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 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