That Joke Isn’t Funny Any More
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Thirty five minutes later across town, Lyndon and Mickie arrived in front of the six storey walk up apartment building.
“This is it,” Lyndon said.
“I know, you drove us here.”
“You’d make a great detective if you keep making deductions like that.” He said with a smile.
“Or an accountant,” Mickie said as she exited the car and stood on the sidewalk.
Lyndon locked the car and walked over to Mickie.
She looked at the print out taken from Sally the dispatcher at the cab office. “Fifth floor.”
“Perfect.” Lyndon had overdone it on the treadmill at the gym that morning and wasn’t looking forward to the extra burn on his quads that five flights would bring. He sighed. “Let’s go.”
At the entrance, Lyndon checked for a buzzer for the fifth floor apartment of the cab driver. He was about to push it and announce their presence when he glanced at the door. It was slightly open. Someone had wedged a piece of wood under the door to stop it from closing and locking. The way that the paint on the bottom of the door was worn away didn’t make this look like a one-off occurrence. Security was obviously of high importance here on the East side. Perhaps someone had just stepped out with taking there keys with them. Lyndon kicked the piece of wood away as he stepped inside and made sure that the door locked after Mickie was inside.
An old woman shuffled down a well worn hallway of threadbare carpet, black in colour though clearly not by design. Overhead one of the strip lights flickered intermittently giving the entrance way the feeling of a cheap 70’s disco. Mickie watched as the old woman approached the front door.
She gave it a feeble pull. “Hey what’d you do to the doorman?” She looked accusingly from Mickie to Lyndon and back to Mickie, as though she expected more from a young woman.
“Doorman?” Mickie walked over to the old woman, who by now was looking a little unsteady on her feet. “There was no doorman here, just a piece of wood jammed in the door.”
The old woman chuckled and reached for Mickie’s arm to steady herself. “Yes dear.” Her voice rattled with the legacy of several thousand cigarettes. “That’s our doorman. Only the very best at Mansion Towers, don’t you know?” With her free hand the old woman fished around in her purse and produced a set of keys. “You couldn’t open the lock for me? The old hands ain’t what they used to be thanks to this arthritis.” The old woman shuffled back to the door.
Instinctively Mickie took the keys, opened and held the door for her as the old woman shuffled out into the night. She handed the keys back and closed the door. “I like her,” she said to Lyndon. “Good sense of humour.”
“And I’d have liked to ask her some questions about our driver.” Lyndon said.
Mickie said nothing.
“Don’t worry, you’ve learnt for next time.”
“We could always ask Mrs Alvarez on the way out. I doubt she’ll be gone long at this time of night.” Lyndon was about to say something when she smiled. “Her name was on the key fob. Right along side with the number 2 and the letter B. I’ll take those as her apartment number but it might not be.”
“That’s good.” Lyndon was genuinely impressed. “Now let’s get to the fifth floor before the guy goes to sleep.”
Lyndon and Mickie began to take the stairs in silence. Mickie could have walked faster but slowed several times to keep pace with the detective who, in her opinion, was really struggling. If he wasn’t struggling, the grunting every few steps wasn’t helping convince people that here was a man in his prime.
“You okay?” She finally said after three flights.
“Gym.” He stood for a second. “Did a little too much running on the ol’ treadmill.”
Mickie looked him up and down. She hadn’t taken him for a gym rat, and now seeing him here out of breath she knew her observation was right. “New membership?”
“I used to run back in the day.”
“And when exactly was that?”
Lyndon ignored her question. “I got a discount introductory offer and I did the induction this morning. I was determined to run five miles, but my legs started to burn and I didn’t make it.”
“You should really warm up before you start.”
“I did. The trainer got me doing all the exercises and I thought that was the induction. Then he said it was time to start and put me on the treadmill.”
A Chinese woman in a nurse’s uniform carried a large overfilled bag of groceries past them and up to the fourth floor.
“Don’t laugh.” Lyndon said with a grin. “It became obvious this morning that I’m build for power and not endurance.”
“So you lift weights then?”
“No.” He said and laughed at himself. “Not yet. I don’t want to totally burn myself out.”
Mickie laughed and began the climb to the fourth floor. Lyndon followed, groaning less than before. Now after the brief rest it only took another three minutes at that pace before they found themselves in the hallway on the fifth floor.
“What number?” Lyndon asked.
Mickie pulled the printout from her pocket and checked the apartment listing. “B” she said. “The number B.”
“You knew what I meant.” Lyndon checked a sign hanging overhead that told visitors the to turn left for apartments A, B and C while they should turn right for D, E and F. Lyndon hung a left. Mickie followed.
They passed apartments A and C and reached what appeared to be the end of the hallway. To their left there was a dimly lit turn in the hallway.
“Must be this way,” Lyndon reasoned his detective instincts hard at work. As he tuned the dimly lit corner, he saw the Nurse with the groceries fumbling with her keys trying to get them in the lock.
“Excuse me, Miss.” Lyndon held out his badge so that she could see that he wasn’t some sort of psychopath, on duty, anyway. “Do you live in apartment B?”
The Nurse gave up trying to hold onto the paper bag and fumble with the keys at the same time. She set the bag down and then opened the door before scooping up the bag though not before several items at the top of the bag spilled over onto the floor. She still didn’t seem to pay Lyndon any attention.
An orange rolled towards Detective Lyndon. The Nurse bent down and was following the orange. Lyndon stopped it with his foot.
“Shit.” The Nurse said visibly jumping. “You scared me.” Her voice was loud.
