3/19/2014

Pain


constant companion

ever-hovering vulture

just waiting to strike


***





.


2/15/2014

A Dame with a Past - Part 9




 
It’s been business as usual since I returned from San Francisco last week, which is to say, not much business at all. I spent my time catching up on paperwork. Harry, on the other hand, is busy taking his self-imposed role as Bernie’s fairy godfather – ha, now there’s a picture! – very seriously. Were business better, I’d have a problem with him spending so much time poking into the life and times of Mike McGraw. But since he doesn’t have much else on his plate at the moment, I’m all for it. As Harry says often, Bernie McGraw is a sweet kid. I’m happy to do what we can to help her.

Much to my relief, Harry confirmed that Mike McGraw did indeed return to Pasadena. He has apparently been enjoying the bachelor life in Bernie’s absence. He even took one of his conquests into their home. He’ll probably make sure Bernie gets to smell the perfume on her pillow. What a fucking scumbag.

I’ve checked in with Bernie a couple of times. Each time I talk to her, I hear a more confident woman on the other end of the phone. And she sounds happier, somehow, which warms my heart.

Last time we spoke, she told me she was coming back, and made an appointment to come in on Wednesday.

 ~

The sound of Steve’s voice coming from the speaker on my phone tells me that Bernie is here for her appointment. It also tells me something is wrong.

When I open the door to the outer office, Bernie is standing in front of Steve’s desk talking. Whatever she’s said has put a look of real concern on Steve’s freckled face.

“Bernie, good to see you!”

Before I can walk over to greet her, Bernie turns to face me, and I’m sure my face mirrors Steve’s. Bernie’s right eye is swollen almost shut, and I’m betting that beneath her make-up, I’d find a rainbow of color. There’s a butterfly bandage across a split in her right cheek.

Oh, no.

“Bernie, come in.” I put my arm around her shoulders and lead her into my office. “Steve, will you let Harry know Bernie is here?” I throw over my shoulder.

Before we can get seated, Harry comes through the connecting door.

“What happened? Steve said…”

Bernie turns to look at him and brings him to a dead stop.

“What the hell happened?”

Even as he says it, I can tell that, like me, he knows exactly what the hell happened. Mike McGraw happened.

“Did that son of a bitch hit you, Bernie?” Harry sits in the chair next to her and immediately jumps up again. “I am going to fucking kill him!”

He starts pacing around my office, his face turning redder by the minute.

“Sit down, Harry Let’s let Bernie tell us what happened before we go jumping to any conclusions.”

Grumbling, he sits down.

I look at Bernie and am shocked all over again at the sight of her battered face. “What happened, Bernie?”

No big mystery here. When she got home Monday afternoon, McGraw was waiting.

“When I got home from LAX, Mike was there. I thought he’d be at work, but it was obvious he’d been just waiting for me to walk through that door so he could start yelling at me. And he was very drunk.”

“You should have turned around and walked right out of there, Bernie.”

“I know, Harry. You’re right. But I thought I could handle him.” She gives a little humorless laugh.

“Yeah, right. The whole time he was ranting at me, he was pacing around the living room like an animal in a cage. I had about as much chance of ‘handling him’ as I would have had with a wild gorilla.”

She pauses and asks, “Could I have a drink of water?”

As I say, “Of course,” Harry jumps up and goes out the water cooler. He’s back in a flash, and hands Bernie a glass of water.

“Here ya go, hon.”

“Thanks.”

She takes a long drink, and then continues. “He went on and on about how he wasn’t about to be cut out; that if I thought I was better than him now, I was crazy; that the Bernice Arms was his as much as mine. I tried to reason with him. When I started to explain the trust to him, he just madder.

She gingerly touches her check. “You can see how it all ended.”

“Bernie, I’m really sorry,” I say.

After his display in the lobby of the Bernice Arms, I can’t say this was totally unanticipated. I knew the guy was potentially dangerous. But to actually see the proof on Bernie’s face is still shocking.

“As soon as he did it, he started crying. He was all apologies, saying he didn’t mean it, it was just the booze making him crazy.”

