In a cab en route from LaGuardia, Lucy called her own land line, and discovered, no surprise, that it had been disconnected without a forwarding number. She had the cabbie drive by the building and stop down the block. She looked up. The lights were on, the shades drawn. Could she see a silhouette moving up there, an evil, black, spider-like shadow against the white shades she’d finally had installed last year? She briefly considered hiking up the stairs and simply knocking, to see what would happen, but she knew what would happen: whoever the sly bitch was in there would not answer the door. She thought of going to Jane’s and climbing up the fire escape and smashing her way in through a window, using an axe and the element of surprise, but somehow the very thought of such combat exhausted her. As did the idea of buying a gun somewhere and shooting out the lock. This was not a viable option. Here she was back in Manhattan and fundamentally nothing made sense. She wanted to go home but someone else lived there, in her loft. Some anonymous person had stolen her home. Why did life in New York always have to be so difficult?
Instead, breathing sighs, she had the cabbie take her and her heap of suitcases and her groggy dog to the East Village, where she paid him an extra fifty dollars to carry her suitcases up to Harold’s floor and put them outside Harold’s door. She waited by the cab in the warm May air of New York, watching her stuff. There were fewer bad guys and more cops now but it was still night time in New York so you had to watch your stuff.
When the cabbie came down she went upstairs, banged on 3C, and collected a key from a guy named Antonio, who turned out to be Antonia, a gorgeous Puerto Rican drag queen who managed to let her know in the space of thirty seconds’ interaction that he loved Harold madly and she was one lucky girl to have him.
“Muchas gracias,” Lucy said, and hiked down the hall and up the grungy stairs to Harold’s place. There she found Claud, still a little woozy but oddly attentive, standing at Harry’s door staring at the knob expectantly. Lucy stuck the key in the lock and after monkeying around a bit, she turned it, and pushed the door open.
Surprisingly, the room felt cosy, and candlelit, and smelled of–Harry! There he stood, in wine-red pajamas, with a frosted bottle of champagne in one hand, and two flutes in the other. He looked utterly ridiculous in the lounging jammies, but at the same time totally sexy. “Harry! Jesus, you’re home!”
“Surprise, baby,” he said. She ran to him, jumped up and wrapped her arms around his neck, and planted a wet kiss on his clean-shaven face. He put the champagne and glasses down and took her in his arms. The door slammed shut. “I finished and came home early, just for you.”
After they made love again in the very early morning Harold came up with a plan, not much of one, but it was a start. Good old-fashioned surveillance. After taking Paco for a dawn romp in Tompkins Square, they dropped him back at Harold’s apartment then speed-walked to SoHo in time to arrive at the Cuban coffee shop on the ground floor of the building caddy-corner to Lucy’s loft at seven a.m., when Ignacio opened. They set up shop at the table by the window, eating toast and slurping down sweet steamy Cuban-style cafe con leche.
They waited and watched as Lucy’s neighbors, one by one and two by two, emerged from the building in their daily routines. By nine everybody from all the floors except Lucy’s had come out and headed off to their jobs; excepting Jane, a painter with a trust fund who worked at home. Jane, who’d made the mistake of letting the woman in, and yet was Lucy’s only real friend in the building. The rest of them were partners in the assorted landlord-driven lawsuits they’d been fighting forever, but none of them were really friends. Only Jane, who finally came down at ten a.m. to get her mail. She stepped out onto the street just as Lascovich, the landlord, pulled up in his late model ruby red Chrysler, parked illegally in front of the fire hydrant, and emerged from his car, wife in tow. The wife went in the entry of the building next door, where Lascovich’s business occupied the second floor. “Damn,” said Lucy, her fourth cup of Café Cubano rattling in her hand. “Landlordovich is back. And all over Janey.” The two of them were head to head, toe to toe, yammering at each other angrily. That went on for two minutes, then Lascovich jumped back in his car and drove off. “He’s just going to park,” Lucy said, dashing out. “I’ve got to talk to Jane.” She stopped on the corner and shouted, “Jane, Janey, hey, over here.” Jane looked up and around, and spotted her. She waved, waited for the light to change, and made her way over.
“Hey Lucy,” she said. “You’re back early.” She looked downcast. “I guess because you’re trying to get back into your place.”
“Yeah,” Lucy said. “How goes it?”
“God, Lucy I am so sorry about what happened. I don’t know what I was thinking. This woman was so convincing.”
“Does Lascovich know she’s up there?”
“Yes. God, it looks bad, Luce. I was just arguing with him about that. He’s apparently given her a lease.”
“A lease? How can he give her a lease? She’s not even–”
“Unfortunately, possession is nine-tenths of the law, as our dear friend Jack Harshman likes to say, Lucy. When he’s talking about the building. And at the moment she’s got possession.”
“Well who the hell is she?” asked Harold from the restaurant doorway. He was hanging back, slightly out of sight.
“God, I wish I knew. Maybe Lascovich planted her in there himself since he knew you were leaving. But I have no idea how she knew what she did about you, Lucy.”
“It is strange, isn’t it?”
“And Lascovich has changed all the entry door locks, and the elevator locks. He had to give us all keys, of course, but you’re not going to be able to get in there with the keys you have. I’m pretty sure the new tenant also changed the locks on your door, because the locksmith was up on your floor for a while after he did the building doors.”
