A Strong Woman - Cover

A Strong Woman

Copyright© 2012 by Robert McKay

Chapter 20

That afternoon, while debriefing the interviewers, I made an executive decision. "We're all tired. We been at this for nearly a month – Cecelia and I have – and y'all have been going at it for almost as long. I'm giving y'all a day or two off. Now we'll still continue the surveillance, but I'll take one night since I ain't done that yet. I need one volunteer to take the other."

I looked at the assembled crowd, not that half a dozen people would be a crowd for anyone but me. "I said one volunteer," I growled. "Can't y'all count?"

There were grins, but none of the hands went down.

"All right," I said, "I see we'll have to pick someone. I don't have no straws here, but I bet everyone's got a coin." There were nods, and people reaching into their pockets. "The way we'll work it, whoever gets tails is out, and whoever gets heads is in. We'll keep flipping till we have just one head left. Go." I could have done another name-in-the-hat deal, but I didn't think of it, and anyway coins are ubiquitous.

They flipped, and I could tell right away which three got tails – their faces fell. We kept flipping till it was just Cecelia and Kim. They looked at each other – the thin black woman and the tiny slender Korean, and smiled. "Flip you for it," Kim said.

It didn't make Cecelia laugh, but her smile got bigger. "Why not?" she said, and flipped.

It caught Kim by surprise, and she missed the catch in her hurry. She glanced at the quarter on the floor and sat back in her chair, not bothering to pick up the coin. I looked over at Cecelia, who was looking at the coin she'd slapped down on her arm in the standard fashion. She was still smiling.

"Well, Kim," I said, "I guess you get two days off. An' Cecelia, me an' you got to decide who gets which night."

"Flip you for it," she said, and I burst out laughing.

"You're startin' to sound like a normal human being," I said, as I dug in my pocket for a quarter. Any coin will do for flipping, and I'd seen people using dimes and nickels during the exercise, but the tradition calls for a quarter and I wanted one, if there was one in my pants. There was, and I pulled it out. "Fire when ready, Gridley," I told her.

She nodded and flipped, her coin – I thought it was a Kennedy half dollar, but I wasn't sure – arcing nearly up to the ceiling. If I'd flipped it that high I'd have had to scramble to catch it, and it probably would have wound up on the other side of the room, but I know Cecelia – it's her picture in the dictionary next to "coordination."

I flipped my quarter, not nearly so high, and when I caught it I slapped it down on the blotter. Cecelia caught hers a split instant later, and smacked it down on her arm.

"Heads," she said as she uncovered the coin.

I looked down at my quarter. "I see I got a Bicentennial quarter here," I said.

"In that case, Darvin, I choose tonight. And I add the proviso that you introduce me to the developer who produces prints from the negatives in such a short time."

"I gotta introduce you around a lot of places," I said. "Trainin' you is turnin' out to be a lot of work." I looked at everyone else. "Okay, ladies an' germs, I'll see y'all Saturday, if the Lord tarries an' the crick don't rise." That was a phrase I'd picked up in Oklahoma, crick being the way the country people around Red Hawk pronounced creek. "If we get a break that changes the plan, I'll let y'all know."

They all went out, and though they'd all volunteered to cover the nights, I thought I saw relief on their faces. The cops get their days off, but I hadn't given anyone any time until now.

I looked at Cecelia. "Am I turnin' into George Patton?"

"I don't know enough about him to hazard a guess, much less provide you with a cogent response."

"An' if you went an' read 50 books about him, you'd pick up every point except the one I had in mind." I looked at my watch, though I knew it was getting toward evening just by the way the light was dimming as it came into the office through the window. "Lemme buy you supper before you run back to the apartments. How fancy you interested in?"

"Though I don't speak French, and share your opinion that it has an uncouth sound, I am in the mood for some of Harry's French cooking."

"Harry's Eats it is, then." We were speaking of a restaurant at Montgomery and Tramway which is fancier than it sounds, for it does indeed have some things on the menu with French names. It also has real food – burgers, enchiladas, steak, stuff like that. It started out as the diner the name still suggests, but Harry – who no longer owns the place, if he's still alive, which I don't know – somehow wound up hiring cooks with highfalutin' notions, and now it's about the fanciest restaurant I can stand to look at.

Supper was good, but too short. I'd seen too little of Cecelia during the investigation, for she'd been in one place while I'd been in another most of the day, every day. We'd been home together, mostly, leaving at the same time and getting home at the same time, but that's not the same. Maybe some couples can get by without ever seeing each other, but I have to wonder why they're together. Just as I can't get enough of the vanilla Coke I love, so I can't get enough of Cecelia, whom I love.

I read a bit. I'd decided to just read "The Body" in Different Seasons, so I now had in hand Sue Grafton's "A" is for Alibi, the first in her series of "alphabet mysteries" featuring Kinsey Millhone. For years I'd heard of the series and avoided it because of the cute titles. Finally I'd broken down and tried the books, and while I still think the titles are way too cute, I like the character. I do wonder what Grafton's going to do when she finishes her Z mystery, but she's spent nearly 30 years getting just up to T, so perhaps there isn't much reason for concern – she'll be ready to retire at that point.

After a bit I got a shower, shaving while in the shower as my custom is, feeling my way around my heavy walrus mustache. I dried off, put on a pair of old sweat pants, and went into the kitchen for a snack. I wasn't hungry, but I did have the munchies, and decided on some of the potato chips that we keep around, in Foghorn Leghorn's words, for just such an emergency. If I ever decide to add to my meager DVD collection – all I've got, or we've got rather, is Once Upon a Time In the West, The Wizard of Oz, and Casablanca – I'll want to hunt around and see if they've got the old Loony Tunes and Merrie Melodies cartoons available. Nothing animated has ever been as funny as those old classics. Chuck Jones and Friz Freleng were geniuses as far as I'm concerned. Freleng later came up with The Pink Panther and The Inspector, which were very different in style but nearly as funny.

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