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Forty-two Beers on Draft

By Charlie Hudson

Zoe knew the look of the man assessing the array of beer tap handles. It was a common reaction of newcomers to the Trail’s End Tavern. Randy, who owned the place, was always on the lookout for vintage handles.  “You’d be surprised what you can find on E-bay or just roaming around the country,” he’d said once after locating a Narragansett Ale tap in an old fire-damaged bar. The owner had taken the disaster as a sign to move to Florida and sold off everything salvageable for absurdly low prices.

Zoe listened as she always did, glad to give Randy an audience – he was a good boss and as the senior bartender, she was kind of an assistant manager. That meant Randy asked her to take care of the paperwork that bored him and he slipped her a bonus every six months or so.

“It’s easier with a guide,” she said and passed the man the laminated double-sided sheet that changed periodically when Randy found another beer he liked or customers provided him feedback for additions or deletions. “We have three sizes and we don’t do bottles,” she explained as the man eased onto one of the oak swivel stools.

“Thank you,” he said, his voice mild, eyes brushing past hers without lingering contact. The crowd was scattered along the U-shaped, polished mahogany bar and only half the round wooden tables were occupied, but that was to be expected on a Monday after Happy Hour. The smell of hot grease wafted from the kitchen, their limited pub grub menu leaning heavily toward burgers and fries. Randy’s culinary view was that health-conscious people would populate the trendier restaurants and new bistros rather than a side-street tavern. Besides, if Cal, the undisputed boss of the kitchen, ever did leave a short order cook was easier to find than an up and coming chef. After all, beer was an ingredient in the chili and Shepard’s Pie and that was fancy enough as far as Randy was concerned.

The man looked up, his face questioning. “If I confess to not being much of a drinker, will you tell me I’m in the wrong place?”

Zoe smiled, his query no surprise to her quick assessment of him – open acknowledgement of it was kind of cute. “It’s a friendly place – how much you drink is up to you. Here on business, are you?” Of course he was. Accountant, she’d bet or something along those lines. Definitely not sales with that quiet demeanor. No wedding ring and not the telling paleness of flesh that meant he’d merely slipped one off before entering the bar.

“Uh, huh. I’m staying a couple of blocks away and it was a nice evening for a walk.”

“You want a dinner menu, too?”

He shook his head and pointed to the Ales column. “Amber ales seem like a good place to start. What are the three sizes you mentioned?”

“Mug, pint and tall,” Zoe smiled, certain he would want the twelve ounce mug.

“I guess a mug of the Armadillo – might as well be alphabetical while we’re at it.”

“Might as well.” Zoe raised one hand when someone called to her from the half-way down the bar and moved to the appropriate tap. She drew the draft with the perfect amount of head and delivered it along with a bowl of snack mix. “Run a tab?”

“Thank you,” the man said. “Uh yes, I guess I will.”

“I’m sure you’ll like this one and we have forty-one others to pick from,” she reminded him and went to refill the couple that owned a graphic design and print shop the next street over. Liza and Justin were among the regulars and Randy shifted his business to them after a joint discussion one night of the history of the Leo Thoma Brewery, a lesser known one among the numerous breweries Kansas City had seen come and go.

They normally had two bartenders and could fit three on special occasions like Super Bowl Sunday or Saint Patrick’s Day, but Lenny was out tonight and Zoe hadn’t bothered to call a back-up – this wasn’t a bar where people ordered time consuming drinks and she could work the place literally blindfolded with no wasted motions. Paulette, a decent enough waitress, was managing the tables and Jack, a skinny kid with a scraggly excuse for a beard and a short ponytail, bussed, helped out in the kitchen, restocked and in general did whatever anyone asked. Cal had the kitchen, his leathery presence left over from the previous owner. His closely guarded secret seasoning lifted their burgers from mundane, he knew exactly the right amount of salt to sprinkle on crispy, skin-on fries and he brushed the slightest coat of melted butter on the buns before he touched them briefly on the grill. “Folks can get ribs all over town – don’t want to spend hours tending some smoker,” he’d grunted when Randy tentatively suggested the addition. That settled the question. Cal swore he would retire someday except his wife, Marla, would make him work too hard around the house.

