Anthony Balencini fumed with impatience. He’d been circling the same block for twenty minutes, searching in vain for a parking space. He squinted through his sunglasses, finding it difficult to see in the rapidly fading light, and finally yanked them from his face in frustration. The late-afternoon sun, which had been blazing brightly when he’d left his office forty-five minutes ago, had already vanished below the horizon. At this time of year in Southern California, dusk had a tendency to fall with amazing quickness.
Three times his mood had brightened upon seeing what looked like a free space; each time he’d become more irritable upon pulling over and seeing the postage stamp–size parking signs promising penalties tantamount to removing fingernails with hot pliers should he even think of parking there without a permit. As he passed the West Hollywood branch of the Los Angeles County Library for what seemed the fifteenth time, he stomped on his brakes as he saw, like a gift from heaven, an elderly woman climbing into an ancient Dodge.
He pulled off San Vicente into the library parking lot and waited, barely restraining himself from leaning on the horn—or better yet, leaping out of the car and battering the old broad to death with his briefcase—while the old lady got into the car, reset the rearview mirror, tested all her lights, and, he thought with pique, probably read the damn owner’s manual to figure out how to put the key into the ignition.
Finally, her rear lights went on and she slowly began to back out, stopping short after having moved barely six inches. Anthony’s temper worsened as the Dodge sat for almost a full minute, not moving. The old woman then rolled down her window and stuck her head out. Waving to attract Anthony’s attention and smiling brightly she called, “Excuse me, young man. Am I clear?”
Anthony rolled down his own window and prepared to ream the old bitch up one side and down the other. But she was very old. And smiling sweetly. And looking a lot like his great-aunt Jane. He couldn’t do it. He sighed then said, “Yeah, you’re clear.”
“Thank you so much!” she called back merrily. “Have a nice evening!”
“Yeah, you too, you old bat,” he grumbled as he rolled up his window. “Am I clear?” he mimicked. “Christ, lady! I’m thirty feet away from you!”
Slowly the Dodge backed up, finally clearing the other cars, and eventually the old lady managed to get it into a forward gear and drove off. Anthony started to pull into the space and a small white sports car tried to cut him off. The driver, however, made the mistake of glancing at Anthony through the windshield. Anthony glared back, trying to show the other driver exactly what he was about to get himself into. The sports car had second thoughts and pulled around him.
Anthony parked and got out of the car. Setting the alarm, he glanced at his watch. He figured he’d have just enough time to cut through West Hollywood Park to Anawalt Lumber, buy what he needed, and get home to Studio City before his dinner plans with Christine were irreparably screwed up.
Why, oh why, had he ever married Christine in the first place? At twenty-one, she’d indeed been gorgeous, he reflected as he trotted down the street. But in the six years since their marriage, she’d put on weight—a lot of weight. Face it, Tony, he thought as he passed the tennis courts, she’s starting to look just like one of those fat Italian mamas—the type you swore you’d never end up with.