He introduced himself as Doc-tor Loredo, just arrived from Sacramento. He wore a Panama hat, linen suit, and slip-on loafers sans socks. In his hand, a man purse. To me, he looked like he’d just arrived from a Barcelonan winery. Not that I’d ever been to a Barcelonan winery, but Elise’s family was of European stock, and sometimes she’d get ideas about dressing me.
My wife extended her hand. “I’m Miss-es Gallagher, long ago arrived from Jacksonville.” Elise said it with a tra-la-la air. They laughed. Never mind that I was co-chair for this fundraising event. And never mind that Jake Linderson, the other co-chair, and I had a quasi-friendly side-wager going as to whose bachelor would raise the most money.
“I suppose it’s time to line up,” sighed Doctor Loredo, checking his watch. “Remind me this is all for a good cause.”
“You’re doing a truly wonderful service,” I assured him.
He squared his shoulders, breathed in. “Would you mind holding this till it’s over?” Before I could protest, he gave me his bag and marched off, heels clicking on the linoleum.
Elise pulled her hands behind her back. “Unh-uh—he gave it to you.”
“I didn’t ask.”
“You were going to.”
“How the heck did we wind up with this Doctor, anyway? Mayor Black’s always been our bachelor.”
“Jake had Peg make their calls two weeks early, ergo we wind up with Doctor Loredo—though he wasn’t listed as a doctor on the print-out.”
“That sly dog.”
Elise entwined her fingers with mine and leaned into my shoulder. “Are you thinking what I’m thinking?”
I hadn’t been thinking anything except what a sly dog Jake Linderson was, but her question prompted the firing of synapses or synapsi—whichever the case may or might be. I glanced at the back row of chairs. There sat the Widow Kemp in her customary spot—auction card in ready position. Nobody outbid her for her perennial bachelor of choice—Mayor Black. A man of character, she liked to say.
Elise and I casually meandered toward her. Peg Linderson, however, noted our movement and elbowed her husband.
We all met behind the widow.
Peg smiled. Elise smiled.
“So, this Doc-tor Loredo’s new in town, you say?” Elise kept her voice low—but not too low. On stage the chairman of the board for the Free Clinic welcomed the audience and began his pitch for generosity.
“Yes, he’s quite distinguished—comes from Sacramento,” I answered.
“Jake, dear,” said Peg, “weren’t you telling me he’s not a real doctor?” The widow’s head cocked right.
“That’s right—his degree’s in history.”
Elise’s eyes narrowed considerably. “He’s still a PhD—a professor I'm sure—at the university, in all likelihood.”
“Wrong again. He's at the community college,” said Peg.
Elise’s shoulders rounded—it seemed hackles had sprouted. An audible growl rumbled in her throat.
“Easy, Tiger—” I said. “It’s all going to the same cause.” I wedged Doctor Loredo’s handbag under my arm, and picked up a program from an empty seat beside the Widow Kemp. The auctioneer’s gavel sounded. Our boy was first on the chopping block—probably also the Linderson’s doing. Out from the curtains he came, holding his Panama hat in both hands. He bowed slightly at the scraggly applause. Poor guy.
“Is that a man purse?” Jake poked the bag under my arm.
“No, it’s a—bag—Doctor Loredo’s.”
“Right—” He turned to Peg. “A murse. He carries a murse.”
Elise patted my hot neck. “Easy, Tiger—”
I focused in on the auctioneer. “ . . . dinner with bachelor number one, Doctor Edmond Loredo. Let’s make him feel welcome, folks. One hundred dollars, do I have one hundred dollars to start the bidding? Fifty, who will give me fifty? Fifty here in the front row. Seventy-five, who will give me seventy-five?”
The Widow Kemp held up her card. “Five thousand!”
In the vacuum of quiet and to no one in particular, she said, “My Clive was a professor of history—and he carried a satchel—that’s what we called it. Can we shut up about the doctor’s bag already?”
Peg leaned over, eyes wide. “But Mrs. Kemp, you’re bidding on Mayor Black, right?”
“No, Little Missy, I don’t believe I am. Just keeping up with the times. He never did come through with that crosswalk off Main and Birch, either.”
Jake squeezed Peg’s elbow. “Easy, Peg—”
“See,” said Elise, “I bet Clive never objected to his wife’s dressing him.”
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