“They all say that, Bernie,” Harry says, shaking his head.

“I know, right? It’s all such a cliché, like a scene from some late-night movie on Lifetime. Ugh.”

“So what happened?”

“I left him standing there blubbering, got in the car, and went to the emergency room. Alone. That’s what happened.”

Harry leans over and gives her a hug. “Good for you!”

“I’m done,” she says. “He can apologize all he wants. I’ve seen the documentaries. I know the statistics. Most abusers never change, and in many cases, it only gets worse. I’m not about to become a statistic myself.”

As she talks, I can see her jaw tightening.

“Besides, even though this is the first time he hit me, he’s been abusing me almost from the beginning. I know he’s losing all our money at the track. We never have enough. Do you know that we’ve never taken a vacation?”

She takes a breath, and I can see she’s on a roll. “And the women! God only knows how many women. He doesn’t even seem to care if I know.

“And then… And then he has the gall to berate me?  Oh, yes, I am done. I am so done.”

“What are you going to do?” I ask.

“I’m leaving him, that’s what. You were right, Marty, I don’t need to put up with it anymore. Thanks to my birth mother, I have a place to go.

“I’m moving to San Francisco, and as soon as I can talk to Mr. Worthington, I’m going to divorce his sorry ass.” As she finished speaking, she gives her head an emphatic nod that sets her hair bouncing.

Harry bursts out laughing. “Now that’s what I’m talking about! Bernie, I knew you were a hot shit right from the get-go.”

~

 Bernie left LA within a couple of weeks. As she told us, there was nothing really keeping her here.

“I have no family and I hate my job. My friends know what I’ve been through and they’ll understand. I know they’ll visit me up there. And I don’t want, or need, anything in that house.”

So with those words, she was gone, taking our best wishes with her. I regretted leaving part of our job undone. We never did help her find her birth father, but maybe that wasn’t important to her.

As for us, I’m happy to say that business picked up a little. Both Harry and I had enough to do to keep us off the streets. In Harry’s case, this is a good thing for both him and LA.

About three months after Bernie left, Steve stuck her head in my door, a huge grin spread across her face.

“Marty! You’ll never guess who’s on line one!”

It's the first time I’ve spoken to Bernie since she left, and I’m happy to hear her voice. She sounds terrific. I guess being a real estate mogul agrees with her.

“How’re you doing, Bernie?  You settled in?”

“I’m great, Marty. I’m better than great.” Her voice has all the effervescence that had been missing when I first met her.

“I have a new job, one I think I’m going to like a lot, and the best part? I can walk to work.”

“I’m glad to hear it. What’s happening with Mike?”

“The divorce is in the works. It’ll take a while, but that’s okay.”

“He leaving you alone?” I've been worried that McGraw might follow her up to Frisco.

“He is now,” she says. "He showed up here once and tried to force his way in, but Al escorted him out to the street in short order. After that, I got a restraining order, and he hasn’t been back.”

I have to smile at that. I’m betting the idea of facing Al again was as effective as the restraining order at keeping Bernie’s bully husband at bay.

Bernie went on to tell me that her half-siblings were beginning to accept her.

“We not best buds or anything, but at least they are reasonably nice to me.  And Marty, I think Mark is going to turn out to be a friend! Can you believe it? He loves the garden. Turns out he’s the one who put in some of the plants. I asked him if he’d come over and give me a little horticulture lesson, and presto! That turned him right around. I think he was more upset at losing the garden than not inheriting the building.” She laughs. “I gotta tell you, I’m pretty relieved about that!”

“That’s good news. Are you liking your apartment?”

“Oh, yes! This is such a great place. Everyone here is so nice. And I’ve learned so much about my birth mother. I feel like I know her.”

The words were tumbling from her mouth at a hundred miles an hour. She finally pauses for a breath before continuing excitedly.

“And Marty, get this! Remember the last letter from her that was part of my bequeath? She said my roots were in the building, that it had a lot to tell me.”

“And did it? The building tell you things, I mean? You were confused about what she meant.”

