The Lonely Shroud
by Scott Mitchell

You grow older, quieter, and there are obligations.

Kay has just finished her second novel. She never talks of marriage. After all, what's in marriage with me for a girl like her? I know just one trade, and it would be no life for her, waiting for them to carry me back shot up or beaten up, maybe. She deserves better. I'm tired and irritable professional P.I. who will never be rich. It wouldn't last six months.

Well, if you don't like your trade, you can give it up. That's the theory. In practice, it doesn't work out so well. When you're creeping up on forty and not so damned slowly, either it's tough to start something new. Maybe your talents equip you for other careers, but your temperament excludes you just as surely. Too much independence has spoiled you. You never folded too easily and over the years you've allowed yourself the luxury from time to time of telling clients to go to bell, even rich, influential ones. Sometimes you've said it to the law boys, too. But not too often.

Nobody does.

All this makes you not very conformable, unlikely to fit into conventional organizations where insubordination, scepticism and a sense of the ridiculous are about as well received as deficits and discrepancies in the books.

So what's left? You could marry Kay Stillman, the redheaded gal who sits in the outer office and makes like she needs the job. You could let her earn enough for the both of you with her writing real writing, with semi colons and abstract nouns that you might have thought lived only in dictionaries these days. But you wouldn't like that for long. Not the marriage part, but the inactivity and the sense of unequal effort, of Kay alone supplying the bread.

So you go on with it. You'll never own a Cadillac. On the other hand, occasionally you'll get worked over or shot at. They may try to take your licence away or throw you into the cooler. But it's your trade, such as it is, and there's some professional pride in the exercise of it, some pleasure, however rare, in the odd case that turns out the way they do in the stories, with evil thwarted and the good, who are never too virtuous, protected by your efforts.

Those days and you'd better make the most of them, because they are pretty scarce you feel, if you screw yourself up to the imaginative effort, like Lancelot, like Cyrano, like Rock Hudson at his heroic best, and maybe it's worth while.

If you don't think too much, that is.

The odd thing is the longer Kay is silent on the subject of matrimony, the more I worry about it, crazy though our marriage would almost certainly be.

You never know. It might be worth the risk.