Plans were set for Powell to come to dinner and meet Burke’s family. They shook hands again and he watched as Burke walked slowly down the street, not turning to take a another glance or give a wave. He was still an imposing figure but he seemed different somehow.
He was older of course, as was Powell and although he seemed genuinely glad to see him, there appeared to be a hollowness about him. There had been no sparkle in his eyes when he talked about his wife and children. For some reason, that bothered Powell.
Burke had never been one to gush but he and Powell had been close and had shared personal experiences, most often while they were drinking. Some were good and some were deliciously wicked but the confidences stopped when Burke began a relationship with Murphy Slaughter.
Powell knew that Burke had fallen hard for her and he knew that when she was killed, it almost destroyed him. They never talked about it but he had tried to be there for Burke in any way he could and in any way Burke would allow.
After her death, they had been known to toss back a few in complete silence or with Burke uncharacteristically raising hell to the point that they were asked to leave the bar. A few times Captain Meade had to come to the rescue, smoothing things over by promising to overlook any future infractions that might be committed by the owner of the establishment.
Later that evening, Powell arrived at Burke’s place. It was a small bungalow-style house with an undersized but well-kept yard and a much lusted after driveway. In the city proper, driveways were a luxury. Most of the houses were in very close proximity to each other and could only support a narrow alleyway.
Burke and Carol both greeted him. Carol wasn’t anything like Powell had pictured and she was nothing like Slaughter. She was a short woman with a bit of a pooch, probably due to childbirth. She wasn’t what could be described as beautiful but she had a glow about her that was endearing and she seemed delighted to meet somebody from Burke’s past.
“I hope you like pot roast,” she said as she smiled and shook his hand. She had a firm handshake, which impressed Powell. He never understood women, or men for that matter, who had what he called a “pussy handshake.”
She called the boys in and introduced them. “This is Brian and this little rascal is Barkley.” They were like two sides of the same coin. Brian was a timid little boy who hid behind his mother and barely managed a muffled “hello.” Barkley was a loud, rambunctious little hellion and Powell believed Carol when she said he was making her old before her time.
Carol was chatty, while Burke was more reserved and the boys seemed oblivious to everything. Barkley spent most of his time flicking food at Brian, until Burke gave him the hairy eyeball and said “that’s enough, Mutt.”
Powell chuckled and said “Mutt?” Carol giggled and said “we call the boys Mutt and Jeff.” She glanced toward the ceiling and with a humorous sigh said “somehow, it seems appropriate.”
Carol asked Powell if he was married. He said “tried it twice and neither one of them stuck.” Carol asked “children?” Powell laughed and said “one of them acted like one.”
Burke joined in by saying “I didn’t know you had gotten married, Kiddo.” Carol raised her eyebrows and mockingly said “Kiddo?” Powell, a little embarrassed, said “that’s what our old Captain used to call me. Isn’t that right, grandpa?”
Carol chuckled and asked if grandpa was what the Captain called Burke. “No,” said Powell. “That’s what I called him.”
“I’m not even going to ask why,” Carol said.
After dinner, Carol shooed Burke and Powell into the living room while she busied herself clearing the table. When Powell volunteered to help, she said “absolutely not. The boys will help me and you guys need to catch up.”
Burke offered Powell a cold beer and he gratefully accepted.
While they sipped their beer, Powell looked around at the sufficient but not overly indulgent furnishings. Smiling family pictures were strategically placed throughout the house, even in the powder room.
He asked Burke what he had been up to lately. Burke said “you know, the usual. Murder, mischief and mayhem. Never a dull moment.”
Burke didn’t return the question and for a few moments, there was an uncomfortable silence. Powell knew there were three people in that room as Burke looked at his beer can and ever so slightly shook his head. He was deep in thought and his thoughts were not about catching up with Powell.
Powell finally gave the toast gesture to Burke and said “you have a nice family.” Burke looked toward the kitchen and almost wistfully said, “I know. I should feel lucky.”
Powell was struck by his statement and said “you should feel lucky?”
Burke quickly retracted his statement. “I meant to say that I said do feel lucky.”
He wasn’t successful when he tried to deny the Freudian slip. Powell could hear an almost disenchantment in his voice and could see regret in his eyes. He wondered if Carol could, too.
To be continued___________