Chapter Twenty-eight

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We whiled away the next 20 minutes while we ate with talk of places we'd like to visit (Edinburgh for me and Istanbul for Jimmy) and vacations we'd like to take (cruise up the Nile for me and Kenyan safari for Jimmy).


The high school kids sped around us into booths on either side like lightning bugs in July, and we paid them the same amount of attention.


After the pork tenderloin with everything, the extra large Wild Cherry Pepsi, and the cheddar cheese fries, my tummy felt full, but most of my difficulties still lay before me in the person of James Patrick Dolan.


I had no idea what to do with him. No, that wasn't quite accurate. I had, as a matter of fact, a variety of excellent ideas about what to do with Jimmy Dolan, and several of them would be delightful indeed were it not for the presence of his blushing Irish bride.

Sham or not, I could never quite get over the fact that he was already wed. It seemed to me that it was time for a heart-to-heart with the Liz-meister. Sometimes only a therapist can make sense of your life.


And speaking of albatrosses and the necks they hung around, I gazed over at Mr. Dolan and smacked my palm down on the table in front of me.


"Spill it," I said.


He seemed relieved. "At last," he said. "Where shall I begin?" He pulled some papers out of the inside pocket of his suit jacket and smoothed them out on the table top.


"Surprise me." That made him smile because it was something the old pre-wife-news Paulette might have said, but that Paulette was probably gone forever.

"Fine. I'll start with Barney and Harriet." He pulled a sheet out of the middle of the stack and quickly scanned it. "They've been together for about ten years. My sources tell me that Barney worked solo in Rockford for years as an associate with the Chicago office, but his numbers got so big that the main office gave him an assistant. By all accounts, Harriet adores him, but nobody thinks it has gone carnal."


Jimmy grinned as if his research had actually been kind of fun. "Besides, Barney's too busy shagging anything that moves. I know a few of the women he's serviced, and they say he's good. To a woman, they said they'd partake again. Unfortunately, once has always been enough for Barney. Twice, apparently, is too much like monogamy."


He folded the sheet he'd scanned and ripped it into four equal pieces. Then he stuffed the pieces into his empty cheese fry container on the tray.


"Well, you'd know all about that, I'm sure," I said. Even I was surprised. Where had that come from?


"Are you trying to pick a fight, Sweeting?" He grinned. "Because nothing this side of an earthquake is going to stem the tide. I simply must get all this exposition out of my system. Ahem," he said, clearing his throat meaningfully. He picked up the next sheet on the stack and eyed me over the top of it. For once, I remained quiet.


"According to gossip in the Chicago office, Barney was dead set against opening this branch. Said he liked working alone. Didn't want to manage an office or train other brokers. Could handle everything on his own. The big guys, however, thought differently." He tore the sheet into two equal halves.


"Are you sure you aren't in love with her?" I said. Like it or not, I couldn't seem to get my mind off our personal situation.


Jimmy tore the two half sheets in half again and smiled indulgently in my direction. "No, Paulette, I am most assuredly not in love with Harriet—or Barney either."


"Not Harriet," I said. "Kate. Are you sure you're not in love with Kate?"


"Not now, Darling, I'm still exfoliating," Jimmy said. "And I will simply explode if I don't get all of this out."


"Can I clear your tray?" I turned to see an older, gray-haired woman in a Beef-A-Roo uniform gesturing at our tray.


"Sure," I said. She picked up the tray, emptied it in a nearby trash bin, and slipped the tray on top of the bin. Then she set a flat, metal basket on the table between us.


"Mint?" she said. "Chocolate?"


"Oh yes," I said. Jimmy nodded. She gave us each a green-foil covered Andes mint, then moved to the next booth.


I leaned over the table and stage-whispered to Jimmy. "And I will simply explode if you don't tell me right now who you do love."


"You," he said. "Now let me tell you about Wilhelm 'Will' Jaffarian."


"What did you say?"


"I said let me you about Wilhelm Jaffarian. There's a story," he said.


My head was spinning. Had I heard what I thought I'd heard? I put my hand on top of Jimmy's stack of papers.


"No, before that."


"The part about exploding if I didn't blurt everything out?" he said. "Hint, hint."


I drummed my fingers on the stack but didn't move my hand. "After that."


"Hmmm," he pretended to be thinking. "That must be the business about whom I love," he said at last.


"That's the one. Say it again."


"As you wish. I love neither Harriet nor Barney."


Was it possible to choke a man you adored so much? "Did I ever tell you that I'm a sucker for a man who can keep his double negatives straight?" I said.


"Not that I recall." Jimmy yanked his papers out from under my hand. I let him.


"Now was there something I was supposed to repeat?"


"Yes," I said, "and you know what it is."


"That I do," he said. He took my hands, both of them, into his own and looked deeply into my eyes. "I love you, Paulette," he said. "My life is a hopeless mess, but I love you."


And, I made the appropriate responses right there in front of God and everybody at the Beef-A-Roo, even though I had to nearly climb over the table to get into his arms and taste his lips.


Joyous declarations aside, I'd seen enough of life to know that I needed to see my therapist more than ever after he said he loved me. There was still the knotty problem of his wife.

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