I was in a neighborhood of single-family bungalows and blocky two-story stucco apartment buildings. The lots were small. The vegetation was jungle. Cars were parked bumper to bumper on both sides of the two-lane street. Bills apartment building was yellow with turquoise and pink trim and looked a lot like a cheap motel. There were wrought iron security bars on the windows. In fact, most of the buildings on the street had barred windows. In Baltimore, bars on windows would be found in conjunction with gang graffiti, street garbage, burned-out crack houses, and broken-down cars. None of those things were present in this neighborhood. This neighborhood looked modest but neatly maintained.
I paid the driver and trudged up the walkway that led to the apartment entrance. Moss grew between paving stones, overgrown flowering bushes and vines spilled onto the sidewalk and raced up the yellow stucco building, and the air smelled sweet and chemical. Bug spray, I thought. I was probably a step behind the exterminator. Best to keep my eye out for the cow-size cockroach. Lizards skittered across the walk in front of me and clung to the stucco walls. I didnt want to prejudge Miami Beach, but the lizards werent doing a lot for me.
The building was divided into six apartments. Three up and three down. Six front doors on the ground level. Bill lived in an end apartment on the second floor. I didnt have a key. If he didnt answer his doorbell, Id try the neighbors.
I rang the bell and looked at the door. There were fresh gouges in the wood around the lock and the dead bolt. I tried the doorknob and the door swung open. Damn. Im not an expert on criminal behavior, but I didnt think this was a good sign.
I pushed the door farther open and looked inside. Small entrance foyer with stairs leading up to the rest of the apartment. No sounds drifting down to me. No television, talking, scuffling around.
"Hello?" I called. "Im coming up, and I have a gun." This was a big fat lie shouted out for a good cause. I figured in case there were bad guys going through the silverware drawer this would encourage them to jump out the window.
I waited a couple beats and then I cautiously crept up the stairs. Ive never thought of myself as being especially brave. Aside from my short career at racing stocks, I dont do a lot of wacky, risky things. I dont like scary movies or roller coasters. I never wanted to be a cop, firefighter, or superhero. Mostly my life has been putting one foot in front of the other, moving forward on autopilot. My family thought it took guts for me to go to college, but the truth is, college was just a way to get out of the garage. I love my dad, but I was up to here with cars and guys who knew nothing else. Call me picky, but I didnt want a romantic relationship where I was second in line to a customized truck.
I got to the top of the stairs and froze. The stairs opened to the living room, and beyond the living room I could see into the small kitchen. Both rooms were a wreck. Couch cushions had been thrown onto the floor. Books were pulled off shelves. Drawers had been wrenched out of cabinets, and the drawer contents scattered. Someone had trashed the apartment, and it wasnt Bill. Id seen Bills style of mess. It ran more to dirty clothes on the floor, food stuck to the couch, and a lot of empty beer cans, everywhere. Thats not what I was seeing here.
From Metro Girl by Janet Evanovich. HarperCollins Publishers. Used by permission.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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