Let Sleeping Dogs Lie
For the unsung, everyday heroes who often put their own lives on hold to care for a loved one in need.
HALFWAY TO HALF WAY
ONCE A THIEF
AHEAD OF THE GAME
IN HOT PURSUIT
WEST OF BLISS
NORTH OF CLEVER
SOUTH OF SANITY
EAST OF PECULIAR
Once upon a time I was four feet ten inches tall, like my character, Dina Wexler. I even have vague recollections of climbing up the kitchen cabinets to plunder Mom's stash of Brach's milk chocolate stars and brushing my teeth with my chin hovering a skosh above the basin.
A now-five-seven adult's memories of a time when much of the world was beyond my reach and everyone was literally looked up to weren't enough. Huge thanks go to Veda Boyd Jones and Mary Guccione for insights on the grown-up and short-statureds' daily frustrations and creative adaptations and the fact that larger than life has everything to do with heart and nothing to do with height. I am in their debt and stand forever in their shade.
Thanks also to John Bragdon, consumer assistant at Jacuzzi, Inc., in Dallas, Texas, for product information critical to my homicide scenario. Darrell L. Moore, Greene County (Missouri) Prosecuting Attorney, keeps the legalities straight and factual, and lets me pick up the lunch tab once in a while. Pat LoBrutto, dear friend and opera buff, filled in on the finer points of
and sang a few bars of an aria on the phone. Without Jean Edwards, Comair customer service representative at the Springfield-Branson (Missouri) Regional Airport, I'd have flubbed my plot-oriented flight plans six ways of Sunday. The mythical Park City, Missouri, has several more connections elsewhere than available in fact, but the beauty of fiction is getting the basics right and taking it from there.
Lara Hyde and Mary-Margaret Scrimger at MIRA Books were excellent, devoted editorial glitch finders; any remaining are mine. A hearty salute also to Robin Rue, Writers House, LLC, for the past twentysomething books. Thank you, team. You
As does Dave Ellingsworth. One day, maybe I'll find the words to tell him how lucky I am to be his wife, best friend and forever partner in real life.
w, c'mon, Cherise. Be reasonable." Jack McPhee's lips pulled back in a grimace. The heel of the hand not holding the telephone receiver clunked his temple. Too little, as recriminations went, and definitely a couple of words too late.
"Be reasonable" was number nineteen on the list of sixty-two things to never say to a woman. Any woman, whether you were dating her, sleeping with her, married to her, called her Mom or she knew "the usual" was Chivas on the rocks with a twist.
Therefore, it was hardly a surprise when Cherise Taylor's normally dulcet drawl could have etched granite. "So," she said, "it'sun
reasonable for me to be upset about being stood up for dinner. Again."
"No, no, of course it isn't," Jack said, tired of reciting dialogue from a familiar script and the revolving cast of leading ladies. Any second now, she'd say
"We haven't seen each other since Thursday at lunch."
"When I told you I had an out-of-town job to take care of." An off-the-books, expenses-only one for a friend, Jack might have added, but what was the point?
"Yeah, and I stayed home all weekend, in case you called." A derisive snort, then a plaintive, "You've heard about floors clean enough to eat off of? You could take out somebody's spleen on mine."
Jack tapped a pencil end over end on the desk blotter. He'd flown to Seattle by way of Dallas and Denver, logged twelve hours' sleep in seventy-two and the majority of those after he fell into his own bed last night. "If I'd had a chance to call," he said, "and you weren't home, I'd have tried your cell phone. If you didn't answer, I'd have left a voice mail."
"Oh? Then it's my fault I was bored out of my mind all weekend."
Pretty much, he thought. A bit harsh, maybe, but before he came along, Cherise volunteered on Saturdays at a library teaching English as a second language. Sundays, she'd meet her married sisters for a girls'-day-out brunch, then hit the flea markets, catch a chick flick or zip north to Kansas City to shop at malls identical to those in Park City.
Sniffling now, Cherise went on, "And you don't even remember what day this is, do you?"
The obvious trick question disqualified Monday as the correct answer. Jack's eyes cut to his page-a-day calendar. July 7 was blank, apart from a sticky note to remind him to drop his suit at the cleaners before the bloodstains set.
"Who cares if tonight's our anniversary?"Sniff-sniffle.
"No big deal."
Jack pulled away the receiver, examining the sound holes as if the pattern would reveal what the hell she was talking about. Anniversaries commemorated wars, major battles, natural and unnatural disasters and wedding ceremonies. None of those applied, yet all of a sudden, the commonality seemed oddly significant.