Zoe glanced to the newcomer who swiveled to take in the room, his mug not quite empty.  He looked less tentative than when he first sat down, as if he had been uncertain and now found the room to his liking. He was only a little taller than she was with a medium build, no paunch despite a lack of defined muscles – very much an office air about him. Full head of rather nondescript brown hair cut moderately short, the kind of cut you got at an old-fashioned barber shop. His eyebrows were pale above brown eyes behind tortoise-shell round glasses. He wore khakis and a dark green cotton crew sweater with a sage green collared shirt underneath in standard business casual attire. The only particular notable thing about his face was a small mole on his jaw below his left ear.

He shifted his position as she approached, setting the mug back onto the coaster. He bounced his index finger off the guide. “I’ll be in town for another two weeks. That’s three beers a night to get through all forty-two – that’s about my speed anyway.” He unclipped the telephone from his belt and Zoe recognized it as one of the newest high tech types she’d seen advertised. “I’ll keep a log so I don’t lose track and repeat myself.”

Zoe kept back a smile. They had a paper version of a log she could offer, but it probably wasn’t his style. “And if you want to repeat?”

He slightly pursed his somewhat thin lips, then shrugged.  “There’s always the chance I could have more than three in one night. I guess Bicycle Tire Ale is next.”

That tap was within reaching distance. “You said you were here for another two weeks. Here from where?” Zoe exchanged mugs with him.

“Sunnyvale, California, part of good ole’ Silicon Valley. We’ve reengineered a computer and telecommunications system for one of the banks. We’re installing it and I like to stay within walking distance when I can,” he added, then gestured with his empty hand. “This looks like an old building – late 1800’s maybe?”

Zoe handed him a menu card, food side down. A sepia photo of the original tavern, with “Trail’s End Saloon” emblazoned in letters on the front glass fronted a dirt street. Brick had replaced the original wood siding and while no effort had been made to maintain true historical structure, the front façade was essentially the same. “The story is that Jake Wilson ended up a cattle drive and decided to settle down in his older years. Opened this place – that’s the Trail’s End part – and unfortunately picked 1879…”

“Two years before Kansas enacted Prohibition,” the man finished with a half-smile. “Timing is everything, as they say.”

Zoe nodded, slightly surprised. “Most people don’t know about that. Anyway, Jake sold to someone who turned it into an ice cream parlor and he went off somewhere, never to be heard from again. It went through, four or five other transformations and was re-opened as a tavern in the late 1970s, but as far as anyone knows, it never had a disco ball – always been more a neighborhood place than trendy.”

“And the no bottled beers?”

“Some sort of eccentric quirk of the previous owner. Randy, the guy who has it now, swears the man never told him why and it’s just different enough that it appealed to Randy. We save the cooler space for chilling all the glassware instead of bottled beer.”

“A bottle aversion, huh? I guess you never really know why people do certain things, do you? And on that, a glass of water, please and a Brickyard Ale to end the evening.”

Zoe drew the third beer, delivered it with the slip and went to take care of Paulette’s signal. That set off a round of refills for almost everyone and by the time she looked over to see if the new guy had changed his mind, he was slipping off the stool with a lift of his hand to indicate he was leaving.

She nodded, noticing that he had left cash, apparently not needing change. “Who was that?” Dereck Simmons, another regular, made the 20 ounce glass emblazoned with the Trail’s End logo look almost small in his massive, roughened hand. “New guy or just passing through?”

“In town for a while. Computer type from California.”

Dereck snorted through a nose that looked like a chunk of putty with nostrils. “Super geek, huh.”

“He seems nice enough,” Zoe said automatically, wondering if he’d tipped decently. That was a good measure as far as she was concerned.

