Crime Time (Chapter Two, page 1 of 5)

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After introductions we gathered around the oak table to get acquainted as more beer and wine flowed. Howie abstained. He was attentive as Betsy and I explained our wedding plans and his hosts talked about Martha's pregnancy. When the steaks were grilled and the corn and green beans boiled, the table was leaden with food, enough for a small army. We paused before digging in.

"Don't expect me to say grace," Howie quipped. "I don't remember."

"You're not getting away with that excuse every time you want to get out of something," Martha said. "Next, you'll tell me you've forgotten how to do dishes too."

He smiled as we bowed our heads. He proceeded to thank God for the food and company. "And," he added. "I'm here in one piece, sort of, and you've given me a clean slate to begin act two of my life. There are lots of folks who would use their genie-wish to do just that. I'm sorry to have missed act one, but I promise a short intermission before I give act two a try."

It sounded pretty rational to me, I thought as we all clapped.

"I don't mean to sound morose," he said with a smile. "I assume our hosts have updated you on my affliction, if that's what I should call it."

I was pleased by his candor. His pronouncement lightened the what-to-say-or-what-not-to-say problem. Martha turned the openness up a notch.

"If we're going to be frank," She said, "why don't you ditch that stupid rug you're wearing on your head? If you don't think I've seen scars, I'll take you down to hospital ER on any Saturday night."

Betsy was shocked, but not me. I'd known Martha far too long. If Howie was stunned he didn't show it as he pulled off his toupee with a smile.

"I suppose I'd remember you as an outspoken brat if I hadn't lost a few years of memory."

"You betcha, cousin," she replied as she leaned over the table and kissed him on the cheek. "I could tell you stories!"

"How would I know if you were lying?" Howie asked, adding, "Did I sleep with you?"

It was Martha's turn to be mildly shocked, "Only in my dreams. The summer you two came up here, I had a major crush on my handsome California cousin but you were seven years older than me and didn't know I existed." Their repartee set the tone for the evening.

"I'm not so good looking anymore," he answered, obviously embarrassed.

The left side of Howie's head was absent hair and a series of three dark scars were visible. However, while noticeable, his damaged appearance was less disagreeable than I expected.

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