Grace – A Short Story.
Copyright 2010 Ryan Finnigan
The Following story is intended for free circulation and enjoyment and can be distributed, and reproduced on the condition that the author receives full acknowledgement.
My e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
Autumn when I moved into Centro. I took a one bedroom apartment, it
was small but I knew it would be somewhere safe to house Grace. She
would be left alone.
I knew I was the first person to see the advert go live. I offered the deposit and a year’s rent up front on the condition that the advert was taken down immediately. I watched it die and was relieved he was good on his word. Not all of them are.
An envelope of cash for a set of keys, he didn’t count it but I’ve never seen him again. I’d had it counted twice anyhow.
The apartment was on the fourth floor of six. I couldn’t live on the ground or top floor. If anyone systematically robbed the building, I couldn’t be amongst the first to get it. It was pretty unlikely but I needed to minimise any risk of her being discovered. I couldn’t care about any of the valuables, just Grace.
There were lifts but I took the stairs to avoid conversation. I had a window but the first thing I did was close the blinds and that’s how they stayed.
The mail was delivered into numbered boxes in the lobby and not directly into the apartment. They were locked and there was a security camera pointed right at them, so I let it slide. I rented a mailbox in town for comfort and would be careful coming home carrying anything large or suspicious looking. There was 24/7 access, so I could go in the early hours and not be seen.
I didn’t know my neighbours. A few times I heard them leaving as I was going out, so I waited until I knew they were gone. Through the peephole, I watched them pass and listened to the footsteps to figure out which door they entered. Sometimes the postman would be sloppy and the odd letter would be left hanging out of their boxes. I would look at the names and then post them fully in. Over a number of weeks I got a pretty good idea of who was around me. Mostly professional couples and students. A good set of self-involved people. Aside from that a couple of the apartments were empty but I didn’t mind as they weren’t my direct neighbours, so it didn’t matter if some do-gooder moved in.
The thirst I had was always stronger in the night and with Grace out of danger, I could go out of an evening. Anytime I left I checked the door was secure around five times. Eventually, it became a compulsive habit.
I could go to bars alone and not be bothered by anyone. I was unremarkable. Now and then, a drunk might stagger over to my stool and I could be personable without being personal. Sometimes it would be a woman and if it was I would take her to a motel and leave the moment she slept. I couldn’t take her home and I didn’t want any kind of companionship getting in the way. The first time I did it because I was so lonesome that I just had to. I saw her again the following week, she passed me and didn’t even notice or remember me. From then, I slept only with women equally intoxicated.
Anytime I walked home I used the back entrance. It was in a quiet back alley with little light. I had heard a guy got stabbed there a few years back but it didn’t bother me like it did some. I wasn’t scared of dying. It was deserted at night. I left a beer bottle against a wall on the pavement opposite and 23 days later it was still there, intact. I picked it up and thought that Grace and I had somehow found an island where we could finally exist. That bottle wouldn’t have lasted a day anywhere else we’d been without being kicked or thrown. It was then I thought that we would be alright.
I kept Grace hidden most of the time. Sometimes, when I was paranoid and the nightmares were bad, I would have her in the bed with me. If anyone was coming in to get her, they would have to go through me first.
I went out locally for provisions once a week. I’d make a list so I only had to go once in daylight. Anything else I needed, I ordered and collected from the mailbox at night. I always enjoyed walking through the city in the twilight hours, it felt as though it was all mine.
I had kind of quit on working to focus on Grace and had enough to get by, so a lot of the time I just sat looking for old movies on the TV. I liked to watch ones I had seen before at the cinema. It brought back memories of going out on dates. I don’t remember much these days because I’m constantly in a fog but I know I always loved the movies. When I see one on the TV, I’m transported. I can usually remember every detail including the screen number and whereabouts we sat. I kept all the ticket stubs and now and then I look through them to remember. Best of all, with a movie you’ve seen before, there’s often no surprises.
By the time night rolls around, I’m ready to drink. I can go out to the bars and be alone in a crowd. There’s an honour in amongst the drinkers, I know no one here is looking for me. I don’t drink in the same place twice running and I keep track of the day of the week I last visited each bar so I don’t become a regular. There are a lot of bars in any city and they compete with cheap drink nights and themed events. I make sure to avoid those. Even if I wasn’t on the run, I’d keep away from the people who need an excuse to drink.
I didn’t let myself get too drunk or ever let myself feel too secure even when things were going good. I knew Grace’s family would get close again soon. They never cared about her before but now she’s with me, they are relentless. Word has always gotten out all the other places I’ve been and there’s been a fair few. I could name them but there’s no point. All cities look the same these days. I don’t blame people when they give away information, family’s family after all, but I just wish they knew the truth before they did.
That’s why I’m so careful now. It’s the lessons learned from so many silly mistakes and the fear from just as many near misses. It seemed as though I had it just right but I guess I was wrong.
I picked up a package on a three beer buzz. I ordered pretty much everything I could these days as I liked receiving things. It made me feel less isolated. I used fake names for safety but I didn’t really think it made much difference. It was only a dustpan and brush for the floors, but I needed one and was happy to receive anything. Walking home I took out the keys from my pocket and arranged them in my hand, door key through the fingers. I came in the back way and took the stairs quietly. As I walked down the corridor, I trod silently and knew I could enter the apartment silently. Passing through, there was a thud on the door of 79 and I quickened my pace, turned the corner, got inside and threw down the box. I double locked the door behind me and stood there frozen. I knew it was up. I had spied through enough peepholes to know that over eagerness leads to mistakes. Banging your forehead against the door is likely to get the amateur spy shot through the eyeball. In this case, the game was up. Worst of all, 79 had been one of the vacant properties.
I took a shot of whiskey and calmed down. The police could be here any moment, if it was one of Grace’s family. I couldn’t make sense of it though. Why didn’t they just break in and take her. What was the sense of moving in? Were they trying to catch me out? It was either time to get Grace and leave or hole up for a while. If I ran, I could run straight into their arms. If the door starts to come down, I can just open the blinds and jump. It’s high enough. Maybe it’s some private detective who thought he had the right guy. If I didn’t act guilty and just stayed here, whoever it was might just leave.
A lot of time passed but I wouldn’t be sleeping tonight. If they come, they come. I needed to busy myself and so I picked up the box to open. Underneath was a note that had been slipped under the door. ‘What’s your SECRET?’ was scrawled in red pen.