Life blood, p.11
Heading home, finally, I told myself to try to calm down. I wasdetermined to help Sarah get over her trauma, though truthfully I wastoo tired to really think straight at that moment. So instead I decidedto let everything rest for a few hours and try for some distance. Infact, I began imagining myself in a hot bath, gazing at my now-wiltingroses. Home Sweet Home.
Mine was a standard one-bedroom in a building that had been turned intoa co-op five years earlier, the owner offering the individualapartments to the tenants. I'd stayed a renter, however, passing up the"low" insider price, $138,000, because I didn't really have the money,and when I did have it someday I would want something bigger. I wishedI had more space--a real dining room and a bigger bathroom would do forstarters, along with some place for more bookcases. And if a babyshould someday miraculously come along . . .
I'd often thought you could tell a lot about somebody from where andhow they lived; it's revealing as a Rorschach test. What, I oftenwondered, did my apartment say about me?
A decorator might conclude I'd done up the place with love, then lazilylet it go. They'd decide I cared about nice things, but once those nicethings were there, I neglected them. It would be true.
I'd covered the walls of the living room with pale blue cloth, thenhung a lot of framed pictures and old movie posters. Okay, I likemovies. For me even the posters are art. My couch was an off-white,more like dirt-colored actually, and covered with pillows for the"feminine" touch. I'd hoped you'd have to look twice to realize it wasactually a storage cabinet in disguise, with drawers along the bottomof the front. The floor was polished hardwood, rugs from India here andthere, in sore need of a vacuuming, and even a couple of deceasedinsects that'd been there for over a week. That sort of said it, Ithought glumly. I'm a workaholic slob.
The bedroom revealed even more about me. The bed was a brassfour-poster, queen-size, partly covered by an heirloom quilt. It hadn'tbeen made in a week. (Who has the time?) The room itself was long anddivided into areas for work and sleep. Opposite the bed itself was anantique English desk, on which sat my old Macintosh, and next to thatwas my file cabinet, the indispensable part of the "home office" theIRS loves to hate. On top of it was a stack of marked-up scripts, notesscribbled all over them in six different colors. You never realizemovies are so complicated till you see a breakdown sheet. Camera anglesand voice-overs and . . .
Next to the bed was a violin case and three books about Indian ragas.What was that about? somebody might wonder. Some kind of Indian musicnut? I was, albeit a very minimally talented nut.
The kitchen was the New York efficiency kind painted a glossy tan, thecolor of aerosol olive oil. The cabinets contained mostly packages ofpasta, instant soup, and coffee filters. Not even any real food. I liveon deli takeout these days. An inventory of my fridge at this momentwould clock two cartons of "fresh squeezed" orange juice, a half quartof spoiling milk, a bag of coffee beans, plastic containers of wiltingveggies from the corner salad bar, and three bottles of New Yorkseltzer. That was it.
God help me, I thought, my mind-state turning even more
morose. This is my life. I had become that retrograde Woman of theNineties: works ninety hours a week, makes ninety thou a year, weighsninety pounds, and thinks (pardon my French) Cooking and Fucking areprovinces in northern China. Well, the ninety-pounds part of thatobscene quip didn't fit--and it wasn't the nineties anymore, anyway.
In any case, was my apartment a place to raise a child? No earthly way.Like Carly, I'd have to spring for some decent space, preferably with awashing machine. . . .
A parking slot was open right in front of my building, a minor miracleon this day of uncertain events. As I was pulling in, I glanced over tosee a man walking past, not catching the face but sensing somethingfamiliar in the walk. He was in the process of unbuttoning a FederalExpress uniform, peeling away the top to reveal a dark suit. Hecertainly seemed to be in a big hurry, carrying an unmarked shoppingbag. Maybe, I thought, his shift was over and he was meeting his wife,or a friend.
I wondered if he'd left a package for me, and told myself to check withthe super. Not the usual delivery guy--did they come on Sundaynow?--and also . . .
Where was the truck? They always parked right here by the building.
I was still so upset over Sarah, I couldn't immediately process thoseillogical observations, so I just grabbed my pink roses, dripping fromthe bottom of their paper wrapping, and opened the car door. It wasdefinitely good to be home. I loved my Chelsea neighborhood, where yougot to know the locals, running into them in the delis, the littlerestaurants, the dry cleaners. Just like a small town. If you worked athome, the way I sometimes did, you even got to know the mailman and thedelivery guys for UPS and FedEx. . . .
Hey! That guy. I finally placed the walk, a kind of a strut. He was theslimeball who'd been outside Paula Marks' building last week, carryinga gun and threatening me. What's he doing here?
My pulse went off the charts. Was he one of Nicky Russo's wiseguy crewafter all? Had he come back, with his pistol, to pay me a returnengagement?
Chill out, I told myself, take a deep breath. He's leaving. Just tryand find out who he is.