Zoe spent her two days off as she usually did, plowing through never-ending tasks that came with trying to raise a fourteen year-old son and keep up a house that was tucked into an older, still well-kept neighborhood that edged onto a medium-sized park that bordered Brian’s school. The brick ranch with the slightly over-sized one-car garage was solidly built, but suffered the routine problems of any thirty-plus year old house. She’d learned more about home repair than she’d ever expected to, discovering that most problems could be solved with a dozen tools and being willing to actually read and follow instructions. Brian managed the yard with only sporadic grumbling and her ex-husband made good on child support even if it was frequently late.

“You really need to get out more,” her friend Libby urged one day when they’d met for lunch at the closest mall. “Between work, the house, Brian and those classes you’re taking, I don’t see time for fun.”

“Aside from the fact that leaky faucets don’t repair themselves, I genuinely like my job and you know it will be good for me to finish a degree, I really think it’s important to be around for Brian, to go to his track meets, to make him that home-cooked breakfast every morning. Hard to believe it’s only a few years until he’ll graduate and hopefully be off to college. I’m in a good place, girlfriend – not to worry.”

“And the last time you had a date was when?”

She’d affectionately pushed aside Libby’s prodding. “It’s not as if I’m avoiding men or romance or whatever you want to call it. I’m just not in a hurry.”

Zoe idly thought about the conversation as she brushed the new cut Libby talked her into that day. The shorter layered look was a nice change and somehow gave her chestnut color the appearance of highlighting without the cost or mess. Her eyebrows had always been a darker brown without much of an arch, but her thick lashes rarely needed mascara. The span of freckles across her nose was something that she’d accepted as a teenager and she refused to be concerned with tiny creases around her brown eyes that so far did not require reading glasses. She shrugged away her mental wanderings and got dressed for work, once again glad that jeans and sensible shoes topped by a Trail’s End Tavern T-shirt won out over a suit, pantyhose and pumps. She scribbled a note to Brian about meatloaf in the fridge and reminded him that he had a book report due on Monday.

Thursdays were usually busy – maybe people knew they could stumble through a Friday at work if they had to. Tonight was no exception – a pretty full house with enough in-and-out that there were two or three seats open and no one looked as though they were impatient with having to wait for service.

It was close to 8:30 when the computer guy arrived, hesitated for a moment as he entered and made his way to Zoe’s section with a gesture to Lenny who would have waited on him while she was gone.

His smile was genuine if not high wattage. “Hi. Good time off? I’m up to H and I skimped on lunch so I could try the Shepard’s Pie tonight.”

“You want to have Heineken as a known or start with Hoohboy Brown?”

“It’s Zoe, right? By the way, I’m Adam and yes, that makes it A to Z,” he said before she could. “I’ll get the Heineken out of the way. A beer I enjoy, but I am on sort of a quest here. Oh, make it a pint instead of a mug.”

Zoe laughed, not surprised that he seemed more relaxed than the first night. Trail’s End was that kind of place.

“Nice to meet you, Adam. I can never seem to make my way completely through a to-do list when I’m off, but I can’t complain. How’s the project going?” She set the beer in front of him, slid over a bowl of snack mix and scribbled his order on a pad.

“Not bad; the usual kind of glitches.” He took a sip and tilted his head toward the other end of the bar. “I met your boss, Randy, last night. He’s quite a Chief’s fan, isn’t he?”

“Absolutely,” she agreed, remembering Randy’s dismay with the idea that their second child had been due during a home game. His wife had considerately delivered three days early, thereby solving his dilemma.

“I can’t say I’m that big a fan, but I still have the Chiefs in my top three.”

Zoe didn’t mistake the shade of nostalgia in his voice.


Adam gestured to the closest television that was tuned to ESPN. “Yeah, Kansas connection on my dad’s side. He was career Army to include a couple of assignments at Fort Riley.  My dad took me to a Chief’s game for my ninth birthday. It became a tradition for us, when he was home, that is.”