“Well, I’m not really sure, but Louise Fennimore – remember her? – sure did. She told me so much about my mother. Marty, it turns out I was born there! When my mother got back from school in England, she stayed in the apartment, and they brought a doctor in when she went into labor. I can’t tell you how weird it is to live in the place where I was born.”

Another breath, then, “But listen, the reason I called was to ask you something.”

I chuckle. “And here I was thinking you just wanted to chat with my charming self.”

“Well, that too,” she laughs. “But what I really want is to ask you and Harry if you can come up here for a day. We have unfinished business, right?”

~

A week later, Harry and I present ourselves at the Bernice Arms and a beaming Al greets us. “Nice to see you again,” he says as he punches the elevator button for us.

While we wait, Harry gives a low whistle.

“You weren’t kidding, pal,” he said. This is some place. She really is a grand old dame.”

We get on the elevator, and I hit the button for the eleventh floor. “You ain’t seen nothing yet.”

I didn’t think there was much that could surprise Harry Carrold, but when the elevator doors slide open and he lays eyes that garden, his mouth falls open.

“Holy shit.”

“Yup. Told you.”

He pushes through the glass doors and steps out into the late morning sunshine. “This is…” he sputters. “This is… Well, this is un-fucking-believable, that’s what this is!”

While he tries to get his mouth closed, I take Harry’s arm and lead him around the corridor toward the gate. “Come on. Let’s go see Bernie.”


~

This time, when I press the button on the gate, there’s a buzz and the gate pops open. Up ahead, Bernie steps out of her door to greet us.

After giving me a hug, she turns to Harry, eyes sparkling, and laughs. “Why’s your mouth hanging open, Carrold? Catching flies?”

He’s back to stammering again. “I’m… I’m… I’m just overcome by your beauty, darlin’.”

Uh-huh. Good recovery. I have to admit, though, Bernie looks terrific. She’s glowing. She’s wearing her favorite outfit of jeans and a T-shirt, but gone is the stress that had been hanging on her like an accessory.

She giggles, a delightful sound. “Oh, you slick talking rascal!”

We follow Bernie into the living room. Everything looks pretty much the same, though she’s added some personal touches here and there. On a bookcase, I spot a few framed photographs. Bernie sees me checking them out and smiles.

“My mothers.”

She walks over and picks up a picture of a brunette woman. “This is Sarah Lahey. Funny, I always thought I looked like her.”

She replaces the photo, and picks up another, this time of a woman with the same dark blonde hair as Bernie. “This is Marjorie Mitchum, and I do look like her.”

She tells us to sit, and disappears into the kitchen. When Harry manages to tear himself away from the windows, he plops down in one of the easy chairs.

“Well, I gotta say, my friend, this time you didn’t exaggerate. This old gal is everything you said, and more.”

“You’d better not be talking about me,” Bernie laughs as she returns with a tray holding frosty glasses of ice tea and a plate of cookies.

She sits on the couch and raises her glass in a toast. “Let’s drink to my new life. I feel as though I’ve been reborn.”

We drink, and then she laughs again. “Twice in the same place! Imagine that!”

We chat a few minutes, and then she says, “Now, about that unfinished business… But first, come on.” She jumps up.  “I want to introduce you to someone.”

We ride the elevator to the lobby, and she leads us over to the doorman’s desk. Al steps around the desk as Bernie says, “Marty Tremaine and Harry Carrold, I’d like you to meet Aloysius Joseph Unger.”

She smiles broadly. “My father!”

 

 

~ The End ~

~

 

Posted for River of Mnemosyne Challenge No. 5, Muse 9: "Renaissance."

2/13/2014

A Dame with a Past - Part 8



Bernice McGraw may be a little naïve, but she’s not dumb. She’s a smart woman, and it doesn’t take her long to realize her options are wide open.

She stands at the window facing the view, but I can tell she’s not registering anything beyond what she sees through her mind's eye. I know she's imagining a future far different than the one she ever thought she'd have before getting that letter from the lawyer.

