When the doorbell rang, Abe had just settled in his bath with his book of crossword puzzles. On the floor in reserve, if he so desired, lay last Sunday’s Tribune Magazine.
It couldn’t be Todd with the kids. Barry had a key. Unless he forgot or lost it Lieberman got out of the tub, dried himself quickly, and put on his blue terry cloth robe. The doorbell rang insistently. He slipped on his battered slippers, a Hanukkah gift from Maish and Yetta, and hurried into the hall, across the dining and living rooms to the front door. The bell was ringing as he opened the door and found himself facing Rabbi Nathanson and a small woman. A fine rain was falling and the woman was wincing as if each drop was an acid assault.
“See,” said the Camel triumphantly, “I told you. He’s here. Lieberman, we have to talk.”
With that, the rabbi and the woman, who looked a bit like a sparrow, pushed past Abe Lieberman. Abe had no choice but to close the door and turn to his guests, who were already choosing their places at the dining room table.
‘This is my wife, Leah,” said Rabbi Nathanson, holding out his long arm in the woman’s direction.
She smiled politely at Lieberman.
“Rabbi, this is a bad time,” said Lieberman, still standing and rapidly coming to the conclusion that anytime the Camel appeared at his house was going to be a bad time.
“A minute, a minute only,” the rabbi said, removing the yarmulke from his head so that he could run a broad palm over his moist hair. “Even the Lord gave Joshua a minute.
Even the great Rabbi Eleazar could always spare a minute for anyone who sought his counsel or his company.”
The rabbi’s coat was partly open now and Lieberman could see that he was hi his pajamas.
“I don’t want to be rude, Mrs. Nathanson,” Lieberman said, avoiding the open chair near the table. “But I’ve had a long day and as you can see…,” he said, looking down at his robe and slippers.
“You are a policeman,” said Nathanson with a knowing nod of his head. “The stories you must have. The things you must have seen. We live in a world of chaos, in a time of violence. We need, our people need, salvation and comfort in the word of our God.”
“Amen,” Mrs. Nathanson said dutifully.
“Amen,” said Lieberman. “Now, Rabbi, if you-“
“I wanted Leah to see this house, this perfect house, and I wanted to urge you to cash the check I gave you. Every day we delay is a day further from the realization of a new home, a much-needed home, for my congregation and my family.”
“Rabbi,” Lieberman said. “I have to talk to my lawyer.”
“Why?” asked the rabbi, looking at his wife, who had no answer. “I’ll pay your price. My wife will have no other house.”
Mrs. Nathanson was, for the first time, looking around the room, at the walls, into the semidark living room, toward the closed door of the kitchen.
The sound of a key in the front door gave Rabbi Nathanson no pause.
‘To be homeless is a curse of our people, Lieberman. Delay creates anxiety. Anxiety results in neglect of one’s duties and places a burden on those we love and who depend upon us.”
Lieberman’s grandchildren, Barry, approaching thirteen, and Melisa, eight, stepped in with their father, Todd Cresswell, behind them.
Mrs. Nathanson smiled at the trio. The rabbi didn’t seem to notice their arrival.
“Lieberman, who knows?” he said intently, leaning toward Abe, who stood dripping before him. “Who knows how much time God has given us for the work we are to do on this troubled earth? Do we delay over the obstacles of civilization heaped high with distrust?’ “Rabbi, Mrs. Nathanson,” said Lieberman, “this is my son-in-law Todd and my grandchildren, Barry and Melisa.”
“We saw Beethoven’s Second,” said Melisa, who, Lieberman thought, looked exactly like her mother at the age of eight. Serious, studious, suspicious.
Todd, tall, with a handsome, lopsided face, cornstalk-straight hair, and rimless glasses, nodded at the Nathansons. Barry, who closely resembled his father, looked at Abe for an explanation of the presence of the night visitor in pajamas.
“Rabbi Nathanson and his wife are interested in buying the house,” Abe explained.
Todd, whose hair was a rain-scattered mess, nodded and said, “Lisa’s…?” Todd began looking toward the kitchen.
