Authors: David Martin
Copyright ©1997 by David Martin
All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. Published in the United States by Villard Books, a division of Random House, Inc., New York, and simultaneously in Canada by Random House of Canada Limited, Toronto.
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Bottom of the bag
They were on the couch now, it had been an eventful hour and Judith Rainey was finally quiet, her head resting on Donald Growler’s lap while Judith’s husband Lawrence perched on a nearby chair.
Growler asked why he did it but Lawrence didn’t answer.
Night after night for seven years Growler plotted what he would do to the friends who had lied about him, sent him to prison … Growler imagining elaborate operas of vengeance, stages slick with blood, arias sung to pain. But not knowing
these former friends had stabbed him in the back had become worse than the betrayal itself, was like having a tiny voracious beetle lodged in his ear, eating its way to his brain, driving him mad.
Unlike his wife who’d become hysterical under Growler’s questioning, Lawrence Rainey managed to park himself in some sort of mental quiet zone. He was seventy-two, his wife Judith was sixty-seven, they’d been married fifty years. Whenever this was mentioned, announced in church last Sunday for example, the Raineys received warm applause.
“Was it the elephant?”
Lawrence continued staring into the middle distance.
“You found the elephant, figured with me out of the way you could keep it for yourself?” Growler asked, his voice quietly solicitous … this had been gnawing at him for all these years and he genuinely wanted answers. “Oh Larr-y.” When Growler placed a hand on Judith’s head and stroked her wispy hair, Lawrence began leaking tears. “You and Judy testified I was with Hope the day she was killed,” Growler continued. “Why would you perjure yourselves like that?”
Lawrence stood. He wore flannel pajamas with prints of fish on them, bass and trout.
,” Growler commanded as you would a dog … and after a moment’s hesitation Lawrence sat down again.
Growler said nothing more for the longest time, he was tired but in no hurry … the Raineys’ living room silent except you could hear clocks ticking. Lawrence and Judith had been awakened past midnight by this man they’d known since he was a boy.
“I show you these?” Growler finally asked, drawing back his lips.
Astonishment caused Lawrence’s jaw to drop, Growler laughing softly and telling him to shut his mouth.
“Do you know where I can find Kenny Norton or Elizabeth Rockwell?” No response. “
The old man looked at Growler as if just then realizing someone had been talking to him. “I saw the photographs.”
Growler’s dark eyes widened, he sat up straight.
“I was … cleaning your uncle’s room after he died.” Lawrence’s voice gravelly with age and emotion.
“And you found Hope’s pictures?”
“In an envelope.”
“Where are they
“You were going to get off on a technicality unless we testified like they said.”
“Like who said?”
Lawrence’s wet eyes blinked rapidly.
Growler spoke excitedly, “Larry listen this is important, who told you to lie about me … who was in those pictures with Hope?”
He shook his head. “I didn’t look, they were filthy and I didn’t …” His voice lost to weeping.
With thumb and finger gently on Judith’s chin, Growler turned her head to face Lawrence … whose weeping birthed a single wet sob as he demanded, “Why are you doing this!”
…” Growler tried with some desperation to hold on to his composure. “Where are the photographs?” But his control was slipping away, his anger fueling itself. “What happened to the elephant, why all these goddamn lies about me!”
“I don’t know anything,” the old man pleaded.
When rage finally propelled Growler to his feet, Judith’s head rolled from his lap onto the floor, turning a full revolution before stopping face-up at the slippered feet of her husband … raising both hands to his mouth like a child who’s just spilled milk.
Annie should’ve known better. She had in mind a movie scene … Paul opens the door, his eyes round with delight as he asks what in the world are you doing here and she says I wanted to surprise you, they embrace, music up, lights down, fade to morning.
Reality saw it differently. Paul for example hadn’t even answered the door and Annie was worried she might be stuck out here in the country all by herself, after dark, no other buildings in sight. She’d already sent away the Corwoods who gave her a ride up from North Carolina, Annie now standing at the front entrance of a big lonely building she’d cosigned to buy even though this was the first time she’d seen it. She knocked again, called her husband’s name, then picked up suitcases and purse and went around to the side of Cul-De-Sac.
