Puggy had held down his job at the Jolly Jackal Bar and Grill, which did not have a grill, for almost three weeks. For Puggy, this was a personal employment record. In fact, after a career as a semiprofessional vagrant, he was seriously thinking about settling in Miami, putting down roots, maybe even finding an indoor place to sleep. Although he really liked his tree.
Puggy liked everything about Miami. He liked that it was warm. He liked that most of the police seemed tolerant of people like himpeople who, merely by existing, tended to violate laws that solid citizens never even thought about, like how long you were allowed to sit in a certain place without buying something. The attitude of most of the police down here seemed to be, hey, you can sit all you want; we're just glad you're not shooting.
Puggy also liked the way, in Miami, you were always hearing people talking Spanish. This made Puggy feel like he was living in a foreign country, which was his one ambition, although the only time he had ever actually been abroad was four years before, when, after a long and confusing weekend that began in Buffalo, he was briefly detained on the Canadian side of Niagara Falls for urinating in the Ripley's Believe It or Not Museum.
The funny thing was, Puggy had not been trying to get to Miami in particular. He had left a homeless shelter in Cleveland and started hitchhiking in the general direction of south, looking for a warm place to stay the winter; the trucker who picked him up happened to be heading for the Port of Miami, rightdowntown.
As good fortune had it, Puggy arrived on election day. He'd been on the street for less than an hour when a white van pulled up next to him. The driver, an older man, said something in Spanish and showed him a ten-dollar bill. Puggy, assuming the man wanted a blow job, said "Not interested." The man immediately switched to English and explained that all Puggy had to do, for the ten, was vote.
"I'm not from here," said Puggy.
"No problem," said the man.
So Puggy got into the van. En route to the polling place, the older man picked up seven other voters, all men, some quite aromatic. At the polling place, they all walked right inside and the man told them what to do. The poll workers did not seem to have any problem with this.
When it was Puggy's turn to vote, he gave his name, per instructions, as Albert Green, which he spelled "Allbert Gren." The real Albert Green was a person who had died in 1991 but still voted often in Miami. Puggy cast Mr. Green's ballot for a mayoral candidate named Carlos somebody, then went outside and collected his ten, which looked like a million dollars in his hand.
Puggy had never voted for anything before, but on that magical day, riding around in the white van, he voted in the Miami mayoral election four times at four different polling places. He got ten dollars each for the first three times, but the fourth time, the van man said the price was now five, and Puggy said OK. He felt he had already gotten a lot from the city of Miami, and he didn't mind giving something back.
Puggy cast his last ballot in a part of Miami called Coconut Grove; this is where the van man left him. There were palm trees and water and sailboats gently waggling their masts back and forth against a bright blue sky. Puggy thought it was the most beautiful place he had ever seen. He was feeling good. He was warm, and he had thirty-five dollars cash, the most money he'd ever had at one time in his life. He decided to spend it on beer.
He scouted around for a good spot, quickly rejecting the tourist bars in the central Grove, where a beer could cost five dollars, which Puggy thought was way high, even for a guy who was pulling down ten dollars a vote. And so, after wandering to the seedier outskirts of Coconut Grove, Puggy found himself walking into the Jolly Jackal Bar and Grill.
The Jolly Jackal was not upscale. It would have needed thousands of dollars' worth of renovation just to ascend to the level of "dive." It had a neon sign in the window, but part of it wasn't working, so it just said "ACKAL." When you walked in the front door, you could see straight back through the gloom to the toilet, which had lost its door some years back when a patron, frustrated in his efforts to operate the doorknob, smashed his way in with a fire extinguisher. The bar was dark and rancid with stale beer. The TV was tuned to motorcycle racing. There were names scrawled on the walls, and crude drawings of genitalia. Puggy felt right at home.
He sat at the bar, which was empty except for a bearded man at the far end, talking to the bartender in a language that wasn't English, but it didn't sound to Puggy like Spanish, either. The bartender, a thick man with a thick face, looked at Puggy, but didn't come over.
