Before I Wake
    Nathan leaned forward and offered his hand. “Thanks.”
    “Today it feels good to have any decent agreement on which to shake hands.”
    “Did you get a chance to take Marla out for her birthday?”
    Larry smiled. “We went out for Chinese, and she got a fortune cookie saying Happy Birthday. It made her day; personally I had heartburn from eating the pork.”
    Nathan smiled as he got to his feet. “She loves you, man.”
    “I know it.”
    “I’ll see you tomorrow, Larry.”
    * * *
    Rae listened to the conversations flowing around her in the diner, putting faces together with voices and topics that concerned them. The couple by the window were talking about their grandson, the table of three to her left were discussing where to go skiing next weekend, and the rest immediately around her seemed to be talking about different issues surrounding the strike.
    So who in this diner might make a good neighbor? She studied those around the restaurant as she ate.
    Safe neighborhoods were nice, but people who lived in safe neighborhoods rarely knew anything useful about what was going on in the town. She preferred to call neighbors those who had a friend or relative who had brushed through trouble with the law, for it was there that a pipeline of useful information flowed.
    Families affected by crime cared a lot about stopping it, but they were not always willing to talk directly to the police, making it fertile grounds for her and a stack of agency business cards.
    “Rae Gabriella, you are hard to track down.” Bruce pulled out a chair across from her at the table. “I heard a rumor that you were in town, got to my office, and found the proof.”
    She looked up and bit the inside of her cheek to stop herself from reacting to the fact that someone had beat him up and recently. It had to have been a polar bear of a guy to get past Bruce’s head-snapping right hook.
    “A hotel room is not a place I like to hang out.” She accepted the ring of keys Bruce held out. The back of his hand looked bruised, so he’d given some of what he had received.
    “Your new office key is the blue-tabbed one, not that you’ll need it.”
    She smiled at the quiet dig and pulled out her own ring of keys to add them to.
    “Couldn’t sleep?” Bruce asked.
    “I’ll catch a nap later.”
    He helped himself to one of the remaining onion rings.
    She returned her attention to her lunch. “This steak is as good as advertised.”
    “Everything here is good, especially the cheeseburgers. How was the trip?”
    “It was nice to have the time to think. Are you going to explain that face, or should I guess?”
    “A restraining order needed to be enforced and I was the closest when it came time to do it.”
    “It looks like it hurts.”
    Bruce smiled. “Only when I smile. I’ve closed up the office for the day. Would you like to look at housing or take a drive around town? I’m yours for the afternoon.”
    “Actually, you’re just in time to join me for dessert. I want a slice of chocolate cream pie. Let’s go to the Dessert Palace.”
    Rae reached for her cash, taking advantage of the fact that Bruce had just given her an excuse to move them out of here. The lady at the next table over had just angled her chair to make it easier for her to overhear their conversation. The teenagers had started whispering, and one was craning her neck to see Bruce. Her friend was a bit radioactive at the moment. This was probably not the place to talk details of her job or the cases Bruce was working on.
    “The Dessert Palace is more than an hour north of Chicago.”
    “Yes. So?” She slid bills to pay for dinner onto the tray with the ticket and left a large tip on the table. “I’m driving.”
    Bruce laughed. He got up and picked up his jacket. “You haven’t changed, Gabriella. I’m getting the lemon meringue, and when my blood sugar goes high enough to kill me, I’m blaming it on you.”
    “Can we take your Jaguar?”
    “After the

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