at the moment, I’m on, um, oh, let’s call it a sabbatical.”
“And are you enjoying this sabbatical? or are you going stir crazy yet?” Kelly smiled at him.
“God! Stir crazy doesn’t even cover it. Especially now that the leg feels better. So I had Kate send up some of my files – the ones from Ellie’s parent’s murders. I know if I keep digging I can turn something up, despite how long it’s been. But I’ve got to do that on the sly. She’d kill me if she knew what I was doing.”
Kelly furrowed her brows. “She doesn’t want you looking into that?”
“You gotta understand, Ellie is a really private person. And she has this thing about law enforcement. They totally bungled the case and put her through hell over it. Because I used to be a cop, I’m sort of painted with the same brush. If she knew I were looking into it—without her permission, without her asking me to – she’d probably break my leg on purpose. And leave me out in the snow to freeze.” He gave a rueful grin. “She’s got a temper, our Glenda Goodwitch.”
This made sense to Kelly, so she nodded, but it only brought up another issue. She set her chin in her palm and raised her brows. “And what are you going to do when she does eventually find out because she will.”
“Ah. Heh heh. Yeah.” He rubbed his hands on his jeans. “That’s, um, going to be interesting. I’m hoping I can find a good time to spring it on her. Some nice, quiet moment. After she’s had two or three mojitos maybe. Or has been sedated for surgery?”
“Yeah, I can totally see you randomly saying something like, ‘Hey, will you marry me? Oh and I’ve been looking into your parents’ case…’ Not sure which of those statements would surprise Ellie the most.” Kelly shook her head, chuckling at the thought.
“I think either might be lethal!”
Kelly gave him a wicked grin. “Well, I guess you’ll just have to wear a bulletproof vest and stay a safe distance from her when you break the news. Hopefully she’ll be stunned for a moment, giving you enough time to get a little of a headstart to run away.” Then Kelly sat back in her chair. “But anyway, you will figure out what to say when the time comes. Hopefully you can tell her yourself rather than her finding out and confronting you. That would be bad.”
“Yeah. That’s the plan.” He sighed. “Pretty sure the guy who wrote the book on relationships never counted on an Ellie Gooden. She’s unique. But I can’t imagine spending my life with any one else.” He glanced up at Kelly. “I’m sunk.”
Kelly smiled when he said this. She liked that he knew who he wanted to spend his life with but that he wasn’t forcing Ellie into a relationship. “Just be patient, Charlie. You’ve done well as far as I can tell. When the time is right, you’ll be able to tell her what she means to you, and I really hope both of you the best.” Then Kelly glimpsed at the clock on the wall and sighed. “Well, my time here is about done.” She looked back at Charlie and smiled as she rose to her feet. “It was great chatting with you again. Thanks for agreeing to meet with me.”
He stood as well. “No, the pleasure was mine. I, uh, I haven’t talked about the thing… the reason behind my resignation, with anyone before. I really appreciate you listening. And uh, you were right. About the fine line between vigilantes and villains. I’ll keep that in mind, especially when I find the a-holes who killed Ellie’s parents.” He stuck out his hand. “So. Thank you.”
Kelly shook his hand and smiled. “It was my pleasure. And some time another, you’re gonna have to be honest with Ellie. Honesty is very important with any relationship. For now though, I need to go. Enjoy the cookie!” With one more smile and a wave, Kelly turned and headed out.
Nan Sampson’s third novel in her Coffee and Crime series, ‘Forest Outings’ is now available. You can find it, along with the other books of her series, at the following links:
Amazon Link to Restless Natives, Book 1 in the Coffee & Crime Mystery Series: https://www.amazon.com/Restless-Natives-Coffee-Crime-Mystery-ebook/dp/B01EQTOTOS
Amazon Link to Office Heretics, Book 2 in the Coffee & Crime Mystery Series:
Amazon Link to Forest Outings, Book 3 in the Coffee & Crime Mystery Series:
Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/Nan-Sampson/e/B00LSWJ4Z6/