CHAPTER 2

Friday – November 12

I think of Bixie and myself as the Mutt and Jeff of the fashion world. Or as Bixie might say, the yin and yang.

She’s one of those women who looks as if she just walked out of a Vogue photo shoot, no matter what rag she happens to be wearing. I, on the other hand, belong in one of those cozy British mysteries. You know, the novels with a body in the library, a cunning village cop, a squirrelly parson and—tucked away in one of the nearby cottages—a tall, well-meaning woman who wears sensible but outdated tweeds. That would be me.

Bixie slid into her white quilted jacket--the one that makes her look like a blonde Mandarin--and rearranged a gauzy red-and-fuschia scarf around her neck. I struggled into my old grey pea coat and tucked in the scarf my Aunt Aune Ilsa had knit for me years back. My Lake Superior scarf, I call it, since it contains every imaginable shade of blue. Next, I pulled on ankle boots and, as an afterthought, dug a pair of leather gloves out of a basket on the closet shelf.

As someone who grew up in Garrison Keillor country—northern Wisconsin and upper Michigan—I’ve learned to never underestimate winter, even in its earliest phases. Where I’m from, kids trick-or-treat in the snow, and by the first week of November people have dusted off their shovels, resurrected their cross-country skis from the basement, tuned up their snowmobiles, and stocked up on beer and bourbon.

I double-checked Albert’s bowls to make sure the poor creature wouldn’t waste away in the next hour or two. Then I glanced out the window at a few feeble snowflakes suspended in the grey morning air—harbingers of things to come.

Halfway out the front door, I called over my shoulder to Bixie, who was still putzing around in the kitchen, probably showering kisses on Albert.

“Ready to roll. Unless you’d prefer that we reschedule.”

By the time I’d taken a few breaths of chilly air and turned around, key in hand, she had manifested at my side. It's a trick of hers, seeming to appear out of nowhere like some kind of apparition.

In deference to Bixie, I had parked my 1999 Malibu—Amelia by name—on the street to leave my tiny driveway free for her arthritic white Toyota Celica, age uncertain. From the top of the steps, I waved at Paul Mandotti, my next-door neighbor, who had come to a full stop in front of the house and was apparently waiting for us.

In his right hand, Paul held a leash occupied on the other end by a liquid eyed beagle named Lew. That’s Lew as in Lew Archer, the hardboiled, heart-of-gold detective who punched and wisecracked his way through the novels of Ross McDonald. Murder mysteries were a mutual passion of Paul’s and mine, and certainly the only guilty pleasure we were ever likely to share.

In his left hand, Paul held a copy of that morning’s New York Times, which he was now waving madly at us. “Karin. Bixie. Have you seen this abomination?” Paul tends to speak in italics and, when the occasion calls for it, capital letters.

He waved the paper in front of our faces in an agitated flutter, and I caught sight of the headline: Bush Declares Mandate.

“Mandate! MANdate no less. What moxie.” Paul’s voice moved up and down the register as if he were singing an aria. “Our fearless leader once again steals an election and wins, if you can call it that, by the smallest margin of any re-elected president in the last one hundred years, and he refers to it as a landslide. My God, what are they putting in that man’s breakfast cereal?”

Paul was a vision this morning in a pumpkin-colored leather jacket—he would have called it terra cotta—with bronze-colored buckles running up and down the front. For the hundredth time, and with a noticeable pang of envy, I found myself wondering where he got his clothes.

Not that it would matter. Even if we haunted the same tony boutiques in the same chic suburbs of metro Detroit, even if I could afford it, I’d manage to find whatever dark turtlenecks and understated slacks they had and end up looking exactly as I always do.

Paul’s face was now turning the same approximate color as his jacket. Lew, recognizing a grade-A hissy fit when he saw one, had plunked down on the sidewalk, head on paws, to wait out the fury with wide-eyed patience.

I bent down to comfort Lew, who returned the favor by licking my hand, my wrist, my nose, and any other part of me he could reach.

Paul moaned. “Four more years. Four more years of all those crazy-making lies. My God, it’s like living in China or Singapore or one of those other hopeless places. You can’t let yourself believe a single thing they say even if it might be true because it probably isn’t or at least not the important parts and you'll never know which is which anyway."

Before I could parse his last sentence, Paul went on. “Four more years of Rummy and Wolfy and Cheney and that malicious self-righteous little twit of an attorney general.”

As he raved, I glanced up and down the street, taking in the Kerry-Edwards signs that decorated almost every lawn. The one notable exception being Mr. Benson, an ex-Marine five houses up who hosted the only Bush-Cheney yard sign in the neighborhood and who was now balancing on a ladder, merrily draping Christmas lights around the pillars that flanked his wide front porch. Mr. Benson always likes to get a jump on the holiday season.

Catching my eye, Bixie winched up her eyebrows, hoisted her left wrist, twisted it slightly, and pointed to her watch.

I took my cue and stood up. “Look, I’d love to stay and talk, but Bixie and I have an appointment,” I said. “Now take some deep breaths before you have a stroke or something. The Democrats can’t afford to lose a single voter.” Paul moved his mouth into something that could have been a smile or a pout.

“Oh, alright.” He took in a deep breath and exhaled with a sigh. “If you promise to come by for tea this afternoon. I’ve given myself the day off and David’s away on a business trip in Las Vegas. Or maybe it’s Los Altos.” Paul, of course, knew exactly where David was and had for the past seven years.

“Well…”

“The word you’re searching for is yes,” Paul folded the newspaper as he spoke and Lew began to look hopeful that the parade would start up again. “I’ll look for you around three-thirty. And I’ll have some fresh scones.”

I weakened visibly. Most people know Paul as a four-star furniture designer and owner of a trendy home décor shop. Only a chosen few know that he also bakes like an angel.

“Besides,” he grinned wickedly, knowing that I’d been wrestling with a particularly nasty bout of procrastinator’s virus, “you can surely tear yourself away from your precious clients for an hour or so.”

I noticed that Bixie was giving me her version of the evil eye.

“Alright,” I agreed. “Throw in a few of your German chocolate brownies, and it’s a deal.”

Paul pursed his lips and did a quick scan of my five-foot-nine-and-a-half frame. “I simply don’t understand how you manage to eat like a pig without putting on a pound.” He shrugged and winked at Bixie. “Ah well, some girls have all the luck.”

He tucked the offending newspaper under his arm, let himself be pulled along for a few yards by Lew and, without turning, gave us a wave.

Bixie and I stood side by side as dog and man strutted down the block.

I sighed. “Too bad we can’t stay for a few more minutes. I love watching him bait Mr. Benson.”


 

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