Anne Marie Carpinaw, n'ee Anne Marie Hurst, didn’t know what to make of the fellow she knew as Andy Kelly. In fact, she wasn’t sure he was somebody you could make into a thing at all. Maybe he was already made and set, and unalterable.
Different, anyway. In Anne Marie’s experience, men were sweaty creatures, harried and hurried, hustling all the time, tiptoeing over quicksand ever, never comfortable in their own minds, in their own skins, in their own circumstances. Her recently decamped husband, Howard Carpinaw, the computer salesman, was definitely of that breed, scrambling from sale to sale, always talking big, always producing little. Her father, the fourteen-term congressman from Kansas, had been the same, had spent twenty-seven years running for reelection, had never devoted a minute of his life to actually calmly occupying the position he kept running for, and finally ended his career with a heart attack at yet another rubber chicken Kiwanis luncheon down on the hustings.
Somehow, Andy Kelly wasn’t like that. Not that he was disinterested or turned off or bored, he just didn’t try too hard. For instance, he’d made it plain in their first meeting that he’d like to go to bed with her, but it had also been plain he wouldn’t kill himself if she turned him down, whereas most men, in her experience, claimed they would kill themselves if she turned them down, and then reneged.
It was sensing something of that difference that had first attracted her attention in the cocktail lounge. She’d already rebuffed three husbands—obvious husbands, their wives asleep upstairs reflected in their guilty eyes—and when this other fellow had come in she’d been prepared to rebuff him, too. But then he didn’t sit too close to her, didn’t smile at her, didn’t say harya, didn’t acknowledge her existence in any way. And then he got into some amusing conversation—amusing for them, apparently—with the bartender, so it was somewhat in the manner of a person shaking a birthday present to try to guess what’s inside the giftwrap that she’d poked out that first word: “Hello.” And the rest was becoming history.
So, despite the laconic manner, she knew he was definitely interested in her, but it was plain she wasn’t the end of the world. So far, he acted as though nothing was the end of the world. To be around a man for whom life was not perpetually at third down and long yardage; what a relief.
On the other hand, she couldn’t figure out what he did for a living, and it’s still important to know what a man does for a living, because economic and social class are both determined by occupation, and Anne Marie, free spirit though she might be, was not free spirit enough to want to spend time with a man from the wrong economic and social class. Andy seemed to have all the money he needed, and not to worry about it (but then, he didn’t worry about anything up till now, that was the charm of the guy). Still, his clothing and manner didn’t suggest inherited wealth; this was not some main stem pillar slumming in the N-Joy. She’d hinted around, hoping some occupation would emerge, some category, but nothing yet.
Not a lawyer, certainly not a doctor, even more certainly not an accountant or banker. An airline pilot? Unlikely. Not a businessman, they’re the sweatiest of them all. Maybe an inventor; was that possible?
She was afraid, the more she thought about it, that what Andy Kelly was most like was a cabdriver who’d learned not to get aggravated by bad traffic. But would a cabdriver be this cool, in this situation? Intrigued, more so than she’d expected to be, she awaited his return tonight from another “appointment.”
Appointments after midnight, two nights in a row. Was that a clue? To what? They weren’t appointments with some other woman, she was pretty sure of that, based on his behavior with her afterward. But what appointment could you have that late at night, lasting an hour or two?
Maybe he’s a spy, she thought. But who is there to spy on any more? All the spies are retired now, writing books, reading each other’s books, and beginning to wonder what the point had been, all those years, chasing each other around in their slot-car racers while the real world went on without them. More of the desperate men, those were, hustling to keep up, falling a little farther behind every day. Nope, not Andy Kelly.
So here it was Thursday night, becoming Friday morning, and on Saturday she was supposed to fly back to KC and then drive across the state on home to Lancaster, and of course that’s what she was going to do, it was part of the package, but Andy Kelly was suddenly the wild card in the deck, and she couldn’t help asking herself the question: What if he says don’t go?
Well, most likely he wouldn’t say any such thing, why should he? And whoever or whatever he might turn out to be, she did already know for certain he was definitely a New Yorker and never a Lancastrian, so he wouldn’t be coming home with her, so either he asked the question or he didn’t. And however unlikely it was that he’d ask, she felt she ought to be ready with the answer just in case, so what was the answer?
She didn’t know. She was still thinking about it, and she still didn’t know, at ten minutes to three in the morning when the phone rang.
She was seated on the bed at the time, back against the headboard, watching an old movie on television with the sound turned off, as an aid to thought, so now she reached out to the phone on the bedside table, kept looking at the people on horseback on the television screen, and said, “Hello.”
“Hi, Anne Marie, it’s Andy.”
“It better be,” she said, “or I don’t answer the phone at this hour.”
“I’m a little late. My appointment took longer than I thought.”
“But that was okay, because it was very successful.”
“Good,” she said, wondering, what are we talking about?
“But here’s the thing,” he said. “There’s a friend of mine.”
Uh oh, she thought. “Uh huh,” she said. Group gropes, is this where we’re headed?
