Chapter Thirty-eight

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I remembered Karlson and his after-work rendezvous only when I saw another red light blinking on my desk telephone. Jimmy and I returned to the office separately in order to complete the fiction that we hadn't eaten together. I drove faster and got there first.

The phone lay in my hand when Jimmy walked in. He went straight to his office and closed the door. He'd already told me that he had more of the Princess's clients to call. Wilhelm was nowhere to be seen.

It was two o'clock in the afternoon, and I knew where my policeman was—down at the Public Safety Building, thinking of ways to irritate me. I called him.

He picked up on the second ring. "Karlson," he said.

"Lieutenant," I said, "I can't make it tonight."

"And you are?"

"Paulette. Paulette Goddard."

"Ah, Ms. Goddard. I'm afraid that cancellation is not an option. This is official police business. I could send a black and white to pick you up."

I could almost hear the smile in his voice when he mentioned sending a squad car. That's all I needed in my life, a floor show.

I sighed because he'd trumped me yet again. "Have it your way, Karl," I said. "I'll be there by five thirty"

I hung up and wondered idly what it felt like to always call the shots.

I e-mailed Jimmy my change of plans, though he was only in the next room. His door was closed, and I didn't want to bother him.

Minutes later he e-mailed his approval of my revised game plan. I would meet him later at the Palace, and we'd set out from there. I had no idea where we'd set out to, but we could decide that later.

Promptly at five, I wished Jimmy a fond farewell and rushed out to my car. Twenty minutes later, I pulled into a parking space in an empty municipal lot—empty because nobody stayed downtown in Rockford past five o'clock. Despite one or two nice restaurants and a couple of good bars, most of the town's nightlife took place across the river on the other side of East State Street.

I got to the PSB five minutes early and was seated in Karlson's extra chair at the stroke of 5:30. The room wasn't deserted by any stretch, but Karlson was nowhere to be seen. Neither was his sidekick, Greenberg.

I waited another five minutes before I started to get angry. I checked my watch every minute or so, the scowl on my face ever deepening.

Ten minutes later, a uniformed cop I'd never met asked me to follow him to an interview room. He told me to sit down and asked me if I wanted some coffee. I declined the offer, and the officer left the room. However, I reconsidered my options when Greenberg marched in followed by a small, well-dressed man. Karlson brought up the rear.

The man I didn't know sat across from me, where Greenberg indicated. He was balding but didn't look over 40. His charcoal pinstriped suit was pressed even at the end of the day, and his crisp white shirt remained spotless. The tie he chose was a little too red and much too paisley for my taste, but I thought the gold bar keeping his collar ramrod straight was a nice touch. When he pulled up his trousers to sit, so he wouldn't crease his pants, I got a peek at his gray argyle socks with lines of red in the pattern to match his tie. I'm a sucker for a man in argyle socks.

When I glanced up to catch the color of his eyes, I noticed him staring at me. He tried to look away once or twice, but his gaze kept wandering back to my face. Although he hadn't uttered a word, I got the idea that I surprised him somehow.

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