Is that you?” he asked, shocked.
“Is thatyou?” I asked, equally shocked. It was Grady, my lawyer and faithless lover. I wondered fleetingly if these things would always go together in my life. Maybe that was the problem.
“Bennie!” He closed the door quickly behind him, his gray eyes relieved.
“Grady, how the hell are you! Here’s a good one. How can you tell when a man is lying?”
“His lips are moving.”
His brow knit in confusion. “What are you talking about? Where have you been? What are you doinghere? I’ve been worried about you.”
“Of course you have. That’s why you needed consoling the other morning.”
“What are you talkin’ about?” he drawled, squatting down so that he was eye-level with me.
“What am Italkin ’ about?” I rolled my chair backward, even though he was wearing my favorite dark blue work-shirt and khakis. I should’ve known he’d cheat. Nobody could do that much for a workshirt and not cheat. “I’mtalkin ’ about that woman. Was it your old girlfriend? Backsliding, again?”
“Who? I’m not seeing her anymore, I told you.”
“Then who answered your phone, Grady? It was morning. You were asleep.”
“Was it Sunday?”
His forehead uncreased and he smiled. “That was Marshall. She told me somebody called and hung up. She came by and spent the night. On the couch, of course.”
“Marshall?” I heard myself sounding stupid and felt even stupider than I sounded. “She talked so softly, I didn’t recognize her voice.”
“She’d been upset and wanted to know the truth about you. That’s why she ran off, she was worried you might have done it. She thought you found Mark’s hidden files, she knew he was setting up his new firm. We talked until late, and she stayed over on Sunday.”
“Marshall, huh.” My face felt hot. So I’d been wrong to suspect either of them of anything. I wanted off the subject. “What are you doing here anyway?”
“Wait a minute, you were jealous.”
“I was not.”
“Were too.” He grinned.
“Drop it, Grady, and tell me what you’re doing here.”
“I had research to do, but I couldn’t do it at the firm. The cops are all over it. They’ve got a guard there all the time in case you come back.” He grabbed the arms of my chair and pulled me close to him. “By the way, I like this outfit.”
“Why do you think I ride a motorcycle?” His hands crept to my knees, but I pushed them away.
“We don’t have time for that. What are you researching?”
“Bullshit. What did you find out?”
“Let’s not discuss it now.” He leaned close and planted a small kiss behind my ear, but I squirmed away.
“What’s going on?”
“Tell me or you’re fired.”
He sighed. “The cops found the Camaro in Sam’s garage. Somebody called them because it didn’t have a resident sticker. They traced it to my cousin and found out he has the same last name as mine. They’re trying to prove I helped you get away.”
“Oh, no.” My heart sank. “Can they?”
“Probably. Azzic called Jamie himself, but Jamie didn’t tell him he lent the car to me. He told him it was stolen from in front of my uncle’s house.”
“Had he reported it stolen to the Jersey police?”
Grady’s lip buckled. “No. He can say he forgot.”
“A new car?” I felt a wave of guilt. “I should never have involved you.”
“That’s enough of that,” he said, touching my arm. “I involved myself. I love you, remember?”
It only made me feel worse. “They’ll pick you up for aiding and abetting. They’ll have enough as soon as they ask around Sam’s building. Then they’ll figure out my disguise, if they haven’t already.”
“I’ll handle what happens with me. What are you doin’ here anyway? What are those tapes you’re listening to?”
But Grady was already popping the earphones over his thatch of blond hair. His eyes widened as soon as he hit thePLAY button.
We stood like strangers on opposite sides of the elevator, at my insistence. I wanted distance for all sorts of reasons, but Grady wasn’t having any.
“Bennie? What about you? How do you feel about me?”
“I’m wanted for murder and am becoming one with my sunglasses. We should discuss this subject when neither of these things is true.” And maybe by then I’d know the answer.
He began watching the elevator numbers change. “So you’re going back to that hole in the basement?”
“Sooner or later.”
“You sure I can’t just stop by to check on you?”
“Do you have enough money?”
“Now I do, thanks to your continued aiding and abetting.” He’d given me forty dollars, all he had on him.
