Ten minutes later I had my co-conspirator on her feet and was hustling in spike heels down Chestnut Street, trying to blend in with the lunchtime crowd. I looked everywhere behind my sunglasses, eyes sweeping right and left. Only public transportation and cops were allowed to drive on Chestnut Street, making the police cars easy to spot. None were around, but I was still uneasy. I couldn’t believe how fast they’d materialized at the library. They must have been tailing Grady. Maybe they were tailing me right now. My gut tensed. I hobbled along with the flow on the sidewalk, my thoughts churning.
So Grady had been arrested, undoubtedly as an accessory after the fact. Either Azzic had traced the bananamobile to him, or wasn’t worried if he could make the charge stick and wanted to increase the pressure on me. He would ruin a terrific lawyer in the process, and it was way too close for comfort. They were closing in.
I picked up the pace as best I could, fighting the panic rising in my chest, constricting my throat. I thought of the Eileen tapes. How long before Celeste discovered they were missing? Eileen’s folder had been near the top on his desk. It had to be the hottest thing going for him right now. How long before he reported it to the police? How long before Azzic realized I had something to do with it? I was running out of time. The guard would remember my disguise, no problem.Pliers? Christ.
“Hey, baby,” said a voice at my arm, and I jumped. “How you doin’?” It was a short man with tattoos, and he was leering at me. “You wanna spend some time with a real man, baby?”
Then I remembered what I looked like. An oversized hooker who couldn’t walk in heels. “I am a real man, handsome. Now beat it.”
I wobbled ahead. There were fewer and fewer people on the sidewalk. The bus traffic had thinned out. Everybody was going back to work, leaving me feeling exposed. I needed to hide, but I still couldn’t risk going uptown to the basement. I needed to get off the street before another tattoo stopped me.
A bus steamed by in a cloud of sooty smoke and braked with a hydraulic squeal at the corner stop. Perfect.Go. I hustled across the street, grabbed the bus, and fed the machine my fare with a shaking hand. The bus lurched forward, and I groped for the slippery pole, eyeing the riders. There were no cops on board and the faces in the padded seats looked comfortably blank, many plugged into radio earphones. No one seemed to recognize me.
I made my way to the back of the bus and took a seat in the last row, which was empty except for a teenager on the far right in a Raiders shirt. I sat down in the back row, scooted way over against the greasy window on the far left, and willed myself to calm down. Breathe easily, normally. I wiped my damp brow under my sunglasses. I couldn’t stop thinking about Grady. Where was he now? In a holding cell? Had he called a lawyer? Who? I couldn’t help him or me, except to solve this damn thing.
I fished in my purse and unpacked the Casio cassette player Grady had had in his backpack. He said it would free me from the library and he’d been right. I tried not to worry about him as I unwrapped the long wire, slipped in a cassette of Eileen unplugged, and pressed the itsy-bitsy black earphones into my ears. Now I looked just like the other people on the bus.
I pushed thePLAY button.
Q: Where was this lawyer?
A: At a clinic. I didn’t have to pay.
Q: See, you get what you pay for.
A: But it was the courts, not the lawyer. The lawyers there, they were good.
Q: So tell me about your next boyfriend.
A: That would be Deron.
Q: (laughing) Deron, huh? A nice Jewish boy.
I listened to this kind of crap for the next four hours, riding around my hometown in circles. Down Chestnut Street, over on Sixth, then up Walnut, all the way to West Philly and back again. The Raiders fan stayed on the bus for two round-trips and he wasn’t the only person riding aimlessly, maybe because the bus was air-conditioned. During that time, the back row filled in and emptied out. Riders came and went. Nobody spoke to me or even gave me a second glance.
The day turned to an overcast evening, the tapes ran to their end, and no other clues announced themselves during Eileen’s inane interviews. If anything, the tapes were more significant for what they didn’t say. Eileen barely mentioned Bill Kleeb, he was a footnote to her fascinating life story, and there was no mention of any drug use, or of Sam. On the last tape, a jailhouse interview, she told the fabricated story of the CEO’s murder as if she had been my dupe, the pawn of a crazed radical lawyer. I could only shake my head. We used to give jail time to frauds like Eileen, now we gave them book deals.
I rewound the tape and listened again to the part about Renee Butler, but learned nothing more than I already had. I played the tape over and over as passengers climbed off and on the bus at the end of the workday, toting briefcases and shopping bags for the trip home.
I hadn’t gone anywhere, but I’d made progress. I was narrowing in on Renee, developing the next questions to be answered. What legal clinic had she worked in? I knew every public interest law center on the East Coast and didn’t remember any of them listed on her r'esum'e. We’d gotten her right out of Penn Law, so maybe it was the law school clinic, staffed by students.
It could have been. Renee could have met Eileen there. But would she really kill Mark and frame me for it? I remembered our conversation in her office. Maybe her anger with me that day was all an act. The best defense is a good offense. It would make sense, and she would testify against me so she could drive in the final nail.
A siren blared suddenly on my right. Two squad cars came racing toward my bus, which squeaked heavily to a stop. I slunk down in my seat, my breathing shallow. A middle manager searched my face inquiringly. The police cars screamed past my window, then tore down the street. A near miss but my pulse refused to return to normal. The middle manager got off at the next stop, with a quizzical look back at me. Was he going to call the cops? I couldn’t take the chance. My stop wasn’t for three blocks, but when the manager was out of sight I stood up and got off the bus.
I had no time to lose. My head down even as night fell, I hurried down the blocks to my building and strode through the employees’ door acting for all the world like I owned the place. The Trident gum I’d stuck in the door’s lock had worked like a sugarless charm. Inside, I fumbled in my purse for the penlight I’d bought instead of the red lipstick at the dime-store.
I hustled as fast as I could down the corridor, behind the jittery pinpoint of light. My feet swelled in my heels and my silk top grew damp as the corridors got hotter and hotter. I slipped my shoes off and walked through the transformer room, tiptoeing behind the gray boxes to avoid any maintenance types still around, maybe an evening shift.
I snuck into my little hovel, closed the door, and switched on the light. The place hadn’t been disturbed since yesterday and the smell of dope was almost gone. Whoever’s hiding place this was had been working harder lately, which was fine with me. I’m all for American productivity.
In fact, I had a job to do myself. I reached under the bed for my clothes and changed into a navy pantsuit with retro bell bottoms, the closest thing I had to burglary wear. Then I shoved my puffy toes into the heavy black clodhoppers that said Dr. Martens Air Cushion Sole inside. What was this personal shopper thinking? You’d have to pay me to wear these in the daylight. I laced them up, grabbed my penlight, and went out into the night.
Bouncing along to a break-in.