A Strong Woman - Cover

A Strong Woman

Copyright© 2012 by Robert McKay

Chapter 19

When I got home Cecelia was already gone, as I'd expected. With the time change it got dark even earlier than it would have, and with fall rapidly giving way to winter it was getting dark early anyway. I hate fall and winter – not only am I a desert rat, more comfortable with high heat than low cold, but I'm also an enormous fan of the sun. I'd rather spend all day in the sun doing backbreaking labor for minimum wage than work three hours at night and pull down $500,000 a week.

I went into the kitchen and looked around. Cecelia hadn't made anything, so I dug out an onion, a tomato, a head of lettuce, and lunch meat – pastrami already sliced, and summer sausage unsliced. I sliced what needed it, shredded some lettuce with the same knife, piled the results on a plate, and grabbed a loaf of Cecelia's sourdough bread. She'd gotten the recipe on our visit to Red Hawk back in 2006 – over two years ago, now, though it seemed like yesterday – and it was the best sourdough I'd had since I was a kid. Store bought smells all right, but it's no more sour than a lollipop. Modern customers won't stand for the genuine strong taste of real sourdough, but I don't want it any other way.

I cut thick slices from the loaf, piled on the meat and vegetables, never mind that a tomato is technically a fruit, and applied some La Victoria green taco sauce, my favorite condiment. I ate sitting at the counter between the kitchen and dining room, where we've got have a dozen tall chairs on the dining room side, reading my current book. It was The Hours of the Virgin, one of the more recent installments in Loren D. Estleman's Amos Walker series. How a guy named Loren became such a first class hard-boiled mystery writer I'll never know, but he did. The mysteries are somewhere between Mike Hammer and Spenser – more civilized than the one character but less polished than the other. And the fact that I have absolutely no interest in Detroit, but still like the books, tells me just how well Estleman's done his work.

I ate two more sandwiches, cleaned up, and headed to the living room to pry off my boots – something I usually do first thing, but I'd been starving. Only then did I see the note on the coffee table. If it had been a salesman I'd have found myself the proud owner of a Fuller brush ... if they still sell those things, and if they still do it door-to-door. I've never met a Fuller brush man in my life.

I went ahead and got my boots off, and put them by the door where they go when I'm not wearing them. Then I looked at the note, which Cecelia had written in her patented spiky hand:


I have looked into the property next door, and the asking price is reasonable. We could afford it easily – we could even afford to pay cash, notwithstanding our contribution to the rapacious fees Letty's lawyer is already dunning her for. But another thought has come to me. We have, from time to time, desultorily discussed building another house, one which would conform to our notions of proper design. We could find a parcel of land, buy it, and build a new office, if you so desired – a combination of house and office, if that were your wish.

I do not desire to vacate this dwelling, which has been the scene of my greatest happiness and which in any event I love for its own sake. But that possibility exists, and I wanted to give you the opportunity of first refusal – I believe I am using your publishing phrase correctly, though my contribution to literary endeavors has been only the very occasional bit of poetic criticism, and helping to finance some of your poetic efforts.

As always, I love you intensely.

Her signature was as spiky as the rest, only more so. Signatures become very distinctive with use, departing to some extent from the signer's normal writing because they're so habitual. Mine isn't susceptible to forgery simply because my writing's beyond atrocious, but Cecelia's is as distinctive as the way Monet painted water lilies, and anyone who tries to forge it had better be an artist as least as accomplished as any Impressionist.

Her idea wasn't half shabby, but I'd pass on it. I flipped the paper over, pulled out my pen, and wrote:


Your idea has some attractions, but I don't see any need for it. Let's just buy the place next door. I like this house too. If we build, we can do it after we're both retired and become idle rich instead of busy rich.

And then I tacked on my own signature, which would make a doctor's look like block printing. I left the note where I'd found it, my side up. It wasn't all that late, but I'd been on the go all day every day for a lot of days, and I was tired. I headed for the shower, unsnapping my shirt as I went. It would be the first time I'd gone to bed without Cecelia in so long I couldn't remember when the last time had been. I hate a cold and empty bed.

I got up with the alarm in the morning, Cecelia's side of the bed empty and unruffled. It was a lonely sight. I combed my hair and brushed my teeth, put on my jeans and the first shirt in the closet, and carried a pair of socks out to the living room. Cecelia might or might not have had a snack ready for me, since I never eat breakfast and will destroy any evidence that I occasionally do, but I wasn't about to whop something up for myself. I'd be hungry at lunch time, or maybe a bit before, and I'd eat then. Maybe breakfast is the most important meal of the day, but I can't see making myself eat when I'm not hungry.

I didn't have to leave for a bit, so I sat down and read. I finished The Hours of the Virgin, and still had a few minutes, so I started in on Stephen King's Different Seasons. King's mostly a horror writer, but as far as I'm concerned his best work isn't horror, but what I guess you'd have to call mainstream. Different Seasons is a collection of four novellas, and the best one is "The Body," which Rob Reiner turned into the movie Stand By Me. For once the movie stayed close to the story, and was nearly as good.

When the time came I pulled on my socks and boots, threw on my heavy jean jacket, clapped my hat on my head, went back into the bedroom to get my gun out of the bedside table, and headed out the door. My light jean jacket was already in the Blazer, for it might warm up enough during the day to switch.

In the office I handed out assignments, and probably got an adoring expression on my face when Cecelia walked in during the process. I remember visiting a church in Dallas when I lived there, and noticing a member of the choir looking at her husband while he sang a solo. Maybe she was faking, but I got the impression that on earth that man was her whole world, and that's how I am about Cecelia. God is my greatest love, but no one on earth comes before Cecelia.

I guess I did have that look on my face, for she grinned as she sat down in the chair one of the volunteers offered her and said, "I shall report when you are done, Darvin. Please continue."

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