We didn’t have to face any particularly knowing smiles as we walked through the reception area, so small favors there. She pretended not to hear my slight groan when I lifted my foot over the strolling backpack of an absent-minded office dweller, and I didn’t mention her leaning wearily against the elevator wall. For a second I contemplated telling her I’d like to slide down the banister on the big stairs connecting the second floor to the first, but it didn’t seem worth breaking our communal exhaustion.
The rose garden seemed to be walking away from us, considering how long it took us to trudge to it. “Hey, what’s with all the traffic?” She did her usual wrinkled nose thing.
My sharp eyes caught plenty of Mexican and club flags flapping from the cars. “Must be a soccer game at the Coliseum, probably a doubleheader, if past events hold. I’ve been caught in these traffic jams before.”
“I thought you didn’t like men’s soccer.”
“I don’t, but it’s a really good place to meet an informant, particularly in Europe or Latin America. Better than bullfights, anyway.”
“Yeah, I can imagine that.” She shuddered beautifully.
“Hey, a redhead!” I smirked at the five-year-old who was walking toward us with a smirk of her own, as well as her mom; redheads were usually advanced in this way.
“Future redhead,” she warned.
“She’s already red.” I smiled at the mom, who smiled back but not too much, not being a redhead herself, as well as having gotten a good look at Shannon. Women were confusing in this fashion, at least to me.
Very willing to let that particular conversation go as we took the steps down into the rose garden, Shannon went right up to a huge black guy on a bench that somehow managed to hold him up. He looked like an offensive lineman, or rather, like he’d eaten one. He was wearing shades, and next to him on the bench was a blonde cheerleader in white sweater and skirt.
Really, were there any kind but blonde here?
“Hi, Ken,” the no doubt much smarter blonde chirped.
“Hi, Barbie,” I couldn’t resist as I checked out the cheerleader.
She gave us a murderous look. “He’s asleep!” Then she gave Shan an extra look, basically saying, I know who you are, and it ain’t worth shit, slut.
Women. . .
Channeling the one and only Edison Carter from Max Headroom, I sweetly yet somberly told her, “Well, it really is too bad he’s asleep, because if he were awake, I’m sure he’d want to talk to us. But if he really is asleep, then I WOULDN’T WANT TO WAKE HIM!!!!!”
The guy laughed; so did Shannon. The cheerleader didn’t get it, which didn’t seem all that unusual.
Not wanting to give Ken too much time to wonder who I was, or what I got to do with her, Shannon immediately asked, “Kenny baby, know anything about secret entrances into the museum?”
“Really subtle,” I muttered.
Ken smiled at her, then looked the competition over. “You here because of what happened the other day?”
That got a chortle from Kenny baby, who reached a hand out absently into the cheerleader’s hair and twisted a lock around his finger. The ditzy blonde shuddered, and not in the way Shannon usually did, but didn’t complain.
“Yeah, my grandpa told me there was a tunnel from the museum to one of the buildings in Barbie’s campus over there.” Everyone ignored the “My name’s NOT Barbie!” screech. “There was a professor there who also worked at the museum, and he was so white he didn’t want to be seen on the street.” Ken grinned. “Didn’t know things were like that so long ago.”
“So where does the tunnel come out?”
“I asked Gramps that, but he just grinned and went all poetical on me.”
“What’d he say?”
“‘The eye of the greater kudu will guide you.’”
Sounding a bit defensive, Ken repeated grandpa’s statement, then glanced over at Shannon and grinned. “So this is the guy who keeps you from sleeping with me?”
“I am not her keeper,” I intoned solemnly, just to keep everyone’s fires burning.
Shannon threw me an arch look, then laughed and bent down to give Ken a quick kiss on the cheek, straightening up and taking a step back before he could free his hand. “Thanks, buddy. Gotta go find out what the fuck a kudu is. . . oops, sorry big guy, didn’t mean to say fuck!”
She dashed away back to the museum, seemingly no longer tired.
Looking for all the world like a carameled Buddha, Ken laughed loudly, his stomachs jiggling in an almost fascinating way. Not at all like a belly dancer, I would be quick to assure you, but interesting to see anyway. . . for a few seconds at a time.
“Dude, she hot in the sack?”
“She ain’t no Barbie.”
The guy laughed at the look on the cheerleader’s face. “Yeah, brains do count for sumthin’ after all, huh?”
Apparently Shannon’s burst of energy had burned out quickly, for she was waiting for me on a bench outside the building.
“Did you know my aunt had twenty-three kids? That’s a lot of cousins to get Christmas presents for.”
“Twenty-three? Tell her you want her uterus on display here when she’s done with it!”