Lou, in an old black gypsy cab, trailed Paige's Yellow cab down Race Street. Behind them was the Parkway, ahead lay the red-lettered signs of Chinatown's restaurants. Paige's cab was heading east, away from downtown. Lou slid forward on his seat, his eyes on the Yellow. What kind of girl was this Paige? Eating at the Four Seasons? Takin' cabs everywhere?
Lou shook his head. When he was a kid on Leidy Street, he walked. Rode his bike. Took the trolley, with sparks flying from the wires that hung over the city like black lace. Or the subway-surface cars, with that burnt rubber smell. Forget cabs. He wasn't in a cab until he was twenty-five. It was a very special thing to take a cab. Lou still couldn't hail one without feeling rich.
'She's turnin' onto Race,' the driver said. A young black kid, excited to be following someone. Lou didn't mind it. He liked enthusiasm in people.
'Stay with her,' Lou said, his thoughts on this Paige. What kind of a name was Paige anyway? When did girls start getting named Paige? He understood names like Sally, Mary, Selma. But Paige? Lou's mouth set grimly. How you expect a girl to turn out when you name her Paige?
'She turned right on Twelfth, goin' up,' the cabbie said, gesturing with his hand. A colorful braided string was tied to his wrist. 'You want me to step on it?'
'Nah. Just don't lose 'em.' The cabbie's shoulders drooped, and Lou felt bad raining on his parade. 'You like music?' he asked, just to make conversation as they sat stalled. Construction around the Convention Center clogged the street, the jack-hammers like machine-gun fire.
'I love music,' the cabbie answered.
'What do you like?'
'Everybody likes rap, nowadays.'
'It is? Who's a good rapper?'
'DMX Dr Ore. You know them?'
'I know Dr Dre. Takes care of my prostate,' Lou said, and the cabbie laughed.
Paige's Yellow cab took a right toward The Gallery, and Lou was surprised. She was going shopping? He had her figured more for Neiman Marcus than JCPenney, but the cab stopped on the right, short of The Gallery. He looked around. What else was there? The bus station. What, was she leaving town?
'She's gettin' out,' said the cabbie, edging up in his seat, and Lou's cab slowed to a stop a half a block behind the girl's. The back door of the Yellow cab opened, and Lou quickly fished out a twenty and handed it to the cabbie, who looked at the money in astonishment. 'But the fare's only three bucks.'
'I know that. You gotta buy a record with the difference.'
'A record? You mean a CD?'
'A CD, yes. Buy yourself Stan Getz At the Shrine:' Lou could see Paige moving in the backseat of her cab. She must be paying, too. 'Getz. You got that name?'
'Never heard of him. He new?'
'No, he's old. Very old. Old as me. Promise you'll get that CD.'
'I promise,' the cabbie said, and Lou climbed out of the cab after the girl.
But when Paige got out of the cab she didn't look the same as when she went in. She was wearing a black baseball cap that she must have put on in the cab and her red ponytail swung from an opening in the back of the cap. She slipped on a pair of dark sun-glasses as she
walked. It was a disguise, strictly amateur, but why would she do it? To go shopping? To take a bus? What gives? True, the Newlin murder was all over the Daily News and the Inquirer, but nobody had published the girl's photo yet. The father was the story.
The girl kept walking down the cross street and even in the glasses and baseball cap caught plenty of stares from passersby and construction workers. Lou could see why. She wore a black miniskirt and legs. It was cold out, but you'd never know it from how she was dressed, in a navy pea coat that almost covered the skirt. She took strides so long he had to huff and puff to keep up with her, and the motion of her walk was something else. Even in clunky black shoes, she moved like the sidewalk was a catwalk. Lou didn't mind watching her, then felt guilty about it. She was way too young, and he liked young girls to be ladies, not to do the stuff this kid was doing. At the Four Seasons yet.
She crossed Market Street past The Gallery, and Lou followed her at a safe distance. Where was she going? Nowhere close. And why have the cab drop you so far from where you're going? Lou thought about it. Because you don't want anybody to know where you're going. And considering her disguise, he figured the girl was either paranoid or had something to hide.
They entered the old business district, abandoned now that most of the large companies had fled uptown to the new, glistening skyscrapers… Lou remembered when this part of town hopped, because of the Ben Franklin Hotel, the Old Federal Courthouse, and the busiest, the Post Office. Nowadays everything was e-mail and Chestnut Street was lined with car stereo outlets, credit unions, and Dollar stores. But Lou didn't have time to reminisce. He followed Paige to a sooty sliver of a low-rise and watched her disappear through its stainless steel door. Lou didn't know the building. Its sign was small and he squinted to read it.
