The ice in the towel was long gone, and the towel was almost dry. Seroje knew she wasn’t alone any more, but it was the sound of her bag being placed on the ground and someone sitting that caused her to open her eyes.
Tony sat across from her holding a newspaper. The paper was from two Sundays ago. There was an advertisement for a Labor Day sale.
“They were watching the place,” he said. “Didn’t have any problems. We brought a big truck, four cars, a dozen guys who pretended to pick a fight. A little loud music and we were in and out of your unit in minutes and scattered to the winds before the cops were called.”
The sun was going down to her left and a gentle breeze brought her the smell of cilantro and oregano.
“Is this you?” Tony said, showing her the paper.
The picture was on the society page of the paper, showing her and Craig at the art gallery. The picture was in color.
“Yes,” she said.
“My mama recognized you and still had the paper. She likes to keep these pictures. And she likes Mr. Manor. He’s a big shot in the Italian community, y’know,” Tony said.
“Boss,” she said, not wanting to reveal any more than that.
“Don’t look like it from this picture. Or this one,” he said, showing her another page. There was a picture of her with the medic and Craig, looking worried, while her shoulder was patched. “My mama was a little concerned that I’d stolen Mr. Manor’s girl from him.”
Tony chuckled, then frowned.
“We’re talking big time,” he said.
She took him to mean this was too big for him.
“You don’t have to help me,” she said.
“Shit, yes I do,” he said with force. “This isn’t some spat with a boyfriend.”
“They tried to kill him that night,” Seroje said. “He’s got a problem.”
“And pulled you in on it. Shitty to do for a guy like that,” Tony said. He tapped the bag with his foot. “What kinda ammo do you need for that? I didn’t look.”
“Nine mm,” she said, reaching for the bag, pulling it over to her. She pulled out the pistol and another hundred-dollar bill for Tony.
“Hold on to that,” Tony said. “I’m good. You’ve already overpaid me.”
She rose and stuffed it into his shirt.
“Take it. May be the last kind act I do,” she said.
“One gun ain’t gonna be enough,” he said, taking the bill and stuffing it into a pocket. Then looking as if he remembered, he fished out her key. “Here.”
Seroje opened her backpack, pulling out the revolver. She slipped the key back into her jean pocket.
“Didn’t know you had that gun. I definitely ain’t ever gonna piss you off,” he said. “Besides, my mama would kill me before you could. She likes you.”
“Your mama loves you,” Seroje said. “She might give you a tongue thrashing, but she’d never kill you.”
She unloaded the empty cartridges in the revolver and reloaded. The pistol just needed the magazine inserted and cocked. She had two other magazines already loaded with ammo.
“I have no idea what I need to do,” she said. “Can I spend the night up here?”
“I can get you a room,” he said.
She shook her head.
“I need the air to breathe. I’ve got some thinking to do,” she said.
“There’s a toilet in the corner. Dirty as hell. Sorry,” he said. “Do you need any dinner?”
“Your mama already fed me well,” Seroje said.
“You need company?” he said. “Just someone to sit with is all I’m meaning. Someone to bounce ideas off of.”
“No,” she said.
’Tomorrow then,” Tony said, rising and leaving.
Seroje laid down on the gravel of the roof top, staring up into the sky.
OSLO was getting to be too much for her. She felt the time had come to walk away, and she made that decision as she fell asleep on the gravel.
The time was four am.
Garbage trucks rumbled down the alley.
Seroje felt chilled while she stepped through her Tai Chi between the raised garden beds of tomato plants. The scent of tomato leaves wafted around her every time she’d brush against a leaf. She stepped through a second time, feeling much warmer, and knew she had an audience.
Tony sat on the corner of a raised bed.
“I’m used to getting up early to run the cab,” he said as if he needed to explain. “So you drink coffee?”
“No,” she said, sitting opposite him.
“Explains why mama said to bring the soda,” he said, pulling out a can and a glass with ice, including a straw from behind him.
“Thanks,” she said, feeling thirsty. She poured the soda in the glass and drank the whole thing.
“The word is out,” he said, speaking slow.
“I don’t know what that means,” she said, passing a quiet fizzy burp.
