There was more like that, and listening to the conversation, I felt a shudder of excitement that I hadn’t expected. There was something thrilling about eavesdropping on other people’s lives, and in that instant I understood the popularity of reality TV. I also felt a certain revulsion. Clearly I was no gentleman.
After hanging up the phone, Pen made a list that she read out loud. “Sirloin, mushrooms, onions, garlic, sour cream, white wine, tomato paste. Do I have beef broth? Yes, I have beef broth.” A moment later the trailer door opened and closed. I presumed she went to the nearby grocery store for ingredients.
I settled in, wondering what I would have for dinner.
Steve Sykora and his wife went to bed less than five minutes after Sykora returned home. I admit to a certain jealousy. And anger. I held Sykora partially responsible for the murder of Mr. Mosley and the rape of Susan Tillman—the bastard didn’t deserve to be loved by Penelope Glass. But that’s not why I switched off the receiver. I did it because I still believed I was a good guy, and there are certain things a good guy doesn’t do. Spying on people’s most intimate moments was one of them.
I wondered if the party or parties unknown who also were listening had switched off their receiver, too.
Victor, the elderly manager of the Hilltop Motel, was spraying water on the asphalt driveway with a hose when I left the room. I gave him a little wave and wandered north. The traffic on Central Avenue never stopped, never seemed to increase or decrease in volume. It remained constant, like a river polluted by exhaust, noise, and lights. I followed it until I found a Mediterranean restaurant that looked authentic. Unfortunately, the food had a North American taste to it, gyros, shawarma, and kabobs for a midwestern clientele, as bland as the suburbs. Still, it was a pleasant evening, and after dinner I went for a walk.
I walked for ten minutes with an odd feeling that something was wrong. I walked for another ten minutes before I realized what it was. I had no place to go and no one to talk to when I got there. Jake Greene didn’t have any friends, at least none I was aware of. Rushmore McKenzie had plenty, and although he spent much of his time alone— for he had always been content in his own company—he was aware that they were out there and usually happy to hear from him. But Jake was worse than alone. He was lonely. And I wondered, did someone love him? Did he love them in return? Did he wish he could go home? Of course. But he had a job to do, so instead of returning to Rapid City, South Dakota, he walked back to the Hilltop Motel.
They were eating when I returned. The talk was small. Spring in Minnesota versus spring in New York. Was Sykora treating Pen’s beloved Matilda with the proper respect and consideration? Songwriters Glass and Heyward were still waiting to hear about some tunes the Indigo Girls had shown interest in.
The phone rang, and again I was forced to reduce the volume on the receiver.
Pen said, “Don’t answer it.”
“I wish,” said Sykora. “Yes?”
A voice said, “Goddammit, you said you were going to take care of McKenzie.”
I leapt for the tape machine and pressed the record button. The spools on the cassette began spinning a half beat later.
“Just a minute.” Sykora muffled the phone. “I need to take this in private.”
“Big surprise,” Pen said. “I’ll be in the bedroom. Let me know when you can trust me enough to come out.”
There was movement followed by the slamming of a door.
“What did I tell you about calling here?”
“Did you want me to call you at the Federal Building?”
“What do you want, Frank?”
“Fuckin’ McKenzie. He found my boys.”
“The boys you sent to harass my wife? Those boys?”
“I told you I didn’t have nothing to do with that.”
“Yeah, and you had nothing to do with raping that woman, either.”
“You know what happened. I sent ‘em over there to scare ’er, to slap ’er around a bit, get ’er old man off my case. They just got excited.”
“Did they get excited when you killed the old man, too?”
“How many times I gotta say it? I didn’t do the fuckin’ darky. He was gone when I got there.”
“If I’m lyin’, I’m dyin’.”
“Fuck you, Frank.”
“Watch your mouth.”
“How many times I need to say it? This isn’t goddamn Brooklyn. This isn’t Jersey. This is Minnesota. There’s no culture of violence here. You can’t hurt innocent people and expect everyone to forget about it in a few days, or when the next act of violence occurs. The cops just arrested a guy for killing a coworker eleven years ago who accused him of sexual harassment. Eleven years, Frank. Eleven years they kept after this guy. I tried to explain that to you when you broke the prostitute’s hand.”
“I made some mistakes, okay? I was wrong. When I’m wrong I say I’m wrong, okay? But that don’t address the problem with my boys.”