Richard G. Henry
Cathy moved into an apartment in the lower Haight, it was vintage San Francisco with itís pano windows and Victorian style. She felt much more at home with the various characters she met. There still were frat boys in the neighborhood but they were so outnumbered you just knew they went to Marina at every chance they could get. Cathyís roommate was well connected and Cathy made a lot of new friends very quickly. It took her a while to shed her uptight middle class skin and she often caught herself before she said something stupid that would have given away her past. She invited Greg to the different parties she was invited to but he always complained he had a conflicting party to go to. They drifted further and further apart. Neither one of them had the actual courage of asking for a final break up. Cathy started feeling uncomfortable when she saw people she knew from that neighborhood, they treated her with a strange mistrust. She could feel the cold shoulder and wondered was Greg was saying to them behind her back. She also knew most of them made it up as a way to find value in their own lives.
By the time the first rains of winter fell Cathy hadnít seen Greg for almost four months. She kind of sad but knew that it was for the best and eventually it would have happened anyway. Cathy had also left the engineering firm and started a job working for a hotel chain. She worked in a group that planned expansion and building of new hotels. She was still in engineering but with a sales and marketing angle. She liked it because of the travel aspect. Suddenly she was flying all over the west cost on a weekly basis, going to meetings and conventions. It was a good way to ignore her shrinking social life. Of the few guys that did interest her, most were onto someone else by the time she returned from her business trips.
The only friend that Cathy stayed in contact with was Kristen. For some reason Kristen was able to look past Cathy's strange departure and not hold it against her for leaving Greg and the whole Marina yuppie scene. Kristen didnít care for it either but couldnít see herself anywhere else. Cathy advised her to stay there. That abandoning oneís social situation of four years was tough and it was even harder to make new friends. They met for lunch quite often but as of late Kristen had started canceling. Cathy couldnít understand why but really had no choice and she didnít feel like confronting her.
Cathy's job was more exciting than her old one, which seemed to consist mostly of going to construction sites and checking out the electrical circuits. Of course at first it was exciting because it was new but it had become routine. This new job was much more demanding. She had to draw up plans for these new mega-hotels, which not only involved the usual electricity and TV cabling but now also included high speed internet connections and fiber optic cable. Once they were comfortable with one format another one was demanded. Cathy was constantly flying back and forth to building sites and designing new lines. Some of them could not be near each other because they caused line noise and disrupted the signal. It had become a life of travel, hotel meetings with muffins and coffee. And in the evening it was dinner and drinks with the local staff. She didnít mind, although it didnít leave her much time for a real social life; she had decided to give herself a year off from any sort relationship.
Staying in strange hotels three or four nights a week did create one fear - that someone would break into her room while she was there. Each time it got a little worse, sheíd hear the room service staff coming and going at all hours, sometimes they stopped and she would listen and wonder what they were doing, or if it was them at all. And with the new credit card keys anyone could make a copy. Of course they changed them with each guest but that didnít mean someone on the staff couldnít make a copy. She supplemented her fear by reading mystery novels. She would see a stranger at dinner and imagine them to be a cold-blooded killer that was stalking her. She would convince herself she was in danger and start to get nervous that he was waiting in her room. Sheíd walk briskly to open the door and then check all the closets and shower to make sure there wasnít anyone hiding, waiting for her. Once convinced she would get out her latest mystery and scare herself half to death listening to the strangers passing by. She knew all she would ever hear before getting murdered was the little electronic chirp as the door opened with the key card. Cathy would lie in the darkened room waiting for that moment. She knew sheíd be too terrified to scream.
