Chapter 5 (or, "Checking Facts")
Previous Chapter: Carissa, our heroine, and Mac, our hero, were caught on the school roof discussing the accident at Saint Arbucks that only the two of them saw.
“What do you mean, we’re not taking the subway?” But Carissa’s voice was drowned out by the hustle and bustle as Mac continued to lead her on, through the alleyway between their escape building and the school. It deposited them neatly on 71st.
“This way,” Mac said, and as before, he didn’t wait for Carissa to stop and give the okay to move on. Instead, they just did.
I have got to have a discussion with you when this is all said and done, Carissa thought to herself. And there better be a Saint Arbucks chai involved.
They ran down the street, Mac looking over his shoulder every once in a while to see if anybody was following them. So far, they were in the clear, but Carissa remembered the look on Peter’s face when he had found the two of them on the roof...not to mention some of the things he had said. She closed her eyes and kept running.
They reached the street corner and Carissa looked up, curious to know exactly where they were. “So what is --”
“Here.” Mac ducked under another, different fire escape, and Carissa found herself back in another alleyway with a trash can and -- it suddenly made sense.
“We’re going to bike all the way to Brooklyn?” she asked as Mac unlocked the ordinary looking bicycle from where it had been locked against the fire escape. “And why do you keep it locked up here? They have bike racks at school, you know.”
“Oh, I know,” Mac said with a smile. He motioned to the bike. “You’ll have to put your feet on those rungs there and hold onto my shoulders.” Carissa checked and, sure enough, there were small ledges where she could put her feet. Mac straddled the bike, and she strapped her duffel securely against her back, then put her feet up on the ledges and grabbed Mac’s shoulders.
“You have to promise me you’re not going to let go,” Mac said as he jumped up onto the bike seat and started to pedal down the alleyway.
“Why would I let go?” Carissa asked.
And then, without any warning, the bicycle started to fly down the street, at a faster speed than Carissa had been anticipating. She gripped Mac’s shoulders tighter as he swerved onto Amsterdam Avenue. “We’ll stay on Amsterdam until we hit Columbus Circle, and then we gotta go to the East Side,” Mac yelled.
Carissa realized why he was yelling -- he had to yell to be heard over the motor sound she could now identify. “You have a motorbike?”
“It’s an e-bike. There’s a difference. Gas bikes are illegal, but electric ones aren’t. Not yet, anyway.” Mac looked back and grinned at her. “I can control it up here, by my brakes. Let me know if I start going too fast.”
Carissa nodded, finally understanding how someone could come from Brooklyn to Manhattan for school every day.
They made their way onto the main drag, and Mac parked in front of a very familiar looking Saint Arbucks. “Why are we stopping here?” Carissa asked. She scanned the area quickly, but there was no sign of the creepy lady so far.
“Going inside to check my facts. I’d like to know if any of the baristas would show me the accident report for an accident that doesn’t exist. Do you have a pen and a pad of paper? I clearly don’t have any of that on me.” That was true: Carissa now noticed that Mac didn’t have a backpack on him. Maybe he didn’t need one.
“Good idea,” she said as she whipped around her duffel and started looking for her pencil case. “We should work quickly, though, so Peter and his friends don’t catch up to us...” Her voice trailed off.
Mac noticed the concerned look on her face. “What’s wrong?”
Carissa showed him the picture that she had found in her bag. “It was just sitting in there. I cleaned the entire thing out yesterday, so...”
Mac took a closer look. “It’s a photograph. Didn’t think that they still printed them like this. I mean, I know they can do that at certain Bleecker Liz drugstores, but --”
“No, look,” Carissa said as she pointed at the man and the woman in the picture. “That man -- he was the one who collapsed here on Monday.” The photo was older, but Carissa remembered his face well. He was younger than he had been on Monday, which probably dated this photo by at least a decade...especially if this glossy photo had been developed and not only printed from a file. It was him, though, that blonde hair and big smile. But the woman who was in the photo also looked familiar, and Carissa finally realized why. “Her,” she said. “The lady.”
Mac looked confused. “What?”
