Woody slept poorly that night. Ecstatic visions of Maria alternated with premonitions of the horrible tortures that Amerigo Andiamo would subject him to. He had only just drifted off when he was woken up by a tapping at his window.
Could it her? Had he not dreamed the whole thing?
A breath of cold air came in through the window, then he heard the voice. Like the first cold air in autumn.
Those blue eyes appeared out of the darkness.
“Let’s go,” she said.
Woody climbed out of his window to meet her on the street.
There she was. Just as he had remembered her.
They hailed a cab. They talked on the way.
“You ready to get started on the case tonight?” she said.
“Started?” said Woody. “I thought you said explain. I thought you were going to explain things.”
“Yeah, but that’s no fun. I thought we could get right into the action.” There was that eyebrow again.
“Yeah,” she said. “We’re going to go and spy on my husband. There’s a jazz club on 95th in Harlem that he’s at a lot. If we go there tonight maybe we can catch him out.”
“Why do you need to come with me?” said Woody.
“Don’t you worry about that.”
“There’s an alarming amount of stuff that you don’t want me to worry about.”
When they got to the club, the cab driver turned around in the front seat. “You sure you wanna go to this place?” he said. “It’s a pretty seedy joint.”
“Yeah, yeah,” said Maria.
They got out of the cab. Woody had never been to Harlem before. He looked around the street before they went in. Negroes in suits with musical walks greeted each other outside the doorways blaring jazz. On this Friday evening, they seemed more joyful, more full of life than any human beings he’d ever seen.
The club was a place called the Spit Valve. Woody looked over his shoulder as he came in. Would he see Andiamo here?
They sat down at a table.
“So,” said Woody. “You wanna tell me what your husband’s done to make you wanna come to a place like this to spy on him? You know, marriage is generally seen as a positive thing. You know, love, and…”
“Well, I’ve never been in love, so.”
“You were never in love with Phil?”
“No. That wasn’t love.” She eyed him skeptically. “Sex can be so intense that sometimes you think it’s love. But people change.”
“How’d you change?”
“I used to be a normal girl, and now this.”
“Now what? You still look plenty normal to me.”
She rolled her eyes like this was the cheesiest line any guy had ever used on her. She wouldn’t meet his eyes and looked down cynically into her food.
“I’m serious, you’re not so bad. Everyone makes mistakes.”
“You just wanna sleep with me.”
“I don’t see how that changes anything,” Woody said. Lame joke.
“It does. Everyone acts a certain way because they think it’ll make me get in bed with them. They act like I’m an angel.”
“Maybe you are.”
The same eye roll.
“I’m serious,” Woody said. “You’re beautiful, you’re independent. So you’re going through a bad time now. Everybody does at some point in their lives.”
“Maybe. Speaking of bad points, how’d you end up doing paperwork for the police department?”
“Well, I missed a lot of opportunities because of my peanut allergy.”
Woody looked over at the next table, where a large man in an overcoat sat smoking a cigarette. He wore a bowler hat pulled down low over his eyes and the rest of his face was shrouded in smoke. The figure he cut looked familiar to Woody, but he couldn’t place how.
The big band got up on the bandstand and started to play. A crackling intelligence, a sophistication of a kind he’d never known before, seemed to extend through the black skin and the black night through the gleaming horns and back out into the air. It landed in the dancers on the floor—hot and sweaty, shaking and grooving, smelling of humanity.
Woody felt a calm descend over him. His eyes were drawn to Maria’s.
“Would you like to dance?” he said, with more courage than he had ever said a sentence before in his life.
They got up and danced. Her head fell into his shoulder and her hair splayed over his chest. He felt all the fear of the newspaper article and Andiamo melt away. It seemed that it had never been real anyway.
The world of paperwork and phone calls receded further into obscurity. This was a new language. No forms or memos. Just her body against his.
When the song was over, she left him and glided across the room to a group of friends that stood in the corner, off the bandstand.
Suddenly Woody noticed something out of the corner of his eye. The man in the bowler hat stood up from the table quickly. When Woody looked over, he was darting out of the restaurant. Maria noticed too.
“Follow him!” she said.
“Andiamo!” Woody yelled.
“Right, let’s go!” said Maria.
Ignoring this incongruous remark, Woody saw his chance to prove himself to Maria. Borne on by the feeling that had taken him by the soul, Woody followed. The ragged rhythm drew him out the door.
They followed the shadowy figure through dark alleyways… through the steamy New York night. Woody heard jazz in every footstep that he took. His heart and Maria’s heels tapping on the sidewalk were the erratic drums underneath his movements.
At some point, they lost the shadowy character in the night. He could have slipped into a doorway or up a fire escape or into a basement. He was gone.
“Well,” said Maria (panting, flushed, somehow more beautiful than before). “I guess we lost him.”
“Yeah,” Woody agreed.
“Anyway,” she said, looking at him with that strange suggestive look again. “It’s a perfectly good night. We might as well make the most of it.”
To be continued.
Follow Ed at @edjamesking