Pulling into the two-car parking area adjacent to All-Star
Cleaners, he set the automatic lock and climbed out of his vehicle.
As he stepped through the doorway he wondered at the revolving
rack that stretched from the front of the shop forty feet back.
Always filled, but he was invariably the only customer. The Korean
girl looked up as he approached the counter, pretending she'd just
caught sight of him.
"How are you today?" he asked. He treated her to an extra-
special smile, his gaze lingering on her hair. A swath of midnight
silk, it twisted and gleamed like a river under the fluorescent
"Very fine, thank you." Her chin dipped modestly, but the
pulse in her throat throbbed with a rosy glow. "I have your shirts."
She threw a switch and the rack came to life like a beast
emerging from hibernation. Why was it she never consulted the
computer to locate his clothes? The metal apparatus groaned to a
halt and she began counting his hangers. He eyed her round bottom
in the tight jeans.
"Light starch," she confirmed over her shoulder, "collar only.
Hand-pressed the way you like." She turned to him with an armful
of shirts, almost catching him staring. He never let them put
his shirts in a box; he loathed creases. As his smile broadened,
her lips surrendered and crooked teeth flashed. It had taken less
time than usual to overcome her resistance. "I mend trousers
As she began bagging the shirts, he examined the place he'd
snagged, just below the left knee of his navy blue slacks. The
repair was almost undetectable, neat stitches running in tandem
with the flat weave. As he leaned closer, acid tickled his
nostrils. They'd dry-cleaned his trousers despite his explicit
instructions to launder them. Had the spots required special
treatment, or did she think she was doing him a favor?
"A beautiful job," he replied. The flush spread to her flat
cheeks and she looked away. Her eyes were extraordinarily
guileless and her isolation emanated from her in waves, like
the chemicals filling his mouth. He placed one hand on the
counter, testing how close she would let him come. "Big plans
for the weekend?" he asked.
"He makes me work." Her chin jerked toward the back of the
shop,where a small man in black waiter's pants and starched white
shirt bent over the presser. The man had waited on him once when
the girl was absent. At least twenty years older than her, his
English not as good. At the time he'd wondered whether the man
was her father. "Do you think I'm ugly?"
"No, of course not." He kept his eyes on her mouth to
reassure her, his nostrils still smarting from the solvent. He
would have to throw out the trousers. "You're very pretty. Who
said you're ugly?"
She gestured again to the back. Not her father after all.
"He doesn't know what he's talking about," he promised. She
was waiting for him to say more and he remembered their
conversation about coffee shops in Korea. She'd lamented the fact
that there was nowhere in Denver to sit with friends, though there
was a café just down the street. He handed her his MasterCard,
holding onto it an extra beat. "Maybe someday."
"Someday what?" His remark had emboldened her, and when she
made no move to ring up the charges, he saw the man in the back
"I'll show you he's wrong."
That should last her until next time.
Conscious again of her teeth, she ducked her chin once more and
swiped his card through the magnetic reader. He reached for the
hangers, silently counting to make sure she hadn't lost one of his
shirts. Pity about the trousers... She looked up, desperate to
prolong their encounter.
"Have a nice--"
"--weekend." With a wave he left.
At the corner he stopped at a box for the News. The banner at
the bottom of the front page caught his eye and he fed a quarter to
the slot. Carefully hanging his shirts on the hook in the backseat
of his car, he settled behind the wheel with the tabloid.
DA LOSES ON BAIL - Right Man Behind Bars?
He tasted metal deep in his throat.
Turning to page 4A, he skimmed the story. Rae's autopsy report
had been leaked and they made it sound like a sex crime. Inept,
positively inept. The arrest had been amusing at first but was
rapidly wearing thin. The accompanying photo showed Duncan Pratt
elbowing his way out the courtroom, grimacing in a parody of the
rock-jawed-prosecutor pose. Was he going to turn unpredictable on
him? He closed his eyes and saw the Korean girl's crooked teeth.
Let him rot, let them all-
Rolling up the newspaper, he thrust it under his seat. Be
damned if he let this spoil his evening. Friday, wasn't it? He'd
have a drink, unwind, put all this nonsense out of his head. He
backed out of the parking space,merging effortlessly with the
traffic heading toward the chic shopping district of Cherry Creek.
He turned south on University, left at Third. Mama Sam's,
the new in spot. Happy hour was just beginning, and it was still
early enough to get a table on the sidewalk. A drink and dinner,
nothing more. He remembered the last time he'd driven past, the
two women at the table by the entrance who looked like they were
waiting for dates. What they wanted you to believe, but on the
next pass he saw the waiter serve a second round.. They had it
all wrong. It had nothing to do with sex. Would he have to make
He was approaching the restaurant now and the mock Oriental
lettering on the canopy reminded him of the Korean girl. No
challenge,and decidedly not his type. If he'd known his last foray
would be such a waste, he might have chosen her instead. Maybe he
could have salvaged his trousers.. In an hour it would be dark.
This latest development had complicated everything; in another life
he would be cruising and not pondering where to eat his dinner.
As he imagined the crisp skin of an egg roll exploding under his
teeth, he tasted cleaning solvent. Gunning his engine, he turned
north. For him it had never been about sex.
In any case there was nothing to fear. He was in control, could
stop whenever he liked. The sleek vehicle with tinted glass glided
away from Cherry Creek toward Colfax.
The wild card was the lawyer.