Chapter Fourteen

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Sunday dinner at Chez Mama left a lot to be desired. I should have known that Karlson the cop wouldn't miss an opportunity to further his own investigation even at the expense of Mama's dinner table conversation.

Although the ambiance was strictly old world, with soft burgundy carpets and dark wood in Angelina Karlson's medium-sized bungalow, the vibe was tense.

The minute his mother left the room, Karlson started. "You haven't asked about the investigation." We were still sitting at the dining room table. He wore an ivory silk shirt and black jeans, the shirt open at the neck, so I saw tufts of blond chest hair peeking through. Another woman might have swooned at the sight. I only caught my breath.

When H.A.T. asked the same question 24 hours earlier, I knew immediately what he wanted. Since he could accomplish the teaching of Interregnum Literature in his sleep, H.A.T. required some outside stimulus to keep the brain cells occupied. My recent involvement with murder victims, suspects, and investigations proved just the trick, and now H.A.T. fancied himself a latter-day Mycroft Holmes, Sherlock's smarter brother. Since I refuse to provide anyone's entertainment, I nipped HAT's murder obsession in the bud.

The first time, I had been caught unawares by the passion and greed around me and gone to HAT for help figuring the thing out. Unfortunately, HAT had lived in his ivory tower too long to understand the petty passions of those around him. In short, I was right; he was wrong; and I wasn't planning to let him even the score on this go-round. I already had enough friends trying to show me up.

Karl was a good poker player. He waited out the silence without showing his hand.

"You know, Karl," I said, "somebody asked me that question yesterday."

"Really?" he said. He passed me the plate of antipasto. I picked up a piece of salami rolled tightly into a little log. "That's interesting."

Lina, Karlson's mother, wandered out of the kitchen with a tray of glasses and a bottle of wine. She set the tray in the center of the table on top of the stark white tablecloth.

"Enzo," she said, "serve our guest some wine while I finish up in the kitchen."

I thanked Lina for inviting me to dinner and asked again if I could help. She merely shook her head and bustled back into the kitchen.

I was being polite as my own mother taught me, but I was also concerned about being alone with Karlson. As with our earlier attempt to eat together, I was anxious about what we'd say, even though I came fully equipped with a range of arcane movie trivia.

Given the way he'd invited me in the first place, I doubted that the man would be there himself. He'd said that his mother wanted to invite me. That Karlson showed up, and without a comely companion, compromised my having made barely truthful representations to Jimmy about my change in plans.

"I don't drink vine," I said in my best Bela Lugosi imitation. I sat at the end of the table well away from the three places already set.

"Nonsense," Karl replied, "we're Italian. Everybody drinks wine."

With that, he poured about two inches of the ruby liquid into a clear juice glass and handed it to me. He poured nearly twice that much into his own glass and raised his beverage.

"Salut," he said and drank.

"Salut," I replied and took a sip.

The wine tasted sour to me, but mother's training won out over inclination because I didn't spit the liquid out. I merely determined that one sip would be my limit for the afternoon.

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