The bench was in a park, next to a community college overlooking the highway. On the other side of the highway, Lyle could see the airport runways and parked airplanes, and he knew, instinctively as his inner compass took its bearings, not to mention the still-stray police car that’d roll by, he wasn’t too far from…there. The hotel he’d supposedly been in, the firebombed shell of a whole floor that was now empty and he knew, knew from the one time he’d gone by just to see that it was empty with police cars around, combing through the dirty ash and debris.
Lyle sat on the bench, looking out over the highway and the airport. Hands in his jacket pockets and one foot tapping, he’d given in, entirely at this point, he realized. The anxiety was that constant low-level occasionally-peaking thrum below the natural sounds of the road and the sidewalk and the park and the highway all around him.
He physically manifested, something he realized he hadn’t done in a long time. The nonstop tremor of his leg, the tap-tap-tap-tap-tap-tap of one knee up and down over and over, even as he tried to calm his body, calm his mind. It wasn’t working, and at another time, he’d worry more about it, realizing that since Columbus he’d had a harder and harder time keeping himself straight. The last time it had been this bad had been whe…
Fuck. The older man, African-American, in the clean tan coat, moustache, graying but still erect without that slouch that Lyle had figured out was probably the greatest tell about a man’s strength or resolve or even if he had the strength to run after you or shoot you, hands in his pockets, the well-made but older suit and comfortable but formal shoes.
He was just…there. He’d just appeared.
“My name is Gregories, and I’m your boss. Well, to be honest,” he sat down on the bench, next to Lyle, “I’m your boss’s boss. I wanted to ask you something, have for a while.” Lyle didn’t say anything, he didn’t even turn to face the other man or glance at him at all. “First off, it’s a good thing you went to Pete, had him go through the phone like that. To be honest, you can’t really trust it anymore.” The older man handed Lyle a cell phone, a thinner, slimmer, different-shaped block of black carbon fiber and glass and metal. “Here, use this.”
“Thanks,” Lyle said softly, exchanging it in his pocket, a single smooth motion that had the old one out on his lap, and he absent-mindedly worked on it, pulling the battery and chip out form within, cracking the chip and pushing a paperclip he pulled out of the inside of his pants pocket into the inner slots of the old phone. He wiggled the bit of metal around, scraping as much as he could to wipe and destroy the innards.
Gregories watched him, approvingly. “Smart move.”
“I mean it, you’d be surprised how many men and women I know that wouldn’t think to do that to their throwaways. Anyway, that brings me to the other thing I wanted to ask you.”
Gregories turned on the bench, facing Lyle and looking him square in the eye. “We’ve had an eye on you for quite a while, young man. Professional, adaptable, all the usual bells and whistles. You used to work for the Italian, didn’t you, when you were younger.”
Lyle started. It had been such a long time ago, an almost-forgotten part of life, his first real job remotely anything like what he did now, running envelopes around for the Italian, a genial old man who took pity on a freaked-out teenager who had a panic attack in the bathroom of a restaurant that, the more he’d thought about it, was a front for something, though probably not the mob front that the men in dark suits and earpieces claimed it was a year and a half later, pinning him against a wall in an alley after they emerged from a dark sedan with out-of-state plates and, stupidly on their part, non-tinted windows. Or at least not tinted enough so that a young kid running errands for a small-time information broker could ID their faces when his boss would show him a few pictures, telling a dumb teenager who’d run away from home when the panic attacks were too much that he’d just call the guys so they didn’t bother him anymore.
He’d seen the car on TV a few days later after telling the old man about it, on fire at the entrance to a bridge. He’d left town that day, a full-blown blackout anxiety attack landing him, somehow, a week later in Toronto at a phone booth calling a number in a wallet he’d lifted.
The voice from that phone call was asking him something, now, on the bench near the airport and.
“How would you like your job back?”