“Well, mafia does exist. Sometimes the word is put out to snatch somebody up. Doesn’t mean that everyone’s gonna do it, especially if they know what’s going on. I think your goons are trying to enlist the Italian goons. But there’s a small problem,” Tony said.
“What is that?” she said, not quite following where the conversation was going.
“Mr. Manor is, like I said before, big in the Italian community. Your goons want you. However, the Italian community sees you as Mr. Manor’s girlfriend because of your picture in the newspaper. So, it ain’t gonna happen,” he said.
“And you trust that?” she said as she stared at her bag.
“Hell, no, but I thought you should know,” he said. “Might weigh into whatever your plans are.”
“My plans are to get the hell out of here and hide,” she said, looking through her bag. There were only a couple of boxes of ammo left. The two guns were in the backpack. She moved what was left in the bag to her backpack.
He shrugged. “Maybe you should finish what you started. You’ve already got them scared if they need that many guys just to face you.”
“I don’t even know what I started,” she said, sipping some of the ice melt from her glass.
“So how many bad guys? Don’t count the goons. They run as soon as the big honchos are gone,” Tony said.
A moth flitted on the ground. She watched it climb up a green pepper plant.
“Two,” Seroje said. “Maybe three.” She didn’t know if she should include Craig or not.
“Piece of cake,” Tony said, causing Seroje to laugh, not because he was trying to be funny, but because he was probably right.
“I already make a mistake,” she said in a quiet voice. “I gave them a warning shot over their bow.”
“Those type of guys don’t understand the gentlemanly ways of war,” Tony said. “They think they have you on the run, so you need to turn things around.”
“I should have talked to you last night,” she said.
“You’re talking to me now.”
“So I pick them off one at a time? Or set a trap?” she said, still not sure what she should do.
“Keep’em running,” Tony said. “Do you want some breakfast? The shop isn’t open yet, but I have a key and I know how to cook,” he said rising. “Bring the glass. I’ll get you a refill.”
Seroje nodded while she rose, grabbing her backpack, leaving the bag behind. She didn’t feel as if she’d resolved anything, but eating was something she did need to do. Tony took her down the elevator and through the back of the coffee shop.
The shop still smelled of cigarette smoke as well as grease and cleaning solution. All of the tables, counters and chairs were clean. Chairs were upside down on tables.
Seroje sat on a stool at the counter, staring at a machine that churned a flavored drink. Tony fired up a grill and fried up eggs and Italian sausages with red onions, filling the shop with a delicious set of smells. He filled up two plates and bought them out.
“Let’s sit in the back. Out of sight,” Tony said, leading the way to a back table.
Seroje could still see out the windows of the front, but there was enough between them to mask their presence. Her first bite of Tony’s breakfast was small to see if she liked what he cooked, despite its delicious aroma, but his breakfast proved tasty and she ate everything on her whole plate. He brought her out another soda and one for himself.
“Do you have internet here,” Seroje said as she finished eating, pushing away the plate.
“We don’t, but the guys next door do. You can snag theirs. I know how to get on it,” Tony said.
Seroje got out her laptop and Tony told her the information she needed. He took their dishes back to the kitchen to cleanup.
She connected into OSLO and checked Harold’s email. There was nothing, not a single email. The whole email box was cleaned out. She checked Hank’s and his email box was also cleaned out. She checked the security cameras. There was no one in the parking lot even though this was a Saturday. That was unusual, especially since that also meant no security guards were on duty. Seroje disconnected from OSLO. There was nothing there she could use. She felt as if she was out in the open, exposed, even though she was hiding in the corner of a coffee shop.
She was blind to where Harold and Hank were as well as Craig. There was nothing she could think of to do, expecting that Harold and Hank would not be hanging around their homes. She expected someone was watching her condo and already knew they were watching the storage unit, the one place where she wished she could go hide, but it was no longer a safe place.
She stared at her empty soda glass.
“I gotta go run the cab,” Tony said and he left as she nodded.
The cook arrived, greeting her in Italian. Seroje nodded at him, but said nothing. Soon the shop filled with the smells of spicy Italian foods and coffee. Mama arrived an hour later, filling Seroje’s glass with soda, then leaving her alone. The shop came alive, and everyone seemed to ignore her.
Most of the conversations around her were in Italian. She’d caught a few conversations where she was referred to as Tony’s girlfriend and that she was special, meaning they thought she wasn’t all there mentally.
