8

Bibliophile tropicale

The usual disclaimers apply.

Early in the Perry-Della relationship….

The World's Greatest Detective.

Harry's Place

Lt. Tragg took his usual place at the end of the bar as Smitty, the bartender, simultaneously slipped a tall foamy mug of beer across the counter. Words were not needed. Tragg, was a man of habit. The look on the detective's face proved an easy read for Smitty-it had been a rough week-no conversation needed. The bartender resumed his chore of wiping down the bar as the detective nursed his drink in silence.

A brown paper bag containing a large loaf of artisan bread, the Lieutenant's favorite, had been placed on the counter alongside his well-worn fedora. Tragg relaxed and took a sip from the frothy mug.

Earlier, standing in Burger's office, he'd found himself thinking of this very beer while the prosecutor had droned on and on, complaining how he needed more direct evidence if he were to build a successful case. He'd felt his stomach knot and held his tongue as he'd listened to Burger's incessant whining. Another week-end would be shot to hell pursuing other leads in an effort to strengthen and shore up the prosecutor's case. The image of sitting and enjoying his beer allowed him to leave Burger's office without telling the man what he truly thought. Slowly sipping the cold brew, he found thoughts of the DA, who was no doubt relaxing at Clay's Grill, slowly drifting away.

The other bar patrons ignored the detective. Their interest entertained by a game of pool in the next room. Tragg greatly appreciated the distraction which removed the need for idle conversation with a stranger sitting on the adjacent stool. On this late Friday evening, however, his desire to relax and enjoy his beer in silence was destined to be thwarted when the seat next to him became occupied and the man turned to face him.

"Well, well, well, what a pleasure finding you here, Lieutenant," a smooth baritone voice greeted.

Tragg looked up. A faint smile played across his lips before he chuckled. "Same here, Mason. Do you know why it's a pleasure?"

The lawyer smiled urbanely while getting comfortable on the stool. "I'll bite."

"If you're sitting here next to me, then you aren't out finding another dead body, and I may actually get to finish this beer and go home on time for a change."

Mason frowned and asked in amazement. "Surely you gest, Lieutenant?"

"You have an impeccable track record, Counselor. If I were a betting man, I'd say you were a sure thing."

The bartender approached the two men. His raised eyebrow asked the question and Mason held up two fingers, indicating a double vodka tonic before loosing his tie and unbuttoning his jacket. Smitty nodded and turned away. If he worked it just right, he might catch snatches of the conversation. Mason wasn't as regular as Tragg but the two fingers were a clear indication that he'd love to overhear their banter.

Tragg eyed the large glass being slid across the bar and watched the attorney drink half its contents before turning to face him.

The lawyer grinned. "You might have a point, Tragg. But you will have to admit my cases keep your mind sharp and your soul young."

Heaving a weary sigh, the older man replied, "I don't know, Mason. I've had too many sleepless nights, exchanged too many good meals for too many lousy meals, no social life, and the pleasure of having Burger breathing down my neck at every turn. When I look in the mirror I see an old man looking back."

Perry's eyes narrowed at Tragg's response. Open introspection was a rare occurrence. He couldn't help but pursue it. "Surely, you can't blame all that on me?"

The detective watched as the lawyer finish the double vodka tonic and wordlessly ordered another from the barkeep.

"Our line of work has a way of taking its toll. Stressful, demanding, it plays hell with whatever time a man has off the clock." Tragg took a closer look at his companion. Over the years he'd made a point of studying the attorney. He'd found the lawyer to be a fascinating man to watch and had made meticulous mental notes during their association.

In an odd way their 'investigative tango' made each a better dancer. Finding Mason at the scene automatically shifted his deductive skills up a notch, and he did have to admit, in a way, Mason made his job strangely more enjoyable….and certainly more challenging.

Tragg slowly sipped his beer and surreptitiously continued to observe the lawyer, taking in every nuance. A man with his debonair good looks should have a full dance card and be out on the town on a Friday night, but instead, he sat at Harry's ordering doubles, putting them away in short order, with no indication he was in any hurry to leave. The detective's eyes narrowed as the attorney swiftly worked his way through the second double. A worrisome case perhaps? No. This wouldn't be like Mason. He would be drinking coffee, pacing, thinking on his feet. He'd want his mind to be sharp. This was something different.

Broad shoulders and chest, six feet one inches, athletic build. Tragg's mind began to estimate the amount of liquor a man of Mason's size would need to drown any unpleasant thoughts, and couldn't resist a motivational pursuit.

"This may sound like a pick-up line, but of all the bars in town, why would you choose to sit on the stool next to me?" he asked, shaking his head at his rhetorical question before gesturing the lawyer to silence. "Unless you know this is where I down a cold one before heading home."

Mason paused, the drink nearing his lips. His eyes didn't reflect his smile. "So Lieutenant, you think this is not a random event?"

The detective intently studied the piercing clear blue eyes. "I've known you a long time, Mason. You're a shrewd, calculating, and methodical adversary, and I doubt very little of what you do is ever by mere chance."

Mason turned and studied the ice in his glass as Tragg continued his character evaluation. His courtroom face ison, poker hard and inscrutable, but his eyes were a different story, they could be…..very expressive. For a fleeting moment he caught a glimpse, a glimpse of sadness and concern. No this isn't business;this is personal.