Looking at my reflection in the window glass, she says, “I’m tired of running blind in a house of mirrors, wondering how to get out, Marty. No matter which way I turn, I just end up right back where I started. If I weren't so blinded by my own damn gullibility, I know I'd see a woman I don’t recognize looking back at me. I'd see the woman Mike McGraw calls his wife, the woman he wants me to be. What about the woman I want to be?
 
With a look of resolution on her face, she turns to face me. “I want to talk to Mike. Would you please bring him up here?”

“Not unless I stay, too, Bernie,” I tell her.

When I left McGraw in the lobby under the watchful eyes of the building manager and the doorman, he was one outraged and dangerous man. I don’t think leaving him alone with Bernie would be a good idea.

“I’ll be fine,” she insists. “You can wait outside if you want, but I need to talk to him alone.”

She’s probably right, but that doesn’t make me feel any better about it.

I head down to the lobby, wondering what I’m going to find. McGraw had looked close to the boiling point when I left. But when I step off the elevator, the only person I see is Al, standing behind his desk reading the newspaper. Joe Kimball and Mike McGraw are nowhere in sight.  I immediately picture wild fisticuffs, ending with one or both heading to the hospital.

“Al, where’s…”

“Joe’s in his office.  That jerk McGraw blustered around here for a while, swearing and threatening to punch out everyone and everything from me to that pillar over there. Did I tell you I used to box a bit in my Army days? I took the all-Army middleweight championship back in the day.” He gives a bark of a laugh. “If he’d gotten into it with me, no kidding, it wouldn’t have gone well for him. Anyway, then he just stormed off. Said he was going back to LA and that he’d deal with his wife later.

“I gotta tell you, Marty, I don't like a bit of it. That guy’s dangerous, if you ask me.”

“I hear you, Al. I better go tell Bernie. She wanted to talk to him.”

“Well, you tell her she’s safe here.  That apartment’s pretty secure, and besides, he comes back here, he’s gotta go through me. Not gonna fucking happen, pardon my French.”

 ~


When I get back upstairs and tell Bernie that Mike has taken off, she’s not surprised.

“He’s basically a coward, Marty,” she says from the couch where she is sipping another cup of tea. “That’s why I’m not really afraid of him. He’s all talk.”
 
Like I said, she may be a bit naïve. I’ve been around this particular block enough times to know that even the most cowardly of lions find their teeth now and then. I think he’s an explosion waiting to happen, and I tell her so.

“You need to take care, Bernie. One of these days, he’s likely to snap. I’ll travel back to LA with you, and go with you to make sure he’s calmed down, if you want.”

“I appreciate having you in my corner, but I really don’t think you need to worry. I’ve been living with his tantrums for years. He always calms down. But thanks. You really are one of the good guys, Marty.”

“Oh, pshaw… Besides, you’re paying me, remember.” I give her an exaggerated look of horror. “You are paying me, right?”

She laughs. “Yes, of course.”

“So what do you want to do?”

“I think I’m going to stay here a few days. I took a couple of days off for this trip, but I have vacation time coming – I mean, who gets to take a vacation? – so I’m going to call in and take some of it. I work in a big office. They’ll never miss me.”

She leans forward and picks up the note from the tray. “Besides, I want to meet with Louise Fennimore and find out what she has to tell me. And I want more time to explore the apartment. I want to get to know my mother, you know?

“You go on back to LA without me. I’ll be fine.”


~


Before I leave, I stop in the office downstairs and have a chat with the building manager.

“I doubt that he’ll come back, Marty,” Kimball assures me. “But even if he does, he’ll never get past Al or the other doorman. We’ll see to that. Not to worry, she’s in good hands with us.”

I feel myself relaxing at his words.

“Marjorie was a wonderful woman, and a dear friend to all of us here at the Bernice Arms. Before she died, she let us know who the heir – or I should say, heiress – of the building was. It came as a surprise to everyone that she had another daughter out there. Somehow, she just didn’t seem the type to have a ‘love child,’ you know?” He shakes his head.  "Guess you just never know. We all make mistakes when we’re young, right?

