What we saw at night, p.5
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       What We Saw at Night, p.5

           Jacquelyn Mitchard
 
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  When I tried to pull away from Red Beach, some asshole practically sideswiped me. So much for the peaceful feeling. I figured he had to be from Chicago, in the kind of Italian convertible guys use as metaphors for certain parts of their anatomy (or to overcompensate for the lack thereof). I took a moment to breathe, to collect myself. The moon was on the horizon, laying down a strip of gold.

  Finally I drove to the address.

  Looking back, I have no idea why I chose not to acknowledge the connection until I pulled into the parking lot. (Actually, I do. I was overwhelmingly obsessed with what was going on between my two best friends.) Just to make sure that there weren’t two vintage condo buildings on the bluff right next to a modern condo building under construction, I pulled into what would be the lot of the building next door.

  It was Tabor Oaks, of course.

  Just staring across the pavement at the small lighted address panel next to the foyer door—not even up at that balcony—my heart thumped again. I thought of the platinum streak on the back of that otherwise dark head of hair. Why would he dye his hair in such a weird way? Maybe he wanted to be a blond. Blondie, I thought.

  Maybe Blondie was Tessa’s husband. Maybe he was having an affair.

  Talking to myself, aloud, like a crazy person, I said, “Allie, chill. Calm down.”

  At that moment, I had a disquieting thought. I didn’t want to be here, but I was here. What were the odds of ending up in the same place? (The odds were actually not that bad, given that Two Harbors has a permanent population of six hundred people.) But what were the odds I’d get a call from a person who lived at the place where I had seen something so creepy? I stared up at the penthouse. There was someone living there. That whole floor must have cost a big dime, given the private beach and astonishing view. I almost didn’t hear the voice calling.

  “Hello!”

  I didn’t move.

  “Are you Allie Kim?” The voice floated down from above. “Ring at 4B.” I looked up. It was an older woman, with short silvery hair, waving from behind a screen on the third floor, holding a little boy, who was madly waving, too. She said, “Crier!”

  Was she talking about the baby? Who was a crier? I should have trusted my instincts and bolted.

  I glanced around the parking area. There were about six cars in the ten slots. I even recognized a few of them, although I couldn’t have named the owners. Finally I forced my wobbly legs to march up to the door. There were ten address slots; except for two handwritten names, all but two were printed in uniform type. One of the handwritten names, the one for 4B, read CRYER.

  I almost giggled. Tessa had never bothered to tell me her last name, or if she had, I hadn’t remembered. I needed to focus a little harder if I was going to pull off this babysitting gig for real.

  The name for the penthouse, scribbled on a piece of envelope, read RENALDI. The thought that I might come face to face with “Blondie,” if he lived there, filled my throat with hot and undigested Stroganoff. But I shoved the thought aside and pushed the glowing 4B. The front doors buzzed open in return. I forced myself to relax as the elevator ascended and I got off on the fourth floor. The door at the far end of the hall opened, and the woman with short silvery hair popped out, holding the boy—who was by then yelling his head off.

  She smiled as she closed the door behind her. “Are you from New York?”

  “What?”

  “You’re wearing a hat and sunglasses at night.”

  I pulled them off. “No, I …” Try the truth, my mother once said. It catches people off guard. “I have XP. It’s a genetic thing.…”

  Her eyes widened.

  “You’re Jackie Kim’s girl.”

  I couldn’t help but laugh. “Yes.”

  “I know her from work.”

  “Oh, wow! Well, maybe you know then XP isn’t contagious. Parents of kids with XP insist that they wear the seven veils if they go out—”

  “I apologize,” said the woman. “I acted like I was from New York. That was very rude! My name is Teresa Kaminski. I’m Tessa’s mother. And this is his majesty, Tavish.” The little baby abruptly reached for me and started to giggle. Without thinking, I let him come into my arms and pull my ball cap off my head.

  A moment later, a younger woman burst into the apartment. She was practically a clone of the older woman, minus the gray hair. When she saw me, she slumped against the door. “Are you from Heaven, then? That’s the first time he’s stopped crying all day.”

