Dominelli had reserved a suite for her at the Beverly Hills Hotel and he called before she’d even unpacked, apologizing for not meeting her plane. “I asked my wife to take you around this afternoon, show you the sights, but she must have gotten tied up. Anyway I can’t find her.”
“Why, I don’t need anyone to take me around,” Cleo said, glancing at the handsomely appointed suite with its impressive view of the gardens. “This place is gorgeous, Carlo, and I’ll be perfectly happy just poking around on my own. Really.”
“Well, if I can get hold of Helene she’ll give you a ring. If not, we’ll see you tonight. Do you like Italian food? I’ve reserved a table at La Scala which, in my opinion, is the best Italian restaurant in the country.”
“Sounds great, and I love Italian food.” Any food. She glanced at her watch and was surprised to see it was after two-thirty. She heard Dominelli’s deep-throated laugh.
“A woman after my own heart. So until tonight then, Cleo. Helene and I will pick you up around seven. Arivederci.”
“Arivederci,” Cleo said. Smiling she hung up, deciding it was time for lunch.
“Are you expecting someone?” the maitre d’ inquired when she arrived at the Polo Patio a few minutes later.
“No, I’m alone.”
“Extraordinary,” the man murmured, showing her to a table beneath a giant pepper tree. She had no sooner sat down than a tall, interesting looking man in sunglasses who was a double for Jack Nicholson strolled by. It was Jack Nicholson, she realized tickled.
“Would you care for a cocktail?” the waiter asked, filling her water goblet.
She rarely drank in the middle of the day. But this was her first trip to California and one didn’t see Jack Nicholson every day in the week. “Yes, I’d like an Orange Blossom, please.”
The waiter left and, after a moment, she became aware that a man sitting a few tables over, with his back to her, had turned and was peering, really staring in her direction. She wasn’t positive that she was the object of his scrutiny but it was rather unnerving. So much so that she had just about decided to change seats when abruptly the man jumped up and in a few swift strides covered the space between them.
“Cleo?” he said. “It’s you, isn’t it? My God, it is you! Who else in the world would ever order an Orange Blossom?”
She looked up and for a second her heart stopped beating. She couldn’t speak. Her throat was paralyzed, frozen. The years since she’d last seen him had changed him somewhat. The face was thinner, harder. The thick mop of unruly black hair had been cut and styled, and there was a distinguishing touch of gray at the temples. But after the first shock had passed she would have known him anywhere.
“Cleo?” he said again.
“Max.” She found her voice finally. “My—this is a surprise. What in the world are you doing here?”
“I live here.” He pulled out a chair, sat down across from her. “May I? What are you doing in California? Visiting?”
She nodded. “In a way. Are you in practice here, Max?”
“Yep. Have my own suite of operating rooms on the Sunset Strip. Last year I made seven-hundred-and-fifty-thousand bucks, before taxes. This year I’ll pull in over a million—easy. My patients are mostly movie stars and Ay-rabs.”
“Heavens!” Cleo exclaimed, realizing her head was spinning, and not from all this talk of high finance either. “What do they come to you for?”
Max grinned. “You name it, babes. I do ’em all. Faces, eyelids, noses, chins, buttocks, breasts, thighs—I’m a plastic surgeon, in case you hadn’t guessed. And a pretty damn good one, too, if I do say so myself.”
“You must be to rake in that kind of loot. Although don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against money.”
“That makes two of us. You know what my secret ambition always was? To be as stinking rich as Clint Campbell. You have any idea what happened to Clint?”
“As a matter of fact I do. He’s living in Colorado, not far from my parents. Darlene Resnik is with him.”
“Yeah?” He lifted an eyebrow. “Now why doesn’t that surprise me? Clint always had the hots for her, although I could never understand what a nice guy like him ever saw in that bitchy broad. She as big a pain in the ass as ever?”
“Darlene was never a pain in the ass, but I know both she and Clint will be interested to hear about you. They’re coming to visit me next week, and I’ll tell them I ran into you, Mr. Wonderful.”
“Mr. Wonderful!” He grinned again and shook his head. “Jesus. Remember the night Darlene pinned that moniker on me?”
