Spell Blind – Snippet 08

“No,” I said. “Leaving the force almost killed me. I was a cop for six years, eight months.” I tried to keep my smile from turning bitter, but I’m not sure I succeeded. “I can give you the weeks and days if you want them. It’s lousy work most of the time. You keep bad hours, you get paid next to nothing, and you see things that . . .” I shook my head. “That no one should have to see.” I shrugged again. “And I loved every minute of it.”

“Why?” she asked, making no effort to hide her bewilderment.

“Because I was helping people. Because when Kona and I were working a case, it was like we were solving a puzzle, putting each piece where it belonged, watching as a picture emerged. I liked that.”

“Still, the bad stuff: Doesn’t it get to you after a while?”

“It’s part of the job. You live with it.” I sipped my coffee. “Besides, every job has its share of crap to deal with. Being a reporter — a journalist,” I corrected, using her word. “It can’t be all flowers and sunshine, right?”

“Oh, it’s not. Especially running my own site. It took ages to establish an audience, to get my writers, to get enough advertisers that I could make some money. It was easy to forget that I was a reporter.”

“And now you get to interview guys like Randolph Deegan.”

She smiled. “Deegan was nothing. I’ve interviewed the President.”

I couldn’t help but be impressed. “Really?”

“Really. The President,” she said, counting on her fingers. “The Prime Minister of Great Britain, the Prime Minister of Israel, the Chancellor of Germany, the Russian Premier. There are others who I’m forgetting. I know I’ve interviewed at least eight heads of state.”

“So was I your toughest interview?”

“You wish!”

She had a great smile and a better laugh, and I was content to spend the next hour just talking to her, listening as she described her work. I had to admit that it was far more interesting than I’d expected. Partly — mostly — because of the way she lit up as she spoke. It was her passion, and as she explained all of what she did — the interviews and the writing, the management of her site and its reporters — I began to understand how she could be so jazzed about what I’d always dismissed as nothing more than “the news.” She and her reporters were doing investigative work, too; they were detectives like I was. When she’d finished, I said this, and she seemed to like the idea of it. A lot.

“Do you really believe that?” she asked.

“I do. See that?” I said. “I bet you didn’t think we’d have this much in common.”

She eyed me, still smiling. “No, I didn’t.”

Cops don’t tend to be romantics. We see too much crap on the job — too many killings, too much abuse, too many kids whose lives have been ruined by violence or drugs or sex. It doesn’t leave a lot of room for dreams of romance. This isn’t to say that cops don’t fall in love and get married and all the rest. Of course we do. But Hollywood romance? No. I might not have been a cop anymore, but the job had left its mark on me. Add in that I was the son of a crazy old weremyste and was on my way to becoming one myself, that I’d lost my mom way too early, and that I’d been forced to quit the one job I’d ever loved doing, and I was about the least romantic person I knew.

But in that moment, sitting across from Billie Castle, watching her watch me, I would have done it all to win her over: the flowers, the candlelit dinners. Hell, I would have taken her dancing, if that’s what it took. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d been with someone. I don’t mean for a night. That was easy enough to find, if you knew where to look. I’m talking about something serious, something that makes you think about the future.

How weird is that? Twenty-four hours ago I thought she was the most annoying person I’d ever met. An hour ago we were fighting. And here I was getting way ahead of myself. Thinking about it, I realized it wasn’t weird so much as stupid. But that didn’t stop me from opening my mouth again.

I glanced at my watch. Five thirty. “I know it’s a little early,” I said. “But would you like to get some dinner?”

She opened her mouth to reply, her forehead wrinkling a little, and I knew before she said a word that she was going to turn me down.

But at that moment I heard a voice — a man’s voice, of course — call out, “Billie!”

She peered past me, I turned.

He was tall, handsome in a nerdy sort of way. Straight, fine brown hair, parted on the side, dark-rimmed glasses that resembled hers so much it was a little scary. Blue eyes, square chin, blah, blah, blah. He was your basic nightmare in a tweed jacket and jeans. Forced to guess, I would have said that he was a professor at the university. My first thought — after who the hell is this? — was that he had to be every bit as smart as she was, which meant he was way smarter than me. I. Whatever.

I turned back to Billie, and was glad to see that she appeared mortified.

“I’m sorry,” Professor Stud said. “Am I interrupting?” He had stopped a few feet from the table and was eyeing me with a kind of proprietary concern. It’s times like these when I find it dangerous to carry a weapon. The temptation to use it is too strong. But I was good.

I could tell that Billie was gearing up for introductions, and I wanted no part of that. I’m sure her friend was a great guy; intelligent, friendly, articulate. I didn’t want to know about it. I didn’t want to know his name. I didn’t want to find out that he had a solid handshake and a winning smile. In this case, ignorance really was bliss.

When faced with an untenable situation, beat a quick and graceful retreat.

I stood. “Thank you, Miss Castle,” I said in my best Dick Tracy voice. “If you think of anything else, feel free to call me.”

She didn’t say anything. After a few seconds, she nodded.

I stepped away from the table, nodded once to Billie’s friend, and left, hoping to God that I didn’t trip over someone’s bag or try to push the door open when I was supposed to pull it.

See? This is why cops and PIs aren’t romantics. Because we know what the real world is like. And in the real world, these things never work out the way you want them to.