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28

Sunday morning dawned and I spent it taking care of Sam, who cried, slept, showered, and babbled a Foghorn Leghorn cartoon in a continuous loop. Id wanted to read the newspapers to track what the cops were saying about me, but the news agency had long ago stopped delivering to Sams condo, their bills unpaid. I tried not to think about Grady, which wasnt hard since my hands were full with Sam, who swore he wanted to get clean.

For real? I asked, making him a slice of toast, the only food I could find in the apartment.

Im ready to kick. This is it.

Youre halfway there, Sam.

Im no longer a duck amuck. Thats 1953, by the way.

Stop with the cartoons. I put the toast on a freshly washed plate and set it in front of him as he rested on his elbow at the counter. I told you.

Okay, okay. Sam waved me off with a trembling hand. His eyes were bloodshot behind his glasses, his skin a saffron hue, and his frame almost anorexic now that he was out of his tailored suits. I thought you liked the toons, Ben. Why are you so cranky all of a sudden?

I decided youre using cartoons as a facade. You hide behind your humor, you dont want to face reality. I saw it on Sally Jessy.

He rolled his eyes. Did Ramon call?

Forget about Ramon. Hes a bad influence on you.

Of course he is, thats what I like about him. So did he call?

It doesnt matter. Im not letting you play with him anymore.

You taking over my care and feeding?

Bingo.

I hope youll do better with me than with Jamie 17. Shes too skinny. His eyes followed the cat as she walked back and forth on the floor, rubbing against his stool at the kitchen counter.

I gave her a Snickers yesterday, I said defensively.

She needs real food.

When it gets dark Ill go out and get some food for both of you. I brushed the toast crumbs off my hands in the small, modern kitchen. It was spotless from my cleaning last night and so bare it looked like no one lived there.

Thanks a lot for last night, for everything youve done.

Forget it.

No, I know youre in trouble. This must be the last thing you need.

I dont mind helping you, but Im no expert. The man on the hotline said you should check into a rehab center. He was telling me the Bar Association even has a service for lawyers with drug problems, there are so many.

No. Never. Sam scowled. Im not doing it that way.

He said Eagleville is good, not far from here.

I dont need it. I can do it myself. Im halfway there, you said so yourself.

He said its a pattern, though. A behavior.

Sams face flushed. Im not going to any frigging rehab. Im not losing everything I worked for at Grun, not for this. No. I appreciate everything youve done for me, I know it was a bitch, but dont push the rehab. Thats all, folks.

But you need therapy-

You want to shock me, too? Like your mother?

It stung. I didnt know what to say. A lump formed in my throat.

Shit. He rubbed his forehead irritably. Shit, Im sorry.

You want to shock me, too?I couldnt get past the phrase. It had a hangtime of its own and it lingered, suspended in the air between us. It was true. I had shocked my mother. Pushed a giantRESET button on her brain. Rebooted her. How was she? We lived not ten minutes from here. Did I dare go over in the daylight?

Bennie, I didnt mean to say that. I was angry. Sam reached for my hand, but I was heading for the apartment door. I wanted to go. Maybe get some food, maybe stop by my mothers if it was safe.

Ill be back, I told him.

Bennie, Im sorry. Dont go.

You and the cat need food. Wait here and dont answer the phone.

I didnt mean it. He got up unsteadily and almost stumbled following me to the door. Bennie-

Take care of the cat, I said and closed the door behind me.


Outside the building, I fumbled for my sunglasses in the bright sun. I felt nervous, exposed. Too many people around Rittenhouse Square. A runner knocked into me, and I jumped.

Watch it, buddy! the doorman shouted. You all right, Miss? He rushed over, an older man in a maroon cap and a jacket with epaulets.

Im fine.

You sure? His watery eyes looked concerned. I thought he bumped you. Did he bump you?

Im fine.

Theyre not allowed to do that, cut under the awning. This is Manchester property, not public property. Its private, not public, you know what I mean?

Yes. Thanks, but I have to go.

Theyre runners, what do they want the shortcut for anyway? Theyre supposed to want the exercise, am I right? he called, even as I walked away. What are they doin, takin the shortcut?

But I was gone, eyes scanning the street behind my dark sunglasses. There was no police car, marked or unmarked, anywhere in sight, and the Square was crowded with Philadelphians enjoying the weather. Runners lapped the Square, lovers cuddled on the park benches over the newspaper. I walked quickly down the sidestreet next to Sams apartment building, bypassing the gourmet grocery on the corner because I shopped there all the time.

I headed down a sunny Twenty-second Street, past the exclusive boutiques serving this upscale residential district. I kept my head down, hoping I wouldnt see anyone I knew, and barreled toward the supermarket on Spruce. It was huge, anonymous, and I never shopped there.

Only one block to go, but I was already warm in my wrinkly suit. My eyes shifted left and right behind my sunglasses, checking the parked cars on either side of the street. No Crown Vic, but when I turned the corner there was a squad car sitting there.

Christ. I sucked wind. A white police cruiser, with the turquoise and gold stripe of the Philadelphia police. The engine was running, but there was no cop inside. It was parked in front of a Chinese restaurant. Maybe he was grabbing coffee, maybe not. Were the cops looking for me around my mothers house, or Center City? The business district was small enough.

I hustled past the supermarket, skipping the errand. Instinct told me to run, to hide. I picked up the pace and rounded the corner, getting off Spruce Street and out of the cruisers line of vision. I started a light run, fake-glancing at my watch. I was a woman, in a linen suit, in a hurry on a Sunday. Late for church? Late for brunch?

I jogged lightly, trying not to look too panic-stricken. I didnt know where to go. I couldnt return to Sams, too risky. I was too far from my mothers house, even if I could go there. I had nowhere to go. I was running scared.

Ahead of me, a few blocks down the street stood the Silver Bullet. A gleaming spire. Grun. Why not? It was as good a place as any, and I was still Linda Frost. A New York lawyer working on a Sunday? It was a natural.

I kept the pace up, passed the shoppers and tourists, and headed for the building. I was sweating, but not puffing too badly. Thank God for the stadium steps and the rowing. Thank God I was still free. Come to think of it, maybe I did believe in God. I slowed to a lawyerly cadence and pushed through the revolving door to the Grun building, where I suddenly lost my religion.

At the desk, talking to the security guard, were two uniformed cops.


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