Excerpt of A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
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"And what about after he'd gone?" Coz had asked when Sasha told him the story. "How did the screwdriver look to you then?"
There was a pause. "Normal," she said.
"Really. Not special anymore?"
"Like any screwdriver."
Sasha had heard Coz shift behind her and felt something happen in the room: the screwdriver, which she'd placed on the table (recently supplemented with a second table) where she kept the things she'd lifted, and which she'd barely looked at since, seemed to hang in the air of Coz's office. It floated between them: a symbol.
"And how did you feel?" Coz asked quietly. "About having taken it from the plumber you pitied?"
How did she feel? How did she feel? There was a right answer, of course. At times Sasha had to fight the urge to lie simply as a way of depriving Coz of it.
"Bad," she said. "Okay? I felt bad. Shit, I'm bankrupting myself to pay for you-obviously I get that this isn't a great way to live."
More than once, Coz had tried to connect the plumber to Sasha's father, who had disappeared when she was six. She was careful not to indulge this line of thinking. "I don't remember him," she told Coz. "I have nothing to say." She did this for Coz's protection and her own- they were writing a story of redemption, of fresh beginnings and second chances. But in that direction lay only sorrow.
Sasha and Alex crossed the lobby of the Lassimo Hotel in the direction of the street. Sasha hugged her purse to her shoulder, the warm ball of wallet snuggled in her armpit. As they passed the angular budded branches by the big glass doors to the street, a woman zigzagged into their path. "Wait," she said. "You haven't seen-I'm desperate."
Sasha felt a twang of terror. It was the woman whose wallet she'd taken-she knew this instantly, although the person before her had nothing in common with the blithe, raven-haired wallet owner she'd pictured. This woman had vulnerable brown eyes and flat pointy shoes that clicked too loudly on the marble floor. There was plenty of gray in her frizzy brown hair.
Sasha took Alex's arm, trying to steer him through the doors. She felt his pulse of surprise at her touch, but he stayed put. "Have we seen what?" he said.
"Someone stole my wallet. My ID is gone, and I have to catch a plane tomorrow morning. I'm just desperate!" She stared beseechingly at both of them. It was the sort of frank need that New Yorkers quickly learn how to hide, and Sasha recoiled. It had never occurred to her that the woman was from out of town.
"Have you called the police?" Alex asked.
"The concierge said he would call. But I'm also wondering-could it have fallen out somewhere?" She looked helplessly at the marble floor around their feet. Sasha relaxed slightly. This woman was the type who annoyed people without meaning to; apology shadowed her movements even now, as she followed Alex to the concierge's desk. Sasha trailed behind.
"Is someone helping this person?" she heard Alex ask.
The concierge was young and spiky haired. "We've called the police," he said defensively.
Alex turned to the woman. "Where did this happen?"
"In the ladies' room. I think."
"Who else was there?"
"It was empty?"
"There might have been someone, but I didn't see her."
Alex swung around to Sasha. "You were just in the bathroom," he said. "Did you see anyone?"
"No," she managed to say. She had Xanax in her purse, but she couldn't open her purse. Even with it zipped, she feared that the wallet would blurt into view in some way that she couldn't control, unleashing a cascade of horrors: arrest, shame, poverty, death.
Alex turned to the concierge. "How come I'm asking these questions instead of you?" he said. "Someone just got robbed in your hotel. Don't you have, like, security?"
The words "robbed" and "security" managed to pierce the soothing backbeat that pumped through not just the Lassimo but every hotel like it in New York City. There was a mild ripple of interest from the lobby.
Excerpted from A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan Copyright © 2010 by Jennifer Egan. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.