Read The Secret Manuscript Online

Authors: Edward Mullen

Tags: #friendship, #canada, #orphan, #fire, #discovery, #writer, #manuscript, #inheritance, #calgary, #alberta, #secret room, #cold lake

The Secret Manuscript (3 page)

BOOK: The Secret Manuscript
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Standing under
the soft glow of a streetlight, Ben tried to ignore a persistent
thought that kept creeping into his mind. It was as if there was a
devil on his shoulder, whispering in his ear. It was telling him to
sneak into his apartment and see for himself what was left. With a
little luck, there would be something he could salvage. At the very
least, there may be something to eat in the refrigerator. Perhaps
it was a lack of sleep or nutrients, but the suggestion resonated
with him. In the absence of any competing thoughts, the voice
permeated his conscience and convinced him to take action.

Ben did a
couple passes of the premises to scope out the scene. The building
was entirely fenced off with a seven-foot-high steel fence — the
kind used around construction sites. Getting past that would not
pose too much of a problem. The main issue would be avoiding
detection by the onsite security guard. As far as Ben could tell,
there was only one guard watching the entire property — an
middle-aged man who had fallen asleep in his car. Ben’s eyes were
getting heavy as well, so he decided to act quickly.

Emerging from
the bushes, Ben darted across the street and stopped at a small gap
in the fence. As a customary precaution, he looked around even
though he knew the likelihood of someone watching him would be low.
He wasted no time prying the fence open just enough for his slender
body to squeeze through. The clouds overhead blocked the moonlight,
providing the perfect veil of cover. However, without a light
source, navigating the rubble would not only be difficult, but also
dangerous. The only light was from the street lamp, which was not
much, but it would have to do. While staying low, Ben quietly ran
toward the west side of his old apartment building. The whole time,
he kept a watchful eye on the security guard.

Getting into
the apartment was easy since most of the windows were either opened
or unlocked. Ben chose the nearest apartment on the ground floor
and crawled through the window. Once inside, he no longer feared
detection, so he took his time. Many of the apartments on the first
floor were relatively unscathed. Aside from the smell of ash and
damp wood, the apartment was much like it was before the fire, only
it looked like a disaster zone. Most of the tenants probably
thought they were about to lose everything they owned and tore
through their apartments searching for items they could not live
without. Fortunately for Ben, a flashlight was not one of those
items. That was one of the first things he discovered when he
opened a drawer in the kitchen. He grabbed the flashlight and
turned it on, but kept the beam pointed toward the floor to avoid
creating shadows that could be seen from the outside.

With a
ferociously growling belly, Ben could not help but take a quick
peek into the fridge and see if there was anything to snack on. His
plan was not to rob the place, but he was willing to take some food
in order to survive. He found a stack of cold cuts and cheese, and
wasted no time scarfing them down. He justified the theft,
considering the electricity to the building had been cut and
without proper refrigeration the items would soon perish
anyway.

After
satisfying his hunger, he exited the apartment and entered the
hallway. The door to the unit across the hall was tempting him. He
stared at it a moment, contemplating whether or not to go in. He
told himself if it was locked, he would carry on with his original
plan, which was to go upstairs to his apartment, but if it was
open, he would go inside and see what he could find. He casually
tried to open the door and to his surprise it was unlocked.

For a moment,
Ben hesitated on what he was about to do. So far the stuff he had
taken was nothing of value; nothing people would even notice was
missing. He could go upstairs, get what he came for, and leave
without causing any more harm. But he was desperate, tired, and not
thinking clearly.

With no one
around to keep him honest, Ben wilted under the incredible
temptation to go into the second apartment. The door swung open and
Ben aimed his flashlight inside. The circular glow hit a faux
flower decoration hanging on the wall in the foyer. Ben stepped
inside and closed the door behind him. The apartment layout was
much like his own, so it was easy to navigate. He crept through the
entrance and down the dark hallway until he reached the bedroom. On
the dresser was an expensive-looking men’s watch next to a
jewellery box. His hands shook nervously as he lifted the watch and
fastened it to his wrist. He then opened the lid of the jewellery
box and reached in with both hands, grabbing as much as he
could.

