Fade Away Page 20

“I feel very sorry for you,” Esperanza said in a tone that made clear she was anything but. “I got to get to the office. You coming in?”

“Maybe this afternoon. I’m going to see Emily this morning.”

“Is that the old girlfriend Win told me about?”

“Yes,” Myron said.

“Don’t take any chances. Put on a condom now.” She hung up.

Not Greg’s blood? Myron didn’t get it. As he drifted off to sleep last night he had worked up a neat little theory that went something like this: The hoods were searching for Greg. Maybe they had roughed him up a bit, made him bleed a little. Just to show him they meant serious business. Greg had reacted by running away.

It all sort of fit. It explained the blood in the basement. It explained why Greg suddenly took off. Yep, all a very nice and neat equation: One beating plus one death threat equaled a man on the run.

Problem was, the blood in the basement was not Greg’s. Kinda put a damper on the theory. If Greg had been beaten in the basement, then it would have been his blood. Greg would have bled his own blood, not someone else’s. In fact, it was very difficult to bleed someone else’s blood. Myron shook his head. He needed a shower. A bit more deducing like this and the slaughtered-chicken theory would begin to pick up steam.

Myron soaped himself up, then turned his back to the shower and let the water cascade over his shoulders and down his chest. He toweled off and got dressed. Jessica was on the word processor in the other room. He had learned never to disturb her when the keyboard was clacking. He left a quick note and slipped out. He grabbed the 6 train up to midtown and walked to the Kinney lot on 46th Street. Mario tossed him the keys without glancing up from his paper. He picked up the FDR north at 62nd Street and took it to the Harlem River Drive. There was a slowdown for right lane construction, but he made it to the George Washington Bridge in pretty good time. He took Route 4 through a place called Paramus, which was actually a giant mall pretending to also be a township. He veered to the right and passed the Nabisco building on Route 208. He was hoping for a factory Ritz-whiff, but today he got nothing.

As he pulled up to Emily’s house, déjà vu swatted him in the back of the head like a father’s warning blow. He had been here before, of course, during college breaks in their courting days. The house was brick and modern and fairly huge. It sat in a well-groomed cul-de-sac. The backyard was fenced. He remembered that there was a swimming pool in the back. He remembered that there was also a gazebo. He remembered making love with Emily in the gazebo, their clothes wrapped around ankles, the humidity coating their skin with a thin layer of sweat. The sweet bird of youth.

He parked the car, pulled the key out of the ignition, and just sat there. He had not seen Emily in more than ten years. Much had happened in the ensuing years, but he still feared her reaction to seeing him. The mental image of Emily opening the door, screaming “Bastard,” then slamming it in his face was one of the reasons he hadn’t worked up the nerve to call first.

He looked out the car window. There was no movement on the street. Then again there were only ten houses. He debated his approach and came up with nothing. He checked his watch, but the time didn’t register in his head. He sighed. One thing was for sure: he couldn’t sit here all day. This was a nice neighborhood, the kind where someone would spot him and call the police. Time to get a move on. He opened the door and stepped out. The development was at least fifteen years old but it still looked new. All the yards were just a little too sparse. Not enough trees and shrubbery yet. The grass looked like a guy with a bad hair transplant.

Myron walked up the brick path. He checked his palms. They were wet. He rang the doorbell. Part of him flashed back to earlier visits, his mind playing along with the long, still-familiar chime of the bell. The door opened. It was Emily.

“Well, well, well,” she said. Myron could not tell if the tone was one of surprise or sarcasm. Emily had changed. She looked a little thinner, a bit more toned. Her face was less fleshy too, accentuating the cheekbones. Her hair was cut shorter and styled. “If it isn’t the good one I let get away.”

“Hi, Emily.” Mr. Big Opening.

“Here to propose?” she asked.

“Been there, done that.”

“But you didn’t mean it, Myron. I wanted sincerity back then.”

“And now?”

“Now I realize sincerity is overrated.” She flashed him a smile.

“You look good, Emily,” he said. Get Myron on a roll and it’s one good line after another.

“So do you,” she said. “But I’m not going to help you.”

“Help me what?”

She made a face. “Come on in.”

He followed her inside. The house was full of skylights and cathedral ceilings and white painted walls. Airy. The front foyer was done in some expensive tile. She led Myron to the living room. He sat on a white couch. The floors were beechwood. It was exactly the same as it was ten years ago. Either they had gotten the exact same couches again or their house guests had been exceptionally well behaved. There wasn’t a spot on them. The only mess was a pile of newspapers in the corner. Mostly daily tabloids, from the looks of it. A New York Post front-page headline read SCANDAL! in huge 72 point print. Specific.

An old dog traipsed into the room on rigid legs. It looked like he was trying to wag his tail, but the result was a pitiful sway. He managed to lick Myron’s hand with a dry tongue.

“Look at that,” Emily said. “Benny remembers you.”

Myron stiffened. “This is Benny?”

She nodded.

Emily’s family had bought the overactive puppy for her younger brother Todd when Myron and Emily had first started dating. Myron was there when they brought the puppy home from the breeder. Little Benny had stumbled around with blinking eyes and then peed on this very floor. No one cared. Benny quickly got used to people. He greeted everyone by jumping on them, believing in a way only a dog could that no one would ever do him harm. Benny was not jumping now. He looked very old. He looked a brief step away from death. A sudden sadness swept through Myron.

“You looked good last night,” Emily said. “It was nice seeing you back on the court.”

“Thanks.” The quips never stop.

“Are you thirsty?” she asked. “I could make you some lemonade. Like in a Tennessee Williams play. Lemonade for the gentleman caller, except I doubt Amanda Wingfield used a Crystal Light mix.” Before he could answer she disappeared around the corner. Benny looked up at Myron, struggling to see through milky cataracts. Myron scratched the dog’s ear. The tail picked up a bit of velocity. Myron smiled sadly at Benny. Benny moved closer, as if he understood how Myron felt and appreciated the sentiment. Emily returned with two glasses of lemonade.

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