I sat tailor-fashion on Bridget McIlhenney’s kitchen floor, my bare legs cold against the Mexican tile floor, sorting through her cabinets for anything that could pass for breakfast. I’d stacked the rejects over to one side – three jars of Paul Newman spaghetti sauce, a bottle of ten-year old balsamic vinegar, three tottering stacks of ramen noodles (shrimp, beef, and chicken, sorted by flavor), half a bottle of Malibu coconut rum, a jar of something that purported to be edible cactus leaves, and about nineteen cans of Beanie Weenies. (Did you know they made chipotle-style Beanie Weenies? And Dijon-mustard flavored? Honey-barbecue?) Bridget was a half-empty bag of Cool Ranch Doritos shy of being able to apply for a federal Superfund grant to clean up her nutritional toxic waste dump.
They told me at Battle Creek there’d be mornings like this.
I spotted a slightly-faded box of Minute Rice towards the back, which had potential, but I didn’t remember exactly how you got from dried instant rice to Rice Krispies. The alternative was to skip the most important meal of the day, or else embarrass myself by slinking over to Dunkin’ Donuts. (I knew a guy who’d been laughed off the force for just that.)
I had put everything away by the time Bridget walked in, wet with the autumn drizzle. She was wearing a headband, a gray spandex sports bra, and bright orange compression shorts that showed off every fast-twitch fiber of her lovely thighs – and she wasn’t even breathing hard after what must have been a five-mile run. She unhooked her iPod earphones, shot me a dazzling smile, and put the white paper bag she was carrying down on the table. “What are you looking for, sweetie?” she asked.
“Oh, nothing, sugar pop,” I said. “How was your run?”
“Okay. I got us breakfast.”
“Yeah. I figured, after last night, you’d need some carbohydrates.”
I pulled myself off the floor, walked over to where she was and gave her a slow, deep kiss, my hands firm against the slick skin of her back. I could have moved them down a few inches, and made us both late for work, but I saw the Einstein Brothers logo on the paper bag out of the corner of my eye, and disengaged.
“As much as I’d love to stay for breakfast, honey bunch, I need to head to the office.”
“Are you sure?” she asked. “I didn’t know what you wanted, so I got some different kinds. Sesame, and onion, and poppyseed.”
I repressed an inner shudder at the thought of poppyseed bagels – try explaining that one at the next drug test – and decided to press the issue. “Do you have any cereal?”
“There used to be some on the top shelf,” she said, “but I don’t think it’s there anymore.”
I knew there wasn’t, because that was the first place I looked – I had put a box of Cracklin’ Bran there myself, for just such an emergency. But all I found up there was an ample spice rack, a bottle of peach schnapps, and a pot of orange blossom honey.
“Are you sure you don’t want a bagel instead?” she asked. “I can toast one up for you.”
“Did you eat the cereal, or toss it out? Or maybe you just moved it?”
“I don’t know. I don’t remember. What are you, anyway, the cereal police?”
The first day of undercover training, they tell you how to handle exactly this situation. “The cereal police,” you’re supposed to say. “Yeah, right. The cereal police. Like they really exist.” Then you’re supposed to change the subject to baseball. “What do you think the Tigers are going to do in free agency?” Simple. Anybody can do it.
I didn’t. I just stood there, looking blank, and guilty.
Her eyes widened, and she pointed an accusing finger at me. “You are the cereal police. And you were spying on me, going through my cabinets.”
I couldn’t manage anything other than a half-hearted well and a hesitant uh. Spying on people and going through their kitchens is my basic job description, anyway. When it happens – when people get caught without any cereal in the house – they usually turn defiant, or melt into a puddle of fear and self-recrimination. I just looked at her, waiting on her to decide how she was going to respond.
And she melted.
“Oh, God, I’m going to jail,” she whispered. “I’m not going to be able to finish my screenplay.”
“And they don’t let you run in jail, right? You just pace around the exercise yard and lift weights, and…”
I took her hands, and steered her over to a chair in the breakfast nook, and waited for her to stop hyperventilating. “Look, Bridget, people have the cereal police all wrong. We don’t put people in jail.” At least not all that often, I didn’t say. “Ninety percent of what I do is give out citations to thirty-year-old fat guys who are still eating Crunchberries, mostly to get them to mix in a little fiber, cut down on the sugar. We’re not going after people who are obviously physically fit, like you are.”
“Honest to God. Like I said, I was just looking for that Cracklin’ Bran.”
“I ate it,” she said, her body quivering with relief. “I put it on my ice cream. My sister puts bran cereal on her ice cream, something to do with the glycemic index. I tried it, and it wasn’t too bad. Granola would have been better, though.”
“Okay. We’ll get you some granola, that’s fine. Don’t worry about anything.” And then I lowered my face to hers and kissed her, and we ended up being late for work after all.
When it was over, and we were getting dressed, she asked me what my real name was, and I told her. “It’s Quincy. Quincy Thornton.”
“Really?” she asked. “I promise I won’t tell anyone.”
“Really,” I said, and I knew she wouldn’t. “But my friends call me Quisp.”