Match Me if You Can

By: Susan Elizabeth Phillips

Chapter One





If Annabelle hadn’t found a body lying under “Sherman,” she wouldn’t have been late for her appointment with the Python. But dirty bare feet stuck out from beneath her nana’s ancient Crown Victoria. One extremely cautious glance under the car revealed they were attached to a homeless man known only as Mouse, who was famous in her Wicker Park neighborhood for his lack of personal hygiene and fondness for cheap wine. An empty screw-top bottle lay near his chest, which rose and fell with the sounds of his wet snorts. It testified to the importance of her appointment with the Python that she momentarily considered trying to maneuver the car around the body. But her alley parking space was too tight.

She’d allowed plenty of time to get dressed and make the trip downtown for her 11 A.M. appointment. Unfortunately, obstacles kept creeping up, beginning with Mr. Bronicki, who’d caught her at the front door and refused to leave until he’d had his say. Still, this wasn’t an emergency yet. All she had to do was get Mouse out from under Sherman.

She gingerly prodded his ankle with her foot, noting as she did that the emergency mixture of Hershey’s chocolate syrup and Elmer’s glue she’d applied to a scuff mark on the heel of her favorite pair of strappy sandals hadn’t entirely camouflaged the damage. “Mouse?”

He didn’t stir.

She prodded him more vigorously. “Mouse, wake up. You have to come out of there.”

Nothing. Which made it time to revert to more drastic measures. With a grimace, she bent over, gingerly picked up one filthy ankle, and gave it a shake. “Come on, Mouse. Wake up!”

Nada. If it weren’t for his slurpy snorts, he might have been dead.

She shook him more vigorously. “This happens to be the most important day of my professional life, and I could use a little cooperation here.”

Mouse wasn’t interested in cooperation.

She needed more leverage. Gritting her teeth, she carefully slid up the skirt of the buttercup yellow raw silk suit she’d bought yesterday for 60 percent off at a Field’s Day sale and crouched by the bumper. “If you don’t get out from under there, I’m calling the police.”

Mouse snorted.

She dug her heels into the ground and yanked on both filthy ankles. The morning sun beat down on her head. Mouse rolled over just far enough to wedge his shoulder under the chassis. She yanked again. Beneath her jacket, the white sleeveless shell she’d chosen to complement Nana’s pearl teardrop earrings had begun to stick to her skin. She tried not to think about what was happening to her hair. This hadn’t been the best time to run out of styling gel, and she prayed the ancient can of industrial-strength Aqua Net she’d found under the bathroom sink would tame the bedlam of her red curls, always the curse of her existence but especially so during a humid Chicago summer.

If she didn’t get Mouse out in the next five minutes, she was in serious trouble. She made her way around to the driver’s-side door. Her knees cracked as she crouched down again and peered into his slack-jawed face. “Mouse, you have to wake up! You can’t stay here.”

One grimy eyelid flicked open then slid shut again.

“Look at me.” She poked his chest. “If you come out from under there, I’ll give you five dollars.”

His mouth moved and a guttural rumble oozed out, along with a string of saliva. “G’way.”

The smell made her eyes water. “Why did you have to pick today to pass out under my car? And why my car? Why not Mr. Bronicki’s car?” Mr. Bronicki lived across the alley and spent his retirement coming up with new ways to make Annabelle crazy.

Time was running out, and she was starting to panic. “Do you want to have sex? Because if you come out, we could maybe talk about it.”

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