“The lady in the picture -- did I tell you about the homeless lady who was sitting outside the Saint Arbucks on Monday? She said the guy who collapsed died? It’s the eyes. Her hair in this picture is brown, but she has the same piercing blue eyes. It has to be her.”
When Carissa looked up from the photo, she saw her worst nightmare in recent memory come true: a police officer was standing near their Saint Arbucks, talking to the same old lady. She was wearing the same clothes and same red and green tracksuit she had always worn, which furthered Carissa’s assumption that she might be homeless.
But then the lady looked away from the red apple she was holding and the policeman who was talking to her and she looked straight at Carissa with those eyes. At the same time, the policeman followed the woman’s gaze, but his eyes landed on Mac instead.
“Get back on the bike,” he whispered just as the policeman started running for them.
Carissa tried not to think of every Spanish curse word her mama used when she was mad. In shock, she zipped up her bag and jumped on just as Mac started up the bike again, and they were off. She gripped his shoulders for dear life, glad she was at least getting away from that creepy lady again...but what was with that cop?
They zoomed down towards 59th Street, and Mac took a left, slowing down a bit as he passed the packed roadways, zipping between cars as if he was born to do this. Carissa could only hold on for dear life and pray they did not wreck – she was used to traveling underground, not by bike, much less a powered bike. They finally turned right when Mac reached Second Avenue, and Mac sped up the bike.
“Stay calm,” he said as they dove right into a construction site. The new subway line was being built right below them, and they had to dodge not only cars but trucks and construction vehicles while going south. Carissa suddenly felt as if she was part of a chase in some thriller movie. The next thing she knew, there would be cop cars surrounding her, probably to interrogate her about the accident on Monday. But then Mac would ride up a ramp and jump in midair, and everything would go into slow motion, and there would probably be a close up on Carissa’s shocked face.
But there were no police cars, and the pair made it all the way through the Upper East Side, slowing down at 60th to avoid all of the cars taking the Queensboro Bridge out of Manhattan, then through Murray Hill. Carissa looked at a display clock in Union Square and saw that they had made great time on this bike -- almost as fast as the subway, without all of the restraints of a hard line system. They then went down past Houston Street and into Chinatown. Carissa felt the bike slow as Mac turned onto the Brooklyn Bridge.
“I’m not going to take you all the way to my neighborhood,” Mac explained. “That would be too far, I think. Where do you live again?”
“The Heights. My family has had the same apartment for years.”
“Then we’ll stop downtown here, check in with someone I know, and then we’ll get you on a train back home. Sound good?”
“Yeah. Where are you from, anyway?”
“All the way down in Coney Island. Yeah, I know it’s far, but I don’t mind.”
Especially with a motorized bike like this one, Carissa noted.
She held on tight as Mac turned off the electric component to the bike, then pedaled up to the ramp. “Hey,” she said, now that she could talk and her voice wasn’t being drowned out, “what’s up with that police officer? You know, you were all like ‘get back on the bike’ but you didn’t give any reasons.”
“Let’s just say me and that cop are not friends,” Mac said. “At all.”
Carissa looked around herself and noticed that they were actually on the bridge now. She looked behind herself and saw the skyline of Manhattan rise behind her as the bike went on. It wasn’t very often that she got this view of her hometown, the city she had lived in for all of her seventeen years. One could consider Manhattan a bubble if they went too long without seeing this view.
“Nice, huh?” Mac said.
“You know I’m looking at the city?”
“Yeah -- I have a rear view mirror.” Mac laughed. “I assume you don’t see it like this often?”
He had read her mind -- not literally, although that would not surprise her given the recent turn of events. “So where are we heading again?”
“Just off Borough Hall. I have a friend who works at a little place there called Kofenya. It’s a real hipster joint, but I can score you a free chai.”
Carissa grinned. “Sold. But why there specifically?”
“Because this friend of mine knows a thing or two about cameras. He’s a professional photographer, and the best friend of my boss when he was a kid. He’ll be able to take one look at that photo and tell us all sorts of useful information -- well, about the photo anyway. Can’t tell us about the people.”
Carissa was about to ask about Mac’s supposed job, but he increased his pedaling speed, and the question was lost to the wind as they rode towards Brooklyn.