Angie looked at the stun gun. “It’s not for him, it’s for me. Case I need something to keep me awake in cow country.”
Wickham is sixty miles from Boston, so Angie thinks they don’t have telephones yet.
I said, “You can take the girl out of the city... “
“But you’ll have to shoot her first,” she said and headed down the stairs.
She stayed in the church, giving me a minute head start and watching the street through the lower opening of a stained-glass window.
I crossed the street to what I call my “company car.” It’s a dark green 1979 Volaré. The Vobeast. It looks like shit, sounds like shit, drives like shit, and generally fits in well in most of the places where I have to work. I opened the door, half expecting to hear a rush of feet on the street behind me, followed by the snap of a weapon hitting the back of my skull. That’s the thing about being a victim; you start to think it’ll happen to you on a regular basis. Suddenly everything looks suspect and any brightness you may have noticed the day before has dissipated into the shadows. And the shadows are everywhere. It’s living with the reality of your own vulnerability, and it sucks.
But nothing happened this time. I didn’t see Blue Cap in my rearview as I pulled a U-turn and headed for the expressway. But then, unless he’d really enjoyed last night’s encounter, I didn’t think I would see him again; I’d just have to assume he was there. I pushed the Vobeast down the avenue, then turned onto the northern on-ramp for I-93 and drove downtown.
Twenty minutes later I was on Storrow Drive, the Charles River running by in copper flashes on my right. A couple of Mass. General nurses lunched on the lawn; a man ran over one of the footbridges with a mammoth chocolate Chow beside him. For a moment, I thought of picking one up for myself. Probably do a hell of a lot better job protecting me than Harold the Panda ever would. But then, I didn’t really need an attack dog; I had Bubba. By the boathouse, I saw a group of BU or Emerson students, stuck in the city for the summer, passing around a bottle of wine. Wild kids. Probably had some brie and crackers in their backpacks, too.
I got off at Beacon Street, U-turned again onto the service road, and banged a quick right onto Revere Street, following its cobblestones across Charles Street and up Beacon Hill. No one behind me.
I turned again onto Myrtle Street, the whole street no wider than a piece of dental floss, the tall colonial buildings squeezing in on me. It’s impossible to follow someone in Beacon Hill without being spotted. The streets were built before cars, and I presume, before fat or tall people.
Back when Boston was this wonderful mythic world of midget aerobics instructors, Beacon Hill must have seemed roomy. But now, it’s cramped and narrow and shares more than a little in common with an old French provincial town very pleasing to the eye, but functionally a disaster. A truck stopped for a delivery on the Hill can back up traffic for a mile. The streets are apt to be one-way in a northern direction for two or three blocks, then arbitrarily turn one-way to the south. This usually captures the average driver unaware and forces him to turn onto yet another narrow street with much the same problem, and before he knows it, he’s back on Cambridge or Charles or Beacon Street, looking up at the Hill, wondering how the hell he ever ended up down here again, but getting the distinct, if irrational, impression that the Hill itself threw him off.
It’s a wonderful place to be a snob. The homes are gorgeous red brick. The parking spaces are guarded by the Boston Police. The small cafés and shops are manned by imperious owners who close their doors whenever someone they don’t recognize looks as if he may want to enter. And no one can find your address unless you, personally, draw them a map.
I looked in my rearview as I crested the Hill, the gold dome of the State House peeking out through the wrought-iron fence of a roof garden ahead of me. Two blocks behind me, I saw a car driving slowly, the driver’s head turning left and right as if looking for an unfamiliar address.
I took a left on Joy Street and coasted the four blocks down to Cambridge Street. As the light turned green and I crossed the intersection, I saw the same car coasting down the hill behind me. At the very top of Joy Street, another car appeared a station wagon with a broken luggage rack on the roof. I couldn’t see the driver, but I knew it was Angie. She’d busted the luggage rack with a hammer one morning, pretending the flimsy metal was Phil.
I turned left on Cambridge Street and drove a few blocks to the Charles Plaza. I pulled into the parking lot, took the ticket at the gate only three dollars per half hour; what a bargain and pulled across the lot until I was in front of the Holiday Inn. I walked inside the hotel like I had business there, turned right past the front desk and hopped the elevator to the third floor. I walked down the corridor until I found a window and stared down into the parking lot.
Blue Cap wasn’t wearing a blue cap today. He had on a white bicycler’s cap, the brim pushed back flat against his forehead. He still wore the wraparounds, though, and a white Nike T-shirt and black sweatpants. He stood just outside of his car a white Nissan Pulsar with black racing stripes and leaned on the open door while he decided if he should follow me in or not. I couldn’t see his license plate numbers from this angle, and from this height, I could only guess at his age, but I put him at twenty to twenty-five. He was big six two or so and he looked like he knew his way around a Nautilus machine.
Out on Cambridge Street, Angie’s car idled, double-parked.
I looked back at Blue Cap. No point sticking around. He’d follow me into the hotel or he wouldn’t. Either way, it didn’t make any difference.
I took the stairs down to the basement, opened a door onto a service driveway that smelled of exhaust fumes, and jumped off the loading dock. I walked past a dumpster that reeked of slowly stewing fruit and worked my way down onto Blossom Street. I took my time, but before you could say slick-as-a-wet-goose, I was back on Cambridge Street.
All over Boston, in places you’d never notice, there are garages. It doesn’t compensate for a city as short on parking space as Moscow is on toilet paper, but at least the rental fees are exorbitant. I stepped into one between a hair salon and a florist, strolled along the garage until I came to space number eighteen, and removed the slipcover from my baby.
Every boy needs a toy. Mine is a 1959 Porsche Roadster convertible. It’s royal blue, with a wood finish steering wheel and a twin cowl cockpit. True, “cockpit” is a term usually reserved for jets, but when I’ve taken this thing up to a hundred and forty or so, I’ve gotten the distinct impression that liftoff’s only a few more blurred road signs away. The interior is a rich white leather. The stick shift gleams like polished pewter. The horn has a keen horse emblem on it. I work on it more than I drive it, pampering it on weekends, polishing it, bringing it new parts. I’m proud to say I’ve never gone so far as to give it a name, but Angie says that’s only because I lack the imagination.