“He’s got a problem,” Andy said, “and I think you’re the perfect person to talk to him.”
Her voice very cold, Anne Marie said, “And you want to bring him over now.”
“That’s right, a few minutes talk and—Whoa. Wait a minute. Back up here.”
“That’s right,” she said. She was more disappointed in him than she would have thought possible. “Back way up.”
“Anne Marie,” he said, “get that thought out of your head this second. There are some things in life that are team efforts, and there are some things in life that are solos, you see what I mean?”
“I’m not sure.”
“My friend,” Andy said, “needs to have a conversation about Washington, DC, and then—”
“He’ll explain. He’d like to come talk, maybe five minutes at the max, and then he goes away, and if there’s more to it he’ll give you a phone call sometime, but at least now you know who he is.”
“Who is he?”
“A friend of mine. I’d like to bring him over. Okay?”
She looked around the room. Do I trust Andy? Do I trust my own instincts? The bed was a mess, clothes were strewn around, the TV was on, though silent. “How soon would you get here?” she asked.
Surprised, she said, “Where are you? In the bar?”
“Closer. Be there in two minutes,” he said, and hung up.
Two minutes later, the bed was made, the clothes were put away, the TV was off, and there was a knocking at the door. Anne Marie still wasn’t sure exactly what was going on here, but Howard was gone, her New York week was winding down, the future was completely unknowable, and her new slogan might as well be Caution To The Winds. So she opened the door, and there was Andy, smiling, and his friend, not smiling.
Well. This new guy wasn’t somebody to be afraid of, though at first glance he didn’t look right to be Andy’s friend. He was not chipper, not at all chipper. He was closer to the kind of men she already knew, except he was down at the end of the struggle, after all the hustling has failed, all the energy has been spent on futile struggle, and the exhaustion of despair has set in. He looked to be in his midforties, and what a lot of rough years those must have been. He was the picture of gloom from his lifeless thinning hair through his slumped shoulders to his scuffed shoes, and he looked at her as though he already knew she wasn’t going to be any help.
“Hello,” she said, thinking how complicated life could get if you merely kept saying hello to people. She stepped aside, and they came in, and she shut the door.
“Anne Marie,” Andy said, “this is John. John, my friend Anne Marie.”
“Harya,” said John, in a muted way, and stuck his hand out.
She took the hand, and found he was in any event capable of a firm handshake. “I’m fine,” she said. “Should we . . . sit down on something?” One bed and one chair; that was the furniture, except for stuff with drawers.
“I’m not staying,” John said. “Andy says you grew up in Washington.”
“There and Kansas,” she acknowledged. “We had homes both places. Usually I went to school in Kansas, but college in Maryland, and then lived mostly in Washington for a few years. With my father and his second wife, and then his third wife.”
“The thing is,” John said, apparently not that fascinated by her family, “I gotta go to Washington next week, I got a little something to do there, but I don’t know the place at all. Andy figured, maybe you could fill me in, answer some questions about the place.”
“If I can,” she said, doubtful, not knowing what he had in mind.
“Not now,” he said. “I know you’re busy. But I could like make up a list, my questions, give you a call tomorrow. Now you know who I am.”
No, I don’t, she thought. She said, “What is it you have to do in DC?”
“Oh, just a little job,” he said.
This was not a good answer. She was starting to wonder if she should be worried. What had she got mixed up with here? Terrorists? Fanatics? She said, “It wouldn’t involve anything blowing up, would it?”
He gave her a blank look: “Huh?”
Andy said, “Anne Marie, it isn’t anything like—” But then he saw the expression on her face, and he shook his head and turned to his friend, saying, “John, the best thing, I think, is level with her.”
John obviously didn’t think that was the best thing at all. He stared at Andy as though Andy had asked him to change his religion or something. He said, “Level? You mean, level level? On the level?”
Andy said, “Anne Marie, just as a hypothetical, what would you say if I told you we weren’t entirely honest?”
“I’d say nobody’s entirely honest,” she said. “What kind of not honest are you?”
“Well, mostly we pick up things,” he said.
John said, “Right. That’s it. Pick up things.”
She shook her head, not getting it, and Andy said, “You know, like, we see things lying around and we pick them up.”
Anne Marie felt her way through the maze of this locution. She didn’t quite know how to phrase her next question, but went ahead anyway: “You mean . . . you mean you’re thieves?”
Beaming, happy she’d got it, Andy said, “Personally I prefer the word crook. I think it’s jauntier.”
“See? It is jauntier.”
“These appointments, late at night . . .”
“We’re out picking up things,” he said. “Or planning it. Or whatever.”
“Picking up things.” Anne Marie struggled to find firm ground. First tonight she’d thought Andy was slightly enigmatic but fun, then she’d thought he was sexually kinky and maybe dangerously kinky, and then she’d thought he was a homicidal terrorist, and now it turned out he was a thief. Crook. Thief. Too many lightning transformations. Having no idea what she thought of this most recent one, she said, “What did you pick up tonight?”
John, grumbling, said, “Not what I was looking for.”
