I kept an anxious eye out for squad cars, but there were none except the one that ordinarily cruised Kelly Drive, the winding road along the east bank of the Schuylkill River. Maybe the cops hadn’t gotten the phone tap, not enough evidence or time, or maybe they were too dumb to figure out my favorite place in the world. Or maybe they were waiting, watching me, hidden. I scanned the river-bank, a bad feeling in the pit of my stomach.
It was a breezy night by the river and the wind off the water carried a misty chill. I shivered under a bush in the Azalea Garden, where I was masquerading as a runner at rest. It wasn’t far from the truth and it was the perfect camouflage, since the asphalt paths on the river drives attracted in-line skaters and runners even at night.
I checked my watch: 11:30. Time to go. I picked up my small paper bag and rose slowly, my knees weak and stiff. I looked around for the cruiser, but the coast was clear.
I jogged lightly over crushed paper cups littering the path along Boathouse Row, the messy aftermath of a three-mile race. Brightly colored boathouses lined the row, and Penn’s was in the middle. I reached its red door, made sure no one was watching, and punched in the combination that opened the door. I slipped in and shut the door behind me.
The entrance hall of the boathouse was roomy, unlit, and empty. There were two large windows to the street, so I didn’t risk turning on a light. I didn’t need to anyway, I knew the place by heart. Rowing photos covered the walls and an old green leather couch sat next to the door. To the left of the entrance hall was the huge room where the men’s boats were housed; to the right was the women’s annex, built later.
I plopped onto the couch and breathed in the familiar odors of axle grease, polished wood, and human sweat. I was safe, temporarily. It was my favorite place in the world. I rested my head back. On the wall behind me was a picture of myself in college in one of the first womens’ crews; a young, strong, sunny blonde, standing next to an oar with a red-and-blue painted paddle. I knew without looking at the photo that I looked a lot better then than I did now. My eyes scanned the other photos in the faint light from the windows. Faded pictures of the men’s and women’s eights at various regattas, the crew holding trophies aloft or throwing their pint-sized coxswains into the water. It was a rowing tradition, like losing your T-shirt to the winners, a graphic lesson in public humiliation. Having lost not only my shirt but everything else by now, I was feeling it rather acutely.
I was wanted for two counts of murder. It would be all over the news. What would Hattie be thinking, and what about my mother? What would happen to them if I went to prison, or worse? I allowed myself ten more seconds of self-pity, then went upstairs with my paper bag to save my life.
“Bennie, is that you?” Grady whispered.
I grabbed him by the jacketsleeve and yanked him into the boathouse, closing the door behind him. “Of course it’s me.”
“But your hair, it’s short.”
“It’s chin-length.” I’d hacked it off with a scissors from the workshop in the boathouse.
“What happened to the color? I can’t see, it’s so dark in here. Is it black?”
“No, red. Bright Coppery Disguise Red.” I ran a hand through my damp, newly colored locks. Between my dye job, hot shower, and clean clothes, I felt better, more in control. “It’s L’Or'eal, eight bucks at your local drugstore. Because I’m worth it.”
“Isn’t red kind of obvious for a disguise?”
“I’m six feet tall, Grady. I was born obvious. Besides, it would’ve taken two boxes to go from blond to black, and I’m not worth it. Now, did you bring the briefcase?”
“Here.” He handed it to me. “Where’d you get the suit? Is it yellow? Isn’t that kind of bright?”
“What are you, the fashion police? It’s the only one I had in my locker.” I unzipped my briefcase and squinted inside. Mark’s computer calendars, Bill Kleeb’s file, and a cell phone. I zipped it shut, too wary to feel grateful. Someone was framing me for Mark’s murder, maybe it was him. “You should go now, counselor. Thanks for your help.”
“What? I just got here. What are you going to do?”
“Don’t know yet, I’ll think of something.” The way I figured it, I had to get out of town and find Bill Kleeb, but I wasn’t going to tell Grady more than I had to. “You have to go, please.”
“I want to help.”
“I don’t need help.”
“Why are you acting so strange? Did you know about that CEO’s death?”
I stepped back at the accusation. “Of course not. Did you tell the cops I met with my clients that night?”
“No. Azzic questioned me, but I claimed attorney-client privilege and they let me go.”
Hmmm. “I don’t like it. I would think they’d hold your feet to the fire.”
“Me, too. I thought they let me go to see if I would lead them to you.”
I froze. “And did you?”