“Working late,” Lieberman said.
“Do not pain a hungry heart,” Rabbi Nathanson went on. “And do not anger a man who is in want. Do not increase the troubles of a mind that is incensed. And do not put off giving to a man who is in need. Make yourself beloved in the congregation, and bow your head to a great personage. Listen to what a poor man has to say and give him a peaceful and gentle answer.”
“Rescue a man who is being wronged from the hand of the wrongdoer, and do not be fainthearted about giving your judgment,” Todd said, looking at Lieberman.
Rabbi Nathanson turned in his chair to face the challenging presence of Todd Cresswell.
“The Wisdom of Sirach from the Apocrypha,” explained Todd. “The rabbi left out a line.”
“Todd’s a classics professor at Northwestern,” Lieberman explained. “Cresswell’s his name. Greek tragedy’s his game.”
“The Apocrypha was written in Greek,” Todd explained to Barry as if the assembled adults all knew this already.
“It’s part of the Greek version of the original Jewish Bible. The parts not included in the final, accepted version of the Hebrew Bible are called the Apocrypha, the hidden or secret books.”
“Your father was a rabbi?” asked Rabbi Nathanson.
“My father was a Methodist minister in Dayton, Ohio,” said Todd.
Rabbi Nathanson, truly perplexed, looked to Lieberman for explanation and, finding none, said, “Lieberman, I must press you for a decision.”
“Saint Bernards drool a lot. Even in movies. Can I have some ice cream?” Melisa said.
“Yes,” said Lieberman.
“I’ll get some too,” said Barry.
Melisa and Barry hugged their father and hurried into the kitchen, closing the door behind them.
Todd made no move to leave, so Lieberman said, “Todd and I have some things to discuss. So…”
“Open ye the gates, that the righteous nation that keepeth faithfulness may enter in,” said Rabbi Nathanson.
“Isaiah,” said Todd. “Houses clear in their right are given children in all loveliness.”
“Numbers?” tried an obviously challenged Rabbi Nathanson.
“Aeschylus,” said Todd. “Agamemnon.”
“Rov,” said Lieberman, “I think you’ve been outquoted.”
“Ira, let’s go home,” Mrs. Nathanson said, rising and moving around the table to touch the arm of her husband, who was desperately searching his memory for a quote- Maimonides, Eleazar, the Talmud, Franklin Roosevelt. Nothing came. He rose, and his wife reached up to button his coat.
“We’ll talk tomorrow,” Rabbi Nathanson said as his wife led him to the door.
Lieberman followed, moving past Todd. He opened the door and ushered the Nathansons out into the drizzle. The tall, gangly rabbi stepped down the concrete steps, and his wife turned to whisper quickly to Lieberman.
“I’m so sorry. Ira has been… distraught.”
“Leah,” the rabbi called, moving down the narrow cement path toward the street.
Mrs. Nathanson turned and hurried to join her husband as gentle thunder echoed far away. Lieberman closed the door and turned back to Todd Cresswell, who was still facing the dining room.
“I was in the bath, Todd,” Lieberman said, moving into the dining room to face his son-in-law.
“I’m sorry,” Todd said. “Abe, I’m… I’m agreeing to the divorce.”
Lieberman shook his head. Beyond the closed kitchen door Barry and Melisa were arguing about something.
“This doesn’t surprise me,” Lieberman said.
“I didn’t think it would. By nature all men are shy and…”
“No,” Lieberman said, holding up both hands. “No Sophocles.”
“I was going to quote Euripides.”
“No Greeks,” said Lieberman. “I’m having a long night You want to marry…?”
“Faye,” Todd said softly, glancing at the kitchen door. “Yes.”
Lieberman nodded. He had met Faye Cunningham once when Todd had picked up the kids for a weekend. She was, as Lieberman remembered, a good-looking dark woman with an honest smile and large teeth. She was definitely older than Todd, and though Lieberman had been prepared to dislike her, he had found her pleasant and obviously in love with Todd.
“Abe, Lisa and I are too much alike,” Todd said.
