The Widower's Two-Step - Rick Riordan Page 0,1

his eyes wide, his smile way too big for his face.

Then he got a look of evil determination and came swooping down on the tai chi students again, machine guns blazing. The OshKosh B'Gosh Luftwaffe.

"Don't suppose you guys could move your class," I suggested. "Nice place over there by the creek."

Lindsey looked indignant. " 'What is firmly established cannot be uprooted.' "

I would've been okay if he hadn't quoted Laotzu. That tends to irritate me. I sighed and got up from the bench.

Lindsey must've been about six feet five. Standing straight I was eye level with his Adam's apple. His breath smelled like an Indian blanket.

"Let's push hands for it, then," I said. "You know how to push hands?"

He snorted. "You're kidding."

"I go down, I move. You go down, you move. Ready?"

He didn't look particularly nervous. I smiled up at him. Then I pushed.

You see the way most guys push each other—hitting the top of each other's chest like bullies do it on television. Stupid. In tai chi the push is called liu, "uproot." You sink down, get the opponent under the rib cage, then make like you're prying a big tree out of the ground. Simple.

When Lindsey Buckingham went airborne he made a sound like a hard note on a tenor sax. He flew up about two feet and back about six. He landed hard, sitting down in front of his students.

On the swing, Jem cut the machine guns midstrafe and started giggling. The ponytail guys stopped doing their routine and stared at me.

The lady in the pink sweats said, "Oh, dear."

"Learn to roll," I told them. "It hurts otherwise."

Lindsey got to his feet slowly. He had grass in his hair. His underwear was showing.

Standing doubled over he was just about eye level with me.

"God damn it," he said.

Lindsey's face turned the colour of a pomegranate. His fists balled up and they kept bobbing up and down, like he was trying to decide whether or not to hit me.

"I think this is where you say, 'You have dishonoured our school,' " I suggested. "Then we all bring out the nunchakus."

Jem must've liked that idea. He slowed down his swing just enough to jump off, then ran over and hung on my left arm with his whole weight. He smiled up at me, ready for the fight.

Lindsey's students looked uncomfortable, like maybe they'd forgotten the nunchaku routine.

Whatever Lindsey was going to say, it was interrupted by two sharp cracks from somewhere behind me, like dry boards breaking. The sound echoed thinly off the walls of the SAC buildings.

Everybody looked around, squinting into the sun.

When I finally focused on the '68 blue Cougar I was supposed to be watching, I could see a thin curl of smoke trailing up from the driver's side window.

Nobody was around the Cougar. The lady in the driver's seat still hadn't moved, her head reclined against the backrest like she was taking a nap. I had a feeling she wasn't going to start moving anytime soon. I had a feeling my client wasn't going to pay me good money.

"Jesus," said Lindsey Buckingham.

None of his students seemed to get what had happened. The potbellied guys looked confused. The ovoid lady in the pink sweats came up to me, a little fearful, and asked me if I taught tai chi.

Jem was still hanging on my arm, smiling obliviously. He looked down at his Crayoladesigned Swatch and did some time calculations faster than most adults could.

"Ten hours, Tres," he told me, happy. "Ten hours ten hours ten hours."

Jem kept count of that for me—how many hours I had left as an apprentice for his mother, before I could qualify for my own P.I. license. I had told him we'd have a party when it got to zero.

I looked back at the blue Cougar with the little trail of smoke curling up out of the window from Miss Kearnes' head.

"Better make it thirteen, Bubba. I don't think this morning's going to count."

Jem laughed like it was all the same to him.


"What is it with you?" Detective Schaeffer asked me. Then he asked Julie Kearnes,

"What is it with this guy?"

Julie Kearnes had no comment. She was reclining in the driver's seat of the Cougar, her right hand on a battered brown fiddle case in the passenger's seat, her left hand clenching the recently fired pearlhandled .22 Lady smith in her lap.

From this angle Julie looked good. Her greying amber hair was pulled back in a butterfly clasp. Her lacy white sundress