Read Pastime Online

Authors: Robert B. Parker

Pastime

Robert B Parker
Pastime
For my wife and sons-sine qua non
CHAPTER 1
THE dog was a pointer, a solid chocolate German shorthair, three years old and smallish for her breed. She sat bolt upright on the couch in Susan

Silverman's office and stared at me with her head vigilantly erect in case

I might be a partridge.

"Shouldn't she be lying on the couch?" I said.

"She's not in analysis," Susan said.

"She belonged to your ex-husband."

"Yes," Susan said. "Good point."

The dog's eyes shifted from Susan to me as we spoke. The eyes were hazel and, because she was nervous, they showed a lot of white. Her short brown coat was sleek, like a seal's, and her oversized paws looked exaggerated, like a cartoon dog.

"What's her name?" I said.

Susan wrinkled her nose. "Vigilant Virgin."

"And she's not in analysis?"

"I believe they have to have long silly names like that because of the American Kennel Club," Susan said. "She's a hunting dog."

"I know," I said. "I had one like her when I was a kid."

"Like her?"

"Yeah. Same breed, same color, which is not usual. Mine was bigger though."

"Don't listen," Susan said to the dog. "You're perfectly big enough."

The dog canted her head at Susan, and raised her ears slightly.

"What are we going to do with her?" Susan said.

"We? My ex-husband didn't give her to me," I said.

"Well, he gave her to me, and what's mine is yours."

"Not if I have to walk around calling her Vigilant Virgin," I said.

"What was your dog's name?" Susan said.

"Pearl."

"Well, let's call her Pearl."

"And Boink Brain isn't going to want her back?" I said.

"He's not so bad," Susan said.

"Anyone who let you get away is a boink brain," I said.

"Well," Susan said, "perhaps you're right… anyway. He's been transferred to London, and you can't even bring a dog in there without a six-month quarantine."

"So she's yours for good," I said.

"Ours."

I nodded. The dog got off the couch quite suddenly, and walked briskly over and put her head on my lap and stood motionless, with her eyes rolled slightly upward looking at me obliquely.

I nodded. "Pearl," I said.

Susan smiled. "Beautiful Jewish-American girls don't grow up with hunting dogs," she said. "If they have dogs at all they are very small dogs with a little bow."

"Sure thing, little lady. This looks to me like man's work."

"I think so," Susan said.

I patted Pearl's head.

"You could have told him no," I said.

"He had nowhere else to place her," Susan said. "And she's a lovely dog."

Pearl sighed. It seemed a sigh of contentment though dogs are often mysterious and sometimes do things I don't understand. Which is true also of people.

"Do we have joint custody?" I said. "I get her on weekends?"

"I think she can stay here," Susan said. "I have a yard. But certainly she could come to your place for sleep-overs."

"Bring her jammies and her records? We could make brownies?"

"Something like that," Susan said. "Of course this is the city. We can't let her run loose."

"Which means you'll need to fence your yard."

"I think it's the best thing for us to do," Susan said. "Don't you?"

"No question," I said. "We'll have to work our ass off, of course."

"Beautiful Jewish-American girls do not `work their ass off,' they bring iced tea in a pretty pitcher to the large goy they've charmed into doing it."

"When do we get to that?"

"The charm?"

"Yeah."

"Well, you remember once you suggested something and I said I'd never done it because I was too embarrassed."

"Certainly. It's one of the two or three times you've ever blushed."

Susan smiled and nodded.

"Today?" I said.

She smiled more widely and nodded again. If a serpent had come by with an apple at that moment she'd have eaten it.

"Spenser's my name," I said. "Fences are my game.

"Do you require a charm down payment?" Susan said.

"Well," I said, "some small gesture of earnest intent might be appropriate."

"Not in front of the baby," Susan said.

Pearl was on the couch again, perfectly still, gazing at us as if she were smarter than we were, but patient.

"Of course not," I said. "What kind of fence would you like?"

"Let's go look at some, she can ride along with us and wait in the car."

"What could be better?" I said.

"You'll find out," Susan said and smiled that smile.

CHAPTER 2
SUSAN had selected a picket fence made of spaced 1-inch dowels in a staggered pattern. I was listening to the ball game and drilling holes in the stringers to accommodate the dowels when a voice said, "Hi, Ozzie.Where's Harriet?"

It was Paul Giacomin, wearing jeans and hightop sneakers and a black tee shirt that said on it American Dance Festival, 1989, in white letters. I had taken him in hand when he was a fifteen-yearold kid caught in his parents' divorce feud with no interests but television and no prospects but more of the same. He was twenty-five now, an inch taller than I was, and almost as graceful.

"Making iced tea in a pretty pitcher," I said. "What are you doing here?"

"I tried your apartment first, and then followed my instincts."

"Trained by a master," I said.

Paul came over and shook my hand and patted me on the shoulder. Susan came out of the house and told him how glad she was to see him and gave him a hug and kissed him.

