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Chapter 5: A night to remember

Heather Hopp-Bruce/Globe staff; Adobe

“The Mechanic” is a novella by best-selling author Ben Mezrich. The fictional work will publish exclusively on BostonGlobe.com over the next two weeks. Read more about this book at globe.com/themechanic. Sign up to be alerted when the next installment goes live here.

Chapter Five

It was the perfume that hit Charles Walker first, bringing him out of the deepest and most satisfying eight hours of sleep he’d experienced in the years since his divorce. A blend of grapefruit and vanilla that stung slightly as it hit the back of his nostrils, and was also somehow instantly sensual. Even before he opened his eyes, he felt a smile crawling across his lips.


He took a deep, open-mouthed breath, inhaling that incredible scent, letting it dance across the tip of his tongue. He was still in the fog of that in-between state, not fully awake but no longer catatonic, his memories of the night before were broken into visual flashes — like images on shattered glass, of soft, wonderfully curved body parts and of furious, physical, gymnastic sex. He knew it was a night he’d never forget, even though he still couldn’t understand exactly how it had occurred. In truth, nights like that didn’t happen to Charles, not since the divorce, and certainly not before. Twelve hours ago, he’d have bet his last dollar that nights like that didn’t happen in real life to anyone.

He rolled onto his back, stretching his arms above his head, getting the kinks out of his aching shoulders. It was then that he also noticed the music: soft, classical, mostly violins with the hint of a viola, drifting through the air around him in gentle waves. He recognized it immediately — a Bach concerto, recorded in 2007 by the Philadelphia Philharmonic — because it was from his own collection. Not digital, of course, not bastardized by some computer software, but real, the vibration of a needle on vinyl on the record player in his living room one floor down — the way God, and the Philadelphia orchestra, had intended music to be played.


His smile grew, and he opened his eyes. He was lying in his bed in the bedroom on the upper floor of his townhouse two blocks from Harvard Square, but still everything around him looked foreign. His sheets, normally stiff and tucked into the corners even after a night’s sleep, were mussed and twisted. His pillows were in even worse shape, like they’d barely survived a hurricane. The one under his head had mostly escaped its pillowcase, and was leaking down feathers all over the bed. The other pillow, which usually remained untouched on the opposite side, was bent nearly in half, and in the middle of the pillow-case he could see an unmistakable, two-inch lipstick stain. Bright red, hell, blood red, like something you’d see on the cover of a pulpy romance novel. Evidence, Charles realized, that it hadn’t just been a dream. It was all real; she was real, and if the music was any indication, she was still in his house.

He quickly rose to a sitting position, his head pounding at the motion, and he felt cobwebs at the back of his mouth. He’d never been more than a casual drinker; maybe once a week, he ended his evening with a glass of red wine from the cabinet in his study. But last night was different. Even before he’d met her, sometime after midnight, he’d been out celebrating, starting with a glass of champagne at his favorite restaurant in the Charles Hotel, then continuing on to the wine bar two blocks down, near the center of Harvard Square, right across from the undergraduate campus.


Then he heard a another sort of noise from downstairs: High heels against the imported slate tiles that covered most of his kitchen. The tiles had been his ex-wife’s choice. She’d had expensive taste in everything from home décor to her choice of divorce lawyer. On a tenured professor’s salary, Charles had been able to pay off the tiles, but he’d be paying for the divorce lawyer for years to come.

The tiles now seemed worth the cost, if only for the click of those high heels against the slate. Charles quickly slipped out from under the comforter and crossed his bedroom to the hook by his closet, where he kept his bathrobe. The bedroom was bright for 5:30 a.m. — either she’d opened the shades that covered the single window overlooking quiet, tree-lined Brattle Street before he woke up, or they’d left the shades open the night before. Charles seriously hoped it was the former; his neighbors were almost entirely professors like him, and at least three houses had a good view of his bedroom. He’d have a hard time walking into the faculty dining hall if he thought any of his stiff, over-educated neighbors had witnessed even a portion of last night’s activities.


He made sure the bathrobe was tied tight, then exited the bedroom. The stairs leading down to the first floor were cherry wood and polished so smooth he could see his reflection in the banister. His ex-wife had always made fun of his proclivity for cleanliness and order; to be sure, he knew in most things he was just as stiff — and certainly as over-educated — as his neighbors. Harvard professors were a breed, and especially those in the History Department. Last night wasn’t just a giant leap for Charles, but a Neil Armstrong moment for his entire profession.

He was grinning by the time he reached the first floor. To his right was the kitchen, the slate tiles, the Formica island, and the chrome appliances glowing in the morning sunlight streaming in from the double glass doors that led out to the yard. The distinct aroma of freshly ground coffee swirled in the air, but to Charles’s surprise, the kitchen was empty. His attention shifted to the left, through the open archway that led to his study. He heard a new clicking sound, but this wasn’t heels on floor. This was fingernails against a keyboard.

His smile faded a bit as he made short work of the last few steps and entered the study. Most of the furniture was leather and old, in stark contrast to the kitchen and bedroom. That was because the study was his, had always been his, even when he was married. The reclining chair in the corner by the record player — still spinning, waves of violins rising and falling like summer tides — was worn from years of use, and the thick oak shelves climbing every wall were filled with books, even more worn and old, mostly antiques and first editions he’d picked up in quaint bookstores over the years. All of the titles had to do with history; specifically, American, mid-18th century. And throughout the study, there was more evidence of his life’s obsession. A print above the record player of Paul Revere’s famous engraving of the Boston Massacre. A glass-enclosed, full-scale copy of the Declaration of Independence set on an oversized coffee table in the center of the room. And a replica of a Minuteman’s trusty musket standing in a polished wooden frame in the corner by his desk.


The desk itself was mahogany and vintage, reminiscent of the writing desk Thomas Jefferson used to draft the original Declaration; Charles had picked it up at an antique fair upstate, along with certification papers proving its provenance. It had been crafted in a woodworking shop on a street that was now part of the flats of Beacon Hill, a family-owned business that traced its lineage back to the Mayflower and had been active during the Revolutionary War, pivoting at the time to make casts for cannons and gun barrels instead of desks and armoires. Over the past two years, Charles had filled the drawers of that desk with papers — mostly original letters and documents pertaining to his research, some incredibly valuable, wrapped in protective sleeves and cases.

So it was no surprise that a sharp dagger of concern pierced him as his gaze shifted from the desk to the chair behind it; in retrospect, the fact that the woman had put a record from his collection onto the turntable without asking was presumptuous enough. But now seeing her stretched out in his chair, his laptop computer open on the mahogany in front of her, a mug of coffee next to her fingers, which were caressing the curves of his computer’s mouse, Charles was at an uncharacteristic loss for words.