“God damn, I can’t believe this,” Lucy said.
“There’s Lascovich now,” Harry said. Lascovich strutted down Broome Street, scowling at the world. “Maybe you should make yourself scarce, Luce.” She ducked in, followed by Jane.
They sat at the table. “So what’s the plan?” Jane said. “I can get you copies of the new street door keys, but that’s not going to get you into your loft.”
“This woman has been in there, what, almost a week, and you haven’t seen her since the day she moved in?”
“I don’t know what she’s doing up there, Lucy, but I swear to God she has not come out since she went in. Not that I’m always there but I am there most of the time.”
“Listen,” said Harry. “We need to find out who she is. Lascovich doesn’t know me so I’m going to go to him, act like I’m looking for a place to rent, and see if I can find anything out. Here’s what I’m thinking.” He laid out a plan. Jane went off to get keys made. Lucy put on her sunglasses and went out onto Broadway and headed south, looking for a heavy object. Harry crossed the street and went into the building next door to hers, to visit Lascovich in his office. She thought Harold’s plan to be sketchy, since the results, most likely, would be nothing more than a name. But they needed to move fast, for the longer Lucy was out of the loft the more difficult it would be to get back in. Harold seemed to think this would serve as a starting point.
Ten minutes later she waited down the block, across the street, on the sidewalk by the parking lot on the corner of Broadway and Grand. She’d found a fist-sized piece of brick at a construction site down Grand, and now she waited. Her cell phone rang, once. The signal. “Christ,” she muttered, talking to herself. “This is such a bad idea.” She did it anyway. She crossed Broadway on the green light, walked north, and then, when she reached her destination, she simultaneously stumbled and threw the brick as hard as she could at the glass-paneled entry door to the ground floor landing of Lascovich’s office. The panel shattered as Lucy fell very carefully onto the sidewalk so as not to hurt herself. An alarm began blaring loudly, somewhere inside the entryway.
“Are you all right?” a passing guy asked, stopping to help her to her feet. Crowds streamed past, a busy workday morning on Broadway, everybody intent on getting where they needed to go, right now.
“Yes, I’m fine, thanks,” she said. “I guess there was a brick or something. I must have kicked it.” She brushed dirt off her jeans.
“I’ll say,” he said, as people swarmed by, not noticing the mini-drama playing out. “You kicked it right through that door.”
She heard them coming down the stairs. “Wow, that’s something, huh?” she said, extricating herself from his helpful hands and strolling up the sidewalk. “Well, I’ve got to run–” She zipped across the street in a mini-mob of people just as Lascovich emerged onto the sidewalk in a rage, followed by his wife. The man who’d helped her up must have tried to explain, because Lascovich’s eyes darted up the street after her a moment later, but by then she’d crossed Broadway in a knot of moving bodies and slipped back into the coffee shop, where Ignacio poured her another. She tapped on the counter twice, and then raised an eyebrow, and he quickly pulled a bottle of rum out from under the counter and hit her coffee cup with a shot. “Thanks, amigo,” she said, taking a big gulp. “I needed that.”
“No problem, Lucy,” Ignacio said. She’d been drinking his coffee for five years, and every once in a while she needed a bump from the illegal bar under the counter. A liquor license was a pricey thing. He was happy to provide that occasional shot.
Harry came in five minutes later. “Mission accomplished. Good job with the brick, Luce. You totally took out the door.”
“I did feel a certain satisfaction, watching that glass shatter. You get a name?”
“I got some photographs. Break out the laptop and let’s have a look.” While they set up and downloaded he went on: “That Lasko’s really after you and your building mates. And he seems to think he’s got something going. I asked about renting a place in his building and he said there was nothing available but he thought that maybe in the building next door that he also owns he would have something coming up soon. I asked at what rent, he said $3000 a month and up.”
“Jesus, I’m paying–”
“Six hundred. So now you know what the market will bear, Luce.”
“No wonder he’s after us.”
“When the alarm sounded he and his lumpen missus went downstairs so I tore through his desk at high speed, and shot what looked interesting as quickly as I could. I think I got six pictures.”
The first three were useless. The fourth was a commercial lease dated May 10, for five years, for a rent of $2800 a month for the fifth floor premises at 486 Broadway, etc., etc. Lessor Itzak Lascovich, lessee Sandra Green. “Sandra Green?” Lucy said. “The name kinda rings a bell, but–”
“What kind of bell?”
“I don’t know, I guess it’s just a sad coincidence. The woman who died in the surfing contest was also named Sandra.”
“That’s too bad—but it’s really not that uncommon a name, Luce.”
“I know, I know.” She looked at him intently. “So now what, maestro?”
“I say we break the goddamned door down, Lucy.”
“What about using the cops here, Harry? Maybe we should play this one straight.”
“Lucy, do you want to get your loft back? If we do this through legal channels it could take months. Lascovich will be all over it. You’ll be in a much better position if you’re already in, with your documented history of living there.”
“You’re right, Harry. So—what do we do?”
“Call Jane. Tell her we need to get into her place. She owes you on this. We’ll go up the fire escape from there, and I’ll take out a window with a baseball bat if I have to.”
“And what about Sandra Green?”
He gave her a look. “We’ll do what we have to, Lucy.”