Idea by Tom Austin Edited by Meg Sorick Improved by Meg Sorick, Author
Chapter 5 in the story of Panooksa
Milly and Brad took the elevator to the parking garage. It would be the first time Milly saw Brad’s car in daylight. It was a 1967 red Mustang that Brad had lovingly restored himself over the last five years. Everything was exactly right —the knobs and dials, the steering wheel and gear shift. Even the bucket seats, which must have been replaced, looked just like the originals. Milly was not normally a car person, but she knew what she liked, and she positively loved the Mustang.
However, getting into a bucket seat at six months pregnant, even a faux pregnancy, was a challenge. Brad moved the seat back as far as it would go to accommodate Milly and the pillow at her belly. She gingerly lowered herself into the seat, so as not to dislodge the ‘baby’. Getting back out of the low slung sports car would prove to be more of a problem.
After Milly was settled, buckled in, and the door closed, Brad got in beside her and turned the key in the ignition. As he revved the engine a few times, she felt the vibration rumble beneath her, sending a slight shiver of delight up her spine. Brad glanced over with a delightedly wicked grin. With a final press of the accelerator, he popped the clutch, sending the car rocketing up the garage ramp.
Milly laughed out loud. “Wow! My old Honda Civic never did that!” she said.
They were at the address in a jiffy. Driving into this area of town was like stepping back in time fifty years. The first thing they noticed were the street lamps, their posts free of advertisements. Next, they saw old yellowed posters announcing the next fight, who was fighting whom and when and where.
“I’ve never heard of The Palace, have you?” Brad asked, naming the venue for the upcoming match.
“No, never,” she said.
Brad pulled the car to the curb and cut the engine. “Well, this the right address,” he said. “14 Rillington Place.”
Milly looked at the neibourhood and held her tongue, not wishing to color Brad’s decision, but her silence spoke volumes.
“I’m supposed to meet the super in apartment 1K.” Brad said, getting out. Completely forgetting about Milly’s ’condition’, he started walking towards the building. She had opened the car door but that’s as far as she got.
“Hey, I’m trapped,” she called out.
He ignored her. It was as if he hadn’t heard her at all. Without so much as a pause, he carried on walking to the building.
“Hey Doc. Pregnant lady needs a little help here,” Milly called out again. “BRAD!”
Something in her voice snapped Brad out of his trance. He ran back to the car, and started apologizing immediately. “I’m so sorry. I don’t know what I was thinking. It’s like my brain was in another zone.”
“I’m stuck in the stupid seatbelt. If I’m not careful, I’ll push the pillow out of position,” she whispered. “Besides, we have to keep up appearances, here.”
He helped with the seat belt. Then, holding both her hands, he pulled her from the bucket seat into which she had sunken. As soon as Milly was on her feet, Brad let go of her hands. He then turned and resumed his march toward the rather shabby looking building with Milly trailing behind. She hurried to catch up and hooked her arm in his, slowing him down long enough for a stern but polite talking to.
“Look, I’m doing this all for you,” she said. “And for heaven’s sake hold my hand. We’re supposed to be married, you know. That’s what couples do, Brad. From the way you’re behaving, I’d swear you still think girls have cooties, or whatever they call it now.”
“Sorry,” he said and took her hand as they reached the stairs. Once inside, they looked over the tenant directory in the lobby. It was mysteriously blank. The tile floor was made up of tiny ceramic octagons, with more than a few pieces missing. Some of the mail boxes were stuffed, while others looked like they hadn’t had mail in years. The main hallway on the first floor was so narrow, the two had to walk single file.
They passed an apartment unit where the door was wide open. Within, they could see an old man stirring a pot which simmered on a hot plate. Brad touched Milly’s shoulder and gestured for her to come closer.
Pointing toward the old man, Brad said in a hushed voice, “I can’t put my finger on it, but I think we’ve seen him before.”
Milly nodded. “Yes, definitely familiar,” she said distractedly. The odor coming from the bubbling pot was overwhelming.
The old man surprised them both by speaking. “I may be an old man, but my hearing is still pretty good. Come in, Mildred, come in Bradley.”
They exchanged a look, but without saying a word, they entered the apartment and sat on an old couch.
“You must excuse the furnishings of this humble old man, but it’s been some time since I’ve entertained anyone,” he said.
Brad said, “You called me Bradley. Nobody calls me Bradley. To the best of my knowledge, we’ve never met. How did you know my name?”
The old man chuckled. “Very direct. I think you would have made a fine lawyer. You thought about it for a few years, but decided against it. A pity, truly a pity.” He turned to Milly. “And you, my dear Mildred, your parents would be proud you chose medicine as your vocation.”
“My parents…?” Milly began.
He turned his attention back to Brad. “But Bradley, I must ask you not to rent here. Take it from an old man, you would not like it here.”
Brad and Milly were baffled. “How do you know us?” asked Milly.
“We have met before. I wasn’t quite myself. We shall meet again. But not here. She already knows the answer, and you, my dear Bradley, will soon figure it out. But you won’t find your answers here…” he added with a twinkle in his eyes.
Brad and Milly immediately found themselves out in the corridor, staring at a wall where a few seconds ago, a doorway had been. Brad ran his hands all over the wall trying to find the doorway. Nothing. There was absolutely no sign of a door. Now, more than a little upset, he raced up the hall to find the superintendent’s apartment. As soon as he came to 1K, he started knocking frantically on the door.
“All right, I’m comin’!” a voice shouted from inside.
The super answered the door wearing brown trousers and an undershirt and chomping on an unlit cigar. He planted his feet, crossed his arms and glowered at them. “Alright. This better be important. I’m missing the fights. The Masked Marauder is on this week.”
“What can you tell me about the old man in the apartment at the end of the hall?” Brad asked.
“There ain’t no apartment at the end of the hall, and there sure ain’t no old man. I’m the only one in this stinkin’ buildin’.”
“But… I… we… just talked to him,” Brad insisted.
“Oh yeah? Next time you see him, tell he owes me some rent. Now get lost!” he bellowed, slamming the door in Brad’s face.
Brad turned to Milly. His eyes were wild and he had begun to sweat profusely. “I’m not crazy, Milly!”
“I know. I know,” she said calmly.
“You saw him, right? And… and… heard him too?” he asked, in a near panic.
She took his face between her and hands and steadied him. “I did see him, and I heard him too.”
He blew out a ragged breath as she gently caressed his face and hair. She said, “Come on. Lets just go home.”
She got Brad turned around, and slowly led him down the hall and out of the building. When they got to the red Mustang, she simply said, “Keys, please.”
Further musings of Meg can be seen at https://megsorick.com
Check out all four of her books at The Bucks County Novels series