  “I’m from not from Heaven or New York,” I said. “I’m just a local, like you.”

  The baby smiled up at me, all gums and soft cheeks.

  After that it was a whirlwind of re-introductions and explanations. Grandma was Teresa Kaminski; the young woman was Tessa Kaminski-Cryer. Tessa met her husband when they were little kids; both their families spent summers in Two Harbors. Tessa’s husband sold insurance to hospitals. He was on the road a lot, and she was freaking out because she was going to start doing two midnight shifts on top of a class and needed someone to babysit from eleven to six, when her mother (who had just started doing private duty) got off work and came to stay with the baby. Tessa finished with an exhausted “I’m desperate. I only have a week to find somebody.”

  “I’m a good babysitter,” I lied.

  The truth was, I was already smitten with Tavish. I had taken care of Angie before. But taking care of your own siblings requires no skill, only the willingness to follow through on your threat to punch a cute little Chinese girl with an arm the circumference of a broomstick. I had never changed a diaper. I assumed there were package directions for the diaper and a quick manual of sorts you could get for the baby, with the parts labeled.

  “You can ask anyone at the hospital about me,” I added.

  We had a cup of tea. The baby never stopped smiling and cooing at me as I told Tessa about the hot spots in Iron Harbor. She knew about most of them, including Gitchee Pizza. She showed me around the apartment: the décor was exquisite, very sparse and Pottery Barn. “This is a great place,” I said, in a voice that clearly signaled, how can you own a place like this if you’re thirty at most and working the midnight shift?

  “It belongs to my husband’s family friend, Steve. The whole building does. Dr. Tabor? Steve Tabor?” Tessa said.

  I nodded. Of course I knew Dr. Steve, although not as well as Dr. Andrew, obviously. I didn’t hang around accidents and crime scenes and examined deaths of any kind. But I felt a warm rush of relief. Mentally, I slapped myself. I was a paranoid idiot. Juliet was right. It would take someone even dumber than me to use this property as a private crime den: the medical examiner’s property.

  “So, Allie, can you start next week?” Tessa asked. “Or for a practice, paid of course, on, like, Sunday? How about … ten, no eleven dollars an hour—if you do a little cleaning?”

  I had been thinking she’d offer me six or seven. Life brightened. I began to see visions of my own car. Lime green. A Beetle. I said goodbye to young Tavish, who immediately burst into tears again. “One-year molars,” Tessa said wearily. “They start six months after six-month molars.”

  WHEN I REACHED the parking lot, it was full dark, no moon—but I saw him right away.

  Blondie hopped out of a little red sports car and slammed the door.

  I froze in the dull light of the foyer. It was the same car that had nearly sideswiped me. I stared, petrified, as he yanked a large sack from his trunk and hobbled over to the edge of the parking lot, disappearing over the bluff to the lawn at the water’s edge. In the shadows, it looked like a sailboat’s canvass, rolled up like a rug. So I did the only thing I could think of. I ran to mom’s car and grabbed my Maglite.

  When I returned to the parking lot’s edge—and aimed the spotlight at the spongy grass below—I saw nothing.

  Since that night, many times, I’ve tried to imagine this moment from an outside perspective. You’ve seen a guy (whom you’ve suspected of doing something horrible). You’ve seen
him carry a suspicious looking package over a bluff. And when you’ve decided to chase him down, he’s gone. No rolled-up sail. Nothing except the lake demanding softly, “Now? Now?”

  So what do you do?

  You drive seventy in a thirty, all the way home.

  We did go to Duluth.

  Both Rob and Juliet apologized again for blowing me off. The excuse? They were just concerned given how skittish I’d been at Tabor Oaks. As if they hadn’t been skittish! (Well, Juliet hadn’t, but still.…) And yet, I let it go. I figured that if I accepted their apology and thought of us as “we,” maybe they would again, too. Besides, I’d been doing my own thing. I had a job. I was maturing, even if they weren’t.

