A three o’clock Andrew leaned against the stone post on one side of the staircase leading into the historic courthouse, hands in his pockets. He would give Bryan the length of one smoke before going to look for him.
Andrew liked the view here, which included an alley on either side of the courthouse square; he made a bet with himself, and won, that in one cigarette, he would see two drug handoffs. At this rate, the meth labs would go out of business, there would be no need for them; Schuyler would be a city where everyone made a living selling dope—grass, crack, and now heroin was moving north—to everyone else.
Andrew sighed. Despite the view, he hated this. He wasn’t an undercover cop, and the closed diner on Route 23 was the perfect site for a barbecue chow house. He should be sitting with Glaron and Theresa in their toasty kitchen, eating barbecue and typing up a business plan.
But he wanted this story. He tossed his cigarette butt and headed for Brian’s apartment, in a row of historic, decrepit buildings just blocks from the courthouse.
The street door wasn’t locked, and up two flights of stairs the door was ajar to the apartment that Bryan had sublet from the sublettor. Andrew pushed it and stayed at the threshold. Inside, the room was empty, except for Steve, as tidy as ever, in a black watch cap and Navy pea coat, leaning against the ledge of the one window.
“He took your advice,” said Steve. “I put him on a plane to Florida this morning.”
“Florida’s good for business. You alone?”
Their breaths rose in puffs of steam as they talked.
Steve nodded. Andrew walked around the empty apartment, poking his head into the windowless bedroom.
“No.” Steve shook his head.
“Show me.” Andrew stood in front of Steve.
Steve unbuttoned his jacket and the top two buttons of his shirt.
“You?” he asked.
Andrew unzipped his jacket and dropped it to the floor. He pulled his boiled-wool sweater over his head and onto the jacket. He unbuttoned his flannel shirt and pulled it open.
“Impressive,” said Steve, his eyes drawn to the twisted, layered scar tissue over Andrew’s heart, healed but still simmering like a dormant volcano. “Who won?”
“I did that to myself,” said Andrew, buttoning his shirt again.
“Because I’m crazy.” He pulled on his sweater. “Anything I do to anybody else won’t hurt me at all.”
“You are crazy,” Steve said mildly. “You get the best girlfriend in town, and you—treat your luck like shit. Both of you. She with you on this?”
“Her paper wants to bring down the chief?”
Andrew regarded Steve as he zipped up his jacket and everything clicked into place.
“Chief thinks I’m working for her?”
“You’re no high school dropout.”
“Everything I put on that form of yours is true. And more. I’m a dumb cluck who served his time for—killing his wife, and now I can’t do anything but move apples.”
“Do this,” said Steve. “Listen to me. Tell them they can’t unseat the chief. Tell them to forget it. He’s smart, much smarter than they think.
“The chief goes when he’s ready to go,” Steve said, standing.
“That’s why this place is the way it is.”
“Sounds like you can get me a meeting with the chief.”
“He has a telephone. Call him up.”
* * * *
So damned dark here in January. Next year, dammit, they would go someplace warm during the winter. Even if they had to take the dog.
Andrew turned the car onto Annie’s road gingerly and then started up the hill toward her house, relieved to find the pavement dry. So damned cold, slush couldn’t survive.
At Annie’s driveway, he was surprised to find the house dark. The clock in the car glowed . . . nine o’clock. Her car in the garage. She must have been tired, gone to bed early, but usually she would leave a light on for him.
He used his key in the front door and strode through the living room to the bedroom. Hey, Annie, he said gently, I’m here.
He turned on a light by the bed. Annie lay on her side, her back toward the door, on top of the bed, uncovered, curled around Chloe, a comma around a Cheerio. Even the dog didn’t move—
Annie . . . he knelt by the bed. She didn’t respond, her face oddly puffy, round, her high cheekbones hidden by flesh . . . he reached out for her arm, bare below short sleeves . . .
Oh! Andrew sat up, gasping. A shout had woken him; it must have been him. His bedroom, Schuyler. Alone. “Shit!” He tried to swallow, and reached for the water bottle by the bed.
“Damn!” He got up and walked around, barefoot, cold with sweat under his sweat clothes, trying to get his breath. He turned on the light by the bed and sat down. Three a.m. To call her now would frighten her. He had to ride this out by himself.
Warren, Rosendo, there was no calling anyone at 3 a.m. You couldn’t buy a stick of gum in this burg at 3 a.m., probably just as well, the bars had been closed for an hour. Nothing on TV. He could take a walk, but it was cold and dark and people were watching him.
He walked back and forth in this house where he lived on one floor. Eventually his breathing was regular, and he remembered he should write this down.
He rustled through some papers on the shelves by the bed and found a notebook. He sat on the bed and wrote out the dream, while he could still call up how he felt driving through the dark and what was that car? And make himself remember—he drank more water—her cold flesh, the odd polka-dot shirt, were there tracks on her cold arm or polka dots, or were the polka dots tracks . . .
All of 3:30 now. Also in the pile by the bed was Strip Tease by Carl Hiaasen, which Annie had left him. “This is funny,” she said, “you’ll like it.” He put the book next to him on the bed, lay down with both pillows under his head and pulled the covers to his chin. At six he could call her. Until then he would think.
Copyright © Debby Mayer