It was most likely the conversation he’d had with Gallagher that had finally given Connor the courage to seek out his ex at her new home on the Upper East Side. Otherwise, he might very well have given the idea up as a bad job and stayed put in his room in Brooklyn where he spent most of his time alone reading.
It was only by chance that Connor had gotten hold of Jocelyn’s address in the first place. Her incompetent lawyer had forgotten to remove it from the final divorce papers he’d forwarded to Connor months before. The mistake had come as no surprise. Even though the divorce had been uncontested, the attorney had bungled so badly he’d had to file the initial complaint twice before the court clerk finally accepted it. Though at the time Connor had received his copy of the judgment in the mail he’d had no intention of seeing his ex-wife again, he’d made a note of the number and street just the same.
There would have been no point in calling ahead even if Connor had had Jocelyn’s cell number. He hadn’t the least doubt she’d have hung up the phone in his face. Better to wait on the sidewalk outside her building, a featureless high rise on York Avenue.
As he leaned against a lamppost a few feet from the building’s entrance, Connor experienced the same paranoia he knew all ex-cons feel when out on the street. He was sure every patrol car he saw pass by was slowing ever so slightly so that the uniform behind the wheel could better check him out. Or perhaps the building’s doorman had already called the police to report a suspicious character loitering about the premises.
An hour had passed before Jocelyn at last appeared at the end of the block. Although he hadn’t seen her in over a year, Connor recognized her at once. She’d put on a few pounds, he noted, and had had her hair dyed a brassy shade of red. Still, there was no mistaking the woman to whom he’d been married for almost five years, the same woman who’d come up with the idea for the perfect burglary and then convinced him to attempt it.
Jocelyn stopped cold when she saw Connor awaiting her approach. For a moment, he thought she would turn and run.
“What are you doing here?” Jocelyn demanded. She didn’t try to hide her anger.
“I’m not here to make a scene if that’s what you’re worried about. I’m cool. I just wanted to talk.”
Jocelyn moved to brush past him. “I don’t have anything to say to you. So why don’t you just leave now? Or do I have to call for help?”
Connor blocked her path and made no move to budge. He regarded her steadily as he tried to come to terms with his own emotions. He’d tried to imagine what he’d feel when he finally saw her again. Would he be so filled with fury and hatred that he’d no longer be able to control himself? Or would he tearfully beg her to come back to him? To his surprise, he found that he was almost totally indifferent now that the moment had arrived. All that remained of his hurt and pain was a mild desire to know why he’d had to go through so much for this one woman’s sake.
“Did you hear what I said?” Jocelyn fairly hissed the words in his ear.
“Are you sure you want to make a scene in front of your new home?” Connor asked. “Do you want your neighbors to find out you were once married to a criminal?”
The threat worked.
Jocelyn looked about her to see if any of her neighbors might indeed be nearby and listening. Once she had satisfied herself that they were alone, she turned back to Connor. “You might as well come up. We can talk in private if you promise not to start any trouble.”
The two rode the elevator together in silence, each keeping as far distant from the other as was possible in the confined space.
Jocelyn’s small apartment had a familiar appearance. Connor had wondered occasionally what had become of the furnishings from the one-bedroom he had once shared with her on 21st Street. Now he knew.
Jocelyn followed his look. “It’s not as though you were going to be able to use this stuff in prison. I needed it to get on with my own life.”
“Sure,” said Connor. “I wasn’t going to ask for any of it back. There’s no room for it anyway in the share I’ve got now.”
“I’m glad it works out for you.” Jocelyn stared coldly past him as she said this. She took a seat on the same recliner where Connor had long ago sprawled with beer in hand while watching Sunday afternoon football on TV. The memory seemed unreal to him now, something that had once happened to someone else.
Jocelyn had been studying him while he stood uncertainly in the middle of the room. “You look different than you used to,” she finally pronounced.
“I’m not positive. But something seems to have gone out of you. None of the fight and passion is there any longer. It’s all been emptied out.”
“Prison will do that to you. You learn to just accept things the way they are and count the days till you’re out. There’s no point in being angry if there’s nothing you can do about it. And there’s nothing you can do about anything when you’re inside.” Connor looked at the sofa. “Is it all right if I sit down?”
