Chapter One from "Fixation"
First developed to ride the hoopla of the 1905 Lewis and Clark Exhibition, the Starlight Parade traditionally marked the start of Portland 's Rose Festival. The early 20 th century night time “electrical parade,” was touted as “the most lavish spectacle of its kind on the continent,” with twenty illuminated floats running along the new trolley route. Officials proudly noted Portland was among the first half dozen cities in the world to have such a line. Now the Starlight Parade was a two-mile long procession with more than a hundfed entries, convertibles full of local celebrities, high school marching bands, and spendy corporate sponsors.
“I remember this as a kid,” Louise Parker said, watching as the Ambassadors of the Rose Court , the Royal Rosarians waved white-gloved greetings.
Brian Hanson, standing next to her, silently scanned the crowd.
Louise asked, “Having fun?”
He rubbed her arm as a “yes.” They had known each other for six months but had been no more intimate than hugs and chaste kisses. At first, there had been only a professional relationship. He was a counselor looking into a client's death. She was an FBI agent. As the case resolved, they'd gotten friendlier. He thought he wanted more, but wasn't sure enough to jeopardize the friendship.
For a counselor who considered himself perceptive, he felt awkward in his personal life. The scars from his divorce didn't seem to heal. He'd never liked dating as a teen—it had been when he'd first begun drinking seriously. As an adult in recovery, dating had even less appeal. And Louise kept an emotional distance that reminded him of a high fashion model, though she was twice the age of a cover girl and far from anorexic. Often there was a hint of more—lingering eye contact, a throaty laugh when she threw her head back, a fingertip stroke of his arm when she made a point. Was it a playful tease, miscommunication, or was he too slow to join the mating dance?
She was wearing a loose-fitting silk blouse and tight slacks, dressed more formally than those around her, which was the way it usually was with her. He saw it as part of her appeal, a fashion statement that marked her as unique, not a casual Northwesterner.
The sidewalks were packed with Portlanders and many of the million or so visitors who swelled the city for the month-long festival. On Fourth Avenue , right by Saks and across from the multi-story Smart Park lot, was a four-layer deep, prime viewing spot. Young kids up front, seated on the floor or lying in sleeping bags, older kids and adults slouching in chairs behind them. Another row of chairs, or standing adults. And then a row of standing adults behind that. Hanson and Parker, each with their own reasons for being wary, preferred the last row, with more room to move.
Hanson spotted an opening by a lamp post and he put his hand on her hip and guided her toward the break in the crowd. She leaned into him, almost imperceptibly. It reminded him of times as a teen, when he'd made the classic fake stretch and bold move of laying his arm across the back of a new girlfriend's seat in the movie theater.
They stood with a clear view as the five-hundred member One More Time Around Again Marching Band did their traditional Louie, Louie . Brian and Louise, leaning against each other, joined the crowd and sang along with the simple, incoherent song. A big woman, only a few inches shorter than his six feet, Louise felt solid against him. He savored the warmth of her body, her faint, clean smell. No perfume, just a scented soap.
They were somewhere between friends and lovers, the low hum of sexual tension ever present.
Louise Parker allowed herself to relax against Brian. What if someone else from the Bureau saw her? And why did she care? Brian created a warmth in her gut that traveled down lower, in a way she didn't usually think about. A warmth that made her feel goofy, giddy when he'd call and suggest they get together.
She had been married for six months in her mid twenties, trying to do the housewife routine and follow the teachings her parents had impressed as part of the Church of Latter Day Saints . The marriage hadn't lasted, and when she'd found her way into the FBI, it had become her true love. She'd dated over the years but nothing had ignited her passion the way the job did. What others considered tedious paperwork, she savored. Seemingly endless hours on surveillance, she volunteered. Slapping the handcuffs on an offender was a rush that she imagined similar to doing drugs.
Brian and Louise swayed, ever so slightly as a float passed with two dozen befezzed and dark-sunglassed Al Kader Shriners playing the Snake Charmers Song .
“You want to go dancing sometime?” he asked.
