The next day, I called Janet and told her about the week’s adventures in Malcolm-tailing. I told her that it made me feel slimy, that it didn’t seem to be turning up much in the way of useful information, and that I thought I ought to just give it up as a bad job. She didn’t like the idea very much, and started crying.
That sunk me. I wasn’t about to say no to a crying girl, especially one I was attracted to. I agreed – reluctantly – to keep it up for one more week.
I briefly considered asking her to join me for one of these surveillance missions, but I didn’t. I was feeling greasy enough as it was. I couldn’t imagine having to explain the situation if Malcolm actually spotted us together, in an unfamiliar car, following him around. It’s his own fault, said the insidious voice in my head. He’s acting weird, he’s hiding something and he doesn’t deserve a girl like Janet. I dismissed the voice, but had to admit that it had a couple of good points.
Monday after work, I took auntie’s Mercedes back to Gimme Shelter and parked where I could see the door. Once again, Malcolm emerged, got on his bike and pedaled home. Once again, I wondered why the hell I was doing this.
On Wednesday, Malcolm exited the shelter and biked over to the homeless camp he had visited the week before. I had scrounged up an old pair of Boy Scout binoculars that I had earned by dint of selling more fund-raiser popcorn than anyone else in the troop. It allowed me to see what was going on better, but it didn’t provide much enlightenment. Instead of socks, Malcolm passed out Saran-wrapped sandwiches.
Who was the good guy here? It certainly didn’t feel like me. If anything, Malcolm was the white hat, helping the unfortunate, and I was the black-hearted scumbag who was spying on him and plotting to steal away his girlfriend, kinda. Oh, the stupid stuff men do for the sake of lust and love.
I didn’t yet bear any ill-will towards Janet, but sensed that could change if this went on much longer. It seemed a good idea to take a few steps towards finding some female companionship of my own. It might lend me some perspective towards the situation with Malcolm and Janet, and help me get out of the weird cycle in which I was starting to feel trapped. I had always turned up my nose at online dating, but given my recent track record, it seemed like a good idea to at least give it a look. I pulled out my phone and started checking some of the better-known dating apps.
Once again, there was a tapping at the window. The drug dealer again. “Go away!” I said, not looking up from the screen. More tapping, urgent this time. “I said, ‘GO . . .”
I looked up, and there was a cop standing there. He looked pissed, and made a cranking motion with his hand. I rolled down the window.
“There’s nothing for you here,” said the cop. “Go home.”
“I, uh, it’s not . . .” I started. “I’m just waiting for someone.”
“I bet,” said the cop. “You’re going to have to miss your hookup. Scram.”
“No, really, listen . . .”
“No, YOU listen,” said the cop. “I don’t know exactly what you’re doing here, and I don’t care. All I know is that it can’t be anything good. We can make this easy or we can make this hard. The easy way is you start up your car and leave. But I can do the hard way, too.”
I reached up and cranked the ignition. This would have been the perfect time for the persnickety diesel engine to act up, but it turned over on the first try.
“Good,” said the cop. “I’ve made note of your license number. If I see you hanging around here again, I am going to ruin your evening. That’s a promise.”
“Right,” I said, and put the car in gear. I pulled away, and the cop watched me go. So did a number of people in the camp. I couldn’t see if Malcolm was one who was watching.
I almost went straight home, but when I got to the other side of the bridge, I changed my mind. I found a parking spot by the end of the bridge and waited. While I waited, I pondered what had just happened. The cop had seen a white guy sitting in a Mercedes parked by a homeless camp, and assumed he was there cruising for drugs. A fair enough assumption; the drug dealer had assumed the same thing.
I wondered what would have happened if it had been Malcolm sitting in the Mercedes instead of me. The cop probably would have assumed that a Black guy sitting in a Mercedes by a homeless camp was dealing drugs. Or maybe not. But it is a safe assumption that Malcolm would have not had as easy a time of it as I had. Out of the car, hands on the hood, all that jazz. Even if the cop had thought Malcolm were there just to buy drugs, it would have been more difficult. Of course, Malcolm almost certainly would have talked the cop out of it – he had a pretty thorough knowledge of law, and was very persuasive. Still, it was it was a safe bet that any Black person in the same situation I had been in would have had a much more difficult time.
As I was thus pondering, Malcolm and his bike appeared at the crest of the embankment, shot through the intersection and headed off. I reluctantly put the car in gear and pulled out behind him. As usual, Malcolm rode straight home. Once I saw that, I turned and headed home myself.
I was exhausted – emotionally. This sneaking-around spy stuff was fun at first – a little, anyway – but it had gotten old in a hurry. Every time I did it, I felt a little more ashamed of myself. I hied myself down to the Blue Moon Café for a burger and a beer. Well, actually several beers. Blue Moon was quick with the drinks but slow with the food, so I had plenty of time to sip and contemplate while I waited for my cheeseburger.
I decided that I was done following Malcolm around like a cheap divorce detective. He clearly wasn’t up to anything except trying to help the homeless community. Whatever was going on between Malcolm and Janet – well, they were just going to have to work that out between themselves.
The more I thought about it and the more I drank, the angrier I got at Janet. She was playing me for a chump to do her dirty work. I was the one running all over the place, borrowing cars, sneaking around, wasting my time trying to find out what Malcolm was up to when he was clearly not up to anything. And as an extra added bonus, I had gotten on the radar of the police. I decided that I would tell Janet that the whole thing was off, and she could just deal with Malcolm by herself. The cheeseburger showed up and was delicious as always. Feeling a little more mellow as I traipsed home, I decided that my talk with Janet could wait. I had already wasted enough of my evening with this silly bullshit. I watched a couple of episodes of Boscoville, then played X-box until it was time for bed.