"I'll take a Budweiser," Puggy said.
"You have money?" the bartender said.
Puggy was not offended. He knew he looked like he didn't have money. Usually, he didn't have money.
"I got money," he said, and he put all of it, three tens and a five, on the bar. The bartender, saying nothing, uncapped a longneck and set it in front of Puggy. He took Puggy's five and replaced it with three dollars and two quarters. Then he went back to the bearded man and said something foreign, and they both laughed.
Puggy didn't care. He was figuring out, at a buck fifty a beer, how many beers he could buy. He couldn't pin down a definite number, but he knew it was going to be a lot. More than ten. He might even get some Slim Jims, if they had them here.
Puggy was on his fourth beer when a couple of guys came in, one called Snake, whose T-shirt said "Gators," and one called Eddie, whose T-shirt said "You Don't Know Dick." They both wore cutoff jeans and flip-flops, but their feet were black with dirt, so it almost looked like they were wearing socks.
Snake and Eddie referred to themselves as fishermen, although they did not fish. They did live on a boat; it had been abandoned by its legal owner because it had no engine and would sink if it were moved. Snake's and Eddie's actual source of income was standing in front of vacant parking spaces in Coconut Grove, and then, when a tourist car came along, directing the driver into the space, making arm motions as though this were a tricky maneuver that had to be done just right, like landing the space shuttle. Then Snake and Eddie would stand close by, waiting for a tip, which usually the tourists gave them, especially if it was dark.
Puggy figured that Snake and Eddie must have been to the Jolly Jackal before, because as soon as they walked in, the bartender was coming toward them, pointing back at the door, saying "Out! I tell you once before! Out!"
"No, no, man, no," said Eddie, holding his hands up in front of his chest, making peace. "Look, we just wanna couple drinks. We got money." He was digging into his cutoff shorts, pulling out some quarters, some dimes and pennies, putting them on the bar.
The bartender looked at the money, saying nothing.
"OK?" said Eddie, settling at the bar to Puggy's right, one stool away. "OK," he said again, because he could see the bartender was going to let them slide. Snake sat on the stool to Eddie's right. Eddie pointed at the cluster of coins, said, "We'll take whatever much this'll get us."
The bartender, still saying nothing, counted the money, sliding the coins off the bar one by one into his hand. He put out two glasses and filled them with clear liquid from a bottle that had no label, then walked back to the bearded man.
"Asshole," remarked Eddie, to Snake.
Puggy, as soon as he determined that the situation was not going to require him to duck, went back to watching the TV, which was now showing pickup trucks racing. Puggy had never thought of that as a sport, but his policy with TV was, if it was on, he'd watch it.
It was maybe twenty minutes later that he decided to take a leak. He started to pick up his money, and he realized that some of it was gone. He wasn't sure how much exactly, but he was definitely short at least a ten.
Puggy looked to his right. Eddie and Snake were both looking at the TV, looking interested, like it was showing naked women, instead of pickup trucks.
"Hey," said Puggy.
Eddie and Snake kept staring at the screen.
"Hey," repeated Puggy.
Snake kept staring at the screen. Eddie turned his head to look at Puggy, a hard look.
"You got a problem, chief?" he said.
"Gimme it back," said Puggy.
"What?" said Eddie, screwing up his face, trying to make an expression like he had no idea what Puggy meant, but overdoing it.
"I said gimme it back," said Puggy
"What the fuck're you talking about?" said Eddie. Now Snake was looking, too, both of them starting to turn toward Puggy on their stools.
Puggy knew, from experience, that this was one of those situations where he could get hit. He knew he should give it up. He knew that, but, shit, ten dollars.
"I said," he said, "gimme ..."
