"Um, nice try," I say. "But that's impossible. She only got into town today. And you just got out of jail a few hours ago, right?"
"I'm hungry," Jamie says. And no wonder. We're passing West Third Street, and the evening breeze is blowing in just such a way that it picks up the fragrant scent from Joe's Pizza and tosses it in our direction.
"We'll order when we get home," Gavin says. "Unless you want to go out."
"Sweet," Jamie says happily. "I like sausage and mushroom. You?"
"What do you know," Gavin says. "I freaking love sausage and mushroom."
"We met Pam in the chess circle yesterday," Sarah says, as we cross West Third and head toward West Fourth. "At least, I think we did. Someone who looks just like her. Right, Sebastian?"
"Right," Sebastian says. "She asked all about the GSC. And took some of our literature."
"She couldn't have," I say. "That's impossible. She wouldn't have been in New York yesterday morning. She can't have gotten here that fast. She lives in Iowa."
"Illinois," Cooper corrects me.
"Whatever," I say. "She showed up at Fischer Hall this morning with her suitcase."
Sarah looks confused. "Well, then who was that lady yesterday, Sebastian?"
"I don't know." Sebastian shakes his head. "I'm so tired. I can't think straight anymore."
"Poor baby." Sarah reaches out and strokes the fuzz that's beginning to sprout on Sebastian's cheeks. Apparently they don't give you razors in Rikers. "Let's get you to bed. You'll feel better in the morning."
"Can't," Sebastian says weakly. "We've got to get to the rally."
"The GSC can get along without you for one night," Sarah surprises me by saying.
"No," Sebastian says. He sounds immeasurably weary. "It's my responsibility. I've got to go."
"Well," Sarah says resignedly. "Let's change first. We can't go in these clothes."
We've reached the park. The roar from the protest is much louder now. We can see the crowd over by the Washington Square Arch, where a temporary stage has been set up. Someone is on the stage, urging the crowd through a megaphone to chant, "What do we want?"
"When do we want them?"
Dusk has fallen. It's a warm evening, so the usual misfits are out and about-the skateboarders, the bongo players, the runaways with their dogs (why do they always have dogs?), the young couples in love, the drug dealers, the bickering old men in the chess circle.
And the cops, of course. The park is swarming with them, thanks to the union rally.
And there, parked in front of Owen's building, exactly where it had been this afternoon, is the Ryder truck. Only now the doors to the back are closed. Whoever has rented it is getting ready to drive it away.
That's good, because there's no overnight parking this side of the park.
"If I write a guest pass for Sebastian," Sarah is saying to me, "will you sign it, Heather?"
"Sarah," I say, annoyed. I just want to get Cooper home and into bed. I'll have to wake him up every two hours-neither of us is going to get much sleep tonight. But when I think how close I came to losing him entirely, I can't help shuddering. He could have broken his spine in that stairwell. Or worse.
"I know," Sarah says. "I know we're supposed to hand them in twenty-four hours in advance. But how was I supposed to know he'd be out?" Her dark eyes are wide and appealing in the deepening twilight. "Please?"
I sigh. "All right," I say. "Coop, mind if we make a pit stop?"
"Sure," Cooper says. "You go on. I'm going home."
"Coop." This concussion thing hasn't exactly done any wonders for his personality. "I'll just be a minute."
"And I'm a grown man," Cooper points out. "Who can make his own way to his house around the corner from here." Then, seeing my crestfallen expression, he reaches out to ruffle my hair-never a welcome gesture, by the way-and says, "Heather. I'll be fine. I'll see you at home."
The next thing I know, he's limping away.
Sarah peers after him, chewing her lip nervously.
"I'm really sorry," she says, when she turns to see me staring daggers at her. "This is so nice of you. Especially after everything I've done. I know I don't deserve-"
"Just go inside," I interrupt. And follow her into the building.
Fischer Hall has a different rhythm at night than it does during the day. About which I can only say-thank God I work days. Most of the residents are in class or still sleeping when I get in at nine, and the majority of them don't get in-or get up-until I leave at five. When they're home, the way they are now, the lobby is buzzing with activity, teenagers Rollerblading, signing in guests, pounding the elevator keys, complaining about the television reception in the lobby, calling upstairs to their friends, cursing at their mail, shrieking hello to one another… in other words, the place is a zoo. I don't know how the hall directors, whose positions are live-in, stand it. Some of them, like Simon Hague, cope by turning into unctuous weasels.
Others, however, maintain their cool simply by letting it all roll off their backs, like Tom. I've always hoped that I'd be that kind of hall director, if by some miracle I happened to get my bachelor's degree and then my master's and then a director's position (though heaven help me if this should ever occur).
Others turn into Type A bureaucrats like Owen. And I have a feeling that's how I'd turn out. I can feel my blood pressure going up just looking at the scuff marks the wheels of those Rollerblades are making on the marble floors. Julio is going to have a coronary when he comes back to work and sees them in the morning, I just know it.
Then I remember he won't be coming in. Because of the strike.
"Here you go, Sebastian," I say, when I've filled out the guest pass and handed it to him. "Knock yourself out."