Marshall’s rowhouse was in a gentrified part of West Philly, not far from Franklin Field, with a gingerbread porch in three different Cape May colors. I knocked at the green-painted front door in my damp tank top and shorts, and the door finally opened. Tiny bells attached to the inside knob made a tinkling sound.
“What do you want?” said the woman who answered. She was a long-haired waif in a long, filmy skirt, who evidently shared Marshall’s politics but not her sweetness.
“You must be one of Marshall’s housemates. I’m-”
“I saw you on the news. You’re Marshall’s boss.”
“Yes. She didn’t come in to work today.”
“I know that.”
“I’d like to speak with her.”
“She’s not here.”
“Where is she?”
Her only reply was a shrug, her shoulder bones protruding in the tie-dyed T-shirt.
“What’s that mean? You don’t know or you’re not telling?”
“Look, what do you want?”
“I want you to give Marshall a message for me, it’s important. Tell her I didn’t do it. And tell her I hope she didn’t either.”
She slammed the door in my face, and the bells jingled madly.
I jogged back toward the office over the South Street bridge, running into the city at a time when everybody was leaving. Traffic snaked toward the Schuylkill Expressway. The sun hung low, burning orange behind my left shoulder. Drivers flipped down their visors as they reached the crest of the bridge.
I was breathing smoothly, thinking about Renee and Marshall. There was nothing I could do about Renee, and unfortunately, the same was true of Marshall. Apparently, she wasn’t in danger, from her housemate’s reaction. That left one possibility. Did Marshall have something to do with Mark’s murder? She was the only one in the office who could navigate the depths of the computer system. Maybe she’d discovered Mark’s hidden files. Or were there other cybersecrets, ones I didn’t know about?
I loped up Lombard, going against the traffic, and turned down Twenty-Second Street, pounding past the Greek pizza place, a video store, and the fancier townhouses. I slowed to a walk when I neared the office, because of the commotion.
Squad cars lined the cross street, their red, white, and blue lights flashing a silent warning. Police sawhorses blocked off traffic, and cops blew whistles to keep the drivers moving. I felt wary, edgy. A crowd was gathering, and I strayed to its fringe, next to an old woman who stood squinting at the scene, her meaty arms folded over a sagging chest.
“What’s going on?” I asked. “An accident?”
“Don’t know ’xactly,” she answered, peering at me through thick Woolworth’s glasses. Her eyes, supermagnified, looked deranged. At her side stood a matted white mutt on a rope leash, with bluish cataracts over his eyes.
“Nice dog,” I said. I like all dogs, even ugly ones.
“Name’s Buster. He’s blind.”
“Blind? Does he bite?”
I bent over to scratch the dog’s head, but he lunged at me with the two teeth he had left. “Hey! I thought you said he didn’t bite.”
“He nips, but he doesn’t bite.”
Sometimes I hate the city.
“The cops are lookin’ for somebody,” she said.
“Don’t know. Just heard it myself. It was drugs. That’s what caused the bombing.”
“That man, that drug man. They done got him.” She pushed up her glasses. “Put a bomb in his car, on account of the AIDS.”
“The AIDS. It was on the news.”
“When?” Was it the CEO of Furstmann? Was it possible? “How?”
“They’re looking for the lady who done it. That’s what I heard.”
“What lady?” Eileen? The cops already had her address.
“A terrorist done it. Works right down here, right here in Center City. A lady lawyer. They’re gonna arrest her.”
My throat caught. Lady lawyer. Lives and works in Philly. It had to be me. What was going on? I felt stricken. I turned and hustled away from the police cars, my feet carrying me forward almost automatically. Where was I going? I didn’t even know. Away. Out of the city, far from the cops.
I picked up the pace to a jog then accelerated to a nervous sprint. My heart thudded, my pulse raced. It wasn’t exercise anymore, it was flight. I fled the city, away from the business district. Twilight descended as I ran, but I didn’t stop until there were no more police cruisers and I was out of breath. I lurched into a graffitied phone booth with a busted light, panting hard. I slammed the door closed and punched in my credit card number with clumsy fingers.
“Wells,” he said when he picked up.
“Grady, what is going on?” It would have been good to hear his voice, if I trusted him at all.
“Bennie! Bennie, where are you?” His tone was urgent. “The police are looking for you. They found a pair of scissors in your apartment, with blood on it. They tested it and it’s Mark’s. They say it’s the murder weapon, Bennie. I have the arrest warrant in front of me.”
“Wait, it gets worse. They want to question you about another murder, the president of Furstmann Dunn.”
“Oh, God. He was really killed?”
“A car bomb, in the driveway of his house. The cops know you met with the animal activists the other night. How do they know that?”
My mind clicked away. Azzic must’ve been following me, unless Grady was lying and he’d told them.
“Bennie, are you there? Are you all right? They think you’re involved with his murder, too. Azzic picked up Eileen on your tip and she turned state’s evidence. She told the cops you masterminded the bombing, then set her up to take the fall.”
“They have her confession, implicating you. Her boyfriend, Kleeb, is on the run. Azzic is downstairs right now. They want you to turn yourself in.”
“But I didn’t do it. I didn’t do any of it!” It was crazy, and getting crazier.
“Then don’t come in and don’t say anything more. They’re probably tracing the incoming calls, maybe even tapping the phones.”
I thought fast. “Go to my office and get my briefcase. Meet me at midnight at my favorite place in the world. Make sure you’re not followed. Got it?”
I hung up the phone, debating the wisdom of what I’d just done. I’d delivered myself to someone I had every reason to distrust, but I had no choice. Would Grady even be able to figure out what I meant? Could the cops trace the call? What was going on? Where was I, anyway? The streetlights were broken, it was dark on the street corner. Outside the phone booth was an abandoned store, with particle-board nailed over its windows and graffiti on top of that. I tried to find a street sign but they’d been harvested for scrap metal.
I had no idea what to do. I slumped against the wall of the dark booth, next to a jagged crack that ran the length of the plastic pane. I felt heartsick, drained. The CEO was dead because I’d let Eileen con me. Now she was setting me up, and so was someone else. I wondered if the cops had enough to charge me with a double murder. I had no alibi for the CEO, I was running at the time. They’d ask for the death penalty, for sure.
I sank to the gritty floor of the booth and pulled my knees to my chest. I was half naked and chilled. I was the prime suspect in two murders I didn’t commit, and somebody had planted a murder weapon in my apartment. My lawyer, my only link to the outside world, was a man I hardly trusted. Everything was falling apart, and I wasn’t strong enough to keep it together. For the first time in my life, I felt helpless.
Stone, cold helpless.