“I know,” Abe agreed. “It’s a curse. It doesn’t work if you’re too much alike or too different from each other. The answer is somewhere in between.”
“You’re joking,” said Todd, adjusting his glasses. “I’m serious.”
“I’m dripping. You’re serious.”
The kitchen door flew open.
Barry was holding a plastic bottle of Hershey’s chocolate syrup over his head. Melisa was trying to reach it.
“Mom says she shouldn’t have chocolate at night,” Bany said. “It makes her wild and abstract.”
“Grandpa,” Melisa pleaded. “The ice cream needs chocolate sauce. It’s vanilla.”
“A little chocolate sauce, Barry,” Lieberman said. “Vanilla ice cream without chocolate sauce is a tragedy.”
“OK,” said Barry, handing his sister the bottle. “It’s your call, but if she goes nuts, you tell Mom.”
“I’ll tell your mother,” Lieberman agreed and the two children disappeared into the kitchen.
“They acted as if I were already gone,” said Todd, adjusting his glasses.
“I like Faye,” said Lieberman.
“Lisa and I are both tragedy,” said Todd. “You understand? Faye is comedy.”
“I understand,” said Lieberman.
Lieberman had admitted it to no one but himself that Todd was, indeed, better off without Lisa. Though she was his own daughter, there was an air of martyred despair and seriousness about her that definitely came from generations lost in antiquity and the farmlands north of Kiev from which both Lieberman’s and Bess’s grandparents had come.
“Talk to Lisa, yes,” Lieberman agreed.
“And then I’ll talk to her. I promise,” said Todd, allowing himself to be ushered toward the door.
“I believe you,” said Lieberman, opening the front door.
“Remember, Abe, it was Lisa who wanted some freedom, who walked out with the kids.”
“I absolve you, Todd. Go forth into the world and live a life of goodwill and self-fulfillment.”
“Abe, don’t-” he began, opening the front door.
“I’m sorry, Todd. I’m tired. I’m hungry for a dozen Ritz crackers covered with chopped liver. I want to shave in a hot tub and do a crossword puzzle. I want ‘The Henry Morgan Show’ to return to radio. I want a new stomach, new knees, and everything to be the way it was in 1958. Is that too much to ask?”
“It can’t be,” said Todd.
“I know. Good night. I’ll talk to Lisa.”
Todd nodded, adjusted his glasses, plunged his hands into the pockets of his denim jacket, and hurried into the night. It was raining harder now.
He found them at the kitchen table working on white icecream mountains covered with syrupy chocolate. Abe Lieberman longed to join them.
“Can I count on you two to clean up and go to bed reasonably clean?”
“Can we watch television for an hour?” Melisa said, her nose dotted with chocolate. “I have no trouble waking up in the morning. You know that.”
Barry looked at the ceiling, making it clear that he would not join this debate.
“One hour,” Lieberman agreed. “You both watch the same thing. Upstairs. In bed. No fights. You hear your mother and the lights go out before she catches you. Deal?”
“Deal,” Melisa said.
“She’ll tell,” said Barry.
“I won’t,” Melisa insisted, jabbing her spoon into the softening mound of ice cream and chocolate.
“We’ll see,” said Barry, looking exactly like his father.
“I’m getting back in my bath. Good night,” said Lieberman.
“Don’t see Beethoven’s Second, Grandpa,” Melisa said as he went out the door. “It sucks.”
There were lights on in the Rozier house-not a lot of lights, but enough to suggest that the grieving Harvey Rozier was not swooning in bed a few minutes before ten.
There were no private security men on the door.
Hanrahan knew why he didn’t like Rozier. The man was arrogant and his grief a fraud. That didn’t make him guilty of killing his wife or hiring someone to do it. Many unlik-able people are innocent just as many a murderer is a decent individual. Still, Bill Hanrahan did not like Harvey Rozier.
He rang (he bell. A chime echoed. Pause. He rang again and heard footsteps coming down the stairs. Then the door opened and Harvey Rozier, barefoot, in pale jeans and a red Chicago Bulls sweatshirt, was glaring at the policeman at his door.
