The Stop

The problem with cell phones is not that they are impolite. It’s the guilt. Knowing someone else’s business makes you feel guilty.

So when the cabbie picked up his cell and started talking, as if an invisible phone booth had dropped from the cab roof to insulate his conversation, I leaned back to watch the drizzle mist over the streets and tried not to listen. That is not so easy to do, by the way. It reminds me of the old saw that goes something like “Don’t think of elephants.” All of a sudden you can’t think of anything but….

“Not hardly.”

We seemed to speed up, the droplets moved sideways on the window and smeared the stoops and storefronts as we rattled past. Seems the conversation was aggravating my cabbie.

“Ya gotta tell her no way. No effing way.”

Some black foreign car, running only with parking lights, fed in from the right, and I was swung into the door by the cab’s sudden swerve. The cabbie kept driving with one hand, faster than before.

“What I gotta do, fa shitzake, drive over there and explain everything? We been through it last night.”

We had cut through South Boston, a bunch of streets I did not know. I was sorry we weren’t on the Expressway. A liquor store flashed bright neon at the cab, its orange reflecting off the mist and making me squint.

“I gotta fucking fare, fa Chrizake! … Yeah yeah yeah look, okay, okay, in five.”

The cell beeped into silence as we turned right down a side street. “Ya ain’t in no hurry are ya?”

I leaned forward to make up some lie about being late when I learned that it really wasn’t a question: “Cause I gotta make a quick stop.”

I got up the courage to ask him to turn off the meter which he did without comment. We were weaving down dark unfamiliar residential streets, triple decker wooden houses with sagged porches and trash randomly arranged on stairs, sidewalks; wet gutters. I could no longer tell if we were at least heading vaguely South toward my Hingham destination. I never thought I would have deep longings to be home in my condo, but I was starting to get them now. I finally found the spirit to complain, but my wordless reply came seconds later as we pulled sharply into a driveway alongside an old brick storefront.

“I’ll be just a minute,” he said unconvincingly through the opening between the passenger and driver seats.

“Hey, excuse me, wait up a minute. Just wait. Where the heck are we?”

My tone must have had just enough fear in it to make him stop and turn back to the cab. “Jamaica Plain. Relax. It’s safe. Here, I’ll lock the doors and leave the dome light on.”

He was gone before I could think to object, before I could conclude that sitting in a lighted car in a dark alley in a seedy neighborhood was worse than being in complete darkness, before I could realize that I really had to take a piss, before I could figure out how to be outraged.

So I sat there.

Longer than five minutes. A lot longer than five minutes.

Ten or twelve, once I started looking at my watch, which wasn’t even right after he left. His box-y shape had slipped into a door in the brick wall siding the alley; he hadn’t paused and the door must have been unlocked. There were no windows facing me, so I could not even tell if a light had been turned on inside. I twisted to look out the back window; the wet sidewalk was almost black, no reflection of light from the front window of the store nor from any streetlamp. On the other side I stared at a solid fence, part white paint and part peeled and splintered wood. The rain descended on the roof like a heaving dew settling in nearly soundless waves.

I did not want to step outside, but I really had to go to the bathroom and no one was in sight; no one had come past and although the area was slightly seedy in an urban kind of blue collar way there was no logical reason to think that I was actually in danger. I looked at my watch under the vivid yellow of the dome light; it was 11:45. Late night in an alley in the middle of a drizzle, first chilly hints of Fall in the air, maybe a touch unusual but not a big problem if you thought about it rationally.

And I wanted to think about it rationally, very badly wanted to, sliding back and forth on the vinyl hills and valleys of the lumpy rear seat had not exactly made me forget the pressure I was feeling from inside.

I opened the cab door with a small creak, the cold entering immediately as my body heat fell out onto the alley. The windows fogged first, then my glasses. The cab door made a tinny ding when its edge just hit the brick sidewall and that was followed by a surprising soprano scrape as I shifted my weight to exit. I stood outside the cab listening. Only the rain trickling and hissing down.

I felt better, bolder now that I was out of the cab. More in control, less afraid. There was no sense pissing in the narrow space near the cab, and I walked sideways down the alley a few yards deeper into the darkness and relieved myself against the wall with a long, fulfilling “aaahhh.”

Heading back to the taxi, some noise escaped from under or through the side door, but I ignored it and grabbed the handle to the rear seat.

