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Did She Mention My Name

 

by Joan Stephens

 

“Excuse me,” Elliot said as he bumped into a man who was determinedly threading his way through the crowded sidewalk.

Raising his head, the other man nodded absentmindedly and began to move around him.

Elliot instantly recognized the blunt good looks of the other man.  “Joe?  Joe Maxwell?” he gasped as he extended his hand.

 

Joe looked at him icily.  “Burch,” he finally acknowledged, reluctantly taking the offered hand.  He had hoped never to see the famous architect again.

Elliot enthusiastically pumped his hand.  “Man, you have no idea how happy I am to see a familiar face.”   He had only arrived in town this morning and was spending the afternoon reacquainting himself with his native city.  “How have you been?”

“Fine,” was the terse answer. Joe started to move away.

 

Elliot stopped him with a cautious hand.  He knew how Joe felt about him.  “Uh . . . Joe, got a minute?  I’ve been away for so long that I’d like to catch up on things if you have the time.”

 

Joe had the time, but he didn’t know if he wanted to talk with him.  He had always resented the man; his savoir-faire and urbanity had constantly rubbed him the wrong way, and then the thing with Cathy had cemented his resentment.  But, for some reason, Elliot seemed downright glad to see him. 

 

Eagerly Burch continued, “Got time for a beer or coffee . . . whatever you want?  I’d really like to talk with you.”

 

With a sinking feeling, Joe knew what he wanted to talk about: Cathy.  Gesturing reluctantly, he indicated that the other man should accompany him.  “Been away for a while, huh?”

 

Elliot fell in grateful stride with him, and they proceeded down the crowded street.

 

“Yes, to the far ends of the earth.  I was the only American there.  Gets lonely, you know.”

 

Remembering many lonely nights spent in his bachelor apartment, Joe nodded; he knew what lonely was.  Seems he had been lonely all his life until Cathy had brought Gina into his life.

 

As there had been no answer to his question, Elliot said, “There’s a little coffee shop on this block that has the best coffee in town, a couple of stores down.”

“Coffee’s good.”  Joe explained his new role in city politics. “I’m the new D.A., and it wouldn’t look right for me to be boozing it up while on the public’s payroll.”

 

“Hey, that’s great, man.” Elliot clapped him on the shoulder.  “You’ll make a helluva good D.A.  Better than Moreno.”

 

“Don’t mention that man’s name to me,” Joe snarled.  “He betrayed me and the office he held.  I’m sorry he’s dead, but he got what he deserved after what he did to Cathy.”

 

They entered the coffee shop filled with small intimate tables covered with snow-white tablecloths and several booths in the back for discreet conversations.  By common consent they chose one of the booths.

 

“What did he do?” Elliot asked as they sat down.

 

They settled in and ordered their coffee from a tired-looking senior citizen, who evidently had to work to supplement her small social security check.  She reminded Joe of his Aunt Tessa who had to do the same thing.  This particular waitress would get a substantial tip.

 

“He was instrumental in her kidnapping.”

 

“What?”

 

“Yep, he set her up for Gabriel’s goons to snatch her.”

 

“That bastard!  I knew he was dirty, but I didn’t think he was that deeply involved with Gabriel.”

 

“You’d be amazed at what we dug up when we investigated him: offshore bank accounts in the Cayman Islands, a house on Antigua with expensive cars and a yacht, a safety deposit box full of cash, a mistress that he kept in a luxurious apartment, the usual stuff.”  He looked at the other man sourly.  “You should know.”

 

Elliot shook his head.  Would this man never cease to think of him as one of the bad guys, capable of anything?  “That’s unkind, Joe.”  

 

“Yeah, I know.  Sorry.”  But he didn’t look or sound one bit repentant.  “He used aliases, mostly.  He sure had me fooled,” he said bitterly.

 

“I know how you feel; one of my dearest friends was sent by Gabriel to warn me off Cathy’s case.  Someone I have known all my life; someone I’d grown up with.  It’s a bitter pill to swallow.  I had no idea he was involved with Gabriel.”

 

“His tentacles went everywhere.  We’re still cleaning up the mess he left.  Anyway, water over the bridge.  Where’ve you been?”

 

“In deepest, darkest Mongolia for five years.  You haven’t missed me?”  Elliot tried to chuckle, but it came out more as a groan.

