Read Chance Online

Authors: Kem Nunn

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

Chance (8 page)

BOOK: Chance
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D seemed a bit disappointed and when he spoke again it was with considerably less enthusiasm. “Take a little time for me to get what I need,” he said. “’Nother day or two, I’ll be able to start. Should take me about a week.”

At which point Carl Allan appeared. “Is there a doctor in the house?” he asked. He was standing in the doorway that led back into D’s workroom, puffy in the face with a still swollen nose and dark half-moons beneath his eyes, a jaunty straw hat in the style of certain fifties hipsters placed well back on his head to accommodate the white bandaging that peeked out beneath it. He was leaning on a wooden cane with an ornate silver handle. “Thought I heard your voice,” the old man said. He was looking at Chance and doing his best to smile.

Chance rose at once. “My God,” he asked. “What happened?”

Carl waved it off. “A minor mishap,” he said. “I’ll be right as rain in no time at all.” He went on before Chance could say more. “I was pleased to see you brought your pieces in. I’ve already spoken to two buyers who may be interested.”

Interested in what, Chance wondered, copies or originals? Were the buyers in question private parties or dealers? Perhaps he should inquire. But then he
had
brought the stuff in. A course had been charted, and looking about him there in the alley, he felt himself, for what must have been the first time in a life noteworthy for its adherence
to convention, a partner in crime. There followed a momentary, unaccountable elation and he looked once more to his co-conspirators, the one the size of Texas just now making gurgling noises with his straw as he sucked down the last of an enormous Diet Coke, the other rail thin in a plaid sharkskin jacket, head wrapped in gauze—desperadoes beneath the eaves.

“You’re done out here,” Carl said, interrupting his reverie, “come inside. I need you to fill out a couple of papers.”

“Papers?” Chance asked. He was not sure he cared for the sound of it.

“We’ll want to document the pieces,” Carl told him. “We’ll want your signature.”

The idea of actually attaching his signature to something was sufficient to stifle his momentary elation. Signing papers evoked the specter of attorneys and courts of law, the stuff of life, as opposed to fantasy. D chose this moment to repeat the gurgling sound with his straw. My God, Chance thought suddenly, what have I done? Surely this was the very kind of poor judgment his father had so often warned of. The deal would sour. It was so written. He would be found out. Additional lawsuits would be added to those in which he was already mired. His life would turn to shit.

“You youngsters keep right on talking,” Carl said. “I’ll be here when you’re ready.” He turned unsteadily in the doorway. Chance watched as he walked away, leaning heavily on the cane. “The hell happened?” he asked of D, not quite able to mask his own sense of desperation.

“Kid took him off.”

“That kid I saw in here? Leather pants and pointed boots?”

“I guess.”

“There’s more than one?”

D laughed. “The old man has a weakness, I guess you could say, but yeah, it was probably that one you saw, flavor of the fucking month. Kid wanted money. Carl said no. Kid came in here with two of his pals, beat him up pretty good and stole some shit.”

“Christ.” Chance seated himself once more on the step. “What did
they take?” He supposed he was imagining how it would have been had his furniture been here a week earlier, and how it might be if they came back wanting more.

“Couple of antique chairs, some money was in that desk up front . . .”

“Did he go to the police?”

“He came to me. What pisses me off, I wasn’t here when they came around but I guess that’s how they planned it. Little prick knew his routine. Knew mine too, I suppose. You gotta watch it with that shit.”

“What shit would that be?” Chance asked. “I’m not sure I follow.”

D just looked at him. “Having a
routine,
” he said. “Same place, same time every day? Like walking around with a fucking target on your back.”

D was, Chance thought, beginning to sound uncomfortably like certain of his patients, the ones with delusional paranoia. He kept the observation to himself and nodded, as if to confirm the position’s fundamental soundness.

D waved toward the building at his back. “Stuff’s all back in there, is what I was about to say.”

“The stuff that was stolen?”

D nodded.

“You got it back?”

“That and then some.”

Chance waited.

“I needed to make it worth my while.”

Chance shook his head, imagining what that might mean. “You make it sound easy,” he said.

“Pretty easy.”

“They weren’t armed? They didn’t want to fight you for it?”

D shrugged. “The kid knew me.” He pulled the plastic top off his Diet Coke and examined the inside of the cup, apparently wanting to be sure that he’d gotten the last of it. “One of his pals thought he’d try his luck with a baseball bat.”

Chance laughed out loud. He was thinking about the BMW driver
in the street, that and Detective Blackstone, entertaining his fantasies. “Not a good idea, you’re telling me.”

“He should’ve stuck to baseballs.”

“So what then?”

D got to his feet, tossing his trash into a nearby Dumpster. “Then he went away,” D said, as matter-of-factly as ever.

Chance gave it a moment to see if D would say more, but D seemed done and was now peering into the Dumpster as if he’d found something there to interest him. “When you say he went away . . .” Chance started but let it drop. He was thinking maybe it was one of those “don’t ask, don’t tell” kind of things. And what, after all, did
he
know?

 

In the end, Chance signed his papers and left. Funny, he thought, once more in the street, preternaturally quiet, it seemed to him now, striking for its absence of loitering youth, how these little trips to the old furniture store could put a new slant on one’s day. He returned by way of city streets to his office to find Jaclyn Blackstone in his waiting room, staring pensively at the clouds beyond the window, a silver splint on her nose, bruises not unlike the old antiques dealer’s fading beneath her eyes, which for the first time, he noted, were a rather beautiful shade of golden brown, almost yellow, he thought, like those of a cat.

