“Not happy to see me, Counselor?” The almost warm, lazy alto, emerald/hazel play in the large, wide-set eyes. He felt blood creep up his neck, and he held his breath again, this time letting it out silently, through his nose.
“Depends, Jamie. The emotions are still in conference.”
A corner of her mouth twitched. “You remembered,” she said.
“You make an impression. Still being Moriarty?”
She shrugged “Good as any. More cachet than ‘Blow’.”
Blow allowed a snort. “I can’t disagree. More literary, certainly.”
“More literary?” She made what sounded to be genuine laughter. Blow grinned. “What can I do for you, Deputy? By the way, Connie’s made sergeant. Might wanna upgrade that uniform.”
“Well then, someone coming along here might think she’s been demoted. You better let me get in your truck.”
Blow paused a second, then nodded. While she walked around to the passenger side he took his briefcase from the seat and put it behind the backrest. She opened the door and climbed in, bringing with her an elusive mix of feminine aromas that drew his memory back to the only time they’d physically touched. He felt his heartbeat quicken. A flick of tongue moistened his lips. His mind whirled into overdrive. He knew it was his turn to speak but was seized with a sudden doubt his tongue, larynx and mind were in sync. He inhaled and decided to try anyway, turning his face toward her and hailing a reprise of his ill-used acting skills. He managed to get halfway through the word I’m, which came out sounding as if he was clearing his throat, before she cut him off.
“I know you’re on your way to the jail, Boo Boo.” She paused to stare at him and smirk at the surprise that froze his face. “To see the Morowitz boy.”
Blow stared back, concentrating on the eyes, fighting to keep his anger from taking control. She winked. He kept his face deadpan. “You gonna tell me which pair of shorts I’m wearing?”
“The camera in your bedroom isn’t working.”
“I had them all removed.”
“Oh, Blow, where’s your sense of humor?”
“What, so I should clown for you? Do you think I’m funny? How am I funny--”
“Better be careful, I’m the one with the gun. And, frankly my dear, you’re no Joe Pesci. You’re good, but not that good. I know you’re going to see Morowitz because I’m an interested party. I just wanted to tell you the kid didn’t do it. He shot his little twenty-two at a tree he thought was a ninja and then he laid down in the weeds and cried his ass off until one of the neighbors called nine-one-one. okay?”
“Why else would I put this silly suit on and pull you over in the middle of nowhere, even though as you know I’m partial to redheads and am really curious to see which shorts you are wearing? Oh shit.”
Blow’s eyes had been distracted momentarily by the bulge in her tan uniform blouse, and he was trying to decide if she’d gone all the way and was wearing a protective vest. He looked up now and saw through the windshield a spectral figure moving toward the truck. The figure was of medium height with dark glasses shielding the top half of its face and something white over the lower half. White hair spilled down from a dark baseball cap and disappeared below the neck into the white of what looked to be a terrycloth bathrobe. Pale bare legs protruded from the robe’s hem into strapped sandals that kicked up puffs of dust as they shuffled along the gravel. One hand held a tall cream-colored cup from which, as the figure drew near, Blow saw an occasional tendril twist up and disperse in the morning breeze. The figure stopped short of Blow’s window, lifted the steaming cup to its lips, and sipped loudly.
“Hello! Welcome to Patmos Evangelical! Y’all are welcome to join us for breakfast.” The figure took another sip and lowered the cup, then added, “The coffee came out perfect this morning!” The voice, sounding scratchy, might have been a baritone. That and, with the lowered cup, which gave Blow a clear view of the face’s hirsute lower half, removed any reasonable doubt as to the figure’s gender—birth or choice. When Blow just stared, saying nothing, the man dipped his head toward the open window. The scratchy voice spoke again, several words, but all that registered with Blow was the word “pastor.” The gold inscription on the baseball cap had distracted him. Jump Jackson, it said.
“Did you know him?” Blow pointed at the cap. “Antwan?” he added. The head nodded slowly a couple of times, and the voice that emerged from pale lips behind the mustache and beard was softer than before. “I was his chaplain in Mecklenburg.”
“Could you excuse us, Rev. Kirschbaum? We were in the middle of something here, running against the clock, you know. The gentleman has an appointment.”
The pastor tipped his sunglasses up and craned his neck to see who was speaking. “Oh, hello, officer. Afraid I didn’t see you in there with Mr. Stone. I apologize for the interruption, but y’all are welcome at Patmos Evangelical any time. Any old time. Somebody’s always here.” He waited a moment, and when no one responded he stepped back, raised his free hand in a friendly salute and said, “Well, then y’all have a blessed day, both y’all. God bless.” Blow and the woman calling herself Jamie Moriarty watched the bathrobed pastor shuffle toward his church, holding the cup of coffee in front of him, sandals scuffing up a trail of dust. They stayed silent until he reached a side door, turned and gave them another wave, and was gone.
Blow broke the silence. “You know him?”
“This guy. The pastor. You knew his name.”
“You didn’t? He knew yours.”
“That’s ‘cause I’m famous. I never saw this guy before. I thought it was Jesus coming to save me. From you.”
Blow watched her face for a reaction. Nothing. “Maybe he did. I was just about to--” She put a hand over her mouth, averted her eyes.
“What? About to what?”
She spoke into her hand, muffling the words, then erupted into spasms, shaking, head and shoulders. “Oh, Blow. I get so silly around you.”
“That’s very flattering, Jamie. But I’m still curious how you knew his name. I’m the local guy. If I didn’t know it—well of course then you know everything, but still. You scare me.”
“It’s what I do, Blow. I love scaring people. But just to ease your mind, for now, I knew his name because he introduced himself.”
Blow’s face crimped enough to betray his confused retreat into memory.
“Just now,” she added. “He was right in your face. You didn’t hear him?”
“I heard the ‘pastor’ but missed the rest. Kirschbaum, huh? That’s embarrassing.”
“Kirschbaum? What’s embarrassing about Kirschbaum?”
“That I missed it. Completely. Guess I wasn’t paying attention. Distracted by that damned baseball cap. But anyway, much as I’m thrilled by your company, can we wrap this up? I’m already late.”
Her voice changed, lost its playfulness. “Sure, Counselor. Once they do the ballistics on the slugs that killed those kids, they’ll bump the on-deck up to the box. And he’ll be a tough one. I want you to represent him.”
Blow nodded thoughtfully.
“He’s a friend. A good friend.”
They locked eyes. Blow let his lower lip drop. “Uh huh.”
“He didn’t do it either.”
“You still have that retainer?”
“Yes, ma’am. Every cent, as you most likely know.”
She nodded, smiled. “I’ll be in touch. Don’t leave town.”
She reached across the center console and gave his thigh a quick pat, then opened the door and climbed out. Blow waited until her car was on the road before he started his truck. Her teasing scent, emboldened by the indelible vision of shiny aqua fingernails, rode with him the rest of the way.