His tone was harder to read on that.  “Hey, it was a long time ago and after my folks split, my mom moved us to California – it’s easy to like the Forty-niners.” He drained his glass. “Okay, let’s go with the next beer.”

Zoe didn’t press him on the subject. If it was one thing you learned as a bartender, people would tell you their stories in their own time; some as quickly as in the first five minutes, others repeatedly until you felt you knew their family members as well as they did. When she began chipping away at her college degree, she’d thought briefly of psychology figuring she had a basis already. Business management was decidedly more practical however and even though it had been slow progress, four courses were all she had left. She’d been postponing the statistics class and knew she had to quit stalling and get that one out of the way.

A knot of people came through the door, shrieks of laughter preceding the three women in the group. It was part of the dive club that met once a month at the nearby scuba center. If she remembered correctly, they had a Memorial Day trip planned to St Croix or maybe it was Cozumel. She had been puzzled when Wally, a retired fireman, opened the shop not quite three years before, but he explained that being in landlocked Kansas was no impediment to divers. “Got lakes and quarries to train in and it ain’t hard to put a trip together to someplace warm for good diving,” he assured her and suggested she come in for a free introductory lesson. She’d quickly declined, not wanting to admit a moderate fear of being that close to fish.

When she delivered Adam’s plate of steaming Shepard’s Pie packed with more vegetables than most recipes, he’d been frowning into the screen of his cell phone, or Blackberry, or whatever it was. He gave her a quick, distracted smile, pushed his empty glass to her and she brought him the last H beer on the list without asking. He set a credit card on the bar and she ran it through before she turned to take care of the newly arrived group. Between other refills and a joke that Dereck mangled, re-started and finally remembered the punch line to, Adam was headed toward the door after pointing to his clean plate and giving a thumbs-up.

Zoe wondered briefly if the message that interrupted him was the project in town or if it was someone on California time. Adam exuded the sense of being the type that would be answering emails late into the night and maybe in the early morning hours, too. She caught movement in her peripheral vision. Dereck was leaning forward and she hoped he hadn’t half-remembered another joke. He was really lousy at telling them.

Friday night was the usual upbeat chaos of end-of-the-week Happy Hour. Zoe and Lenny passed each other constantly in well-choreographed movements until the crowd thinned around 7:30; the Trail’s End was a neighborhood watering hole, not a weekend hotspot.

Adam seemed surprised when he came in and looked around. “Let me guess. Lots of Happy Hour traffic, then the stalwart regulars with an occasional couple that’s decided they don’t want to cook.”

“That’s usually the way,” Zoe agreed. “And speaking of dinner, how about you?”

“I haven’t decided yet if you’ve won me over, or if it’s that I’m only managing a packet of peanut butter crackers for lunch these days. I’m considering saying the hell with cholesterol and going for the bacon cheddar cheeseburger with a mound of fries.”

“It is a favorite,” Zoe said, holding up a pint glass and a tall. It was Friday after all.

Adam hesitated. “One I, but I’m not so certain about a brown with a name of Idle Hands.”

“Randy’s cousin suggested it and several people swear by it. How about a taste first?” Zoe filled one of the 4 ounce glasses they used for sampling.

Adam looked at the color almost as if it was a wine, sipped tentatively and nodded in appreciation. “Good to go, but I’ll stick with the pint. And what the hell, bacon cheeseburger it is. I’m getting enough exercise on this trip.”

“You on schedule with your project?”  Zoe delivered the beer, noting a reflective expression as if Adam wanted to ask her a question.

“Thanks. Yeah, things are fine – not perfect, of course, but nothing drastic. So, how long have you been working here if you don’t mind me asking?”

Zoe swept her hand to the closest set of taps. “I started the place with Randy. I mean, I was the first person he hired, although Cal, our cook, came as part of the deal.”