He spent the
next fifteen minutes in the apartment, checking all the hiding
spots he could think of. Figuring people were likely to hide their
valuables in their sock drawers, that was the first place he
looked. Among the treasures he found were money, jewellery, and
credit cards. He took the money and the gold, but left everything
else. Next, he entered the closet and found some clothing he
wanted, and took those as well. He quickly moved throughout the
apartment, gathering everything in a pile by the front door. When
he looked in the resident’s storage space, he found several pieces
of luggage in varying sizes. He then came up with the bright idea
to fill up a suitcase with all his newly acquire loot.

By now, greed
had completely clouded Ben’s judgement. Just as he had done with
the previous apartment, he decided to move onto the neighbour’s
place and grab as much as he could. He hurried throughout the
different rooms, taking various items and placing them by the front
door. When he had enough stuff to fill the suitcase, he dragged it
across the hall and into the first apartment he had crawled into
earlier. He had deviated so far from his plan, he almost forgot why
he was there in the first place.

On his third
trip, Ben casually brought another haul into the first apartment
and added it with the rest of the stuff by the window. He had not
begun the extraction yet, but so far he had a decent-sized stash of
goodies, including a down jacket, some designer clothes, a
suitcase, and a backpack. He realized that by having nothing left
to lose, he actually had a lot to gain. By looting the abandoned
properties, starting over would be easier than he thought. He
kicked himself for not coming up with the idea sooner.

It was now
well into the early hours of the morning, but Ben was oblivious to
the time. The thrill of the heist invigorated him. He was on such a
natural high from the adrenaline that he hardly felt tired at all.
After looting the entire first floor, Ben stopped for the first
time to take a break. He entered the kitchen of one of the
apartments and made himself a sandwich. In between bites, he
checked the time on his new watch and was shocked to see it was
nearly 5:00 a.m. That meant the sun would be up soon. He quickly
ate the rest of the sandwich and chugged a glass of warm juice. He
figured he had enough stuff and decided to go upstairs.

Leaving
everything behind, Ben entered the hallway with his flashlight in
hand and headed toward the stairwell. This time, something was
different. Within a few steps, Ben had an uneasy feeling consume
him; it was as if he was being watched. Suddenly, a voice yelled
out from the other end of the hallway.

“HEY! WHAT ARE
YOU DOING?” a man shouted, causing Ben to nearly have a heart
attack.

Chapter Six

The onsite
security guard stood tall, pointing his flashlight in Ben’s
direction. Evidently he had woken up and discovered the
intruder.

“You can’t be
in here,” the guard shouted from the other end of the hallway.

The adrenaline
in Ben’s body spiked and his heart was pounding violently in his
chest. He swallowed hard and tried to suppress his nerves. He was
ridden with guilt from the looting, but as far as he knew, the
guard was unaware of what he had done. At this point, if Ben was
caught, the security guard might just ask him to leave the premises
and the police would not be involved. Unsure what to do, Ben stood
frozen in his tracks, allowing the guard to come closer. Ben’s back
was to the guard and there was still a good twenty-foot distance
between them so if he decided to run, not only would he have a head
start on the guard, but his identity would remain hidden.

The guard
approached cautiously and Ben remained still. By now, the guard was
within an arm’s reach. So far, any attempts to communicate with Ben
went unanswered.

“You gotta
leave now,” the guard demanded, this time grabbing Ben firmly by
the arm.

The contact
determined the fate of the situation. Ben had experienced physical
abuse in the past, and when the guard touched him, he completely
freaked. He went into a blind rage, which was no doubt amplified by
his already heightened state of adrenaline. Without saying a word,
Ben turned around and swung his fists wildly at the guard with a
combination of looping haymakers, any one of which could do serious
damage if they connected cleanly. The guard must have anticipated
the potential for a physical confrontation since he avoided many of
the sudden blows. Ben kept pressing forward and eventually one of
his punches found its home and landed squarely on the guard’s jaw.
The guard stumbled backwards and dropped his flashlight on the
floor. The impact caused it to turn off, making it even more
difficult for the stunned guard to see.

