The delivery was for 14121 Jackson. No one ever answered the doorbell, though he heard footfalls, murmurings.
He left three notes before returning the package to the warehouse. Normally Meyer placed the necessary calls (remember, we lose money every time somebody's not home); this time Mac waited until Meyer wouldn't be in the office and called himself, curious. A cheery female voice answered "YWCA," and advised him business hours were over before hanging up.
Mac calculated from the map in his mind and figured out that was directly across the street from the given address. A wrong number on the form? On the next run he stopped there first.
Jackson was a four lane street, in this area besotted with funeral homes and insurance offices and convenience groceries of a sixties-era construction style. The Y office building was once a home, ornate. It had columns along the front porch and a brass plaque by the door Mac intended to read at a later time.
Inside the lobby his steps echoed through the foyer, which was open to the second floor. People moved about, eyeing him quickly, then on with the place-to-place details of their work. No one stopped; as he advanced to explain his mission they would disappear. "Scuse me." "Just a moment please."
Finally an official looking black woman with a friendly smile came down the carpeted steps of the curved stairway. Mac explained himself at length, holding up the brown-wrapped shoebox-sized package. She seemed concerned at the mention of the address; he pointed through the glass windows at the blue two-story house across the street. The woman could not accept responsibility for claiming it. Edgy. She would have to get a "Miz Gish," indicating a restricted region upstairs. "But she iz on the phone right now. Could you please have a seat?"
"Can't you sign it?"--Mac worried about the time and Meyer getting on to him about being too polite. "I had better get her for you. It'll be a minute, honey." Honey. Mac liked that. She went up the stairs. He wandered around the lobby. A receptionist's desk in a small office to the side was unoccupied. He read the mimeographed comic strips taped to filing cabinets, laughing at the faces, if not quite the punch lines. There was a coffee can on the desk requesting donations. He bent to read the handwritten label. Battered Women's Shelter.
Mrs. Gish came down, clearly irritated. She was old and widehipped. "Now why can't--" She snatched the package from Mac and squinted at the printed address. "Oh." The black woman angled behind her, as if to hide from the package. Mrs. Gish looked once quickly out across the street and then back to Mac. "Oh. I will sign for you, sir." She reached unsurely.
Aha. Mac held back, waving the package a little.
"That building there," indicating across the street, "that, that must be where the women who get beat up by their husbands go to, isn't it." The elder woman watched him, dismayed, then glared at the black woman as if all this were somehow her fault. The black woman darted off up the stairs, shaking her head. "Mmm-mmm."
"That information is not public knowledge, sir. Can I take the package from you, puh-leaze." Mac beamed. He had watched Kelly's TV report, the onscreen glass-prisms they use to mask the faces of victims. The location was kept secret to prevent reprisals. Mrs. Gish's eyes skittered. She was supremely agitated, some entire war lost.
Mac thought: secret knowledge. "It's okay. I'm cool." But not for long.
At supper (Sybil's spoon-stirred peanut butter and apple jelly sandwiches) Mac was surprised and a little gratified at the joy this news seemed to give Cooper.
"You shittin' me. You have got to be shittin' me. So that's the place?" Sybil rattled spoons loudly in the sink.
Later Cooper took Mac out to the Siesta, a college bar on the verge of falling into DeSiard bayou. Mac found himself treated, as if it was his birthday. Then, after an hour of steady pitchers, Cooper drove to the location.
"It's supposed to be secret," Mac said, worried. He would not want the widehipped woman to come after him.
"Relax. This is just a little fun. Nobody hurt." Cooper sniggered. He sounded like a cartoon groundhog with a rented van full of explosives and pulled into the darkened driveway.
Producing a pistol from the glove compartment, he leaped out. He ordered Mac to scoot over to the driver's side and turn the pickup around so that it pointed directly into Jackson street. Mac did. Cooper waited until the truck was ready, then ran to the barred front door and rang the bell.
He began to scream "Bitch! Hey bitch! I know you're in there. Let me in!" Cooper shook the bars, cackling, grinning back toward Mac. The sound of pandemonium inside on the wooden floors. A child peered backlit through pink curtains and was jerked away. "Daddy! Daddy!"
Cooper leaped off the porch and ran to the side and banged on the barred windows. Lights went on and off in the rooms. He yelled more imprecations. "I'm going to shoot your ass! You get out of there right now! We're going home, babe!" He fired the pistol in the air. Heartrending screams. In the distance, a siren.
Cooper sprinted to the truck where Mac had the motor running. "Let's get out of here!" Mac was shaking; Cooper cackled hysterically, oblivious to his silent distress. Mac drove quickly, but controlled. The cruiser passed them at Grammont.
Mac did not wave. "That's Broun," he whispered, as if he might be heard. Tears of mirth drained into Cooper's moustache. Mac took the long way around, 6th and Park to the bypass, ostensibly evasive.
Back at the Siesta, Cooper began on the drafts again, all laughed out, pensive. "You know, I bet we could get money for that information," he said, quite soberly.