“You mean like in Casablanca when Humphrey Bogart was settling with Sidney Greenstreet about keeping Sam, Sasha and Karl on the payroll of Rick’s Cafe?”

Zoe giggled. “I never thought of it that way, but yeah, the Trail’s End wouldn’t be the same without Cal. Anyway, I worked days only when my son was younger, but he’s old enough, and thank God, responsible enough to be at home alone on nights I close up. Randy is a great boss. He lets me do a lot of flex time so I take Sundays off when Brian, my son, isn’t with his dad.”

“Him being with his dad – that a regular thing? It work okay for you?”

Zoe bobbed her head. “Kind of like your project – not perfect, but no big problems. Got married too young and we figured it out before things turned nasty. Stan, my ex, seems to be making a go of it second time around, but he doesn’t make Brian feel left out even with a new family.”

A flash of sadness crossed Adam’s face so quickly that Zoe would have missed it had she not been looking directly at him. “That’s good,” he said neutrally. “My dad did as well as he could, but my mother moved us back to California right after they separated and it was tough what with him being in the Army.”

“Yeah, long distance doesn’t help,” Zoe said, a couple she vaguely recognized arriving to interrupt the thread of conversation.

Adam’s cheeseburger was ready and she drew a Jackhammer Red, a favorite of hers. He was busy on his cell again, texting this time, but gave a quick half-smile that startled her with its unguarded charm.

She chided herself for silliness and spent the next twenty or so minutes working other parts of the bar, glancing over periodically to see if Adam was ready for his third beer. He seemed to be drinking slowly though and taking his time with the burger. Why not? It was Friday night after all, the night when people were supposed to take it easy for a while.

Adam tapped the edge of the black plastic basket, a smear of catsup and drippings from the burger spotting the paper in the bottom. “You said Cal was the cook? He have some kind of secret seasoning he uses?”

Zoe tilted her head in acknowledgement. “He does, as a matter of fact. How did you pick up on that?”

Adam smiled. “My college roommate was on a quest to create the best burger in the world. He played around with all sorts of combinations and I was pretty much his tester. Good guy and he did make a damn fine burger – a few odd combinations, but nothing inedible.”

Zoe set a pint of Jumping Frog India Pale Ale in front of him. “He was a chef?”

“No. Actually, he was a botanist who fell in love with a vegetarian and the last I heard of him they moved to Washington and bought an apple orchard.” He raised his hand, “Scout’s Honor, I kid you not. By the way, I think that last beer is one of the best I’ve had yet. Not that they haven’t all been worthy.”

“Yeah, well I really like that one, too. Do you get a break tomorrow or is it another work day for you?”

Adam wiped the corner of his mouth with the crumpled napkin and tossed it into the basket as Zoe took it. “It depends on how things go. I’m always on call of course and I’ll check in with the team later in the morning. If there aren’t any problems that require my attention, I’ll take some time. No plans, I’ll see what’s going on.  How about you?”

“I usually work the weekends when Brian is with his dad. Between that and the flex  hours Randy lets me do, I have most of the other weekends off as well as my regular two back-to-back days.”

“Ah right, makes sense,” he said thoughtfully and directed her attention to Dereck who was ready to cash out.

That started a trickle of departures until Zoe realized they were down to half a dozen patrons, all on Lenny’s side. Adam was almost finished with his beer and she wondered if Lenny wanted the rest of the night off. It wasn’t likely they would get a surge of people and it never bothered her to close up. It wasn’t a neighborhood where you had to worry about that. Cal shut the kitchen down at 9:00 and they switched to snacks and a few items they could pop into the microwave.

Adam waved his hand toward the reduced crowd. “You close up early if we all go away and leave you alone?”

“Only when we’re talking nasty winter weather,” she said with a laugh. “I thought that by now, you’d know we’re here to have a good time.”

“I do and speaking of which, I’m going to have another Jackhammer instead of moving to the next beer on the list. I know that’s more than three, but hey, so what?”