Lou halted in his tracks. He felt suddenly like he wasn't allowed to enter, like it was a ladies' bathroom or a bra store. He thrust his hands in the pockets of his corduroys. Wind ruffled his hair as he stood in the cold sun. People hurried past, looking back curiously. Even if he was a man, he could still go inside, couldn't he? It was a free country. He smoothed his hair in place, straightened his tie, and went in.
Paige took an elevator to the fourth floor; Lou knew because he watched the old-fashioned numbers light up to track the single car, and he went up after her. Planned Parenthood's offices turned out to be brightly lit and painted a watercolor lavender, with matching cushioned chairs arranged in two rows in front of a TV mounted in the left corner of the room. The large reception desk was shielded by clear glass, which Lou figured was for security. Pastel pictures of women covered the walls, and women's magazines were fanned out on display on the side wall. On the rug under the display sat a large wicker basket in which Lou would have expected some artificial fruit. Instead were sample packets of Stayfree minipads.
Lou looked away, embarrassed, then spotted the Newlin girl. She had taken off her sunglasses but was still in her cap talking to a young, black receptionist behind the glass shield. By the time he found them, both women were looking at him funny. He guessed it was because of security, and not just because he was an old Jewish guy.
'Can I help you, sir?' the receptionist said, calling across the room, and Paige looked expectant under the brim of a cap that said GUESS. Lou didn't know what the hat meant, unless it was how he felt.
'Uh, no, but thanks,' he answered. 'I'm… meeting someone here.'
'Who?' The receptionist was pretty, with big brown eyes and a sweet smile. Her hair had been marceled into finger waves, which Lou liked. He remembered when women
wore finger waves the first time around. And pleated skirts. He liked them, too, but they were long gone.
'I'm, uh, waiting for my daughter. She asked me to meet her here, and I'm early.'
'Does she have an appointment?'
'No, she was coming in without one.' Lou took a few steps forward, and if he had a hat it would be in his hand. He noticed Paige watching the exchange, her mild impatience betrayed by a pursing of her lips. 'Is that okay?'
'Well, some of our clients are walk-ins, but she'll need an appointment to use our services.'
'Oh, sure. Right. I am in the right place, aren't I? I mean this is the place where you give out birth control, right?'
'We do perform that function, among other services.' The receptionist permitted herself a smile as she gestured to a bank of pamphlets sitting on the counter in plastic holders. YOUR REPRODUCTIVE SYSTEM, BREAST SELF-EXAMINATION, THE FIRST VISIT TO THE GYNECOLOGIST, read some of the titles. 'If you want to learn more about us, read the pink one.'
'Thanks.' Lou picked up the pink pamphlet, which read SERVICES WE PROVIDE. It would be useful and it was less embarrassing than YOUR BREASTS. 'I'll study up.'
'Feel free to take a seat. You can wait for your daughter, and when she gets here I can make an appointment for her.'
'Sure, okay, I knew that. I'll just wait.' Lou nodded and looked around the lavender sea for a seat. The last time he felt this funny was when he went to Rosato's law firm for the first time and all he saw everywhere was women. Now he was used to it; it had only taken him a year: He saw a chair near the reception desk and sat down, straining to overhear what Paige was saying to the receptionist. It sounded to Lou like, 'Isisinwn sjduudun?' He'd had the same problem in the Four Seasons and was thinking it might be time to break down and get a hearing aid.
Paige finished her conversation with the receptionist and
sat down in a chair a few away from his, against the same wall. If she recognized Lou from the Four Seasons, it didn't show. She opened her pea coat, crossed her legs in her black skirt, and picked up a Seventeen magazine. She began to read it, baseball cap bent over the glossy pages, as if she were memorizing it.
Lou's experience on the job told him to take it slow. The girl was here for a very personal reason and part of him felt bad prying into her life. Far as he knew, the girl was the daughter of a murder victim and had been through hell in the past few days. So what if she messed around with her boyfriend in the coatroom? It wasn't his business, and if her emotions were all confused, he could understand that. But why was she here?
He considered it. If she needed birth control pills or had some plumbing problem, she probably had a real gynecologist. One of those classy ones around Pennsylvania Hospital, closer to where Mary said she lived. No reason for a rich girl to come to Planned Parenthood in a half-assed disguise, unless it offered something she couldn't get anywhere else.