Eddie's punch didn't hurt so much, because he was still a whole stool away, and the punch caught Puggy on the shoulder. But when Puggy fell over backward to the floor, that did hurt. Then Snake was coming around from behind Eddie, stomping with the heel of his flip-flopped foot, trying to get Puggy in the face. Puggy curled up and pressed his face in where the bar met the floor, not planning to fight, just trying to ride it out. The floor smelled like puke.
Snake was making his fourth attempt to stomp Puggy's face when there was a ringing "bong" sound and Snake went down. This was because the bartender had hit him in the head from behind with an aluminum softball bat. The bartender had never played baseball, but he had a nice, efficient swing. He preferred the aluminum bat because the wood ones tended to break.
With Snake down, the bartender turned to Eddie, who was backing toward the door, hands up in front of him, the peacemaker again.
"Listen," Eddie said. "This ain't your problem."
"YOU are problem," said the bartender, taking a step forward. You could tell he expected Eddie to run, but Eddie didn't. This is because Eddie could see that Snakewho could take a bat to the head better than mostwas getting to his feet behind the bartender, picking up one of Puggy's longneck beer bottles. The bartender didn't see this, but Puggy saw it, and for no good reason he could think of, even later, he rolled over and kicked out hard, his left foot catching Snake's right leg just above the ankle. The ankle made a cracking noise, and Snake, saying "unh," went down again, dropping the bottle. The bartender spun back around, saw Snake on the floor, spun back to see Eddie going out the door, then spun back to Snake again. Leaning over, holding the bat like a shovel, he gave Snake a hard poke in the ribs.
"Out!" he said.
"He broke my ankle!" said Snake.
"I break your head," said the bartender. He gripped the end of the bat, cocked it for a swing, waited.
"OK OK OK," said Snake. Using a stool for support and keeping an eye on the bartender, he pulled himself up, then hobbled to the door. When he got there, he turned and pointed at Puggy, still lying under the bar.
"When I see you," Snake said, "you're dead." Then he pushed open the door and hobbled outside. Puggy noticed that it was dark.
The bartender watched Snake leave, then turned to Puggy.
"Out," he said.
"Look, mister," said Puggy, "I ..."
"Out," said the bartender, gripping the bat.
Puggy got to his feet, noticing, as he did, that he had peed his pants. He looked on the bar. His voting money was gone, all of it. Eddie must have grabbed it while Snake was trying to stomp him.
"Oh, man," said Puggy.
"Out," said the bartender.
Puggy was starting toward the door when, from the other end of the bar, the bearded man, who had watched the fight, not moving from his stool, said, in English, "You can stay."
The bartender looked at the bearded man, then shrugged and relaxed his grip on the bat.
Puggy said, "I got no money. They took all my money."
The bearded man said, "Is OK. No charge."
Puggy said, "OK."
He was drinking his second free beer, feeling better again about how the day was going, except for peeing his pants, when the door opened. He flinched, thinking it might be Snake come back to kill him, but it was a guy in a suit, carrying a briefcase. The suit went to the far end of the bar and started talking foreign with the other two men. Then the bearded man called down to Puggy.
"You want to make five dollars?"
"Sure," said Puggy. This was some town, Miami.
It turned out that the job was moving a wooden crate out of the trunk of a Mercedes parked outside. The crate was very heavy, but the bearded man and the man in the suit did not help. Puggy and the bartender, breathing hard, lugged the crate inside, past the bar, past the toilet, down a hallway to a room that the bearded man unlocked, which took a while because there were three locks. The room was bigger than Puggy thought it would be, and there were other crates inside, different sizes. They set the crate down and went back out. The bearded man locked the door and gave Puggy a five-dollar bill.
"You are strong," he said.
"I guess," said Puggy. It was true, although a lot of people didn't see it because he was also short.
"Come back tomorrow," said the bearded man. "Maybe I have another job for you."
