Page 24 of Wheels



In a few words Adam explained his sister's request and what he had agreed to do.


He found Erica looking at him incredulously. "When will you do it?"

"Oh, I don't know. I'll find time."

"But when? I want to know when."

With a trace of irritation, Adam said, "If you decide to do something, you can always make the time."

"You don't make time." Erica's voice had an intensity which had been lacking earlier. "You take the time from something or somebody else. Won't it mean a lot of visits to that dealer? Questioning people. Finding out about the business. I know how you do everything - always the same way, thoroughly. So it will involve a lot of time. Well, won't it?"

He conceded, "I suppose so."

"Will it be in office time? In the daytime, during the week?"

"Probably not."

"So that leaves evenings and weekends. Car dealers are open then, aren't they?"

Adam said curtly, "They don't open Sundays." "Well, hooray for that!"

Erica hadn't intended to be this way tonight. She had wanted to be patient, understanding, loving, but suddenly bitterness swept over her.

She flared on, knowing she would do better to stop, but unable to, "Perhaps this dealer would open on Sunday if you asked him nicely, if you explained that you still have a little time left to spend at home with your wife, and you'd like to do something about it, like filling it with work."

"Listen," Adam said, "this won't be work, and I wouldn't do it if I had the choice. It's simply for Teresa."

"How about something simply for Erica? Or would that be too much?

Wait! why not use your vacation time as well, then you could . . ."

"You're being silly," Adam said. He had taken the papers from his briefcase and spread them around him in a semicircle. Like a witch's circle on the grass, Erica thought, to be penetrated only by the anointed, the bewitched. Even voices entering the magic circle became distorted, misunderstood, with words and meanings twisted . . .

Adam was right. She was being silly. And now whimsical.

She went behind him, still conscious of the semicircle, skirting its perimeter the way children playing games avoided lines in paving stones.

Erica put her hands lightly on Adam's shoulders, her face against his.

He reached up, touching one of her hands.

"I couldn't turn sis down." Adam's voice was conciliatory. "How could I? If things had been the other way around, Clyde would have done as much, or more, for you."

Abruptly, unexpectedly, she realized, their moods had switched. She thought: There is a way into a witch's circle. Perhaps the trick was not to expect to find it, then suddenly you did.

"I know," Erica said. "And I'm grateful it isn't the other way around."

She had a sense of reprieve from her own stupidity only seconds earlier, an awareness of having stumbled without warning into a moment of intimacy and tenderness. She went on softly, "It's just that sometimes I want things between you and me to be the way they were in the beginning. I really do see so little of you." She scratched lightly, with her fingernails, around his ears, something she used to do but hadn't for a long time. "I still love you." And was tempted to add, but didn't: Please, oh please, make love to me tonight!

"I haven't changed either," Adam said. "No reason to. And I know what you mean about the time we have. Maybe after the Orion's launched there'll be more of it." But the last remark lacked conviction. As both of them already knew, after Orion would be Farstar, which would probably prove more demanding still. Involuntarily, Adam's eyes strayed back to the papers spread out before him.

Erica told herself: Don't rush! Don't push too hard! She said, "While you're doing that, I think I'll go for a walk. I feel like it."

"Do you want me to come with you?"

She shook her head. "You'd better finish." If he left the work now, she knew he would either return to it late tonight or get up ridiculously early in the morning.

Adam looked relieved.

***

Outside the house, Erica pulled tightly around her the suede jacket she had slipped on, and stepped out briskly. She had a scarf wound around her hair. The air was chilly, though the wind which had buffeted the Motor City through the day had dropped. Erica liked to walk at night. She used to in the Bahamas, and still did here, though friends and neighbors sometimes cautioned that she shouldn't because crime in Detroit had risen alarmingly in recent years, and now even suburban Birmingham and Bloomfield Hills once considered almost crime-free had muggings and armed robberies.

But Erica preferred to take her chances and her walks.

Though the night was dark, with stars and moon obscured by clouds, enough light came from the houses of Quarton Lake for Erica to see her way clearly. As she passed the houses, sometimes observing figures inside, she wondered about those other families in their own environments, their hangups, misunderstandings, conflicts, problems.