“Anyway, it was clearly important to Marjorie that Bernice be welcome here. And what Marjorie wanted, we want. We’ll take care of her. After all,” he chuckles, “her name is on the front of the building.”

While I have some time with Kimball, I decide to ask about Mark Mitchum.

“He’s called Bernie several times, Joe. She said it sounded like he was poking around for information about her plans. She’s nervous about it, said it felt like he was harassing her.”

“Oh, he’s harmless, I think,” Kimball says. “I have a feeling that his nose is a little out of joint that he didn’t inherit the building. I suspect he always thought it was his. Al says he hung around here a lot as a kid. He has a real thing for that garden upstairs.

Reassured, I thank Kimball, say my goodbyes, and head for the airport.

~


Back in LA, I fill Harry in on Bernie’s adventures in San Francisco. His eyes widen and he gives a little whistle when I describe the Bernice Arms.

“An eleventh floor garden? You gotta be shitting me.”

“I kid you not. It’s beautiful. You should see it, Harry. In fact, the whole place is beautiful, even if she is a little time-worn. She reminds me of those grand old dames of another era.”

“She?”

“Yeah, I know, it sounds a little precious. But there’s something about that building that just… She has heart. She's seen things. You can just tell, you know?”

Harry laughs. “Heart, huh? Nah, can’t say that I do know, but I’ll take your word for it.

His laughter stops when I tell him about our little visit from Mike McGraw.

“I knew that guy was trouble. Didn’t I tell you? You sure he came back here when he charged out?

“No. I’m not,” I say. “But I'm pretty sure he can’t get to her up there unless she wants him to. And he is her husband, after all.”

“Yeah, but it still makes me twitchy. Bernie's a sweet kid.”

Harry chews his bottom lip for a moment. “Okay, here’s what I’m going to do. First thing, I’m going to make sure he’s here.”

“Good idea.”

“Then, I’m going to give him a real look-see and see what I can dig up. If that marriage blows up in her face, and I’m guessing it will, I want her to be able to defend herself.”

I know if there’s anything to find, Harry will find it. I hope it doesn’t come to that, but if it does, Bernie will know everything there is to know about Mike McGraw.
 
~
 

 
 
Posted for River of Mnemosyne Challenge No. 5, Muse 8: "Running Blind in a House of Mirrors"
  

2/11/2014

A Dame with a Past - Part 7


Continued from Part 6


I must say, given what Harry had learned about Mike McGraw, I wasn’t all that surprised to see him in the lobby of the Bernice Arms. In fact, I wasn’t all that surprised to see his sporting a black eye. Like Harry said, the guy’s a loose cannon.

I ask, “What are you doing here, Mike?”

“What am I doing here?” Mike jumps to his feet and pushes his chest in my direction. “I have every right to be here. I have as much right to be here as you do. In fact, I have as much right to be here as Bernie. She’s my wife! This building is half mine!”

“I think you’d best back off, Mr. McGraw,” Al says, walking toward McGraw. The menace in his voice is unmistakable.

I hold up my hand. “It’s okay, Al,” I say, and turn toward McGraw.

“Actually, Mike, that’s not technically true,” I say, backing out of swing distance. Last thing I need is to get into a fist fight. “Bernie’s mother left the building to her in a trust. The trust is solely in Bernie’s name and is protected from community property laws.”

“But, but…” McGraw sputtered, pacing back and forth. His face is flushed with anger. After more pacing and muttering, he turns to me.

“I want to see my wife,” he demands. “She’s here, right?”

Kimball attempts to put a calming hand on McGraw’s arm, but the angry man shakes it off.

“Get your hand off me! Who the hell are you, anyway?”

Keeping his voice calm, Kimball replies, “I’m Joe Kimball, the building manager. To answer your question, yes, Bernice is here. Marty, why don’t you go talk to her?”

Good idea. I excuse myself, and head for the elevator. As the doors are closing, I hear Kimball trying to reason with McGraw.

“Before you see your wife, Mr. McGraw, I think you’d better calm down. Why don’t you sit here for a while? Can I bring you some coffee?”

