Chapter Eighteen

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The only good part about falling forward, landing on my face, and sprawling full-length on the concrete was that no one stood there to see. The short sidewalk in front of the door was about four feet below the sod and was reached only via six concrete steps off to the left. I may have been sprawled and scraped and bloody, but I wasn't yet a laughing stock.

"So you got through it." A frowning James Dolan leaned nonchalantly against the building. He waited for me several feet away from the concrete steps and around the nearest corner. At least, he hadn't seen me kissing the concrete.

"No help from you," I said, walking past him. I pivoted. "But why did you lie, Jimmy? I don't care about the police. Why did you lie to me? Why am I hearing about all this from Karlson?"

Although he didn't move an inch, Jimmy wouldn't look at me, and I got the impression that he would gladly have wrestled alligators in the wild instead of answering my questions. A long moment passed, then he glanced at his watch.

"Lunch time," he said without smiling. "Fancy a bite?"

I nodded, though all I had a taste for at that moment was his still-beating heart. I'd give him a little time to get himself together, then I planned to take him apart again—piece by piece.

Jimmy must have been feeling desperate because he drove me to our favorite little no-name pub on East State Street and promptly ordered a drink. I never knew he liked Scotch, but here he swigged down the single malt variety without benefit of water. I ordered the standard diet cola because my conscience was no longer burdened with guilt. The alcohol wouldn't wipe Jimmy's slate clean. Even I knew that.

The no-name place was dim even in the mid-afternoon light. Sawdust or peanut shells or something crunchy littered the floor. I'd never found the courage to look. However, the burgers were good and the service was fast.

We ordered the usual: two double cheeseburgers with bacon and fresh-cut fries. About halfway through his drink, Jimmy gazed at me and then began, slowly, to talk. "There's the world to tell you, Paulette," he said, "but I doubt you're going to believe the half of it. It's all so wound in upon itself that I was afraid to tell you even a little piece because you would naturally ask about the rest. I wanted to tell you, but it wasn't entirely my secret to tell."

He glanced down at the table, then at my hands neatly folded on the edge. For a second, it seemed he considered reaching for one of my hands for luck or for support—or maybe so I couldn't bolt the minute he said something I didn't like. Lucky for him he thought better of the impulse.

"You see, my cousin isn't only my cousin," he said. "She's also my wife."

At that moment my heart started pounding like a jackhammer, and I was afraid Jimmy would be able to hear it. He didn't even glance up, only plowed ahead too enveloped in his own misery to care what I thought of this revelation.

"Two years ago, I went over to Ireland to find my family, and I met Kate," he said. "She's my third cousin twice removed on my mother's side."

I couldn't look at him, so I released my straw from its white paper casing and proceeded to tie that casing into square knots—three of them.

"Before I left to return home, she got into some trouble with the police. It wasn't that she'd broken the law or anything. They thought she knew something about an IRA plot because of a boy she'd been dating."

Next, I pulled the paper square knots apart and set them in a semi-circle equidistant to my drink. Anything so I didn't have to look at Jimmy's face.

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