"Isn't it? I can't figure it out. I know it needs something, but I can't think what."
"You need art."
"You think so?" I let my gaze trace the bare white walls.
"Sure. Get yourself some big travel posters and some double-sided tape. It'd perk the place right up. Failing that, you might at least wipe the dust off the artificial plants."
He was in his early sixties and his cardiac problems had left his complexion looking sour. The usual bags under his eyes had turned a dark smokey shade, making his whole face seem sunken in circulatory gloom. He was apparently marking the time away from the department by shaving every other day, and this wasn't the one. His face had tended to be pouchy in the best of times, but now his mouth was pulled down in a permanent expression of malcontent. Just my kind of guy.
I could tell he was still smoking because his raincoat, when he moved, smelled of nicotine. The last time I remembered seeing him he was in a hospital bed. The visit had been awkward. Up to that point, I'd always been intimidated by the man, but then I'd never seen him in a cotton hospital nightie with his puckered butt on display through a slit down the back. I'd felt friendlier toward him since. I knew he liked me despite the fact his manner in the past had alternated between surly and abrupt.
I said, "So what's up? I can't believe you walked all the way over here to give me decorating tips."
"Actually, I'm on my way to lunch and thought you might join me-if you're free, that is."
I glanced at my watch. It was only 10:25. "Sure, I could do that. Let me get my bag and my jacket and I'll meet you out in front."
We took off on foot, walking to the corner, where we turned right and headed north on Santa Teresa Street. I thought we'd be going to the Del Mar or the Arcade, two restaurants where guys from the PD gravitated for lunch. Instead, we soldiered on for another three blocks and finally turned into a hole-in-the-wall known as "Sneaky Pete's," though the name on the entrance sign said something else. The place was largely empty: one couple at a table and a smattering of day drinkers sitting at the far end of the bar. Dolan took a seat at the near end and I settled myself on the stool to his left. The bartender laid her cigarette in an ashtray, reached for a bottle of Old Forrester, and poured him a drink before he opened his mouth. He paused to light a cigarette and then he caught my look. "What?"
"Well, gee, Lieutenant Dolan, I was just wondering if this was part of your cardiac rehabilitation."
He turned to the bartender. "She thinks I don't take very good care of myself."
She placed the glass in front of him. "Wonder where she got that?"
I pegged her in her forties. She had dark hair that she wore pulled away from her face and secured by tortoiseshell combs. I could see a few strands of gray. Not a lot of makeup, but she looked like someone you could trust in a bartenderly sort of way. "What can I do for you?"
"I'll have a Coke."
Dolan cocked his thumb at me. "Kinsey Millhone. She's a PI in town. We're having lunch."
"Tannie Ottweiler," she said, introducing herself. "Nice to meet you." We shook hands and then she reached down and came up with two sets of cutlery, encased in paper napkins, that she placed in front of us. "You sitting here?"
Dolan tilted his head. "We'll take that table by the window."
"I'll be there momentarily."
Dolan tucked his cigarette in his mouth, the smoke causing his right eye to squint as he picked up his whiskey and moved away from the bar. I followed, noting that he'd chosen a spot as far from the other drinkers as he could get. We sat down and I set my handbag on a nearby chair. "Is there a menu?"
He shed his raincoat and took a sip of whiskey. "The only thing worth ordering is the spicy salami on a kaiser roll with melted pepper jack. Damn thing'll knock your socks off. Tannie puts a fried egg on top."
From Q is for Quarry by Sue Grafton, Copyright © October 2002, G. P. Putnam's Sons, a member of Penguin Putnam, Inc., used by permission.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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