"Really? But, Champ, that's marvelous! How many does she speak?"
"Oh, a dozen or so," said Marlene carelessly. "I can't keep track. And I suppose if I'd been a real nurturing mom, like, for example, the Mrs. Maxwell who's always being thrown in my face, I could have focused on her gift and got her past the thinking she was some kind of freak. But, given my chosen profession, she's had kind of a rough time of it, and I think she harbors resentment."
"You mean because you're a lawyer?"
Marlene looked sideways at her companion. "I'm not exactly a lawyer, Shans. Oh, right, you're not in the city anymore, so you wouldn't know."
"I wouldn't know? What, you're famous?"
"Infamous, actually. I run a security service for women who're being stalked. You know those vet ads where they say 'practice restricted to large animals'? Well, my practice is restricted to women in serious danger of getting killed. Keep walking, Shanahan, and don't goggle at me. Anyway, as a result of this, the loved ones sometimes get testy and go for me. Or Lucy. To make a long story short, she's been involved in a couple of shootings, she's been kidnapped twice, and I've had to shoot some bad guys, once right in front of Lucy. That doesn't count the clients who've decided to shoot the loved ones rather than be killed themselves."
"Wait a minute, you've actually killed people?"
"Only three. Here's Hoyle's. Still want to drink with me?"
"Are you kidding? Line 'em up! I'm shaking like a leaf."
Hoyle's was three steps down and about thirty feet long, dark and cozy, smelling of Manhattan saloon, with a long, shiny walnut bar, a banquette along one wall, ten round tables, and a tiny stage with a piano at one end. A young woman was playing "Paper Moon" with a lot of nice glissando as they entered and picked out a booth. The place was half full, mostly East Side singles and a few older couples. There were no Sacred Heart girls in evidence, nor were Shanahan and Marlene carded, nor did the waitress raise an eyebrow when, stifling giggles, they ordered French 75s.
Oiled by the confiding atmosphere of the boîte, and half-pints of low-end champagne spiked with shots of cognac, and her genuine delight in finding her old friend, Marlene found herself talking about her more memorable cases in some detail, which she rarely did, and the occasional celebrity-protection jobs she had taken under the auspices of Osborne, a local security firm. She dropped some substantial names. It was nice having an appreciative audience; most of Marlene's near-and-dear did not approve of any of this.
Which prompted the obvious question. "What does your husband think of what you do?" asked Shanahan, after the tale of a particularly naughty caper. "Christ, I don't even know who you married. Or is he still around?"
"Oh, he's around all right. His name's Roger Karp. We call him Butch. He's the chief assistant district attorney for New York County."
Shanahan burst into laughter. "You're shooting people and running guns to women and you're married to the DA? Champ, only you! How do you carry it off?"
"Not very well, from time to time." Marlene gestured to the waitress for another round. "There's tension, of course. The way we work it is, he doesn't ask questions, and I try not to rub his face in it too much. But you can figure it hasn't done Lucy any good."
"Yeah, but at least you're still together. What's he like, Butch? God, nobody's a Butch anymore. Isn't it sort of a turn-of-the-century name?"
"Well, yeah, but he's sort of a turn-of-the-century guy. Very different from the guys I hung out with back then, by the way. You'll recall I went for crazy Irishmen with swimming-pool eyes and tight little bodies."
Marlene cried out and covered her face. "Oh, Christ, how could you! Do you realize the mental energy I have devoted over the years to forgetting that jerk? And now I have to start all over again."
Copyright © 2000 by Robert K. Tannenbaum
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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