Saturday, June 18, 2016

Chapter 50 / Wired

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. 

“You wired?”

“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. 

No sound.

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

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Chapter 49 / Six-pack

Annie opened her eyes. First light, and Andrew was awake, she could tell, lying on his back; he was always awake now, whenever she woke up.  

“Andrew . . .” 

“I’m here.” 

“I dreamed I couldn’t find my house. I was driving around, and it just wasn’t there.” 

He turned and pulled her close. “Try not to worry. They did what was easy. And I’ll find out who did it.”  

At the police station, Annie found her senses heightened; if she ever got home, she must try to sleep. In the meantime she was struck by the shabbiness of the lobby, the dirt in its corners, the stale air in a room with no windows, the dispatcher a bulldog behind a scratched bulletproof screen. 

The dispatcher frowned. “We tried to call you.”

“If I’d been home, this wouldn’t have happened,” said Annie. “Right?”

The bulldog turned away.

The police report signed and filed, they returned to Andrew’s house. Annie left a message for her insurance agent, and Andrew called Claude, his favorite taxi driver.

“No dogs in the car,” Claude said wearily. Now they were being driven by a walrus: a bald man with a handlebar mustache who sat like a pyramid at the wheel, knowing he was out-maneuvered. 

“Sorry,” said Andrew, sliding into the passenger seat and slipping a folded twenty into Claude’s logbook. “We don’t have a car, and the dog has to stay with us.” 

“I’m putting this towel on the back seat,” said Annie, spreading out Chloe’s black bath towel. 

After that, the men breathed back and forth at each other. Not even whispers, just breathing. Nothing separated driver and passenger in these cabs, and Annie tilted her head toward the breathing, listening with her left ear, her telephone ear. 

“Serious . . . ” breathed Claude.


“Six-pack.” One breath. 

“Thought you were on the wagon.” Andrew was audible now. 

“Ten years. Almost. Six-pack’s the one who did it.” 

“There’s a guy who lets people call him Six-pack?” 

Claude kept his eyes on the bridge across the river. “I’m not his mama.”

“A guy named Six-pack doesn’t do this on his own.” Andrew slipped another folded twenty into Claude’s logbook, and they began to breathe again. 


Andrew blinked yes.

“Crack houses . . . his.” 

Having worked their way through the bureaucratic maze of two unmarried people renting a car together, Annie dropped Andrew off at his house. They were putting Chloe’s crate into a gray Chevy that should have made anyone invisible when Annie remembered: 

“We’re supposed to take Theresa and Glaron out to the empty restaurant on 23 today.” 

“I’ll do it. They can drive. I just have to be back here by three.”

“When the police station is firebombed.” 

“Don’t tempt me.” 

At home, Chloe drank a pint of water and stretched out on the bed. Annie turned up the heat and resisted joining her. She had more phone messages here, in addition to the ones she had ignored on her cell phone. From the newspaper, Tina said that she and Wendy wanted to meet with Annie and Andrew tomorrow, Sunday, at two. It was not posed as a request. Kathleen and Jaime were genuinely concerned. Annie started with them. 

“Let’s have a conference call,” said Kathleen. “I learned how to do this when I was running for office.” 

“We were on a party line until two years ago,” said Annie. 

“Hang on, I’m patching in Jaime.”

In seconds, Annie heard Jaime’s voice too: “What the fuck is going on?”

“It was a warning,” said Annie. 

“OK!” said Kathleen. “Be. Warned.” 

They decided on lunch at Annie’s, Jaime with soup, Kathleen bread. Annie did want to see them, and if they all took Chloe for a walk, together, then she would be less afraid of someone leaping out of the woods at her, which was preposterous, she knew, but still, a fear that had to be addressed, as Kathleen would say. 
And it occurred to Annie that Andrew didn’t have friends like these, not here, not now, and she could think of only one friend of Ed’s. Should she wonder about why she connected with solitary men? 

And even if you had friends, you couldn’t sit down with them and hash out the pros and cons of marriage to a solitary guy with arsonist enemies and then take a vote—maybe some people did, but it didn’t seem fair. But she did want to talk about this with someone. Andrew would talk to Warren, and she—she would talk to Father Paul, at church. If he married them, he would want to meet with them first in any case. 

Annie was so happy with this idea, she called Andrew.  

“Hey,” he said, “I was about to call you. We’re at the diner. It’s perfect. You’re brilliant.” 

“Good! Um—can they hear you?” 

“I’ll move over here . . . what’s up?”

“Andrew, if we get married, I’d like to be married at church.” 

“Of course. It’s customary. You get married in the woman’s church.” 

“—You don’t have to be on automatic. We could get married—at that diner, if we wanted.”

“—Let’s get married at your church. What else?”

“—If we do, Father Paul will want to meet with us first. More than once.” 

“Goes with the territory.” 

“Can you show any enthusiasm about it?”

“Darlin’, I’m enthusiastic about the whole thing.” 

“You get such a shit-eating grin when you talk to that lady,” said Glaron. 

“Best luck I ever had,” said Andrew. 

Copyright © Debby Mayer