The leasing agent leaned against the rear of the elevator and admired the black leather miniskirt from behind. He followed it down almost to the knees, where it ended and the seams in the black silk stockings began and snaked downward to black heels. Kinky heels, with little red bows across the toes. He slowly worked his way back up the seams, past the leather, pausing to admire the roundness of her rear, then upward to the red cashmere sweater, which from his vantage point revealed little but from the other side was quite impressive, as he had noticed in the lobby. The hair landed just below the shoulder blades and contrasted nicely with the red. He knew it was bleached, but add the bleach to the leather mini and the seams and the kinky heels and the tight sweater hugging those things around the front, add all that together and he knew this was a woman he could have. He would like to have her in the building. She just wanted a small office. The rent was negotiable.
The elevator stopped. The door opened, and he followed her into the narrow hall. "This way" - he pointed, flipping on a light switch. In the corner, he moved in front of her and stuck a key in a badly aged wooden door.
"It's just two rooms," he said, nipping on another switch. "About two hundred square feet."
She walked straight to the window. "The view is okay," Tammy said, staring into the distance.
"Yes, a nice view. The carpet is new. Painted last fall. Rest room's down the hall. It's a nice place. The entire building's been renovated within the past eight years." He stared at the black seams as he spoke.
"It's not bad," Tammy said, not in response to anything he had mentioned. She continued to stare out the window. "What's the name of this place?"
"The Cotton Exchange Building. One of the oldest in Memphis. It's really a prestigious address."
"How prestigious is the rent?"
He cleared his throat and held a file before him. He did not look at the file. He was gaping at the heels now. "Well, it's such a small office. What did you say you needed it for?"
"Secretarial work. Free-lance secretarial." She moved to the other window, ignoring him. He followed every move.
"I see. How long will you need it?"
"Six months, with an option for a year."
"Okay, for six months we can lease it for three-fifty a month."
She did not flinch or look from the window. She slid her right foot out of the shoe and rubbed the left calf with it. The seam continued, he observed, under the heel and along the bottom of the foot. The toenails were... red! She cocked her rear to the left and leaned on the windowsill. His file was shaking.
"I'll pay two-fifty a month," she said with authority.
He cleared his throat. There was no sense being greedy. The tiny rooms were dead space, useless to anyone else, and had not been occupied in years. The building could use a free-lance secretary. Hell, he might even need a free-lance secretary.
"Three hundred, but no less. This building is in demand.
Ninety percent occupied right now. Three hundred a month, and that's too low. We're barely covering costs at that."
She turned suddenly, and there they were. Staring at him. The cashmere was stretched tightly around them. "The ad said there were furnished offices available," she said.
"We can furnish this one," he said, eager to cooperate. "What do you need?"
She looked around the office. "I would like a secretarial desk with credenza in here. Several file cabinets. A couple of chairs for clients. Nothing fancy. The other room does not have to be furnished. I'll put a copier in there,"
"No problem," he said with a smile.
"And I'll pay three hundred a month, furnished."
"Good," he said as he opened a file and withdrew a blank lease. He laid it on a folding table and began writing.
"Doris Greenwood." Her mother was Doris Greenwood, and she had been Tammy Inez Greenwood before she ran up on Buster Hemphill, who later became (legally) Elvis Aaron Hemphill, and life had pretty much been downhill since. Her mother lived in Effingham, Illinois.
"Okay, Doris," he said with an effort at suaveness, as if they were now on a first-name basis and growing closer by the moment. "Home address?"
"Why do you need that?" she asked with irritation.
"Well, uh, we just need that information."
"It's none of your business."
"Okay, okay. No problem." He dramatically scratched out that portion of the lease. He hovered above it. "Let's see. We'll run it from today, March 2, for six months until September 2. Is that okay?"
She nodded and lit a cigarette.
He read the next paragraph. "Okay, we require a three-hundred-dollar deposit and the first month's rent in advance."
From a pocket in the tight black leather skirt, she produced a roll of cash. She counted six one-hundred-dollar bills and laid them on the table. "Receipt, please," she demanded.
"Certainly." He continued writing.
"What floor are we on?" she asked, returning to the windows.
"Ninth. There's a ten percent late charge past the fifteenth of the month. We have the right to enter at any reasonable time to inspect. Premises cannot be used for any illegal purpose. You pay all utilities and insurance on contents. You get one parking space in the lot across the street, and here are two keys. Any questions?"
"Yeah. What if I work odd hours? I mean, real late at night."
"No big deal. You can come and go as you please. After dark the security guard at the Front Street door will let you pass."
Tammy stuck the cigarette between her sticky lips and walked to the table. She glanced at the lease, hesitated, then signed the name of Doris Greenwood.
They locked up, and he followed her carefully down the hall to the elevator.
By noon the next day, the odd assortment of furniture had been delivered and Doris Greenwood of Greenwood Services arranged the rented typewriter and the rented phone next to each other on the secretarial desk. Sitting and facing the typewriter, she could look slightly to her left out the window and watch the traffic on Front Street. She filled the desk drawers with typing paper, notepads, pencils, odds and ends. She placed magazines on the filing cabinets and the small table between the two chairs where her clients would sit.
