Susan sat on stool at the counter while I made dinner. She scratched behind Pearl's ears.
I butterflied a boneless chicken breast and dredged it in seasoned flour. I shook off the excess and place it into a pan of hot olive oil. Stardust played on the stereo in the background.
"Suze, how was your day?" I said.
"Typical school days. Now and then I dislike my guest teaching spot, but early autumn often leads to sudden mischief. God save the child," she said. She nibbled a microscopic bit of a Ritz cracker, no larger than a crumb. "How is your case going?"
I turned the chicken breast over in the pan and added a pat of butter. I watched as it melted. "Someone took a potshot at me. It was rough weather there for a few moments, real mortal stakes, but then the walking shadow I'd been tailing disappeared into thin air. Sometimes I feel like I'm taming a seahorse," I said.
I dropped some chopped shallots and some minced garlic into the pan and swirled them around with a wooden spoon.
Susan nipped off another infinitesimal morsel of cracker and chewed it. "The streets are a real savage place, aren't they? Everyone's got a back story, and the people you deal with are often engaged in bad business. Just searching in vain for the promised land," she said. "What are you going to do now?"
"I'll just poke around until something happens due to my poking around. See what I find out. My usual plan," I said. "Better to know than not to know."
Across the room, the front door opened and Hawk entered. Pearl barked once.
Susan's eyes went wide. She was a Harvard-trained psychologist. "Hawk? What are you doing here?" she said.
"I done working with your man's honky playmates," he said.
"Quirk?" I said.
"Yeah. And Belson, too. We all be tired of looking for Rachel Wallace and the hush money. She just another hundred-dollar baby. No chance she go straight," he said.
"Where is my state cop pal, Healy?" I said.
"The professional? He went after Joe Broz, the man say," Hawk said.
"Who said?" Susan said.
"He said," Hawk said.
"Who said?" Susan said again.
Hawk stared at her.
"Broz said? Or Healy said?" I said.
Hawk didn't say anything. He stared at me. I removed the chicken breast from the pan, placed it on a plate and spooned out some mashed sweet potatoes from a casserole dish I'd had in the oven reheating at 375 degrees. "Suze, you sure you don't want any?" I said.
She smiled her dazzling smile and I felt my heart in my mouth, like I always did when she smiled her dazzling smile. "No, I'm full," she said. Half her Ritz cracker was still on her plate. Small vices.
"Hawk?" I said.
"No thanks. I be going now," Hawk said. He left.
Pearl jumped down from Susan's lap and waddled over. I cut off a slice of chicken breast and forked it and some sweet potatoes into her bowl. Pearl barked once and sniffed her food. She dug in.
I didn't stand on ceremony. I dug in, too. Delicious.
For fun: How many Spenser titles can you find woven (seamlessly!) into the scene? (Hint: more than two, fewer than fifty.)