The next two hours with Alaia, whether chatting as we wander hand in hand or just sitting wordless in the sunlight together, are two of the most romantic hours I have ever spent in my life—excepting perhaps the ten-minute interruption of fevered legal jabbering with Bedford Pickering III on my mobile beside Sunset Lake in preparation for our imminent meeting with Marc.
For the third and last time, therefore, I enter Pippa’s dim, cluttered apartment, where the space is all wrong. Once we’re inside, an unholy quiet prevails. Evelyn and I both seem to be walking on tiptoe, as if not to wake something. “I’ll go look on the balcony,” she whispers, heads up the hallway past the kitchen and pushes the sitting room door open.
Left alone, I glance down the long, narrow corridor in the other direction, towards Pippa’s closed bedroom door, and am startled to notice a faint light gleaming through the hinge of that narrow door… I creep nearer to it, careful to make no sound. There’s the keyhole. I bend down very slowly, bring my eye level with it, and peer through.
I recoil—for there it is.
I start, as Evelyn comes bustling up behind me, proffering three keys on a key-ring. I put my finger to my lips, stand out of view of the keyhole, in front of the door itself, and gesture to her to remain where she is too, out of the figure’s line of sight. I take the keys, peer at them, choose the likeliest-looking one and try it carefully in the hole. It’s not a good fit. I pull it back out, bring the key-ring up to my face, compare the other two keys, select the next likely-looking one, and even more carefully try this in the keyhole: it goes in smoothly, but then will not turn. I shake my head, pull it back out, start to identify the third key, and jump nervily as Evelyn pokes me on the arm.
“Jaymi,” she whispers stagily. “Maybe it’s not locked…”
I think for a moment, hand her back the key-ring, half-look again through the keyhole, straighten up and start to turn the door handle, very slowly.
She’s right! The door starts to open, by itself…
We stand there and let the door swing gradually inward under its own weight, making a teeth-grating squeak as it does so. Then, after a few centimetres, it comes to a halt. Through the crack, the wall of a toilet cubicle appears … and the edge of a knee.
As I bend down to peer at the ring, it bears in upon me that the silence of this apartment is now like a stranglehold. There is no longer any sound of Evelyn just behind me, no sound from the kitchen, the sitting room or the bedroom: just dead quiet. It’s almost as if I’m alone here—except for what’s in front of me, of course.
It is at this moment, still on my way down to inspect the ring, that I become half-aware of something awful, while horror gathers weight against it from the other side, ready to tip it into plain view here any second…
I leap backwards with a grimace and a wail.
Then we are off up Main Street and heading north out of Asbury Park, one day after Shigem and Kim did the same.
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