Previously: Dramatis Personae
Nicolao Daos had two loves in life: hot tea and an old book.
He was the most regular guest at La Sala Azul, the only tearoom in Soleado Valle. Like most of the town's dining establishments, the tearoom was a humble place, with concrete floors, simple wooden chairs and tables, and a limited menu. But like most of the town's establishments, what the tearoom lacked in opulence it more than made up for in character. The walls were repainted regularly; they were a deep azure color which made Daos think of the sea. The music was a classy, elegant collection of old Mexican records. And after sunset, the place was lit up with oil lamps. Being a man of simple tastes himself, it was no surprise that La Sala Azul had quickly become Daos's own personal heaven.
"One week! One whole week and no news in this town?"
He didn't have to look up to the see the fuming visage of Trish Flores, a local reporter who lately was acting as Daos's shadow. She plopped down across from him, uninvited as usual, and slammed her purse down onto the table.
"I'm gonna get fired," she groaned miserably, her face in her hands. "Carmen is going to fire me."
"That's not true," he assured her. "Your last story appeared to be a hit. Seems like folks got a huge kick out of two cops posing as strippers. Personally, I just loved seeing my half-naked body splashed all over Facebook; thank you."
Trish paused, raising her eyes as though she remembered some small ray of hope. "At least I got a roommate. Who knew rent in this town could be so high?"
"Who is it?" Daos asked, even though he knew it was better to just shoo her off as usual.
"I moved in with Dani Reyes," she winced. She then glared at him pointedly. "Ever since someone burned down the high school, she's been out of a job."
Though he preferred to play his emotions close his chest, Daos actually laughed aloud. "You did what?"
Trish was offended at his reaction. "I was desperate!" she cried.
"I'll say," the detective snorted. "You two are as different as night and day."
"Tell me something I don't know," Trish growled irritably. "It's like living with my mom. She's always trying to get me to go church events. On top of that she's a neat freak, Daos! I actually found her praying over a certain...battery-operated device I own."
Daos roared with laughter. It startled some of the tearoom staff, who were used to him being emotionless and monosyllabic in the corner. It was the first time he'd laughed like this in a very long time, and it felt good. It was hard not to warm to Trish; she wasn't here trying to get a story. She was a fellow out-of-towner coping with being a fish out of water.
And besides, he absolutely knew without a doubt she wasn't attracted to him.
He didn't know what it was about Trish; maybe it was the whole modern career woman vibe she had going on. In some ways, she reminded him of the Consultant, with her dogged focus on her job. They also had that same dismissive sense of humor. But while it was frustrating coming from the Consultant, it was refreshing coming from Trish.
That's because she's trying to be your friend, he told himself. The Consultant? She's more of a boss.
Trish reached across the table and started snacking on one of Daos's tea biscuits. He never ate them, but the tearoom always gave him a plateful for free, perhaps because he drank his weight in Earl Grey.
"Luckily, Dani likes to cook," Trish went on. "She's making quesadillas tonight, if you and Dominador want to come over."
Had this been back in the old days when Daos lived alone and worked alone, not only would he have declined her offer, he would've shut down this conversation a long time ago. And it was right then that he realized why the Consultant was so hellbent on teaming him up with Dominador (even going so far as to upgrade their apartment to a two-bedroom). She didn't want him to be alone anymore.
"Miss, can I help you?" a server asked in the distance.
"Yes, please," a familiar voice replied. "I need one box of chamomile, one jar of honey, and one bag of fresh spearmint, please."
Both Trish and Daos turned to the main counter where they saw Dani Reyes placing an order while clutching her little straw shopping basket. The reporter and the detective spoke at the same time.
Next: 99 Problems, Cash Ain't One