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The diploma on the wall was obviously a joke. According to this, Melissa had a bachelor’s in Criminal Enterprise. Joey shook his head. She was a lovely woman with a twisted sense of humor. He’d only been dating her for about a month, but he felt a real connection with her.

Her apartment was neat without feeling sterile. There was a cozy afghan over the back of the couch and her cat had claimed one of the pink throw pillows. He looked at her bookshelf while she finished changing to go out. He blinked at the Evil Overlord handbook and the Evil Genius series of electronics books. Part of why he liked her was her intelligence. There was an entire section on true crime and criminology. He hadn’t asked her about school, but maybe he should. It looked as though she were gearing up for something big.

The next section was politics. Machiavelli had a place of prominence next to a copy of Sun Tzu that looked ready to give up the ghost. He made a note to get her a new copy. Maybe that nice hardback he’d seen at the bookstore when he was stopping for coffee yesterday. There were pictures on the shelf of her and her friends. He blinked, was that actually the Congresswoman who’d just taken office with a pasted on mustache and fake black-rimmed glasses. No, he must be imagining things.

The cat, a big black and white fluffy Persian named Archie wandered over to demand attention. Joey stroked over his silky fur and then scratched right behind his ears. Archie rolled over to expose his belly for petting, but Joey new better than to take the invitation.

“Some judge of character he is,” Melissa laughed. “Joey’s not falling for your tricks, you little demon.” The cat looked singularly unimpressed.

Melissa looked wonderful. Her dress was a simple black number with a flared skirt. She wore sensible vintage heels and a necklace with a single drop of crystal. The pendant might be diamond, but he wasn’t going to assume. He held her brocade jacket for her. “You look beautiful.” She slung the small suitcase she called a purse over her shoulder.

She patted her sleekly waved blonde hair. “Thanks.” She pushed her Tortise-shell cats-eye glasses back up her nose.

He offered his arm after she locked up behind them. “Your chariot awaits.”

“Always the gentleman.”

His car was a sturdy Volvo that he’d had for years. It felt shabby next to the beauty that was now perched in the passenger’s seat. “I have reservations at the Thai place and at the Italian place, which would you like?”

Melissa considered. “Italian. As long as we can get a booth in the back near the kitchen.”

He raised his brows at that, but asked the hostess when they arrived. The DiGregorio’s an old-school Italian joint with red and white checked tablecloths and a menu that would change when the head chef died and not a minute before, and Mama wasn’t going. There was a large party on the other side of the restaurant. Melissa smiled at him. “They look happy, don’t they?”

Dinner was good. The conversation flowed from topic to topic. Melissa stopped him before he could get the check. “No, this one’s on me. You go see if you can find the car. I’m going to run to the bathroom. You get to take care of the movie. I expect popcorn.”

He laughed. When he glanced over his shoulder, she’d put cash into the little black folder. He pulled the car up to the curb and she climbed in.

When they left the movie theatre the local news was playing on the radio. “A four-alarm fire engulfed local favorite DiGregorio’s this evening. Fourteen people were killed and ten injured. The owner Nana DiGregorio was unharmed, but angry.”

“That’s a shame. I loved that place,” Joey said.

Melissa patted his arm. “We’ll find a new favorite.”

He perked up at the idea of a joint favorite restaurant.

“Your shift starts in twenty, I don’t want you to be late. Sounds as though there’s a lot to take care of. Goodnight.” She gave him a peck on the cheek before heading up to her apartment.

He grinned at her as she left for the fire station. He could still smell the accelerant on her hands, but he wasn’t about to tell her that. So what if his girl was a fire-bug? No one’s perfect.

FIN

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