Detective Lyndon saw the ear buds from an iPod in her ears. He held out his badge once again now that he had her attention. As the Nurse took out the headphones and studied the badge, Lyndon bent down and retrieved the orange.
The Nurse handed back the badge as Lyndon handed her the orange. “Thanks for capturing this before it escaped, Detective.”
“No problem. Miss?”
“Wu, Leslie Wu.” What can I do for you?” The Nurse said. A warm smile radiated from her. A smile that made her a big hit with the patients.
“We have a few questions about the occupant of Apartment 5B.”
“We?” Leslie looked around and saw Mickie leaning against the wall.
“This is Officer Chalmers.” Lyndon offered. He turned back to Leslie. “Do you live here?”
“Not officially.” She seemed a little flustered.
“This an illegal sublet?” Mickie asked.
“Oh, no.” Leslie shook her head. “No, nothing like that. I have an apartment a few blocks away. We’re getting married a couple of months and I just find I’m spending most of my time here. It’ll be official once we get married.”
“Who’s we?” Mickie asked
“Johnny and me.” Leslie said.
“John Sheppard?” Lyndon said.
Leslie was suddenly panicked. “Oh my God, what’d happened to him, is he okay?”
“There was an accident earlier today with his cab.” Mickie began.
“Oh God.” The Nurse leaned against the wall for support.
Mickie tried to reassure her. “It was only minor damage to his cab,” She patted Leslie on her arm, “A fender bender really, but he left the scene before we could get a statement. We’re just here following up.” Mickie didn’t think it wise to mention that he hadn’t been seen since.
Leslie Wu let out a long held breath. “Oh my God. That’s such a relief.” Leslie pushed off from the wall. “You want to come in? I’m sure Johnny’s home. If he isn’t, I’m sure he won’t be long.”
“That’d be great.” Mickie said. “Let me help you with that shopping.” Mickie bent down and picked up a pack of blueberry pancake wrapped sausages on sticks. A six pack of them. They didn’t look the most appetising things in the world, but they did seem to kick start her metabolism. Her stomach rumbled. Mickie now had the urge for pancakes. Not necessarily blueberry, but something in the pancake variety. She resolved to go to an all-night diner on the way home.
Leslie opened the apartment door, made her way down a short corridor into the open living room and kitchenette area. She placed the grocery bag on the counter top in the kitchen.
Back in the hallway outside the apartment Mickie and Lyndon hand finished picking up the stray grocery items.
“See if you can get a look at any photos on display, make sure it was him.” Lyndon told Mickie.
“You got reason to think it might not be him?” She said in hushed tones so as not to be overheard by the Nurse.
“It’s always good to go in with an open mind.” Lyndon said. “Always good to take all sorts on notes, too. You can never have enough notes. We can compare them after.” He nodded towards the open apartment door and followed Mickie in.
The woman’s touch to the decor of the apartment was immediate to Mickie as soon as she walked in. Tasteful decor, bright colours, little pots of potpourri dotted on nearly every flat surface. Could be that John had some sort of intestinal problem, thought Mickie. She placed the shopping items on the counter as Leslie had begun to store everything away.
“Nice place.” Lyndon offered. He didn’t think he could live like this, but would no doubt have his mind changed by the next girlfriend. It had taken him six months to get back to his way of living after Donna had left. He scoped out the living room while the Nurse was distracted by the shopping and Mickie. There was nothing out of place. No magazines, not empty glasses. He couldn’t even see any finger marks on the table by the remote controls.
Lyndon checked the wooden bureau underneath the windowsill by the Fire Escape. One piece of paper and a pen. It seemed just like a hotel room apart from a silver edged photo frame of the Leslie Wu and John Sheppard. Lyndon took out his copy of the print out from the cab dispatcher and checked the likeness. It was hard to tell. The photo copy of his driving licence wasn’t the best, but it looked a good enough match.
Next to the photo frame was a man’s wallet and a set of keys. “That’s lucky.” Lyndon said aloud, breaking up the rhythmic clicking sounds of the carriage clock emanating from the other side of the room.
“What’s that?” Leslie Wu asked.
“John seems to have left his wallet at home.”
“How’s that lucky?”
“We have an awful picture from a photo copy of his licence. You mind if I check out his licence.”
“He shouldn’t have left his wallet here. He has to show his licence at the start of each shift.” Leslie said. “It just doesn’t make sense.”
“Could he have come back?” Mickie asked her.
“He times his shifts so that we work the same hours. That’s one reason why he likes the cab. With my hours being irregular we know we can always spend our off time together.”
“Maybe he just went to the store?” Mickie said trying to reassure her. “Or maybe a bar, for a quick drink.”
Leslie Wu shook her head as she sank down onto the sofa. “He doesn’t drink.” Leslie began to bite her nails absently. “Oh listen to me. I’m a little nervous with you showing up out of the blue like this. I’m sure everything’s fine. I’m going to get changed and by the time I’m done he’ll be here and you can talk to him.” With that, Leslie went to the bedroom and closed the door.
Lyndon collected the photo frame from the bureau and returned Mickie. “Here,” he said, “the happy couple.”
Mickie took the picture and studied it. “Oh my God.” She brought her hand to her mouth.
“It isn’t him.” She said, her hand trembled and she dropped the photo frame on the floor. It bounced on the carpet and came to rest without breaking. “It isn’t him.” She repeated. “What do we do now?”
Lyndon opened his mouth to speak but before he could a high-pitched scream came from the bedroom.
Or go to Chapter 8 (now with downloadable PDF!) (last updated 28 October 2009 @ 8pm)