Erin wanted to try a new restaurant called Evan's, that had opened in an old house across the square from her store. Some of her antiques furnished the foyer and small bar.
"They renovated," Erin said as they walked up to the front door, "replacing all the electric and plumbing, but saving every scrap of original moulding, staircase, everything. They live upstairs."
"Do you know them well?"
"Only as customers. He's the chef. She's a graphic designer and works from home."
The tiny foyer glowed with a blue and red oriental rug in the center of the hardwood floor. A pine drop-leaf table stood under a primitive portrait painting. On the table, a polished pine bowl held a collection of multicolored ceramic balls.
"What are these, Erin?" Adam asked.
Before she answered, the hostess appeared and led them into the lounge. Erin pointed out wingback chairs and an étagère that had come from her shop.
They settled in before a stone fireplace. Adam asked for a Bloody Caesar, a Canadian drink made with spices, clam juice, tomato juice and vodka he learned to enjoy on a Montreal trip. Erin ordered a Campari and soda.
"Those balls in the wooden bowl?" Adam asked again, as the hostess left.
"Those are called carpet balls. The Victorians used them for an indoor game. Mary and Tom took all I had in the shop. But you must have seen at least one before?"
"No, I don't think so."
"Jennifer Smith used a blue and white diamond patterned one for a paper-weight on her desk at the library. Could it have been taken as evidence?"
"No. How heavy are they?"
Adam slipped back into the foyer and hefted one of the balls. The medical examiner described the murder weapon as a smooth round object. One of these would be perfect. Good weight too. He took an experimental strike to the astonishment of some arriving guests. He returned the ball to the collection and joined Erin who was now in the dining room.
The renovator combined the old front parlor and the sitting room of the house into a long narrow dining room. Sometime in the Victorian era, an ornate fireplace had been added at one end. Dark oak, ornately carved, framed a mirror above a mantle of the same wood. Surprisingly bright green tiles surrounded the firebox. One wide flat stone, worn with age formed the hearth. A small fire glowed behind tall brass firedogs.
Erin's table was at one side, set into an alcove. She was sitting with her back to the room. Her brown hair glowed with red highlights from the candles and firelight. Adam stood still for a moment, before joining her, for the pleasure of looking at her.
"Well?" she asked.
"Later," he said when the server arrived.
Adam didn't recognize the server. New to town with the restaurant, he guessed. As she tacked across the room, she reminded Adam of the figurehead on a ship, head and chest thrust forward, her tight dark jacket emphasizing her more than ample curves. She told them her name was Matilde.
"Good," said Adam looking at his menu."
"They typed the specials and put them in the menu. I don't like taking a memory test every time I go out to dinner."
"I find that irritating, too. Everyone at the table usually forgets something, and the waiter goes around the table again. It's supposed to be more elegant."
"Do you see anything you like?"
"Yes, blackened catfish."
"Steak for me."
Their dinner was a success. The conversation ranged from the presidential primaries to their favorite music. They both enjoyed jazz and disliked modern atonal. As dessert arrived, Erin asked Adam about his family. She remembered when his parents had died in a plane crash, about two years before.
"Do you have brothers and sisters?"
"Not a one. Nor cousins, never a wife. I have an aunt in New York. How about you?"
"Oh, I have everybody. My parents live in Burlington. My brother and his wife and kids live here. We grew up in Burlington, but I wanted to try a smaller town for my business."
"Lucky you. I miss having a family."
After a pause, she asked, "What about the carpet ball?"
"Could be. One of them is blue and white patterned. Would you look at it and tell me if it is similar to the one Jennifer had?"
"Sure. Would you like to have coffee at the shop?"
On their way out, Erin examined the collection of balls. She thought Jennifer's had been similar to a blue and white one, but a darker blue.
They walked in comfortable silence across the dark square. When she switched on the shop lights, Adam saw that she had arranged chairs, lamps, and a low table in front of the fireplace.
"I like this, Erin. What are the chairs called?"
"Oh, these are more modern than usual—1930's art dèco club chairs. The chrome and glass table is dèco also, following a design by Eileen Grey. Would you like coffee or would you prefer a drink?"
"Coffee's good, thanks."
The rest of the evening passed in quiet conversation. When Adam left, he kissed Erin softly.
"I'll call you," he said.
"I'd like that."
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