WHEN ANNIE FELL OFF THE MOUNTAIN
"I need a plumbing adjustment on a washing machine you sold me."
"Down the block, Sonny."
"I mean, 'on something you sold me.'"
"Next one over, Sonny. Hand me those pliers, will ya?"
I pulled a pair of greasy pliers off the wood floor, put it in his hand, and we went outside. He hadn't even looked at us. Annie and Cheryl were rattled and asked to wait on the corner. I found the place, steeled myself, and knocked.
A woman in a red robe with thick eye makeup invited me in. I needed to be welcomed and she sensed it, taking my hand and leading me to a couch where the cushions were overly plump but threadbare. Only when the cushions swallowed me up did I realize I was shaking. She sat close, and looked me over.
"Relax, Hon. Anyone seen you come here?"
"Good. We pay in advance, Hon. What you got in mind?"
"I have cash," I said. "Everything was worked out, I mean the price." This made her smile.
"I can see you ain't no cop," she said. "That's pretty damn obvious."
Given everything going on, I felt flattered.
"Thank you," I said.
"Sylvie takes very good care of her people," she said. "Of everything."
"Where's the doc?"
I immediately regretted it, in case he wasn't a doctor.
She smiled again. She was being very patient.
"Price depends on what you want," she said.
"My girlfriend and her friend are waiting outside."
"Her friend too? We can do special," she said, looking me up and down again. "If special's what you got in mind. You brought like a group?"
"I mean just her."
I knew something strange was happening, but I was too unsettled to figure it out. I clung to the hope that Sylvie was just some weird medical receptionist, in some weird medical office.