“I'd like that,” she said, brushing her cheek against his shoulder.
He gave her hip a gentle squeeze, innocent, with a hint of naughty, like a shared milk shake at the malt shop in a fifties Frankie Avalon movie.
He took a deep breath, almost a gasp.
“What is it?” Louise asked, stepping back as she felt his body tense.
In Vietnam , his buddies had kidded about his “spider sense,” named after the then new superhero. Back in the World after the war, diagnosed with PTSD, his behavior had been labeled hypervigilance. He scanned the crowd, looking for a threatening face. No one around them moved closer, no dangerous gestures.
“A flashback?” she asked. Louise knew about the nightmares, the bouts of anger and depression, the commitment to his own recovery from alcohol and drugs.
His eyes swept back and forth, processing, analyzing. Nothing exceptional. It frustrated him that he couldn't figure out why. Knowing the cause was one way he kept control. Maybe he had seen someone who unconsciously reminded him of an enemy from back in the day? He shrugged. “Who knows?” he said, trying to sound casual. “Don't mean nothing. Want to go to the fun center?”
“If you'd like.”
He put his arm around her and they moved slowly through the crowd.
From the third floor of the brick Smart Park lot, Terry fumed. That bitch! That bastard! Terry had been watching the Shriner's float and had coincidentally spotted the couple. And it was clear they were a couple. Bathed in the yellowish glow of the street light. The conniving bitch!
“Damn, damn, damn,” Terry repeated, stepping back and kicking the ground.
“What a great view,” said Duane. It was the same spot they had been coming to for the past fifteen years. Duane needed consistency. Although he wasn't attuned to social cues, he could tell Terry was upset. He ran his hand through his shoulder length brown hair, over and over.
“Shut the fuck up!” Terry snapped.
“You bit your lip. It's bleeding,” Duane said.
“Just shut the fuck up. I don't need another mother. One was bad enough.”
Duane looked hurt but said nothing. He peered down at the street, trying to figure out who Terry was fixated on. “What's the matter? What's the matter?” Duane asked, alternating left and right hands as he obsessively stroked his hair.
But Terry just glared.
“Is everything okay?” Louise persisted. They moved off Fourth, east on Taylor , and the crowd thinned.
“Am I that obvious?”
“It's not obvious,” she said. “I'm also in the people-watching business.”
“Though you look for different things than I do.”
“You did a nice job of changing the subject.”
He nodded. “Another similarity in our skills, asking persistent questions.”
“Though you don't have to read Miranda warnings.”
“Usually not,” he said with a smile. “Okay, I had a momentary bad feeling.”
“Something I said?”
He shook his head. “Quite the opposite. I was blissing out. That's what made it so jarring.”
They walked a block in silence before he said, “Sometimes I think I have to screw things up to confirm my world view.”
“You've been through a lot, then sit and listen to more suffering every day. I couldn't do that,” she said.
“I can't imagine doing anything else.”
“I'm the same with my job. I've wanted to be an FBI agent for as long as I can remember, even when the idea of a female agent seemed out of the question. I would've settled for being an FBI secretary. I remember Uncle Louie buying me a Junior G-Man toy set when I was eight.”
“And you still like what you do?”
“I love it. Sure, there's unfortunate incidents in the past. But for every civil rights violation there's been fifty civil rights cases where we helped minorities get equal rights. I've been involved in cases where we caught child pornographers, terrorists, dangerous armed robbers. Every day when I put my badge on, I know that I'm part of an organization that does good. Real good.” She glanced at him, momentarily embarrassed. “Not that other organizations and people don't. Like you. I think what you do is great. But I could never only listen. If I heard about serious criminal activity, I'd want to go out and kick in a door.”
“After getting a warrant,” he said with a grin.
She smiled back, though it faded quickly. Mentioning a warrant had reminded her of what was coming up on Monday. She wanted to share it with him, to let him know how exciting it was, what a career booster it could be.
But just the way he had to keep his clients' secrets from her, this was something she couldn't tell him about. Until afterwards.
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