A Break in the Battle
Charlene squealed, leaning to the side to avoid an airborne hot dog. She need not have worried, for the meaty missile bounced neatly against the chest of JT, who was seated next to her.
"Damn it, Rudy!" JT grabbed a napkin from the table and scrubbed at his shirt. "That wasn't funny!"
"Really?" Rudy flashed an innocent grin over the top of barbecue grill. "I thought it was hilarious." He flipped a pair of hamburgers, then added a dash of seasoning to each.
"You got hot dog grease on my shirt," JT said crossly. "Next time, warn me so I can duck."
"Don't run your mouth, and there won't be a next time." Rudy raised his right arm, pointing at the cast that encased it from wrist to elbow. "Even with this, I can hit what I'm aiming at."
JT shot a glare in Rudy's general direction. "Can you believe him?"
"You shouldn't have said he was getting old, and you definitely shouldn't have said he was losing his touch." Charlene refilled her glass from the pitcher of lemonade on the table. Lemonade, and just the right amount of tequila.
"Who's getting old?" Decker stepped from the dining room onto the deck, leaning on a cane with one hand and holding a bowl of potato salad in the other. "You best not be talking about me!"
"Don't worry, Peter Pan, we weren't." Charlene pulled the chair to her left away from the table so that Decker could sit. "JT said it about Rudy."
"Well, that was stupid." Decker set the bowl onto the table, then dropped into the chair, leaning the cane against the table before reaching for the pitcher.
JT pointed to the stain on his shirt. "You're not kidding! Good arm, bad arm, it don't matter. He's dead on."
He shifted in his chair, muttering a soft curse when his broken ribs objected.
Decker smiled sympathetically, knowing from firsthand experience how he felt. "Give it a couple of weeks," he advised. "You'll feel better before you know it."
"I know," JT replied. "But in the meantime, it really hurts!"
"Your face looks better." Decker reached across the table, tilting JT's head to the right. "At least, the swelling's gone down. You'll have the color for a while, yet."
Charlene leaned back, tuning out the conversation while she thought back over the last six days.
It had started as just another job, but it had quickly become so much more. Hired to find and retrieve a stolen Shelby Daytona Coupe, Decker and his team had landed in the middle of an auto theft ring that stretched from Bellevue to Portland. Finding the missing car had been difficult – retrieving it had been damn near impossible.
The car had been located in Vancouver and liberated in the dark of night with considerable damage to all concerned. By the time the Shelby was safely in a truck headed north, Decker had calculated how much of a wear and tear fee he was going to charge his employer before the car was offloaded at its destination.
Bruised and broken, Decker's team had limped back to Tacoma and gone their separate ways. After checking on the Shelby, Decker had contacted the owner and arranged a time to meet.
Charlene had greeted him at the door when he arrived home, the sight of his battered body bringing tears to her eyes. He had assured her that he was not seriously hurt, so there was no discussion of seeking medical help. He knew his body – and its injuries – better than any doctor, so she did not question his analysis of the situation.
Injured and exhausted, he had needed rest. A great deal of rest. But, after only a day and a half, he was limping restlessly from room to room, and she knew that something needed to be done.
The barbecue had been her idea, and he had willingly agreed. Though they often entertained, they had never invited more than two or three people over at once. The fact that it was JT's first social visit to the house contributed to the uniqueness of the event, as did the presence of Decker's old friend and occasional teammate, Hunter Grae.
The side gate rattled, and Charlene jumped up to open it before Davis dropped his armload of Tupperware containers. The investigator gave her a warm smile, thanking her for her assistance.
Charlene looked over his shoulder. "Where's Bert?"
"She'll be along soon," Davis told her. "She had to run her mother to the grocery store, so she's a little behind schedule. But don't worry, she's not far behind me."
He handed over three of the containers. "Pasta salad, deviled eggs, and some sort of asparagus thing." He shrugged apologetically. "Personally, I don't think asparagus has any business being at a barbecue, but you know how Bert is."
Charlene laughed, then sobered when she noticed the manila envelope beneath the remaining two containers. "That better not be what I think it is."
"It's everything I could find for the Palmer job. I promised I'd bring it by today." He waved at Decker and JT, then slid the envelope from beneath the Tupperware to show he'd brought it.
Charlene put her hand on his wrist, stopping him. "Not today, please. He'll open it up, they'll spend the rest of the day plotting and planning, and that'll be it for the day off. You know it as well as I do. They just can't help themselves."
Davis thought for a moment, then nodded. "You're right," he agreed. "Okay, I'll toss this back in the car and give it to him tomorrow. I can't stall any longer than that, but at least it won't ruin today."
"Thank you," Charlene said gratefully, then headed for the kitchen to unpack the Tupperware while Davis returned to his car.
When she passed Rudy, he handed her a plate loaded with hotdogs and hamburger patties.
"Here's a first round. Is everything on the food table?"
Charlene glanced over the long fold-up table that Decker had set on the grass. It held assorted buns and condiments, as well as paper plates and plastic silverware.
"Just about. Hunter's in the kitchen slicing cheese, and I have to put Bert's stuff on plates, but it won't take long. So yes, it's pretty much ready. "
"That's a good thing." Rudy pressed his fingers against the pieces of tape that held a long strip of gauze to the side of his face, checking that they were still secure. "So we're just waiting on the cheese."
As if on cue, Hunter appeared on the deck, carrying a serving tray that had been loaded down with small plates of pickles, slices of cheese, and crisp lettuce leaves. He called out a greeting to Davis and Roberta, who were coming through the gate together, then headed for the picnic table to unload the tray.
He was clad in shorts and a tank top, and Charlene could clearly see the stitches where the blade of a knife had cut into his calf, and the colorful section of bruising that a heavy object of some sort had left along his collarbone.
She joined him at the picnic table, calling to the others as she set the plate down. She was able to get her hamburger onto a plate, along with potato salad and baked beans, before the table was surrounded by hungry people.
Glad that she had escaped the swarm, Charlene returned to her place at the oversized table on the deck. Taking her seat, she enjoyed a moment of silence, knowing that a moment was all she would probably get.
A light breeze brought the scent of roses, and Charlene closed her eyes, inhaling with pleasure. So far, the day had been wonderful, and she knew that the evening would be just as fine.
Opening her eyes, she looked around at the people who mattered in her life. It couldn't be more perfect, she thought with a contented smile. Fun, food, and the very best of friends combined to make a day that she would long remember. Especially since, for a few short hours, it was a fairly safe bet that no one was going to die.
Rhani D’Chae RWISA Author Page