“Dawn, have you got anybody you can stay with? Or anybody who can stay with you?”
“I don’t know. I can’t think of anybody.” ,
“How about Helen?”
“I wouldn’t want to ask her.”
“Do you know where she lives?”
“Yes. I was there once. It was sort of an office party.”
“I’ll call her.”
“Maybe she’s asleep.”
He had the number on his Rolodex. She answered on the third ring. Her voice sounded blurred and far away.
“What’s your position on taking in the walking wounded, Helen?”
“Wade? Let me try to wake up. I took a Valium. You don’t mean you, do you? If you do, any time. Any time at all.”
“I don’t like the little hair bag but I’ll take her in.”
“She’s pretty shattered. Bern was going to marry her.”
“Ho ho ho and ho.”
“That’s why this has hit her so hard. She thinks it’s her fault. She’ll tell you why.”
“You mean she is right there with you and I am to go along with this marriage crap?”
“If you don’t mind.”
“When I try hard, I can believe anything. And I’ve done it hundreds of times.”
“She’ll be along soon.”
“Put her on.”
He gave the phone to Dawn. She said “Yes” several times, nodding each time she said it, and then said “Goodbye” and hung up.
He came around the desk as she stood up. She sobbed once and lunged into his arms again.cHe held her. There was no tension in it, no passion. It was like holding a tired child. She was spent. He went out with her, set the alarm system, locked up and walked her to her car. The street was empty. He patted her on the shoulder as she got in. “Thanks for… for everything,” she said.
He watched the red taillights of her small car go two blocks down the empty street and turn left, toward Helen’s condo. He walked to his own car, then leaned against the driver’s door and looked up at the night sky, at stars hazed by city glow and city smog. A night sky Bern had not seen, to be followed by an infinity of night skies he would never see. He felt an interior twisting, a hollowness of dismay, as he remembered some of the antic times. Bern in a good mood was a very funny man, quick of wit, sour of tongue. In the old days he’d been able to laugh at himself. But not lately.
Headlights startled Wade as the almost silent car pulled up beside him. The officer in the passenger seat said, “Is anything the matter here?”
“No. No thanks. I was just about to go home. I just left that office there. I… own the business.”
There was a long pause as the man looked him over. “Good night, sir,” he said and the patrol car moved away.
Ten years ago, Wade thought, I would have known him and he would have known me. Too many people moving down into the Sun Belt. Too many people moving near warm water. Everything gets diluted. Old friends in the same town and you never see them anymore. The world gets more impersonal. More people stay close to home.
It was a change in the way people live these days, he thought. They are out there in their little frame houses in the developments, racially segregated by choice, not by edict. They live in their houses and in their cars. They rent tapes of movies, and the streets are empty after dark.
He drove home slowly. Beth was feigning sleep. He knew she was annoyed he had taken so much longer than he had promised.
At a few minutes past three on Wednesday morning, thirty miles past Montgomery, Alabama, on Interstate 85, a state police patrol car tried to intercept a dark blue BMW traveling at an estimated hundred miles an hour. In pursuit, with the speedometer steady at a hundred and fifteen and the BMW slowly increasing the distance between the two cars, the pursuing patrol car radioed for help, giving the position as just past Exit 38, suggesting a roadblock, describing the car and saying they had not gotten close enough to read the tag.