“You didn’t ask who I was before you opened the door,” Hanrahan said.
“You’re right,” Rozier said with irritation.
“Don’t want to take chances,” said Hanrahan.
“I’ll be more careful,” said Rozier.
“You know who I am?”
“One of the policemen who came mis morning. Detective Lieberman’s partner. I’m sorry, I don’t remember your-“
“Hanrahan, Detective William Hanrahan. Mind if I come in?”
“What’s happened?” asked Rozier.
“A few questions. I’ll be fast.”
“Who is it, Harvey?” came a woman’s voice from inside the house.
“A policeman, Betty,” Rozier answered, and then, to Hanrahan, “The Franklins won’t let me stay here alone.”
“Good friends to have,” Hanrahan said, stepping past Rozier into the hallway.
Mrs. Franklin, her white hair cut in a perfect cap and wearing an appropriate black dress, stepped out of the living room just to the left of the hall.
“This is Detective Hanrahan, Betty,” Rozier said. “He has some questions. You’ve met Mr. Franklin. This is his wife.”
The woman was a bookend match for the tall lawyer Hanrahan and Lieberman had dealt with that morning. Tall, distant, and annoyed.
“I’ll call Ken,” she said, moving to the phone on an antique table against the wall.
“Let Ken get some rest,” Rozier said. “I’m sure I can answer Detective Hanrahan’s questions without my attorney.”
“Couldn’t this have waited till the morning?” Mrs. Franklin asked. “Harvey’s been through-“
“I’ll be quick,” said Hanrahan. “I thought you’d be pleased that we’re putting in late hours trying to find the person who murdered your wife.”
Rozier nodded, brushed his hair back, and motioned toward the living room. Hanrahan followed, with Mrs. Franklin behind him to be sure he didn’t pocket some valued bric-a-brac.
The Rozier living room was right out of one of those movies about French kings two hundred years ago. Dark wood, fading but light fabric with twining vines and flowers. Sideboards and sofas with spindly legs, and paintings on the wall of dogs and deep woods.
Neither Rozier nor Mrs. Franklin sat.
“Ipecac,” said Hanrahan. “You have ipecac in the house?”
“Ipa…?” Rozier began, looking puzzled.
“The stuff you use to induce vomiting when you’ve accidentally swallowed something poisonous,” explained Hanrahan.
Rozier should have known that. They weren’t dealing with some esoteric drug here.
“Yes, of course,” Rozier said, suddenly understanding. “I’m sorry. A little surprised. I don’t think we have any ipecac. Why…?”
“Your wife had more than a trace of ipecac in her stomach.”
“Why on earth would Dana… T Betty Franklin said, clenching her hands.
“That makes no sense,” Rozier said, sitting on one of the old French chairs. “Why would she take ipecac?”
“Maybe she didn’t,” said Hanrahan. “Maybe someone gave it to her.”
“What?” cried Betty Franklin. “Why would anyone give Dana something to make her throw up?”
“Who knows?” Hanrahan said, his eyes never leaving Rozier. “Maybe someone wanted her sick and at home last night. Maybe she knew the killer who planned to murder her.”
“That’s insane,” said Betty Franklin. “Why would anyone want to murder Dana?”
“Somebody did,” said Harvey Rozier. “Go on, Mr. Hanrahan.”
“Mind if I check around, see if we turn this ipecac up?”
“Can’t it wait till tomorrow?” asked Rozier. “Or Betty and I can look and let you know-“
Something in Hawaiian’s eyes stopped Rozier cold with the knowledge that the policeman suspected him. But there was no reason to suspect him. It was a technique. That was all. Everyone’s guilty of something. Keep the witnesses, suspects, and victims on edge. Harvey had employed the same technique with clients and business enemies. When Lieberman had chiseled at his alibi this morning, it was no more than Harvey had expected. It took only an occasional look at the ten o’clock news to know that the spouse who survived a murder was the prime suspect and very often the murderer. It was a situation he had anticipated and prepared for.
