My sister Elizabeth came to see me.
Elizabeth is three years older than I am. We aren't close. We had spent too much of our childhood fighting over Daddy ever to be the kind of sisters that talk on the phone every day. To cement my conviction that Elizabeth was a pain, my dog, Rosie, didn't like her either. Since Rosie likes everyone, including armed intruders, it seemed clear that Elizabeth was special.
"What kind is she again?" Elizabeth said. "A Boston terrier?"
"Bull terrier," I said. "Rosie is a miniature bull terrier."
"I thought she was a Boston terrier."
"You want to see her papers," I said.
"Oh, aren't you funny," Elizabeth said.
We were having coffee at the counter in my kitchen without Rosie, who had left us and was on my bed at the other end of the loft, watching us carefully with one black eye.
"So what brings you to South Boston?" I said.
"Is this really South Boston?" Elizabeth said.
"The yuppie part," I said.
"Oh . . . this coffee is very good."
"Starbucks," I said.
"What is it?"
"Starbucks," I said. "This particular one is from Guatemala."
"Oh, write that down for me, will you?"
I wrote Starbucks Coffee on a piece of notepaper and gave it to her. She stuffed it into her purse. I waited. She sipped some coffee. I looked at Rosie. Rosie's tail stirred. But she didn't change her mind about staying on the bed.
"Do you ever see your ex-husband?" Elizabeth said.
"Richie and I see each other every Wednesday night."
"Do you do anything?"
"You know," Elizabeth said, "sex. It's all right to ask because I'm your big sister."
"Then I guess it's all right for me to say none of your business."
"Oh don't be so silly," Elizabeth said. "Do you date other men?"
"Elizabeth, what the hell are we talking about here?"
"For God's sake, I'm just asking if you have sex."
"None of your business. Do I ask you about your sex life?"
"Oh, me, I'm an old married woman."
"Elizabeth, you're thirty-eight," I said.
"You know what I mean," Elizabeth said. "I'm just interested in what life is like when you can't stay married."
I got up and walked down the length of my loft, breathing deeply and carefully. I bent down and gave Rosie a kiss on the nose, and breathed some more and walked slowly back.
"We who can't stay married prefer to keep our sex lives to ourselves," I said.
"Oh, Sunny, honestly you're so quaint sometimes."
"Quaint," I said.
The sun was almost straight up and it shone strongly through my skylight onto one of my paintings that stood unfinished on its easel.
"You're still painting," Elizabeth said.
"Does anyone ever buy one of your paintings?"
We sat quietly for a while. Elizabeth reached over and got the pot and poured herself some more coffee. She didn't replace the pot. Just set it down on the counter near her where it would grow cold. It took some will, but I didn't reach across and replace it. I didn't want any more anyway.
"How's Hal," I said.
She carefully poured some milk into her coffee and stirred in two sugars, and put the spoon down and sipped from the cup.
"I think he's cheating on me," Elizabeth said.
"Yes. I think so, and, isn't this funny, I want you to see if you can find out for sure."
"You are being a detective these days, aren't you?"
"Yes, of course, but . . ."
"I wouldn't want to hire some stranger," Elizabeth said.
"You want me to tail him? Get pictures? Catch him in the act? That sort of thing?"
"Why don't you just ask him?"
"Ask him? Don't be ridiculous. Why in God's name would he tell me?"
"Because you asked," I said.
"No. I'm not asking that bastard anything. I am going to catch him."
"You don't want to maybe talk about this with him, see about professional help?"
"A shrink? They're all crazy. It's why they became shrinks."
"Maybe not every one of them," I said.
"And most of them are Jews."
"Maybe not every one of them," I said.
"I don't want to discuss this anymore. Will you help me?"
"Of course. I was just trying to see if we could agree on the kind of help you needed."
"Well it's certainly not some crazy Jew," Elizabeth said.
I thought about going down and lying on the bed with Rosie. Arguing with Elizabeth was futile. She was, as my father used to say about our mother, often wrong, but never uncertain. And like our mother she simply dug in deeper when her convictions were questioned. If they were actually disproved, she was entrenched for life.
"I'll do whatever I can," I said.
Excerpted from PERISH TWICE © Copyright 2000 by Robert B. Parker. Reprinted with permission from Putnam. All rights reserved.