Looking up from her files, Mira happened to notice the clock. It was lunchtime already.
It was her third day of work at the newly-opened Chicago Loop branch of Beacon Therapeutic Social Services, and Mira had been asked to lunch by her co-workers Bernice, Edna, and Kim. Bernice was a black woman of about sixty who’d spent the past fourteen years at Beacon’s Longwood location. She was at least six feet tall, with a lean frame and bushy gray hair that wrapped around a kind but steely face. Wire-rimmed glasses always rested about two-thirds down the bridge of her nose.
Edna and Kim had worked together at the Calumet Park campus. Both lived on the north side, so they had jumped at the chance to move to the Loop location. Edna was a witty lady whose neatly-styled white hair complemented her always-fashionable clothes, and who moved through life much faster than her short, 63-year old frame should have allowed. Kim, considerably younger than Bernice and Edna, carried a rougher edge through her day. Mira observed that Kim took on the most difficult cases, from child abuse to trauma. The circles under her eyes were but one sign that her cases had taken a long-term effect on her. She’d always schedule ten-minute intervals between clients to allow her to go outside and smoke at least two cigarettes. “One to detox from the last meeting, one to prepare for the next,” she’d say.
The four of them found a booth right by the front window, and consuming helpings of pad Thai and pot stickers, chatted about their new clientele.
At a break in conversation, Edna piped in: “Mira dear, do you have a boyfriend?”
Mira froze in her chair, forcing a smile in response. She fought off the hot rush of embarrassment rising in her face. Why, she thought, did people feel the need to break the ice with her using the topic of men? She was single, but had learned that saying so usually led to back-handed compliments (“How on earth could you be single?”), followed by the prospective introduction to someone or another. It was flattering for a while, but even the most genuine of compliments aged quickly when repeated too often.
“Hmm, well, why do you ask?” she smiled back at Edna, trying to hide the slight bit of frustration her expression had surely given away.
“Oh, no reason,” Edna replied, retreating a bit, still with a genuine smile. “I guess we were just wondering, that’s all.”
“I don’t care,” Bernice grinned at Mira, taking a sip of her iced tea.
“I think what our friend Edna’s getting at,” Kim started, “is something about her nephew. Isn’t that right Edna? See, we know all about him. I even met him myself. Nice guy, a cop. Low-thirties, lost his wife years ago. Sad story. Still, he’s handsome, nice tush. Built like an ox, but wouldn’t hurt a fly. So, you wanna meet him?”
Edna flushed, taking a sip of her tea. “Okay, something like that,” she admitted.
After hearing about her nephew’s wife, Mira decided to humor Edna a little. “Has he dated often since?”
“Not a one,” Kim cut in before Edna could respond. “Fussy one he is, if you ask me. Or can’t move on, one or the other.”
“Let’s give Edna a chance here,” Mira offered. “Continue, Edna.”
“I think,” Edna exhaled, putting her palms on the table, “that you’ve all made your point clear. How about we change the subject? Did you know, the city is going to offer special group therapy sessions at city hall starting week after next, paying moderators $1,000 for each course. It runs six weeks, just two nights a week. There are slots open if any of you girls is interested.”
“Something to think about,” Kim sat back in her chair, “if you can’t get enough of this job during the day. Thanks, I’ll keep my evenings to myself.”
Bernice had started to flip through the day’s edition of the newspaper. “Will you look at that,” she said. “Another one of those murders. Just like the others – gang members. One dead, one left alive. Guy all in black, with a ski mask. This is like the fifth one, isn’t it?”
“Fifth, sixth,” Kim commented passively. “Who’s counting?”
“It says here,” Bernice continued to read, “that in the last two cases now, the words ‘Protector of the People’ were found spray painted on the ground underneath the victims. What do you think that means?”
“Well, whatever it means,” Edna added, “I’m sure the police are doing their best to catch him.”
“I suppose,” replied Bernice, scanning down the story. “But apparently whoever it is, they’re not leaving much of a trail to follow.”
The subject then changed to the weather and other small talk. Soon afterwards, the four of them finished up lunch and headed back to the clinic for their afternoon appointments._____
Chris Lindberg’s first novel, Code of Darkness, was released in August. You can find out more by visiting www.codeofdarkness.com, or visiting Facebook and searching on “code of darkness.”
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