The Grim Room (chapter 10)
My thriller novel, chapter 10
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Rebecca headed toward the Panhandle.
The day was immaculate, one of those February mornings in San Francisco where, for a moment at least, there was no rain, no wind, no deep, dank fog. Sunshine. Rebecca rolled her window down. What would it be like, to see him after all these years? She couldn’t imagine. And yet, of course, she’d already envisioned a thousand possibilities. But she was only here for closure.
Maybe she’d be scared. She hadn’t thought of the possible negatives to this charade. What if Chris was a different person now, and not in a good way? What if he was violent? What if prison had done a serious number on him, psychologically? What if…
Rebecca forced herself to focus on the positive. The letter. He’d surely grown. Changed.
She eased under a cypress tree, parallel parking. Noticing the red door of the house, the gold numbers of 1098 shining brightly in the sun, she rested for a moment, looking at herself in the rearview mirror. Her auburn fire hair was smoothed out and looking perfect. She sported the A-line floral blouse, the pencil skirt, and the d’Orsay leather skimmer shoes.
It was a two story aqua-colored Victorian craftsman. An upstairs window faced the street; blinds drawn. Maybe he was in there now. Oh, Christopher.
She moved along the narrow walkway leading through grass. Arriving at the red door, she felt the inevitable emotion. Almost seeming like she might have a panic attack, Rebecca sensed a deep well of nervous fear. Her head spinning, heart pounding, she swallowed, feeling like she needed water.
Maybe she shouldn’t have come alone? That uneasy recollection of being torn apart from Chris on that fateful day of the setup thrashed through her mind. Ok, Becca. It’s going to be alright. Just take it easy. Stop making a big deal out of this.
Rebecca garnered the courage and her hand rose; it came down on the red wood.
She spun around to see if, for some reason, somebody was spying, and knocked again.
Maybe he wasn’t home. Maybe he was out working or something? Or maybe he was asleep, or—
The lock unlatched and the knob jiggled. For some reason, as if preparing to run if attacked, she stood back.
It was an old man. He was bent over, hunched, and his face was wrinkled like rubber. An oxygen machine was on a mini-roller next to him, a tube leading from it into his nostrils.
The man gawked at her, trying to decipher the situation. He stepped closer, the tube from the tank losing slack.
“Can I help you, missus?”
The man coughed profusely. “You’re not with the girl scouts are you, eh? Huh?”
“I might like some girl scout cookies, today,” he said.
“I’m here to see Christopher.”
The man crunched his eyes together, the wrinkles protruding even more. “Who?”
“You might know him as Chris? His real name is Christopher, or Chris?”
The creepy old man was staring at her breasts. She tugged at her blouse, heaving the thing upward, covering her cleavage. It was like Darnin, only this man was ancient. The man looked up, disgruntled, as if she were depriving him of a show he’d been promised.
“Sorry, kid. No one here by that name.”
“Oh. Huh. This is 1098 Masonic, right?” She backed up, scanning the address.
“You bet. You want to come in for coffee? My wife’s out for a bit, but I could—”
“I’m sorry to have wasted your time,” she said. She walked back down the path. The old man closed the door with a soft clang.
She was on her way to see her boyfriend. They hadn’t had a “real” conversation about everything yet, and she figured it was about time they did. Alison was at Rebecca’s; she’d be staying there for a while. She’d retold the horrible events of her Smuggler’s Cove meeting with Silver. What a sick bastard. And it was Rebecca’s fault. She’d been the one to push her friend to meet with slimy Silver. Ugh. Gross. Rebecca felt terrible about this.
And the whole thing was for nothing: the shady bastard pulled the rug out from underneath them. A lying thief, that’s all he was. How could Rebecca have been so naïve? To trust Silver? Really? Sometimes people had a “lack of judgment”; her mother used to say that about apprehended criminals.
Rebecca called Officer Darnin. She told him what Alison had said, and asked him to keep an eye on Silver. He was on the case, he assured her, which for some reason—she didn’t know why—drove a sharp shudder down her body. Though certainly attractive, and a good “friend” of her mother’s, there was something about Officer Darnin she didn’t quite like. She couldn’t be sure what that thread was, it was nearly unconscious. But it was there, real and twisted in her psyche.
Either way, he was on the case, looking out for her and Alison.
Rebecca drove up 25th Avenue, moving north of Golden Gate Park, and landed on the corner of 25th and Anza Street.
She didn’t knock and it was, as always, unlocked. Jake was on the couch, the sliding glass doors to the balcony open. He was smoking a cigarette, which startled her. Jake didn’t smoke.
His feet were propped on a stool and he was glued to the television, another thing he never did. His dark hair was disheveled, and a short, round whiskey glass was half filled with auburn liquid, two dissolving ice cubes clinking as he raised it to his thin, tight lips and sipped.
The TV was on low volume: The American Movie Channel: American Graffiti, it said on the lower corner of the screen. Vintage ’50s muscle cars raced down some popular street in the film, the main character wearing a white T-shirt with a pack of Lucky Strikes tucked into his sleeve, like James Dean. Jake seemed disinterested.
“Baby, I didn’t know you—”