A Chinese couple entered the shop, ordering in English, then continuing their conversation in Chinese as they sat at a table. Seroje couldn’t understand them and they made her think of the Chinese woman in the park.
Seroje thought of a new idea. OSLO always seemed to find her at the park. Maybe she needed to spend some time there and stake things out. Weekdays were better than the weekends. Too many people were there on the weekends.
She daydreamed of stealing an OSLO employee’s car right out of the park’s parking lot and cruising around looking for Harold.
Tony sat down across from her.
“Someone is watching the shop,” he said in a quiet voice. “I don’t recognize them. Neither do any of my friends.”
“I should go back to the rooftop,” she said, staring at her empty soda glass.
“Mama says you haven’t eaten anything, either,” he said.
“She ain’t my mama,” Seroje said with a cough.
“In her shop, she’s everyone’s mama,” he said, giving someone a nod at the counter. The cook brought over a paper bag. “Food for you. I think we should get away from here for a while. I’ll bring the cab around back. You get in the front seat. Okay?”
“Yes,” she said, still staring at her glass.
“And bring the food. No, wait. I will bring the food,” he said, taking the bag and leaving out the front of the shop.
Seroje calculated the time Tony needed to drive around back, then hoisted up her backpack. It was a lot heavier with both guns and all the ammo. She passed Mama coming from the back, but said nothing. Tony pulled up as she stepped out the back door. He pushed open the passenger side door, which was on her side, and she got in.
“Here’s a hat. Put your hair under it. And here’s some sunglasses,” Tony said. “Not much of a disguise but it’s better than nothing.”
“Let’s go to Quiet Waters Park,” she said as she donned the hat and glasses. “I need to look around.”
“Sure,” he said. “I get fares there a lot.”
He handed her the bag.
“Here, you need to eat,” he said.
Seroje opened the bag. There was a spicy Italian sandwich. She ate a quarter of the sandwich and wrapped the rest for later.
“You need to eat more,” he said.
“When I figure things out,” she said.
Tony cruised slowly along the park’s road and through the parking lots. Seroje looked at license plates and cars. In the second lot, where she liked to park, she noticed the license plate of the OSLO man who’d followed her before. She didn’t see him, thinking he was probably inside the park watching for her.
“See anything?” Tony said.
“Yes,” she said. “They are here waiting for me.”
Tony completed the loop of the park, driving back toward the center of town.
“So what’s your plan?” he said.
“Monday, I need you to bring me here,” she said, not going into any more detail.
“You need backup?” he said.
“Your mama would kill me if I got you hurt,” she said.
“I’m pretty tough.”
“Not against bullets,” she said, staring at his meter that wasn’t clicking.
Tony turned the cab up a street and parked. Seroje knew they were a block away from the coffee shop and the rooftop garden.
“My place,” he said. “Come on up. It’s as safe as any seeing I haven’t had a girlfriend in years so no one’s gonna expect a girl to be there. Can’t stand Italian girls and you don’t meet good girls who like cab drivers.”
Seroje scanned the area before she left the cab and followed him into the apartment building, which was as tall as the rooftop garden building. They rode the elevator to the fourteenth floor. His apartment door was only a few doors down from the elevator.
The apartment was small and needed a good cleaning. The small kitchen was tidy, but that was all that was tidy. Clothes and towels were strewn about. Weights and barbells filled one corner. There was a large TV with a couch across from it that look as if that was where he spent most of his time.
Seroje didn’t want to touch anything.
“Bathroom is over here,” he said, and that was all he showed her. “I’m going to finish out my day. I’ll be back later. Make yourself at home.”
She nodded as he left, wondering where she was going to sit. There were no chairs. The couch was the only seat and she wasn’t going to touch it. Seroje leaned against the wall of the apartment and slid down to sit. She had enough of a view of a window, but all she could see was sky. The glass needed cleaning.
The apartment door was to her left so she’d see who came in before they saw her. The carpet was tan and needed vacuuming.
The building was dead quiet until four-thirty when there were sounds of people walking down the hall and the closing of doors.
She rose to use the bathroom. Tony’s personal items were scattered across the counter. She had to squat over the toilet since it wasn’t as clean as she’d like it. Then she returned to her same spot. Listening.