“It’s been a blast, Maggie,” Jess said, sarcastically. “But I need to get out of here. Do you want to come with me?”
Maggie laughed. “There has to be a logical explanation for what happened last night.”
“Like maybe Debbie came home drunk and forgot which apartment was hers.”
Jess sat her cup in the sink. “Terrible explanation, I don’t buy it. What else do you have?”
Maggie filled her cup with coffee and looked at Jess. “Your imagination ran away with you? You know how you think this place is haunted, and every little thing is a ghost.”
“Nope, that’s not it,” Jess said, shaking her head. She picked up her purse and walked toward the couch still blocking the door. “It’s quite possible there are crazy people living in this place; you said they seemed a little odd.”
Maggie helped Jess move the sofa so she could escape, pushing the old heavy piece of furniture across the carpet with a dull rumble.
“You babysit tonight?” Jess asked as she walked toward the door.
“Yep,” Maggie said, rolling her eyes. “I can’t believe I got myself into that one.”
“I’d get out of it if I were you,” Jess said. She looked toward the living room windows. “You might consider locking your windows because that porch is right there. Anyone could walk right up to them and get inside.”
Maggie looked at the windows and then back at Jess. “I’ll suffocate. There’s no air conditioning.”
Jess’s hand rested on the doorknob. “Don’t take any more babysitting jobs. That Debbie seems a little weird to me, and I haven’t even met her.”
“I think you should go back to your house. I know you don’t want to live there because of the suicide, but at least it’s safe.” Jess opened the door and stepped over the threshold. Even though the sun outside was bright, its yellow rays turned a murky gray as they formed shadows against the walls. She shivered. “I’ll call you tomorrow.”
Maggie closed and locked the door. Jess was right; this place was creepy, but not creepy enough to move.
She walked to the kitchen and refilled her coffee cup. Outside, the calm lake reflected the blue sky and appeared refreshing. But inside Maggie’s apartment it felt damp, and the air smelled musty. She opened a window to let in the clean air. A fan would help circulate the air, she thought. She would have to get one the next time she went to town.
Maggie walked out of her apartment and around the hall corner to the door leading out to the second-floor wraparound porch. She put her coffee cup in the other hand and pushed down the French door handle to open it. The door was stuck. Not necessarily from swollen, summer wood, but more likely from not having been opened in a while.
She used her body to push the door open, spilling a couple drops of coffee onto the wood floor in the process. The warm, pine-scented breeze made the hair framing her face tickle her cheeks as if it wanted her to stay outside and play. She pushed the hair behind her ears and walked in front of her apartment windows. Anyone standing here could look right inside her living room. Not very private, she thought. When she looked closer at the loose fitting window screens, she realized they would be easy to remove or at least kick in to gain entry. But who would do that? The only people with access to the porch are the people who live here.
She looked toward the section of the porch in front of Bruce’s apartment, wondering why he had not taken the time to put a chair outside his windows to enjoy the summer sun. Maybe he was not the outdoor type.
Maggie walked around the corner of the porch, to the north side of the building, in front of the bedroom windows. This expanse also led to a small diamond shaped window in front of the stairway.
She walked to the cushion-sized window and looked through it. Her apartment door was closed. She would have fainted if she saw it was open when she knew she had closed it. Thanks, Jess, for making me a nervous wreck.
Maggie turned away and walked to the northeast corner of the porch. She stood there, not going any farther because Debbie’s apartment would be facing this part of the wraparound. She would not continue exploring.
Looking out to the parking lot, she saw her car, an old rusted Lincoln, and another old gray sedan. She guessed the Lincoln belonged to Mr. Zimmerman.
She looked up to the third floor; there was no porch above her, only the superintendent’s residence. Looking back down the length of the porch on the east side of the building she noticed another small diamond-shaped window next to the stairway, another set of French doors, and then Debbie’s windows.
She walked past the stairway window and was about to open the door leading back inside when she heard voices coming from Debbie’s apartment.
She did not want to listen and invade her privacy, but as she pushed the resistant door, a couple words said with a harsh whisper caught her attention. “Not tonight, later. There is time to complete the task . . . She has no idea what lies ahead.”
Maggie stopped pushing on the door, not wanting to draw attention to herself. She took her hand off the handle and walked back around to the other door. When she opened it, it scraped along the hardwood floor. She had made so much noise opening and closing it, she just knew Debbie had to be looking at her through her door’s peephole.
Acting as though she had not heard the person speaking in Debbie’s apartment, she casually walked to her apartment, went inside, and closed the door.
Who was talking with that witchy voice? That did not sound like Debbie and certainly not Susie; or was it something entirely different? It was just a whisper. Maybe a grandparent was visiting. Gee, I’m getting paranoid, Maggie said to herself. Get back to work.
She walked into the kitchen, took a black trash bag from the drawer, and walked into the spare room where Jess had slept. Doing the mundane task of laundry would get her mind off Debbie and the possible intruder. Since Susie would be sleeping in this bed later tonight, the sheets needed to be washed anyway.
The washer and dryer were in the basement, at least that is what Mr. Zimmerman told her. Since she did not yet have a laundry basket, she stuffed the sheets and pillowcases into the bag, grabbed a pocketful of quarters, a container of laundry detergent, and walked out the door.
Thinking about what Jess had said about someone trying to get into the apartment, she took the skeleton key and locked the door from the outside before walking past the utility room to the elevator. She walked inside and pressed the button with a big black B on it. As the elevator began closing, she noticed Debbie’s door open, but the door clanked shut before she could see who was coming out.
She watched the numbers light up as the elevator descended. It was so slow, she felt like it would have been faster to walk down the stairs.
The elevator jolted to a stop and the door rattled open, revealing a dark corridor with flickering fluorescent overhead lights. The scent of musk and of a dead animal, probably a mouse, made her wonder if she would have been better off going to a Laundromat.