N Is For Noose Page 65

’’Your smile's already white.’’

’’Suppose I end up preferring the taste of this one. There's no harm in trying something new,’’ he said.

’’Here's one for shampoo. You get one free if you buy before April First. Only one per customer and I've got mine already, so I kept this for you if you're interested.’’

’’Thanks. You do this in addition to the store coupons?’’

’’Well, yes, but this takes a lot more patience. Sometimes it takes as long as two to three months, but then you get a nice big check. Fifteen bucks once. Like found money. You'd be surprised how quickly it adds up.’’

’’I'll bet.’’ I took a sip of my tea.

Henry passed me another ragged pile of clippings. ’’When you finish that batch, you can start on these.’’

’’I don't mean to sound petty,’’ I said, bringing the conversation around to my concerns, ’’but honestly, Rosie paid more attention to those rowdies than she did to us last night. It didn't hurt my feelings so much as piss me off.’’

Henry seemed to smile to himself. ’’Aren't you overstating your case?’’

’’Well, it may be too strong a term, but you get my point. Henry, how much children's aspirin do you take these days? I counted fifteen of these.’’

’’I donate the extras to charity. Speaking of pain relievers, how's your hand?’’

’’Good. Much better. It hardly hurts,’’ I said. ’’I take it Rosie's attitude doesn't bother you.’’

’’Rosie's Rosie. She's never going to change. If it bugs you, tell her. Don't complain to me.’’

’’Oh right. I see. You want me to take the point.’’

’’Battle of the Titans. I'd like to see that,’’ he remarked.

At six, I left Henry's, stopping by my apartment to pick up my umbrella and a jacket. Once again, the rain had eased off, but the cold saturated the air, making me grateful to step into the tavern. Rosie's was quiet, the air scented with the pungent smell of cauliflower, onions, garlic, bacon, and simmering beef. There were two patrons sitting in a booth, but I could see they'd been served. The occasional clink of flatware on china was the only sound I heard.

Rosie was sitting at the bar by herself, absorbed in the evening paper, which was open in front of her. A small television set was turned on at the far end of the bar, the sound muted. There was no sign of William and I realized if I was going to catch her, this would be my only chance. I could feel my heart thump. My bravery seldom extends to interactions of this kind. I pulled out the stool next to hers and perched. ’’Something smells good.’’

’’Lot of somethings,’’ she said. ’’I got William fixing deep-fried cauliflower with sour cream sauce. Also hot pickled beef, and beef tongue with tomato sauce.’’

’’My favorite,’’ I said dryly.

Behind us, the door opened and a foursome came in, admitting a rush of cold air before the door banged shut again. Rosie eased down off her stool and moved across the room to greet them, playing hostess for once. The door opened again and Colleen Sellers was suddenly standing in the entrance. What was she doing here? So much for my confrontation with Rosie. Maybe Colleen had decided to give me some help.

’’I don't even know what I'm doing here,’’ she said, glumly. Her blond hair drooped with the damp and her glasses had fogged over from the heat in the place.

’’Talking about Tom.’’

’’I guess.’’

’’You want to tell me the rest of it?’’

’’There's nothing much to tell.’’

We were seated in the back booth I usually claim as my own. I'd poured her a glass of wine that was now sitting in front of her untouched. She removed her glasses, holding them by the frames while she pulled a paper napkin from the dispenser and cleaned the lenses in a way that made me worry she was scratching them. Without the glasses, she looked vulnerable, the misery palpable in the air between us.

’’When did you first meet him?’’

’’At a conference up in Redding a year ago. He was there by himself. I never did meet his wife. She didn't like to come with him, or at least that's what I heard. I gathered she was a bit of a pain in the ass. Not that he ever admitted it, but other people said as much. I don't know what her gig was. He always spoke of her like she was some kind of goddess.’’ She pushed her hair back from her face and tucked it behind her ears in a style that wasn't flattering. She put on her glasses again and I could see smears on the lenses.

’’Did you meet by chance or by design?’’

Colleen rolled her eyes and a weary smile played around her mouth. ’’I can see where you're headed, but okay... I'll bite. I knew he was going to be there and I looked him up. How's that?’’

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