The elevator opened onto the ground floor, and Katherine rushed out, running straight into Chad Simon, who was just entering the elevator with two cups of coffee and a sack full of donuts. The coffee splashed over the side of the cup. Katherine jumped back, narrowly avoiding soiling her new Armani suit. She attempted to sidestep Chad, apologizing as she made to brush past him. He deliberately stepped in front of her.
“Whoa, what’s your hurry, Katherine?”
Katherine stepped back, looking Chad over. She narrowed her eyes at him, irritated by the way this stranger so casually addressed her. Slowly, recognition set in, but the name eluded her.
“Chad. My name’s Chad,” he said, a slight tartness slicing his voice, “from 1073. We met last night in the elevator. You were in a hurry, and I held the door for you.”
The elevator door closed. Chad stood between the doors, preventing them from closing, still blocking Katherine’s way.
She nodded and gave him a cursory smile. “Oh, yes, I remember. You were complaining about the speed of the elevator.”
He raised his eyebrows and tipped his head slightly. “And you were going to talk to your father.”
She frowned, shrugging her shoulders. “Oh. I’m sorry about that. I forgot.” She pointed at the coffee. “I’m sorry about the coffee, too. I hope it didn’t burn you.”
She gestured toward the doors. “Do you mind?” She expected him to move for her, but he held his ground.
“Actually, I was just on my way to see you.” He held up the coffee and donuts. “I brought breakfast.”
She glanced down at the cups of coffee and the bag of donuts. She grimaced. “Well, that’s considerate of you. But I’m afraid I don’t eat donuts, and you can’t get up to the Penthouse without a key card.”
He shrugged. “I didn’t know that. Well, you’re here now. Perhaps we can go back up, or if you prefer, we can sit in the lobby and eat.”
“No thank you, Chad. I really am in a hurry this morning.”
He smiled, gritting his teeth so his anger wouldn’t show. How dare she? Who did she think she was? Did she think she was too good for him? He tried again, trying to brush off the rejection. “Breakfast is the most important meal of the day.”
“I agree, but I already ate my breakfast.” She glanced down at the bag again. “And it wasn’t donuts.”
She sidestepped him again, but this time he didn’t attempt to stop her.
He watched her exit the building, step into a Jaguar convertible, which sat waiting at the curb, and give the man behind the wheel a peck on the cheek. He had seen the man before, but he wasn’t sure who he was. Seething with anger, he walked up to the doorman and inquired about his identity. The attendant cast a casual glance at the departing automobile and shrugged his shoulders. “I don’t know. John somebody or other.”
“Does John have a last name?” Chad asked with sarcasm.
“Look, man, I don’t know what the dude’s last name is. I’ve just heard her call him John.” He lowered his head and narrowed his eyes at Chad. “Why do you want to know?”
Chad just turned and walked away. He pushed his way through the glass doors with such force they shook.
The attendant watched him leave. For a moment, he was concerned, but then he shrugged his shoulders and returned to his work.
A moment later Chad returned and stalked off to the elevator. The attendant barely acknowledged him as he passed. He pushed the button several times to summon the elevator, tapping his foot in frustration while he waited. Less than twenty-four hours into his plan and already things were going sour. He would have to come up with an idea for damage control.
The elevator arrived and he stepped inside. He reached for the button that would carry him to the tenth floor but detoured to the P instead. A gentle computer voice stated, “You must insert a key to visit that floor.” He looked down at the button, noticing for the first time the slot to insert a key. He punched the control panel in frustration, setting off an alarm. A voice came out of a speaker. “Is everything okay in the elevator?”
Chad swore under his breath and pushed a button to talk to the invisible tin sounding voice. “I’m sorry. I lost my balance and fell back against the alarm button. Everything is just fine.”
“Chad, is that you?”
Chad stared at the box in confusion, and then pushed the button again. “Yeah, it’s me. Who is this?”
“It’s April from 1075.”
He tried to think who April was and then suddenly, he had a vague memory of a perky young blonde struggling with groceries across the hall from him. He felt in a rather good mood that day and offered his help. She had fixed him coffee and served him cherry pie as a reward.
“Oh, hi, April,” he said, trying to sound cheerful. “I didn’t know you worked here.”
“Yeah. Daddy pays for the apartment and all my essentials, but I have to work to pay for all the other stuff. It sucks, but hey, a girl has to earn a living. Are you sure you’re all right in there?”
“I’m fine, really. I’m sorry I bothered you.”
“No problem, that’s what I’m here for. Hey, do you want to go out for coffee or something?”
“Sure, maybe we could do that sometime.” He didn’t really want to go, but he didn’t want to appear rude, either. Besides, if he remembered correctly, April was really hot.
“Okay then. I get off at noon. Then I have two classes. I should be home around five, give or take. You know how traffic is.” She giggled and it made Chad smile.
“Well, listen, April, I’m holding up the elevator so I’d better go now.”
“Okay. So will I see you at five?”