Yeah, good luck with that.

~


I hit the buzzer on the gate outside Bernie’s apartment, and she comes out to open it. “I know there must be a way to release this from inside the apartment, but I haven’t discovered it yet.” She laughs as she unlocks the gate.

“I’m glad you’re back, Marty. Wait ‘til I show you…” She notices my face. “What’s wrong?”

“Mike is here, Bernie. He’s a bit, um… upset.”

Bernie pales. “Oh, no.”

Taking her hand, I lead into the living room. We sit on the overstuffed couch and I turn to face her.

“Bernie, I think we should talk. I want to help you, but I can’t if I don’t know what’s going on.”

At that, she bursts into tears. Great. Looking around, I spot a box of tissues on an end table, and hand them to her.

“I’ll be right back,” I say. “I’m going to go find us some tea or something.”

I’m surprised to find a well-stocked kitchen. On the counter, next to a covered plate of cookies, there’s a note from Louise Fennimore.

 

Nice touch. Sounds like Bernie has more friends here that she thought. Good thing. I think she might need them.

I fill the kettle sitting on the stove and turn on the burner. While the water heats, I rummage around and find some tea bags, a sugar bowl, cups, and a tray. I load everything on the tray, add the plate of cookies and the note, and head back to the living room.

As I set the tray down on the coffee table in front of the sofa, I’m relieved to see Bernie has stopped crying. I have a hard time with weeping women, like most guys, I guess.

I settle down next to her. “So…”


~


For the next hour, we sip the Darjeeling and munch cookies, which are a delicious shortbread, by the way, my favorite. And Bernie talks. And talks some more. She holds nothing back. I’m envisioning McGraw throwing hissy fit in the lobby, but I don’t want to rush Bernie. Besides, I’m confident that, between the two of them, Joe and Al can control him.

Seems old Mike hasn’t been quite so successful at hiding his true nature as Harry thought. Bernie is well aware of his past.

“But I thought he’d changed, Marty. He was so sweet and charming to me at first,”

Yeah, aren’t they all, I think to myself.

“It wasn’t until we’d been married for about six months that I began to wonder if he really had changed.”

She went on to describe their disintegrating relationship. It was an all too familiar story.

"The man I thought I married is disappearing before my eyes. There’s never enough money, and we fight a lot about that. We’re not wealthy, by any means, but there is no reason we can’t make it on our salaries. I think he gambles it away, Marty.

"Then it got worse. He’s hardly ever home, and there are more and more late nights. And I smell perfume on his clothing.

“I asked about it, and he said it was from his women clients. Right. I knew there was more to it. And more than one woman. The scents vary. Expensive scents, too. During college, I worked at the perfume counter at Macy’s, so I recognize a lot of them. Joy, Armani, L’Air du Temps.”

She pauses to pull another tissue from the box to wipe the tears that are rolling down her cheeks again.

“Ha! L'Aire d’Evanescence! The way my marriage is disappearing, that should be my signature scent,” she says grimly.

“And since that letter from Mr. Worthington, Mike’s gotten really weird. He’s super nice to me one minute, and really mad at me the next. I mean, I’m guessing you saw what I’m talking about downstairs. A couple of times, I thought he was going to hit me, Marty!”

Poor kid. She deserves better.

“Why do you stay with him, Bernie? It doesn’t sound like there’s much in it for you.”

“I guess I’ve been afraid. I have no family. I don’t have much money and besides, the house is in his name. Where would I go?”

I can’t help myself. I raise an eyebrow at her, then cast my eyes around the room.

“Oh!"

~

Continued in Part 8




Posted for River of Mnemosyne Challenge No. 5, Muse 7: "An Air of Evanescence"

2/10/2014

A Dame with a Past - Part 6



 "Whn u gt a chnc, cll. I thnk ur bng fllwd. H."

I’ve known Harry longer than the lifespan of cell phones and texting.  A quick glance at the particular form of gibberish he calls a text is all it takes for me to look around the lobby in alarm, illogical as that is. The only people in sight are Bernie and Kimball standing in front of a bank of mailboxes set discreetly into an alcove, the manager pointing out something to Bernie, and Al the doorman behind his desk.