"Of course I remember. I remember everything about you, Max Altman". And that was the truth, God help her. It amazed her that she hadn’t seen this man, heard one single, solitary word about him in almost twelve years, and suddenly she saw him again and it was as though they’d never been parted. They could be back in New Haven in the apartment on Whitney Avenue, sharing a pizza and gabbing the night away. But all she said was, “I remember.”
“And I remember you,” Max said. Without warning he leaned across the table, covered her hand with his. At his touch she jumped and yanked her hand away.
“Sorry,” he quickly apologized. “I didn’t mean to startle you, Cleo. It’s just that you’re more beautiful than ever. How do you do it?”
She tried to laugh, ashamed of her outburst. “Hard work and clean living, I guess. No help from guys like you, so far. But I’ll keep you in mind, for future reference.”
“You’ll never need my services. Not my professional services.” Just then the waiter brought Cleo’s drink and the maitre d’ came back and asked if the gentleman would like his luncheon served at the lady’s table.
Max nodded. “That’ll be fine. You don’t mind if I join you, do you, Cleo?”
“Of course not. Delighted to have you. What did you order, by the way?”
“Pacific bay shrimp and half a bottle of Pinot Chardonnay.”
“I’ll have the same.”
“Great. Did you get that, Niño?”
“Yes, Dr. Altman.” The maitre d’ bowed slightly. Then turning to Cleo he added, with a warm smile, “I thought it extraordinary, such a beautiful lady dining alone.”
Cleo blushed. “Dr. Altman and I are old friends. We just bumped into each other a few minutes ago. Such a surprise.”
Max started to laugh. “What the devil are you explaining to him for?” heasked, when the maitre d’ had left.
“Well, when I first came in he asked if I were meeting someone and I said no. I didn’t want him to think you’d picked me up. Or worse—that I picked you up. God forbid!”
“He wouldn’t think that. You don’t look like a hooker. Although I must say some of the gals who work this place in the evening are pretty high class.”
“Oh, Max, you’re terrible. You know that, don’t you?”
“And you’re still the minister’s daughter.” He was really laughing at her now.
“No, I’m not. Actually I’m very liberated.”
“What does that mean? Are you sleeping with someone?”
“That’s really none of your business. But, yes, there is someone, a nice lawyer fella. We have an—understanding, I suppose you’d call it.”
“Any marriages, divorces along the way?”
“No.” She shook her head. “What about you?”
“One divorce, two years ago. I married a nice Jewish girl. Bennington graduate. Her father’s a talent agent out here. My mother adored her. It was a disastrous marriage. But we produced two super kids. Want to see them?” He opened his billfold and showed her a picture of two curly-haired, blueeyed children who looked remarkably like him. “That’s Jason on the left,” he said. “He’s almost five. Jennifer, my little sweetheart, is three.”
“Cute,” Cleo murmured, sipping her Orange Blossom. The thought occurred to her—their child would have been attractive, too, most likely, and almost finishing junior high now. Should she have told Max about that child? Had she done the right thing keeping it from him? Stop it! That’s ancient history…
“Yeah, they are,” Max was saying. “Cute, I mean. Clare, my ex, and I share custody, so I see them a lot. Clare’s remarried and lives in Bel-Air.”
The shrimp arrived, they were delicious. So was the wine. “But tell me about yourself,” Max said, digging into his lunch with gusto. “I want to know everything—and I mean everything—since you left New Haven.”
“Well, you know I interned at Bellevue.”
“That must have been rough.”
“No rougher than Cook County, I imagine.”
“Oh, Cook wasn’t so bad. Did you do your residency at Bellevue, too?”
“Yes. It has an excellent program for anesthesiologists. That’s what I am.”
“A gas passer? So that’s what you specialized in.”
“Don’t knock it.”
“I’m not. Anything but. As a matter of fact I’m very impressed.” But Cleo saw a strange glint in his eyes. “Where do you practice?”
“Charleston, South Carolina naturally. But I don’t have a practice as such. I teach at the medical school there and do research at the Medical Center. South Carolina has one of the best research institutions in the country …” She stopped, confused, noticing how his eyes were sparkling, how his lips were positively twitching with amusement. “Mind telling me what’s so funny?”
