After Lantry left, I adjusted the volume on the receiver and stretched out on the bed. There was a lump in my stomach that felt like an unexploded Scud—I didn’t know why it was there, but it was.
I wondered who else was bugging Pen. It could be her suspicious husband, I supposed. He wouldn’t be the first to go to such lengths out of mistrust for his wife. But having met Pen, having enjoyed her company so thoroughly, I just didn’t see it. It could be the FBI—probably was the FBI. They could have found out about Sykora’s extracurricular activities and be in the process of reining him in. Certainly it made more sense. In any case, there was nothing to be done about it but wait and listen. I came off the bed, went to the window, and threw open the drapes, letting sunlight shine into the room through the white lace curtains.
If I was going to hang around all day, I decided, I needed supplies. I switched on the voice-activated recorder, left the room, and walked south to the Central Plaza strip mall. I bought a roll of masking tape and a few munchies in the supermarket—including a bag of Twizzlers strawberry licorice, my favorite—and picked up a six-pack of James Page in the municipal off-sale liquor store on the way back. I also bought two papers.
Mr. Mosley’s murder was still featured in both the St. Paul Pioneer Press and Minneapolis Tribune, although not nearly as prominently as a few days ago. I wasn’t surprised. Unlike in some communities—Los Angeles comes to mind—murder, any murder, was still news here. We don’t have so many that we quickly forget them. A local guy who won the Pulitzer a few years back wrote thrillers set in Minnesota. I read a couple—they’re not bad. But seriously, if there were nearly as many psychopaths here as appeared in his books, we’d be sending our kids to school in armored personnel carriers.
I checked the recorder the moment I returned. Pen had finished her dishes in my absence and left her trailer—the door closing was the last sound on the tape. “Life is in the streets,” she had said.
After placing the beer inside the tiny refrigerator and stacking the rest of my supplies on top of it, I unrolled two six-inch strips of tape and pressed them firmly across the top of both the receiver and recorder. On the tape I wrote PROPERTY OF U.S. TREASURY DEPT.
I wasn’t uncomfortable in the motel room. I spent most of my adult life living on the top floor of a duplex off of West Seventh Street in St. Paul that was owned by a guy I played hockey with. It was small, but it suited me just fine. After I came into my money, I bought my house with the expectation that my father and I would live in it; it was far too big for just me alone. I would have put it up for sale after he died except for the kitchen. I love to cook and often throw elaborate dinner parties just for the opportunity to show off. I suspect that’s one of the reasons I have so many friends, because I feed them regularly.
I grabbed six sticks of licorice and sprawled out on the bed. The motel TV only received a dozen channels, but one of them was ESPN and another was CNN, so I was set. I watched the French Open with the volume off, so the noise wouldn’t interfere with anything I might hear over the receiver. Images of tennis players swatting a fuzzy green ball at each other made perfect sense without commentary. More, actually.
After a few minutes, Pen returned.
There were puttering sounds and then the telephone. The ringing was loud enough to make my fake landscapes shake on the walls, and I rushed to the receiver to reduce the volume.
“Hello,” Pen said.
“Hi, honey, it’s me.”
“It’s me who? My secret lover or my husband who usually calls this time of day to tell me he’s working late?”
“We’re not going to do this again, are we?”
I could hear tension in their voices like the static on AM radio stations during thunderstorms.
“You didn’t keep hours like this in New York.”
“It’s different here.”
“Why is it different here?”
“I can’t tell you.”
“Why can’t you tell me? You could tell me things before.”
“I know …”
“I feel like I’m living a life I know nothing about. Do you understand that? Do you know how painful that is?”
“C’mon, Lucky …”
There was a long pause before Pen said, “That’s something you haven’t called me in a long time.”
“You’ll always be my Lucky Penny.”
“The reason I called was to tell you that I won’t be working late for a change.”
“Okay, now I feel stupid.”
“Don’t, don’t … Let me take you out.”
“I have an idea. Why don’t I make beef Stroganoff?”
“Isn’t that what you made the last time you seduced me?”
“You know me, Steve. When something works, I stick with it.”