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41

STAN MURCH WAS NOT above traveling in the actual subway, if circumstances called for that. Thus, at two-fifteen on Thursday morning, Stan, dressed in casual but dark clothing, went upstairs to leave his house.

This was an entire block of row houses, all attached, all alike, two-family, two-story, brick, with an exterior staircase to the second-floor apartment next to a concrete driveway to the one-car garage downstairs. In most of these houses, as in the one owned by Murch's Mom — he was just a boarder here — the four-and-a-half-room upstairs apartment was rented out for the income, "while the owner's family lived in the three and a half rooms downstairs, plus a basement room that opened onto the backyard. Most owners turned this basement room into what they called a family room or entertainment center, but which Murch called his bedroom. Leaving this, he went upstairs where one night-light glowed in the kitchen, because his Mom, tired from a day of outrage at the wheel of a medallion New York City taxicab, had long since gone to bed.

Quietly, he left the house. This house was on East Ninety-ninth Street, a little off Rockaway Parkway, and very close to the Rockaway Parkway station, the last stop on the Canarsie Line, known to officialdom as the L, which would travel from here to Eighth Avenue and West Fourteenth Street in Manhattan.

Since this was the end of the line, there was usually a train in the station, doors open, waiting for the moment to depart, and there was one such this time. Stan became the fourth person to board that particular car, all seated far from one another. Finding a Daily News on a seat, he settled beside it, started to read, and an hour and forty minutes later stepped off another subway car under Lexington Avenue and Sixty-eighth Street.

His only objection to the subway, really, was that you couldn't choose your own route. On the other hand, when you got where you were going, you didn't have any parking headaches.

It was a quiet walk over to Fifth Avenue. A few empty cabs looked at him hopefully, and a couple of lone walkers looked at him warily, but otherwise he had the city to himself.

The story was, this garage door was supposed to be unlocked and unarmed at this point; just turn the handle and lift. So he did, and it lifted, but heavily, so that he had to use both hands on it. This was a door meant for the electric motor and remote control, so there wasn't much thought given to its weight, which was considerable.

However, starting to lift the door meant that a light immediately switched on inside the garage, so he only raised it to waist height and then slid through under it and eased it back down again.

And here it was, a recent BMW 1 Series in banker black, furred all over with pale gray dust. Starting at the rear, which was closest to the door, Stan made a slow eyes-only inspection of the vehicle, approving of its pearl gray leather seats and the key stuck in the ignition and especially approving of its lack of GPS.

And what else did he have in here? On the right side of the garage, facing the front passenger seat, was a metal door with a small rectangular window in it, and beyond that a set of metal shelves, and beyond that, in the corner, a closed upright metal locker.

Stan looked at the door first, and could see nothing but blackness through the little window. Would this be the elevator? Experimentally, he pulled on the door handle, and it opened, and yes, that was the elevator. It was down here, at this level, and as soon as the door opened, a light in there switched on.

A small elevator, but luxurious, with a red cushioned armless wooden chair at the back, soft indirect lighting from above, and flocked wallpaper on the walls. Pretty good.

The shelves were next. They contained cleaning and maintenance supplies for the car, including a chamois cloth, which was good; he'd use that on the car before he took it out. There was also on one shelf a remote control for the garage door, an extra one; Stan tossed it into the BMW, on the front passenger seat.

The locker was unlocked and contained only a chauffeur's uniform. It had the tired look that every suit gets when it's been hanging in one place too long.

Stan shut the locker, reached for the chamois, and the light went out.

Oh, on a timer. Fortunately, the elevator light was still on, and gleaming through the window, so by that shine Stan made his way back to the garage door and lifted it just enough to cause the light to come on again.

Okay, enough inspections; let's get on with it. He took the chamois and briskly rubbed the car down, removing the gray dust, letting it sparkle in the light the way it wanted to. While he was doing that, the elevator light switched off, but that was okay.

He was just finishing with the chamois, at the rear bumper, when the garage light went off again. This time, he pushed the door up all the way, then got behind the wheel of the BMW, twisted the key, and the engine coughed, but then started. The sound was ragged, the car not having been driven for so long, but it was ready to roll.

Stan backed the BMW out to the sidewalk, stopped, got out of the car, and pushed the garage door closed by hand, because the electric motor would be too loud at this quiet time of night.

Also, at this time of night, he figured, the long way home would be quickest — over to the FDR, down to the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel, through to the Belt, and all around the hem of Brooklyn to Canarsie. No traffic, no delays, home much quicker than doing the Manhattan Bridge and Flatbush Avenue and all that. Too bad that wasn't true in the daytime.

But it was certainly true now. At the end, getting out of the BMW in front of his house, he unlocked his way in, stepped through the side interior door into the garage, and backed his Mom's cab out to the street. Then the BMW went in, the garage door was closed, and the cab was placed on the driveway, nose against the garage.

Stan went into his house again, left the cab key on the kitchen table, had a beer, and went to bed. Nice car. Better than Max deserved.


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