“I’m going to be busy this evening. Why don’t I meet you on campus after your last class? We can have coffee there.”
“That sounds great. Then I won’t have to worry about traffic.”
He said, “You live in San Francisco, you always have to worry about traffic.” He let go of the button and pushed the button for the tenth floor. When the doors opened, he saw a woman holding a leash. There was a poodle tethered to the other end. She was frantically pushing the button. She smiled at him. The poodle snarled.
“This damned thing takes longer every time I use it,” she said.
“I know what you mean. I talked to the owner about it, but it didn’t do any good.”
“Does it ever? You would think we would be living in the lap of luxury with the amount of money we pay for rent around this place. I swear I spend half my day waiting for this stupid thing.”
Chad looked the woman over and decided she would be better suited for taking the stairs. Maybe she could shed some of the weight. She was easily carrying an extra fifty pounds.
“I would take the stairs,” she said as if reading his mind, “but I have a heart condition.” She placed her hand over her heart for emphasis.
He let go of the doors and watched as they closed. The woman waved and gave him a patronizing smile. He shook his head in disgust. This entire building teemed with aristocratic snobbery. He wondered, with amusement, what they would think if they discovered his father was going to be the new janitor. In fact, he wondered what they would think if they knew that apartment 1073 was really vacant, but Chad’s hobby of computer hacking made it possible to live in the vacant apartment, take it off the available list, but not generate any potential revenue for the company. A minor bug uploaded into the system through a back door had allowed him the luxury of occupying the dwelling for free. There was no way he could have afforded such an elaborate living space, but it was all necessary to the plan.
He opened the door to apartment 1073 and held his breath, ready for the onslaught. He and his father had been arguing for weeks now, ever since they put their plan into action. He wasn’t sure how much more he could stand. He had taken to trying to find things away from the apartment to occupy his time.
To his relief, his father was not home. He walked over to the hi-tech trash dispenser—what a waste of money—and threw the coffee, having long since gone cold, into the receptacle. The donuts followed.
He heard a key in the lock and panicked. He held his breath. His heart thudded. Relief flooded over him as his father entered.
“What are you doing home?” his father asked. “I thought you had to work today?”
“I quit,” Chad nonchalantly responded.
“Again!” Spencer cried. “What is it with you? That’s the third job you’ve quit in six months. You’re averaging a new job every other month.”
Chad shrugged. “So what. If things go right, I won’t need a job.”
Spencer sighed. “I’ve been thinking. I don’t think I like this plan. I’ve put that family through enough. I don’t want to add to their grief.”
Chad turned and snapped at his father, “What about the hell they put me through my whole life? Did you think about that? Of course, you didn’t. All you ever think about is her!” He flung his arm upward. “You never cared about me. Did you, Dad?”
Spencer’s eyes followed his son’s arm. “It’s not their fault,” he said. “They had no control over it.” He lowered his voice. “They don’t even know.”
“Well, I say it’s time they found out.”
Chad stomped out of the room. Spencer watched after him, lowered his head, and collapsed onto the floor. He always sat on the floor. He couldn’t bring himself to sit on the luxurious furnishings. He didn’t even like being in this apartment. In fact, he only had gone along with this plan because of his guilt. He owed Chad. He had to find a way to make it up to him.
He heard the door open. “Where are you going?”
“I’ve got to do some damage control. I’ll be back in a while. And for Christ’s sake, Dad, sit on the damn furniture. You look like a squatter.”
“We are squatters.”
The door slammed and Chad was gone. Spencer flinched. The wall resounded with a slam, knocking some oversized, and likely overpriced painting, against the wall. Spencer stared at it a moment. Then he turned around, taking in his surroundings. The walls, painted some shade of beige, were outlined in a thick, white crown molding. Paintings of various nature scenes hung on every one of the walls. In the entryway stood a massive chest with a dark mahogany finish that Spencer could only guess was for liquor bottles. He didn’t care. He was no longer consuming alcohol—not since “it” had happened. Above the chest were four pictures of bridges that Spencer had never seen before. One of them looked like that bridge in Sydney. He didn’t know what it was called, but his—too good for just about everyone else—ex-wife was constantly nagging him to take her to Australia. He remembered her shoving a travel brochure under his nose. That same bridge was on it.
None of them, however, compared to the massive eight-foot by ten-foot painting of the Golden Gate Bridge that hung above the pure white leather sofa in the living room. He wasn’t even sure why they had the painting in the first place. If you walked out on the deck, you could see the real thing just a few short miles off in the distance.
His eyes found the tree that grew in a large pot in the corner. The tree belonged in the forest, not in someone’s living room. He pitied the poor sucker who was going to have to cart that thing downstairs when it became too big for the apartment. Not him that was for sure.
Spencer sighed and walked over to the sofa. Hearing Chad’s words in his head, he sat down on the offending piece of luxury—but just the edge. Then he shifted back a little until his ass hit the back of the couch…for only thirty seconds. Then his mind wandered to his son. He worried what the boy might be up to, but was powerless to stop him.