In The Victim's Shadow

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Chapter 6

Spencer Simon inserted the key in the lock and glanced nervously around. He had every right to be there, but his guilt made him nervous.

He rapped lightly on the door. When no answer came, he opened it slowly. “Hello,” he called. He rapped again. “Is anyone home?”

Satisfied the apartment was vacant he eased himself in through the door, used his security code to disarm the alarm, and closed the door gently behind him.

He started at the sound of a soft thump, whirled to face the noise, and then relaxed as a cat came rushing through the room and dashed under a chair.

“Oh, sorry, pussy cat.” He laughed nervously and began his exploration of the apartment’s interior.

In the living room, he marveled at the splendor of the marble fireplace. He felt a pang of jealousy. Even though the rooms were all splendid in the rest of the complex, nothing compared to this. Overcome with an uncontrollable need to touch it, he crossed the room and glided his fingers over the smooth surface. An unwelcome rage boiled up inside him. For years, he had wallowed in guilt, while they lived in luxury.

From the living room, he entered the dining room. In the center of the room stood a large dining table, modern themed, ornate with delicate inlays of roses embedded in a high lacquer finish, seating for eight. He thought of his little dining nook, back in his real apartment, with barely room for two to sit and chat cozily over a mug of coffee. A matching buffet stood against one wall, and a hutch filled with delicate china stood against the other.

Through a door at the end of the room, he entered the kitchen. The counters were void of any personal decorations, giving the room an almost sterile feel. Only the most necessary of gadgets stood at attention, ready for use: coffee pot, can opener, toaster oven. He couldn’t help but wonder if Katherine Winters knew how to cook. What a waste of such a marvelous kitchen if she couldn’t. He knew how to cook. He taught himself. He had to—no one else was going to do it for him. Certainly, his mother couldn’t have been bothered. Even if she had been so inclined, she would have been too drunk to do it. Visiting the kitchen was a useless, heartbreaking endeavor, so he backed out without actually entering it.

Exiting the dining room, he turned to the left and entered a hallway. He looked both ways, realized he would end up back in the same direction he had just come if he turned to the left, so he turned right. Directly in front of him he could see a home office. He wandered in and looked around. A state-of-the-art computer sitting atop an oversized oak desk stood against the far wall. A screen saver flashed images at him, and he watched in fascination as various images of Katherine—and several other people— took turns occupying the screen. He wondered with wry amusement if she ever gave a second thought to energy conservation. He doubted it. People like this thought little about being wasteful while his kind had to scrape every penny they had just to pay the light bill.

The phone on the desk was, like the computer, high-tech. A message light blinked rapidly, and he watched as it went through its cycles of four rapid blinks, a slight pause, and another four rapid blinks. He assumed this meant she had four messages. As he stood watching, the telephone rang. He jumped and then laughed. After five rings, Katherine’s voice informed the caller she either wasn’t home right now or was busy playing with her watchcat. If they didn’t mind leaving a message, she would call them back. A man’s voice came on, and Spencer began sweating nervously.

“Hi, Kitten. It’s Dad calling. I tried to reach you at the office, but I guess you’re in court. I’m leaving you this message at home, instead. Since it’s getting late, I assumed you would come back home first, so I also left it on your cell phone, but…well, I know how loyal you are at checking cell phone messages, and so I’m just covering all my bases. I just wanted to let you know Aunt Cynthia is coming to town tomorrow evening, and I was hoping you could free up your schedule and get together with us. She’s dying to see you again, so give me a call. I love you.”

The machine clicked off, and Spencer felt anger rise in him again. These people were sure living such happy lives, for supposedly being in so much pain. He watched the phone start blinking again and counted five flashes and one pause. He was right. The flashes meant she now had five calls to return. He walked over to the machine and hit the delete button. A message popped up, asking if he was sure he wanted to delete them. He pressed yes.

