FIVE

I should call it in, he thinks.

I should call the station house, let them know I just had this phone conversation. Let them decide what to do about it. Then I’m in the clear. I don’t have to worry about it. I can go back to thinking about what to do for poor old Mrs Sachs. They can go look for the stupid diary and solve the case and get all the glory.

But on the other hand. .

What can I tell them? I know nothing about the person who is supposed to get whacked tonight, so telling them that isn’t going to make any difference. I suppose I can mention the diary. If there is a diary. And if it contains any clues. Which it probably won’t, because this guy is probably just a complete flake who gets off by getting cops to dance for him. And anyway I can check out for myself whether this diary exists.

Shit! Why does my life have to be one huge fucking dilemma?

Doyle opens the bedroom door and re-enters the living room. Rachel is watching the television with the volume turned up — something she often does when she’s annoyed and she wants to shut out everything and everyone else.

First things first, he thinks. So he goes over to her and sits next to her on the sofa and asks her what she’s watching and waits for her gruff reply and then tells her he’s sorry.

‘I was just trying to let you know. .’ she begins.

‘I know, I know. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it. It was just one of those calls.’

‘I don’t know what “one of those calls” is. We don’t have calls like that. We don’t have secrets that have to be whispered to other people in other rooms. Do we?’

‘Uhm, not usually, no. This one was different. Sensitive. You know? Sometimes there are things happening that I can’t even tell you about. Sometimes it’s better for you and Amy if you don’t know what’s going on.’

She searches his face with worried eyes. ‘Are you in danger?’

‘No. But sometimes there are things connected with the job that I can’t discuss in front of you. I know it hasn’t happened very often in the past, but occasionally something crops up.’

‘What, does Mrs Sachs actually work for the CIA or something?’

‘Something like that.’ He gives her a chance to mull it over. ‘We still friends?’

She answers him with a kiss. ‘Now go eat your freezing cold lasagna. You’ll have to pick out the broken glass yourself.’

He returns the kiss, then moves to the table.

Why didn’t I tell her? he wonders. What was it about that particular call which made me unable even to tell my own wife about it? Okay, the guy knows a lot of things, but surely even he can’t find out if I talked to Rachel.

Deep down, he knows the answer, and it tears him apart. He’s kept things from her before. About the things he’s had to do. About the actions he’s had to take in order to keep his life together. It wasn’t difficult for another little lie like this to trip off the tongue.

And he hates himself for it.

He pushes his food around the plate and stares at the back of Rachel’s head, and he tells himself that if she turns around now he will burst into tears and he will open up his soul to her and she will be able to decide for herself whether he is a monster or just a frail human being, just like everybody else on this planet.

But she doesn’t turn and he doesn’t speak. He just pushes the food around and tries to convince himself that he is doing the right thing. That maybe, just maybe, his silence will save lives.

All is confusion.

She thinks at first that she is in her own bedroom. Which would mean that there wasn’t this stupid oversized nightstand on which she’s just smacked her skull. And it would mean she wouldn’t have wasted time fumbling around for the damned light switch so that she could see where she was going instead of slamming into other items of cumbersome furniture. Why does a single guy need so much storage space, anyhow? Especially a guy who seems to have only about three changes of clothing?

She gets to her cellphone just before it cuts to voicemail. Stabs at the receive button as she tries to blink away the blurriness from her vision.

She attempts a hello, but it gets choked away. She clears her throat, tries again. A voice she doesn’t recognize says her name.

‘Yes, that’s me. Who is this?’

‘This is Detective Doyle, Eighth Precinct. I’m sorry to call you so late like this. .’

‘What? What is it?’ She’s wide awake now. A call from the police at — what time is it? Four o’clock on a Sunday morning — has that effect.

The figure in the bed stirs. A groggy face squints at her. ‘Whassamatter? Whoozaonphone?’

She raises a finger to silence Alex while she listens to the caller.

‘It’s nothing to get alarmed about, Miss. It’s about your husband.’

‘Gary? What about him?’

‘Like I say, it’s nothing to get too worried about. Your husband was brought into the precinct station house a couple of hours ago. He was drunk and he’d been in a fight.’

‘A fight? Oh, Jesus!’