Jocelyn shook her head. “You’re not going to be staying long enough to get comfortable. As soon as you’ve finished explaining to me why you’re here in the first place, you can get the hell out. I don’t want you anywhere around me.”
“So why are you stalking me? Did you think we were going to get back together and be a loving couple again? Well, you can forget that idea. I’m so over you, Michael. All I want now is a fresh start and a new life.”
Connor gave a bitter laugh. “That’s what I go around saying too.”
“There’s no one stopping you. Certainly not me.”
Connor decided he didn’t care what Jocelyn thought about him being there. He sat down on the sofa and stared directly at her. “Listen,” he said, “I didn’t come here to try to patch things up. We both know it’s too late for that.”
“So what is it you want then?”
“I want you to tell me why all this had to happen. We were getting by all right. There were no big problems. We weren’t in debt. Then out of the blue you come up with this brainstorm that I should burglarize the neighborhood hardware store.” His voice rose a notch. “A fucking hardware store. How the hell could you come up with an idea like that?”
“How the hell could you go along with it? Don’t try to put all the blame on me.”
Connor sat back on the sofa. “I must have been out of my mind to have ever listened to you. I didn’t know the first thing about pulling a job like that.”
“Obviously not.” Jocelyn didn’t try to hide the sarcasm.
“And I’d never done anything crooked before that. Shit, I’d never even had a traffic ticket. That’s one reason the judge went so easy on me. He sentenced me to less than a year, and I was out in six months.”
“So what are you complaining about? You only lost a few months, and now you’ve got the rest of your life ahead of you.”
“A lot of good that does me. You know as well as I do that I’m never going to be able to land a decent job now that I’ve got a record. I’ll be lucky to get a minimum wage gig as a dishwasher.”
Jocelyn stomped her foot. “Spare me the tears, Michael. You were old enough to make your own decisions and accept the consequences. As I remember it, you thought too that it was an easy way to pick up a little extra cash. I never twisted your arm.”
“The hell you didn’t. You stayed on top of me night and day until I finally agreed. Never gave me a minute’s peace.”
Jocelyn abruptly stood up. “I get it now. You came here to lay a guilt trip on me, to tell me how I ruined your life. Fine. I’m filled with remorse and will henceforth hang my head in shame. Satisfied? Are you ready to leave now?”
Connor stayed seated. “The least you could have done was to have waited until I was released to divorce me. That was the final straw. Once I’d seen the papers, I knew I had nothing left to hope for when I got out, nothing to keep me going.”
“Stop crying in your beer, won’t you? It’s all water under the bridge.”
“That’s funny,” said Connor. “I saw Gallagher the other day and he used the exact same expression. Everyone must think I’m nothing now but a big crybaby.”
That registered. Jocelyn looked at him sharply. “What the hell were you doing hanging out with Gallager? You should stay away from that guy. He’s nothing but trouble.”
“Are you kidding me? He’s the only friend I’ve got left. Everyone else treats me like poison. Gallagher at least will sit there and listen while I vent.”
“You and I had other friends. Remember the Harrisons? Betty works at an employment agency in midtown. She might be able to find you something.”
“I’m not going anywhere hat in hand just to get the cold shoulder. Look at the warm welcome I got here. Our old friends aren’t going to treat me any differently. God knows what you told them about me anyway.”
“I never told anyone anything. I was too embarrassed to mention your name.”
“Yeah, I bet you were. You just wanted to forget I ever existed, didn’t you?”
Jocelyn’s face turned bright red. “Michael, it’s time for you to leave.”
“I’m not done yet.”
“Oh, yes you are. You don’t want me calling 911 and telling them I’ve got my ex-con ex-husband here trying to start an argument. One phone call and you’ll be spending the night back in jail.”
Connor looked at her and saw she was serious. He rose slowly from the sofa and stood for a moment facing her. “I’m going. I just wanted to know why you did all this. I hope there was a good reason. Otherwise, you fucked up my whole life for nothing.”
Jocelyn glared at him. “How the hell should I know why things turned out the way they did? Who knows why anything in life turns out the way it does? Shit happens, and that’s all there is to it.”
Connor didn’t say anything else, just turned and walked to the door and let himself out. From behind him he heard Jocelyn sobbing hoarsely.