That was how Puggy began his employment at the Jolly Jackal. Usually he came to work in the late afternoon and stayed until Leo (that was the bartender's name) or John (that was the bearded man's name) told him to go home. Some days they didn't need him to do anything, but they let him stay anyway. When they did need him to work, it was always moving heavy cratessometimes from the Mercedes to the room; sometimes from the room to the Mercedes. Each time, when it was done, John gave him a five. One time, Puggy asked what was in the crates. John just said, "Equipment."
Mainly, Puggy watched TV and drank beer, which Leo almost never charged him for. It was like a dream. If Puggy had known jobs were like this, he would have tried to get one a long time ago.
At night, when they told him to leave, he went back to his tree. He had found the tree on his third night in Coconut Grove. He'd spent the first two nights in a park near the water, but some kind of nasty ants were biting him, plus, on the second night, from a distance, he'd seen Eddie and Snake go past, heading toward the dinghy dock. Snake was limping.
So Puggy went looking for another place. He discovered that, if you walked just a short way in Coconut Grove, you could be in a whole different kind of neighborhood, a rich people's neighborhood, with big houses that had walls around them and driveway gates that opened by a motor. There were strange trees everywhere, big, complicated trees with roots going every which way and vines all over them and branches that hung way out over the street. Puggy thought it looked like a jungle.
He found a perfect tree to live in. It was just inside a rich person's wall, but across a big, densely vegetated yard from the house, so it was private. Puggy got into the tree by climbing the wall; he was a natural climber, even after many beers. About twenty feet up in the tree, where three massive limbs branched off from the trunk, there was a rickety, mossy wooden platform, a kids' treehouse from years before. Puggy fixed it up with some cardboard on the platform and a piece of plastic, from a construction site, that he could drape over the top when it rained. Sometimes he heard people talking in the house, but whoever they were, they never came back to this end of the yard.
Late at night, there was always music coming from one end of the house. It was some kind of music with a flute, soft, coming through the jungle to Puggy. He liked to lie there and listen to it. He was very happy the way things were going, both with his career and with his tree. It was the most secure, most structured, least turbulent existence he had ever known. It lasted for almost three weeks.
"I LOOK AT this ad," the Big Fat Stupid Client From Hell was saying, "and it doesn't say to me, `Hammerhead Beer.'"
Eliot Arnold, of Eliot Arnold Advertising and Public Relations (which consisted entirely of Eliot Arnold), nodded thoughtfully, as though he thought the Client From Hell was making a valid point. In fact, Eliot was thinking it was a good thing that he was one of the maybe fifteen people in Miami who did not carry a loaded firearm, because he would definitely shoot the Client From Hell in his fat, glistening forehead.
At times like theseand there were many times like theseEliot wondered if maybe he'd been a bit hasty, quitting the newspaper. Especially the way he'd done it, putting his foot through the managing editor's computer. He'd definitely burned a bridge there.
Eliot had spent twenty-one years in the newspaper business. His plan, coming out of college, had been to fight for Justice by using his English-major skills to root out and expose corruption. He got a job at a small daily newspaper, where he wrote obituaries and covered municipal meetings in which local elected officials and engineering consultants droned on for hours over what diameter pipe they needed for the new sewer line. Eliot, listening to this, slumped over a spiral reporter's notebook covered with doodles, figured there was probably some corruption going on there somewhere, but he had no idea how even to begin looking for it.
By the time he'd moved up to the big-time city newspaper, he'd given up on trying to root things out and settled into the comfortable niche of writing features, which it turned out he was good at. For years he wrote about pretty much whatever he wanted. Mostly he wrote what the higher honchos in the newsroom referred to, often condescendingly, as "offbeat" stories. They preferred issues stories, which were dense wads of facts, written by committees, running in five or six parts under some title that usually had the word "crisis" in it, like "Families in Crisis," "Crisis in Our Schools," "The Coming Water Crisis," et cetera. These series, which were heavily promoted and often won journalism contests, were commonly referred to in the newsroom as "megaturds." But the honchos loved them. Advocacy journalism, it was called. It was the hot trend in the newspaper business. Making a difference! Connecting with the readers!