That was the building’s name. They’d bought it to renovate and resell but the place was so big, so deteriorated, Annie wondered how in God’s name Paul ever intended to do all the work by himself.
She went to his old truck and looked in. Seeing it parked here had given her the confidence to send the Corwoods on their way … yeah Paul’s here, she had said, there’s his truck. Also Annie didn’t want them around to spoil the reunion scene she had in
mind. Paul didn’t like the Corwoods, a florid couple in their fifties … they drank and smoke and spoke frequently in sexual imagery. Annie thought they were hilarious but the Corwoods offended Paul’s sense of propriety.
Like the entrance doors, the two doors at the side of the building were locked … no lights showing here either. The last time Annie talked with Paul he said he was staying up every night until three or four
working on Cul-De-Sac’s renovations … maybe he chose this particular night to go to bed early. Annie raised a wrist to take advantage of starlight, eight
Fishing a little flashlight from her purse she soldiered to the rear.
Four doors back here not counting one at the bottom of cracked concrete steps leading to a basement, Annie didn’t intend to try that door. The others were all locked but she found an open window and shined her light in on a storage room full of cardboard boxes, broken wooden chairs, dented metal filing cabinets.
Without really making a decision about what she was doing Annie pushed both suitcases through the open window, tossed in her purse, then lifted a leg to the sill … no way to do this ladylike, Annie’s bare ass showing as the blue dress hiked to her hips. Paul mentioned once that the dress made her look as fresh as morning and it’s funny how an offhand comment like that will stick with you, Annie having now categorized this dress as Paul’s Favorite. She had on low-heeled black shoes and over the dress she wore a denim jacket because mid-April was a lot colder up here in Northern Virginia than it was back down South.
Annie got caught half-in, half-out straddling the paint-flaking windowsill in a way that felt rough and unsafe between her legs. She laughed a little thinking how she might have to ask Paul to get a splinter out, he’d want to know where, she’d have to say … just then she dropped the flashlight. “
” Annie struggled the rest of the way in. The flashlight was on the floor still shining. She retrieved it, her purse, the suitcases, then went through the storage room, relieved to find its interior door unlocked. Curious though. All the outside doors locked but a window left open to a room left unlocked … almost as if an intruder had entered this way.
No, Annie told herself, don’t start imagining things again … such as what she’d been imagining when she was pounding on the front door and calling Paul’s name: that he had a lover with him, they were warm in bed while Annie was standing out in the cold, and this lover—bimbo, slut, bitch—was the reason Paul didn’t want Annie to come up from North Carolina, not even for one visit during the entire month he’d been here.
Except Paul would never cheat, it wasn’t in his makeup … Annie was almost sure of it.
In the corridor outside the storage room she felt sweaty hot but left the denim jacket on so she wouldn’t have to carry it along with everything else. She checked walls for light switches, found one, it didn’t work.
If an intruder had come in that open window, maybe he cut the electricity and crept up on Paul in the dark, murdered him … the killer still here in the building.
She shook her head,
Feeling scared but mainly feeling stupid for putting herself in this predicament, for thinking it would be a nice surprise to show up here totally unexpected, Annie made her way though mazelike corridors and hallways, all of them overheated, finally coming around to Cul-De-Sac’s most dramatic feature: a central atrium reaching up three stories, all the way to the roof, with rooms and balcony-hallways on all four sides.
She didn’t want to go up the steps to the second floor but what were the alternatives … start walking country roads looking for a telephone, spend the night in Paul’s truck, sit on a suitcase and cry until morning?
Ready to take that first step Annie heard something, she shined her flashlight up the stairway and saw a man standing very still, looking down at her.
With a startled sound escaping the back of her throat she dropped everything and this time the flashlight went out when it hit the floor.
In the dark she heard his footsteps … not coming down the steps toward her as she’d expected but running away, hurrying
along the second-floor hallway that also served as a balcony overlooking the atrium.
Annie shook the flashlight until it agreed to come on. He was gone, nothing but quiet at the top of the steps, as if Annie had only imagined seeing her husband. Hopeful, she picked up her things and resumed climbing that stairway to the second floor.