The train station, with its white marble-tiled floor, arched entryways, tiered balconies and wide antechamber, is a hive of human activity and faces that rush past in a dizzying blur.
“You’re disappointed, aren’t you?” I ask as we prepare to say goodbye.
“No,” she answers stoically. “I’m actually relieved. Your safety has always been the most important thing to me. Besides, you’re right, you don’t owe anyone anything.”
Undoubtedly sincere, I can’t help but feel somehow diminished in her eyes.
“Okay, well, I’ve got to go,” she says. “I need to get back to Natalie’s car before the meter maid does. You have Agent Disney’s number?”
“Call him as soon as you get where you’re going,” she says while leaning in to press a pair of warm lips against my cheek the residue of which leaves a cool, wet feeling on my skin.
Instincts urge me forward, but my shoes remain glued to the floor.
She seems to sense my reluctance. “Well, you’ve got your ticket,” she nods. “So… I guess I’ll see you when I get back.”
“I’ll call you in a couple days,” I say. “Once it’s safe.”
A somber smile dimples her cheeks before she turns to walk away.
Lingering, I follow her with my eyes as she disappears in the massive crowd. Afterwards, I check the time on my ticket against the clock on the wall. Boarding wouldn’t begin for another fifteen minutes. Needing to relieve myself, I scan above the sea of heads for a restroom. There’s one clear across the station near the waiting platforms. Getting to it means fighting through a stream of men and women cutting straight lines in every direction, crisscrossing one another in a display of frenzied efficiency.
Reaching the restroom, I step up to the urinal, close my eyes. Last night, after Dobbs had left, I’d had Cassie call me a cab to take me back to my place so I could pick up a few things before leaving town.
To ensure my apartment wasn’t under surveillance, I’d ordered the driver to drop me off a block from my building and afterwards proceeded to circle the neighborhood on foot. Confident the coast was clear, I then made my way around back on the off-chance Dobbs and his crew had managed to get inside and were waiting for me in the lobby. Barefoot, with a bandaged leg and a woman’s bathrobe, I had to be careful when climbing the spear-tipped iron fence. I managed the maneuver without incident. On the other side, I found my way to the fire escape. The ladder was raised and hung about twelve feet above the ground, putting it well out of my reach. There was a wheeled dumpster nearby that I tried pulling over, but it was full to the brim with trash and wouldn’t budge. On the other side, I laid my shoulder into it and pushed. Asphalt tore into my bare feet as the dumpster’s wheels turned to slide across the pitted ground. After centering it beneath the ladder, I closed the lid and climbed on top. Even then, with arms outstretched, the bottom rung was still a good foot and a half beyond my reach.
I was going to have to jump.
Preparing myself, I squared my legs, extended my arms, and leapt. Only eighteen inches away, I grasped the ladder with ease. But there was a slick film on the metal surface, having been touched by a settling cloud. As soon as my fingers curled around the bar they slipped right off. The resulting momentum caused my legs to fly out from under me and sent me crashing down on my back. The fall was short, but the impact was strong enough to warp the hard-plastic lid and send my jaw smacking up against my tongue. Reawakening the wound, pain exploded through my mouth followed by a series of intense, concentrated throbs. The sharp taste of blood washed over my tongue as a hard lump quickly formed around the injured area. Overhead, in almost comical fashion, the fire escape ladder, having been jarred out of lock, began a slow protracted decline.
It took a minute for me to pull myself together enough to make the three-story climb to the window, which emptied into the hall. With the slightest degree of pressure, I popped open the window’s loose latch and crawled inside.
By then it was late and the hallway was empty. Wasting no time, I headed straight for my apartment. But just as I reached the door, the carpet sank beneath my feet and a small pool of water burbled around my toes. A soft suctioning noise followed as I lifted my heel. The door across from mine hung loosely in a splintered frame. Staring at it, my eyes quickly withdrew to that section of the brain where memories are stored. As sharp images flashed across my mind I saw the water stained carpet, heard the sound of running bathwater. I remembered knocking, but no one answered, so I tried the door, but it was locked. Hollering, I kicked through the door. Met by water spilling across the floor, I followed it to the bathroom, threw open the door. The smell was sickening, like raw iron and death. There was blood everywhere, the floor, the walls. In the tub, her lifeless body sat floating in a pool of what could have been red wine. Face relaxed, her skin was pale, marked by a series of purple and blue veins.
Shaking the images away, I turned and, palming the key to my apartment, unlocked the front door. In the darkened living room, I shed the bathrobe, tossing it over the back of the sofa as I made my way to the bathroom for a shower, the second in less than an hour. Scrubbing the sticky residue and foul smell of rotting garbage from my body and hair, I watched as a thin stream of blood from the wound at my knee coursed my leg before circling the drain. As the blood mixed with water, turning crimson, my mind returned to the one image from the other morning I still couldn’t seem to shake.
It’s Not Easy Being Invisible.
Through the foot-wide crack in the door, I’d seen that message scrawled across the bathroom mirror in bright red lipstick. Long after I’d returned from the hospital, long after I’d scrubbed the stains from my body and trashed my clothes, long after I’d overcome the images of her pale, life-drained body lay floating in that pool of murky water, and managed to rinse away that smell, the acrimonious scent of blood, so stale I could taste it, I still couldn’t get those words out of my mind. Nothing, not even alcohol, could remove it, though believe me, I tried.
Even now, knowing the words were written by Dobbs to reinforce the suicide narrative, the message is hard to ignore.
Pulling the lever, I step away from the urinal and up to the sink where I lean, knuckles bent, against the counter, staring at the face of a man whose four-day beard growth, bloodshot corneas, and heavy tufts of bulging skin beneath his eyes make him barely recognizable.
A headache divides my skull.
From my bag, I remove a bottle of aspirin. Biting down on the lid, I twist. When the lid comes off, I spit it out, listen as it bounces around the sink. Next, I shake two small capsules into my mouth, press my lips to the faucet, and wash them down behind four large gulps.
But the medicine doesn’t sit well with an empty stomach. Immediately, a tug pulls at my abdomen.
Eyes widen. The muscles in my throat restrict. Racing for an empty toilet stall, I throw open the door, and yank back the toilet seat just as a torrent of strong acids comes surging up from my intestines.
The aftertaste of vomit burns my tongue.
Laying my head against the cold toilet, Cassie’s voice echoes in my ears, “It just bothers me there’s no justice for these people.”
“Who was she to you?” Dobbs asked.
“I didn’t even know her,” I’d said. “Two years we’ve lived ten feet away from each other and we had barely even said hello in passing”
A single, unsolicited tear escapes the corner of my eye. More would follow.
A voice announcing the departure of my train comes over the intercom.
Crouched beside the toilet, I feel around my pocket for the phone.
Cassie answers on the first ring. “Are you all right?” she asks.
Behind a throat, sore and swollen, I ask, “Where are you?”
“I’m a block away from my apartment. Do I need to turn around?”
A hard lump chokes the words. Eyes boil with savage resentment. An icy, cold feeling invades my chest. “You were right,” I say. “She deserves justice. They all do.”