“Are you safe where you’re hiding?”
“Safer than in that booth with you.”
He smiled. “How am I going to find you again?”
“You’re not, for a while. It’s too dangerous,” I said matter-of-factly. I was the boss here, wasn’t I? “After we get it all straightened out, then we can give it a try. Us, I mean.”
“Good. I like it.”
“You like it too much.”
We reached the ground floor. The elevator doors glided open and a horde of suits shoved their way past us into the elevator. I moved into the crowd with concern, more for Grady than for me.
“We can’t walk out together,” I whispered, as we squeezed toward the front of the lobby. A glass wall and revolving doors divided us from a congested Chestnut Street.
“I’ll go first.” His eyes were scanning the street as anxiously as mine. “This way I can scope it out.”
“No. Let me go first, then you follow. Wait ten minutes.”
“But nobody will recognize you, Bennie. I barely did. Let me go first. I’ll signal if there’s trouble.”
“No, good-bye now. Take care.” I left him by the revolving door, which emptied onto a pavement lousy with lawyers flowing into the building. They were returning to Jenkins Library after lunch, bellies full of corned beef specials. Damn the cholesterol, life on the edge.
I adjusted my sunglasses and was about to swim against the tide when an older woman, caught in the crowd, got knocked off-balance. “Oh, my!” she yelped and she tumbled right into my arms.
The crowd flowed around us, apathetic as trout. I was the fugitive, my job was to run, but I had an armful of old lady.
“My back, my back! Please help me, it went out,” she said.
“Okay, it’s all right.” I eased her to the wall of the building and out of the foot traffic. She felt as frail as my mother, brittle bones in a thin sack of skin.
“My back, I need to lie down. Please.” Her face was etched with pain, so I squatted against the granite wall and eased her head onto my tight skirt. Her pink uniform smock saidMAINTENANCE in a patch sewn over her breast, but she had no nametag. In a world of nametags, the people who clean up after us remain nameless.
“What’s your name?” I asked.
“Eloise,” she said with difficulty. “It hurts, my back.” Her forehead was damp at her hairline, a steely gray, and her hand clutched at my jacket sleeve. For lack of anything better to do, I got down on my knees and cradled her, a lawyerly Piet`a.
Suddenly there was a disturbance at the far side of the crowd. Noises out front, on the street, then shouting. The crowd burst into excited chatter and edged back towards the old woman.
“Hey!” I shouted, and bonked a man in the calf.
Out of nowhere came a blast of police sirens, not ten feet from where I crouched. My heart began to pound. Brakes screeched at the curbside. Tires squealed. Orders were barked. Were they after me? I couldn’t see anything but a gaggle of wingtips and black nylon socks. What was going on?
The crowd pressed dangerously back toward us. I cradled Eloise, as much for my comfort as for hers. Between the ankles and feet, I could see the white flash of a squad car streaking to the curb, then another. Uniformed cops were hustling from the cars. Leaping out of the first one, his tie flying, was Detective Azzic.
Jesus. I felt a bolt of fear. My instinct was to run. I felt it in my feet, in every muscle in my legs. Adrenaline dumped into my bloodstream, telling my body to fly.Go, run. Take off.
“My back, it hurts.” Eloise groaned. “It hurts so bad.”
What about Eloise? I couldn’t leave her on the pavement, she’d be trampled, and if I got up and ran now, they’d nab me for sure. No. Stay put. The crowd would screen me from the cops. I ducked lower so they wouldn’t see my face.
Then it hit me. It wasn’t me they were after. It was Grady, and there was nothing I could do about it.
In the next instant, a phalanx of uniformed cops hustled from the office building. In the middle, taller than most of them, was a stoic Grady. His hands were cuffed behind his back, and the cops yanked him along by his elbows. I felt a wrench of pain at the sight. One of the cops dangled his backpack by a strap. They shoved him into the back of the squad car, and Azzic climbed into the passenger seat in front.
“On your way, people,” said one of the cops, dispersing the mob. “There’s nothing to see, nothing to see.”
Eloise squinted up at me. “Keep your head down, honey. They’ll be gone in a minute.”