  I focused on the positives. School was out. Summer was here. We were ready to trace.

  The first night, we didn’t expect to be able to do anything. But we didn’t count on the very excellent Duluth Orchestra Hall. Nor did we count on the way some hah-hah public sculptor had set up what essentially was a Parkour garden. Rob laughed when he saw it: a piano keyboard set in a series of pillars, each about ten feet long and ten feet wide and ten feet apart, pillars in a row that grew taller and taller—from a height of four feet to about twenty feet. Some were dark rough granite and others were a pale gray, almost white. Apparently, at least according to what Rob Googled on his phone, it represented piano keys. It had cost the city of Duluth more than a million dollars.

  “These guys must have a convention every year where they laugh their heads off at city government,” Rob said.

  Juliet said, “You think?”

  “Maybe they believe it’s really art,” I said.

  “I think they think it’s all a big gag,” Rob said, typing away at his phone. He summoned up a bunch of pictures, including the Detroit giant bathtub (The Heart of the Lake) and the Pittsburgh Horseshoe (called—God help me—Irony), as well as the one we dubbed the Seattle Rattle, which was supposed to represent an ancient anchor. As far as we could tell, it was a baby toy that would not have passed a safety inspection.

  “Well, I’m not complaining,” I said. I made a point of looking into both of their eyes. “This is a perfect setup for a Tribe like us, right?”

  BEFORE WE STARTED, we treated ourselves to a fairly lavish dinner at La Prairie Rouge. I’d found myself flush with more money than I’d ever had in my life, as Tessa insisted on paying me $12 an hour because Tavish liked me so much. Still, we shared two entrees among three: oysters and salmon with dill. Then we hurried back to Orchestra Hall. In the car, Juliet and I changed out of our long black skirts into our long black Spandex pants. We did a few long vaults over the lowest “key,” to warm up.

  After that, we tried a standing jump to balance on its top, whereupon Juliet did a back flip off the second-highest key … whereupon we began to notice that a man in a dark blue uniform was more than casually interested in our abilities … whereupon we noticed him walking, then jogging toward us … whereupon we got arrested.

  “Good evening, ladies and gentlemen,” said the police officer. “May I please see your driver’s licenses?”

  Reluctantly, we extracted them from our backpacks. Slowly, and very respectfully, Rob said, “Please excuse me. But we are not driving.”

  The cop looked at us in that measuring way certain scary people have: as though trying to decide whether it’s worth messing up their hair to bloody your face.

  “I did not ask you if you were driving. I asked for your driver’s licenses,” he said.

  “What we were doing is a kind of discipline, a sport called Parkour,” Rob said.

  “I don’t care if it’s Parcheesi. My kid brother got caught doing it, at the parking garage, outside the Macy’s. It’s like skateboarding without the skates, and surfboarding without the surfboard, or like suicide without the—”

  “Sewer?” I said helpfully.

  He acted as if he didn’t hear me. Normally I would never have said a thing like that in a situation like that. I still have no idea why I did. Juliet gave me a look of such alarm and disgust that I would have turned myself into a giant granite piano key at that moment. But it prompted her to draw her trump card.

  “My father would not do this,” she said with a sad sigh.

  “And who is your father? The mayor?”

  “No, he is your brother officer. Thomas Sirocco, deputy chief of the Iron County Sheriff’s Department but former detective in the Minneapolis Police Department.”

  “He get in trouble?” the cop asked plainly.

  “No, he moved to Iron County because he wanted to. Fifteen years ago.” She blinked several times and swallowed. “So that I could be treated at the Tabor Clinic.” Juliet could really turn it on when she wanted to. She was so pitiful a drama-dolly that I wanted to cry, myself. “I have a fatal illness. Xeroderma Pigmentosum.” With that, she withdrew a medical dog tag from her wallet. We were all supposed to wear the tags on chains around our necks. We preferred to pin them to our backpacks, or failing that, pretend we had lost them. I’ve often wondered what you are supposed to do if you found a person with XP in a dangerous situation … which, to any other person, would be a normal situation, like, walking down the street at noon. Throw a blanket over him? Call the vet? However, I retrieved my own poignant ID badge from my back pocket. Rob did, too. It was squirm warfare at its finest.

