E X C E R P T
He could not get used to going to the girl’s apartment. He would be tense driving past the gate and following the road that wound through the complex of townhouse condominiums. Even when it was dark he was a little tense. But once he reached the garage and pressed the remote control switch and the double door opened, he was there and it was done.
It was cold in the garage, standing in the darkness between his car and Cini’s, feeling for the key on the ring that held all the keys he had to carry. He didn’t like keys and wished there was another way to do it. He wished he didn’t have so many doors that had to be kept locked.
It was warm in the kitchen, with a warm glow coming from the light over the stainless steel range. Shiny and clean, nothing on the sink or the countertop. She was neat, orderly, and for some reason that had surprised him.
The rest of the apartment was dark, though dull evening light was framed in the sliding glass door across the living room. To the right was the front entrance and a suspended stairway that made one turn up to the hallway and two bedrooms. Beyond the stairway the door to the den was closed.
He called out, “Cini?”
Usually music was playing and in the silence the place seemed empty. But she was here because her car was in the garage. Probably in the shower. He listened another moment before going back intothe kitchen to the wall phone.
The sound of the plant came on with the voice answering and he said, “This is Mr. Mitchell, see ifyou can find Vic for me, will you?”
The ice bucket wasn’t on the counter. Usually there were the ice bucket and two glasses, ready. Maybe at other times when he came in they weren’t on the counter, but tonight he was aware of it.
“Vic, it’s Mr. Mitchell. I’m not going to be back today… No, I’m tired. Son of a bitch has four vodka martinis, shish kebab, coffee and three stingers. We go back to his office and I have to listen to all this about delivery dates.”
He was patient for almost a minute, leaning against the counter now, at times nodding, looking atthe window over the sink where a stained-glass owl hung from the shade string.
“Vic, I’ll tell you what. You call on the customers and eat the lunch every day, I’ll run the shop…. Victor ... All right, you got a problem, but we know weeks ahead when we have to deliver,right? We take into account the chance of screw-ups, breakdowns and acts of God. But, Victor, we deliver. We deliver, we pay our bills and we always take our two-percent ten days. That’s what we always do, as long as I’ve been in business. If you’ve got a machine problem then fix the son of abitch, because I’ll tell you something, I’m not going to go out every day and eat lunch, Vic, and run the shop too. You see that?”
He listened again, giving his plant superintendent equal time. “All right, I’ll talk to you first thing tomorrow… Right ... All right, Vic. Listen, if anybody wants me I’m there, I’ll call them back, right…. Okay, so long.”
He hung up, took time to light a cigarette and dialed his home. Waiting, he was thinking he could have handled that a little better with Vic, not sounded so edgy.
“Barbara, how you doing? ... No, I’m back at the plant. Finally. Spent the afternoon at the TechCenter… No, you better go ahead, I’ll probably be late. Vic’s got a problem I have to look into…. I know it. That’s what I told him. But getting somebody else doesn’t turn out a job that’s due tomorrow. Listen, if you want me for anything and my night line doesn’t answer, I’m back in the shop somewhere. Leave a message, I’ll call you…. Okay, see you later.”
He wasn’t finished with the cigarette, but didn’t need it now and stubbed it out as he hung up.
In the living room he turned on a lamp. He liked the furniture, all the orange-and-white stuff andabstract paintings and plants that were like trees. He had paid a decorator to pick them out and they were his. He was finally starting to get used to the place; though he still had the feeling, most of the time, he was in a resort hotel suite or someone else’s house. At the foot of the suspended stairway he looked up and called the girl’s name again.
He waited, “Hey, lady, I’m home!”
It sounded strange. He said it and could hear himself, but it sounded strange, not something he would say. He stood there, listening.
But the sound he heard, finally, did not come from upstairs. It came from the den, the faint, whirring sound of a motor, and he looked toward the closed door.
He identified the sound as he opened the door and there it was, the movie projector going, lamp on, illuminating a hot white square across the room; the screen, set up, waiting. There was the sound and the shaft of light. Nothing else, until the figure moved out of the darkness to stand in frontof the screen: a man he knew immediately was a black man, though he wore a woman’s nylon stocking over his face that washed out his features. At the same time he knew that the revolver in the man’s hand was a .38 Colt Special.
Even with the stocking over his face the man’s words were clear. He said quietly, “Take a seat, motherfucker. It’s home movie time.”