‘He’s not badly hurt. A few cuts and bruises is all, although he seems to have lost his keys and his phone. We normally let people like this sleep it off in the cells, but it being a Saturday night they’re all full. At the moment he’s asleep in one of our interview rooms, but he can’t stay there. So we were wondering if you could come over and take him off our hands. We couldn’t get much sense out of your husband, but he did manage to tell us where you work, so I know you’re only a few minutes away. We found your phone numbers in his address book. I tried your work number but they said you’d gone out on a break, so I hope you don’t mind me calling you on this number.’

‘No, that’s fine. I’ll come right over.’

‘You know where we are?’

‘I think so. By Tompkins, right?’

‘That’s it. Just ask for Detective Doyle at the desk.’

She ends the call. ‘Shit!’

In the bed, Alex is sitting up. ‘Who was that?’

She starts searching for her clothes. They got thrown in all different directions not long after she got here.

‘Some detective called Doyle at the Eighth Precinct. Gary’s there. Drunk and beat-up. They want me to go get him.’

Alex lets out a snort of laughter. She picks up one of his socks and throws it at him.

‘It’s not funny. You know, one of these days we’re going to get caught doing this. The cops even tried calling me at work tonight. I think Bella must have covered for me. But what if Gary calls one night when I’m supposed to be working? What if it’s not Bella who answers, but someone who doesn’t know I’m supposed to be at work when really I’m over here getting my brains banged out?’

‘Yeah, well if Gary did a little more brain-banging himself, maybe you wouldn’t have to put yourself through all this.’

‘Shut up, Alex. You’re really not helping.’

She’s cheating on Gary. She accepts this. Mostly she tries not to think about it. When she can’t avoid it, she tries to justify it to herself. Unreasonable behavior on his part. Lack of attentiveness to her womanly needs. Her conjugal rights. Whatever. But when others attack him, as Alex just did and frequently does, she feels compelled to leap to his defense. Gary has issues. After what they went through they both had issues, but she got over it and he didn’t. It’s sad, but there it is. He’s not a bad man, she thinks, and he doesn’t really deserve what I’m doing to him.

As she starts to dress, Alex relaxes back into the pillows and watches her.

‘Couldn’t you spend just another few minutes here?’

‘No, I couldn’t. The cops believe I’m practically on their doorstep. They don’t know I have to drive all the way downtown to get there.’

‘This time of night, it shouldn’t take too long.’

She ignores him, continues dressing. When she passes the bed on her way to the door, he lunges forward and grabs her by the arm.

‘Come on. Just a little longer. I’ll be quick, I promise.’

‘No change there, then.’

He pulls her closer to the bed. ‘Well, if that’s what you think, I’ll just have to prove how wrong you are.’

She yanks herself free. ‘No, Alex. No. Okay?’

She picks up her bag from a chair by the door, then gives him one last look. In response, Alex pulls back the sheets and shows her what he’s got.

You don’t have a clue, Alex, she thinks. Not a clue.

Shaking her head, she opens the door and leaves.

The apartment is way up on West 107th Street, near Amsterdam Avenue. She knows that what Alex likes about it is its proximity to Columbia University, where he works as a lab technician, and the karate school where he gets paid as an instructor. The only thing she likes about it is that she can usually get a parking spot on this block. She’s not so sure she would bother to drive all the way here if she had to leave the car a couple of blocks away and come traipsing along these streets at the unearthly hours she often arrives.

Actually, she’s not so sure how much longer she will continue this anyway. Alex is fun, he’s got a great body, the sex is terrific. But there’s a staleness to it now. The novelty has gone. What’s worse, the guilt hasn’t gone. She thought it might after a while. She thought she would become so accustomed to doing this that she would eventually become deaf to the admonishments of that little angel on her shoulder. But it hasn’t worked out that way. If anything, the angel has taken to using a loudhailer. Tonight’s little episode has just made things worse. Gary’s a mess. He needs her help. Maybe she should try harder.

She steps out onto the dark street, glancing both ways before closing the door behind her. Directly opposite is a Jehovah’s Witness building — another reminder of her sinful ways. She sometimes expects that she will step out of Alex’s apartment building one night and the young men in dark suits will all be grouped there, pushing the Watchtower into her hands as they castigate her for her adulterous behavior.

