A Conversation with Alice

At the end of the weekend, both Gary and Alice had to get on with their lives. They did finally touch base, Sunday evening, when Gary stopped by her building and mustered the courage to ring. There might have been a bug anywhere from the porch to Alice’s door jam, if not throughout the apartment, but at least there was a better chance of privacy in person than through an electronic means. Alice, much to Gary’s surprise and relief, didn’t sound surprised or angered. “Oh, hello, Gary, please come up,” she said. Gary entertained all sorts of thoughts of normalcy as he came up to her door. He knocked upon finding the door closed.

It opened, and he found Reggie at the door. “Gary Corinth,” Reggie said with a certain gusto and hand thrust out, “Gary. Corinth.” He repeated the name something like you might pronounce a chronic illness that has just been diagnosed. “Good to see you,” he said, shaking Gary’s hand. “Please, come in.”

Gary had no doubt that a giant O had formed itself on his mouth, and his only satisfaction was knowing that Reggie had no way to know how out of place that expression was. Let him think I’m just a lamehead…

He followed the sweep of Reggie’s hand and went into the apartment.

He could sense — or, more accurately, anticipate — the eyes bearing into his neck, just at the point where a well-aimed blow could most easily and completely disable the opponent. He also knew that Reggie’s silence was another signal, this time to Alice. She was sitting on the living room couch with Andrew, whom she was cradling in her arm. She didn’t bother to get up. Gary looked hard at her to see if he could recognize fear or some other emotion that the current situation had conjured up. The thing he feared most was indifference. He wasn’t sure what he saw, but it wasn’t passion.

Gary said, “Hi, Alice. I hope it’s all right I came by. I thought it best to talk in person.”

Alice: “Thanks for coming.”

Reggie, coming around to sit down on the couch, waited a moment and then put his arm around her. “By all means, thanks for coming by.”

Gary sat, forward as if just for a moment, on the chair across from the couch.

There was a moment of silence, both awkward and also a moment of negotiation. Who would take the lead in the conversation and, by extension, in the conspiracy?

“I don’t know how freely we can talk,” Gary said, looking around the room.

Reggie misunderstood and took his arm from around Alice and moved forward. But he didn’t say anything. His eyes were busy sizing up this new variable.

“I was worried,” said Alice, “that if I told them that you had the monitor, they would think that you had something to do with the interference.”

With that, she laid out ground rules: not too much familiarity, only oblique references to the point of this discussion. There was also, on her part, a natural disinclination to implicate another individual, a trait that came from a number of different wellsprings. One, for instance, was the sympathy and similarity with her ex-husband, who — by his oath, and she had no reason to doubt it — was serving his sentence because he had refused to name the individual who owned the drugs he was holding. Not that he did not consume or sell drugs himself. But in this case he could say he was left holding the bag, literally and figuratively. They might well have believed him, if only he had named a name, ideally the name of someone they were looking for anyway. But he didn’t talk, and he was convicted of drug trafficking — another smalltime hood off the streets. He joked about it when Andrew and Alice came to visit.

Gary wasn’t sure that he was clever enough to play this game and still get his points across. Any code was likely to be interpreted, if they were being observed by an informed party. And he didn’t like exposing this link between him and Alice to Valerio, with the danger that Alice could be removed from the equation, leaving him and Reggie staring across the too short distance between couch and chair at each other. And him the guest.

“I appreciate the caution,” he said. “I don’t like the idea of Washington bureaucrats sniffing around my house — even if there is nothing to hide.”

“Why don’t you drop the monitor off sometime when you’re in the neighborhood again.”

“Okay, I will,” he said, heartened.

“Did you find out anything else about why the monitor blew up? That would help explain the interference, wouldn’t it.”

Gary swallowed like a witness under cross-examination, although he appreciated that they were taking the risk together. Then: “I think so. There was a surge, a power surge it looks like, and the monitor just couldn’t handle it. I brought a power meter by this building the other day to try to see if I could figure why that was happening.”

“Really?” she said with surprise, suddenly thinking, perhaps, that this game of charades was not understood by her conversant. Gary found his eyes wandering to Andrew, looking perplexed, as if the obvious point — glowing image, folks! — had been forgotten by these untethered adults.

“Yeah, sure, in fact, I think I measured the problem. I mean, the other day I came by and someone let me into the hallway. I took a measure there. I would like to show you what the power did to my meter. You may be interested because the problem could get very serious, very quickly.”

“Should we let Mr. Brandenburger know?” she asked.

Now it was Gary’s turn to wonder if they were still communicating obliquely or not at all, and he hesitated. But he was pleased to see that Reggie’s eyes were glazing.

“I don’t know. You may want some strong evidence to point to. I don’t think I’m ready to make any claims yet. But you should know what is going on.”

“Can you tell me what it is?” she asked. Reggie looked suspiciously at Gary.

Gary said, speaking to a nameless point between them, “I’d rather show you. Maybe Reggie could take a look and give his assessment.”

Alice didn’t seem to like this assertion, but instead of going around it, she responded: “Do you think that’s necessary?”

Gary nodded with a certain self-consciousness — the endless earnestness was foreign to him, he suddenly realized. Or maybe it was her question, predicated on his integrity in dealing with Reggie.

Alice looked at him, maybe trying to see if there was a niggling worm of deception in his eyes, but more likely working through scenarios. Those bright eyes in such rich, earthen tones made Gary pause.

“All right,” she said. “Should we come to your house?”

“I’ve got some friends looking at it. They live closer. Why don’t I give you a call when they’re ready and we’ll get together at their place.” He thought this would seem more acceptable to Alice, but she was taken aback by the sudden mention of these nameless friends. Gary realized the problem too late. “Or why don’t I just bring it by. That’s really the best thing.”

“All right,” said Alice after a moment, with the effusive voice and attitude of someone at the end of a meeting. It had only been a couple minutes, but Gary would not try to willfully ignore the announcement that it was time to leave.