Chapter Twenty-three

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"You know this guy?" It was Mickey, and for once he menaced someone besides me.

"Meet Lieutenant Karl Karlson of the Rockford Police Department," I said. "Lieutenant, this is my barkeep and personal champion, Michelangelo Moria."

Karl actually extended his hand and Mickey actually took it, but the shake was barely an inch of up and down and quickly over. If I didn't know better, I would have said they didn't like each other. Odd, because I'd always thought that two guys as macho as they purported to be would get on like a house afire. So much for my skills at matchmaking.

"You got a problem with Paulette?" Mickey asked. His jaw jutted out the way it did whenever he challenged drunks.

Karl stiffened. "Is that your concern?" he replied.

Before they broke out the heavy wooden cudgels to fight over me properly, I intervened. "Look, guys," I said. "Here's the deal." I glanced at Karl. "Mickey is my friend, Karl, and therefore protective." I turned to Mickey. "I tossed a glass of red wine into Karl's face on Sunday, Mickey, so he's a little pissed. Got the picture?"

To my complete surprise, Mickey smirked and glanced at Karlson. "She actually threw something at you? All I usually get is lip."

Karl shrugged. "Might have been something I said."

"You mean you can get a word in edgewise?"

"Not often."

"Don't I know it," Mickey said. "You off duty, Lieutenant? Can I get you a beer?"

"Call me, Karl, and no, I'm working."

You couldn't figure out the working part by his outfit because he was head-to-toe denim. Well-worn blue jeans and a chambray blue work shirt topped off his Nike low-tops and white socks. Once in a while even Armani Boy dressed like a real man.

"Gee, thanks, Mickey, for protecting my honor," I said. Then I stared meaningfully at Odin and cleared my throat. "Was there something about a message, Lieutenant?"

With that I dragged Karlson to a table in the middle of the room and split my ziti pomodoro with him. As usual, when we prepared to break bread together, I waited for Karl to say something stupid. But all he said on this occasion was that the food was good. I was stumped.

"So, Karl," I said, "did you come all this way to eat half my dinner?"

"Actually, I've been waiting for an apology." He didn't even crack a smile.

"From me?"

He raised one eyebrow in a perfect imitation of my friend, Claudie. "Who else?" he said. "And since you permanently stained my clothing, I'd like that apology painted on the dam in letters five feet high. The color is up to you."

The dam Odin referred to was part of a quaint Rockford custom of painting the side of an old railroad trestle in Aldeen Park. The side facing Alpine Road was concrete with a nice, easy slope. Every football season some team of jocks would paint the thing Guilford blue and white for my old high school or East red and black for Karlson's. They even bought a permit for the privilege.

In the same quaint way, sundry couples had asked and answered questions of matrimony, but I had no intention of soiling my hands.

"Do you really want me to alert the entire community to my feelings for you, Lieutenant? As you know, my wording tends to be colorful." I even managed my own version of his Mama's zillion-watt smile.

He paused as if considering my proposal. "Apology accepted," he said. And he appeared as self-satisfied as if I really had expressed regret.

Then he got downright cryptic. "My Mother's bringing cannoli on Sunday."


He smiled so sweetly with the classic "I've got a secret" look that I wanted to slap him. "Maybe you should listen to your messages, Cupcake," he said.

As he disappeared out the front door, I dashed to the other side of the pool hall where Mickey had installed the bathrooms right next to the pay telephones. I wanted to check my phone in the privacy of a bathroom stall.

There were only two messages. One from Karlson; no surprise. The other was from my mother. She'd invited the Karlsons, mother and son, to dinner on Sunday, and she wondered if I could make it at noon.

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