Her range of demonstrable emotion is maybe a little wider than mine.

"Wait until you see what we have," Susan said.

She was wearing a glossy black leotard-esque exercise outfit and white sneakers and a bright blue headband and she looked a lot like Hedy Lamarr would have looked if Hedy worked out. She ran back to the house and opened the back door and Pearl came surging out, jumped the three steps off the back porch and, with her ears back, and her mouth open, dashed around the backyard in a slowly imploding circle until she finally ran into me, bounced off, and jammed her head into Paul's groin.

"Jesus Christ," Paul said. Pearl jumped up with her forepaws on his chest, dropped back down, turned in a tight circle as if she were chasing her tail, and jumped up again trying to lap Paul's face before she dropped back down and streaked around the yard again. As she came by the second time,

Susan got a hold on her collar and managed to force her to a barely contained stop.

"She gets over her shyness," Paul said, "she might be cute."

"Regal," I said.

"Regal."

"This is Pearl," Susan said. "I inherited her from my ex-husband because he's transferred to London, and her daddy is building her a fence." "This is embarrassing," Paul said.

"Let's go get a beer," I said, "and you can see how regal she is inside."

It took Pearl maybe fifteen minutes to calm down, climb up into the white satin armchair in Susan's living room, turn around three times, and lie with her head on her back legs in a tight ball and watch us drink beer.

"I recall," Paul said to Susan, "that you used to kick me off that chair.

It was for looking at, not sitting in, you said."

"Well, she likes it," Susan said.

Paul nodded. "Oh," he said.

"You going to stay awhile?" I said.

"Maybe," he said. "I left my stuff at your place." I nodded. There was more.

I'd known him since he was a fragmented little kid. I waited.

"How's Paige?" Susan said.

"Fine."

"Have you set a date yet?"

"Sort oњ"

"How does one sort of set a date?" Susan said.

"You discuss next April with each other, but you don't tell anyone else. It allows for a certain amount of ambivalence."

Susan nodded.

"Want a sandwich or something?" she said.

"What have you got?"

"There's some whole wheat bread," Susan said. "And some lettuce…"

Paul waited.

"Oregano," I said. "I think I saw some dried oregano in the refrigerator."

"In the refrigerator?" Paul said.

"Keeps it nice and fresh," Susan said.

"That's it?" Paul said. "A lettuce and oregano sandwich on whole wheat?"

"Low in calories," Susan said, "and nearly fat free."

"Maybe we could go out and get something later," Paul said.

I went to the kitchen and got two more beers and a diet Coke, no ice, for

Susan.

"Makes me question myself sometimes," I said when I brought the drinks.

"Being the love object of a woman who likes warm diet Coke."

Susan smiled at me.

Paul said, "My mother's missing."

I nodded. "Tell me about it."

"We've been getting along a little better. She's a little easier mother for a twenty-five-year-old man than for a fifteen-year-old boy," Paul said.

"And I used to call her maybe every other week and we'd talk, and maybe two three times a year we'd see each other when she was in New York. She even came to a couple of my performances."

On the armchair, Pearl sat up suddenly as if someone had spoken to her and gazed off silently toward the bookcase on the far wall. Her head in profile was perfectly motionless and her face was very serious.

"One thing made her easier was she had a boyfriend, has a boyfriend, I guess. When she's got a boyfriend, she's pretty good. Kind of fun, and interested in me, and not, you know, desperate."

Pearl put her head slowly back down, this time on her front paws, which hung off the front of the armchair. She gazed soberly at the dust motes that drifted in the shaft of sunlight that came through Susan's back window.

"Anyway," Paul said, "I've called. her three or four times and got no answer, even though I left messages on her machine. And so I came up and went by her place in Lexington before I went to your place. There's no one there."

Paul drank some beer from the bottle, held it by the neck, and gazed for a moment at the label.

"It's got that look, you know, that says it's empty."

"You have a key?" I said.

"No. I think she didn't want me walking in on her when she had a date. She was always a little embarrassed with me about dating."

"Want me to take a look?"

"Yes."

"Want to go with me?"

"Yes. I want more than that. I want you and me to find her."

"She's probably just off on a little trip with somebody," I said.

"Probably," he said, and I knew he didn't mean it.

"Your father?" Susan said.

Paul shook his head. "I haven't heard from him in maybe six years. I haven't a clue where he is. Once the tuition money stopped…" Paul shrugged.

"Okay," I said. "We'll find her."

"I have to know she's all right," Paul said.

"Sure," I said.

"Funny," Paul said. "Ten years ago you found me for her."

The dog uncurled from the chair and hopped down and stretched and came over and got up beside me where I was sitting on the couch and began to lick my face industriously. Her tongue was rough, which was probably useful for stripping meat from bones in the Pleistocene era, but served in the late

20th century as a kind of sloppy dermabrasion.

"It'll be even easier this time," I said with my face clenched. "We'll have a trained hunter to help us."

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