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6

They trudged through the yard and up Marino's front steps. He called Jimmy's house, and sure enough, no one was home. He left a message for Mrs. Simpson on the answering machine, saying that if it was all right with her, Jimmy would stay the night so he wouldn't have to be alone.

"I got Dr. Pepper, if you want some," Marino said, as he got ground beef out of the freezer.

Jimmy's eyes lit up.

"Sure!" he said.

Marino's Last Minute Chili

Marino's quick chili requires a number of considerations that differ from what most likely goes on in other kitchens. First, the chef should drink Budweiser out of the can or Rolling Rock out of the bottle. Second, finding the appropriate pot requires digging and much clanging in jumbled cupboards, and locating the matching lid may not happen, in which case Marino fashions one from Reynolds Wrap. Third, the ground beef should be regular versus lean, and thawed in the microwave oven on high to hurry things along. The TV should be left on at all times, and one should be irritable when the phone rings.

"Mr. Marino?" said Jimmy, who was perched on a barstool. "Is it all right if I have some ice in my Dr. Pepper?"

"Nope, it ain't all right," Marino said.

He opened the freezer again and pulled out a frosted beer mug. He poured the Dr. Pepper in it while Jimmy's lips parted in awe.

"Be a man," Marino said.

"Cool!" was Jimmy's response.

Within half an hour, ground beef and bacon were browning in the pot. Marino was hacking up onions and green chili peppers, and opening cans of kidney beans, field peas, and Richfood tomato sauce.

"You ever eaten anything hot before?" Marino asked, as he chopped.

"Soup."

"Not that kind of hot."

"I don't know."

"Believe me, you'll know," Marino promised. "Let me tell you something, kid. Before the night's out, you're gonna learn something."

"You think there'll be school tomorrow, Mr. Marino?"

"Look, I'm either Captain Marino or Pete. Got it? And no way there'll be school tomorrow. I just hope your mom can get home so I'm not stuck with you another day."

Jimmy smiled. He knew Marino didn't mean it.

"I guess I could go get her in my truck," Marino went on.

"I'd rather stay here." Jimmy sipped his soda.

A more obvious ingredient in Marino's last minute chili is packaged seasoning. He prefers the very spicy Texas style, and dumps in two packages along with the tomato sauce he has on hand. In this case, it was three fifteen-ounce cans. To this he added an amount of water that he did not measure, but it wasn't a lot because he likes his chili thick enough to serve as spaghetti sauce when he needs a little variety. Next, he drained the beans and dumped them in, along with four beef bouillon cubes that initially stuck stubbornly to their wrappers.

"That smells really good," Jimmy marveled, as football players mauled each other on ESPN.

"Thirty minutes, and we're good to go," announced Marino, washing his hands and wiping them on his pants. "I got bread I can put some butter and garlic on, toast it in the oven."

"No, thank you."

"What about salad? Maybe I got some lettuce in here somewhere."

He searched inside the refrigerator, yanking open drawers.

"No, thank you," Jimmy replied. "I don't like salad."

"It's all in the dressing. You ever had Thousand Island? Mix mayonnaise, ketchup, and chop up bread and butter pickles. Mix it all up, put it on your salad, your burger, whatever. Now, you really want a manly meal, you make a really thick sandwich with corn beef and put Thousand Island and sauerkraut on it. Some Swiss if you got it. Hell, I've used mozzarella before. So you put that all together and grill it in butter."

"I don't like mayonnaise," Jimmy politely informed him.

"Won't even know it's there," Marino promised. "Maybe we'll do that for lunch tomorrow."

"I thought you didn't want me here."

"I don't," Marino said.

The snow had almost spent itself by the time the eleven o'clock news came on, and Marino was in his recliner, barely interested in what an anchorwoman was saying about a shooting in one of Richmond's numerous housing projects. It wasn't his problem. His jurisdiction was the police academy. He was in charge of training rookie cops and got involved in heinous, violent cases only when he was called out on an ATF or FBI response team.

"the thus-far unidentified man was found face down on the street in a pool of blood"

"Drugs," Marino muttered.

"and is believed to be drug related"

"See?" Marino said to Jimmy. "You know what that kind of homicide's called?"

The boy was stretched out on the brown vinyl couch, a blanket pulled up to his chin. Marino had given him a Richmond police academy T-shirt to sleep in, and the sleeves came down to Jimmy's hands, the hem over his feet.

"No, sir," Jimmy sleepily said.

"It's called urban renewal."

"What does that mean?" Jimmy yawned.

"You'll figure it out when you get older. Sometimes we call them misdemeanor murders, too."

Jimmy was clueless.

"Oh," he said.

Marino took one last swallow of beer. That was his quota for the night. His guest had devoured two helpings of chili topped by melted mozzarella that had been stringy on Jimmy's spoon and had gotten on his face and sleeves, and everywhere, really. Marino had put out a plate of saltine crackers and had shown Jimmy how to crumble them into his bowl. For dessert, Marino had spread Chunky Monkey ice cream between two large sugar cookies, making a sandwich that Jimmy had dripped on his jeans. "What are we having for breakfast?" Jimmy asked.

"Snow with maple syrup on it," Marino replied, switching to NBC.

"No way."

"It's okay as long as you stay away from yellow snow."

Jimmy Simpson guffawed.


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