I parked my car in the lot and pushed into the place, scanning the few patrons for someone who fit his description. He'd indicated he was six foot two and movie-star handsome, but then he'd snorted with laughter, which led me to believe otherwise. He'd said he'd watch the door for my arrival. I spotted a guy, who raised a hand in greeting and beckoned me to his booth. His face was a big, ruddy square, his sunburn extending into the V of his open-collared denim work shirt. He wore his dark hair combed straight back and I could see the indentation at his temples where he'd removed the baseball cap now sitting on the table next to him. He had a wide nose, drooping upper lids and bags under his eyes. I could see the scattering of whiskers he'd missed during his morning shave. His shoulders were beefy and his forearms looked thick where he had his sleeves rolled up. He'd removed a dark brown wind breaker that now lay neatly folded over the back of the booth.
"Mr. Rich? Kinsey Millhone. How are you?" We shook hands across the table and I could tell he was sizing me up with the same attention to detail I'd just lavished on him.
"Make it Teddy. Not bad. I appreciate your coming." He glanced at his watch as I slid in across from him. "Unfortunately I only got maybe fifteen, twenty minutes before I have to take off. I apologize for the squeeze, but right after we spoke, I hadda call from some guy down in Thousand Oaks needs an estimate on his roof."
"You're a roofer?"
"By trade." He reached in his pants pocket. "Lemme pass you my card in case you need somethin' done." He took out a slim Naugahyde case and removed a stack of business cards. "My speciality is new roofs and repairs."
"What else is there?"
"Hey, I can do anything you need. Hot mops, tear offs, torch downs, all types of shake, composition, slate, clay tile, you name it. Corrective and preventative is my area of expertise. I could give you a deal...let's say, ten percent off if you call this month. What kind of house you in?"
"So maybe you got a landlord needs some roof work done. Go ahead and keep that. Take as many as you want." He offered me a handful of cards, fanned out face down like he was about to do a magic trick.
I took one and examined it. The card bore his name, telephone number, and a post office box. His company was called Overhead Roofing, the letters forming a wide inverted V like ridge line of a roof. His company motto was: We do all types of roofing.
"Catchy," I remarked.
He'd been watching for my reaction, his expression serious. "I just had those made. Came up with the name myself. Used to be Ted's Roofs. You know, simple, basic, something of a personal touch. I could have said 'Rich Roofs,' but that might have gave the wrong impression. I was in business ten years, but then the drought came along and the market dried up--"
"So to speak," I put in.
He smiled, showing a small gap between his two front lower teeth. "Hey, that's good. I like your sense of humor. You'll appreciate this one. Couple years without rain and people start to take a roof for granite. Get it? Granite...like the rock?"
I said, "That's funny."
"Anyways, I've had a hell of a time. I hadda shut down altogether and file bankruptcy. My wife up and left me, the dog died, and then my truck got sideswiped. I was screwed big time. Now we got some bad weather coming in, I figured I'd start fresh. Overhead Roofing is a kind of play on words."
"Really," I said. "What about the storage space business? Where did that come from?"
"I figured I hadda do something when the roofing trade fell in. 'As it were,'" he added with a wink at me. "I decided to try salvage. I had some cash tucked away the wife and the creditors didn't know about so I used that to get started. Takes five or six thousand if you want to do it right. I got hosed once or twice, but otherwise I been doing pretty good, even if I do say so myself" He caught the waitress's attention and held his coffee cup in the air with a glance back at me. "Can I buy you a cup of coffee?"
Copyright Sue Grafton. Excerpted with the permission of the publisher - Henry Holt
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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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