For answer he threw back his head and roared. “Cleo, you’ll never believe this,” he said, when he could talk. “I’m your date for the evening.”
“What? I don’t believe you.”
“Told you you wouldn’t. But it’s true, nevertheless. Carlo Dominelli and his wife Helene are good friends of mine. Now are you beginning to get the picture? Carlo called me last week and asked if I’d go out to dinner with him and Helene tonight to meet this gorgeous blond anesthesiologist from South Carolina. He said she was coming out here to lecture at UCLA at his invitation and he wanted to show her a good time. He didn’t give me her name but could there be two gorgeous blond anesthesiologists from South Carolina in Beverly Hills at the moment? Not likely. So it’s you, it’s gotta be you. Aren’t you out here as Carlo Dominelli’s guest?”
“Yes, but—” she was confused.
“Then I’m your date for the evening. I’m meeting the Dominellis—and you—at La Scala at seven-thirty. Do you think we ought to tell them we know each other and spoil their fun?”
“Why would it spoil their fun?”
“Well, they’d probably like to take credit for bringing us together. People always do—especially if we fall in love.”
“What makes you think we’re going to fall in love?” she asked.
“Well, I don’t know about you, but I never fell out of it.”
“Oh, Max.” She feared she was blushing. “How you do go on. Why do you talk that way?”
“Because it’s true. But we can change the subject if it distresses you. So,” he spread out his hands, “how are the folks? Your dad still giving ’em hell from the pulpit?”
“Daddy never gave anyone hell, even when they deserved it. He’s fine though. Mama, too.”
“Good. And what about your little sister Laura? What a nice kid she was. Did she go to college, become a teacher, like your mom wanted?”
“No. Laura didn’t even finish high school. Instead she went to Canada, Calgary, the summer of her junior year and got a job up there, waitressing. Then she eloped with a cowboy she met and had four kids, only a year or so apart.”
“Christ! That must have gone over big with your folks.” “Like a lead balloon. For over five years Laura and Ben, that’s her husband, lived in a tarpaper shack with no electricity, not even indoor plumbing. Then Ben got gored by a bull and couldn’t work anymore. But there’s more to the story. Just when they’d almost hit rock bottom and were about ready to throw in the towel, some geologists from the States went up there and discovered oil on Ben’s land. So now they’re millionaires, many times over.”
Max whistled. “That’s some story.”
Cleo smiled. “Thought you’d like it. And the nice thing is Laura hasn’t changed at all. She’s still the same sweet, genuine person she always was.”
“Guess that runs in the family.”
“Well, I don’t know about that.” Flustered, she dropped her eyes.
The waiter removed their plates and asked if they cared for dessert. “Just coffee, please,” Cleo said, taking a sip of water. She couldn’t understand why her mouth was so dry.
“How do you like the accommodations?” Max was saying. “Your room okay?”
“More than okay. It’s fabulous. And it’s not just a room, I’ll have you know. I have a whole suite—livingroom, bedroom, my own private patio. I’m really not accustomed to so much elegance when I travel, but I must say I could get used to it pretty fast.” She took another sip of water, painfully aware that she was talking too much. But she couldn’t seem to stop. “I hate to think what it must cost. Probably an arm and a leg, but I suppose UCLA is paying for it, don’t you? Carlo Dominelli wouldn’t be stuck for it, would he? God, I hope not.”
“Don’t worry about it,” Max said. Again his hand went out and covered hers. This time she didn’t yank her hand away. “You know what I was thinking, Cleo? After we finish our coffee, why don’t we stroll over to your suite and you can give me the grand tour?”
“Oh, I don’t think so, Max. I’m sure we’ve both got lots to do this afternoon …”
“Nothing that can’t be put off a few hours. C’mon. Where’s your sense of adventure?”
“I think I lost it along the way.” With a lot of other things. But she sat there while he drank two cups of coffee, watched as he insisted on paying the bill, caught in a curious lethargy. Finally he took her arm and led her out into the garden. They started up one of the many paths. Cleo thought it was the same path she’d arrived on. She could smell jasmine mixed with hyacinth and oleander, the scents so strong they almost drugged her. But after a few minutes she had no idea where they were going. “I don’t know about you, but I’m lost,” she said finally, squinting up at him in the dazzling sunlight. “I guess we’ll have to go back to the restaurant, if we can find it, and get directions.”