In retrospect, I should not have been surprised that the door had relocked; it was that kind of night. And in the middle of Jamaica Plain, wherever that might be. I walked to the street: empty. Too much to hope for, another taxi in the middle of this low class residential nowhere at midnight in the dank and drizzle. Every few seconds a car seemed to traverse along the cross street, but that was at least half a block away.

The side door to the store-front pushed outward soundlessly, but the handle banged and rattled when it swung full open and bounced back off the wall. The sound broke my concentration as I tried to decide if any of that distant traffic might include taxis. At first, the darkness hid the person standing near the door, but my eyes adjusted to the dim inside light which outlined a woman. It was not the kind of night that she was going to be young and attractive, and I was not disappointed in my premonition. Tell the truth, my main thought was whether she had come out with the cab keys.

“You with him?” She approached quickly as she spoke.

“Who? Me?”

She snorted. “Who the hell else? You with Lou, or are you gonna let me go past ya?”

I jumped backwards, although I wasn’t within five feet of her. “You can go. You can do what you want.” I heard myself speaking low, breathlessly, urgently. “I’m just a taxi fare,” I added, and was immediately sorry without knowing why.

She scuttled to the end of the driveway, looked left and right, then back to the alley. She was dark-skinned, tall and thin, hawk nose, black hair in something of a tangle. Not young, not old, not pretty, eyes wide apart and wide open.

“I gotta get out of here,” she said. Hey me too, I thought.

She glanced into the alley again. “He ain’t gonna be inside forever.”

She turned into the street, looking back after a couple of steps.

“You comin’ or what?”


“Yeah, we both have a better shot if we’re together.”

“But I’m not involved. I’m a Goddammed CAB FARE, dammit. I’m a passenger!”

“Right, and Lou is goin’ t’be real happy that you let me go.”

“I’m not letting you go,” I hissed intensely. “You’re just going.”

“And he’s just going to get back in the cab and drive you away, after what you just saw.”

“I didn’t see ANYTHING,” I damn near screamed.

She turned and started walking away; she mumbled “whatever, it’s your ass.”

I watched her speed up, going straight down the street on a chunky pair of heels that clicked and thunked on the wet sidewalk.

“Shit,” I cursed, or maybe just thought, and took four or five quick steps back toward the cab and told myself that I’d just sit back down and read my newspaper in the back seat and when the cabbie came back I’d just look up and ask to be taken to Hingham now, and say “what girl” when he asked, and I grabbed the door handle and then remembered I had locked myself out and I said “shit” again except this time I’m sure I said it out loud.

This is not my long suit, these kinds of situations. I’m an accountant—and I enjoy it! That doesn’t mean I’m boring; just means I am organized. Tonight is not organized. I do not like it.

So—time to get things organized and shaped up. I try all four cab doors; no go. I stick my head into the dim light of the doorway; a gray hall, couple of closed doors at the end, no sound; not inviting. I pat my rear right pants pocket for the reassurance of my wallet, then head towards the cross street with the traffic on it, which happens to be the opposite direction taken by that woman.

* * * * * * * * * *

Inside, Lou sat in his chair and tried to identify the feeling. It hurt somewhere, but his head was falling backwards and the pain was general. He couldn’t quite pull his head forward just yet, so he sat there listening. It was quiet which was strange, because Scotchie and Lettie were there, but maybe they were asleep, it being the middle of the fucking night, facrissake. The neon kept buzzing, which Lou did not appreciate, but he had more important things to deal with. He had to straighten out Lettie, so he was angry at himself for wasting time thinking about the lights rather than taking care of business. Also, he had to get back to the cab though he couldn’t remember why. Maybe his head was hurt after all.

Fingers twitching for the edge, Lou grabbed some leverage at what must have been the skirt of a table and pulled forward tentatively. His body slowly moved forward, head still thrown back. Shit, his head did hurt a lot. He was just thinking that maybe he shouldn’t try to straighten up when his momentum swung his forehead sharply forward. He felt his chin stubble hit the tabletop an instant before he decided to go back to sleep until his skull stopped throbbing.

Scotchie heard a thump and woke up with a small grunt. Startled, he was still too drunk to move quickly. Languorously, he scanned the room with shuttered eyes. The overhead was glaring. Lou was slumped on the table. He eyed the room twice but didn’t see Lettie, which was not good because she was Scotchie’s task also, but maybe it would still be okay because with Lou there maybe he was sort of relieved from duty.

