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Authors: Kem Nunn

Tags: #Fiction, #General, #Literary, #Thrillers

Chance (5 page)

BOOK: Chance
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He went the following day. He did not visit her straightaway but spoke instead to her attending physician. She’d received a concussion but there was no evidence of bleeding into or structural damage of her brain. The surgery required to relieve the entrapped muscle was straightforward enough and he felt satisfied that she was in good hands. As to the nature of the incident, she had yet to claim additional knowledge. There was only the bit about having surprised someone at the rear of her condo and that was all.

He considered leaving it there as the course prudent behavior then caved to the impulse to stop by her room. He found the door open and a man seated in a chair at the side of her bed. The man wore a gray suit. He was broad shouldered with thick dark hair. He had his back to the door and was leaning forward a bit, holding to one of Jaclyn’s hands, speaking to her in a low voice. Chance heard little more than a name . . .
Jackie
 . . . before retreating to a nurses’ station to make conversation with one of the nurses, while waiting to see if the man would leave anytime soon, and where, having identified himself as a doctor, he inquired further regarding the patient in room 141.

“She’s been in quite a lot of pain,” the nurse told him. “Complaining of double vision. She’s scheduled for the surgery this afternoon.”

“Has she had many visitors?”

“Just the husband,” the nurse told him, and excused herself to check on a patient.

Chance was still at the station when the man came out of the room. He was, as Chance had noted, a lean, broad-shouldered man of medium height, a handsome enough man, Chance thought, and fit, certainly capable of doing some damage with his fists.

Chance had expected him to walk on by and was surprised when he stopped before him. “You one of her doctors?” the man asked. The man’s eyes were black and direct. Chance of course recalled that he was a homicide detective for the city of Oakland and he had that about him, whatever
that
was, some air of authority, some hint of the bully. Chance had no difficulty in believing he was a cop. He had no difficulty in believing he was a bad cop. “I’m a neuropsychiatrist,” Chance told him. “I was asked by her therapist to look in on her.”

“You were in her room just now, why didn’t you look in?”

“I saw she had a visitor. There was no rush.”

“No rush? Not like the doctors
I
know.”

Chance thought that perhaps the man would smile but he didn’t. Chance just looked at him. The man looked back, a moment longer, before moving off toward the elevators at the end of the hall. Chance waited till the man was gone before returning to Jaclyn’s room.

She looked about as he had expected given the nature and severity of her injuries. One side of her face was badly swollen and bruised. She turned her head a bit on the pillow at his approach and he could see that she had been crying.

“Jaclyn . . .” he began. “I’m so sorry . . .”

“Please,” she said. “You should go.” She spoke through clenched teeth, turning to the wall, where a small dirty window looked out upon the city of Oakland.

Chance put his hand on the forearm that was on the outside of her blanket. “You’re going to be fine,” he said, feeling both moved and impotent, reduced to cliché. “You will feel better when they free up that muscle and you can stop seeing two of everything.”

He’d hoped to joke a little but she wasn’t having any. Her hand opened and closed, holding to the sky blue blanket that covered her bed. He gave her arm a gentle squeeze before releasing her. He would have held her in his arms if he could have, so delicate and wounded did she seem just then, lying there in that sterile room with its plastic curtains and hospital blankets, its dismal view of the city. He recalled their conversation in the bookstore in Berkeley not two weeks prior, the business about the chairs, her expression in recalling the loss of
her dog, her beguiling smile as they had waited in line to buy their books. She was a gentle soul, he thought, a kind spirit. She declined to look at him and she declined to be comforted. And of course the truth was that while surgery might free the trapped muscle, it would not free her from the man Chance had seen in her room just now, bending over her like some B movie vampire, her hand in his, the same that had beaten her. For now that Chance had looked into the man’s face he had no doubt that Janice had been right. There’d been no intruder in the back of the condominium. It was the man he had seen, the bad cop, hunting his whore, angered at her sudden disappearance.

 

Beyond the walls of the hospital, which were dull and gray and rather more like a prison than a place of healing, a pall had settled. Even those views of the city by way of the Richmond–San Rafael Bridge that had almost never failed to cheer seemed veiled in gloom. He spent the rest of the day in the small, overly warm kitchen of a retired dentist. He’d been retained by a distant relative on suspicion of elder abuse and asked to make an assessment with regard to vulnerability to undue influence. The man, William Fry, though he preferred to be addressed as Doc Billy, was ninety-six years old. He sported dual hearing aids and was attached to an oxygen tank. The requisite cognitive and psychiatric testing had dragged on for hours. By the time Chance reentered the day, as claustrophobic as Doc Billy’s kitchenette, the afternoon had given way to darkness, the sidewalks made wet by a roiling fog he might once have found romantic. Returning to his apartment, he was alerted by way of a letter that the IRS had just put a lien on any profits realized from the sale of his house.

