“By the life, you mean prostitute?” Phillip asked.
Tears leaked out of Ali’s eyes. She nodded.
“Where’d she do her work?”
“I couldn’t say,” she said. “She was high-dollar, that’s all I know.”
Coats comforted her some more. When he was ready to leave, he picked up his hat and she walked him to the door, clutching his arm like a life preserver, her head on his shoulder.
“I can’t believe it, and I can,” she said. “Does that make any sense?”
“Sure,” he said.
“You got married, I heard.”
“Yeah,” he said. “It was great. For about six days.”
When Coats opened the front door the hot wind wrapped around them like a blanket. Coats put on his hat.
“It’s just awful out there,” Ali said.
When he stepped down the first step, Ali said, “You could come back and stay here, you know. There’s plenty of room. You could stay as long as you like. You could stay forever.”
He turned and looked at her. He looked at the house. It was one hell of a place and she was one hell of a woman. But it was too much of either one.
“I don’t think so, Ali.”
The upscale part didn’t tell Coats much about Meg’s work habits. She could have worked anywhere. The only thing it told him is she gave sexual favors to people with money. Coats didn’t like to think it, but she and Ali weren’t really all that different. It’s just that Ali made her deal the legal way.
On the way back to his apartment, Coats drove by the now-defunct Polar Bear Ice Company. It was just another reminder of what he had found in the alley, and it made his head hurt. He drove a little farther and an idea hit him. He turned around and went back.
He parked out front of the ice company in a no-parking zone and walked around back. There was a chain through the sliding back door and there were boards over the windows. The boards over one of the windows were easy to pull loose, and Coats did just that. He crawled inside and looked around.
Before today, last time he had seen Ali was through the prism of a polar bear made of ice. She had decided he was a bad prospect, and started seeing Old Man Harris from way uptown. He heard she was at a party and he went over to see her, thinking maybe he’d make a scene; went inside like he belonged there. And then it hit him. Everyone there had an air about them that spoke of privilege and entitlement. They were everything he was not. Suddenly, what he was wearing, what he had thought was a nice-enough jacket, nice-enough shoes, felt like rags and animal hides. He saw Ali across the way, her head thrown back, and above the music from the orchestra in the background he heard her laugh. A deep chortle of pleasure that went with the music and the light. She was laughing with a man who wasn’t the man she married. She was laughing with Johnny Ditto; a gangster, drug seller, and prostitute wrangler. He was known for handling the best girls, high-end stuff. Johnny was tall, dark, and handsome, splendid in a powder-blue suit with hair that was afraid to do anything but lay down tight and hold its part.
Coats stepped aside so that he was between them and a table mounted with a big ice sculpture of a polar bear on an ice floe. Below the ice was a ring of shrimp, tight up against the sawlike cut at the bottom. Through the sculpture he could see Ali, made jagged by the cuts and imperfections in the carving. He lowered his head, feeling as out of place as a goat at the ballet. He slipped out quick. Until today, it was the last time he had seen Ali.
What he realized now was that the sawlike cut at the bottom of the ice that night was locked in his head, and it was the same jagged cut he had seen on the ice block in the alley. And that polar bear on the table—was that the ice company’s emblem? It made sense, connected up like bees and honey.
Coats walked around and found a room in the back with a bed and camera and some pull-down backdrops. He toured all over, came to the ice freezers with faucets and hoses and frames for shaping the ice. One of the frames was about the size of the big block of ice in the alley. The kind of block an ice sculptor might chop into a polar bear, or use to house a cold, dead angel.