He said, “I don’t think that’ll be necessary. What’s the number of your suite?”
“Let’s see.” She opened her pocketbook and found her keycard. “Onetwenty- five.”
“Hmm-mm. If I’m not mistaken one-twenty-five should be right around the next bend.”
He wasn’t mistaken. They found the bend and came upon a patio, completely surrounded by foliage. And it was her patio, Cleo was sure of that. She could see her carry-on, part of a matched set of Louis Vuitton luggage Phillip had given her for Christmas, propped up against the glass door, right where she’d left it.
“How’s that for navigation?” Max asked.
“Not bad. Wonder why they hide these places so?”
“Why that’s the beauty of this spot—its privacy. You can get to so many of the rooms and bungalows without being seen, which comes in handy at times.”
“Is that a fact?” Cleo said. With shaking fingers she shoved the keycard into its slot, when of a sudden it hit her. "What’s he doing here? Are you out of your cotton-pickin’ mind? Get rid of him—now—for God’s sake!”
“Max,” she said in a rush, “it’s been great seeing you, really fun. But as I told you I’m practically engaged to someone now, and I really don’t think you should come in my room. So I’d appreciate it if you’d go now.”
“Ah, c’mon, Cleo. Is that any way to treat an old friend?”
“You’re not an old friend. And I want you to go.”
“You don’t mean that.” He put out his hand, touched her cheek with the backs of his fingers.
“I do mean it,” she said, drawing away. “I don’t see how I can make it any plainer.”
“But what’s wrong? You’re not afraid of me, are you?”
She knew she was blushing this time, but she managed to answer in a calm, steady voice, “I see you’re still as conceited as ever. Of course I’m not afraid of you, silly, but—”
“Then you’re just being mean. I never remembered you as being mean, darling. But,” he shrugged, “it’s your call. I’ll see you tonight anyway.” He bent closer, planted a kiss on her forehead. Then raising two fingers in a jaunty little salute he took off, up one of the many garden paths. Cleo watched him go, filled with a growing sense of uneasiness. The Max Altman she had known didn’t give up that easily.
May 17, 2010
Kate drove them to the station and now as she and Clem put the bags down on the platform, Kitty looked around for someplace for them to sit. But the only outside bench at the little station was already occupied by three men, shabby and unkempt. Definitely not commuters. Probably addicts waiting for the soup kitchen up the street to open so they can cadge a free meal, Kitty thought, and immediately chastised herself for being so uncharitable. Why do you always think everyone down on their luck has to be an addict? she asked herself. Just because Bebe, your own daughter, couldn’t stay away from the stuff—oh, stop it. STOP IT!
To make up for her lack of compassion, she smiled at the men, her warm, all-encompassing smile that said much plainer than words they were all human beings, and that these particular human beings were just fine as they were. She was rewarded with various flickers of interest. Two of the men lifted their heads and glanced shyly in her direction, while the youngest one, the one nearest to her on the end of the bench, actually smiled back.
“You and your sister going to the big city to do some shopping?” he asked, nodding in Kate’s direction. “Taking old Dad along,” he glanced at Clem, “to pay the bills?”
“Not exactly,” Kitty laughed, and putting out an arm drew Kate close. “This gal is my daughter, not my sister. And as for ‘old dad’ there—”
“He’s her husband and my father,” Kate informed him. “My folks are catching a cruise ship in New York that will take them up the Saint Lawrence to Montreal. They’re celebrating their thirty-fifth wedding anniversary. How ‘bout that?”
“Thirty-five years?” the man exclaimed. “Nah!” He shook his head emphatically. “She ain’t been married no thirty-five years. Him maybe, but not her.”
“Yes, her,” Kate insisted. “My folks met at an anti-war rally during the Vietnam War. My mom was a freshman in college and my dad was about to be sent overseas so they eloped—”
“I’m sure these fellows aren’t interested in our personal history, Kate,” Clem interrupted. A tall, gray-haired man with a slight pot protruding under his well-tailored jacket, he took his wife and daughter each firmly by an arm and lost no time maneuvering them to the other end of the platform.
