In Second Hand Goods, both the personal and professional relationship between Nick and his secretary Elaine change fundamentally. In Northcoast Shakedown, Elaine is the somewhat older flirty associate who keeps Nick from running his business off the rails. In Second Hand Goods, I started off ratcheting the sexual tension up a bit. Part of their shared backstory goes back to when Nick was downsized out of the insurance company and into his own agency.
I did not expect things to escalate.
Second Hand Goods finds Nick getting into trouble with a woman again. In Northcoast, he gets tangled up with the people he’s investigating by sexy real estate agent Tanya. Perhaps if he had not been distracted by her eating those chicken wings… In Second Hand Goods, it’s the beautiful Val, who lures him into a mob war between two Russian gangstgers. It’s Elaine who tries to pry him out of the mess he’s in when Val shows up at his apartment while Elaine is discussing the case with Nick. When Nick can’t get out of the conversation quickly, Elaine emerges from his bedroom clad only in a bed sheet. Nick hesitates before telling her to get dressed again, telling her to never do that again unless she means it. She responds by letting the sheet fall before heading into the bedroom.
Nick makes no secret that he likes things he’s not supposed to like and dislikes what his generation tells him he should embrace. He hates SUVs, which at the time the first three novels were written, were purchased to imply that people went off-roading when those cars never saw mud, only asphalt. He’s a classic rocker long after grunge has faded from view. And then we have Elaine. Yes, she’s an ex-cheerleader, for the Cleveland Cavaliers no less, but she’s five years older than Nick at this point. She’s more mom than secretary, and she dyes her hair red because she thinks blonde makes her look stupid. To Nick, she’s a safe crush because she’s married.
It’s when Nick realized that he could be dead before long, a high school friend that Elaine’s resolve to keep it professional wavers. I don’t make it clear whether Elaine’s feelings were long-term or came about out of worry for Nick. And Nick spends most of the narrative in denial.
Had I continued the series instead of ending it (for a time) with Gypsy’s Kiss, the series might have become the Nick and Elaine Mysteries. Elaine would have been a refreshing change from the psycho sidekick or the broken partner. She’s a soccer mom who takes crap off of no one, which is what made Bad Religion a joy to write. But alas, I wrote Gypsy’s Kiss with an eye on leaving Nick somewhere he could have closure. So my original plans for the series did not pan out.
And maybe that’s a good thing.