He hesitated in such a way that Zoe paused, the empty glass in one hand, the empty basket in the other. “Yes?”

An almost shy look flickered across his face. “Uh, when it’s quiet like this, do you maybe get to sit and have a beer?”

My goodness, she didn’t see that coming.  “Uh well, yeah I can, except I’m not sure if things might pick up so I think I’ll do a club soda instead. Let me tell Lenny.” She turned before Adam could read her expression. It wasn’t as if she never drank with the customers and there had been one or two occasions when she’d accepted a date as nothing more than a passing diversion.  Lenny gave her a wink. “Chill for a bit – seems like a nice enough guy.”

Zoe grabbed a stool from the end, pulled it around to her side so she could sit comfortably, fixed a club soda with a slice of lemon and then leaned over. She propped her elbow on the bar and rested her chin on her curled hand. “Okay Adam, tell me about the Kansas and California thing.”

He rotated his glass on the coaster and blinked his eyes. “I’m more interested in your story,” he said quietly. “Are you from here originally?”

Zoe nodded. “Here as in Kansas? Four generations and the family history is a little fuzzy as to our exact origins. My parents are still in Salinas. My father owns a butcher shop and my mother handles bookkeeping and all the pesky paperwork. She was a stay-at-home-mom until my baby sister started third grade. I have one brother who lives three blocks from me. My oldest sister is in Topeka and my baby sister moved all the way to Peoria. As solidly middle class as you could ask for.  Nothing exotic to tell.”

“Zoe is not a name I associate with Kansas,” he countered with a smile.

“Ah that. German extraction – my mother’s maiden name was Wurz. The original accent marks, umlauts right?, got dropped somewhere in the generations. Who knew it would become trendy. Your turn, how deep is your Kansas connection?”

“Not as far as yours. My grandparents on my dad’s side came over from Ohio at some point and bought a farm near Springhill. One of my first memories is helping my grandfather slop pigs. I spent part of every summer with them until my dad was transferred to Fort Riley. We saw them more often after that.” He paused, his voice dropping. “Let’s just say that my mother didn’t take to being an Army wife as well as some. They met when my dad was assigned to Fort Ord in Monterey. She was expecting different assignments than Fort Polk, Louisiana, Fort Hood, Texas, and Fort Riley.”

Zoe had never been to California or to Fort Polk, Louisiana for that matter, but she thought she could imagine the culture shock. “Brothers and sisters?”

“One of each. I’m the middle child and trying to raise a family on a major’s salary wasn’t so great either. My dad had been enlisted for a while and he wasn’t expecting a lot of promotions. I guess I was about twelve when I began to notice all the fighting. My mother wanted him to demand an assignment back at the Presidio or as close as he could get and I guess she thought it was his fault that wasn’t happening. So, my dad took an assignment to Korea for a year, but the follow-on was for Fort Campbell, Kentucky. We moved back near Sacramento to be close to my grandparents and aunt and well, let’s just say that it turned out to be more than a temporary geographical separation. I didn’t understand that at the time, but hey, I wasn’t supposed to either.”

“And your mother remarried?”

Adam shrugged. “Didn’t take long, but my stepfather was, I mean, is, okay. Administrator at Sacramento City College – definitely a change of pace.” He looked at her quizzically. “You ever visit California?”

Zoe lifted her head and shook it, watching different emotions play across Adam’s face, wondering if he was aware of them. Probably not.

“My brother, Leo, was always cracking off with the old California Granola joke about it being, ‘what ain’t fruits is flakes’ and my sister was the opposite. She thought it was exciting. Dad never criticized when we saw him, but it was obvious that he wasn’t comfortable in that environment. He and my sister have never been very close, so it was mostly Leo and I that went to visit him. Leo got a basketball scholarship in Texas, joined Army ROTC and followed in dad’s footsteps. I’d had asthma from early on and never had Leo’s athletic skill. Always had a head for numbers and liked computers, so I was the team statistician-type – know what I mean? Nerdy, but not super-nerd; had plenty of friends who were jocks.”