Being followed? What the…?

“Please excuse me for a minute,” I say to Bernie and the building manager. “Go ahead without me. I have to make a call. I’ll be right with you.”

I wave off Al’s help, push though the brass doors, punching the speed dial for Harry as I go. He answers immediately.

“Oh, good. I was hoping you’d call right back. We’ve got a monkey in the chicken pile, my friend.”

“What’s up?”

“Well,” Harry says, “remember the guy I told you about, the one who plays at McGraw’s club?”

“Yeah…”

“He called me, said there was something I might want to know. Apparently our esteemed golf pro had himself a bit of a meltdown at work this morning. My pal said he was ranting and raving about something, punched a locker, and walked out.”

“Ranting and raving? Did your friend say what it was about?” I ask.

“Not really. But he heard McGraw say something about ‘not being cut out of things,’ and ‘I’m gonna knock her off her high horse.”

“Uh-oh. That doesn’t sound good.”

“Yeah, right? My buddy said that if he weren’t such a good golf instructor, he’d probably lose his job. He might lose it anyway if he put on this little display in front of the customers, you ask me.

“And the worst part? When he left, he said he had to get to San Francisco. ”

Involuntarily, I find myself scanning the stream of people passing me on the sidewalk.

“That it?”

Harry huffs into the phone. “Isn’t that enough? I’m worried about Bernie, Marty. I think that guy’s a loose cannon. She might be in danger.”

“OK, thanks for the heads-up. Don’t worry. I won’t let her out of my sight.”
 

~
 

I catch up with the others as they’re standing in front of the etched steel elevator door. The design shows a woman sitting on the back of a bull. If I remember my Greek mythology, it depicts Zeus’ rape of Europa.

“Oh, good. I’m glad you’re back.” Bernie says, her face lit like a child’s on Christmas morning. “We’re going up to the top. Joe is going to show us a surprise.”

The elevator doors slide open and we get on.

“What I’m going to show you is something you’d more expect in a hotel or a New York apartment building. It’s not typical of your average apartment building in San Francisco,” Joe says as he pushes the button for the eleventh floor. “but it was very typical of your great-grandfather, Bernice.”

“Eleven? I thought I counted twelve floors from outside,” I comment.

“Right you are. There is a twelfth floor, but you can’t get to it on this elevator.” He laughs at the expression on our faces. “You’ll see.”

The doors open, and we step out into a small lobby. Across from us, there are glass doors that appear to lead out to a garden. Joe hold the door open for us. “After you. Welcome to the Elysian Fields.”

We’ve stepped into another time and space. It is surreal, disorienting, and absolutely breathtaking.

Bernie gasped. “Oh, this is…” Her voice drifts to a stop.

I finish the sentence for her. “Awesome. I think ‘awesome’ is the word you’re looking for.”

The garden is magnificent. Directly in front of us, in what I take to be the center of the building, is a tall, round fountain. Its burbling completely obscures the sounds of the city below us. Unbelievably, all I can hear is birdsong. A wide brick path stretches before us to the fountain, and more fan out from the fountain into lush vegetation. Standing serenely here and there are statues of gods and goddesses. Around the perimeter, there are arched glass windows that face the hallway. Above me, I can see the sky.

“Wow. Just… wow,” I say.

Bernie is speechless. She is wandering down the path to the fountain, and she stops and sinks onto a bench set into a fragrant rose arbor as if she can’t stand another minute. Joe and walk up to join her.

“It’s really something, isn’t it? Joe asks.

“That’s the understatement of the year,” I reply. “But how? Who?”

Joe laughs. “Not me, that’s for sure. I have a black thumb. But Al – he’s the doorman; you met him downstairs – is not just a pretty face. He’s a magician when it comes to plants. He maintains the garden. We are so fortunate to have him. He's been here since before I took the job.”

“It’s wonderful,” Bernie exclaims. “Is it open to the public?”

“No, no,” Joe says. “This is solely for the use of our tenants. I must say, though, I don’t think many of them come up here very often.”