“I see,” said Rozier.
“See what?” demanded Betty Franklin, moving to a table and removing a cigarette from a dark enameled box.
“I’m a suspect,” said Harvey, smiling up at her.
Now that she had something to do with her hands, Betty Franklin was a bit more calm.
“I’m calling Ken,” she said, moving toward an old-fashioned phone on an end table near Rozier.
“No, Betty,” he said, moving quickly to her side and putting his hand over the phone to stop her from calling her husband. “Detective Hanrahan is just doing his job. He suspects me. He suspects Ken. He suspects you.”
Mrs. Franklin sat in a chair across from Rozier, played with the cigarette in her fingers, and looked up.
“That is absurd,” she said. “We were at the recital. You saw me. You saw Ken. And we saw you.”
“You saw each other the entire night?” Hanrahan said. “I’m just trying to eliminate even the slightest suspicion, you understand.”
“Why not check with the ushers or Mrs. Gabriel?” Rozier asked. “Someone must have seen…”
“We checked,” said Hanrahan. “No one noticed if any of you left the concert hall.”
“We glanced at Harvey frequently,” Mrs. Franklin said with indignation. “We knew he was concerned about Dana and we wanted to be ready to leave if Harvey wished to do so.”
“And I will vouch for the Franklins,” said Harvey, “but I think Detective Hanrahan is considering the possibility of an accomplice actually killing Dana.”
“Maybe two accomplices,” said Hanrahan. “There were two sets of unidentified footprints in Mrs. Rozier’s blood. One set led to the broken dining room window and down the driveway. The other set led to the back door and disappeared. Strange. The killers go in different directions and one seems to have taken off his shoes at the back door.”
There was little that could be called distraught in Rozier. In fact, Hanrahan felt that the man was reassessing him, considering what the proper response should be. There wasn’t a type Hanrahan had not seen in his more than twenty years as a Chicago cop. A pause. Rozier decided.
“Please, go look for the ipecac,” he said, rising, his voice quivering just slightly. “And please be quick. And please go out and find the person or persons who killed Dana. And please do not come ringing my doorbell at night without calling first.”
“Can’t you see the man is in agony?” Betty Franklin said to the policeman.
“Yes, ma’am,” Bill Hanrahan said, but he felt that he was watching a man pretending to be in agony. “Now, if we can… T “I’ll go with you,” Rozier said, meeting Hanrahan’s eyes and making it clear that no underpaid policeman was going to wander unattended through his house. “Betty, please stay here.”
Betty Franklin had placed the cigarette in her mouth but hadn’t lit it. Rozier touched her shoulder to reassure her and handed her a lighter, which she accepted with a nervous nod.
Less than three minutes later Hanrahan had found the small bottle in Dana Rozier’s dressing table. Hanrahan took a zippered sandwich bag from his pocket and slipped it around the bottle, easing it inside the plastic without touching the bottle.
“You don’t mind if I take this, do you?”
“No,” said Rozier, arms folded, watching. “Why would Dana keep something like that?”
Hanrahan pocketed the bottle and shrugged.
“Bulimia, fear of being poisoned-who knows? I’ve heard the damnedest reasons for the damnedest things.”
“Are we finished?” Rozier asked.
“We are,” said Hanrahan, looking around the tastefully antiqued bedroom. “Just one more question.”
“Ask your question, Detective. And then go find Dana’s killer.”
“You didn’t find a box, something about this wide and mis long, on the floor in the kitchen before the police got here?” Hanrahan said, moving his hands to show the approximate size of the object that had been outlined in Dana Rozier’s blood. “I mean after your wife died and before the police came.”
The puzzled look came almost instantly but not quite fast enough. Hanrahan was sure he saw a tic of something, maybe fear, in the face of Harvey Rozier.
“No,” he said. “Why?”
Hanrahan shrugged and didn’t answer. He turned away from Rozier, looked around the room, and then walked slowly out with Rozier behind him.
At the bottom of the stairs, Mrs. Franklin was standing in the hallway, nervously smoking as she waited.