* * * * * * *

The Shark stood in the window of the bar and watched the drizzle weave a gray curtain. Now that the traffic had thinned and most of the apartment lights had gone out, the main source of illumination was the dull yellow leaking out the bar’s dirty front window. The big elm swallowed the output of the only nearby street lamp, projecting dull shadows on the pavement.

The guy in the suit had stood outside in the rain for a few minutes, likely looking for a taxi, before coming inside and asking for a payphone. The Shark had walked back towards the card room but the door to the phone booth had been closed so he couldn’t hear anything. Preppy sort of a guy, look like he had worked a long day. Square, the kind who usually would carry an umbrella or raincoat on nights like this.

Sullivan was picking his nose and wiping it on the underside of the bar rail; at night he came around front, often as not, to take a load off his feet and get a better view of the Leno show. His legs swung off the stool in time to the theme song.

“So who’s the a-hole in the suit,” asked the Shark?

Sullivan kept his eyes on the screen. “Dunno. He asked if I could call him a cab. I says, whado I look like, a goddamned con-see-urge or somethin?” Sullivan shifted his body to improve his angle to the TV, and spoke through the one nostril that didn’t have a finger in it: “Didn’t even order a fuckin’ beer!”

“Smart man there,” the Shark allowed, but Sullivan was beyond insults.

Mr. Suit came out of the phone booth, looked around at the five regulars still drinking, picked out the Shark as the likely bet and walked up to him with a tight expression on his face.

”You want to make ten bucks?”

The Shark took a step back to get a better overall view of this joker. “Ten? All at one time? Wow, will ya let me in on the play?”

Mr. Suit ignored the comment. “I need a ride to the nearest cabstand or hotel. I need a taxi. I don’t think the Checker wants to come here to pick me up, and I get hung up on at Boston Cab and Towne Taxi.”

“Imagine that,” observed the Shark to Sullivan. “The Checker ain’t anxious to pick up your friend here, and what with all the fares you throw in their direction.”

Sullivan grunted his agreement.

“So what do you say?” Mr. Suit was whining now.

The Shark figured the Hamilton was just an opening offer. “Ten ain’t a wicked lot of money, my man,” he said smoothly “And, I got expenses in this.”

“Expenses? What kind of expenses? I just need a lift to a cab or a hotel that can get me one.”

“Well, for one thing there’s the matter of paying someone to borrow a car, which I don’t happen to have at the moment.”

“you don’t have—oh, for Gods sake!” The suit stopped sputtering and turned to the bar.

“Excuse me. EXCUSE ME, does anyone here have a car available?”

No one answered or even turned. Fat Freddie both had a car and was sober enough to drive if he really put his mind to it – but who wanted to have the Shark on his back later?

“Didn’t anyone hear me?” There was a half-tremolo crack of fear and just plain fatigue in the suit’s voice now. The Shark judged him fully ripe.

“Look, Sport,” confided the Shark as he moved close to the suit and fixed him with his glass stare, “these guys, they’re like retired, ya know? Freddie here, he’ll lend me his car I guess but it’s gotta be worth a twenty just for Freddie, and then there’s me to take care of.”

Freddie didn’t turn but said over his shoulder, “I wouldn’t lend you a quarter if you gave me a ten G deposit, you douche.”

“Now you begin to see my problem,” explained the Shark with a sigh, “or, OUR problem, if you get my drift.”

The Shark gently placed a hand on the suit’s shoulder: “So,” he inquired as a friend, “what ya doin’ in the neighborhood anyhow?”

* * * * * * *

A sensitive question. I didn’t want to admit I was an abandoned taxi fare, it didn’t seem like much of an explanation for this crowd. I also had to concentrate on not backing away too quickly, although the sour old beer mixed with vague foody vapors to create a miasmic rot around this fellow’s vicinity.

I turned slowly and started to walk towards the bar, feeling this guy after me in my wake. “I, uh, was brought here by a guy with an office around the corner, I think.” No reaction. “A cabbie.”

My new friend took a small, quick step back and glanced at the barkeeper, who as it turned out was finally paying attention to the conversation. From the corner, two guys on stools leaned towards each other and whispered.

“Louie the cabbie, like from around the corner Louie,” my friend asked, very low? He wiped his palms once, downward across his tee shirt, rearranging the grease.

“Yeah,” I said. Why not Louie? Then I felt the temperature change in the room; and thought uh-oh bad vibes. But no other place to go so I said “yeah, that Louie. What about it?”