“No, no. If they were following me, I lost them. I worked out a plan with my cousin. He came over, picked up my bike, and rode it to New Jersey. You can’t tell us apart with a motorcycle helmet on. If they followed him, they’re in Marlton by now.”
Smart, if it was true. “Good. Thanks. Now would you go?”
“Why are you trying to get rid of me? I’m your lawyer. Let me lawyer.”
“This isn’t lawyering, this is aiding and abetting. You shouldn’t be any more involved than you are.”
He looked over my shoulder. “What’s in here, anyway?”
He walked past me and disappeared into the men’s half of the boathouse. It was a huge room, long enough to accommodate two lengths of eights, on racks. Moonlight shone pale through the windows in the garage doors and glistened on the shellacked finish of the fiberglass sculls. Grady’s white shirt picked up the light as he moved, but I couldn’t make out what he was doing.
I stood rooted to the threshold, too nervous to follow. No one knew we were here. He could kill me and no one would know. I’d slipped a screwdriver from the shop into my waistband in the back, but didn’t relish having to protect myself with it. “I want you to go, Grady,” I called out, hoping my voice didn’t betray how jittery I felt. “You’re an accomplice after the fact.”
“This is amazing,” he said, his voice coming from the shadows. “The boats have names.” My eyes adjusted to the gloom and I made out his tall outline next to the eights. He was running his fingertips on the stenciling on one of the sleek boats.
“Yes, this is America. Now, show’s over. Time to go.”
“Stop being so jumpy, will you? There’s no cops outside, I checked. Look at this. This one says,‘Paul Madeira,’ and here’s another,‘Ernest Bollard IV.’ Who are they?”
“Rich white guys. Shouldn’t you be leaving?”
“I’ve never been in a boathouse before. Why don’t you show me around? Rowing is a big part of your life. I’d like to know more about it.”
“There’s nothing to see but boats, Grady. They’re brown, they float in water. Boats galore. Nothing to see. Time to go.”
“Show me or I won’t tell you the surprise I brought you.” He walked toward me, but I edged back into the entrance hall, keeping my distance.
“Surprise? I don’t want any more surprises. I hate surprises.”
“Then I’ll show myself around. Lord.” He brushed by me and crossed the entrance hall into the women’s annex on the other side. “What’s in here?” he called out. “More boats?”
“They’re lighter. Bye, now.”
“You can be so rude. Do girl boats go as fast as boy boats?”
“If the right girl’s rowing.”
“Are you the right girl?”
“Aren’t you leaving?” I felt for the screwdriver, but he turned quickly and almost caught me.
“Guess your surprise, then I’ll leave. Here’s a clue.” He was grinning with an anticipation that looked genuine, at least in the dark.
“Grady, I don’t feel like playing games. It’s that murder suspect thing. No fun at all.”
“Come on, take one guess. It’s bigger than a bread box.”
“Hardly. It’s parked down the street, full of high octane.”
“A car? You brought me a car?” My heart leapt up, then I doubted him again. “How did you know I’d need a car?”
“I knew you had to get out of town.” He produced a silver key from his pocket and dangled it in the moonlight. “It’s a brand new car.”
“How’d you manage that?”
“It’s my cousin’s. I swapped it for the motorcycle. He’s wanted to borrow it for a long time.”
“Way to go.” Despite my wariness, I snatched the key from his hand. “Now out with you.” I pushed him toward the door, but he wouldn’t budge.
“I want to go with you, Bennie.”
“Out of the question.”
“Why? Why should you go alone?”
“I like being alone.”
“That’s not it,” he said firmly. “Something’s bothering you. You’re cold to me now, it’s obvious. You don’t trust me, do you?”
Shit. “What makes you say that?”
“It’s because I lied to you about meeting Mark, isn’t it? You don’t have to say so, I know that’s what it is. You found out I met with Mark from his calendar. I looked in the briefcase, Bennie, I know. I can tell you why I lied. Let me explain.”
“I want you to go, Grady. I can’t be any clearer about it.” I stepped around him and headed for the door, but he caught my arm, startling me.
“I did meet with Mark. Two times. The first time he told me he was leaving the firm and he wanted me to go with him. He said I was the only associate he wanted to take besides Eve.”
“What did you say?”
“I told him no. The second time I called him and we met at The Rittenhouse. I was trying to talk him out of it.”
“Why do you think?”
“I have no idea,” I said, though I had an inkling. I could sense it. Feel it coming in the increasing huskiness of Grady’s voice and the way he was leaning toward me in the darkness.
“Because of you. I didn’t want him to hurt you. I know how much the firm means to you.”