“Well?” she asked.
“We found the ipecac,” said Harvey Rozier, coming down the stairs. “Did you know that Dana had this? Or why?”
“No,” said Betty Franklin.
“Sorry to have bothered you,” Hanrahan said, meeting Rozier’s eyes and extending a hand.
They both knew that Hanrahan was not in the least sorry.
They shook like gentlemen and the policeman let himself out ‘I’m going to ask Kenneth to complain about mat man,” Betty Franklin said, putting out her cigarette and glaring at the door. “You should be getting rest, not harassment”
“He’s doing his job,” said Rozier, stepping toward her.
“He could do it more politely,” she said. “They can’t find Dana’s killer so they intrude on you. I think you’ve had enough for one day. Harvey, you should go to bed.”
“I agree,” he said with a yawn, “but on one condition.”
“That you come to bed with me,” he said.
Betty Franklin moved into his arms and opened her mouth to his kiss.
Hanrahan drove and listened to the radio. Late-night meaningless talk. All-night meaningless talk. A voice in the night as he drove. He couldn’t bring himself to turn on the radio at home, but in the car he would listen to almost any voice in the night.
It was still early, not much past eleven, and there were thoughts, feelings that didn’t want to be named, that wanted to swim in the numb of amber Scotch.
Ten minutes later he stood in front of the Blue Parrot Lounge on Broadway, no more than five blocks from the Rogers Park Station. Hanrahan didn’t know where the sweat began and the rain took over. He stood in the near cover of the overhang before the entrance, a soothing neon-red-and-gold rinse on his skin, the smell of ribs from Wesley’s across the street and in front of him, beyond the familiar door, the sound of rhythm vibrating without melody from the jukebox.
Bill Hanrahan rubbed his eyes. The neighborhood stank and was getting worse, but only one ignorant hold-up man had made the mistake of stepping through the double doors and pulling a third-rate piece from his pocket. That was four years ago. It had taken the gunman only a second look to realize that he had screwed up royally. The place was stacked with cops, all of them looking like cops, a few of them in open-collared uniforms. By then it was too late and the gunman, whose name was Robert Jefferson Davis Jointz, had taken three bullets in the leg and one in the right chest, taking out his lung. Jointz was now breathing heavy and doing time in Stateville.
Memories of the Blue Parrot, its smell, its soothing brown lights with promises of Silver Bullets over the bar, returned fast and sharp. Hanrahan pushed open the doors and stepped inside.
The music sounded no better inside, some raspy-voiced wailer from the sixties. Elvis, the Everly Brothers, Cree-dence Clearwater, and early Johnny Cash would be along in a minute or an hour.
In the booth near the jukebox, Applegate and Acardo, Black and White, were arguing. Applegate’s finger was in his partner’s face. Both held partly filled glasses protectively.
Ernie Cadwell was at the bar talking to a woman from Vice whose name Hanrahan couldn’t remember.
“William,” a voice called over the whant-waink-thud of the guitar and drum from the glowing jukebox.
Nestor Briggs was in the booth beyond the arguing Acardo and Applegate. Nestor was holding up a stein of beer and waving at Hanrahan. Hanrahan made his way past three full tables of people, most of whom were cops, almost all of whom he recognized. Nothing had changed.
Nestor was alone. Hanrahan slid in across from him and a woman with enormous breasts, frizzy blond hair, and the serious look of a priestess appeared almost immediately.
“What’ll it be tonight, Irish?” Ramona asked.
As if he hadn’t been gone for almost half a year. She hadn’t noticed the six months that had seemed a life sentence to hard time.
Hanrahan looked at the table.
“You want a beer, William?” asked Nestor Briggs, leaning toward him. “A beer ain’t drinking.”
Hanrahan nodded and Ramona drifted toward the bar.
“Reminds me of an old Irish story,” Hanrahan said, looking around the familiar room, the photographs of dead cops on die wall, the autographed photograph of Jim McMahon on the wall over the jukebox, and the other autographed photo of old Bill Nicholson over die bar, complete with the old Cubs uniform and a loopy grin.
