The Fishery was one of the few places near downtown that still had great food without pastel decor and Don Johnson posters.
A few nautical relics hung on the wall - a stuffed sailfish, a ship's wheel, rope, casting nets. It was the kind of place Jeff loved. Big on food, unconcerned with fabricated ambiance. Who needed it here, right on the river? The Miami River's shores were jammed with boat yards, hulking freighters stacked with merchandise, tugs and old shrimpers. There were abandoned fishing boats, half sunk, their weathered lines tied to leaning docks. Seagulls cried gently, boats' horns moaned for the bridge, the air smelled rusty and moist. It was pure Miami, old Miami.
They had both eaten lunch prior to the meeting, but Jeff had to wrestle down the urge to order some of their conch salad. His salivary glands just about exploded when he saw it on the menu.
"Want anything with your coffee?"
"No thanks, coffee's fine," Patricia Franklin said.
Jeff ordered two coffees and they spent a quiet few moments stirring and watching a tugboat plow west on the river, its sides lined with tires.
"The Indians used to paddle down this river on canoes, with nothing but trees on either side," Jeff remarked, thinking of how peaceful and incredibly beautiful South Florida must have been in the early 1800s.
"I'll bet you're a native, huh?" she asked.
"Sure am. I grew up in the south end, South Miami mostly. You?"
"Ashland, Kentucky. Right on the mighty Ohio River. A vastly depressing place. Coal and iron, everyone dying of black lung and raising their kids to work in mines or iron factories. I got divorced up there fifteen years ago and came down here. I had background in social work up there, so I applied with D.S.S., worked my way up."
Jeff nodded as she talked.
"So, you must know Royce Bunchford."
"Sure, he works with me. How do you know him?"
"He used to work here as a social worker."
Jeff smiled, thinking of Bunch doing social work. He certainly had the patience. Poor guy. That's what must have made him so bizarre. "I never knew that. He's a great guy."
"One in a million," she nodded. "So polite, so..."
She laughed. "Yeah, formal. He's a sweetheart."
"I'll tell him you said hello."
"Ok. So, what's it like being a homicide detective?"
The ubiquitous question. One that he even asked himself from time to time. "It's busy as hell, for one thing. It never gets boring."
"I'm sure it doesn't, in this town."
"And it can be kind of difficult." He hesitated, thinking for a moment of what her reaction was going to be - but surely she'd seen his ring - "difficult on family life."
She never looked away from his eyes - she had noticed his ring the first time, he figured.
"It must be." Sweet, sympathetic. She brushed back her wavy brown hair and Jeff noticed the smooth lines of her neck. She was lovely. He wanted this meeting to be over in the worst way. Temptation like this he did not need.
"How many children do you have?"
"Just one. A girl, six years old."
She smiled. "Bet she misses you when you work late, huh?"
"That she does." He looked away, at a Haitian freighter docked on the south side of the river. It threw the banter about family off the track just long enough for him to change the subject. "Did you bring the list of employees?"
"Yes." She patted a satchel by her left leg. "Do you really think it could be a D.S.S. employee?"
He shrugged. "Could be. I can't narrow it down to D.S.S. just now. But I feel it's someone who had access to those files."
"Or someone at the courthouse. They get the docket list of cases being heard in court. Do you have anyone helping you from the D.S.S. court division?"
"Yes, I do." The helping part he wasn't sure of. Searcy, the bailiff, had handed over the documents the next day after his visit to the Steam Room. He had been a lot nicer that day, almost amiable, perhaps after realizing that Jeff was somewhat of an unguided missile.
They had a second cup and chatted about trivial topics for a while.
Patricia looked a little nervous as they pushed away from the table. "Well," she said, "thanks for the coffee."
"My pleasure, thanks for the help."
"If you ever want to get together for something stronger than coffee, let me know." She handed him her business card and pointed to a handwritten phone number on the back. "My number."
He smiled nervously and found her doing the same.
"That's very thoughtful."
She raised her eyebrows, apparently amused by his choice of words.
"Good luck with your case. When you catch him, before they send him to the electric chair, give him a medal from all of us at Child Affairs, will you?"
He laughed and told her he would. Then he watched her walk to her car and leave. His fingertips felt light and he noticed his breath had gained speed. He was glad it was over. He had done well, hadn't he?
He looked at the card with Patricia Franklin's home phone number and felt a secret thrill. Then he walked back over to the waiter, who was about to clear their table.
"Don't take it away yet, boss." He sat down, and with a sigh tore up Patricia Franklin's business card. "Bring me an order of the conch salad, and a bottle of Tabasco."
-- from Sons of the Storm, copyright 1992 by Ramesh Nyberg