Cruising past a stalled truck, Maharis glanced at the clock on the dashboard. Nearly a quarter to ten. He should be at the restaurant in another twelve minutes. Right on schedule.
A minute later, approaching a traffic light, he spotted a familiar copper-colored Corolla move through the intersection. It was headed downtown, and though he was on his way out toward the airport, he made a left turn and trailed it. He thought it was Lauren's car but could not be sure until he got close enough to see if there was a dent on the bottom of the front passenger's door. They had been together for almost a year until five weeks ago when she returned the key to his apartment and suggested it might be a good idea if they stopped seeing one another for a while. He was stunned, confused, unable to understand what could have induced her to come to such a decision. When he asked for an explanation, she really didn't have one, just thought it made sense at this time.
"Have you met someone else?"
"No, Steven. I haven't."
"I told you I haven't," she snapped.
Just as they approached the McQuire Bridge, he was able finally to see the dent and smiled. It was Lauren all right, and he assumed she was on her way to Nordstrom's where she sold men's sportswear. He was surprised she was so late for work, wondered if she had another doctor's appointment for her persistently sore throat.
Again, he looked at the dashboard clock, as he signalled and headed back toward the airport. Now he would be late but he didn't regret following her. It was good to see her again, and after his appointment, he was tempted to drive back into town and ask her to have lunch with him.
Kessler, the proprietor of Kessler's Bar and Grill, looked up from the crossword puzzle he was working on when Maharis stepped through the doorway. Seated at the end of the bar of the musty little establishment, he did not bother to get up but waited for Maharis to walk over to him.
"You the county's butt boy?"
Maharis frowned at the characterization. "I am an enforcer of the anti-smoking ordinance, if that's what you mean."
"It is," he grunted.
A plane then roared above the restaurant, rattling the glasses suspended from the ceiling.
"You got a pretty long beak on you, mister," he observed after the plane noise receded. "Is that what qualified you for your job?"
Ignoring the rude remark, Maharis pulled a clipboard from his shoulder bag and looked at it for a moment. "The other day you were sent a letter notifying you that we received a second complaint that you are allowing patrons to smoke on your premises."
"That's a filthy lie," he growled, shoving aside the crossword puzzle. "I'm sure that's just some competitor of mine who wants to get me in trouble with you guys."
"Please, Mr. Kessler. As soon as I stepped in here, I could smell cigarette smoke."
"That's left over from back when folks were permitted to smoke in bars."
"It's not lingering smoke. It's as fresh as rain."
"It's not, either."
Not interested in arguing the matter, Maharis handed him the standard remedial plan he presented to all second-time offenders along with four No Smoking signs to post in his establishment.
"I already have plenty of signs."
"Apparently you don't have enough. Otherwise, people wouldn't be smoking here," he said, slipping the clipboard back into his bag. "You know, if we receive another complaint, it will cost you five hundred dollars."
"I know and I think it's ridiculous."
"It may be, Mr. Kessler, but it's the law these days and it will be enforced."
"By you, butt boy?" he snarled.
"By someone, all right."
Maharis completed his business at the restaurant sooner than expected, mainly because he found the proprietor so obnoxious he wasn't interested in talking with him any longer than he had to, so he decided to drive back to town and invite Lauren to lunch. He assumed she would accept, knowing how famished she got in the afternoon because she nearly always skipped breakfast.
It took him almost twenty minutes to find a parking space once he got downtown and it was a good eight and a half blocks from Nordstrom's. The walk would improve his appetite, he reckoned, as he locked the car door and started across the street. As usual, the sidewalks were packed, and before he knew it, he found himself in the middle of a throng of conventioneers with lapel pins as large as carnations. He walked with them for almost two blocks until he spotted Lauren on the opposite side of the street. She was with some guy who appeared as tall as a lamppost, and, surprisingly, was clutching his arm as if afraid she might lose him in the crowd. Her smile was as bright as he had ever seen it, as if everything she had hoped for had been realized. Quickly he ducked into a lounge on the corner and watched her and her friend continue down the street. For a split instant, he was tempted to follow them, but instead he slumped against the window and took out a cigarette and stuck it into his mouth.
"Not here, sir."
He squinted at the waitress, not sure if she was speaking to him.
"You have to go outside if you want to smoke."
Foolishly he nodded and stepped outside, walked off the ten feet smokers were required to be from the entrance of restaurants and bars and lit the cigarette. Inhaling slowly, he stared down the street, still seeing her smile even though she was several blocks away by now.