The young lady gave him a scrunchy face. “What sort of a badge?” Sip.
Their brief conversation had already swung around to their jobs. Her hazel eyes held steady on him, expecting a reply. He knew before saying it she’d get disgusted and walk away.
“My name is Xavier Jarvis or just Wes for short. I’m a cop. I investigate death scenes.”
Sip. “Oh. Well. C.S.I. stuff.”
“Not exactly. My scenes are processed long after C.S.I. ever does their work.”
Sip. She switched on a different look: Christ, this is like pulling teeth. Or maybe she didn’t care. But Wes felt led to offer a more complete explanation.
“My squad — there are four of us — are called in whenever a corpse turns up.”
This time she didn’t sip coffee from the cup. Wes supposed the image of a putrefying corpse had formed in her mind. It was never a pretty picture. Wes knew what she’d asked before her lips moved — they always brought up the same question.
Wes gave her the nuts and bolts. “We process the death scene to determine if the decedent is a homicide or died from natural or accidental causes. If it’s the latter, we move on. If it’s the former, we call in the Homicide detectives.”
“Accidental like suicides?”
Wes nodded. Their conversation was petering out. Talk of “The Job” always dampened any romantic sparks he’d ever felt since his wife’s passing the previous year. Then the young lady hit him with an unexpected cliché.
“I guess it’s a dirty job, but somebody has to do it.”
“The glamour quota is rock-bottom, yeah. I can’t say I enjoy my work or you’d turn on your heels and leave, thinking I’m a creep, or something worse.”
She smiled in an open way only ladies that young can do. “You seem pretty sure of what I’d do. But then again, I might shock you.”
Is she flirting with me? thought Wes. Do my rusty antennae pick up the right vibes? He moved to fill the awkward silence growing between them. “That’d be hard to do. I’ve seen a lot.”
“Uh-huh. Then let’s go to a dinner and a movie.”
Wes’ recovery was a quick laugh — the wiser, older man’s laugh.
“I’m old enough to be grandfather.”
“Ever heard of Viagra, gramps?”
At this point, Wes wasn’t clear if she was messing with his head, or what. But he startled at feeling a familiar tingle. “Aw, quit teasing me, or I might blow out a heart valve.”
She laughed and he liked hearing it. “Are you slumming in here today?”
Wes gave a casual shrug. “Could be. This week I’m burning some vacation time.”
“Use it or lose it? Your vacation time, I mean.”
Wes didn’t react to her double entendre. “That and I needed some down time. My lieutenant ordered me to get lost. Go trout fishing and clear my head, she told me.”
“Do you ever fish?”
“Not even once. But I got her message. So here I am.” West gazed around them. The early morning hadn’t yet filled the lobby with the shouts from the coffee drinkers.
She checked her wristwatch. “Damn, I’m running late again.”
Concerned, Wes threw off his languor. “Sorry. Just tell your boss a cop stopped you.”
She lost her smile fast. “My boss has heard enough about me and cops.”
“Why is that?”
“Because my dad is a cop. Or rather he was.” She paused at the tough part. “I’m late to Davies Funeral Home. They told me to bring my checkbook. Can you believe the nerve of some people?”
“Sorry for your loss,” said Wes, usually a platitude but now spoken in gruff words from the heart. “Was he killed on the job?”
Her face clouded over and rained a few tears on her high cheekbones. “He made the rookie mistake of going into a bank lobby dressed in his uniform. A robbery was in progress.” She paused again.
“You don’t have to tell me this.”
She went on. “One of the perps freaked and pumped two slugs into his chest.”
His sympathy, a groundswell roiling up from his guts, was instant. In his job, he seldom had to break the bad news to the next of kin, so his people skills weren’t the smoothest. She got up from their table and lurched toward the door. Then as if an afterthought, she turned, this smile just scratched on above her quivery chin.
“Thanks for your condolences.”
“Don’t forget your coffee,” Wes told her. “My treat, the least I can do for your lousy morning.”
“That’s okay. I should break the expensive habit anyway. Besides coffee won’t cut it for me this morning.”
“Uh-huh.” He wanted to console her maybe with a hug but that might not be so PC.
“Nice meeting you,” she said, shouldering her way out the door.
He watched her climb into an older model SUV and drive off into the rain. A pang told West that he wanted to know her better. The trouble was he didn’t even know her name so he followed his cop instincts.
“The attractive brunette I was talking to, do you know her, Paul?” Wes asked the squat counterman about his age, give or take, and wearing a coffee-splotched necktie. They’d spoken before on occasion.
Paul stabbed the cash register’s keypad, all but ignoring Wes. “Why? You want to go hit on her again?”
Self-righteous people, especially from Wes’ demographic (WASP, 50s), pissed him off, even if their accusations were right on. He decided to strong-arm Paul to get the wanted information. Wes’ shield slapped out on the countertop. Paul’s eyes flitted down before regarding Wes again.
“All right, no need for any trouble.” Paul gazed off to the door. “What’s on your mind?”
“That sounds better. Who was that young, attractive brunette?”
“Tina. Tina Suarez. She usually comes in here at noon.”
“And . . .”
“I can’t help you more, sorry. Her name was on her MasterCard. That’s all I know.”
Paul turned and walked away, leaving Wes more than a little intrigued about Tina Suarez.