She hurries along the sidewalk to where her Toyota is parked next to a school soccer field. Hearing a noise coming from beyond the graffiti-adorned wall across the street, she hurriedly unlocks the car door, throws her bag onto the passenger seat, and climbs in.

Only then does she see the note tucked under her windshield wiper.

She opens the door again and reaches round to retrieve the note. She unfolds it and reads the hastily scribbled words.

Sorry about the damage to the rear of your car. I accidentally clipped it when I drove off. Sorry!

What the. .?

She reads it again, to make sure she fully comprehends it. He smashed into my car? And he didn’t even have the decency to leave a name or contact number? What a bastard! And what’s the fucking point of leaving a fucking note just to say how fucking sorry you are?

She clambers out again, thinking what a shitty night this is turning out to be. Thinking that maybe she’s getting what she deserves, that her shoulder-borne angel has really gone hardcore now.

She steps around to the rear of her car, her fear replaced by indignation. Wondering how much this is going to cost her.

The car looks fine.

I mean, it’s really dark here, but even so. .

She squats. Stands up again. Runs her hand over the bodywork. What the hell is the writer of this note talking about?

She unfolds the sheet of paper again, starts to read it through.

A few yards behind her, a car engine roars into life. She jumps, startled, and glances around. She catches a glimpse of a dark hulking shape — some kind of SUV — before its headlights flare on, blinding her.

Ignore it, she tells herself. Let them go on their way.

She turns back to her own car. The bright light from the SUV gives her an opportunity to get a good look. There’s nothing here she can see. Not a dent, a scratch, nothing.

She is mystified. But now she is also a little afraid again. Something isn’t right. Something about this whole setup. .

The SUV is on her in an instant. She hears a squeal of tires, a blast of engine noise, and she barely has time to turn toward it before those intense lights fill her vision and their leviathan owner rams into her, crushing her against her own car.

At first she screams. It’s automatic, driven by the pain and the shock. And then confusion takes over. She loses the ability to make sense of the world. She cannot understand what has just happened to her. Why can’t she move? Why won’t her legs obey her orders to take her away from here?

She looks down, sees only bent, twisted metal from her hips downwards. And still her brain cannot fully grasp its significance. She opens her mouth to cry out again, stops when she sees she is not alone.

The SUV’s door is open. Its driver is standing alongside her, looking at her. Studying her, in fact, his head cocked to one side like a curious puppy. He is tall and well-groomed. Could be considered good-looking in other circumstances. And yet there is an absence of empathy in his face that is intensely disturbing.

‘P-Please,’ she says to him through quivering lips. It should be enough. It should tell anyone all they need to know about the predicament of the fellow human being in front of them.

‘Sorry,’ the man says.

It makes no sense to her. It’s a word that doesn’t seem to fit the situation, as though it has been chosen at random.

In explanation, the man reaches toward her and plucks out the note still clutched between her fingers.

‘Like I said in the note. I’m sorry. About the damage I’ve done to your car.’ He waves the paper at her and smiles. ‘I like to apologize in advance for these things.’

She tells herself it’s the shock. He cannot really be saying all this. She blinks and fights the shaking that is growing in intensity in her body. She feels cold. So cold. Why doesn’t he do something?

‘Please,’ she repeats. ‘Help me.’

The man drops his smile. At last he seems to appreciate the seriousness of what he has done.

‘Yes,’ he says. ‘Of course. Help. You need my help.’

He gets back into his car and closes the door. She looks directly into his eyes through the windshield. She sees the slight jerk of his shoulder as he shifts the vehicle into reverse.

She braces herself and closes her eyes. She hears the pinging of metal and the tinkling of glass and her own cries as the cars separate.

And then she falls.

She knows she has fallen. She knows she has hit the ground. She knows she is alive. Reality is flooding back again.

She opens her eyes but does not look down. She is afraid of what she might see. Her legs must be a mess. Flattened useless ribbons of flesh and bone. She will never walk again. She understands that now and accepts it. But at least she is alive. On the edge of death, sure. But there’s hope.

Good one, angel, she thinks. You really told me this time. Are you done with me now?

She can almost swear she hears a tiny voice tell her that she should be so lucky.

And so it’s really no big surprise when the SUV comes thundering toward her one last time.

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