The heavy green lenses were a blessing. Here in the bright morning sun they were a necessity. Kermit Griffin sat quietly on a worn park bench and used one finger to press his shaded armor more securely in place on his nose. Sleep wasn't able to win the battle with his over-active reasoning during the night. Pros and cons had stomped up and down beneath his eyelids, forcing them to snap open time and time again.
Now, he was here in the park, hiding in the eleven o'clock cover of daylight. <You shouldn't have left her standing there like that, you moron.> Indecision could have been a nice explanation for his behavior at Delancey's. Karen had called his bluff and he'd snatched up his cards and fled, but not before retrieving the protection of those cool green filters and plastering them back into position. Indecision was a convenient haven. That particular con on his mental list concerning Karen Simms was a prominent marker. He was still deciding, gathering information, analyzing their chemistry. <Yeah, right.>
Indecision was less embarrassing than stone cold fear. He'd stick to that alibi for now.
His paper cup held only the stale remains of his morning coffee and he tossed it neatly into a nearby garbage can. The crumpled paper landed with a dull thud that rumbled inside the metal can and drew the attention of several children playing nearby. Kermit bent his mouth into a smile to soften his appearance, which was most certainly intimidating the four waifs standing a few feet away. They eyed him carefully, betraying little by way of acceptance or rejection. Three boys and one little girl --all under ten and all obviously too young to be safely left alone -- bore the tattered, dirty clothing of neglect.
Kermit watched their expressions flow past fear and then to indifference as the group of children sized him up, deemed him harmless, and returned to kicking a nearly deflated ball over their playground acreage. Lots of these street kids had this park as their only nanny. Parents scrounging for work or drugs or the next shelter that would hold them for the night left them here to roam the park in packs until they could be reclaimed. It was a dangerous solution to the lack of daycare.
The group of children had been there when Kermit had arrived at nine
and he'd followed their movements, keeping an eye out for trouble that
never came. He should call social services, probably would later.
But, under his watchful eye, they were safe.
Inch by inch, the game of catch was rotating it's way toward a busy ice cream stand on the edge of the green. The sweaty attendant swabbed his face and snarled a warning to the tattered children. "I TOLD you kids to stop hangin' around. You bother the customers!" Accustomed to being moved along, the kids stared blankly in response to the harsh rebuff and moved away. The oldest boy gripped the dirty hand of the little girl and lead the group a safe distance across the grass to sit in the shade.
Each step he took toward the vendor bounced with anger. Kermit covered the distance slowly, fighting the urge to vent on behalf of those children. <One good threat and he'd piss in his pants.> It would be so nice to relieve the pressure with a little vengeful distraction.
Luckily, judgment won out over exhausted outrage. By the time the detective reached the ice cream stand, reason was once again in control. Waiting his turn, Kermit stood in line until he drew the vendor's attention.
"What'll it be, mister?" the man said, anxious to unload more inventory.
Kermit slid several bills from his wallet and put them into the man's hand. "Call those children, who you treated like crows, back over here and tell them today is Kid Appreciation Day and they can eat ice cream until they turn blue....on the house."
Annoyed, but not sufficiently enough to turn down cash, the vendor snapped, "Fine, but why don't you just give 'em the cash and get your Good Samaritan buzz?" Wiping the gleaming stainless-steel doors of his prized cooler, the man avoided Kermit's heavy green glare.
Quietly, in a tone low and lethal, Kermit explained. "Because they need to have someone be kind to them. That someone should be a man they see every day." Leaning over and offering an unsavory grin, he whispered, "Who knows, you might even enjoy not being the park asshole for a day and I might enjoy not having to rip you a new one if you're less than gracious to those children again."
With a patronizing pat to the man's white cotton shirt, Kermit turned back toward the parking lot. He hesitated just long enough to hear the ice cream man call the children over, noting with satisfaction the change in his voice and manner. <Happy Saturday, kids.> The momentary satisfaction faded away as his feet hit the concrete.
Last night was still there. The indecision was still there. A night of celebration for Karen had lead to that all important first move. She had been warm and witty and personal. Kermit met her approach with retreat. <Moron. Chicken shit, moron. What the hell is wrong with you?>
With the raging doubt pounding through his mind, Kermit approached his vehicle. Jamming the key into the door, he suddenly felt a warm breeze of perfume, a scent that greeted him every morning at the precinct. Not overt or brash, the aroma was a light breath of sweetness and woman. He didn't turn immediately, allowing himself to enjoy the sensation of Karen Simms.
"Would you buy me an ice cream cone if I were left alone in the park?" Karen's voice blew softly over his shoulder.
"How many cones would it take to equal a decent apology?" It was a lame attempt at atonement but the best he could muster.
"You know, Detective, until last night I had never actually seen a deer caught in headlights." Karen leaned her long frame backward, resting on the lime green door and preventing Kermit Griffin's escape. "I should apologize to you. I didn't mean to scare you with my brazen behavior. Chalk it up to euphoria at my new found freedom."
She wasn't angry. When Kermit finally focused on her eyes, there was no harshness there at all. Calm blue eyes met his own. A smile lay below those eyes. "You have nothing to apologize for....Karen." Reaching out one finger, he thought to stroke her hand, then stopped himself. The pros and cons of last night vaulted back to mind. <Don't risk it.>
But Karen Simms was evidently deaf to his inner voice. "So, to summarize, you're sorry and I'm sorry and we're all sorry. Forgiveness all around. All done."
"You should have been a diplomat," Kermit said, returning his keys to his pockets and taking a position beside her. He faced away, staring at the scenery.
"No thanks, married one once." She slid her hand into his and he didn't pull away. "Pompous asses, all of them."
"So, I'm finally going to be privy to the dark, sordid details of the mysterious life of Captain Simms," Kermit said, smiling as the tattered children walked by with their ice cream.
"We could trade secrets."
"Some of my secrets could get you killed."
"We can just skip those...for now."
For a moment, they stood in silence, hands their only contact. When she spoke again, it surprised him. "Do you want to tell me about the woman who left you this way?"
<No, I don't. I don't want to say her name or bleed another drop.> The the thought mangled itself before reaching his tongue. Daring to look in her eyes, he took a leap of faith. "What makes you think it's a woman?"
"It's always a woman." She squeezed his hand once again and began
walking back to the park. Kermit followed, lacing his fingers with hers.
To Be Continued...