Friday, March 9, 2012

Friday Shorts - Part 2 of "By Any Other Name"

Will Dan agree to Justin's request? Read on!


“Do you mind if we talk about something other than work for a little while?” Denise’s melodic alto sounded weary and frustrated. “I’m starting to believe the gods of irony are punishing me for something.”

Dan smiled, but kept his eyes on the road. The hours of driving across monotonous prairie landscape was enough to make him want to change subject as well, but curiosity won out. “What do you find ironic? Didn’t you expect your first trial to be . . . well, a trial?”

“This case isn’t the sort of thing they taught in law school. The defense attorneys in mock trials didn’t try to dismiss your case because an officer didn’t check a map to see in which county the car was stopped.”

There wasn’t much he could do other than shrug in agreement. “No, but I’ve seen stranger things. It’s all part of the game. This case is probably the best learning experience you could get this early in your career. Sometimes, I wish my first few cases had been awful. But I wound up with unrealistic expectations because everything dropped neatly into place right out of the gate. That first bad case was a real shock.”

She turned her head and moved her body slightly under the seatbelt so she could look at him. “Really? That’s what I meant by ironic. Everything in my life has been absolutely smooth — the honor roll got me a scholarship and I went straight into a dream job with a D.A. on my first try. But every time I turn around on this stupid, minor drug bust, something goes wrong. I’m constantly terrified that if I step into the bathroom, the whole file will spontaneously burst into flames!”

His light laugh blended nicely with her chuckle and it made him look over at her while they waited at a stop sign at the top of the exit ramp in Burlington. Her hair was so black that it actually had the blue highlights artists add to portraits. Intense green eyes had tiny lines at the edges that said she laughed more than she frowned. He was a little surprised he’d never noticed her in the office before. He knew the name, but when Justin had given him the address to pick her up, he wouldn’t have recognized her if she hadn’t approached him first.

“So besides avoiding bathrooms, what do you do for fun?” He turned onto the overpass and drove past several motels on the way into town. “Oh, and do you want to stop for a late lunch before we visit the D.A.’s office? I presume that even though it’s Saturday, you’ve made arrangements to pick up the box?”

She nodded her head strongly, and pulled a piece of paper from the front pocket of her pants. “Oh yes. Checked, confirmed and re-confirmed. I’m supposed to call the assistant D.A. as soon as we’re ready to pick up the evidence, and he’ll meet us there with a key.” She checked her watch. “Wow! Is it already mid-afternoon? Traffic through Denver slowed us down a lot. Do you think we’ll make it home today?”

Dan waggled his head. “We could try, I suppose. But it would be after dark when we got there. It’s a full moon, so the deer will be out in force once we hit the foothills. If it’s not a problem with you, I think we should consider staying over. Do you know anywhere good to stay or eat here?”

She heaved a sigh. “Not really. I’ve always wanted to come to Burlington, but I’ve never been further east than Denver, even including college.”

What an interesting comment for her to make. “Why have you always wanted to come to Burlington? Is there something special about the town?”

She regarded him with surprise. “Only one of the finest antique carousels in the whole world! It’s featured in every book on the subject. I’d love to see it and one other that’s here in Colorado, but I read they keep them closed up except for a few weeks in summer. It’s pretty much the major claim to fame of the town, except for pretty good hunting, if you’re into that sort of thing.”

He noticed an amused shake of her head as they drove down the quiet main street. “I don’t think we’ll have much choice in either the motel or food selections from what I’m seeing. A real restaurant would be wonderful if you can find one. And as for what I do for fun,” Denise continued, “I doubt I’ll find it here, unless it’s in the magazine section of the grocery. When I’m not reading about carousels, I spend most of my time working puzzles. Jigsaw, crossword, jumble letters, word finds, sculpture puzzles — you name it, I probably have it.”

“Sculpture? You mean the ring and chain puzzles? Yeah, I’m a sucker for those too, along with the wood ones with sliding fasteners.” He flipped on his blinker and pulled into the parking lot of a small buffet-style restaurant. “Justin made the mistake of leaving one on the end table the last time he invited me to dinner. I spent all evening working it and ignored the other guests.”

She laughed brightly as she unbuckled her seat belt. “You mean that one with the criss-crossed wooden bars? Yeah, he had to take it away from me too. I didn’t know you liked puzzles, Mr. McGraw. I thought I was the only weird one in the office.”

Dan slid out of the SUV and stretched his back while Denise got out the other side and did the same. As comfortable as the seats were, it had been a very long drive and he was exhausted. He stepped toward her and offered his arm. “For the fifth time now, Denise, call me either Hawk or Dan. Only judges and defense counsel call me Mr. McGraw.”

She tried to hide it, but he noticed a blush spread across her cheeks as she tentatively slipped her arm into the crook of his.

The sun was still high over the top of the distant mountains, but night would be arriving all too soon. “Well, let’s give your contact a call and then grab an early dinner and find a hotel. Ask if he can give us an hour or so to eat.” Dan pulled a cell phone from his shirt pocket with his free hand, and sighed at the displayed message. “No service. I guess it’ll have to be the pay phone, unless you have a signal.”

He stopped to open the restaurant door and waited until she pulled a metallic blue phone from her lace-edged denim purse. “Nope. Mine’s out too, Mr . . . I mean, Dan. But I’m sure there’s one inside.” She sniffed the air as they walked through the door. “At least the food smells good. That’s something.”

They walked across low pile patterned carpet that was new and seemed clean. But Dan imagined that the swirls of burgundy, blue and green would hide most spills nicely. Denise stopped behind the sign reading, Please Wait to be Seated.

Finally, an older woman in pale blue polyester noticed them. Her whole face lit up in seeming delight as she approached them. “Well, for heaven’s sake!” she exclaimed. “How are you?”

Denise glanced at Dan and shrugged a little bit, because it appeared the woman was addressing her. “Uhm . . . I’m fine, I guess.”

The woman touched her lightly on the arm in a maternal way. “Well, of course you are. I have just the table for you two. It’s nice and quiet so you two can chat. C’mon, right this way.” She picked up a pair of menus from behind the counter and set off at nearly a dead run across the wide expanse of floor, leaving Dan and Denise to stare at each other in confusion for a moment.

“Well, at least the natives are friendly— ” Dan said the words quietly, but was pleased when Denise snickered as they followed the wide blue back through the maze of tables.

... [more next week!]

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