Bury the Lead

• • • • •

AS SOON AS I WALK IN, the woman gives me the eye.

This is not quite as promising a situation as it sounds. First of all, I’m in a Laundromat. The actual name is the Law-dromat, owned by my associate Kevin Randall. Kevin uses this business to emotionally, as well as literally, cleanse himself of the rather grimy things we’re exposed to in our criminal law practice. In the process he dispenses free legal advice to customers along with detergent and bleach.

Also, the woman giving me this particular eye is not exactly a supermodel. She’s maybe four feet eleven inches tall, rather round, and wearing a coat so bulky she could be hiding a four-gallon jug of Tide under it. Her hair is stringy and most likely not squeaky clean to the touch.

Truth be told, even if we were in a nightclub and the woman looked more like Halle than Boysen Berry, I doubt I could accurately gauge the situation. I’m no better than average-looking myself and thus have almost no experience with women giving me the eye. In fact, though I’m not in the habit of counting offered body parts, it’s safe to say that over the years I’ve gotten the finger more than the eye. And I’ve probably gotten the boot more than both of them combined.

To totally close off any romantic possibilities in this encounter, I remain in love with, and totally faithful to, one Laurie Collins. So no matter how this round stranger tries to tempt me, I’m not about to engage in an early evening bout of tawdry Laundromat sex.

I notice that the woman’s eyes start alternating between me and the door, though no one else is entering. And as I move in her general direction, she starts to inch toward that door. This woman is afraid of me.

“Hi,” I say, figuring a clever opening like that will put her at ease. Instead, she just nods slightly and seems to draw inward, as if she wants to become invisible. “Kevin around?” I ask.

The woman mutters, “No . . . I don’t know . . . ,” then gathers her clothes, which she hadn’t yet put into the machine, and quickly leaves. In the process she bangs into Kevin’s cousin Billy, who is just coming in. Billy runs the place when Kevin is not around.

“Hey, Andy. What’s with her?” Billy asks.

“I’m not sure. I think she was afraid she might succumb to my charms.”

He nods. “We’ve been getting a lot of that lately.”

“What do you mean?”

Billy just points toward a shelf high up in the corner of the room, and for the first time I realize that there is a television up there. It’s turned to local news, though the sound is off. There was a day when that would have been a problem, but now all the stations have that annoying crawl along the bottom of the screen.

The subject of the newscast is the murder of a woman last night in Passaic, the third such murder in the last three weeks. The killer has chosen to communicate and taunt the police through Daniel Cummings, a reporter for a local newspaper, and in the process has created a media furor. The woman who just left is not alone in her fear; the entire community seems gripped by it.

“They making any progress?” I ask, referring to the police.

Billy shrugs. “They’re appealing to the guy to give himself up.”

I nod. “That should do the trick. Where’s Kevin?”

“Doctor.”

“Is he sick?” I ask, though I know better. Kevin has as many admirable qualities as anyone I know, but