Arbogast grimaced. His turn. “Oh, now it’s the fat jokes? Okay, payback for calling you girly, I guess. We’re even. Just so you know, though, I don’t even like doughnuts. My downfall is a good fried egg sandwich with two bacon strips, washed down with a pint of milk.”
She nodded. “Fair enough. Truce. What I want is this. I want you, personally, to go through the place that was burglarized with me. Nothing more, nothing less, and no report of our visit filed with your department.”
He leaned back, considering. Too much to hope she was offering a cash payment for his services, but then again, money had never been his primary motivation. “Has the place been rented out yet? To a new tenant? I presume you know.”
“I do. And no, it hasn’t.”
“You wouldn’t be friends with the landlord, would you?”
“Privileged information, officer.”
Homer sighed. He was going to do it, obviously. He’d have to go in plain clothes, not that any one of his cops on the beat who spotted him could possibly miss recognizing his vast bulk. Or maybe they wouldn’t; the Sling Sleazer was all too accurate with her observation that a lot of police officers were brain dead. What was that first name? He should have written it down right away. Toyota? Toya? No…Corolla. Corolla. He cocked a bushy white eyebrow in her direction. Prematurely white, no indication of age. Ran in his family.
“Corolla, I’ll do it if you’ll answer one question honestly and truthfully.”
“Why me? There are officers in the department with higher rank, not to mention dozens of beat cops you could have easily razzled and dazzled. Why pick on this poor ol’ fat desk sergeant?”
“Nice try, Homer.” She laughed out loud, a sound he realized he liked a lot even when it was aimed at him.
“The hayseed act. You’re a Princeton grad, top five percent of your class.”
“Yeah, right. In English Lit.”
“Exactly. You use your mind and always have.”
“Oh, Lord deliver me.” He groaned in mock agony. “It’s those blasted essays, eh?”
“Yup.” She grinned, a cat dipping a canary in a bowl of fresh cream. “The Essential Liberty Series. You’re famous.”
He snorted derisively. “They couldn’t have sold more than five hundred copies! Oh, woe is me. I’ll never outlive them, will I?”
“Probably not,” she agreed. “They may just live on after you like Thomas Paine’s Common Sense or Herbert Ruud’s The Jovian Blessing.
Hoisted on his own pen point. Well, it looked like he had it to do. The little jaunt to the former safe shack would have to be made in daylight to avoid looking suspicious on the face of the thing. On a day he had off, for the same reason…and at an hour when it seemed least likely a beat cop would be around to notice. In EC, especially in the warrens, that meant….
“How about 8:00 a.m. on Sunday? Plenty of church traffic for cover and too early for the rest of our boys in blue to pay much attention.” In his precinct, anyway. Unless something big was going down, and being the Frog, he’d know if there was.
“Homey is fine. We’re conspirators together now, I guess. You obviously checked me out enough to know I’m curious as any cat. But before I key us back to Level Two on the board, I’ve gotta know. Where’d you get the name Nails? Because you’re tough as nails, or what?”
“That’s the usual first guess.”
“But off base?”
“Not even in the ball park. When I was about three or four, at least according to my Dad, I’d get this voice when I wanted something I couldn’t have. He says it sounded like fingernails on a blackboard.”
“Let me guess. You still have the voice, and I’m in one piece because I gave you what you wanted?”
“That’s for me to know and you to find out, Homey. Or not. Either way, I don’t mind being called Nails except when we’re out on that little expedition on Sunday. Not really interested in somebody figuring out who I am ahead of time. I pick you up?”
Why not? He had no wife, so jealousy wasn’t an issue. Nor was it like she couldn’t find him any time she wanted. Besides, maybe being seen with a stunning brunette would improve his stock at the local Singles Mingle.
After she left, he sat thinking for some time. The Essential Liberty Series. He’d penned the first of those essays more than fifteen years earlier. People with strict views from any position–left, right, or center–tended to love some of what he said while hating the remainder…which usually resulted in their hating the entire lot on general principles. Only a rare independent thinker could respond rationally without becoming upset.
Most importantly, those writings had thoroughly inflamed his childhood Southern Baptist Church. The clergy had liked portions of his stands on states rights, railed against his pro choice view on abortion, and come completely unglued over his presentation portraying karma and reincarnation as viable concepts. He’d made history of a sort. The Church had actually quit praying for him and kicked him out, he scared its elders that badly.
It had been a painful time. Series One of the essays had been completed and published, yet he could not make himself sign the open contract for Series Two that sat hopefully waiting on his home desk. With church attendance no longer a part of his life, using church traffic to cover a clandestine operation was about all he had left. Still…maybe he could start writing again. Astounding what a bit of interest from a pretty girl could do to a man. His mind might know full well he was being used to get her what she wanted, that the chance of a young woman like her actually finding him attractive underneath all those years of wear and tear plus a hundred pound covering of lard…nah. Snowball in a hot spot.
But that didn’t really matter, did it? The brain could know everything, yet it made no difference at all. Because testosterone had a mind of its own, and right now….
A giant fat-tailed Frog with turbocharged testosterone. The image struck him as hilarious. Frog Arbogast out on the town with Nails Hendrix. Frog and Nails. Frog nails Nails. Now, there would be a headline. Not even the tabloids would touch that one. Still, one thing was certain. Sunday was coming right around, and the Frog was going to help a definitely dangerous journalist dig around under one of his personal lily pads. Sniff the pond scum, they would. Count the algae. Dredge up sludge. See what seed might have been dropped by a former Seeder.
In the meantime, he thought maybe for supper he’d walk the two miles from his apartment to the Railway Restaurant. And back. Could he still walk two miles? Slowly, maybe. Very slowly. Did she know he’d actually been a varsity athlete at Princeton in three separate sports?
Did it matter?
He forced himself to think about really important things like making sure he fed the cat when he got home and changed the litter before going out. Sheba, his long haired feline, usually slept in bed with him. Right now, he was thinking unfaithful thoughts. A human bedmate would be nice. Maybe not even even a stunner like Nails Hendrix. A lesser woman, perhaps. One of the waittresses from the Railway seemed pretty friendly.
It had after all been a long time since Nora’s death. Maybe it was time to shed a little flab. Yes, he knew he was being used. It just didn’t matter. Didn’t matter at all.