 

“Doing what?” 

 

“Building a large municipal building, and I don’t speak a word of Mongolian or Russian.  Made it really interesting trying to give orders; thankfully I had a good interpreter.  I got it done, and now I’m home to stay.”

 

The waitress returned with their coffee, and they were silent for a few minutes, stirring in their sugar and cream.

 

“Well, fill me in on the important stories, Maxwell.  What’s been happening in my native city during the last sixty months?”

 

Carefully setting down his cup, Joe proceeded to tell Elliot some of what he remembered.  When he stopped, they had had their cups refilled three times, and there was still so much to tell, but he couldn’t stay out of the office all afternoon.  “There’s a lot more to tell you, but I can’t stay much longer.”

 

“I know.  I’m sorry if I’ve kept you away from any important meetings.”

 

“Nah.  Today was an amazingly light day for the office.”

 

They fell silent, and Joe waited for the questions he knew were coming.  He could almost feel the tension as the other man braced himself to ask them.  “Go ahead, Elliot, ask what you really want to know.”

 

Elliot blew out a deep sigh.  “Ok.  Have you seen Cathy lately?”

 

“Not lately.  She doesn’t come into the city much.”

 

“Is she all right; is she happy?”

 

He hated to be the one to hurt the man, which surprised the heck out of him, but it looked like he had misjudged Elliot, who, it seems, had finally learned what love meant and was paying the price.  Thank goodness, he had Gina and the boys, and that his love for Cathy had turned to that of a love for a friend.

 

“I’ve never known anyone to be as happy and fulfilled as she is.”

 

Elliot squeezed his eyes shut at the pain that lanced through him.  It could have been him if only he hadn’t been so stupid.  Famous last words: if only. . . .  “Is she with . . . with him . . . with Vincent?”  The man’s name brought even more pain.

 

Joe was surprised that Elliot knew the name of the man that Cathy loved.  “How do you know his name?”

 

“He came to me one night to ask for my assistance in the search for Cathy. I wasn’t a great deal of help to him, though.  In fact, I almost got him killed.  When the Compass Rose blew up.  Sometimes I wish . . .”  Elliot stopped.  No, I will not go down that path; I’m better than that now.

 

 “Oh.  Well, they have a daughter now.  I’ve seen pictures of her and she’s beautiful, just like her mother, only she has blond hair and blue eyes.  Other than that she looks just like Cathy.”

 “I’m pleased for her,” Elliot managed to say.  Then he asked the hardest question of all.  “Whenever you saw her, did she mention my name?”

Joe debated whether he should tell a lie or not, but decided that the truth was the best.  It might help Elliot get over Cathy.  “No, I’m sorry, man, she never mentioned your name.”

Elliot bowed his head.  “I was hoping . . .”  Straightening up, he smiled bitterly.  “I was hoping . . .,” he repeated.  “Thanks anyway for being honest.  At least, she’s happy.  What more can you wish for the woman you love?”

“Nothing more, I guess.  Well, duty calls; I’ve got to go.”  Joe reached for the check, but the other man’s hand was faster than his.

With a smile, Elliot snagged the check and put a ten-dollar bill under it.  “My treat.  I asked you.”

Joe shrugged.  That was Burch: generous when he wanted to be.  “Ok.”  He stood to slip into his coat.

Looking for the waitress, he found her behind the counter at the cash register.  As he passed by, he pressed a ten dollar bill into her hands and murmured, “For you.”

Startled, she glanced from the bill in her hand to his earnest face.  “Oh, thank you,” she said, beaming.

Outside in the warm autumn afternoon, they shook hands and parted.  As he started to walk away, on a sudden impulse, Joe turned around.  “Hey, Burch,” he called.

“What?” Elliot replied from several paces away. 

“Give me a call sometime, or maybe I’ll call you.  Maybe we can have that beer you were talking about.”

A wide, toothy smile that was as sincere as it was brilliant blossomed on Elliot’s handsome face.  “Thanks, Joe,” he said sincerely.  “I’d like that.”

With a nod of acceptance from each man, they went their separate ways.  Hey, Elliot thought, maybe I’m finally learning how to be a friend.  Jamming his fists into his coat pockets, he laughed out loud in pure joy as he jauntily made his way down the crowded street.

 

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