Lou had a guess, but he wasn't certain. He opened the pamphlet and read: 'We offer reproductive health care for women and teens. Every FDA-approved birth control method, gynecological exams, walk-in pregnancy testing, testing for sexually transmitted disease, and first trimester abortion.' The girl could get all of the services at a regular doc, without a baseball cap, except one.
Poor kid. She must be in trouble, big-time. Lou glanced over at her to see if she looked pregnant, but he couldn't tell. She looked skinny and gorgeous; maybe she wasn't showing yet. He had two sons, both grown and moved away, and didn't remember much about pregnancy except that anchovy pizza was a definite no. It was a different time then. He wasn't there when his kids were born; the nurse brought them out like UPS.
Lou had to confirm his theory. He got up, crossed the
room, and picked up another pamphlet from the counter. It was white, entitled, WHAT TO EXPECT IF YOU CHOOSE ABORTION. The receptionist was on the phone, and on the way back he smiled at Paige, letting her see the pamphlet. He eased into the chair with an audible groan and opened the bifold. This is amazing, what they do here,' he said, to no daughter in particular.
Paige didn't reply, but continued with her magazine.
'It looks like they really know their stuff.' He turned to Paige. 'You think they do?'
'I don't know.' She looked noncommittal under the GUESS.
'I mean, I'm kinda worried. My daughter, she's thinking she might have to have an abortion.'
'Oh,' Paige said, and her face flushed. Lou was struck by the fairness of her skin.
'I don't mean to get personal, it's just she's my only girl. She has lots of questions. She can't decide, and I don't want her to… to… well, it's not like this is a hospital, you know.' He returned quickly to the pamphlet. 'Well, sorry. I shouldn't have said anything to you.'
Paige returned to her magazine with a quick swivel of her long neck.
Lou pretended to read the pamphlet and let the silence fall. If she had something to say, she'd come to him. He had seen it over and over when he questioned younger witnesses, on the job. Young girls, deep inside, just wanted to please. Sometimes silence proved the best weapon. So he didn't say anything.
Neither did Paige, who read her magazine.
Lou rustled his pamphlet.
Paige studied her magazine.
Lou worried that silence might not be the best weapon.
'She needs a counselor,' Paige said, finally looking over, and Lou nodded.
'A counselor? Not a doctor?'
'No, not doctors. Counselors don't do exams or anything.' Paige's expression had softened and she suddenly looked to Lou like an ordinary teenager, instead of a model. They'll answer all your daughter's questions. They'll help her decide what to do. They'll just talk to her.'
Lou waited, taking it slow. 'They just talk to her?'
'Yeah.' Paige nodded, the cap brim bopping up and down. 'As many times as she wants, and they're really nice.'
'Really nice.' Paige broke into a smile. It seemed to Lou as if she wanted to talk to him, but part of her held back.
'So you think they'll help her decide? I mean, she's kinda confused.'
'Oh, sure, that's their job. I mean, they don't push you one way or the other. They just listen and help you decide.' Paige smiled again, with her eyes, too, this time, and Lou felt how young she was, how vulnerable. She knew too much about this process not to be in the same position herself.
There was a loud intercom beep at the receptionist's phone, and both Lou and Paige looked up at the sound. The receptionist put her phone call on hold, stood up, and picked up a manila folder from the desk. 'Ms Stone,' she said to Paige. 'You can go in now. I'll buzz you in.'
Ms Stone. Lou wasn't surprised at the use of the alias. This girl played it so close to the vest he wondered if anybody else knew she was in trouble. He watched as she squared her shoulders in her man's pea coat and followed the receptionist out of the waiting room. She was so in control for her age it reminded him of the young gangbangers he met on the street. Kids, with no mother and no father to speak of, who raised themselves. They got older but they never really grew up, and they stayed hollow at the core. And this girl, who musta had every advantage, didn't seem any better off.
Lou didn't get up from his chair, even though it was
his chance to slip out of the place. He felt tired suddenly. He didn't know when kids had changed, but they had, in his lifetime. They got to be empty inside; they didn't care about anything. They listened to one-hit wonders, watched movies that weren't funny, and didn't read enough books. They didn't play ball in the street; they collected guns and shot each other. Lou didn't understand how it had happened, but it had, and it happened to Paige Newlin, too. There was something missing at her heart, and Lou worried that there was nothing in the world that could set it right.
It took Lou a few minutes before he could get up from the chair, but get up he did.