Obviously, all had some, and the difference between most was only in degree. More to the point, she wondered: How fared the marriages inside those other walls, compared with Adam's and her own?

A majority of the neighbors were automotive people among whom the shedding of spouses nowadays seemed routine. American tax laws eased the way, and many a highly paid executive had discovered he could have his freedom by paying large alimony which cost him almost nothing. The alimony came off the top of his salary, so that he merely paid it to his ex-wife instead of to the government as income tax. A few people in the industry had even done it twice.

But it was always the foundered marriages which made the news. Plenty of the other kind existed - lasting love stories which had weathered well.

Erica thought of names she had learned since coming to Detroit: Riccardos, Gerstenbergs, Knudsens, Jacoccas, Roches, Brambletts, others.

There had been outstanding second marriages, too: the Henry Fords, Ed Coles, Roy Chapins, Bill Mitchells, Pete and Connie Estes, the John DeLoreans. As always, it depended on the individuals.

Erica walked for half an hour. On her way back, a soft rain began to fall. She held her face toward the rain until it was wet and streaming, yet somehow comforting.

She went in without disturbing Adam who was still in the living room, immersed in papers. Upstairs, Erica dried her face, combed out her hair, then undressed and put on the nightgown she had bought earlier today. Surveying herself critically, she was aware that the sheer beige nylon did even more for her than she had expected in the store. She used the orange lipstick, then applied Norell generously.

From the living-room doorway she asked Adam, "Will you be long?"

He glanced up, then down again at a bluebound folder in his hand.

"Maybe half an hour."

Adam had not appeared to notice the seethrough nightgown which could not compete, apparently, with the folder, lettered, Statistical Projection of Automobile and Truck Registration by States. Hoping that the perfume might prove more effective, Erica came behind his chair as she had earlier, but all that happened was a perfunctory kiss with a muttered, "Good night, don't wait for me." She might as well, she thought, have been drenched in camphorated oil.

She went to bed, and lay with top sheet and blanket turned back, her sexual desire growing as she waited. If she closed her eyes, she could imagine Adam poised above her . . .

Erica opened her eyes. A bedside clock showed that not half an hour, but almost two hours, had passed. It was 1 A.M.

Soon after, she heard Adam climb the stairs.

He came in, yawning, with a, "God, I'm tired," then undressed sleepily, climbed into bed, and was almost instantly asleep.

Erica lay silently beside him, sleep for herself far away. After a while she imagined that she was once more walking, out of doors, the softness of the rain upon her face.

Chapter 9

The day after Adam and Erica Trenton failed to bridge the growing gap between them, after Brett DeLosanto renewed his faith in the Orion yet pondered his artistic destiny, after Barbara Zaleski viewed frustrations through the benthos of martinis, and after Matt Zaleski, her plant-boss father, survived another pressure-cooker work day, a minor event occurred in the inner city of Detroit, unconnected with any of those five, yet whose effect, over months ahead, would involve and motivate them all.

Time: 8:30 p.m. Place: Downtown, Third Avenue near Brainard. An empty police cruiser parked beside the curb.

"Get your black ass against the wall," the white cop commanded. Holding a flashlight in one hand, a gun in the other, he ran the flashlight's beam down and up Rollie Knight, who blinked as the light reached his eyes and stayed there.

"Now turn around. Hands above your head. Move! You goddamn jailbird."

As Rollie Knight turned, the white cop told his Negro partner, "Frisk the bastard."

The young, shabbily dressed black man whom the policeman had stopped, had been ambling aimlessly on Third when the cruiser pulled alongside and its occupants jumped out, guns drawn. Now he protested, "Wadd' I do?", then giggled as the second policeman's hands moved up his legs, then around his body. "Hey man, oh man, that tickles!"

"Shaddup!" the white cop said. He was an old-timer on the force, with hard eyes and a big belly, the last from years of riding in patrol cars.

He had survived this beat a long time and never relaxed while on it.

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