I answered the phone with a hoarse, “Hello.”
“You still sitting down?”
“No,” I said. “I’m looking out the window for my ass.” “Uh-huh. Well, just remember, Kenzie anyone can get to anyone, and anyone can get to you.”
“What can I do for you, Marion?”
“You gone come see me, have a chat with me.”
“I am, am I?”
“Bet your ass.” He chuckled softly.
“Well, Marion, I’ll tell you, I’m booked solid till October. Why don’t you try back around Halloween?”
All he said was, “Two-oh-five Howe Street.” It was all he had to say. It was Angie’s address.
I said, “Where and when?”
He gave it another soft chuckle. He’d read me perfectly and he knew it and knew I knew it too. “We’ll meet someplace crowded so you have the illusion of safety.”
“Damn white of you.”
“Downtown Crossing,” he said. “Two hours. In front of Barnes and Noble. And you come alone, or I might just have to pay a visit to that address I mentioned.”
“Downtown Crossing,” I repeated.
“In two hours.”
“So I’ll feel safe.”
He chuckled again. I figured it was a habit of his. “Yeah,” he said, “so you’ll feel safe.” He hung up.
I did the same and looked at Angie. The room was still overcrowded with the memory of our lips touching, of my hand in her hair and her breasts swelling against my chest.
She was in her seat, looking out the window. She didn’t turn her head. She said, “I won’t say it wasn’t nice, because it was. And I won’t try and blame it on you, because I was just as guilty. But I will say, it won’t happen again.”
Hard to find a loophole in that.
I took the subway to downtown crossing, climbed up some steps that hadn’t been hosed down since the Nixon years, and stepped onto Washington Street. Downtown Crossing is the old shopping district, before there were malls and shopping plazas, back when stores were stores and not boutiques. It was refurbished in the late seventies and early eighties like most of the city, and after they opened a few boutiques, business came back. Mostly younger business kids who were bored with the malls, or too cool or too urban to be caught dead in the suburbs.
Washington Street is blocked off to auto traffic for three blocks where most of the shops are, so the sidewalks and streets teem with people people going to shop, people returning from shopping, and most of all, people hanging out. The sidewalk in front of Filene’s was lined with merchant carts and packed with teenage girls and boys, black and white, leaning against display windows, goofing on adult passersby; a few couples French-kissed with the desperation of those who don’t share a bed yet. Across the street, in front of The Corner a minimall with shops like The Limited and Urban Outfitters, plus a large food court where three or four brawls break out a day a pack of black kids manned a radio. Chuck D and Public Enemy pounded “Fear of a Black Planet” from speakers the size of car tires, and the kids settled back and watched people walk around them. I looked at all the black faces in the massive crowd and tried to guess which ones were Socia’s crew, but I couldn’t tell. A lot of the black kids were part of the coming-from-shopping or going-to-shop crowd, but just as many were packed together in gangs, and some had that lazy, lethal look of street predators. There were plenty of white kids strewn throughout the crowd who looked similar, but worrying about them wasn’t a concern now. I didn’t know much about Socia, but I doubted he was an equal opportunity employer.
I saw immediately why Socia had picked this location. A person could be dead ten minutes, lying facedown on the street, before someone paused to wonder what he was stepping on. Crowds are only slightly safer meeting places than abandoned warehouses, and in abandoned warehouses, you sometimes have room to move.
I looked across the street, past The Corner, my eyes bouncing along the heads in the crowd like sheet music, slowing as they reached Barnes and Noble. The crowd thinned somewhat here, a few less teenagers. Guess bookstores aren’t ideal places to pick up babes. I was ten minutes early and I figured Socia and his crew had gotten here twenty minutes before me. I didn’t see him, but then I didn’t expect to. I had the feeling he would suddenly appear an inch away from me, a gun between my shoulder blades.
It didn’t come between my shoulder blades. It came between my left hip and the bottom of my rib cage. It was a big .45 and seemed even bigger because of the nasty-looking silencer on the end. Socia wasn’t the one holding it either. It was a kid, sixteen or seventeen, but hard to tell with the black leather watch cap pulled down low over a pair of red Vuarnets. He had a lollipop in his mouth that he shifted from one side of his tongue to the other. He was smiling around it, like he’d just lost his virginity, and he said, “Bet you feel seriously fucking retarded about now, don’t you?”
I said, “Compared to what?”
Angie stepped out of the crowd with her gun against Lollipop’s crotch. She was wearing a cream-colored fedora on her head, and her long black hair was tied in a bun under it. She wore sunglasses that were bigger than Lollipop’s and ran the gun muzzle over Lollipop’s balls. She said, “Hi.”
Lollipop’s smile faded, so I replaced it with my own. “Having fun yet?”
The crowd all around us kept moving at their escalator pace, oblivious. Urban myopia. Angie said, “So what’s our next move?”
Socia said, “That depends.”
He was standing behind Angie and by the way her body tensed, I knew there was another gun back there with him too. I said, “This is getting ridiculous.”
Four of us stood in a crowd of thousands, all interconnected like blood cells by fat squat pieces of metal. Someone in the crowd jostled my shoulder, and I hoped like hell no one had a hair trigger.
Socia was watching me, a benign expression on his worn face. He said, “Somebody start shooting, I’ll be the one walks away. How ‘bout that?”
He almost had a point he’d shoot Angie, Angie would shoot Lollipop, and Lollipop would definitely shoot me. Almost.
I said, “Well, Marion, seeing how this is already about as crowded as a Japanese camera convention, I don’t figure one more body’ll hurt. Look at Barnes and Noble.”
He turned his head slowly, looked across the street, didn’t see anything that alarmed him. “So?”