Nadel called my cell phone just as I got home from school, asking if I could make a pickup. Mom was sleeping. She wouldn’t need her car until she left for work, after dinner. I took her car keys and drove her Jeep over to Nadel’s House of Clocks.
Nadel was in the workshop behind the showroom. He had thick, magnifying glasses strapped to his mostly bald head and was bent over a vise, filing a groove into a steel rod the size of a pencil. The shop smelled like iron filings and machine oil.
“That you, Seth?”
“Hey, Mr. Nadel. What’re you working on?”
“An old Waltham wall clock. Eight-day regulator. Not worth the price of the repair, but the lady said it has sentimental value.” Nadel had lived in the States for forty years, but his German accent was still heavy. “Sentimental to her, maybe. To me, its value is rent money.”
“You wanted me to pick something up?”
“Yes,the address is there on the workbench,by the drill press.” I found a scrap of paper with the name Lear and an Old Town address on it. A nice neighborhood.
Nadel looked at me with a tilt of his head.“They had their maid call. Real Richie Rich types, so use your manners when you go.”
Nadel paid me twenty bucks for a pickup or delivery. It was easy money. Nadel didn’t like driving, so he was as happy to pay it as a miser like him could stand to be. I drove from his shop to Heath Way, took a left before I reached the high school, and followed Tacoma Avenue past the Lawn and Tennis Club. The Lear house was set far back from the road. It had a lawn big enough to land a small plane on and came complete with water features and statues of children playing—statues as nice to look at as real kids, but without all that annoying life and breath.
I climbed about one hundred steps to the front door, then lifted the heavy knocker and let it fall. A Latino woman in a starched white uniform opened the door.
“Are you for the clock?” Her accent was Mexican, but more carne asada than taco truck. “I’m for it, if you are.”
She gestured to come inside. “Please.”
“Thank you.” We had all the politeness covered and she walked across an entryway about the size of my high school gym. I could hear her shoes echo down a hallway and hoped she’d come back sometime that day.
I looked around. The entryway ceiling must have been twenty feet high. A huge crystal chandelier hung halfway down, but the only light came from an arched doorway that led into another room. Peeking around that doorway was a sliver of a girl’s face. All I could see was an eye and a waterfall of dark brown hair, but if the rest of the face matched, it was probably lovely.
“Nice place you have here,” I said to the face.
The face stepped into sight, followed by a body that was equally lovely, dressed in a black tank top and a short denim skirt. It was a body that kept in shape playing on elite soccer teams and dancing with honor students. I’d seen her before at school—she wasn’t the type you forget—but I didn’t know her name. She hung around the rich kids. If I remembered correctly, she spent a lot of time on the arm of Erik Jorgenson, one of the Heath High royalty.
“Yeah, real homey,” said the girl, in a voice that surprised me with its hint of roughness, as if she’d yelled too much as a kid. “You can hear your echo, because it’s that big and empty. I’ll trade you anytime.”
“If you saw my apartment, I don’t think you would.” “You have an apartment? Where?”
I laughed. “I’m not telling you where I live. People from your part of town can’t be trusted.”
“You don’t really have an apartment, do you?”
“You say apartment like it’s something exotic. It’s a room with a bed in it.”
“Sounds dangerous. Tell me where it is.”
I gave in. “You drive your daddy’s BMW down K Street until it crosses Division and the street name changes to Martin Luther King Jr. Way. That’s how you know you’ve entered my neighborhood. They don’t honor Martin on your block, because it’s bad for property values. You keep driving until you pass Hilltop Pawn Shop. On the next block, you’ll see a big red sign that says Boxing. Click your remote until the alarm chirps, then go inside the boxing gym. When ChooChoo and the other men in there see someone who looks like you, they might teach you a few new words, but just ignore them. Head all the way to the back, by the rusty boiler, and go up the stairway there until you come to the only door. That’s the door to my home. Kitchen, bed, and TV all in one handy room. The whole place would probably fit in your bathtub.” Her big eyes opened even wider.“How old are you?”she asked.
“Old enough. Sixteen.”
“Me, too. I’ve seen you before. You go to Heath High, don’t you?
“Yes. Look, I got things to do. Any chance you could help the señora find the clock so I can get out of here?”
She didn’t move, except to stick out her bottom lip. “What’s your name?”
“That’s right. Seth. And you have a funny last name, if I remember right. What’re you doing this Friday?”
“Why? You need someone to mow your lawn?”
“I’m going to a party, and Janine would totally flip over you.” “Yeah, that’s my job. To make Janine flip. Look, umm—” “—Azura—”She seemed suddenly self-conscious when she said her name, bringing her chin down so that she looked at me through her eyelashes.
“Azura? Azura Lear? Sounds like a brand of luggage. Look, Azura, I’ve never been very good at parties. I think I’ll just take the clock and go home, if that’s all right with you.”
“It’s not.” She got up and walked slowly away, sashaying her denim skirt back and forth as she went, leaving me in the faintest wake of a soft perfume. She was like a walking permission slip. She turned once when she reached the hallway and tapped her finger on her lips. I couldn’t tell if she was trying to think of something to say or asking me to keep quiet. She turned away again and sashayed out of sight.
The housekeeper came back with a cardboard box contain- ing the clock. I left, giving her a Gracias, señora, just to show off my bilingual skills.