I didn’t say anything. I didn’t know what to say. My throat was tight.
“Bennie, you can trust me. I’ll never keep anything from you again, I swear it. I’d never hurt you, not for all the money in the world.” In that second he reached into his jacket, and when his hand came out I saw the steely glint of a gun.
I gasped. My heart stopped. Grady was the killer. He was going to kill me. I reached for my screwdriver, but Grady grabbed my hand and slapped the gun into it.
“Here. It’s yours. Keep it.”
“What? How?” I looked down at the gun. It was a pistol with a cross-hatched handle, cold and heavy in my palm.
“It’s for protection. The safety’s on, but it’s loaded. It’s my gun from home. Shoot anything or anybody that tries to hurt you. If you won’t let me protect you, then let it.”
I couldn’t process it all fast enough. A screwdriver was one thing, a gun quite another. I’d never held one that wasn’t tagged as evidence, and even with an orange exhibit number they struck a dissonant note in me. I’d seen the damage guns did, how they tore at faces, heads, hearts. I handed the weapon back. “No, Grady. You keep it.”
“Why?” He slipped the weapon into his jacket. “You’re being silly.”
“No I’m not. Besides, I have my trusty screwdriver.” I drew it from the waistband of my shorts and held it up.
Grady laughed. “Aren’t we the well-armed couple? But the screwdriver’s not exactly effective at fifty yards.” He took the tool and tossed it over his shoulder.
“Hey, yo! That’s my protection.”
“You don’t need protection from me. If I were going to hurt you, would I have given you a gun?” he asked, stepping closer.
My mouth went dry. I felt exposed and vulnerable, and it had nothing to do with who had the loaded gun.
“Mark wasn’t good enough for you, Bennie.” Bitterness tainted his soft drawl. “He couldn’t give, he could only take.”
“I don’t want to talk about Mark.”
“I do, I want you to understand. You were too much in love to see him clearly. I always used to think, I wonder what it would be like to have that woman so in love with me. I wonder what that woman would be like.” He leaned over and kissed me gently.
“Grady,” I said. I pressed him back, but he didn’t move.
“‘Grady,’ what? Why can’t it be, because of Mark? Ask yourself, would he have come here? Would he have helped you?”
“No. You ask yourself,” he said urgently. “Did he ever, once, do a damn thing for you? Did he ever, once, do a thing to deserve your love?”
“We built the firm.”
“That helpedhim, Bennie, and when he started to make money he cut you loose. He was your lover, but was he your friend? Did he help you with your mother?”
I felt a hot flush of shame, unreasoning. “How do you know about my mother?”
“I made it my business to know. I saw you come in late some mornings, I heard you on the phone with the doctors. I know she was in the hospital awhile back. But all through it, Mark stayed at the office. He never went with you. I would have been there. Why wasn’t Mark? Why didn’t he help?”
“I didn’t need him to.”
“Sure you did. All of us could see you looked tired. Stressed. Marshall and I picked it up right away.”
“I never asked him to help.”
“Why did he need to be asked? The need was obvious. He could have just done it. Showed up. Been there.”
“It’s not that easy,” I started to say, but he interrupted, touching my shoulder.
“You know what I think about love, Bennie? I think it’s more than a state of being. Not just a feeling, or something you say. It’s what you do. If you love a woman, you love her every day, and youdo. You do, for her. I love you, Bennie. Ido. I swear.”
I started to speak, but he took me in his arms and kissed me again, longer this time. His jacket was smooth under my fingers, his arms bulky in the light wool. His mouth felt warm and open, and I let his kiss wash over me, trying to feel it, test it. I couldn’t remember being kissed or being held this way. It was an offer, not a demand, which made it suddenly compelling.
He slipped out of his jacket, and his body felt fully as strong as mine, stronger, because he was in love. He was telling me so by his kiss, by his embrace, by his hips pressing into mine, backing me onto the couch. I felt myself responding to him, because it felt as if he were giving me something, not taking. Giving me himself.
He lay me back against the couch, his mouth and body hard on mine, and I felt myself arch up to him. Giving back. I couldn’t see him, but my other senses felt heightened. I ran my hand over the scratchiness of his chin, sensed his muscles straining under his shirt. I breathed in a trace of aftershave at his jaw, mingled with the musky sweatiness of his neck.
There was a metallic jingling of his belt, then a whispered curse as he fumbled with his zipper. My own breathing, low and excited. The sounds of my own need and his, there in the darkness.
In the middle of the night.