"Editors of Collierís received a letter from an aspiring
contributor: ĎI am enclosing another of my masterpieces
which I have been sending you since 1930. You never
paid me for any of them though I know you took ideas
from all of them, even from the ones I never mailed to you.
Please attend to this matter as soon as possible.í"
W.D. in Collierís
I never was so relieved in my life. Freddy was safe, even if she wasnít exactly sane. I sat in the living room for an hour, I think it was an hour but it might have been less. Steve knew she was in my apartment and he didnít seem to care all that much. There was no one else I could call or talk to about all this. So I sat, felt relieved and even napped, I think.
I think. I think Iíve been saying that all too often lately. I think, therefore I am. I am, therefore I think I am. I donít really think. I ramble. Itís always been my problem, I realized recently, this tendency to rample on and on about anything, even about nothing, like now, when what I really want to do is focus. But focusing is hard for me now. Iíve tried to stay focused my whole life but really what Iíve been doing is running away from focusing, I think. There I go. I think! Therefore, I go.
My mind and I fought like this for a while and then the doorbell roused me from my tirade about my inability to do what needed to be done. I went to answer it, expecting Steve and found Steve.
"I knew it," I said.
"Knew what?" he said coming in and closing the apartment door behind him.
"I knew it was you." I shrugged. "I thought it was you and it was you. Thatís what I do."
"Are you drunk?" He sounded perturbed.
"Then what? Stoned? High?"
"Me? Donít be ridiculous."
"Oh, I like the way you turned that around, that phrase. so clever."
"What the hellís going on here, Max?"
"Oh, donít mind me. Iím overtired, I think." I stamped my foot at that, angry that Iíd let the old phrase out once again.
"Why donít you sit down, kid, and let me pour you some coffee?"
"Youíd have to make some first," I told him. Then I added, "And youíd have to go back out and buy some pre-first."
"All right, thatís enough of that." He shoved me down onto the couch and I sprawled there, dopey, stupid. He plopped down next to me, too close to me I thought.
"Hey, move over, cop," I snarled, then I laughed.
"You sure seem drunk, Max. I know drunk when I see it, but you donít smell it."
"Iím not. Thatís all. Iím just exhausted." Without meaning to do it I leaned over and put my head on his shoulder. To my surprise he didnít lurch away or even move. Instead he patted my cranium with his open hand, gently.
"Yeah, youíre tired, all right, old kiddo. Tired of it all."
"Youíve had a hard time. Death all around you, a friend missing, no one to talk to except this old misery man."
"Misery man? Now you sound like a music cue for a blues number," I said.
"Yeah, I know. This is my softer side, Max. People donít get to see it much. I canít let it out."
"Why now, then?"
"I donít know. I feel sorry for you. A kid like you."
"That again? Iím not a kid."
"You are, you know, in spite of your age. Youíre a kid. You need a daddy." He coughed once, then added, "and a mommy, too."
"My folks are gone, Steve. Everyone Iíve ever cared about is gone."
"What about your girlfriend? You called me and said she was here."
"Sheís here. Sheís asleep in my room. Sheís gone, too. Not the same woman Iíve loved since I was a kid. I WAS a kid, you know."
"Yeah, I know." He patted me on the head again and I decided to sit up and move a little bit away from him. "I guess you need to talk to her."
"Yeah. I do."
"Should I wake her up?"
"Would you mind?"
"Yes." I paused and looked at him looking at me. His eyes were shining with some sort of anticipation. "But I will. For you." I stood up and went quickly out of the room and down the hall to my room where Iíd left Freddy asleep.
I opened the door slowly letting light pour in through the widening crack but I could see almost immediately that she wasnít there. I reached for the light switch, sure that once Iíd illuminated the room thereíd be no one there, no evidence of her presence there, that this would turn out to have been another illusion. I went to the bed, expecting nothing but found instead the impression her body had left on the sheet and her head on the pillow. She had been real, but she was gone again.
I looked around the room, looking for a hiding place, but even the closet in this room wouldnít accommodate a person, standing, crouching, there was no way. I tried to understand, thought about the bathroom next door and went there quickly, hoping to find her there, but the door was open and she wasnít inside. I called to Steve without thinking about it - no thinking just doing - and he came on the run.
"I canít find her. She was here and now sheís gone."
He rushed into the room and saw what I had seen, saw her impression on the bed, saw it on the pillow. He came out into the hallway and instantly started to open doors and to give each room in the apartment a quick once-over. There was no sign of Freddy.
"What do you think happened here, Max?" he asked me.
"No thinking. No thinking. I have no idea what happened and I canít think about it."
A thought had hit me and I was burying it hard and fast.
"What are you thinking?" he asked me and pushed past him and went back into my room. This time I started to tear up the bed. Steve came in behind me and grabbed my arms and restrained me, but only for a moment. I think we both spotted it at the same time. The note under the pillow I had just moved.
He dropped my arms, reached around me and picked it up. It had my name on the outside of the single-fold. Slowly Steve handed me the note, then he equally slowly turned me around and easily seated me on the edge of my own bed, her last bed. Freddyís last bed.
"Can you read it, Max? Or would you like me to read it to you?"
I nodded, not knowing which question I was answering. Steve reached down and took the note from my hand and he opened it, read it silently to himself, then nodded. I was crying even before he read the first word aloud, for I knew what that nod had to mean.
"Max, you donít need this. Me too. But hereís what I know that you need to know. When I left here I met a man and went home with him and he treated me like a sex slave and he raped me and I liked it. When I left him - days later, I saw Mikhael and followed him but it wasnít any good. Two men killed him over drugs. One of them was the man I had just spent all that time with, my love, my tormentor and, when I woke up in Maine, drugged and dazed, I realized I was pregnant by this awful man. I should have just ended things then, but I wanted to see you one more time. I was going to go away, have this baby and forget everything bad that happened to me in my life, but Iím a stilt-walker, Max. Iím not a risk-taker, I only walk a few feet off the ground and only on large, thick, safe stilts. I donít fly planes or water ski in a fur coat. I donít take chances. This baby is a chance that seems too risky. Look at his parents - a coward and rapist/killer. I canít hurt you any more than I already have. Iím not what you need. Maybe once I was or could have been, but not now. I know youíll call that cop and heíll take me in for questioning and Iíll tell him everything I know and it will kill me, or Hans will kill me. Someone will kill me, Max, and it might as well be me. You donít need this. Iím sorry. Freddy"
I was still sitting there on the edge of the bed that smelled slightly of the only woman I had ever wanted, ever loved. Steve put the note down next to me and walked as softly as he could to the window seat in my room. I realized the window was open when a gust of air rushed past me. I hadnít noticed that earlier. Some Sherlock Holmes, I thought. I heard Steve gasp. Then I heard nothing more for a while.
He came and sat down next to me and put his arm around my shoulder. His other hand he put over mine and pressed it gently.
"Sheís down there," he said. "Sheís lying face down and it looks like sheís just sleeping." Down there was the third floor roof over the super market next door. The apartment was only on the eleventh floor so that meant she had fallen only eight stories.
"She could still be alive," I whispered. "Itís only eight stories."
"Sheís dead, Max. I can see that from here."
"Get help!" I shouted. "Donít sit here with me, get help!"
Steve was up like a shot and out into the hallway. I heard him pick up the phone and make the call. I was relieved. At least I think I was. Yes, I was relieved. Some real pain in this world had been eased and now I was truly alone.