One day while back in San Francisco Cathy was having a hard time calming down; she had this anxiety that made her feel terribly tense. She couldnít trace it to any real event but it had been bothering her for the entire weekend interrupting her sleep and ruining her Saturday. Sunday morning came and she still couldnít shake it so she went for a walk. It was a bitter cold February morning and the moment she began walking she regretted going out. She paused for a moment but had to burn some of the excess energy and kept going. She decided to walk on the streets sheíd never been on before exploring new buildings and corners. As she passed by a large pile of rubbish Cathy slowed down because she saw a purse resting on top. It didnít quite fit with the rain soaked futon, broken TV and cardboard boxes. Cathy thought it odd that the vagrants hadnít taken the purse. It seemed to be the most obvious thing to grab. She continued past it but when she got to the corner she wanted to go back and grab it. It wasnít her nature to just take things she found on the street but the purse was too tempting. If she didnít take it someone else would. She told herself if it had identification in it she would return it. Cathy spun around mysteriously and spied up and down the street; no one seemed to be around. She casually strolled up the street looking from side to side. When she arrived at the pile she kneeled down pretending to tie her shoe and when she stood up she had the purse in her hand as if sheíd been carrying it all the time. Her heart was pounding so hard she could feel it in her feet. Her vision was sort of blurred and her balance a little off. She knew that someone in one of the surrounding apartment buildings had seen her and was probably still watching her. It could be anyone, a small child whose parents would tell her she was imaging things or an elderly lady who spent her days watching out the window waiting for something just like that to happen so she could call the police. Cathy walked quickly back to her apartment, once inside the metal gate she leaned back against it and caught her breath. The rain had started to come down and her hair was matted down on her head. She listened for footsteps but heard none. She had gotten away with it! She darted back to her apartment and locked the door. She put the purse on her coffee table and changed into dry clothes. She emerged from the bedroom and stared at the patent leather purse on her coffee table. It did not belong in that pile of stuff. Cathy started feeling guilty hoping that some poor woman hadnít gotten mugged. She pondered returning it but then thought that criminals always returned to the scene of the crime and that was their downfall. She would not let that happen to her. Cathy sat down in front of it and studied it. She couldnít open it yet. Opening it would push her over the line to becoming a thief but the curiosity was too much and she unclasped it. She looked inside, the material was in good condition and there was a wallet inside. Cathy couldnít believe it. It scared her.
"What have I done?" she asked herself.
The laid the wallet in front of her and put the purse to the side. She studied it. It was nice but not expensive. Most people would take out everything before getting rid of it; this told her that it wasnít discarded on purpose. Cathy opened it and began looking through it. All the identification and money were gone. There were receipts and bits of paper but nothing to identify the owner. Cathy was relieved by that fact, it would be tough to look at someoneís picture knowing you had stolen their wallet and had no intention of returning it. Cathy looked at the different bit of paper, most were phone numbers or shopping lists. The only bit of paper that seemed a little mysterious was one that was folded neatly and tucked into the corner of the wallet. She unfolded it. It had numbers and letters written on it and a date. It didnít mean anything to her. It could be from an accident or a car that someone parked in front of the ownerís garage. Cathy studied it and searched the wallet and purse again. She found nothing of interest. She put everything back into it and stashed it in her front hall closet on the top shelf. All the excitement of the morning had the desired effect on her nerves and she fell asleep watching an afternoon movie on TV.
Later that day Cathy found herself in a good mood and wanted a good meal. She couldnít stand to heat up another meal in the microwave. She decided to go to the nice restaurant down the street. Sheíd never eaten in a restaurant by herself but she didnít care. She fixed herself up after sleeping on the couch all day. She hopped down the stairs and bumped into her neighbor David.
"Howís it going?" she asked him.
"Ugh," David moaned.
David was a depressed screenwriter. He spent every waking moment dedicated to his art. He was either watching a moving, writing a screenplay or mailing one out. He never seemed to do anything else. He had enough success to keep him going, reaching for that golden ring. Most of his writing was actually ghostwriting for cable TV shows. He didnít mind because it paid well and no one seemed to care how bad it was. He didnít want to put his name out there on bad writing. His dream was to get his screenplays made into a movie. That was all he wanted. He had a few bites but nothing panned out.
