F is for Fugitive Page 40


I called down to the desk, told Bert what had happened, and asked him to move me to another room. I could hear him scratch his chin. His voice, when it came, was papery and frail.

"Gee, Miss Millhone. I don't know what to tell you this time of night. I could move you first thing tomorrow morning."

"Bert," I said, "someone broke into my room! There's no way I'm going to stay here."

"Well. Even so. I'm not sure what we can do at this hour."

"Don't tell me you don't have another room somewhere. I can see the Vacancy' sign from here."

There was a pause. "I suppose we could move you," he said skeptically. "It's awful late, but I'm not saying we can't. When do you think it might have happened, this break-in you're referring to?"

"What difference does it make? The lock on the sliding glass door's been jimmied. I can't even get it to shut properly, let alone lock."

"Oh. Well, even so. Things can fool you sometimes. You know some of those fittings have warped over the years. Doors down here, some of them at any rate, you have to-"

"Could you connect me with Ann Fowler, please?"

"I believe she's asleep. I'd be happy to come up myself and take a look. I don't believe you're in danger. I can understand your concern, but you're up on the second floor there and I don't see how anyone could get up on that balcony."

"Probably the same way they got up here in the first place," I said snappishly.

"Unh-hunh. Well, why don't I come up there and take a look? I guess I can leave the desk for a minute. Maybe we can figure something out."

"Bert. Goddamn it, I want another room!"

"Well, I can see your point. But now there's the question of liability, too, you know. I don't know if you've considered it in that light. Truth is, we've never had any kind of break-in all the years I've been here, which is, oh… nearly eighteen years now. Over at the Tides, it's different of course…"

"I… want… another… room," I said, giving full measure to each syllable.

"Oh. Well." A pause here. "Let me check and see what I can do. Hang on and I'll pull the registration."

He put me on hold, giving me a restful few minutes in which to get my temper under control. In some ways it felt better to be irritated than unnerved.

He cut back into the line. I could hear him flipping through registration cards in the background, probably licking his thumb for traction. He cleared his throat. "You can try the room next door," he said. "That's number twenty-four. I can bring you up a key. Connecting door might be open if you want to give it a try. Unless, of course, you got some notion that's been tampered with, too…"

I hung up on him, which seemed preferable to going mad.

I hadn't paid much attention to the fact that my room connected to the one next door to it. Access to room 24 was actually effected through two doors with a kind of air space between. I unlocked the door on my side. The second door was ajar, the room in shadow. I flashed my pen-light around. The room was empty, orderly, with the slightly musty smell of carpeting that's been dampened too often by the trampling of summer feet. I found the switch and turned the light on, then checked the sliding door that opened out onto the balcony adjacent to mine.

Once I determined the room could be secured, I tossed my few loose personal items into my duffel and moved it next door. I gathered up my typewriter, papers, wine bottle. Within minutes, I was settled. I pulled some clothes on, took my keys and went down to the car. My gun was still locked in my briefcase in the backseat. I stopped in at the office and picked up the new room key, curtly refusing to engage with Bert in any more of his rambling dialogues. He didn't seem to mind. His manner was tolerant. Some women just seem to worry more than others, he remarked.

I took the briefcase up to my room, where I locked the door and chained it. Then I sat at the kitchen table, loaded seven cartridges in the clip, and smacked it home. This was my new handgun. A Davis.32, chrome and walnut, with a five-and-a-quarter-inch barrel. My old gun had gotten blown to kingdom come when the bomb went off in my apartment. This one weighed a tidy twenty-two ounces and already felt like an old friend, with the added virtue that the sights were accurate. It was 1:00 A.M. I was feeling a deadly rage by then and I didn't really expect to sleep. I turned the light out and pulled the fishnet drapes across the glass doors, which I felt compelled to keep locked. I peered out at the empty street. The surf was pounding monotonously, the sound reduced to a mild rumble through the glass. The muffled foghorn intoned its hollow warning to any boats at sea. The sky was dense with clouds, moon and stars blanked out. Without fresh air coming in, the room felt like a prison cell, stuffy and dank. I left my clothes on and got in bed, sitting bolt upright, my gaze pinned on the sliding glass doors, half expecting to see a shadowy figure slip over the railing from below. The sodium-vapor streetlights washed the balcony with a tawny glow. The incoming light was filtered by the curtains. The neon "vacancy" sign had begun to sputter off and on, causing the room to pulsate with red. Someone knew where I was. I'd told a lot of people I was staying at the Ocean Street, but not which room. I got up again and padded over to the table, where I picked up my file notes and tucked them in my briefcase. From now on, I'd take them with me. From now on, I'd tote the gun with me, too. I got back in bed.

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