She screamed out his name.
No answer. Was Hector the one doing this? It seemed inconceivable. But still, the way he looked at her sometimes. Had she ever told him she was afraid of the dark? She might have. Everyone said she was too gabby. She might have told him and now here he was, wanting her and knowing she'd be terrified.
There was another noise, a ssssstttt. A match being lit. Then a tiny speck of light. She saw something. A man. Not Hector. Nothing like Hector. A tall man. Tall and thin with short-cropped white-blond hair. Handsome and pale.
Then the match went out and the light was gone. And so was he.
Back in the dark.
That's when she realized that if she couldn't see him, he couldn't see her. So, as terrified as she was, her brain began to work: It told her to crouch down and kick off those eggshell high heels and move quietly, quietly but steadily, toward the door by the driveway. . . .
She wondered if they'd realize she was late checking into the hotel. She had told them she'd be there by five. They knew her there by now, at the Marriott in Virginia. The desk clerk no longer bothered to take her credit card imprint when she checked in; he'd just wave her away and say they'd take care of it on her way out. Then she'd pay cash. Her story was that she was from out of town, coming in repeatedly on business. She said she lived in East End Harbor, on Long Island, in New York, and that wasn't really a lie. More like a fib. She also told him she was a lobbyist for the Nature Conservancy, and that was a lie. She didn't know why she'd said it, maybe because that's what she wished she were. That's what she would be, one of these days. But the clerk certainly remembered their conversations because when he saw her he always called her Ms. Greer, he always asked how her lobbying was going, and then he'd hand her the key to her room, always the same room, 1722. He knew not to bother to call a bellhop; she had made it clear that she preferred to carry her small overnight bag herself. The only question he ever asked was, "Early or late checkout?" and after she told him she'd smile to show she was very satisfied with the service, then head straight for the bank of elevators that went to the seventeenth floor. All she'd have to do after that was wait for the love of her life to arrive. She always arrived on time, she was never late. So maybe they'd realize that something was wrong; maybe they'd come looking for her.
Another ssssstttt. Another flash of light. He was far from her now, the blond man. He was guarding that door all the way to the left, and she'd moved maybe fifteen feet closer to the driveway. She could make it. He was looking around, he didn't see her, but she could see he was wearing a khaki suit with an open-necked blue shirt, and now she thought: I can do it. I can make it. He's not even looking in my direction and, okay, I see the clearing, I see the door. As soon as the match goes out, just run like hell. I can make it. . . .
The match went out and she took off.
She banged her knee into the corner of a carthe darkness was disorienting, but that didn't really slow her down. She was hauling ass and there was no way he was going to get her. She didn't even hear footsteps; he wasn't even trying. He knew it was impossible, knew that he'd lost, and she reached the door, grabbed for the doorknob and started to turn it, started to yank the door open and yes, there was the crack of sunlight, she had made it. . . .
And that's when she felt the hand on her arm.
She looked up and there he was. The light from the crack in the door showed the short blond hair, the khaki suit, and the blue shirt. But it wasn't possible. She'd seen him, knew he was all the way on the other side of the garage. She hadn't heard him running. He couldn't have beaten her to the door. It was not humanly possible. . . .
Copyright © 2004 by Peter Gethers.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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