“It seems that Doyle Murphy left the town of Galway when he was a poor boy of seventeen determined to make his fortune in Australia and return to Galway in triumph. The years passed and Doyle worked his way up from dock hand to shore boss to union steward to labor to minister of labor and the boards of four major shipping companies. He was rich and, hi the right circles in Sydney and Perth, famous.”
“A success story,” said Nestor, rubbing his sweating bald brow. “Here’s to him.”
Nestor raised his glass of Scotch and melted rocks and toasted Doyle Murphy of Galway.
“More to the story,” Hanrahan said as the pause between jukebox records was filled with Applegate at the next table bellowing, “… and I say he was holding two full Ks if he had an ounce.” Then Elvis, familiar, sad, belted, “It’s now or never.”
“Doyle took the boat home and then a train, and on a summer’s night almost fifty years after he had left Galway,” said Hanrahan, nodding to Ramona, who had returned to place a full, cool stein before him, “he stepped off the train, set down his suitcase, and looked down the platform, where an old man was moving slowly toward him. When the old man was half a dozen feet from Doyle, Doyle recognized him as his boyhood friend Conan Frazier. ‘Doyle,’ says Conan, ‘is mat you?’ ‘It is,’ said Doyle, standing tall in his handmade silk suit. ‘Well,’ said Conan, ‘I see you got your suitcase. Where are you off to then?’ “
Nestor Briggs took his drink from his lips and looked puzzled. Hanrahan looked down at his beer and put his big hands around it.
“I think I’m back in Galway,” he said.
“I heard you were riding the wagon, William,” Briggs said.
“Well… I tell you, Nestor, it’s hard to go home to an empty house. It’s hard to be a saint. It’s hard to lie to yourself and not believe your lies.”
“… our love won’t wait,” Elvis belted.
“I know,” said Briggs, shoving an almost empty blue bowl of nachos in front of Hanrahan. “Truth is,” he went on, lowering his voice and biting his lower lip, “I live right around the corner, you know, and the only thing waiting up for me is my dog. You know why I’m whispering? You a Catholic?”
“Yeah,” said Hanrahan.
“I hate the fucking dog, hate him,” Nestor Briggs confessed. “I pretend I like him and maybe some ways I do, but he’s old and he farts and I have to walk him and feed him and be home with him. When my wife died I figured I needed companionship. Everyone thought I should have a dog. Old Nestor should have a dog. So I got a dog. Now I hate to go home and take care of him. You want a dog?”
“You make it sound tempting, Nestor my friend, but I’m going to have to control my boyish urge and say no thanks.”
“Ever change your mind, you know where to find me. I throw in his bed, blanket, all the dog food I’ve got stored. He has his shots. He… shit, who’m I kiddin’. I couldn’t give nun away. I’d feel…”
Nestor didn’t know how he’d feel. He finished his drink, sucked his teeth, and looked at the empty glass. Then he stood up.
“I’m going home,” he said, fumbling for his wallet.
“Want me to walk you?” asked Hanrahan.
“On our first date?” Nestor said with a slurred laugh. “Never.”
“I’ll cover the drink,” said Hanrahan. “Me and Doyle Murphy.”
“Doyle…? The guy from Galway? Whatever happened to him?” asked Briggs, looking up at Bill Nicholson over the bar.
“He went back to Australia,” said Hanrahan, rising. He fished a ten-dollar bill from his wallet and dropped it on the table. “I’m walking you home, first date or no, and I promise not to kiss you or get in your jockey shorts.”
Nestor Briggs shrugged and allowed himself to be led toward the door.
“Hanrahan,” Applegate shouted. “You’re Irish. You’ll know this one. When you get Briggs home, come back and we’ll settle this.”
Johnny Cash was walking the line with his eyes wide open. The stein of Coors on tap bubbled on the table, untouched, as the doors of the Blue Parrot closed behind Hanrahan and the weaving Nestor Briggs.
The rain had slowed to near mist.
Somewhere nearby a lonely dog was waiting.