“But a lot of nice things,” Andy said. “I would say tonight was one of our more profitable nights, John. In a long time.”
“Still,” John said. He seemed very dissatisfied.
So she turned her attention to John, saying, “What was it you wanted that you didn’t find?”
He merely shrugged, as though the memory were too painful, but Andy said, “Tell her, John. She’ll understand. I don’t know Anne Marie that long, but already I can tell you, she’s got a good heart. Go ahead and tell her.”
“I hate telling that story, over and over,” John said. “It’s got the same ending every time.”
“Do you mind, I tell it?”
“It’ll still come out the same,” John said, “but go ahead.”
John ostentatiously looked at the blank TV screen, as though waiting for a bulletin, while Andy said, “What happened, about a week ago John and another fella went to a place that was supposed to be empty—”
“To pick up some things,” Anne Marie suggested.
“That’s it. Only it wasn’t empty, after all, the householder was there, with a gun.”
“Ouch,” Anne Marie said.
“John’s feelings exactly,” Andy said. “But that’s what we call your occupational hazard, it’s all in the game. You know. But what happened next wasn’t fair.”
John, watching the nothing on TV, growled.
Andy said, “The householder called the cops, naturally, no problem with that. But when the cops got there the householder claimed John stole a ring and was wearing it. Only it was John’s ring, that his best close personal friend, her name is May, you’d like her, she gave him. And the cops made him give it to the householder.”
“That’s mean,” Anne Marie said, and she meant it. She also thought it was kind of funny, she could see the humor in it, but from the slope of John’s shoulders she suspected she would be wiser not to mention that side.
“Very mean,” Andy agreed. “So John, after he got away from the police—”
Surprised, she said, “You escaped?”
“Yeah.” Even that memory didn’t seem to give him much pleasure.
“Oh,” she said. “I thought you were out on bail or something.”
“No,” Andy said, “he got away clean. But he’s been looking for the householder ever since, because he wants his ring back. It’s got sentimental value, you know.”
“Because his friend gave it to him,” Anne Marie said, and nodded.
“Because,” John said, “he made a fool outta me. I’m gonna feel itchy and uncomfortable until I get that ring back.”
“This householder is a very rich householder,” Andy said. “I mean, he didn’t need the ring. Also, he’s got a lot of houses, including one in this very building.”
“So last night . . .” she said.
“You know the phrase,” he told her. “Last night, we cased the joint.”
“And tonight we went there,” Andy said, “and we just missed the guy, he was just going out the door. So John did not get his ring.”
“Again,” John said.
“But we did get a lot of other stuff,” Andy said. “Nice stuff. As long as we were there.”
Anne Marie said, “And this man is going to Washington?”
“Next week. He’s got a house there, too. John figures to pay him a visit.”
“And this time,” John said, “he’ll be there.”
Anne Marie said, “Where’s this house exactly?”
“Well, it’s an apartment, is what it is,” Andy said. “In the Watergate.”
This time she felt she could show her amusement, and did. “John? You want to pull a burglary at the Watergate? A little third-rate burglary at the Watergate?”
Andy said, “I already tried that on him, and it didn’t work. John isn’t much of a history buff.”
Anne Marie said, “So that’s why you’ll have some questions about DC. You want to get in there, and get your ring, and get out again, and not get into trouble along the way.”
“That’s it,” Andy said.
John, the recital of his tale of woe at last finished, turned away from the TV screen and said, “So if it’s okay with you, I’ll give you a call here tomorrow, sometime, whenever you say. I’ll have some questions figured out.”
“Sure,” Anne Marie said. “Or . . .” And she allowed a pause to grow, while she lifted an eyebrow at Andy, who gave her a bright look but no other response. So she said to John, “Did Andy tell you my own situation at the moment?”
“He didn’t tell me anything,” John said, “except you knew Washington.”
“Well, my marriage seems to have hit an underwater stump and sunk,” she said. “Theoretically, I’m supposed to go home on Saturday, but I’m not sure I think of it as home any more. I’m not sure what to think, to tell you the truth. I’m at kind of loose ends here.”
“Anne Marie,” Andy said, “I wouldn’t have hoped to even ask this, but I’m wondering. Do you mean that you think you could stick around some, give us advice along the way?”
“It’s been awhile since I’ve been in DC,” she said.
John’s head lifted. He damn near smiled. He almost looked normal. He said, “Yeah?”
Andy, with all evidence of delight, said, “Anne Marie! You’d come along?”
“If I wasn’t in the way.”
“In the way? How could you be in the way?” Andy looked at John, and they grinned at each other, and Andy said, “John? Is Anne Marie in the way?”
“Not in my way,” John said.
Andy looked back at Anne Marie, and grew more serious. He said, “Is it gonna bother you? You know, us picking up things, here and there, along the way? I mean, that’s what we do. Is that gonna be a problem?”
Anne Marie smiled, and shook her head. She had no idea what she was doing, or why, or what was going to happen next, but there was no other door in her life right now she could think of opening that had even the prospect of fun behind it. “I’m a politician’s daughter, Andy,” she said. “Nothing shocks me.”