Eliot thought that the readership of most of these series consisted almost entirely of contest judges. But more and more, he found himself getting ordered to work on megaturds, leaving less and less time for him to work on stories he thought somebody might actually want to read.
The end came on the day when he was summoned to the office of the managing editor, Ken Deeber, who was seven years younger than Eliot. Eliot remembered when Deeber was a general-assignment reporter, just out of Princeton. He was articulate and personable, and he could be absolutely relied on to get at least one important fact wrong in every story, no matter how short. But Deeber did not write many stories; he was too busy networking. He rose through the ranks like a Polaris missile, becoming the youngest managing editor in the paper's history. He was big on issues stories. That's why he summoned Eliot to his office.
"How's it going, Eliot?" Deeber had said, staring things off. "Everything OK with you?"
"Well," said Eliot, "I'm kind of ..."
"The reason I ask," said Deeber, who was not the least bit interested in whether or not everything was OK with Eliot, "is that John Croton tells me you haven't turned in a thing on the day-care project."
The day-care project was the current megaturd. It was going to explain to the readers, in five parts with fourteen color charts, that there was a crisis in day care.
"Listen, Ken," said Eliot, "There are already five people working on the ..."
"Eliot," said Deeber, the way a parent talks to a naughty child, "you were given an assignment."
Eliot's assignment was to write a sidebar about the Haitian community's perspective on the day-care crisis. Deeber believed that every story had to have the perspective of every ethnic group. When he went through the newspaper, he didn't actually read the stories; he counted ethnic groups. He was always sending out memos like: While the story on the increase in alligator attacks on golfers was timely and informative, I think more of an effort could have been made to include the Hispanic viewpoint. The main reason why Deeber's car ignition had never been wired to a bomb is that reporters have poor do-it-yourself skills.
"I know I had an assignment," said Eliot. "But I've been working on this story about ..."
"The pelican story?" sneered Deeber. Eliot thought Princeton must have a course in sneering, because Deeber was good at it.
"Ken," said Eliot, "it's an incredible story, and nobody else has it. There's this guy, this old Cuban guy in Key West, and he trains pelicans to ..."
"Drop bombs," sneered Deeber. "It's the most dumb-ass thing I ever heard."
"Ken," said Eliot. "This guy is amazing. He actually tried to use a trained pelican to kill Castro. Something went wrong, maybe the bomb malfunctioned, maybe the pelican got confused, but the thing apparently blew up outside a hotel in downtown Havana, sprayed pelican parts all over a bunch of French tourists, and the Cuban government claimed that it was some kind of atmospheric ..."
"Eliot," said Ken, "I don't think we're serving our readers with that kind of story."
"But it's true," said Eliot. He wanted to grab Deeber by his neck. "It's a great story. The guy talked to me, and he ..."
"Eliot," said Deeber, "Do you realize how important day care is to our readers? Do you realize how many of our readers have children in day care?"
There was a pause.
"Ken," said Eliot, "do you realize how many of our readers have assholes?"
Deeber said, "I see no need to ..."
"All of them!" shouted Eliot. "They all have assholes!"
Quite a few people in the newsroom heard that through the glass wall to Deeber's office. Heads were turning.
"Ken," said Deeber, "I'm ordering you right now to ..."
"Let's do a series on it!" shouted Eliot. "RECTUMS IN CRISIS!" The entire newsroom heard that.
Deeber, aware that people were watching, put on his sternest expression.
"Eliot," he said. "You work for me. You do what I tell you. I gave you an assignment. If you want to keep working at this newspaper, that assignment will be done, and it will be in here"he pointed to his computer"before you go home tonight."
"Fine!" said Eliot. He stood up and crossed around to Deeber's side of the desk, which caused Deeber to scoot his chair backward into his credenza, knocking over several journalism contest awards.
Eliot said: "How about I put it in there RIGHT NOW?"
