DEAD CENTER finds Andy Carpenter reentering the dating scene with comic results. He is surprised at what a hot ticket he seems to be, and this proves to be a mixed blessing at best. His friends are all too eager to provide advice and guidance, but of course they know just as little about the dating world as Andy. Whether the woman he is dating at the moment is terrific or far from it, the spectra of Laurie always hangs over his head. He has strong feelings of bitterness towards her for leaving, but she is, after all, the love of his life. He has had no contact with her at all, and can only assume she is back in Findlay, serving in the number two job on the local police force. Then one day he returns to the office to find Laurie waiting for him. Laurie has arrested a young man for murder and, though the evidence clearly called for his arrest, she believes he is innocent. The accused is the son of Laurie's oldest friend and she believes Andy is the best person to represent him. Andy follows Laurie back to Wisconsin where he must explore a secretive religious community that seems to hold the truth about what really happened to the deceased.
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By David Rosenfelt
MYSTERIOUS PRESSCopyright © 2006 David Rosenfelt
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Chapter OneDO YOU GET SPIRITUAL credit for celibacy if it's involuntary?
This is the type of profound question I've asked myself a number of times during the last four and a half months. This is the first time I've asked it out loud, which may say something about my timing, since the person hearing it is my first date in all that time.
Actually, "date" may be overstating it. The quite beautiful woman that I am with is Rita Gordon, who when she's not dressed in a black silk dress with an exceptional cleavage staring straight at me, spends her days as the chief court clerk in Paterson, New Jersey. Rita and I have become fairly good friends over the last few years. No small accomplishment, since her daily job is basically to ward off demanding and obnoxious lawyers like me.
We're in one of North Jersey's classier restaurants, which was her choice entirely. I have absolutely no understanding why certain restaurants succeed and others don't. This one is ridiculously expensive, the menu is totally in French and impossible to understand, the portions are so small that parakeets would be asking for seconds, and the service is mediocre. With all that, we had to wait two weeks to get a reservation on a Thursday night.
The extent of my relationship with Rita until now has basically been toengage in sexual banter, an area in which her talents far exceed mine. She has always presented herself as an expert in dating, sex, and everything else that might take place between a man and a woman, and has volunteered to go with me on this "practice date" as a way to impart some of that knowledge to me.
I can use it, as evidenced by my celibacy question.
"There's an example of something you might want to avoid asking a date," says Rita. "Celibacy can be a bit of a sexual turnoff."
I nod. "Makes sense."
"On the other hand, swearing off sex increases your dating possibilities, since you could also go out with guys."
I shake my head. "Finding dates is not my problem; there are plenty of women that seem to be available. The problem is my lack of interest. It's the ironic opposite of high school."
Rita looks me straight in the eye, though that doesn't represent a change. She's been looking me straight in the eye since we sat down. She takes eye contact to a new level; it's like she's got X-ray vision and is looking through to my brain. I've never been an eye-contacter myself, and I almost want to create a diversion so she'll look away. Something small, like a fire in the kitchen or another patron fainting headfirst into his asparagus bisque.
"How long has Laurie been gone?" she asks.
I must be healing emotionally, since it's only recently that a question like that doesn't hit me like a knife in the chest. Laurie Collins was my private investigator and love of my life. She left to return to her hometown of Findlay, Wisconsin, where she will probably fulfill her dream and become chief of police. I had always wanted her dream to be a lifetime spent with me, Andy Carpenter.
"Four and a half months."
She nods wisely. "That explains why women are coming after you. They figure you've had enough time to get back into circulation, to get your transition woman behind you."
She nods. "The first woman a guy has a relationship with after a serious relationship ends. It never works out; the guy's not ready. So women wait until they figure the guy's had his transition and he's ready to get serious again. The timing is tricky, because if she waits too long, the guy could be gone."
I give this some thought, but the concept doesn't seem to fit my situation, so I shake my head. "Laurie was the first woman I went out with after my marriage broke up. And she transitioned me; I didn't transition her."
"Have you spoken to her since she left?"
Another head shake from me. "She sent me a letter, but I didn't open it." This is not a subject I want to be discussing, so I try to change it. "So give me some advice."
"Okay," she says, leaning forward so that her chin hovers over her creme brulee. "Call Laurie."
"I meant dating advice."
She nods. "Okay. Don't do it until you're ready. And when you do, just relax and be yourself."
I shift around in my chair; the subject and the eye contact are combining to make me very uncomfortable. "That's what I did with Laurie. I was relaxed and myself ... right up until the day she dumped my relaxed self."
For some reason, on the rare occasions when I talk about my breakup with Laurie, I emphasize the "dumping" without getting into the reasons. The truth is that Laurie had an opportunity to fulfill a lifetime ambition and at the same time go back to the hometown to which she has always felt connected. She swore that she loved me and pretty much begged me to go with her, but I wanted to be here, and she wanted to be there.
"You've got to move on, Andy. It's time ..." Then the realization hits her, and she puts down her wineglass. "My God, you haven't had sex in four and a half months?"
It's painful for me to listen to this, partially because it's true, but mostly because the waitress has just come over and heard it as well.
I turn to the waitress. "She meant days ... I haven't had sex in four and a half days. Which for me is a really long time."
The waitress just shrugs her disinterest. "I'm afraid I can't help you with that. More coffee?"
She pours our coffee for us and departs. "Sorry about that, Andy," Rita says. "But four and a half months?"
I nod. "And I have no interest. The other day I found myself in the supermarket looking at the cover of Good Housekeeping instead of Cosmo."
"Pardon the expression," she asks, "but you want me to straighten you out?"
The question stuns me. She seems to be suggesting that we have sex, but I'm not sure, since I can count the number of times women have propositioned me in this manner on no fingers. "You mean ... you and me?"
She looks at her watch and shrugs. "Why not? It's still early."
"I appreciate the offer, Rita, but I'm just not ready. I guess I need sex to be more meaningful. Sex without love is just not what I'm looking for anymore; those days are behind me." These are the words that form in my mind but don't actually come out through my mouth.
What my mouth winds up saying is, "Absolutely." And then, "Check, please."
Excerpted from Dead Center by David Rosenfelt Copyright © 2006 by David Rosenfelt. Excerpted by permission.
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