Zoe envisioned the scene. “I had a cousin who was disqualified for the Army because of asthma.”

Adam nodded. “My dad didn’t make a big deal out of it. I won a full scholarship, you can’t disparage California’s university system and Systems Engineering was a natural fit. Right on through graduate school and Silicon Valley was waiting for me.”

Zoe hadn’t heard so much as a hint about romance. “And your dad? Is he still in good health?”

Adam chuckled and wagged his head. “He’s in great shape. Remarried about ten years ago, retired to Springfield, Missouri where his wife is from and teaches part time as a martial arts instructor. I spent a few days with them before I came here.”

He finished his beer and Zoe suddenly realized she hadn’t been paying the slightest attention to what was going on in the rest of the room. She glanced somewhat guiltily toward Lenny, but he was down to three customers, all of whom were focused on the television at the

other end of the bar. She returned her gaze to Adam and shifted into bartender mode. “You want to stick with the Jackhammer, or move on to the next letter?”

“I could probably manage another one, but there’s a place across the street from the hotel I’m staying at and I’ve been told their pies are great.”

“Murray’s,” she said. “I haven’t been there in years and yes, their reputation is well deserved.”

Adam studied her with a look that was definitely more than casual and she felt a tiny ripple in her stomach. “Look, I don’t think you’re going to get a late night rush and I was wondering if maybe you’d like to slip out early and join me.” It wasn’t a slick come on nor tentative – sweet was the word even though she knew men hated that term.

His smile approached winsome. “Just pie and coffee and a sandwich too since you haven’t had dinner yet. I mean, it’s not as if we’re strangers – you have taken me from A through J.”

“I wasn’t here for two of those days,” Zoe said, wanting to say yes, but never one to go in for short-burst flings. He had what, a week left at the most? Then back to California? Why bother?

“Apple, cherry, blueberry, strawberry, rhubarb, chocolate cream, pecan, lemon meringue, banana cream – anything striking your fancy? And please don’t plead calories – you can’t possibly think you need to worry about that.”

Had his eyes been that warm all along and she simply hadn’t noticed? “Uh well, it has been a long time…”

“Besides enjoying your company, you can really help me out with some advice,” he continued, taking his credit card from his wallet and handing it to her.

She took the card, not breaking eye contact. “How’s that?”

“Ah, the new condominiums on the other side of the bank that are opening later this month. They look pretty nice and you can tell me what you think of them.”

She paused, puzzled. “The Winchester Greens? They had a write-up in the paper the other day and they sounded fine. The Greens is for energy-smart, not gardeny. Are you looking at another project or something?”

There was no mistaking an impish twinkle now.  “Or something. They’re listing some great lease options and I thought I’d check them out.”

She raised her eyebrows without asking the direct question and he grinned again. “Different things have come together, or not, as the case may be. I’ve been thinking for a while that it’s time for a change – a big change. That’s why I volunteered for this project. I wanted to make sure I wasn’t misremembering places from my youth. It’s a good city isn’t it – I mean, the usual array of problems, but nothing unmanageable. Right?”

Impish faded to vulnerability just beneath the surface – the type of look men rarely acknowledged they projected. She nodded once slowly. “Right and Murray’s secret to pies is definitely in the crust – the old fashioned, homemade flaky kind. Let me cash you out and I’ll trade. You tell me about these things that have or haven’t come together and I’ll tell you all the local scandals.”

“It’s a deal,” he said smiling softly.

Zoe started to turn to hide her own smile, then stopped, her voice light. “By the way, how are you at statistics? To like tutor someone?”

He snapped his fingers. “Easy as pie if you’ll pardon the pun. I can get anyone through it. Your son having some trouble?”

She winked, knowing that her eyes were probably sparkling. “Not exactly, but I’ll tell you about it while we walk over.”

The End