Witt Kepler, private eye, has been talked into having dinner with his neighbor, Mrs. Peabody. Her daughter, Dr. Carolyn Peabody, who also happened to be Witt’s psychologist for just one appointment, is also there. Witt smells a mealtime set-up, with marriage being the intended dessert course. The private eye tells the story this week.
“The meat loaf looks wonderful, Mrs. Peabody. You really shouldn’t have gone to all this trouble.”
“Nonsense, Mister Kepler. You worked hard all day, as did my Carolyn. You both deserve a treat. Anyway, it gives me a purpose, keeps me busy. Idle hands, as they say.”
Idle hands? Man, I hope I’m not in the devil’s workshop, but if Mrs. P is happy – and will still watch my dog, Lord Melvin, then I guess I really can’t complain. And the meatloaf? Well, I hate to admit it, but it is good.
Damn. Carolyn is giving me a look. No one is eating except me. Faux pas number one goes to Witt Kepler. I’m a winner!
Mrs. Peabody graciously turns away, pretending she didn’t see me shoving a hunk of meatloaf into my mouth. “Carolyn, would you like to say grace?”
As she speaks, I am already thanking God. Thanking Him I did not have to offer a grace, since this ritual wasn’t something I grew up with. At least Carolyn’s was short.
I do manage to make it through the entrée course. One left, dessert, and then I can collect my pooch and get out of here. The small talk is just that – small. Carolyn doesn’t want to speak much on her work. Too many privacy laws, she says. I explain how the mystic crown was going to be switched and how the diamonds in the real crown turn blue when near the Norsemen’s kingdom. Makes for a thrilling little tale, and both women are happy that, in the end, Vetski seems to have left town. But they have no idea how touch and go it was. I left out the gunplay.
I can smell the pie crust. Warm, slightly toasty but not burnt. I guess my love of good food will win out over my entrapment by the neighborly matchmaker. If only the woman across the table would stop looking at me. It’s like she is reading my soul. And that book, baby, isn’t for checkout.
“Would you like some vanilla ice cream with your pie, Mister Kepler?”
Before I can answer, my shadow interjected.
“I don’t think Witt takes ice cream with his pie. He seems to be a straight ahead, pie on the plate kind of guy. Ice cream will just make the texture soft, and good heavens – a private eye like Witt Kepler does not want to be soft. Do you, Witt?”
She has a point.
“You know, maybe I’ll try ice cream just this once.” Of course, Carolyn is right, I really dodn’t care for ice cream on pie, but I can’t let her know. Why ask for more trouble?
She’s giving me a smirk. We both know the game being played here.
Dinner is finally over. I instinctively reach for my old Zippo.
“Oh, Mister Kepler. We don’t smoke in this house. If you must, please go out on the porch in back.”
“Sorry, Mrs. P. Force of habit, I guess.”
“May I see that lighter?” Carolyn extends her hand, palm outstretched.
I have very few personal possessions that are, well, personal. This lighter is one of them. It was a gift I haven’t let anyone hold. Ever.
“Please? I’ll give it back. I just want to see the artwork.”
Damn. Now I have two women giving me the look.
“Here. It’s just an old lighter.”
“Thanks, Witt. I like the engraving. This must be special. Looks like an red arrowhead with some stars. and a number one and an eight. Fairly worn though. Hard to see all the detail. What does this logo mean? Do you know?”
“Not really. Like I said, it’s just an old lighter.” For a professional liar, I suck right now.
The swoosh of a waging tail and the mantra of my puppy’s panting tongue is unmistakable. My buddy, Lord Melvin, comes charging into the room, skidding on his furry paws, unable to stop gracefully on the hard wood floor. With one jump, the quadra-ped is on my lap, front paws on my shoulder blade, pink tongue slobbering up and down my cheek.
“Aw, he missed you today! Man’s best friend, right here.” Mrs. Peabody has a big smile on her face, watching me and my dog.
“He’s always good for a hug, that’s for sure. Thanks again for watching him while I was gone.”
“Anytime at all, neighbor. Did you want to take some pie for the long trip across the driveway?”
Carolyn stands up. “I’ll put a slice in a Tupperware for you. Back in a sec.”
At least I am on the fast track to get back home. The dinner was nice, but it is no secret that Mrs. P wants to set me up with her daughter. Again. And I think neither one of us wants that to happen. But Ineed to be nice to my neighbor, and as for Carolyn, well, it’s her mom. She probably feels just as trapped as I do.
As we part ways for the evening, Carolyn motions for me to stop.
“Look, thanks for playing along tonight. My mother means well. Sometimes she can just be a little…pushy, I guess.”
“It’s alright. I should probably introduce her to my partner. I bet they would get along fabulously.”
“Let’s not complicate matters. You have no idea how many times a week she calls me with the perfect man. But that’s my problem, not yours. “
“Well, she is a nice lady. And be glad you have her, I lost mine years ago.”
“I figured as much. Sorry.”
“It’s alright. It’s been a long time. I’ve moved on.”
“Yeah, so I see. Listen, I know our first session wasn’t exactly a monument to successful communication, but if you ever want to talk – professionally speaking of course, I will always find time for you.”
“Thanks. But for now, I’m good. I’ll let you know if things change.”
“Good. You do that. Oh, and by the way, about the smoking. Think about this – we both know you smoke as a crutch for something else. When you are ready to lose that crutch and stop smoking, I can help. Your dad would have wanted you to stop already.”
Damn. How does she know about my dad? What does she know about my dad?
“Yeah. Well, I’ll keep that in mind. Listen, thanks for everything. We’ll get together sometime, for sure, but I need to get some sleep. Early day tomorrow down at the DA’s office.”
“Good night, Witt. Think about what I said, will you?”
I can’t get to my front door fast enough.