Through the miracle of homeowner, business owner and auto owner insurance, Belinda would collect a decent check to replace a few things, so she’d be able to buy a car, maybe this weekend.
The body of Reedy had been removed. It was so strange him showing up like that and being dead. Awful. And nobody knew when the funeral would be held. She wasn’t even his wife any more. The locks had been changed out to deadbolts, no glass in the doors.
Maddie said she had cleaned up the studio. They both knew that meant getting rid of the remnants of the picture and cleaning the floors.
Excited about having a car again, even a rental, Belinda forgot to corner Chris over nothing important like where he worked.
If she didn’t get that painting submitted she’d be out a lot of cash. It had only been four days since her life turned upside down, but at least she felt well enough to go to her art studio, driving a Toyota Camry. She’d have to get something larger soon.
She didn’t know if she’d have to sell the studio--would she be able to work there after all that had happened?
When she brought the painting into the studio and set it up, she found a large envelope held with cellophane tape to the back of the canvas.
She opened the envelope on its backside but left it still taped to the canvas. Inside were a bunch of old certificates. She impatiently thumbed through them. Probably some awards. He liked to bowl and at one time had played sports. Had her father put those there? A key was tucked in a bottom corner.
She couldn’t think about this right now. The certificates couldn’t be of much value since they were not in the warehouse until the painting was brought in. Short of time before another disaster, she started her search at the door, turned left and checked every inch of every wall and duct. There were overhead plumbing pipes for water, braces holding them up. Metal heat ducts ran across the ceiling of the large area with vents craning down like the heads of giraffes. The heating unit was up there as well--tucked behind the bathroom. A set of rungs ran up the wall to a thin scaffolding access ramp. Spider webs clung to all braces and corners, including a filthy Red Cross First Aid Kit she hadn’t known was there. When she opened it she found the door was fake. Only an old safe was behind there. An old gym combination lock was on the door, rusted shut. It could have been there for years. Just some parts in there her father didn’t want misplaced. He loved his tools, always had kept them locked up. She closed the odd fake door and explored the crevasses of the antique room. Darkness had closed in quickly. She flipped the light switch up. Nothing happened. A run of fear crawled up her back. She fumbled around to find the lighter and candle she’d used on the fateful day the murders started, and lit the tiny wick--the only thing between abject panic and hope. She slipped into her bulky coat and grabbed her purse, carried the candle with her then headed for the door.
The downstairs door rattled like a snake. Shrrrrr
Metal screeched across metal. Creaks that promised footsteps on the treads spaced out at first faintly then louder, with a cold, cold breath. Cops? No. They had her cell number and would call if they needed to get inside again.
She tiptoed in her sneakers, felt her way to the bracket ladder leading up to the ducts and shinnied up through years of accumulated dust to the top of the eighteen-foot-high ceiling. Her climbing was obscured by the noise of her loft door being jimmied open then jammed back against the wall with a thump. She held her breath.
A black figure charged through the door. If she’d had her gun which had been stolen from her house, she’d have felt safe. But no. She mentally kicked herself for not replacing it.
Damn! She forgot to blow out the candle. It was obvious she was in the loft. She teetered in silence and dark and dust, trying not to sneeze, considering dropping on top of the figure below her. One hundred fifteen pounds traveling at, say, two miles per hour should at least knock him out if she hit him right. But if she missed and landed on her own head, he’d probably plaster her into the studio wall and she’d never be found. He could even shove her into one of the ducts she was crawling around. Nobody would ever find her.
In the feeble candlelight below, she could make out a rebar strut that could get her just over top of whoever it was. She wished he’d taken off his coat so she could see who it was. Silent like the mouse, Belinda remembered Anne Frank’s story. But Anne didn’t live through it. Belinda resolved she would.
He shined a flashlight around the floor, checked the corners and walked into the bathroom and banged around. She left her purse, quickly shucked her jacket, covered her hands with it, and slid down the strut as quietly as she could. He must have noticed movement overhead. He grabbed her foot. She kicked him off, pulled her knees up and dropped the rest of the way on top of him right in front of the staircase. They both tumbled down the stairwell, Belinda banging her head as something snapped in her shoulder. When a heavy object rattled away down the stairs, she hoped it was his gun. He rolled with her, hitting treads with his head a couple of times in their death spiral. He smelled like oil. Pitch dark in the stairwell continued with them out into the moonless night as they rolled from the broken door where the safety lights and the entry light were all out. The air and the asphalt were so damn cold. And of course the stairs had already done their damage.
The figure scrambled part way back up the stairs obviously looking for the gun. Belinda ran through the open downstairs door then tried to lock the deadbolt with the key from her jeans pocket. But the new deadbolt had been torn off the door and the assailant simply shoved it back open.
The blessed patrol car came prowling toward them like a leopard. The man in black vanished.
She hobbled over toward the police unit, everything on her body complaining loudly. The driver stopped, turned on the overhead flashers and warily got out of the car, talking to the box on his shoulder. Belinda yelled, “Did you see him? He was here just a second ago. God, my shoulder hurts. Can I have one of those boxes? Then you wouldn’t have to take so long getting here,” before she slid down the fender of the cop car onto the ground.
“Okay, enough is enough,” Sam Magers said. He took off his hat, put down his notebook, quickly looked around the empty hospital room, and bent down to give Belinda a wonderful kiss.
This time it was a good shock instead of a bad one. Her toes melted.
After the kiss she tried to figure out something to say. But she’d lost the ability.
Grouped near a lot of doctor offices which included shrinks, the hospital emergency room would make it easy for her to marry a shrink. Otherwise she wouldn’t be able to pay the fee to regain her sanity.
“You obviously haven’t got the sense God gave a rubber duck,” Sam said.
“Going to a warehouse in the dark doesn’t sound like a very bright person. I mean, you look like your IQ is in triple digits, but that is just a ruse. Your double digits are disguised.”
The double entendre made both sets of their eyes look at her boobs.
“It wasn’t dark when I went there. But it was longer than I thought I’d be. He must have cut the wires. I wouldn’t have gone into a warehouse with no light.” Did he think she was totally stupid?
Looking down hurt. Looking up hurt. She needed a pill. Oxycontin would be good. Maybe Morphine. She’d heard it all before. From Chris, from Madrigal, and from Sergeant Magers himself several times over.
“Do you have any idea what the assailant wanted?”
She did not. Also she couldn’t kiss Sam then go live with Chris. Besides, why had Chris lied? She couldn’t go to her parents’ house since it was cordoned off. She couldn’t go home because it was still trashed. She just might never want to see it again anyway. And there was no way she was going to live in the loft, even for a few days. Belinda was tired of being scared, and just plain tired. She wasn’t sure she’d ever sleep again.