“Why do you two always feel the need to strike up a conversation with total strangers?” he asked as soon as they were out of earshot.
“Oh, darling,” Kitty sighed, “they look harmless enough.”
“Sure. They always do, until they knock you over the head,” Clem said. “You haven’t forgotten what happened to Jack, have you?”
“Please, Dad!” Kate said. “Give it a rest. If I have to hear one more time about how Jack faced down those two thugs I swear to goodness—”
“Not just faced them down,” Clem corrected her. “In case you’ve forgotten, young lady, he belted one of them in the jaw and gave the other one a kick in the groin that put him out of circulation for quite a while, I imagine.”
“And got a black eye and a wrenched knee for his pains.”
“But he kept his money.”
“Big deal,” Kate sniffed. “If you ask me, what Jack did was about the stupidest thing I ever heard. Suppose those jerks had a gun—or even a knife. Jack could have ended up dead and a lot of good his precious money would have done him then. Nope, it’s better to just give them what they want. Even the cops will tell you that.”
“You mean just knuckle under?”
“Yep.” Kate nodded. “Seriously, Dad, if anyone should jump you guys—of course they won’t, but just in case—no heroics, hear? Promise me you won’t be brave.”
“But, honey, your daddy couldn’t help being brave,” Kitty said. “It’s in his genes or something. Remember what I told you, how he knocked out all those bunkers in Vietnam and saved his whole platoon—”
“For heaven’s sake, Kitty,” Clem protested. “That was a lifetime ago.”
“I don’t care.” Standing on tiptoes, she bussed him on the cheek. “You’re still my hero.”
“Mine, too, Dad,” Kate said, bussing him on the other side. “Just be careful, huh?”
You too, sweetie, Kitty thought, smiling at her youngest daughter. What a truly lovely looking girl she was. In addition to the tawny-gold hair and legs that seemed to go on forever, Kate had a fineness of bone, a certain purity of expression that never failed to touch Kitty’s heart. She was much too good for that stupid stable she was wasting her time at—Stop it! There’s nothing you can do about it, so forget it. But it was hard keeping quiet, God, was it hard!
Suddenly there was a distraction—a whistle, then the rumble of the train approaching. People began streaming out of the station, lining up to board.
“Now, Kate,” Kitty said, “you won’t forget about picking us up a week from Sunday? We’re taking the train from Montreal, which doesn’t stop here, but gets into New Haven—”
“At 5:20 a.m.,” Kate wrinkled her nose. “Some hour!”
“Ghastly, I know, but we didn’t have a choice if we wanted this particular trip. I just hope it’s not too hard on your dad.”
“Now don’t you worry about me,” Clem said. As the train came to a stop, he put both arms around his daughter and hugged her close. “Good-bye, sweetheart. Thanks for the lift.”
“Anytime, Dad. Have a good trip.”
“Intend to try,” Clem said.
The conductor put down the steps. Clem tossed their overnight bags aboard and started to heft their two large suitcases, then paused. “Christ almighty, what’s in these things? Bricks?”
“Here, let me help,” Kitty said, reaching for a handle. But a stocky young woman, also waiting to board, took both bags and easily hoisted them aboard.
“Why—why, thanks,” Clem said. “Thanks very much.”
Kitty smiled at the young woman. “That was ever so kind of you.”
“Not at all, ma-am,” the young woman said. “Glad to be of service.”
Kitty turned back to Kate. “You see, there’re still some nice people around,” she said in a conspiratorial whisper.
Kate smiled. “Never doubted it, Mom. You have fun now and don’t worry about a thing. When you come back from the cruise, maybe, well I might have a little surprise for you.”
Kitty’s heart gave a leap. “Oh, Kate, does that mean…?”
“Look, I can’t go into it now. I shouldn’t have said anything, but we’ll see. Now get on the train before Dad has a fit.”
Kitty hugged her daughter close for a moment, then dashed up the steps ahead of Clem just as the conductor shouted the “All aboard.” They found seats near the front of the car as the train gave a jerk and started off. Through the window Kitty could see Kate waving and waved back until she was out of sight.