 

Though well into the dinner hour, he was able to get his attorney on the phone. The situation was explained as follows: The government’s interest had been piqued as a result of an audit of his soon-to-be ex-wife’s business, a small photographic studio. There’d been a couple of years there when he’d pumped some money into the enterprise
in an effort to help her get it off the ground. It seemed now that the money had not been properly accounted for. On his end were unsubstantiated expenses, on hers unreported income. Being married, the two had filed jointly, leaving both now tarred with the same brush. The only difference between them was that he
had
money, albeit in dwindling sums, while she had none. The government was looking for back taxes and penalties in excess of two hundred thousand dollars. There would of course be further bills from the requisite attorneys. He thanked his attorney and hung up.

He sat holding the letter from the IRS, fingers trembling with rage or stress, or fear, unable to shake the feeling that his former spouse and confidante, the mother of his child, had ratted him out. “It never fucking rains . . .” he said to no one, realizing almost at once and with a lasting chagrin it was exactly the kind of thing his mother might have said. And how he would have hated her for it, she with her platitudes and clichés, her grating homilies. But then he guessed that was how it was . . . you stuck around long enough . . . your reward was to become the very person you’d spent the better part of your life holding in contempt.

 

He took a three-dollar bottle of Trader Joe’s wine from the cabinet above his refrigerator, found something to drink it from, and seated himself in his own kitchenette, only slightly larger and less confining than Dr. Fry’s, and began his report:

 

William Fry is a 92-year-old right-handed dentist who has been retired for 30 years. He is single, has never been married, and has resided for the past 55 years in a second-floor apartment in the Castro District of San Francisco. Questions have been raised regarding the possibility of elder abuse by a female in-home care provider to whom Mr. Fry has apparently given more than $1,000,000 in the form of a series of checks from a money market fund. . . .

 

That was as far as he got. He hadn’t the heart for it. Not tonight. He turned instead to the wine, sipping from a ridiculously large glass
container that had once housed a drink called a Hurricane from a bar in New Orleans and was the only clean bit of glassware he’d been able to find after a thorough search of his apartment. He thought about his wife ratting him out. He thought about Jaclyn Blackstone with her fractured face. He thought about the darkness in the hearts of men. He recalled something Doc Billy had said to him in the course of their long afternoon: “You can’t imagine how it feels . . . ninety-two fucking years old and feeling loved for the first time. Money just doesn’t matter that much anymore.”

Chance believed he could imagine all too well how it might feel being ninety-two fucking years old. Unhappily, this did not serve to make him any less anxious about his own difficulties and his eye fell upon the slick French furniture crammed into a corner of his tiny living room and he resolved to sell it forthwith, for as much money as he possibly could. The consequences could go fuck themselves. It was, for Chance, an unusually rash call. Later he would blame it on the cheap wine, this in concert with the simple fact that he had been unable to find a suitably clean smaller glass.

D
 

T
HE FOLLOWING
day was Saturday and he made his way to Allan’s Antiques upon rising. He found the building even more dimly lit than on previous visits and so quiet as to appear deserted, although the front door was open to the sidewalk off Market as always. He went in. He did not hear Carl’s voice nor could he find him. He’d half expected to see the crack-smoking leather boy around somewhere but he was absent as well. He went to the big table where they’d looked at the computer images of his furniture, called a tentative hello to no response, then moved on to the back of the building.

 

A flickering blue light came from the hole in the wall that led to Big D’s work area. Approaching this and looking in, he was able to see Big D himself at work with some kind of handheld torch on a shining piece of metal. Chance waited for a bit, watching as D worked. The scene had about it some archetypal aspect Chance found satisfying to observe and was reluctant to disturb, the big man at work amid the tools of his trade, intent upon the task before him. There was something in the absolute physicality of it. It spoke, Chance thought, of another more rudimentary and therefore, perhaps, simpler time. Though it
occurred to him as well that simpler times were surely more a function of longing than of history, that life on planet Earth had never been all that simple.

BOOK: Chance
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