"Whatís the matter?"
"Got another rejection yesterday," he complained.
"I thought you got them all the time?" Cathy remarked light heatedly.
"Yeah," he sighed, "but this was the fourth draft! I was sure they were going to take it."
"What was it about?" Cathy asked.
"Doesnít matter now," David said leaning against the wall.
"Do you want to go have dinner with me?"
David paused. He was taken aback; he had gotten used to be alone in his despair and sorrow. But he looked at Cathy and realized he needed to be around another person. He had spent the past two weeks writing and had spent days without talking to another person. Yeah," David said, almost surprised to hearing his own words.
"Cool. I was going to go to that restaurant around the corner."
"Yeah, I thinks thatís it," Cathy agreed.
"Can you wait a moment?" David asked. "Iíd like to change."
"Sure. Iíll wait here."
David, feeling a little better, took two stairs at a time up to his apartment and returned a few moments later in a turtleneck.
"Ok, Iím ready," he announced.
Cathy and David headed down the street. The sun was out but it was still cold. Barren trees outlined sharply against the cold gray sky.
"I canít remember it ever being this cold," David said pulling his jacket tighter.
"I know. Itís crazy," Cathy agreed.
They forsook conversation in an effort to get to the restaurant quicker. Once inside where it was warm conversation was easier.
"So what was your screenplay about?"
"The breakup of a theater couple who have to play a broken up couple," David said wearily. "It kind of works on two or three levels cause you never know exactly which character they are or whom they are talking about."
"That sounds cool," Cathy said. "Youíve rewritten it four times?"
"At least. At first it was a play but I decided to write it for the big screen because I was having absolutely no luck with it in the theater world."
"Iíve never done anything like that."
"What do you do?" David asked ordering a vodka tonic.
"Iíll have a cosmopolitan," Cathy said to the waiter and continued, "Iím an engineer."
"What kind?" David asked her.
"Electrical," Cathy said a little surprised.
"Why do you look so surprised?" David asked noticing her reaction.
"Most people think engineers all do the same thing."
"Everybody thinks everybody else does the same thing."
"Do people believe you when you tell them you write for TV?" Cathy asked sipping her drink.
"I try not to tell them."
"They donít believe it because I donít live in LA and I donít write for any well known show."
"How long have you been doing it?"
"I started in college."
"Howíd you get into it so early," Cathy asked.
"I took a room off campus and the owner wrote for TV. I covered for him once and he introduced me to all sorts of characters. You wouldnít believe how much material they need for TV."
"Really? I thought it was a pretty tough industry to get into," Cathy wondered.
"It is but once you get a good name they come to you all the time. I mean I get jobs all the time."
"Why donít you live in LA?" Cathy asked. "It seems like youíd have to? How do you meet with the other writers?"
"Oh, youíre thinking of sitcoms. Those usually have a steady team that writes week after week. Iím more of a hack writer. Sometimes I just write for one character on a show, or just a scene."
"Really?" Cathy was amazed.
"You wouldnít believe was a sewer TV is. Iíve written entire shows completely drunk. Sometimes I even forgot what I wrote!"
"Thatís crazy. You can type when youíre drunk?" Cathy asked him suspiciously.
"Well it was back in the day. It was cool to be writer and drink all day but I started getting sloppy. When youíre writing two or three shows at once, you have to be careful not to get the characters mixed up."
"How can you write three at once?" Cathy wondered.
"Just like any other work. I donít even have to think about it anymore. You canít imagine how much pressure these people are under to get stuff ready for TV. There are so many channels and all that time needs to be filled. Itís pretty sickening."
"I donít really watch much TV. Although I travel a lot, so I have to admit I do watch it when Iím away. It helps me sleep."
"Itís like a drug. I donít want to do it but I donít really know how to do anything else," David sighed. "So what do you do with electrical engineering? A lot of new buildings, I would guess."