Then he put his left foot through Deeber's computer screen. His foot got sort of stuck in there, so when he yanked it back out, Deeber's whole computer crashed to the floor. In the newsroom, there was a brief but hearty outbreak of applause.
Except for the time a drunk loading-dock employee drove a new $43,000 forklift into Biscayne Bay, nobody had ever been fired from the newspaper faster than Eliot. His coworkers expressed their sympathy and support; in fact, Eliot became a minor cult hero among reporters all over the country. But it was pretty clear he wasn't going to get another job in journalism, especially not in Miami, where he wanted to stay so he could be near his son, Matt, who lived with Eliot's ex-wife.
And so Eliot became Eliot Arnold Advertising and Public Relations, working out of a small office in Coconut Grove. At the beginning, he spent most of his time going around begging people to become his clients. But after a couple of years of hard work, he'd reached the point where he spent most of his time going around begging for his clients to pay the money they owed him. Either that, or he was listening to clients tell him why his work was not acceptable. This is what the Client From Hell was doing.
The Client From Hell's latest brainstorm was Hammerhead Beer, which tasted so awful that the first and only time Eliot put some in his mouth, he spat it out on his desk. Eliot thought Hammerhead Beer was an even worse idea than the Client From Hell's previous project, a theme park for senior citizens called Denture Adventure.
But the Client From Hell actually paid his bills some of the time, so Eliot had developed an advertising concept for the beer. The Client From Hell was looking at it, and offering his usual thoughtful brand of criticism.
"This sucks," he said.
"Well, Bruce," said Eliot, "I tried to ..."
"Listen," said the Client From Hell, who did not believe in letting other people finish their sentences as long as he had any kind of thought whatsoever floating around in his brain. "You know what my business philosophy is?"
I surely do, thought Eliot. Your business philosophy is to take money from your extremely wealthy father and piss it away on moronic ideas.
"No, Bruce," he said, "what is your ..."
"My business philosophy," said the Client From Hell, "is that there's a lot of people in the world."
To illustrate this point, the Client From Hell gestured toward the world. Several moments passed, during which Eliot waited hopefully for amplification.
"Well," Eliot said, finally, "that's certainly ..."
"And," continued the Client From Hell, who had been waiting for Eliot to speak so he could interrupt him, "all those people WANT something. You know what they want?"
"No," said Eliot. His plan was to go with short sentences.
"They want to feel good," said the Client From Hell.
More moments passed.
"Ah," said Eliot.
"Do you know what I mean?" said the Client From Hell. He stared at Eliot.
"Well," said Eliot, "I ..."
"NO YOU DON'T KNOW WHAT I MEAN!" shouted the Client From Hell, feeling better now that he was bullying a person who needed his money, which was his absolute favorite thing about being rich. "Because I gave you the perfect concept for Hammerhead Beer. The perfect concept! Which is not this piece of shit here." He made a brushing-away gesture, the kind you make at flying insects, in the direction of Eliot's concept, which Eliot had stayed up late working on. It was a board on which Eliot had mounted a close-up photograph of a hammerhead shark, its mouth gaping between its two impossibly far-apart, alien eyeballs. Underneath the photograph, in large, black type, were these words:
"What the hell is this?" the Client From Hell demanded. "Why are you saying ugly here?"
"Well," said Eliot, "I'm contrasting, in a kind of humorous ..."
"Listen," said the Client From Hell, whose idea of humor washe had this on video, and watched it oftenJoe Theisman getting the bottom half of his leg almost snapped off. "I don't want to see ugly. That is not the feeling I want. I gave you the concept already! I gave you the perfect concept!"
"Bruce, I talked to a lawyer about your concept, and he says we could get into real trouble with ..."
"`GET HAMMERED WITH HAMMERHEAD!'" shouted the Client From Hell, pounding a pudgy Rolexed fist on Eliot's desk. "That's the concept!"
