We crossed into Dorchester, rode up around Columbia Park and down into the neighborhood. I pulled in front of the church and we could hear the phone ringing as we climbed the stairs. Busy day. I caught it on the tenth ring. “Kenzie-Gennaro,” I said.
Angie dropped into her seat as the voice on the other end said, “Hold on. Someone here want to talk with you.”
I took the receiver with me as I went around the desk and sat down. Angie gave me a “Who is it?” look and I shrugged.
A voice came on the line. “Mr. Kenzie?”
“Last time I checked.”
“This Patrick Kenzie?” The voice had an edge to it, someone not used to dealing with smart-asses.
“Depends,” I said. “Who’s this?”
“You’re Kenzie,” the voice said. “How’s the breathing?”
I inhaled audibly, sucking it way back and expelling it in a long rush. I said, “Much better since I quit smoking, thanks.”
“Uh-huh,” the voice said, slow like freshly sapped maple. “Well, don’t get too used to it. Might be all that more depressing when you can’t do it no more.” The maple voice was thick but light, a hint of lazy Southern afternoons hidden behind years of Northern living.
I said, “You always talk this way, Socia, or you just in a particularly elliptical mood today?”
Angie sat up and leaned forward.
Socia said, “Only reason you’re still walking, Kenzie, is because we got things to talk about. Hell, I might just send someone over anyway, have them take a hammer to your spine. All I need’s your mouth as it is.”
I sat up and scratched an itch near the small of my back. I said, “Send them by, Socia. I’ll do some more amputations. Pretty soon you’ll have an army of cripples. The Raven Gimps.”
“Easy to talk that way, sitting nice and safe in your office.”
“Yeah, well look, Marion, I got a business to run.”
“You sitting down?” he said.
“In that chair by the boom box?”
Everything went cold inside of me, a flush of chipped ice spilling through my arteries.
Socia said, “You sitting in that chair, I wouldn’t get up anytime soon, less you want to see your ass blow past your head on its way out the window.” He chuckled. “Was nice knowing you, Kenzie.”
He hung up and I looked at Angie and said, “Don’t move,” even though her moving wasn’t the problem.
“What?” She stood up.
The room didn’t explode, but I damn near fainted. At least we knew he didn’t put a bomb under her chair too, just for fun. I said, “Socia said there’s a bomb under my chair.”
She froze, a wax statue in mid-stride. The word “bomb” will do that to people. She took a deep breath. “Call the bomb squad?”
I tried not to breathe. The possibility existed, I told myself, that the weight of the oxygen going into my lungs could put pressure on my lower extremities and detonate the bomb. It also occurred to me how ludicrous that was since the bomb was obviously triggered by a release of pressure, not a gain. So now, I couldn’t exhale. Either way I wasn’t breathing.
I said, “Yeah, call the bomb squad.” It sounded funny, talking while I held my breath, like Donald Duck with a cold. Then I closed my eyes and said, “Wait. Look under the chair first.”
It was an old wooden chair, a teacher’s chair.
Angie put the phone down. She knelt by the chair. It took a few moments for her to do that. No one wants their eyes an inch from an explosive. She bent her head under the chair and I heard her exhale loudly. She said, “I don’t see anything.”
I started to breathe again, then stopped. Possibly it was in the wood itself. I said, “Look like someone might have tampered with the wood?”
She said, “What? I can’t understand you.”
I took a chance and let out my breath and repeated the question.
She was down there for six or seven hours, or so it seemed, before she said, “No.” She slid back out from under the chair and sat back on the floor. “There’s no bomb under the chair, Patrick.”
“Great.” I smiled.
“Are you going to stand up?”
I thought of my ass flying over my head. “There’s a rush?”
“No rush,” she said. “Why don’t you stand up?”
“Maybe I like it here.”
“Stand up,” she said and stood herself. She held her arms out to me.
“I’m working up to it.”
“Stand,” she said. “Come to me, baby.”
I did. I put my arms on the chair and did it. Except, somehow, I was still sitting. My brain had moved, but my body was of another opinion. How professional were Socia’s people? Could they fit a bomb seamlessly into a wooden chair? Of course not. I’ve heard of people dying in a lot of ways, but getting blown up by a completely undetectable bomb in a thin wooden chair isn’t one of them. Course, maybe I was being honored by being the first.
“Anytime you’re ready.”
“OK. Well, see I ”
Her hands grabbed mine and she yanked me up out of the chair. I fell against her and we banged into the desk and didn’t blow up. She laughed, an explosion in itself, and I realized she hadn’t been entirely sure herself. But she’d pulled me out anyway. She said, “Oh, Jesus!”
I started to laugh too, the laugh of someone who hasn’t slept in a week, a laugh along a razor blade. I held on to her, my hands tight around her waist, her breasts rising and falling against my chest. We were both drenched in sweat, but her eyes were pulsing, the dark pupils large and drunk with the taste of a moment that wasn’t our last on earth.
I kissed her then and she returned it. For a moment, everything was heightened the sound of a car horn four stories below, the smell of fresh summer air mingling with spring’s dust in the window screen, the salty whiff of fresh perspiration at our hairlines, the slight pain from my still swollen lips, the taste of her lips and tongue still slightly cool from the pale ale we’d drunk an hour before.
Then the phone rang.
She pulled back, her hands on my chest, and slid away from me along the desk. She was smiling, but it was one of disbelief and her eyes were already taking on a spectre of regret and fear. God only knows what mine looked like.