  Now it was the police officer’s turn to blink several times. “Go on then,” he said to her after a moment. “Get home safe. You guys too.”

  He turned and walked stiffly back to his car.

  We turned and ran for Rob’s Jeep.

  “World famous brainimus minimus!” Juliet hissed at me as I cowered in the back seat. “How could you do that? If my dad found out, I could have gotten grounded for this. I have never been grounded. That would be the equivalent of death for me.”

  In truth, I wasn’t sure that she would get grounded, even if we had been locked up in a Duluth jail for a night. Many counties had been littered with warnings in lieu of speeding tickets issued to Juliet Sirocco.

  “So let’s go home,” Juliet said. “We can do Tabor Oaks again.”

  “No,” I said automatically. I thought of Blondie. There. Then not there. He knew his way around the property. Which meant that he probably lived there, right alongside Tavish and Tessa. People can vanish in the time it takes to start a car and drive it ten feet, yes. But people have to be very fast to vanish completely.

  “I saw him again,” I said.

  “The guy in the apartment? The penthouse?” Juliet asked, as casually as if I had mentioned my own mother. She sounded almost bored.

  “I’m not going back there,” I said.

  “You go there all the time,” Juliet replied with a patient sigh. “You spent the entire car ride telling us about how you are babysitting there.”

  I glared at her. “Well I’m not going near that penthouse,” I insisted.

  “What did he say?” Rob asked. “The guy? When you saw him?”

  I scowled. “We didn’t have a chat. Whatever. I’m not going back there. You go for it, you little tribe of two.”

  “Okay,” Juliet said. “Are you fine with that, Rob?”

  Rob chewed on the inside of his cheek.

  “Because I can do it myself,” Juliet added.

  “I’ll do it,” I said. “But just this once.”

  Rob shrugged. “Obviously, I was going to do it anyhow.”

  No one else said a word for the duration of the trip.

  NINETY MINUTES LATER, we were up on the nearly completed building, preparing to leap onto the roof of Tabor Oaks—home both to a scary disappearing man and to my new employer.

  Rob gaped at Juliet as she launched herself down and out and over. I was so pissed at his idol worship that I ran right after her. I realized midair that I had not turned on my headlamp. If I had pinwheeled my legs or done anything to break form, I would have fallen to my death. But I landed hard, right beside Juliet. I was breathless, and my cheeks were damp
. I blamed the tears on the wind. Rob leaped and rolled to a stop at our feet, then hopped up. Before either he or Juliet could say a word about my stupid headlamp oversight, I growled, “It was a mistake. I won’t do it again.”

  “I was just afraid for you, honey,” Rob whispered.

  Honey? He’d never called me that before. The word kicked at my heart but also my brain. I wondered how it would feel if he’d called me “honey” in a way that didn’t sound like what I called my nine-year-old sister. But over any other shred of emotion, the movie reel of what I’d just done played over and over again in my mind. I fought to slow my breathing. I had one of those moments of clarity—not for the first time—realizing that what was risky in daylight was sheer imbecile business by night.

  We prepared for our descent. The plan: down to the penthouse balcony, and then lache swings to the next diagonal balcony (including Tessa’s) … and all the way down with a leap to the soft ground from the second floor.

  “I’ll go first,” I insisted. “I need to. I’m fine. I really am fine.”

  Screw Rob, I thought, using my anger to focus. Honey? Really? Screw Juliet, too, for making me do this. Lightly, using one arm to hang and swing and the other to grasp the balcony, I lifted myself over: a perfect traverse. I stood straight. The curtains were drawn, and only one small light burned in the living room, next to the long curved sofa. Too late, I noticed … the door was open. Of course it was. This was summer. There was a nice quiet lake breeze. Cool, beautiful night. Just a screen.

  Somehow I whispered, “Stop.”

  Rob leaned over the side of the roof and waited for my cue.

 
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