In the far corner of the room, he saw a chair with an end table beside it. On the table were a water fountain and a book. To the left of the chair was a bookcase. He picked up the book from the table and glanced at the title. “Memoirs of a Geisha. That figures.” The cat had ventured out of its hiding place and followed him into the room. She let out an agonizing meow and pulled back her ears. “What’s it to you?” he asked, stomping his foot in the cat’s direction. The cat scurried off.

Spencer turned on the light behind the chair, switched on the fountain, sat down in the chair, settled in, and started to read. “All I need now is a cup of tea,” he joked in a high-pitched voice and started laughing. After reading four pages of the book, he became bored and set the book back down. He switched off the fountain and the light and strode to the door. As an afterthought, he walked back to the table, took the bookmarker from its designated place and replaced it a little farther into the story. He put the book on the bookcase, instead of the table. He chuckled mischievously and left the room.

The next room he entered was a bathroom. Judging from the immaculate state of it, he would say it had to be a guest bathroom. Snow-white towels hung from gold towel bars. A matching gold faucet sat regally atop a green marbled sink. A gold-plated mirror hung over the sink, and a golden light fixture hung from the mirror. Snow-white carpet, to match the towels, covered the floor, and a snow-white bath mat hung from a bar on the gold-framed shower doors. Spencer clicked his tongue and whistled through his teeth. We weren’t talking about some cheap Home Depot shit. These were high-quality products, probably the real deal. He shook his head in disbelief. He took the bath mat off the towel bar and placed in deliberately on the floor in front of the shower.

Halfway down the bathroom wall was another door. He opened it and stepped into a bedroom. He thought at first it was the master bedroom, but after a few seconds, he realized the furnishings were too sparse for this to be true. The only furnishings that stood in this room were a queen-sized bed, matching night tables, a dresser, and a chair with an end table and lamp beside it. He opened the dresser drawers and found them empty.

He left the room and walked across the hall. This room was an exact mirror of the bedroom and bathroom he had just left; only it was much homier. It had a definite lived-in look to it. The bed was the same, only with a light blue coverlet. It was much less regal looking. A bed skirt of the same light blue fabric as the coverlet outlined the bottom of the bed, and twin pillow shams completed the ensemble. There was no chair in this room. He supposed she did the majority of her reading in her den. There was a magazine on the bedside table. He picked it up. California Attorney was the title that stared back at him. The issue, dated three months previous, confirmed his suspicion that she didn’t read much in bed. He took the magazine. Surely she was done it with after three months.

The bathroom was not as clean as the other one was. This one had yellow daisies covering the walls in the form of wallpaper. The sink cabinet was white, and the countertop butterscotch yellow. Yellow striped towels hung from the towel bars—which were also white. There was a faint lingering of humidity from her morning shower. He looked inside the stall and saw it was still damp. That meant housekeeping probably had not been in for the day. With this thought in mind, he urged himself to go faster.

“Only subtle changes,” Chad had warned him. We don’t want to appear too evident at first. He looked around. Then, spotting the shampoo bottle, he took it out of the shower and placed it under the sink. That would drive her nuts.

There was a picture of a woman and a little girl on her bedside table. He recognized them both and froze. He hadn’t expected to come so close to this memory. He picked up the photo and stared for what seemed an eternity. In his mind, he heard the sound of a little girl’s cry. A single tear dropped onto the glass. He wiped it quickly away, gathered his thoughts back together, and left the room.

Back at the front door, he took a last look around, spotted a treadmill in the corner, smiled, and walked to it. It was electronic, so he turned it on, fidgeted with a few buttons, and turned down the intensity. “She could stand to put on a few pounds,” he told the cat, which was now following him from room to room, leering at him with suspicious eyes. “By the way,” he said, “You don’t make a very good watchcat.”

He rearmed the alarm system and locked the door behind him. Back in the maintenance office, he filled out a service report, claiming he fixed a leaky faucet, which the housekeeping staff had reported, signed the report, and filed it away. If anyone ever questioned the fact that his security code showed up on the security log, he would have an explanation.

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