“Oh, no, no problem,” said my friend. “I mean, ab-so-loot-lee no problemo, it’s cool, it’s all cool.”

The Shark wet his lips and looked at the bartender. “Sully, give my friend here a brewski, I gotta take a piss and then I’m gonna take him to find a cab.” He looked down the bar. “If I can borrow your car, Freddie?”

Freddie swallowed hard and nearly whispered that it was okay. In fact, suddenly he was quite enthused with the idea. “Sure, sure; no sweat.”

* * * * * * * *

Lou was in Church, he thought, but he was very hung over. He knew this because the bell kept ringing inside his head and making it hurt. A lot. And also, the bell kept ringing and ringing, calling him to some super-important Mass somewhere, his attendance of vital interest to the Deity.

Lou opened one eye and saw the grains of wood. Table. He opened the other eye. Telephone. Shit, ringing telephone. He sat up sharply, then swayed and felt like heaving. “Focus,” he thought. “Focus!” He picked up the phone.

“Louie, that you?”

“Who is this?” Lou’s voice seemed to be separated from himself by some considerable distance.

“It’s me. Sully. From the bar Sully. Louie, you listenin’ ta me?”

The light made him squint. The squint hurt his head, the back of it and behind the eyes. Shit it hurt!

“Yeah, I’m listenin’ so talk already.”

“Louie, there’s some guy in here, never saw him before and he’s lookin’ fer a ride and he says he knows you.” Lou thought again that it would be really good to focus.

“Guy in a suit,” Sullivan hissed, almost inaudibly.

“A suit,” Lou mused. “Talk up, will ya, yer makin’ no sense.”

“Louie, he’s right around the corner at the bar and I don’t want he should hear. Louie, what should I do with him?”

Lou looked around the room. Scotchie was on the couch, asleep with a Dewar’s empty. No one else was in sight. Then Lou remembered. He remembered everything.

“Sonofabitch, keep him there, will ya? I’m on my way.”

* * * * * * * * *

It’s obvious I’m being stalled, but I don’t know why. It has really started to pour outside, and I don’t have a lot of options. I sip my bottle of Bud, slowly; Mr. Sullivan has not offered me a glass. Sharkie is sitting beside me, he has introduced himself (“Just Sharkie, no Mister, gladtameetcha”), and he has ordered a half yard of some pale yellow ale and he is in no hurry to drink it. Sullivan is nowhere in sight so I can’t get a refill, which is something of a shame because I might as well, the beer is the only good thing to happen to me for hours. At least Sharkie is quiet. Jay Leno is roasting Bill Clinton in his manic unfunny way, it’s so boring that even the drunks are attentive.

Then it occurs to me that someone is getting the cabbie. Where’s Sullivan? Probably on the fucking telephone, ratting me out. (Listen to me; I’m beginning to sound like these lowlifes.) Probably trying to reach Louie, although come to think of it Louie may not be available just now. What if Sullivan walks over to the store, he’s been gone long enough, and walks down that dim hallway and through one of those doors and finds Louie bleeding or dead or…

“Well,” said the voice in my ear, all gravel and false cooing, “here I thought I had lost my fare.” A large arm slid over my back and a hand grabbed my shoulder with a brief, affectionate squeeze. “Whaddaya say, buddy?”

“Oh,” I croaked, “I am, uh, just having a beer.”

Louie laughed, more than it was funny, and reapplied his squeeze. “Funny guy. So—where’d she go?”

I turned and was about to sincerely say I didn’t understand when Louie smiled sweetly and grabbed my balls gently in his cupped hand and began shaking his palm like he was rolling dice. His arm kept me firmly on my bar stool, my hardware hanging over the edge and rolling back and forth in his large mitt.

“You mean the woman in the dark outfit? Black hair,” I asked quickly?

“Very good,” said Louie, and he gave my package a gently upwards joggle. “Glad to see you skipped the ‘who do you mean’ bullshit.”

“She was very upset,” I rushed onward. “She ran down the street. The other direction. She said she had to get away.”

“She said that, huh? So—you wuz outta the cab then, huh?”

Shit shit shit. No I wasn’t? Yes I was? Had to be.

“Yes I was.” A short pause. “I had to pee.” Pause. “Then I couldn’t get back in. Must have locked myself out. By accident.”

Someone at the bar snorted, but Louie kept my rapt attention by his growing pressure on my shoulders and by his, well, to say it truthfully, his – jiggling – fondling of my balls.

