Chapter Seven

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Things got ugly after that.

"So on the same day the victim was murdered, you picked a fight with her?"

If Greenberg was trying to rile me, it wouldn't work. I took a deep breath, looked at my hands folded neatly on the wooden table, then gazed at Greenberg. "Are you asking what happened next, Officer?"

He didn't blink, but, after a pause, nodded.

"We laughed until we thought we were going to throw up, and then the telephone rang. Becky was wanted upstairs."

"Where your victim, Deborah Alston, waited?" Greenberg was still on the case while Karlson watched the train wreck.

I nodded. "Becky tried to leave two or three times, but she'd only get part way up the stairs before she'd start laughing again and have to come back down. After the second call, she managed to calm down."

"And then?"

I frowned at Greenberg. Nothing I'd verbalized so far was any different than my statement, and I was sick of being led around by Odin's sidekick. Also, the room felt warmer. I wanted to push up the sleeves of my suit coat.

"Could I have a glass of water, please?" I used my most dulcet tones.

Greenberg looked at Karlson, who nodded his approval. Then Mr. Sidekick stood and went out the door.

When he was gone, I eyed Odin sitting across from me. "Are we done yet?"

He didn't try grinning at me this time. He seemed damned serious. "No. Not until you answer all our questions."

This was not the answer I longed to hear. "Why, Karl, do you think I did it this time?"

He wasn't prepared for the sucker punch, but he recovered quickly. "It's not likely, but I wouldn't bet my badge on it." He still wasn't smiling.

"And what would you bet your badge on, Lieutenant?"

"'Vanity, thy name is woman,'" he said and promptly smirked.

Sure, I knew the reference, and the Shakespeare did nothing to improve my humor. I cocked my head to the side as if trying to see Karlson from a different angle. "You know, Karl-Honey," I said, "I was right about you the first time. You're an asshole."

"And do you always dine with assholes, Ms. Goddard?"

He placed his hands flat on the table. He wore no rings, only a big silver watch on one wrist. It was a nice one, a TAG Heuer. I'd seen one on a billboard once on the way to Chicago.

His eyes flashed when he was angry, and the effect made him look both dangerous and sexy. But I was already past caring.

"But that's where you proved yourself the King of all the Assholes. 'Tell all your thin friends that I'm available,'" I mimicked. "How the hell is that supposed to make me feel?"

You'd have thought I'd tossed him a hand grenade. His fists hit the table and he leaped from his chair to loom over me. "You couldn't have thought for one second that I was interested in. . . ."

He stopped, and the truth began to seep in little by little. A kind of terror came and went in his eyes until he shifted toward the fake mirror to gather his thoughts.

"It was never a date, Paulette," he said.

I shook my head. Most of the anger drained out of me once I'd seen the awareness in his eyes. The crime of the century in Karl's eyes was being stalked by a fat girl.

"I always knew it wasn't a date, Karl," I said at last, "but . . ." I stopped to gather my own thoughts and decide how on earth I could get it across to him—all the longing and the unfairness and the cruelty and the dread. Like being the very last kid chosen for the softball team every day of your life. But Karl wouldn't know anything about that. From the look of him, he'd been fit, gorgeous, and golden from the cradle. The cradle?

"But there's something I'd like you to think about, Lieutenant," I said. I put my own hands flat on the table and stared directly into his eyes. "How would you react if some guy said 'tell all your thin friends' to your mother?"

I got the sentence out just before the waterworks broke through, so I never got to see Odin's reaction. The one tissue in my pocket wasn't nearly enough, so I stood up, walked to the door, and banged on it. The door opened to the outside, where Greenberg stood with a paper cup in one hand, lounging against the doorjamb.

Greenberg overheard the whole annoying exchange. He didn't say a word, only indicated with the cup the direction to the ladies room. This was a chess game, and whichever way I turned, I was already mated—but never the way I wanted.

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