Roses in one hand held up awkwardly around my face, I slowly ambleddown the street after him. I didn't have to go far. Within about ahundred feet, he unlocked a long black Lincoln Towncar, stepped out ofthe FedEx camouflage, tossed it onto the seat along with the bag he wascarrying, pulled the cap off his bald head got in, and sped away.
The license plate looked different from the usual, but I got what Ineeded: DL and a string of numbers.
Uh-oh, I thought. Was he leaving a package bomb for me?
I turned back and let myself into the outer lobby, glancing around as Idid. There were no parcels anywhere, just blank, brown tile.
My apartment was 3A. The name on the bell was M. James. As I steppedthrough the inner lobby--still no package--a rumpled face appeared inthe doorway just to my left. The sign on it, flaking, said SUPER.
"Oh, hi." The voice was Patrick Mooney, our superintendent, who did notnormally emerge to greet those arriving. But there had been complaintsfrom the building's managing agent that he could never be found foremergencies, so he probably wanted to appear available, even onSundays. His voice was slurred from some midday medicinal Irish whisky."Thought you were home. FedEx guy was here earlier looking for you."
Oh, boy. "Did he leave a package?"
"He had something with him, if that's what you mean. Like a bag of somekind."
"And you let him go up?" I couldn't believe what I was hearing. I felta rush of dismay.
"Said he had to. Needed a signature." Patrick Mooney then shrugged andreached for the dooijamb to steady himself, his whisky breath waftingacross the hall. Great security.
I stepped into the elevator as the door was clanking shut, and watchedas he rubbed his eyes and eased his own door closed.
Now I was really puzzled. If the FedEx guy came "earlier," why was hejust now leaving? A lot of scary theories went through my mind as Ipushed the button for the third floor.
I took a deep breath as the elevator opened, but again I saw nopackages. So far so good. Getting off, I set down my roses on the hallcarpet and fumbled for my key. When I inserted it, the lock felt alittle rough, causing me to think for an instant I'd used the wrongkey, but then it responded.
What had caused that? I wondered. Had the guy been fiddling with mydoor, wiring a bomb? Using one hand I pushed it open, again holding mybreath and standing aside, but it opened okay. I exhaled, then reachedback to drag in the flowers.
But if he didn't leave a package, what was he doing here? Casing outwhere I lived? Planting a bug in the elevator? And why was he here solong?
The place was dark when I stepped in, the drapes drawn. I relocked thedoor, then surveyed the gloom. No explosions, so I guessed he didn'tplan to kill me. Yet. Here I was, home, safe and sound. I just stood aminute, still uneasy.
After my unnerving sequence with Sarah, thoughts of going to the officehad zero appeal. Time to lighten up, way up.
Preoccupied, not looking around, I stuffed the roses into a vase by thesink, and then I thought again about the white wine and opened therefrigerator. I'd still not bothered to turn on any lights, but thekitchen and its ancient fridge were dimly illuminated by the tinywindow just across. I wasn't sure where I'd put the bottle, since I'dhad to rearrange things to make room for the dup of Carly's interview.(I was also planning to take home a safety dup of Paula's interviewsometime later in the week.)
Why was I doing that? Taking home copies? It was a sign of deepcompulsion. You couldn't really make a professional-quality secondnegative from a first positive--by that time it would bethird-generation--but I'd brought it anyway. Now and then I just have araw instinct that keeping a safety backup around is a good idea. Butthe canister had ended up devouring the entire lower shelf of thefridge.
I opened the white door and peered in. The light was out, and for amoment I stared numbly at the dark, half-filled shelves. The only thingthat struck me as odd was that I could see the pure white of the emptybottom shelf.
For a second I could only stand and stare, but then I backed away,trying to figure out what was wrong, and stumbled over something. Iregained my balance and flipped on the overhead light.
The floor around me was littered with bottles, my old toaster, my tinymicrowave. It was a total shambles.
I recoiled stumbling again, this time over cans strewn across thelinoleum. My kitchen, it was slowly sinking in, had been completelytrashed.
I felt a visceral wave of nausea. It's the scariest thing in the worldhaving your space invaded like a form of psychic rape. I sagged againstthe refrigerator as I gazed around. The cabinets had been emptied out,a hasty and haphazard search. Quick and extremely dirty, as glasscontainers of condiments, including an old bottle of dill pickles, wereshattered and their contents smeared into the floor.
"I don't believe this." I marched back into the living room and reachedfor the lights. This room too had been turned upside down. The TV,stereo, VCR, all had been swept onto the rug. But they were stillthere. That guy, that animal, who did this wasn't a thief. He'd beenlooking for something.
My breath now coming in pulses, I edged into the bedroom and switchedon the light. The bed was the way I'd left it, the covers thrown backand the pillows in a pile. The clock radio was there, and so was theold Mac, still on the table in the far corner, my "workstation." Againnothing seemed to be missing.
I headed back to the kitchen, where the refrigerator door was stillopen. I gazed at the interior a moment, still puzzled, trying to figureout what wasn't right. . . .
Shit! Shit! Shit! That's what was wrong. The field of white bottomshelf was empty. Totally empty. The film canister of Paula's interviewwas gone.