“I meant to ask,” Bernie says. “How many tenants are there? What kind of people live here?”

“There are 18 rental units in the building, two per floors two through ten, all of them rented. You can see what’s on the eleventh floor. There are no rental units on the first floor, but there are two apartments where Al and I live, in additions to the office and other spaces used for storage, equipment, and the like. And, of course, there is the owner’s apartment; we’ll see that in a moment. In the basement, there’s a laundry room, and each apartment has a storage room.

“The tenants are great. Many have been here for decades. We have a doctor, a couple of lawyers, and so forth. They range from young professionals to some retired folk. Not many children, but those who are here are well-behaved. And, oh, yes, a few dogs, cats, and other small pets.”

“That sounds perfect.” Bernie says. "Why would anyone want to leave? This is so magical."

He winks at Bernie, and says, “You bet. Now, let’s go check out your digs.”

Kimball leads us back into the hallway. Instead of calling the elevator, he turns right.

“We could have gone left just as easily,” he says. “Both directions lead to the same place.”

After a couple of turns, we come to an ornate floor-to-ceiling fence, a locked gate in its center. He pulls a key ring from his pocket and inserts one of the keys into the lock.

When the gate is open, he turns and hands the key ring to Bernie. “Welcome home, Bernice.  The apartment door is down there on the left.” He indicates a small alcove a short distance down the hall. "Beyond it, you can see another gate just like this one. The key fits both."

“Oh, thank you. This is all just so… so unexpected and overwhelming.”

She walks a short way down the hall to the apartment door.

“The key is on your key ring,” Kimball tells her.

With trembling hands, she unlocks the door and swings it open. A foyer welcomes us. At one side is a staircase.

“And that,” Joe says, “is how you get to the twelfth floor. There are two bedrooms up there, both with en-suite baths.

“You probably noticed that the garden is open to the sky. The twelfth floor is built around its periphery, and the bedrooms overlook the garden. There are city views as well though the eyebrow windows at the top of the building. Marjorie used the remaining space on the other side of the twelfth floor, which is much smaller, for storage.

"The apartment is not large. As you can tell, it's built on only one side of the building, to accommodate the garden, you know. Down here, we have a living room, dining room, and kitchen. Marjorie also had her own laundry room added off the kitchen."

He leads us into a living room. It has sweeping views of the city and the Bay Bridge beyond.

Bernie walks to the window.

“Oh, Marty, isn’t it beautiful? And look,” she says, pointing off to the left, “Alcatraz!”

She turns to us, and says, “Pinch me! I must be dreaming! This is all so surreal.”

Just then, Kimball gives a little rendition of the cell-phone dance, and pulls his buzzing phone from his pocket. “Yes?” He frowns. “Right away.”

He says to us, “Al needs me in the lobby. I’ll leave you to look around.”

As he turns to leave, I say, “I’ll go with you, if you don’t mind. Bernie, you’ll be okay?”

“Yes, of course. Go ahead. I’ll be here when you get back. I can’t wait to explore.”
 

~

 
I follow the building manager back out to the elevator. I want to talk to him about Mark Mitchum and the others. There was clearly something behind those strange phone calls Bernie got, and maybe he knows what it is. But as we ride down, I decide to wait until he deals with whatever has called him away. He looks very distracted.

When the doors open, I am surprised to see a very stormy looking Al standing over a man slouched in one of the chairs.

“Al, what’s the problem?” Kimball asks as he strides over to the two men.

“This moke charged in here, demanding to see Ms. McGraw. He threw a couple of punches – ha! as if! – and was on his way to the elevator when I convinced him that wasn’t such a good idea.”

As I look at Al, I can see a splotch on his left cheek purpling into a bruise as I watch. But no need to question what happened to the other guy. Mike McGraw scowls up at me from his chair, the beginnings of a magnificent shiner attesting to Al’s powers of persuasion.

 ~
 

 Continued in Part 7




Posted for River of Mnemosyne Challenge No. 5, Muse 6: "In Surreal Time"