“Well, we made it,” she said. “Finally! Now all we have to do is relax and have a good time.”
“I won’t relax until we get on the ship,” Clem said. “We still have to go through that darn station, don’t forget.”
“Oh, Clem, we’ve been to Penn Station hundreds of times in the past and you never worried about it before.”
“I never thought they’d jump someone like Jack before.”
“Sweetie, that was a one-in-a-million thing. It won’t happen to us.”
“Don’t be too sure. I’d feel a lot better if you’d turn your diamond around.”
Kitty stared at him, puzzled. “Are you serious?”
“Darn right. No use asking for trouble.”
Kitty glanced down at her hand, at the really big diamond he’d given her after “the incident,” as he called it. His guilt offering, she privately thought. This new worry of his seemed ridiculous, but there was no point arguing, so she turned the ring around, hiding the stone, and changed the subject.
“Clem, you know what Kate told me just now? She may be quitting her job at the stable and enrolling in Yale Med after all.”
“She told you that?” He looked skeptical.
Kitty flushed. “Well, not in so many words. But she’s obviously been thinking about what I said, about how foolish it was to work at some fool stable, giving riding lessons to a bunch of kids, rather than pursuing a career with a real future.”
“She’s always loved horses, Kit.”
“I know. But all girls love horses at a certain stage in their lives. It’s just a case of arrested development with her, that’s all.”
“Is it? I wouldn’t be too sure.” Clem’s voice was curiously gentle. “I don’t know what’s caused it, but Kate’s looked happier these last few months than I’ve seen her look in ages. And as much as I’d like her to become a doctor, too, we can’t turn her into another Pritchard if she doesn’t want it.”
“I guess not,” Kitty said. She glanced down at her hands which, all of a sudden, were trembling uncontrollably in her lap. Quickly, she hid them in the folds of her skirt. “But she is Pritchy’s sister,” she added. “She’s got the same blood coursing through her veins and he never caused us a lick of worry.”
Clem lifted an eyebrow. “That’s open to debate, isn’t it? Anyway she’s also Bebe’s sister and you know what we went through with her.”
“You don’t have to remind me.”
“I’m not. Anyway Bebe seems to be turning things around, now that she’s got religion.”
“I almost liked her better before,” Kitty said, then flushed. “Oh, God,” she bit her lip, “I don’t mean that, not really.”
“Don’t see why not,” Clem said. “It’s damned exhausting, being saved all the time.” Reaching out he put an arm around her and drew her close. “Say, did I tell you how spiffy you look this morning, Mrs. J?”
She glanced down at the red knit suit she was wearing, accented with a perky black and white scarf. “What, this old thing?”
“I’ve always liked you in red. Those fellows on the platform back there couldn’t take their eyes off you.”
“The poor things were probably in need of a good meal.”
“Or a drink, most likely. But they still know a beautiful girl when they see one.”
“Kate is the beautiful girl in this family.”
“Kate’s mighty nice—but she doesn’t hold a candle to her ma.”
“You’re crazy, Clem Johanssen.”
“About you.” He drew her close and put his lips against her ear. “You’re more beautiful than the day we got married and I still want you just as much. What other guy can say that about a woman he’s been married to for thirty-five years?”
“Silly,” she said. “I think you’re going through a second childhood.”
She knew what he was doing of course—trying to distract her, keep her from thinking of Pritchard. And she decided to let him. She wasn’t going to let her own unhappiness spoil the trip for Clem. She cuddled closer against him, laid her head on his shoulder—the car was only half-filled—and in this relaxed mood they continued on to the city. With half her mind she listened to the porter calling out the stops: New Haven, Bridgeport, Stamford, Greenwich…, finally a disembodied voice came over the loudspeaker announcing the approach of Penn Station.
The train screeched to a stop and they got off. There wasn’t a Red Cap in sight but fortunately the larger bags were equipped with wheels, so with each of them picking up a strap, and the overnight bags slung over their shoulders, they started down the platform. It was kind of tricky getting the bags up the escalator, but once they’d accomplished that they were okay.
