Summer, Part Three
A Solstice story
Start at the beginning of the Solstice series
"Shameless," Kim said with a shy laugh, bringing one slight hand to cover her smile. Once she caught her reflection in the restaurant's window, she lowered her hand, allowing the smile to show. Old habits died hard, but she was determined not to keep herself in check any longer than she had to.
"Yeah." Stephanie MacIntyre shook her head, the corners of her thick lips pulled down. "He's wrapped in a miniskirt and Packers jersey. Weaving, side to side. I pull over, ask the questions - been drinking, been down by the riverfront? Yeah, sure enough. You flash old lady Harrison, I ask him? He blinks.
"I don't know," he says, "I didn't get her name."
"Oh, my Lord." Kim's laugh was brighter now, teeth glinting brightly against the reflected light. "He didn't."
"Yeah. That's before I give him the Miranda, but it doesn't matter. Men," she shook her head. "No clue, no idea. No, thanks." She placed a hand over the wineglass, cutting off the waiter. "I've had enough for tonight."
"Very good, Sheriff."
She glanced at the server, a long-faced man in designer spectacles and thick curls slicked back against his head. "Didn't get your name."
"Oh." He blinked twice, pulling a smile. "It's Cary."
"Cary. Nice to meet you." Her own smile was tight. "Kim, any more for you?"
"No, thank you. Two is my limit, especially if I've got to drive home."
"All right. Thanks, Cary."
"You're welcome, Sheriff. I'll bring the check in a minute."
She watched him walk to the back, waiting to see if he would turn or glance backward. He failed on both counts, walking straight to the registers where a small knot of men and women worked the receipts for a busy Friday evening at Del Norte's Mexican Grill.
"Stephanie? What is it?" Kim leaned across the table, dark eyes anxious. "Did you know him from somewhere?"
"Trying to remember," she grunted. "He knew me. I don't like that."
"He seemed nice enough while he was serving us. Besides, you're the Sheriff. Sometimes people are going to know you. Maybe he works on a board somewhere, or for one of the local politicians? "
"Board members don't wait tables, and Long's the only one who hires outside his family."
"Do you think it's anything to worry about?"
"No . . . not much. Just rather know the ones who know me."
"You could ask Corbin if he knows anything?"
"Could," nodded Stephanie, "but I won't."
"You don't trust him much, either; do you?"
"Long story, but no, not really."
Kim fell silent, toying with her glass. After a moment Stephanie turned back and softened her face into a smile.
"Sorry. Cheers," she said, lifting the last of her wine. "Here's to paranoia."
Kim smiled again, lifting her own glass. "Justified or not."
Cary Schilling walked across the small hospital room, opening the blinds to let sunlight fall across the prone form of Bacchus, still lying in dreams of beaches and unspoiled youth. The constant sound of machinery brought a twitch to Cary's nose, and as he pulled the chair in closer to take up Bacchus' hand he willed his face to stillness.
"So," he said, "I met the new sun last night. It's got to be her, it just has to be. She's beautiful, John. Absolutely beautiful." His quick, rounded eyes went soft with the memory. "She reminds me of home, all golden skin and fine black hair. She's no dresser but I could fix that easily. She drinks red wine. You'd like that.
"But she's hanging around with Sheriff MacIntyre, and I think you know what that means. Long's got her under his thumb and no two ways about it. Hell, if he has his way, I'll bet you two drinks apiece that she doesn't even know what her place here in Solstice means, how much weight she could carry here."
He shifted in his seat, not nervous, but possessed of the kind of restless energy that manifests in constant tics and motion. "There's so much I'd like to see about her, before making up my mind . . . I suppose I have the time, but I don't like her being under MacIntyre's wings. That means she's under her nose as well. And that woman, how she sniffs the wind! Worse than a wildfire and twice as angry. She smelled smoke on my trail, I'm sure of it as the day is long."
He patted the lukewarm, unresponsive hand before him. "Well, I'm for the Cottage tonight. I'll give the regulars your best and the second drink's for you tonight. Keep dreaming pleasant dreams, until you see fit to join us all again."
Cary glanced out the door, then leaned across and planted a gentle kiss on the side of John's mouth. "I'll see you when you do." He stood, laid Bacchus' hand back at his side, straightened his glasses and left the hospital.
Stephanie sat back from her computer, rubbing one freckled hand against her eyes and opening her mouth for a yawn. She'd checked around - Cary Schilling checked out. No warrants, just a short record which included juvenile shoplifting and a few citations for reckless driving. Not long enough to raise a red flag, and not short enough to give the impression of being too clean to be true. According to Jorge, he'd been a decent employee for over two years now.
With a short yowl, Astrid leapt into her lap, and she reached out to scratch the calico's head, rubbing a calloused finger along the graying fur at the side of her nose. "So what is it about him," she growled, "that sets my teeth on edge? Who is he, really, old girl?"
She wished - not for the first time - that the old tree would still give up its answers as easily as it had in the past, in her former life. She'd given a hand once to bind the wicked world, she'd give an eye now to know what force this Schilling represented.
She took a sheet of scrap paper and began to scribble notes. She shook her head, tired, and thrust it into a notebook.
"He's not going to do anything tonight," she muttered. "I'll worry about it come the dawn." She kicked off her slippers and carried Astrid to the twin bed, glancing out the window at the full harvest moon and the shadows it cast across her yard.
Story and image by Ivan Ewert, Copyright 2009