"For six months, I've put up with your weird hours. With dates canceled at the last minute and knowing your mind's anywhere but on me sometimes when weare
together. But have I complained? Uh-uh. Not even once."
I wish you had, Jack thought. Repeatedly and often.
On a shelf above the microwave at his apartment was a framed sampler that read: "The lower the expectations, the higher the probability a man will tunnel under them." His ex-wife had cross-stitched it and given it to him for a divorce present. Whether she'd coined the phrase, or copped it from Gloria Steinem, a louse with good intentions should have it tattooed on his forehead.
"I'm sorry, Cherise," he said. "I really am."
A lengthy silence acknowledged the subtext. "Me, too." Cherise's sigh implied a middle-distance stare at the ceiling, select memories scrolling behind her eyes, her head shaking in futility. The image skewed somewhat at her muttered, "Honesty in a relationship, my ass."
Jack scowled. "Hey, now wait a sec. Ihave
been honest with you. A hundred percent from the first time we went out."
"Sure you were," she agreed. "But how was I supposed toknow
His mouth fell open. Bereft of an intelligible response, he raked his fingers through his hair and wondered if a lapsed Episcopalian was eligible for the priesthood.
"First date," she said. "Between the beer course and the pizza, I asked you to describe the perfect woman. I expected the usual answersJulia Roberts, Angelina Jolie, Salma Hayek. If you'd said your mother, I wouldn't have stuck around for the cinnamon bread."
Jack could do worse than a gal like the one who'd married dear old Dad. And had more times than he cared to count. "For the record, my mom's a wonderful woman, but not exactly my type."
"I gathered that when you said 'The perfect woman for any man doesn't confuse supportive with taking his crap and making excuses for him.'" Cherise laughed. "Ten points for creativity, but you really didn't expect me to believe it, did you?"
Actually, he had. For one, it was the truth. Plain, simple, straightforward. For another
He didn't have another. Couldn't imagine why he'd need it. "Look, I"
okay? Let's leave it at we had fun, it's over, no hard feelings, time to move on." Cherise hesitated a moment, her voice somber, the drawl more pronounced. "I'm gonna miss you, though."
Jack nodded, as if she were seated across the desk, not downtown in a triwalled cubicle with less square footage than a municipal jail cell. "Same here, kid," he said, curbing the impulse to suggest a fresh start.
Barring dual amnesia, there was no such thing as a mulligan in a relationship. Jack's crazy uncle George once owned a beater Oldsmobile that wouldn't shift out of Reverse, but for most people, going backward to go forward was a dumb idea.
Cherise knew that as well as he did. "Let's leave it" was code for "Goodbyes hurt, but we aren't in love and in like isn't enough for the long haul." Still, the handset's glowing redial button dared Jack to ask her forgiveness. To give him a second chance at being the dependable, thoughtful guy she deserved.
Uh-huh. Sure. He docked the phone. And while he was at it, he'd learn Parsi, buy season tickets to the opera and take up water polo.
* * *
By noon, Park City Florist would have delivered the half-dozen pink carnations Jack sent to Cherise's cubicle. Figuring she'd understand the quantity, but not the symbolism in their color, he'd asked the clerk to write "I'll never forget you" on the card. Although sincere, his latest failed romance was the last thing on his mind as he cruised by the Midwest Inn's guest entrance.
The three-story, stucco-clad motel was situated on a backfilled knoll facing I-44's prime business interchange. From the air, the building was shaped like a capital M with a swimming pool puddled between its legs. Tourists seldom traveled through southwest Missouri in helicopters, so the snazzy architecture was wasted on pigeons, drive-time traffic reporters and the local hang gliders' club.
The all but deserted rear parking lot angled in concert with the M's ascender points. Jack knew the checkout time was 11:00 a.m., and check-ins were prohibited before 3:00 p.m. The black Lexus sedan and a forest-green minivan parked several discretionary spaces apart credenced the adage about rules being made to be broken. Or at least bent, in exchange for the folded fifty-dollar bills Jack had slipped to the desk clerk. Two President Grants was the agreed-upon bribe for the clerk to call Jack's cell phone with Mr. and Mrs. Smith's room number and precise location.
He pulled in beside the Lexus and lowered his side window. It was risky to forgo tailing his quarry to the motel, but he sensed he'd been spotted at last Friday's rendezvous at a Best Western across town. The rapid metallic ticks emanating from the Lexus's engine confirmed the greedy desk clerk's ETA.