Match Me if You Can(2)

By: Susan Elizabeth Phillips

More drool and another putrid snort. This was hopeless. She jumped up and dashed toward the house.

Ten minutes later, she managed to lure him out with an open can of beer. Not her best moment.

By the time she’d maneuvered Sherman from the alley to the street, she had only twenty-one minutes left to navigate the traffic into the Loop and find a place to park. Dirt streaked her legs, her shirt was crumpled, and she’d broken a fingernail when she’d opened the beer can. The extra five pounds that had accumulated on her small-boned frame since Nana’s death no longer seemed like such a big problem.

10: 39.

She couldn’t risk the construction gridlock on the Kennedy Expressway, so she cut over to Division. In the rearview mirror, another curl sprang free of her hair spray, and perspiration glistened on her forehead. She detoured down Halsted to avoid more road repair. As she maneuvered Sherman’s tanklike bulk through the traffic, she scrubbed at her dirty legs with the damp paper towel she’d snatched up in the kitchen. Why couldn’t Nana have driven a nice little Honda Civic instead of this bilious green gas-guzzling monster? At five feet three inches, Annabelle had to sit on a cushion to see over the steering wheel. Nana hadn’t bothered with a cushion, but then she’d hardly ever driven. After a dozen years of use, Sherman’s speedometer didn’t quite register thirty-nine thousand miles.

A cab cut her off. She laid on the horn, and a trickle of perspiration slid between her breasts. She glanced at her watch. 10:50. She tried to remember if she’d put on deodorant after her shower. Of course she had. She always put on deodorant. She lifted her arm to make sure, but just as she took a sniff, she hit a pothole and her mouth bumped against the buttercup yellow lapel, leaving behind a smudge of tawny lipstick.

She gave a cry of dismay and reached across the vast front seat for her purse, only to have it slip off the edge and tumble into the Grand Canyon below. The light at Halsted and Chicago turned red. Her hair was sticking to the back of her neck, and more curls were springing up. She tried to do her yoga breathing, but she’d only been to one class, and it wasn’t effective. Why, when Annabelle’s economic future was at stake, had Mouse picked this day to pass out under her car?

She crawled into the Loop. 10:59. More of Chicago’s permanent road construction. She passed the Daley Center. She didn’t have time to follow her customary practice of cruising the streets until she found a metered parking space large enough to accommodate Sherman’s bulk. Instead she wheeled into the first exorbitantly expensive parking garage she could find, threw Sherman’s keys at the attendant, and took off at a trot.

11:05. No need to panic. She’d simply explain about Mouse. Surely the Python would understand.

Or not.

A blast of air-conditioning hit her as she entered the lobby of the high-rise office building. 11:08. The elevator was blessedly empty, and she punched the button for the fourteenth floor.

“Don’t let him intimidate you,” Molly had told her over the phone. “The Python feeds on fear.”

Easy for Molly to say. Molly was sitting at home with a hottie football player husband, a great career of her own, and two adorable children.

The doors crept shut. Annabelle caught sight of herself in the mirrored wall and gave a hiss of dismay. Her raw silk suit had turned into a limp mass of buttercup wrinkles, dirt smudged the side of the skirt, and the lipstick smear on the lapel stood out like a light-up Christmas pin. Worst of all, her hair was uncoiling from the Aqua Net curl by curl, with the hair spray weighing it down just enough so that the escaping locks hung lank around her face like bedsprings that had been tossed from a tenement window and left in an alley to rust.

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