“Look, you can stop doing this – thing,” I said and looked down and raised my eyebrows in reasonable inquiry.

“This? This,” Louie asked? Jiggle jiggle jiggle.

“Yeah, you don’t need to do that,” I said.

“Oh, I’m not so sure about that. Let’s just call it my truth machine.”

“Why would I lie? I don’t know what the hell is going on. Just let me get out of here. I’ll walk, to hell with getting wet. I don’t even care about the rain….”

* * * * * * * *

He’s probably telling the truth about that, Louie thought. Why would he lie to me? He’s just a fare. He doesn’t know anything about Lettie and me and her — habits. If she tried to talk to him, well, she’s such a friggin ditz and he’s such a stiff, there’s no way she could have told him anything he would understand, anything useful—or dangerous… But what the fuck do I do with him now. And what if she did tell him something?

“Okay, chief,” I tell him, “back in the hack.” I give his hardware one last extra-sharp flick to make sure I have his undivided attention. “Let’s you and me try to find Lettie.”

I’m thinking maybe Lettie needs an attitude adjustment, particularly since she somehow got that rummy to help her skip out, although the poor bastard was probably too drunk to know what was happening.

* * * * * * * *

I don’t know how the hell he expects to find this woman. All I know is that it’s a big city and she walked away over an hour ago and it’s almost one a.m., for crying out loud. I’m tired. I’m outraged but too afraid to do anything about it. I have the realization that I am being held against my will, and my stomach sinks. I’m a prisoner! I’ve been kidnapped! This doesn’t happen to real people. That fucking son of a bitch grabbed my testicles and I didn’t even do something about it. I disgust myself. I don’t even want to think about it, I feel I deserve what is happening to me….

We are driving up and down a bunch of main streets with bars and fast food joints, but the restaurants are closed and the bars are closing; metal gates are being dragged over doorways. This is Boston, and in a few minutes nothing will be open. She could be a hundred miles away. She could have found a cab, or hitched a ride, or gotten on a bus, or found a friend, or called someone to pick her up. She could have done anything in that much time, it’s a goddamned city! Louie pulls up to a bar, hops out of the cab, goes inside for a minute, comes back out and continues on, he’s leaving the motor running and I’m too chicken-shit to drive away. All I have to do is just drive away, drive downtown or to a police station or even a hotel and just step out of the car and leave it, he’d never find me, he doesn’t even have my name. What this guy must think of me – a prisoner so chicken, so ineffectual that you don’t even have to guard him, point a gun at him, even warn him not to run away. Surprised he doesn’t give me a loaded gun to hold for safekeeping, so that I can hand it to him real fast when he finally decides to shoot me. Shit shit shit shit shit….

Down a long dark street is a small bar, its neon window signs are dark and someone in a Red Sox jacket is lowering a metal screen over the front door. Louie stops, cranks open his driver-side window, jams part of his torso outside and yells “McGuire” in a voice too loud for 1:00 am. “You seen Lettie tonight?”

McGuire is holding a cigarette in his mouth, his hands struggling with a padlock, he is down on one knee; the smoke is curling around his gaunt gray, pock-marked face. He turns over his shoulder, eyes squinted. “That you, Big Looo?”

“Yeah, sure whoyathink?”

“She came in late, maybe midnight. Bummed a quarter to make a call. Then bummed another quarter. Then she got Harry from the MTA to buy her a beer.” He rattled the padlock to loosen the hasp. “Imported no less,” he added, to no one in particular.

“So where is she now?” Lou’s voice was almost a shout, I couldn’t understand why someone didn’t open a window from one of the houses and tell him to shut up. Maybe they were used to it in that neighborhood.

McGuire turned back to the lock and gave it a hard shake. “Fuckin’ rusty piece of fuckinshit thing,” he observed in a mutter. He stood up and turned around. “How the hell do I know? One minute she’s drinking a beer, next minute I turn around and she ain’t there no more. It’s not like she checks in with me, ya know.” He paused, voice lowering “She back doing that shit again, Lou?”

Louie sounded tired. “I dunno. I don’t think so. Maybe. Who the hell knows. I gotta find her.”

McGuire came down the street until he was a few yards from the car. “Look,” he said, “I’d tell ya if I knew but I don’t know shit.” He held out his arms, palms up.

“Yeah, thanks, Mac.” Lou cranked up the window and started to drive slowly down the block. Nothing, no light or glow marred the blackness. The rain now gently tapped off the cab roof, just below our awareness.

