Chapter Twenty

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By the time I finished my cigar and wandered down to my chilly basement office, one basic question had been answered. Jimmy may have withheld information about his marital status, but he was on the level about everything else. The subtle difference between lying and withholding gave me small comfort, but I was willing to take any comfort I could.

The next question was how to tell Odin that I was back on the case? Leaving a message on his answering machine didn't seem appropriate when our last contact had been my wine splashing into his face.

I didn't have the opportunity to answer this particular question because Harriet appeared at that moment with a sheet of white paper fluttering in her hand.

"The List," she said.

I goggled. "List?"

"Of what you need to do differently."

The list landed flat in front of me. There was more than one item noted there, and it was typed. Here I thought she'd been kidding about making a list. From the typing, Harriet had a digital version on her computer. How handy to be able to move items as necessary.

I picked up the paper gingerly, not altogether sure it wouldn't bite. Harriet hovered. She patted her hair again and adjusted the drape of her polyester shell. Her bite was well known. She was the proverbial mad dog of myth and story. But what did she want with me?

"Uh, thanks," I said. "I'll take this to heart."

She sat down heavily on my extra chair and started to fiddle with the spare computer. "You're not fooling me, Little Girl," she said. Although she wasn't actually looking at me, the tone chilled me nonetheless.

"I'm sorry," I said. "I don't understand."

"I've got your number." Suddenly, her index finger was smack in the middle of my face and wagging. The wagging made the fabric on her polyester jacket bunch up.

"I know every little thing that goes on in this office," she said. "And I want you to remember something."

With that, she and her finger got up and walked to the staircase. She turned back to look at me, and the fury in her eyes made me wonder if I didn't want something substantial between us, like a couple of states.

"The last woman sitting in that office smoking a cigar with that man was Deborah Alston." Harriet snapped her fingers loudly, as if she didn't already have my attention. "Don't forget how that turned out."

With that, Harriet stomped up the stairs. I watched her ascend unsure of whether to laugh or cry. The threat was clear enough, but I couldn't honestly believe that Harriet had meant it. After all, I never knew a cartoon to kill anyone.

I pondered what it all meant when Jimmy wandered down the stairs and handed me a large Styrofoam container. I presumed that lunch was hidden inside since they never dolled up bombs or poisonous snakes that way.

He leaned against the edge of my computer table.

"Look," he said, "I can understand that you're angry with me. You've got every right to be. But I want you to know that I care about you." He tapped the Styrofoam, "And your lunch is getting cold."

So much had transpired in the short space of an hour that I was plainly dazed.

"Thank you," I muttered. "Uh, 'us' is going to have to wait until I can spare the time to think about it. In the meanwhile, do you happen to know if Harriet ever killed anyone?"

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