“Are you hungry?” Clem said when they paused in the lobby to catch their breath. “What do you say we have lunch here in the station. How’s that place look?” He gestured at a restaurant on the other side of the lobby.
“Fine,” Kitty said. “Although actually, I’m not too hungry. I wonder if I can get a salad in there.”
“I’d guarantee it,” Clem said.
And he was right. She had a delicious spinach salad and a glass of white wine. Clem ordered a roast beef sandwich and two very dry martinis, although he rarely drank in the middle of the day.
The bill came. It was a bit more than they’d expected and they debated whether to put it on a credit card or pay cash. Clem opted for cash. “I’ve got plenty,” he said. “I went to the bank yesterday and took out a thousand.”
“Really?” Kitty said surprised. “Do we need that much? We’ve got several credit cards if we see anything we want to buy ashore, and practically everything on the ship’s paid for.”
“I know, but I always like to have some extra cash on hand for an emergency. You never know when it’s going to come in handy.”
“I guess,” Kitty said.
So Clem paid the bill and they left the restaurant. There were still no Red Caps to be found, but again they managed to roll the heavy bags across the lobby and up another escalator to the street. When they came outside to 8th Avenue they saw a long line of people under the portico waiting for cabs.
“I hope we don’t have to wait too long,” Kitty said, glancing at her watch. “It’s already after two.”
“The ship doesn’t sail til four, does it?”
“No, but embarkation starts at one-thirty, and we’ve still got to get to the terminal.”
“What terminal’s that?” a soft voice said, close to her ear.
Kitty turned and saw a slender, light-skinned black—little more than a boy really—standing right beside her. She didn’t know where he’d come from, but he was wearing freshly pressed jeans and a polo shirt with a Ralph Lauren logo, and he had the whitest teeth she’d ever seen.
“Where you nice folks heading?” he asked with a smile the angels would have envied.
“The passenger terminal at West 55th Street and 12th Avenue,” Kitty heard herself replying.
“And I bet you’d like a cab, right? Follow me.”
He picked up both their big bags in one swift motion and dashed out into the street. After a second Kitty and Clem grabbed their overnight bags, which had been resting at their feet, and followed. The young man was going so fast they almost had to run to keep up.
“How can he carry both those heavy things?” Kitty asked. “He doesn’t look very strong.”
“Oh, these street kids are tougher than they look,” Clem said. He was panting a little as they raced after the boy. “How much do you think I ought to give him? Five bucks okay?”
“Ten sounds better. You said yourself those bags weigh a ton.” As she spoke she saw another young man approaching up the street. This one was a little older and not as good looking as the boy carrying the bags, but they obviously knew each other.
“Yo Rudy,” the newcomer said, a wide grin creasing his face. He put up a hand and hailed a cab.
The cab slowed down, pulled over to the curb, and stopped. The driver, a small, wiry man with a gold tooth in front, got out when he saw the bags and opened the trunk.
The boys hoisted the bags into the trunk while the driver turned to Kitty. “Where to, Missy?” he asked.
She gave him the address of the terminal. “Do you know where that is?”
“Sure, Missy, no problem. Please to enter?” The little man opened the cab door with a flourish, then hopped back into the driver’s seat.
Kitty paused, her hand on the door frame, waiting for Clem to tip the boys. She watched as he opened his wallet.
“Here, I’ve got something for you fellows,” Clem said as he flipped through the pile of hundreds in his wallet. “I know there’s a ten in here someplace.”
“Don’t worry about it, Pops.” The good-looking one called Rudy reached out, quicker than the eye could fathom, and snatched the entire pile of bills out of Clem’s wallet. “This’ll do just fine, and my friend and I sure want to thank you.”
It took Clem a moment to comprehend what had happened. Then, “Hey!” he yelled. “What do you think you’re doing?”
At which the other young man shoved Clem roughly back against the side of the cab. “We’re relieving you of some of your bread, you stupid motherfucker. We need it worse than you.”
“But, hey,” Rudy said, “no hard feelings, huh?” He gave an exaggerated wink, then the two of them turned and scampered off up the street. In a matter of seconds they’d been swallowed up by the crowd.