Chapter Twelve

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The next morning, I got to work five minutes early despite the fact that I had been out late the night before. Barney might be corny, but he still made a reasonable point. I owed him. And my marker is always good.


I made the coffee as usual with only one glance out the window to see if Simone was checking up on me. If I saw her out there, I planned to stand full in the doorway and wave. Smiling was optional. Unfortunately, that last act of defiance had to be saved for another day.


Jimmy, my late night dance partner, didn't have to be in until 9 a.m., so he was still snoozing . . . presumably. Our relationship hadn't yet reached that level of intimacy.


When I got downstairs to my desk, I grabbed the blue cardigan that hung on the back of my chair and put the sweater on. The basement usually felt chilly to me. The message light flickered on the telephone. I told myself it was probably a wrong number, but deep inside I felt a flutter of hope that it was Jimmy.


"This is Karlson," said the flat voice. "Call me."


I flipped on my computer with a jerk and slammed down my stack of work near the monitor. He had a lot of nerve. Call him? I'd spent the better part of two days with his kind.

I yanked open the middle drawer where I kept my writing implements, grabbed my favorite gel-ink Pilot, and slammed it shut again. The cops had my statement repeated ad nauseam. Last time I checked, nobody charged me with anything, so Karlson would have to wait.

I felt justified in slamming my papers down a second time on the desk. And I probably would have smacked them down a third time had Jimmy Dolan not wandered in just then.

We'd decided early on that it was a bad idea for office mates to be seen "dating," so we tried to maintain a reasonable distance. But that didn't stop us from chatting most of the day. Whenever it seemed we had hung out at my desk long enough, Jimmy would move to his office and call me on the office phone. That made us appear as if we both were working.

He could have texted me. He had the new iPhone, which did everything but tap dance. Unfortunately, all I could afford was a flip phone with the cheapest carrier on the planet. I had limited minutes and limited text to go with my limited price. Luckily, Jimmy didn't taunt me about it.


I liked the arrangement, but it did nothing at all for the stack of work that sat in front of me. It hadn't moved an inch. My current project was to input a potential client list for the Princess, so I didn't see much point to finishing.


Jimmy leaned over my desk slightly, told me he'd had a nice time the night before, and wandered off to his office, saying he had to get ready for clients coming in. I missed him immediately, but his absence gave me a chance to catch up on work in case Barney paid attention.


I flicked a glance at my stack of papers, frowned, and grabbed my headset from the middle drawer. Time to play some tunes to make the medicine go down. I tackled my work and had half completed when Becky buzzed me from upstairs at 11:30 a.m.


"Visitor for you," she announced. From my first week there, Becky had been a pal and already knew the two people in the world who might call me. Neither Claudie nor my Mother ever actually dropped in, because their business with me was never dire. Not so with Karlson.


I knew it was him well before he appeared in the doorway because Becky accompanied him down the stairs and kept up her charming patter until his foot hit the basement floor. She did that only for the cute clients. Less adorable specimens made due with a cursory nod.

Reaching the bottom of the stairs, Becky looked at me, shook her head slightly, then went right back up to her desk. She knew I'd tell her all about his visit later.

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