Ben generally
avoided violence, so instead of staying to finish the fight, he
decided to flee. He ran down the hallway and reviewed the
possibility of choices that were before him.

The first
option was to continue running straight through the fire escape
door, which was located at the end of the hallway. On the surface,
this seemed like the soundest choice, but Ben thought otherwise.
Even though it would be the easiest route of escape, it would also
be the easiest exit for the security guard. Success with this
strategy relied on a footrace to the perimeter fence and Ben did
not have a lot of confidence in his athletic ability. Once at the
fence, he still needed to squeeze through. In the time it would
take him to do that, the guard could easily nab him. That would
most certainly result in Ben receiving a beating before being
hauled off by the police.

The second
option was to run back into the same apartment he had come in from.
This strategy presented an advantage over the first by allowing Ben
to get inside the apartment and lock the door behind him, thus
creating a barrier between him and the pursuing guard. However, the
guard would likely just leave through the fire exit and apprehend
Ben as he crawled out the window. Alternatively, the guard could
just kick the door down and follow Ben into the apartment. This
would be the best case scenario, but then he would likely discover
Ben’s secret stash by the window. Even if Ben managed to elude the
chasing guard, he could not be sure another guard was not waiting
for him outside.

The third
option, the one he went with, was to enter the stairwell and run up
to the fourth floor.

By the time
the guard retrieved his flashlight and turned it back on, he only
caught a glimpse of Ben entering the stairwell. The heavyset guard
ran after Ben, but was not able to catch up to him. Once the guard
reached the entrance, Ben was nowhere in sight. The guard continued
to pursue up a few flights of stairs, but had no idea which floor
Ben had run to. Tracking a man through the building would be
incredibly time consuming. With so many apartments in the building,
the likelihood of finding Ben was slim. Instead, the guard opted to
retrace his steps downstairs and patrol the perimeter of the
building until the police arrived.

Out of breath
and anxious, Ben made it to the fourth floor and entered his old
apartment. He shone the flashlight around and was devastated at
what he saw. The fire had ravaged his apartment, rendering it
unrecognizable. There was nothing left. His furniture had been
destroyed, his computer was burnt to a crisp, and his bedroom was
no longer existent. The floor creaked beneath his feet as he
walked. Remembering what had happened to his bed, Ben took each
step with caution.

Just then, red
and blue flashing lights from a squad car below shone through his
living room and lit up the blackened apartment. Living in a small
town showed yet another disadvantage — the police could get
anywhere within minutes. Ben contemplated running, but was too
exhausted. The only sensible thing for him to do was surrender.

Chapter
Seven

Ben figured
the cops would be lenient on him since he was trespassing on his
former apartment building. Technically he had broken several laws
including breaking and entering, burglary, and assault, but there
may not be enough evidence to convict him.

When Ben
emerged from the building, he had his hands in the air to show the
police he was unarmed and willing to cooperate. The lone RCMP
officer read Ben his rights, handcuffed him, and placed him into
the backseat of the cruiser.

The trip to
the station only lasted a few minutes, but during the short ride,
Ben nodded off. Perhaps being arrested was the best case scenario
since he would be provided a warm place to sleep for the rest of
the night. The police cruiser pulled up to a small building. The
officer took Ben from the backseat and escorted him up the steps to
the police station.

“What do you
got, Glen?” one officer asked the other.

“Just a minor
trespassing charge.”

The officer
instructed Ben to take a seat while he drafted the necessary
paperwork. Ben plopped down in the chair and almost immediately
passed out from exhaustion. His chin sunk to his chest and he began
breathing heavily. He could hear the voice of the arresting officer
as he discussed with his partner what they planned to do with Ben,
but he could not precisely pick out their words. With his eyes
closed, he focused on the other sounds in the room — the buzzing
from the fluorescent lights, the clacking from a computer keyboard,
and finally the heavy footsteps of boots as they progressed toward
him.

BOOK: The Secret Manuscript
7.54Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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