The sun had not sat long before Niles walked to his home. The lights of supper meals from the homes on the slope above him glowed warm and inviting. Warmth and loneliness swirled in his thoughts. “One might think living here might be more lonely than New York, but loneliness there is abysmal and treacherous; there are so many ways to remedy it, most not good. Here, you go home, sit alone, turn on the TV, or read a book.”
“What’s the loneliest meal?” Niles thought. “Anything is lonely served on one plate. Eggs, eggs are a lonely man’s meal. Bacon is good. Hashed brown potatoes, lots of butter. Beer, beer is so good with that stuff. Suddenly I’m not lonely anymore. I should write a book on curing loneliness.”
Niles prepared the meal and ate. He washed the dishes and opened another beer. “I can’t remember ever drinking more than one beer a night,” he thought. “Loneliness is driving me to drink.” With a WC Fields voice, Niles said, “It was a woman that drove me to drink and I didn’t have the decency to thank her.”
He sat relaxed on the coach that he moved to face the harbor during the last nor’easter. He smiled, because that was the night he talked nearly the whole night with Annie. “Why don’t I call her? I only call when I need something. She calls when she…” Niles got up at grabbed his phone from the kitchen counter, he punched Annie’s number, and sat on the couch.
“Hello, Chief,” Annie said.
“Hi, Annie,” Niles said.
“What’s up,” Annie said. “legal advice?”
“You know Brewster Harbor has a solicitor on retainer, don’t you?” Niles said.
“So you call just to hear my voice?” Annie said.
“Yes,” Niles said.
“I understand,” Annie said.
“It’s just one of those nights,” Niles said. “
“Troubled?” Annie said.
“That’s part of what I’ve done all my life,” Niles said. “You go along and investigate crimes and every now and then you stop and look at the human factor, emotions or the lack thereof, and you wonder; how did it go this far? Was there a moment where if only a hesitation of thought might have prevented tragedy. It’s amazing how a whole life can be altered in a blink. I used to say why didn’t you just blink twice.”
“Are you close to finding who the murderer is?” Annie said.
“The woman who killed the mayor is somewhere between here and Bora Bora,” Niles said. “That’s sort of out of my hands. If they find her, she will likely stand trial for a few more murders. She poisons those close to her with cyanide. Talk about toxic relationships.”
“Do you mean what ours was?” Annie said.
“No,” Niles said. “we weren’t toxic. It was more like vinegar and oil.”
“It’s sort of funny,” Annie said. “After everything was over, I had these conversations in my head – with you. It was like you were always with me. Even now, the person I talk to in my head is you.”
“Don’t tell that to whats-his-name,” Niles said.
Annie chuckled nervously. “What are you looking at right now?”
“The harbor,” Niles said.
“Tell me about it,” Annie said. “Tell me what you feel.”
“There is nothing more lonely than the night,” Niles said. “When you are with someone, it is only two, nothing else matters or exists. The harbor looks as if it has been swallowed by the sea. Sometimes I think the tide will never come back; the sea has swallowed it forever. It will never allow it to return.”
“But the tide always returns,” Annie said, “that’s hope and faith.”
“I don’t think you really know what I’m talking about,” Niles said.
“I always know what you are talking about,” Annie said. “I have always known. Love will return.”
“How are things with you,” Niles said. “Let me listen.”
“I look for safe places to walk,” Annie said. “Parks should be safe places, but, well, you know.”
“You don’t take walks in the park do you?” Niles said. “Sunday afternoon, that’s all. Sometimes I drive for about 45 minutes to an hour from the city to a small town and get out and walk for a while. You seem to forget there is soil beneath the streets and sidewalks. You hear leaves blowing in the wind and not car horns. Some friends tell me I should buy a place outside the city and spend the weekends there. If I do that, I don’t think I could ever return.”
“Sometimes I think life is meant to be lived slow,” Niles said. “When you take a subway you don’t see anything. A half dozen stops, you sway a little, pretend you’re someplace else, or just think about nothing and before you know it, it’s your stop. I used to think there was more. I walked all the way from the 10th precinct to the house one day, best walk of my life, but boy did my feet hurt that night. I had to walk to the drug store and get some aspirin just to get to sleep.”
“I take my walking shoes with me,” Annie said.
“Do they work?” Niles said.
“No,” Annie said.
“If it’s okay,” Niles said, “the next time I’m in the city instead of me coming to your classroom or office we should just walk.”
They talked onward and at midnight they said goodbye.