"Pretty much. I used to work for a firm in the city and that was all I did. It got a little boring"
"So you donít do it anymore?" David asked, a little confused.
"Iím still an engineer. I just do it for a hotel chain. So I have to fly around to different places and design the layout. Itís gotten much more interesting lately," Cathy explained.
"Why is that?" David asked, buttering a roll.
"The Internet. The hotel wants high speed connections in every room and conference room."
"Do you have to use the Internet in a lot of your stories?"
"No, actually I donít. Most of the stories I write never mention it. I have to write a lot of these weird stories of ancient warriors and fluff like that," David explained.
"Iíd like to see some of your stuff," Cathy said looking out the window at the falling rain.
David turned to watch the rain turning the whitish concrete to a deep gray. He looked back at Cathy and realized he was having a good time. He smiled to himself. Sometimes there was some humanity left in the world.
"What shows have you written for?"
"You know, Iím not really sure," David said, knowing she wouldnít take that answer.
"Yes you do."
"Actually, I do but since my name never appears Iím not supposed to say," David explained. "Plus I do write for quite a lot of pilots that are never seen."
"OK, Iíll accept that."
"So how did you come to live in San Francisco?" David asked.
"I moved here with my boyfriend," Cathy said. "It didnít work out but I like the climate. How about you?"
"I lived in LA for three years but I just couldnít stand it any longer. I moved up here after visiting some friends. I find it very condusive to writing."
"Really?" Cathy said surprised.
"Itís a very lonely town. I think everyone moves here after they break up. Writing is a lonely profession so the city is perfect."
"I think you like to be depressed," Cathy said, calling his bluff.
David was taken aback by her forwardness. "What do you mean?"
"I think you play up the solitary writer thing. I think you like it."
"All writers are martyrs," David confessed. "Itís from being around yourself too much.
"Does that bother you?"
"No, why should it?"
"Donít know," David remarked. "It botherís some people."
Cathy and David sat in silence, waiting.
"You always face the window," David inquired.
"What do you mean?" Cathy feigned ignorance.
"I wished they were playing some music."
Cathy watched as droplets of water would converge into one larger drop and begin itís long descent down the window.
"Can you put on some music?"
"Could you put on some music? Like some jazz?"
"Whatís the rain doing now?"
"Itís being blown sideways by the wind," Cathy described, still staring out the window. "Lashing against the windows. Canít you hear it."
"I can hear the patter move across the glass."
"You want music?"
"Yes, I thought it would be nice."
"We have music in the bar."
"Weíre not in the bar."
Pause, thoughtful expression. "Let me check. I donít think we have speakers in this room."
"Itís not that important," David motioned. "Forget about it."
"Are you sure?"
"Yes. Please forget I asked."
"Forget what?" she asked.
"I didnít hear any music?"
"There wasnít any."
The meal arrived and they ate in the vacant restaurant. The waiters in their black vests and long white aprons stayed in the bar, occasionally peering in at the couple that asked for the music when there wasnít any.
"What should we do?"
"I know a place."
"Can we go there now?" she asked.
"I donít see why not," David thought out loud. "I might be cold."
"I need to feel the rain."
David led Cathy through a labyrinth of small doorways that led into the bowels of the apartment building. They had to duck underneath the pipes and electrical lines that crossed the passageway. They finally emerged at a small doorway. David slid the door open, it was heavy and made a loud crashing sound as the dried dusty grease gave way and it opened. It was a tiny little elevator.
"I didnít even know this was here," Cathy said, amazed.
"I heard the landlord talking about it one time."
"You speak Chinese?"
"No, he was yelling at his nephew about the elevator and every time he got into the regular elevator, he got more and more upset. He was pointing at the stairs that lead to the basement and saying Ďother elevatorí. I was down here once looking for a clanking noise that was driving me nuts and I found this."
"Where does it go?"
"You wonít believe it."
