Chapter Twenty-five

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Despite the note, I did fall asleep that night, but the dreams were all dark and stormy and ended with people chasing me with butcher knives. The day dawned brightly, however, and I was up with the sun. But that isn't to say that I went to work. Given the note and my scary dreams, I decided that a mental-health holiday was in order.

   
I left a message on the brokerage firm's answering machine, spent the rest of the morning curled up with a book, and took a long nap in the afternoon. I even emailed Jimmy to tell him that I felt ill. However, I didn't hold out on my erstwhile gal pal and sidekick, Claudie. I met her at the Palace around seven.

       
C sat at the bar with a glass of brown liquid in front of her. She always referred to it as the good stuff, and Mickey saved it special for her behind the bar. To me, it smelled like rubbing alcohol, so I didn't even want to think about tasting it. I sat on the stool next to her.

    "Okay, so where are we with the investigation?" C said.

        "Karlson has zip. Same as always," I said. Mickey sat my diet cola on a bar napkin in front of me and wiped the counter in front of Claudie.

        Why get involved?" he said. "Karlson looked to have it covered. Not your problem."

        "We're crime fighters," Claudie said before I stopped her. It was never a good idea to give Mickey any more information than was required. He tended to use it as ammunition.

        "Like Wonder Woman?" Mickey asked.

    C glanced at me. I shrugged my shoulders. "More like Mermaid Man and Barnacle Boy."

    "Who?" Mickey asked.

    C translated for the Sponge Bob impaired. "We're younger and better looking like Rizzoli and Isles."

    "Who?"

    I watched more Me-TV than Claudie, so I translated into terms that Mickey would understand. "Think Cagney and Lacey."

    "Got it," Mickey said. "But they were cops."

    "Your point?" I said.

    "Leave the police work to the police," he said. "We almost lost you before."

    Coming from Mickey the sentiment was sweet, sort of. Unless he had another angle. I took a sip of my diet drink and glanced at Mickey. "I appreciate your concern. I don't suppose Karlson asked you to keep an eye on me?"

    Mickey wiped the space in front of C again without looking at me. "Not in so many words," he said.

    "I'll bite," I said. "What were his exact words?"

    "He said to try and keep you out of trouble."

    C giggled. "That's what Dr. Thorstens said, too."

    "Right," I said. "Like I go looking for disaster." Then it registered with me what Claudie had said. "You talked to HAT?"

    "It's a free country," C said. "I needed some insight."

    "And you talked to HAT?"

    Mickey didn't know HAT beyond that he was my old college professor, so he left to check the thirst levels of the customers in the pool hall at the back.

    "My mother used to tell me to figure stuff out by talking to the smartest person I know," C said. "It's probably some Polish respect your elders thing, but she was right."

    "And what did the good doctor have to say?"

    C took a sip of her drink. "He seemed to think that we should follow the money."

    "So you went to his house or what?" I didn't mean to be grouchy, but she'd gone to talk to HAT behind my back. What insight could he possible provide her that he hadn't already offered to me?

    C's phone went off with some spicy Latin beat that I'd never heard before. Her ring tone was "Milkshake" by Kelis Rogers. Apparently, this was her new text tone because she grabbed the phone, read it, grinned, and typed furiously. Must be the flame du jour. Mickey came back to top off my diet cola and went to annoy the staff in the kitchen behind the bar.

    C stopped texting and put her phone on the bar.

    "Nice tune," I said.

    "I know," she said, missing my sarcasm entirely. "It's this Latina singer that Maria Ayala put me onto. The tune is 'Chica Rica.' This girl has some serious pipes. Her name's Eloisa." Only C pronounced it with a long A at the beginning.

    "Who's Maria Ayala?"

    "Homer's new cleaning lady, but I think she's more than that," C said. "I think he's sweet on her."

    "What?" How the hell did she visit HAT once, meet his cleaning lady, and now call him Homer? Even I didn't call him by his first name. I used his initials because he'd never given me permission to call him Homer. Damn!

    C patted her cell phone and took a swig of her drink. "It's the way he gazes at her—as if he's trying to figure her out. She was cleaning when I came to visit. I called first." Trust C to think everything was fine so long as she thought to call first. Double damn!

    HAT had a girlfriend? He didn't even own a television.

    The only cleaning ladies I knew were two sisters I went to school with: Finna and Anda Sorensen. They were strictly commercial and didn't do people's houses. My Mom's cleaning lady was a woman named Jennifer Crawley. When she retired, her daughter took over cleaning Mom's house every other Saturday. Mom hated to clean the bathroom, and Chez Swede had three.

    Even Claudie had a cleaning lady, some hot chick named Lanida who came in twice a week. C was a slob. Adorable but sloppy. Maybe someday I would have my own place again and be able to afford a cleaning lady. Something to shoot for, I guess.

        Why did I have a sidekick again? So far, she'd done nothing but show me up. She was now on a first-name basis with both HAT and his soon-to-be girlfriend. And she had a cleaning lady, which I couldn't afford. In future, there was something to be said for a solo career as a crime fighter.

    Needless to say, I didn't tell C about the threatening note on my windshield. And, I didn't avail myself of Karlson's digits either.

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