Except Randy Wilkins, a sweet-faced kid from the east side who was practically an orphan. Shirley had a big heart. She'd soon love him, too. If this went well, Skeet for the first time would get his life completely straight. In one stroke, he'd have a wife and a son.
Skeet took a deep breath, felt for the ring box, and opened his mouth to speak. To his surprise, he couldn't remember the words he'd planned to say. He'd have to wing it.
"Shirley?" he said.
She leaned forward, smiling, her forearms on the table. "Yes?"
Skeet wanted to talk about Randy first: show his picture, ask her to meet him, say he wanted to adopt him. "Do you remember about a year ago when I gave a talk at the Youth Center on the east side?"
She frowned, as if trying to recollect. "I think so."
"There was an eight year old boy there, an amazing boy. Bright, cute as a button. Asked so many questions I could hardly keep up. Turned out he'd somehow got it in his head to be a bio-ecologist."
"No. A bio-ecologist. Only eight years old. All by himself there, or at least he was at first."
"His sister came. She was strung out. Crack, probably. Fell all over a row of chairs, hurt herself and started howling. The kid took care of her like he was the grownup. Calmed her down. You should have seen it."
"What a shame. Where were their parents?"
Suddenly, Skeet heard, "Doc, there you are. Sorry to bother you, Doc."
Skeet looked up and saw Michaels, the Homicide Lieutenant's deputy, crossing to their table, his big American grin out of keeping with the foreignness of Mai's. Michaels was an intellectual who tried to cover it up with pretended nonchalance and attempts at rough talk. Skeet bitterly regretted he'd ever let the Department know he ate here.
"Well, Michaels," Skeet said, annoyed but feeling uneasy, "I can't say I'm glad to see you. Pretty unglad, in fact."
"Sorry, Doc," Michaels said and nodded to Shirley. He sat in a chair and leaned over the floating flowers to talk privately to Skeet. "The Lieutenant wants you. We've got a murder. He thinks the husband did it, but the suspect's being slippery. A foreigner, you know. English. Anyway, the chief needs you to help trip the guy up."
Skeet put his napkin on the table, something vaguely tugging at his mind, speeding up his pulse. He'd felt this way off and on for a week and had shrugged it off as pre-proposal nerves.
"Husband, huh? Did he shoot her?"
"No, but here's a hint." Michaels' voice became comically gruff. "Roses are red, violets are dark; mess with me, honey, and I'll ram a pitchfork through your heart."
"That's how he did it?"
"Greeting cards," said Michaels, as if he were revealing Einstein's theory. "The guy designs greeting cards and puts a pitchfork through his wife. Can you beat that?"
Skeet could beat that. From any week he'd spent in Nam. "Give me a minute, Michaels. Wait out front, okay?"
"Okay." Michaels slapped him on the back and beamed at Shirley. "The Department can't do without Doc Skeet, here. Not even long enough for him to eat."
Shirley gave a passably civil smile.
Michaels stood and pushed the chair in, obviously satisfied with himself for being clever. He nodded to Shirley again and walked out.
Skeet watched for a second, wondering why he felt so strange. Chatsford had few murders, relatively speaking, and Skeet was always consulted when they occurred. Nothing unusual about that. He was even brought in on suspicious accidents and suicides, now that he'd solved Chatford's last three murders. The Department saw he made the Clarion's front page for it. He could have done without that, and being hunted down at lunch. Still there was nothing strange about Michaels' request. Skeet dismissed his unease and took Shirley's hand, disappointed. Reluctantly, he decided to save his proposal for tomorrow. They could return to Mai's and he'd make sure they weren't disturbed.
Copyright © J. R. Lankford February 2, 2001, Xlibris Corporation used by permission. All rights reserved. For permission to reproduce this excerpt, please visit www.NovelDoc.com/Lankford.
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