She let loose with a martial arts sidekick that spun the first attacker into the air.
I said, "Some woman."
"Uh-huh. A bad guy named Modus sold her sister into slavery, and now the Queen is going to make him pay the ultimate price."
The Queen of Blame punched a man three times her size with left and rights so fast that her hands blurred. Blood and teeth flew everywhere.
"Eat fist, scum!"
I spotted a pause button on the controls, and stopped the game. Adults always wonder what to say and how to say it when they're talking with a child. You want to be wise, but all you are is a child yourself in a larger body. Nothing is ever what it seems. The things that you think you know are never certain. I know that, now. I wish that I didn't, but I do.
I said, "I know that what's going on between me and your mom is scary. I just want you to know that we're going to get through this. Your mom and I love each other. We're going to be fine."
"She loves you. I love you, too."
Ben stared at the frozen screen for a little while longer, and then he looked up at me. His little-boy face was smooth and thoughtful. He wasn't stupid; his mom and dad loved him, too, but that hadn't stopped them from getting divorced.
"I had a really good time staying with you. I wish I didn't have to leave."
"Me, too, pal. I'm glad you were here."
Ben smiled, and I smiled back. Funny, how a moment like that could fill a man with hope. I patted his leg.
"Here's the plan: Mom's going to get back soon. We should clean the place so she doesn't think we're pigs, then we should get the grill ready so we're good to go with dinner when she gets home. Burgers okay?"
"Can I finish the game first? The Queen of Blame is about to find Modus."
"Sure. How about you take her out onto the deck? She's pretty loud."
I went back into the kitchen, and Ben took the Queen and her breasts outside. Even that far away, I heard her clearly. "Your face is pizza!" Then her victim shrieked in pain.
I should have heard more. I should have listened even harder.
Less than three minutes later, Lucy called from her car. It was twenty-two minutes after four. I had just taken the hamburger meat from my refrigerator.
I said, "Hey. Where are you?"
"Long Beach. Traffic's good, so I'm making great time. How are you guys holding up?"
Lucy Chenier was a legal commentator for a local television station. Before that, she had practiced civil law in Baton Rouge, which is what she was doing when we met. Her voice still held the hint of a French-Louisiana accent, but you had to listen closely to hear it. She had been in San Diego covering a trial.
"We're good. I'm getting hamburgers together for when you get here."
"He was feeling low today, but we talked. He's better now. He misses you."
We fell into a silence that lasted too long. Lucy had phoned every night, and we laughed well enough, but our exchanges felt incomplete though we tried to pretend they weren't.
It wasn't easy being hooked up with the World's Greatest Detective.
Finally, I said, "I missed you."
"I missed you, too. It's been a long week. Hamburgers sound really good. Cheeseburgers. With lots of pickles."
She sounded tired. But she also sounded as if she was smiling.
"I think we can manage that. I got your pickle for ya right here."
Lucy laughed. I'm the World's Funniest Detective, too.
She said, "How can I pass up an offer like that?"
"You want to speak with Ben? He just went outside."
"That's all right. Tell him that I'm on my way and that I love him, and then you can tell yourself that I love you, too."
Excerpted from The Last Detective by Robert Crais Copyright© 2003 by Robert Crais. Excerpted by permission of Doubleday, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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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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