The waitress brought our burgers and fries.

“Smells delicious,” I said. “Speaking of which, do I detect a new fragrance you’re wearing? Lilacs?”

She finished doctoring her burger with ketchup. “Interesting you should notice.” She reached over and patted my hand. “Thanks. It is.”

Her eyes seemed to smile and my heart went into pitter-patter mode. I quickly took a large bite of my burger and savored the juices. What was I thinking, flirting with Lt. Hastings? Well, I knew what I was thinking, but it was hardly wise. I finished chewing and plunged in.

“Presser’s fiancée, Skyler Weaver, sings with me in church choir. She wants CIG to investigate the murder.”

Hastings motioned like a traffic cop for me to proceed.

“She needs closure. Not knowing why her fiancé was killed is eating her up. I know that pain. I told her I’d ask if CPD would consider having us help.”

She leaned back into the bench, absentmindedly shoving french fries into her mouth.

“I told her how unlikely it was you guys would want to use us.”

Before leaning forward, she deliberately took a bite of the burger, ate more fries, slurped her cola. “First I get Braun telling me how to prevent murders. Now I have you telling me how to solve them. Pretty bold move, Seamus, inviting me to lunch to tell me I’m not doing my job. If this were two years ago, I’d thank you for the lunch and take this story to the guys and they’d all laugh their rocks off at the joke. No bleeping way we’d let you guys take over.”

I choked on my food. “Bleeping?”

Hastings shrugged. “My nephew is two. Couple weeks ago he and a neighbor kid were playing with his toy cars. The other kid’s car is blocking his and he yells, ‘hey you fuckin’ asshole, get outta my way.’ My sister gave me one of those significant looks.”

“Oops.”

“So I’m trying to clean up my act. Anyway, we’re getting more than a murder a week and the backlog keeps growing. We’ve got so much darn work. No way we can get it all done. If you guys are interested in helping out with a case, and if it were just me, I’d say darn straight, let’s do it.”

I tried to look neutral. “But?”

“Yeah, but I got the captain and he has the lieutenant colonel and he has the chief and he has the city manager and she has the city council. You hear what I’m saying?”

“Thanks for asking, but no thanks?”

Eyes a-twinkle, she said, “You know what the captain gave me for Christmas last year?”

“Didn’t know he was so generous.”

“Only for special people, I guess. He hand-delivered an exquisitely wrapped box. Had high-class silver paper with ribbon so tight I had to cut it off. Inside, written in calligraphy on parchment, was the word ‘Think.’”

Her sly smile worked at the corners of her mouth and I burst out laughing. Three preppies in the next booth glanced over. “He wants you to think inside the box. I didn’t realize the captain had such ingenuity.”

“Yes sir, he’s a bright boy, and the message came through loud and clear. If I want to remain in homicide and not join the motor pool, I need to be a little more conventional.”

At least I can tell Skyler I tried.

“But they’re never going to keep me inside any old box, no matter how fancy the wrapping.” She flashed a wide smile. “I will have to start with the captain. Maybe I lay it off as one of Braun’s suggestions—nah, he’d never believe anything half-sane came from him. Has Rand already approved this?”

“Really? You’re going to ask?” I matched her smile, felt tension slip off my shoulders, and raised my beer in salute. Then I thought about her question. I hadn’t even contemplated asking Robert Rand, the founder and boss of CIG. Neck tension returned in spades.

“I doubt the captain’ll say yes,” she said. “Let alone the big bosses. It’s a good experiment—why not bring in some assistance? We use the feds and hell, Councilman Braun wants to privatize all the city services—this could be just the beginning.” Her eyes sparkled with mischief.

She hadn’t waited for my answer about notifying Rand, meaning I didn’t have to fess up or lie. I wasn’t sure if she was pursuing this because she thought it was the right thing, or because it gave her a chance to yank on the donkey’s tail, even if she did get kicked in the teeth.

“But don’t hold your breath. Even if the captain agrees, you know how decisions go. If God had had to work with city bureaucracy to create the world, it still wouldn’t be finished.”

Hastings left while I settled the check. I felt good that I had something positive to tell Skyler and left a generous tip. Walking to the parking garage, I checked my cell phone for messages. One—from my son, who never calls.

“Hey, Dad,” the message said. “Call my cell phone STAT. I left the same message on your home phone. Call ASAP.”

I hit the return call button and listened to a computer voice. The party at this number is not available. Please leave a message after the beep.

“Paddy, everything okay? You’ve got me a bit worried. I’m heading home, but I’ll keep my cell phone on.”

 What’s going on with Paddy?

Ant Farm (A Seamus McCree Mystery)Where stories live. Discover now