The office visit
 

C
HANCE SHARED
the suite of offices on Polk Street with three other doctors, Salk, Marks, and Haig. Jacob Salk was a psychiatrist, an authority on mind control, cults, brainwashing, and vulnerability to undue influence. David Marks was a neuropsychologist Chance knew from his days at UCSF. Like Chance, he was married and a father. Unlike Chance, he was
still
married. And finally there was Leonard Haig. At forty-five, Haig was already the most dramatically prosperous of the group, a neurologist of private means who’d managed a specialty out of defense work for the big insurance companies. He had recently purchased a house in the South of France. He was said to be an exceptionally fine tennis player and successful womanizer. If not crossing paths as dueling expert witnesses in a court of law, as had happened on a number of occasions, Chance and Haig rarely spoke. Yet it was Haig who alerted him to the presence of Jaclyn Blackstone in the building.

“I have just directed a patient to your waiting room,” Haig told him. They were standing in the hallway before a black-and-white photograph of a clearly deranged elderly woman seated in a tiny windowless room. The room was bare as a prison cell save for a string of paper dollies by some means suspended above the woman’s nearly hairless head.

Chance did little more than lift his eyebrows. It seemed to him highly irregular that Haig should find the directing of anyone anywhere as anything other than a task beneath his station.

“She was in mine by mistake,” Haig told him. “I thought of keeping her, but what the hell. She wanted you.”

“Well . . . I guess I should thank you then,” Chance said.

“Or at least return the favor.” Haig inclined toward the demented woman Chance recognized as the work of the building’s chief parking attendant, Jean-Baptiste Marceau.

Formerly of Paris, France, Jean-Baptiste had once been a student of anthropology and medicine. A head injury at twenty-four with resultant scarring along the motor strip near the back portion of the frontal lobe had made of him an epileptic, subject to partial as well as complex or frontal lobe seizures in the manner of Saint Paul and in the wake of which he had abandoned his formal studies for paths less traveled. One of his interests was photography and he had, in the forty-odd years since the accident, amassed an impressive collection of prideful, demented individuals in various states of physical and mental decline and from which he occasionally sought to decorate the walls of the building.

“He’s at it again,” Haig said in reference to the picture. “I’m thinking this time . . . maybe
you
can talk to him.”

Of the artist’s work, Chance was of two minds. On the one hand, the stuff intrigued him for reasons he could not entirely fathom. On the other, it made him want to hang himself. Of Jean-Baptiste he was not at all conflicted but considered him one of the city’s hidden treasures, a kind of peripatetic holy man sworn to the pursuit of subjects not yet identified. He lived alone in the building’s tiny basement apartment, procured along with his job by way of some connection to the landlord, an ancient Chinese woman of immense wealth, that was not altogether clear, though Chance suspected some form of very beneath-the-boards type treatment/therapy as perhaps part of the equation given that Jean-Baptiste, while lacking in appropriate credentials, had been known to see people now and again as patients, especially in such cases as were inclined toward astro travel and talks with the dead. But
whatever the arrangement, and clandestine therapy was pure conjecture on Chance’s part, attempts by certain of the building’s tenants to dislodge him had ended badly. The Frenchman was protected from on high.

But that was only part of it. The other thing about Jean-Baptiste was that when it came to parking cars he made no distinction between the late-model Porsches, Beamers, Mercedes, Range Rovers, and Audis that filled the underground lot and Chance’s 1989 Oldsmobile Cutlass. (His wife in possession of the Lexus, he’d found the Olds on craigslist.) Where other attendants were almost uniformly inclined to hide the creaking wreck, Jean-Baptiste was given to placing it among the building’s most desirable spaces, an act of charity that had led some, Haig among them, to believe the two in some special alliance.

“He’s taken this Diane Arbus routine to new heights, or lows,” Haig went on. “We’ll have patients going out the windows.”

Chance studied the demented woman. While it was true that in the months since Jean-Baptiste’s arrival in the building’s basement, and particularly in the wake of his own divorce, Chance had come to rather enjoy the other’s exuberant disinhibition—to the point of imparting certain confidences he would not have shared with his more professional colleagues—it was also true that Jean-Baptiste was a thing unto himself, as subject to influence as the weather, but pleasures had been few of late and Chance would take them where he could. “I don’t know,” he said, his eyes on those of the woman. “I kind of like this one.”

Haig just looked at him.

“Something about those dollies. I mean, think about it.” He had started once more for his office.

“Fuck you then,” Haig called after him. “
She
comes in here again . . . I’m keeping her for myself.”

Chance gave him a little wave. “Perhaps
you
should meet Big D,” he said, too distant to be heard but indulging his latest fantasy. “On a dark night in a dark alley. Oh, and bring your bat.”

 

He caught sight of
her
from the back, through one of the rectangular glass panels that flanked his door. She wore boots and jeans and a long gray sweater. She was staring out a window and he was taken, as he had been in the bookstore, by her length and line. Funny how well she’d hidden it on the occasion of her first visit, in the flat shoes and dowdy dress, the lackluster arrangement of her hair.

BOOK: Chance
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