“Louie, you have a lot on your mind I see. Won’t you please just drop me off somewhere?” I had a moment of panic, I did not want to repeat my address, although hours ago I had given it to him. “It’s too far to my house, I’m exhausted, just drop me off at the Sheraton in Back Bay, I’ll stay in town tonight. I’m beat.”

The cab stopped and Louie turned almost all the around to look at me. He looked a long time through the opening that separated passenger and driver. “Holy motheraGod,” he sighed. “I fuckin’ forgot you were there. Now, what the fuck am I gonna do with YOU?”

I didn’t like the question.

* * * * * * * * *

Scotchie didn’t like his new guest very much. He also did not like the fact that his guest was tied up, his arms wrapped behind him and lashed to the back of the big wooden chair with all that reinforced packing tape. It was one thing to babysit Lettie, and since she was a friend—sort of – he often watched her for Lou, and they played pinochle and could kibbitz the night away.

At least he had stopped twisting his arms behind him. The thin reinforcing fibers that threaded through the packing tape must have hurt like hell, and there were a few rivulets of blood trickling down the guy’s fingers. Even now, after Scotchie had spilled three glasses of water over the guy’s hands, the blood smears remained on his wrists, on the chair and on the floor underneath.

After the first day, Lou had put a gag in the guy’s mouth. Not that anyone would hear the yells, which became apparent to the guy after the first couple of hours. It just was that he wouldn’t shut up. Always arguing, explaining he didn’t know anything, then once in a while just sort of weeping and crying like some pussy. Scotchie didn’t like this guy at all so the fact that Lou probably would end up whacking him didn’t much bother Scotchie, who also was not the one to ask too many question. Nope, wouldn’t bother him one bit. He decided to eat the rest of the asshole’s pizza after all, and he sat at the table chewing the congealed cheese and washing it down with Dewars.

Meanwhile, the suit is now babbling out loud to himself: “This idiot’s going to kill me! I cannot believe it! How did this happen to me? I just took a cab! A goddamned taxi! Now I’m taped to some chair. Who would have thought that tape could be so sharp. My arms are numb, I don’t get enough to eat or drink, my piss is bright yellow and I’m going to die a prisoner in a store fifteen minutes from my office! Who ever heard of such a fuckin’ crazy fucked up thing? Crap crap car, crapshit gotta get out. No sense talking to Lou. Gotta talk to the drunk, but he’s so sauced that you have to catch him first thing when he wakes up, and with this goddamned handkerchief taped into my mouth I can’t even do that. What is today, anyway? Has it been three days? Is that even possible? They’ll miss me in the office but, so what? There’s no way anyone can find me. Except maybe the cab company but who knows to ask? I’m so scared I’d even pray — if I thought it might do even the slightest bit of good. Maybe he’ll let me go. But I don’t know who he is, where is this place, who he knows. Then why does he keep me? Why doesn’t he just end this? Who can figure out a crazy guy like this? But one thing’s for sure, next free moment I am unstrapped to take a dump I’m gonna run for it. Nothing can be worse than this. This idiot’s going to kill me….”

Lou is pulling his cab into his alley and he’s thinking the guy must be getting desperate. It’s four days and he’s had lots of time to think. None of those thoughts could have been reassuring.

And the truth of the matter is, since he’s got him tied up in there, Lou is thinking that now there is no way he can let him go. Before was just bullshit but now it’s a serious thing. Why did I even tie him up in the first place, Lou is thinking. It was really dumb, and I was tired and my head had started to hurt again from whatever Lettie must have put in my drink. In fact, it still hurts and it doesn’t seem to be getting any better.

* * * * * * * *

She put down the newspaper and shook her head slowly, a gesture meant only for herself. The early sunlight cut across her lap and warmed her hands. The evening had been almost chilly and the blue veins in her arms pulsed lightly but visibly under her dry skin.

“Stupid guy. Wrong guy, wrong place,” she muttered. Her words got lost in the vague clamor of the ocean outside.

Now she could leave the Cape; the police had traced the cab and Lou was in jail and not likely to come out any time soon. She felt the hot bolt course across her chest, knocking the Herald to the floor along with the needle that had rested on her lap.

A voice came through the door: “Hey, girl. You seen the TV? Ain’t that your old man they got in jail up in Boston for offing some suit?”

Her lips started to answer yes but the sound eluded her, and Lettie went to sleep.