A lone 50-watt bulb hung from a dilapidated fixture. The elevator slowly creaked its way up. It passed up through the courtyard. One could mark the passing of each floor because there was a small glass pane at each level.
The lift finally stopped. Below it a sixty-foot shaft into darkness. David lifted and slid the outer door open. They emerged into a dimly lit attic that ran completely around the building. Small windows were set about every eight feet on each side.
"Be careful. People below," David said putting his hand out, waiting for eyes to adjust to the darkness.
"What is this place?"
"Just an attic."
"Itís huge," Cathy said, looking around her, trying to make out the various shapes. "What is all this stuff."
"Why donít they get rid of it?"
"How?" David asked rhetorically.
Cathy thought for a moment. "How did it get up here?"
"I donít know but there certainly isnít any way to get it down."
"Weird," Cathy whispered.
"Yeah," David said, smothering a sneeze.
"Where to now?"
"Over here," David turned back and held out his hand for Cathy.
Cathy took his hand and shuffled her feet so she wouldnít step on anything. David led her to another doorway. It was an old wooden door. The wood was almost rotten and Cathy could feel the cold air rushing in from underneath it. David pushed it open with his should and steadied it with his hand on the knob so it wouldnít fly open.
It opened to a glass covered room. The floor was checkered with black and white tiles. It was dusty but dry. It was windy but the rain was kept out. David closed the door behind them and went over and looked down onto the courtyard of the building. Cathy walked around the entire space inspecting it. The rain beat down hard on the glass.
"I hope it doesnít break."
"Itís been there since 1916."
Cathy could see someone had been there more recently. She sat down in a wicker chair. A small clean cloth protected her from the dust. David sat on a wicker sofa.
"What was," Cathy trailed off.
"I think it was an observatory," David finished.
"It looks like a greenhouse but itís too high up."
"Can anyone hear us?" Cathy asked pointing to the floor.
"No, weíre above the building elevator."
"I feel like Iím in the rain."
"I thought youíd like it."
"Itís kind of cold though,"
David slid his jacket off and gave it to Cathy. She wrapped it around her shoulders.
He looked up at the falling rain and wondered.
They sat in the strange observatory until it was dark. They spoke very little preferring to listen to the rain.
They left the little observatory and made their way back through the darkened attic to the service elevator. Cathy followed David with her hands outstretched feeling her way through the dimly lit space. They found the elevator and slowly sank into the basement.
"Weíre lucky the elevator didnít break," Cathy remarked as they slowly descended.
"I donít know how we would have gotten down."
"The stairs, I guess."
"I donít think there are any," David thought for a moment, "We wouldíve had to use the fire escape!"
"Letís not think about it."
"Good idea," David agreed.
They made their way back up to the lobby of the building. Their clothes were dusty from the old elevator and mysterious rooms. They agreed to make another trip up there and left it at that. Cathy found herself a bit unnerved at making an open ended date like that. David too was unsure he wanted any romantic complications in his life but felt drawn to Cathy and found he could not stop talking with her.
Safely back in her apartment Cathy was again faced with her deeds of the morning. She thought about the purse and wallet and the paper with the numbers on it. She repeated the numbers to herself but they didnít make any sense. She hoped they might be the numbers of a locker at the bus station or a safe deposit box combination but they didnít sound like any she had heard of. It struck her as odd that the one piece of paper had obviously been well hidden for some reason. It had to mean something.
In a moment of inspired genius Cathy typed the numbers into an Internet search engine but it only returned phone numbers and zip codes and product numbers. She tried spacing the characters differently and putting them in quotes but that either gave her no results or more phone numbers and zip codes. Cathy yawned and remembered she was going to Monterey on Tuesday. She put out her dry cleaning to remind herself to drop it off. Cathy buzzed around the apartment much later than usual yet she accomplished very little. She didnít like being distracted and the more she focused the less she was able to comprehend.
"Damn," she mumbled to herself. "I donít want this to happen right now."