"What is it Mason?" Tragg tried to capture the younger man's eyes with his, but the lawyer continued to stare into the glass and remain silent. "It's not a case….. you'd be in your office pacing, drinking pots of black coffee, sending Drake and his men scouring for information while you pull their strings. No…" The detective drew out the word as he pondered a rare opportunity. "No….this is personal." He watched the lawyer's thick lashes flutter and knew he'd hit home.

Tragg smiled to himself. It wasn't often someone got a glimpse of Perry's soul. Not often at all. Suddenly, the detective didn't feel so drained. In fact he felt some slight energy coursing through his tired, irritated body. "When I was single," he swept his mug in a small oval, "the only time I sat at a bar alone on a weekend was when I couldn't get a date or I was on the outs with the woman I was dating. Now I've never been what anyone would call a 'lady's man' but with your 'supposed' charm and good-looks, you could have a different woman on your arm each week."

"No…" he again drew out the word and continued thoughtfully, "No… a new woman each week wouldn't warrant those doubles."

Tragg gestured to the drink, "…..that would require something very different. Downing those doubles would require …..a very special woman."

Rubbing his fingers along the beer mug, he casually watched the lawyer before asking, "Am I right?"

Mason straightened, turned, and forced a loop-sided little grin in an effort to deflect attention from the sadness in his eyes.

"You've been proven to be right on occasion, Lieutenant."

Slowly the Lieutenant took a sip from his beer and drew no satisfaction from the information he had elicited from his opponent. He wiped the foam from his lips with the back of his hand and stared off recalling events in his own past.

"Like I said, our line of work takes its toll on us and…." He turned to lock eyes with the lawyer, "…..and our relationships. We're not that different, you and I. Sure, we may be on different sides of the case, but in the end we're both interested in justice. Murder… homicide is a nasty business, but we're both driven to find the murderer. It's what we do. We may start out looking at a case from different perspectives but we both live for the challenge, justice, and the solving of a mystery."

The detective paused and watched Mason slowly sip his drink.

"I would imagine that special woman would have to be attractive, charming…..as well as something of a mystery herself. She would need to be interesting and mysterious enough to satisfy your perpetual curiosity."

Mason looked up from his drink.

Tragg grinned. "I see I'm right. A man like you would be fascinated and intrigued by a woman of mystery…an enigma."

"Lieutenant, you're fishing skills never cease to amaze me."

Tragg chuckled to himself. It had been a long time since he'd had a chance to play and hook a big one. He was due.

But a good fisherman never underestimates the ability of the fish on the other end of the line. So Tragg heaved a weary sigh. "I've been doing this awhile, Mason. I know the toll our line of work takes physically and mentally. At times we want to give it all up and kick back on some little ranch somewhere in the mountains. But we never do because what takes the life out of us also gives us life. It's what we do and who we are."

Pausing, the detective finished the last of his beer in one gulp and heaved a giant sigh. "It takes a very special woman to accept our way of life and if she does, you're a fool if you don't do whatever you can to keep her. Not every woman understands what makes guys like us …tick."

Mason nodded his head in agreement and remained quiet.

Tragg pushed his mug across the counter and picked up his hat with nimble fingers and delicately smoothed out the brim. "So my advice to you is to find out what made her angry…. then never do it again. You tell her you're sorry, even if it's not your fault. She'll know it and love you for it."

Slipping bills across the counter, Tragg picked up his bag and rose from the stool. Mason finished his drink, paid, and joined the detective as they made their way out of Harry's Place.

Standing on the street outside the bar, the older man turned to Mason and continued, "Never let her go to bed angry either. Best way I know to start the next day off on the wrong foot."

"I appreciate your advice, Lieutenant."

Tragg repositioned his hat, finding that comfortable angle before glancing down at his watch. "You know, Mason, there's still time to make the day end on a good note." The lieutenant's lips pulled to the side in a mischievous grin. Just a little more play in the line. "Making amends doesn't have to end badly, you know."

The lawyer smiled and glanced at his watch. "Amends….not ending badly. You know this from experience?"

The detective glanced off reminiscing. "Like I said, Mason I've been doing this a long time. Never let a woman go to bed angry. They'll toss and turn….no sleep only makes 'em crankier and more determined the next day."

Mason began to dig around in his pocket for his keys, looked up and spoke. "Thanks, Tragg."

The detective merely nodded, turned to leave, then paused and set the hook. "By the way, after the dust settles, please give Della my best."

A pleased smile pulled at Tragg's lips as he watched Mason's eyes widen.

The lawyer's lips parted slightly as though to speak.

Shaking his head, Tragg interrupted and asked, "Who's the world's greatest detective?"

Both men looked at each other with amusement, broad smiles spreading across the other's face.

"Sherlock Holmes," the lawyer replied with a cheeky grin exposing the dimple in his cheek.

The longtime adversaries shook their heads in disbelief, chuckled deeply before turning and walking in opposite directions.

"Good-night, Tragg!" Mason called over his shoulder.

Tragg laughed, "Good-night, Perry, and good luck!"

~~~Fini~~~