The Book Excerpt
The telephone rang and Mary groaned as she pushed herself away from the kitchen table and the cup of tea she’d been nursing. Although she’d taken a hot bath and downed two aspirin before going to bed, she’d had a rough time getting to sleep, and so far had accomplished little since waking. She would swear every muscle in her body ached, and even though her ankle wasn’t swollen, a large black-and-blue area was forming where her shin had hit the tall one’s legs. She also had a bruise on the side of her hand, on her wrist, and part way up her right arm. The long sleeves of her bulky black turtle-neck sweater, along with her orange-colored sweatpants covered most of the discoloration, but the areas were super sensitive to the touch.
And here she’d thought she was staying in shape.
All those hours she’d spent at the gym working out on the weight machines and fast walking—never running—on the treadmill certainly hadn’t prepared her for last night. Or maybe they had. She smiled and slowly limped toward the phone. She might be hurting, but she’d bet those boys hurt even more.
“Pick on an old lady, will you,” she muttered as she lifted the receiver.
“What?” a high-pitched, quavering voice ask on the other end of the line. “That you, Mary?”
“It’s me, Ella,” Mary answered and eased herself onto the stool she kept near the telephone.
Ella Williams lived two doors down and across the street from Mary, and a call from her always turned into a long ordeal, which was why Mary kept the stool by the phone. Today she was glad she did.
“Did you hear what happened last night?” Ella said, slightly breathless.
“No…” Mary’s stomach tightened. “What happened?”
“A couple of kids got beat up on Archer Street. Beat up bad, they say.”
“How bad?” Mary asked, hoping she hadn’t delivered any fatal blows or inflicted damage the boys couldn’t recover from.
“Bad enough to put them in the hospital.”
“They’re in the hospital?”
“Were.” Ella paused and yelled. “Cleopatra, get off the counter.”
Mary flinched as Ella’s voice pierced her ear. Ella yelling at her cats, of which she had way too many, was a common occurrence during their telephone conversations. Best to wait, Mary had learned, until Ella took care of whatever problem the cats were causing, otherwise she’d be talking to dead air.
“Now, where was I?” Ella finally said when she came back on the line.
“You said the boys were in the hospital. They’re now out? They’re okay?”
“I guess. Nancy’s the one who told me about the incident. I stopped at the hospital for my flu shot, and she asked if I’d heard what happened.”
Nancy had been one of the nurses who had helped during Harry’s last days. She was a sweet woman, very caring, and she and her husband lived in the neighborhood, on the next block over. “Did Nancy say who attacked the boys?” Mary asked, afraid that was the reason Ella was calling. If Ella knew she’d been involved, the whole world would soon know.
“She said they kept changing their stories. First they said a woman attacked them, then they said it was a ninja, a guy all dressed in black.”
“A ninja?” Mary laughed and glanced toward the front door, where she’d hung her black windbreaker on one of the hooks.
“It’s not funny,” Ella snapped. “This neighborhood’s not what it used to be. Nancy said these guys were gang members, that she was scared just being near them. If they’re on Archer Street, how much longer before they’re on our street? I won’t even drive through that area anymore. It’s just blacks and Mexicans.”
“Ella, your prejudices are showing.”
“I don’t care. Things were better when you and I first moved here. People took care of their places, kept up their yards. You could go for a walk at night and not worry about gangs. I’m afraid to even turn on my light tonight for trick-or-treat. Did you see on the television there was another gang shooting in the trailer park across the river?”
“I saw.” She’d been watching television all morning, waiting to see if there was anything about the boys or if anyone had recognized her. One reporter on the six-thirty news said there’d been a gang fight on Archer Street, and anyone with information should call the police, but that was it. From seven o’clock on it was all about the gang shooting in the trailer park.
No mention of her, and she certainly wasn’t going to call the police and tell them anything.
“Aren’t you afraid?” Ella asked.
“Afraid?” Mary repeated and thought about the word. For years she’d been afraid someone would recognize her, but time had eased that fear. And growing up she’d lived with fear, but somehow she’d survived. Now that she was in her seventies, she didn’t even fear death. Not that she wanted to die, but with Harry gone, the idea didn’t seem as terrifying. “Afraid of what?”
“Being mugged,” Ella said. “I mean, if it could happen to two teenagers, it could happen to us. Who knows who’s going to be on the streets tonight. I hope mothers are wise enough to go trick-or-treating with their children.”
“I just hope I have enough candy.”
“Speaking of children,” Ella went on, “I see your car isn’t in your driveway. So did Robby drive you home last night?”
Mary avoided a direct answer by telling the truth. “He’s sure his mom is getting too old to take care of herself.”
“Well, he’s got a point,” Ella agreed. “I tell you, it’s not safe for someone our age to be out after dark. Not safe at all.”