When she heard the shower start, Annie went into the bathroom and sat on the cover of the toilet seat, holding a clean bath towel for Andrew.
As she found herself starting to curl over the towel, she sat up straight. She reminded herself that while it had been a good car, with an adorable sunroof, it lacked a certain personality. She reminded herself that Chloe’s crate had not been inside, or Chloe, or herself, or Andrew.
She had asked Andrew about this immediately, about the crate and the dog and themselves, and he had said, “Somebody chose a freezing night, three o’clock in the morning, in a parking lot. Somebody's a cowardly shit.”
And she thought, but did not say, that even a cowardly shit could complicate your life by preventing you from ever leaving your dog alone in a car.
When Andrew got out of the shower Annie wrapped him in the towel, then watched while he patted himself dry, noting the bruise growing over a kidney, another one under his ribs, his scraped knuckles.
“Andrew, what did you do?”
He was silent, rubbing his hair.
“Andrew. You’re supposed to say ‘nothing.’ You’re supposed to say, ‘he started it.’”
This drew a tiny smile. “Let’s lie down again.”
Andrew lay on his un-bruised side, and Annie tucked herself in against him.
“We can’t even rent a car in this burg, can we,” he said.
“No, we have to go across the river. And it’s not in the budget.”
“We use a credit card.”
“Poor people don’t have credit cards, but when are you going to tell me what’s going on?”
* * * * * *
He had run, under the sound of the sirens and fire trucks, OK, he had jogged, two blocks to the parking lot, aware of Annie’s scent still on him, it was like carrying her, weightless, her scent enveloping him against the cold, he should have worn gloves, and should they just get out of here, go back to New York, but he couldn't give up his article—which was becoming a book—and he knew what he would see—her car in flames.
They had torched it in the rear, so that the gas tank would burn, flames shooting up toward the streetlight that hadn’t saved the car. Sparks flew, metal crumpled and now the smell was oil.
Fire police were setting up aluminum horses to control the onlookers. Andrew said “shit” once, then panned the two-dozen people that had shown up so far, looking for who was enjoying this.
He recognized Bryan, even inside his hooded jacket—the upturned nose, the full lips—one instant before Bryan saw him and strode away, his back to Andrew, who followed him.
The boy might be able to outrun him, so Andrew took a chance, jogged down an alley for two blocks, then turned back toward the street. Moving alongside a building, out of the streetlight, he saw Bryan at the crossing.
He let the boy go by, then ran silently, not even breathing, until he could grab Bryan from the rear.
Andrew clapped his hand over Bryan’s mouth. “Shut up. This is between us.”
He pulled Bryan in between two houses, jammed him up against a brick wall, and the damned kid fought him. His knee had to be twisted away before it hit Andrew’s balls; doing that, Andrew lost his grip, but Bryan didn’t flee, he slugged Andrew in the gut. Like Andrew, he was gloveless and kept his punches and kicks between neck and knees; no face work.
A man—dark face inside hooded jacket—passed by on the street, glancing at them and going on without breaking stride.
Andrew was operating on adrenalin, he had to get control of this boy. Bryan turned to run and Andrew stuck his foot out. With the boy on his knees in the snow, Andrew grabbed his arms and held them tight behind him. He yanked him up, pushed him chest first into the brick and stood behind him.
“Who did this,” hissed Andrew. “What’s going on?”
“I don’t know! I—”
“I heard the sirens and came out.”
“You don’t live in Schuyler.”
“To be closer to the cops.”
“No, you’ve got me all wrong, I don’t have anything to do with them.”
“But you know what’s going on.”
“Well, find out. My assignment is to find out where you live, which I can do in about twenty minutes. Your assignment is to be able to tell me, in 12 hours, who did this. And then we’re going to tell them, you and I, to leave her alone. We’re going to tell them that anything happens to her—she stubs her fucking toe—I hold you responsible and I take you out.
“OK, Bryan? If you’re not against me, then we’re a team. We meet at that park over there, by the courthouse, at three o’clock tomorrow afternoon. You’re not there, I go to your house. You’re not there, it’s because you’ve left the state.”
Bryan was silent. Then, “I need money to get out of here.”
“You little turd. I’ll kill you before I pay you a dime.”
* * * * *
To Annie, he said, “Bryan was watching the fire. The kid from work. We had a chat.”
“Sign language,” said Annie. “On each other’s ribs and kidneys.”
“It was a frank discussion. We agreed to continue it at three o’clock this afternoon. In the square. Wearing mittens.”
“You trust him?”
“Just checking all the avenues. I gave him an assignment. With an incentive.”
"You’re paying him?”
“Never. It’s more of a negative incentive.”
They lay quiet, exhausted; last night's barbecue dinner seemed a year ago.
“One question from me," said Andrew. “OK?"
"Are you still thinking about my proposal?”
“Yes,” she said, because she was.
Copyright © Debby Mayer