There was a knock at the door. "Who is it?" she asked.
"It's your copier," a voice answered.
She unlocked the door and opened it. A short, hyperactive little man named Gordy rushed in, looked around the room and said rudely, "Okay, where do you want it?"
"In there," Tammy said, pointing to the eight-by-ten empty room with no door on the hinges. Two young men in blue uniforms pushed and pulled the cart holding the copier.
Gordy laid the paperwork on her desk. "It's a mighty big copier for this place. We're taking ninety copies a minute with a collator and automatic feed. It's a big machine."
"Where do I sign?" she asked, ignoring the small talk.
He pointed with the pen. "Six months, at two-forty a month. That includes service and maintenance and five hundred sheets of paper for the first two months. You want legal or letter-sized?"
"First payment due on the tenth, and same thereafter for five months. Operator's manual is on the rack. Call me if you have any questions."
The two servicemen gawked at the tight stonewashed jeans and the red heels and slowly left the office. Gordy ripped off the yellow copy and handed it to her. "Thanks for the business," he said.
She locked the door behind them. She walked to the window next to her desk and looked north, along Front. Two blocks up on the opposite side, floors four and five of the Bendini Building were visible.
* * *
He kept to himself with his nose buried deep in the books and the piles of paperwork. He was too busy for any of them, except Lamar. He was very much aware that his withdrawal was not going unnoticed. So he worked harder. Perhaps they would not be suspicious if he billed twenty hours a day. Perhaps money could insulate him.
Nina left a box of cold pizza when she checked out after lunch. He ate it while he cleared his desk. He called Abby. Said he was going to see Ray and that he would return to Memphis late Sunday. He eased through the side door and into the parking lot.
For three and a half hours, he raced along Interstate 40 with his eyes on the rearview mirror. Nothing. He never saw them. They probably just call ahead, he thought, and wait for him somewhere up there. In Nashville, he made a sudden exit into downtown. Using a map he had scribbled, he darted in and out of traffic, making U-turns wherever possible and in general driving like a nut. To the south of town, he turned quickly into a large apartment complex and cruised between the buildings. It was nice enough. The parking lots were clean and the faces were white. All of them. He parked next to the office and locked the BMW. The pay phone by the covered pool worked. He called a cab and gave an address two blocks away. He ran between the buildings, down a side street, and arrived precisely with the cab. "Greyhound bus station," he said to the driver. "And in a hurry. I've got ten minutes."
"Relax, pal. It's only six blocks away."
Mitch ducked low in the rear seat and watched the traffic. The driver moved with a slow confidence and seven minutes later stopped in front of the station. Mitch threw two fives over the seat and darted into the terminal. He bought a oneway ticket on the four-thirty bus to Atlanta. It was four thirty-one, according to the clock on the wall. The clerk pointed through the swinging doors. "Bus No. 454," she said. "Leaving in a moment."
The driver slammed the baggage door, took his ticket and followed Mitch onto the bus. The first three rows were filled with elderly blacks. A dozen more passengers were scattered toward the rear. Mitch walked slowly down the aisle, gazing at each face and seeing no one. He took a window seat on the fourth row from the rear. He slipped on a pair of sunglasses and glanced behind him. No one. Dammit! Was it the wrong bus? He stared out the dark windows as the bus moved quickly into traffic. They would stop in Knoxville. Maybe his contact would be there.
When they were on the interstate and the driver reached his cruising speed, a man in blue jeans and madras shirt suddenly appeared and slid into the seat next to Mitch. It was Tarrance. Mitch breathed easier.
"Where have you been?" he asked.
"In the rest room. Did you lose them?" Tarrance spoke in a low voice while surveying the backs of the heads of the passengers. No one was listening. No one could hear.
"I never see them, Tarrance. So I cannot say if I lost them. But I think they would have to be supermen to keep my trail this time."
"Did you see our man in the terminal?"
"Yes. By the pay phone with the red Falcons cap. Black dude."
"That's him. He would've signaled if they were following."
"He gave me the go-ahead."
Tarrance wore silver reflective sunglasses under a green Michigan State baseball cap. Mitch could smell the fresh Juicy Fruit.
"Sort of out of uniform, aren't you?" Mitch said with no smile. "Did Voyles give you permission to dress like that?"
"I forgot to ask him. I'll mention it in the morning."
"Sunday morning?" Mitch asked.
"Of course. He'll wanna know all about our little bus ride. I briefed him for an hour before I left town."
"Well, first things first. What about my car?"
"We'll pick it up in a few minutes and babysit it for you. It'll be in Knoxville when you need it. Don't worry."
"You don't think they'll find us?"
"No way. No one followed you out of Memphis, and we detected nothing in Nashville. You're clean as a whistle."
"Pardon my concern. But after that fiasco in the shoe store, I know you boys are not above stupidity."
"It was a mistake, all right. We - "
"A big mistake. One that could get me on the hit list."