For a moment I just leaned against the kitchen counter, barely pushingaside an impulse to throw up in the sink. Think, I told myself, get agrip and think. . . .
It was the film he'd wanted. And he'd wanted it badly enough to pickthe lock, then rip my home apart looking for it.
I pulled at a tangle of hair, feeling my mind in chaos, and tried toreason out the situation. Why? Why would he steal a positive thatcouldn't be used for anything?
Finally the real truth of what had happened hit me like a fist in thechest. My Home Sweet Home had been violated.
Seething, I went into the living room and reached for the phone, theonly thing not on the floor.
My first instinct was to call David, but then I decided he'd just gointo a tizzy of hysteria and be no support at all. So instead I calledLou, praying I wouldn't wake Sarah. In an unsteady voice, I tried totell him what had happened.
He seemed puzzled to hear from me again so soon, but then he quicklyturned FBI, concerned for my safety.
"Guy sounds like a professional," he declared. "Probably got in with anelectric picker, like the Edge. Any asshole can buy one for a hundredand thirty bucks. It'll rake cylinders at a hundred times a second. Prolike that, you can be sure there'll be no prints."
"But why would . . . ?" My voice was still a croak. "I mean, my God,all for a lousy reel of film?"
"Fucker wants you to know he's in town. So how he did it's as importantas what he did. It's a time-proven scare tactic." He paused. "Morgan, Idon't like this one bit. There could be more before this is over."
"Think I should call the cops?"
"Damned right you should," he said, slowly and sadly, "but to tell youthe truth, they ain't gonna do all that much. Somebody messed up yourapartment and lifted a third-hand copy of a woman talking. They'll sayit sounds more like malicious mischief than a crime. Then they'll writeit up and that'll be the last you'll hear from them."
"Well," I said, my anger welling up, "maybe I don't feel quite solaissez-faire. Tell me, you know anybody who can run a plate for you ona Sunday?"
"You got the prick's license number?" he exclaimed. "Why the helldidn't you say so?"
"Honestly, it sort of slipped my mind. I'm having a little troublethinking straight right now."
Fortunately my short-term memory is pretty good, even when I'mstressed, so I spewed it out.
"Don't go anywhere," he declared. "I'll get back to you in fiveminutes."
I hung up the phone and lay down, flat out on the carpet, trying abreathing exercise to calm down. The problem was, it wasn't working.Having had some experience with being robbed--I once got completelycleaned out when I had a ground-floor apartment down in the Village--Iknow you go through certain Kubler-Ross-like stages of anger, denial,depression, acceptance. You also go through a predictable series ofrecriminations: I should have had window bars and gates; I should havehad a different lock; I should have had two different locks. In theinstance just recalled, I'm virtually certain an apartment painterduplicated a set of my keys on his lunch break and then passed them onto a second-story artist. No way to prove that, mind you, but it had tobe what happened. I also suspect he checked my appointments calendar tosee when I was going to be out of town.
But in this case the lock was definitely picked. Nobody had a set of mykeys except the super, and Steve. So the guy with the Spanish accentknew how to slip through doors and he had no financial interest in myold VCR. He only had an interest in my film. What had he said there onthe sidewalk outside Paula Marks's apartment? Something about howmaking this picture was a big mistake?
I jumped as the phone erupted by my ear.
"The name Colonel Jose Alvino Ramos Grijalva mean anything to you?" Louasked.
"How could it? I'm not sure I can even pronounce it."
"Well, Colonel Ramos declares himself to be a military attache at theGuatemalan Consulate here. You've got a big shot in the Guatemalan Armyrummaging through your apartment. This is even worse than I thought.Those guys are killers."
"Jesus." I was still coming to grips with the horrifying fact he'd beenin my apartment, in my only refuge. "Think I could bring chargesagainst him?"
"Well, let's consider this a minute. Probably no prints, no crediblewitness. You'd have a damned hard time proving anything." He sighed."Truth is, I doubt you could even get a restraining order, given whatlittle you've got to work with."
"The bastard." I sat a moment, feeling the logical, left side of mybrain just shut down. My mind went back to its most primitive level,running on adrenaline. "Look, I need to check out something. I'll callyou in the morning."
"Well, be careful," he said warily. "And for God's sake don't gorunning off anyplace alone. I'm telling you you're not safe. Always bearound people."
"I'll keep it in mind." With that I gently hung up the phone andexhaled.
Think. Some colonel from Guatemala just broke into my apartment lookingfor what I might know about Children of Light, w
I remembered Alex Goddard wanted me to go to a "clinic" he hadsomewhere in Central America. Ten to one that clinic was in Guatemala.That was what this whole thing was about. And now he'd just gone backthere; at least that was what he'd said.
Guatemala was a long way off, but his other operation was right up theriver. I hadn't seen all of it this morning, but that was about tochange. A lot of things were about to change. It was time to startgetting the playing field level again.
Life Blood by Thomas Hoover / Horror have rating 2.7 out of 5 / Based on16 votes