He stood up and spread his fat arms apart, to help Eliot visualize it. "You have a guy in a boat with a girl, she's in a bikini, she has big tits, they're on a boat, and they're getting hammered! With Hammerhead! The feeling of this ad is, somebody's gonna get laid! In the background swimming around is a shark! The girl has REALLY big tits! It's PERFECT! I give you this perfect concept, and you give me ugly! Listen, if you think I'm paying for this shit, forget it, because I'm not paying for ugly. I can get ugly for free."
You already are ugly, Eliot thought. What he said was: "OK, let me try to ..."
"Don't tell me try. Don't try. I hate the word try. Try is for losers," said the Client From Hell, who got his entire philosophy of life from Nike commercials. "Lemme tell you something." He was tapping his finger on Eliot's desk (his fingernails were fat). "You are not the only ad agency in this town."
I am the only ad agency in this town who is so far behind on his alimony that he will tolerate a moron of your magnitude, thought Eliot.
"OK, Bruce," he said.
"I wanna see it TOMORROW," said the Client From Hell.
I could get a gun by tomorrow, thought Eliot. With those hollow-point bullets.
"OK, Bruce," he said.
The phone rang. Eliot picked it up.
"Eliot Arnold," he said.
"I need to borrow your car tonight," said Matt, who was Eliot's son and seventeen years old, which meant that he was usually too busy to say hello.
"Hello, Nigel!" said Eliot. "How're things in London? Can you hold for a moment?"
"Nigel?" said Matt.
"Bruce," Eliot said to the Client From Hell, "I need to take this call from a client in London about ..."
"I wanna see it tomorrow, and it better be right," said the Client From Hell, banging open Eliot's door, walking out, not closing the door. From the hallfrom right outside the next-door office of the certified public accountant who complained whenever Eliot played his stereohe shouted: "AND SHE BETTER HAVE BIG TITS!"
"Thanks for coming by, Bruce!" Eliot called to the empty doorway. "I think we're almost there!" To the phone he said: "Matt?"
"Who better have big tits?" asked Matt.
"Nobody," said Eliot.
"Who's Nigel?" asked Matt.
"Nobody," said Eliot. "I made Nigel up so my client wouldn't think I was interrupting a meeting for personal business."
"Was that the beer moron?"
"Whyn't you just dump him?" asked Matt.
"Matt," Eliot said, "do you have any idea where money comes ..."
"So," said Matt, who was not about to waste valuable non-school time listening to a lecture he'd already heard, "can I borrow your car tonight?"
"What for?" asked Eliot.
"Me and Andrew have to kill a girl," said Matt.
"OK," said Eliot, "but I want the car back at my apartment by ten-thirty, and I want you to promise to drive ..."
"OK thanks Dad," said Matt, hanging up, a busy man.
"... carefully," said Eliot, into the silent phone.
WHEN SHE FINISHED cleaning up after dinner, Nina went back to her roomit was called the "maid's quarters," but it was just a little room with a tiny bathroomand locked the door. She'd started locking it about three months earlier, when Mr. Herk had walked in on her. Nina was getting undressed, down to her bra and panties. Mr. Herk had not knocked; he'd just opened the door and come in.
He was holding a glass of red wine. Nina snatched her robe from the bed and held it in front of herself.
"It's OK, Nina," he said. "I just wondered if you'd like a little wine. You work so hard."
Nina knew he didn't care how hard she worked. She knew what he wanted, because of the way he looked at her sometimes, especially when he was drinking. He liked to come into the kitchen when she was there alone and stand a little too close to her, not saying anything, just looking at her.
Holding the robe close to herself, she said, "No, thank you, Mr. Herk. I am very tired."
He closed the door behind him and moved toward her. "You just need to relax," he said. He put his hand on her bare shoulder and let it slide toward her breast. His hand was wet with sweat.
Nina ducked from his hand and stepped backward, toward the bathroom.
"Mr. Herk," she said, "I don't think Mrs. Anna will like to know you are here."