I’m hoping that when Tracy stormed out of my apartment, she went straight home. Otherwise, I’ve come here in vain. With Joseph’s medium-sized grey box still tucked under my arm, I give Tracy’s front door three quick knocks. I look at the hallway’s flat, stained maroon carpet, and then at the dark brown wooden panels that line the walls. I’m hoping to see Joseph with a camera in his hand—smiling and clueless—snapping away happily. He’d never guess that I had proof that he was trying to frame me. I want him to see me. I dare him to.
I am more alert than usual. The smell of cigarette smoke from further down the hall creeps into my nostrils and eyes. Someone’s chicken pot pie down the hall smells like it’s done.
I can hear footsteps and see in my mind Tracy walking toward the door. She’s in there. Thank goodness.
She hesitates once she gets to the door. She stands there a minute, nervously playing with the shiny golden chain that is bolted to the door and locks onto a matching gold clamp on the wall. I knock four more times, but gently.
Now the hard part has come. She has yelled: “Who is it?” I contemplate the different responses in my mind:
“Chris! Remember me? The one stalking you in those pictures.
“Christopher Rush, Death Leader of disease from the west quadrant of Chicago…can I come in?
“Chris! You shot me an hour ago. Want to catch up for a little while?
Instead, I manage to utter a much simpler response: “Chris…from earlier today. Look, I just want to talk to you. Show you what I am.”
“I’m calling the police,” she says—her voice throaty and weary.
“What if I could prove it to you?”
“Prove what?” she asks defensively.
“What I am. I can prove it to you before I tell you,” I say.
There is silence on the other side of the door, but I know she hasn’t walked away. I can hear the rattling of the gold chain on the door and see in my mind, her playing with it nervously, twisting it between her fingertips. I can tell she’s contemplating letting me in, but she’s not sure. Some part of her must believe that I am telling the truth. I need to show her that I am.
“Make a sound,” I say. “Any sound.” I listen closely to see what sound she’s going to make, but she’s still and frozen like ice now. Even the gold chain stops clattering. She stands there for a moment, trying to figure out whether or not to engage in my game. Then the rattling of the chain starts again, but softer this time. She’s trying to test me. Cute.
“Not the golden chain on the door,” I say. “Too easy. Do something else.” She starts to walk away. It looks like she’s headed toward the phone. Phone calls are not good. Police. Friends. Anyone living.
“Wait!” I say. “Wait, wait. Please don’t call,” I say, making it a point not to finish the sentence with the words, “The police.” A woman pushing a stroller has gotten off the elevator further down the hall and is struggling to get her key in the door. She glances up at me every so often to make sure I’m not anywhere near her. A fight with a boyfriend who is sorry and trying to win his girlfriend back. That’s all this is. An innocent fight. As convincing as I think I am in my role of apologetic boyfriend, I still feel like I’m being watched through several peepholes.
“Hey, is that the off-the-shoulder grey sweater with red stitching that I bought you last Christmas? Honey, so glad you wore it.”
Tracy stops mid-step, turns around and walks back toward the door again. “I’ve never worn this before. How did you know about this sweatshirt?” she asked. She doesn’t bother with asking about the “bought you last Christmas” and the “honey” part. She has caught on to my game of discretion.
“Open the door and let me explain. I can’t right now. Not out here,” I beg.
She drops a penny on the floor intentionally. One last trick to test what I am telling her.
“Indian head penny. Tails up,” I say confidently. “Now can you open up so we can talk….dear?”
“Dear?” she asks. I think that she hasn’t caught on as well as I previously thought, until she hurls an insult my way. “Who are you, Mister Rogers?” She’s joking with me. That’s a good sign. She’s going to open the door. I don’t know why I doubted her or myself.
I smile, hoping that she hears it in my voice. “I need to show you something. Something about what I was trying to tell you earlier.”
“Hold on,” she says walking away from the door. For the first time, I notice that she isn’t wearing any pants. Her grey sweatshirt hangs lazily from her shoulders and just barely brushes her thighs.
I stop listening to her to give her some privacy and to process what I want to say to her. If the phrase “someone is trying to murder you” didn’t work, explaining the Divine Order of Death is not going to be an easy bet to sell. Or would I even go that far? I want her to know I’m being set up, that she’s in danger; but does she have to know everything? How will I even get her to care about me being set up if: a) she thinks I’m some sort of creep and b) my only real concern is that I may not get to kill her first?
The lock to the front door flicks and the gold chain rattles a bit as Tracy opens the door. She has a gun pointed at me. The same black one from earlier.
“You just love putting holes in my shirt don’t you?” I say.
“Slowed you down last time at least,” she says half joking, half serious. “What do you want?”
I feel a pang of guilt. She’s not ready for the answer to that question. I give her a friendly stare and manage a half grin.