A Psychological Thriller
Excerpt of Gracefully, Like a Living Thing
The Sequel to The Savant of Chelsea
Those who direct the movements of the little wooden human figures [ligneolis hominum], when they pull the string controlling a limb, the neck bends, the head nods, the eyes look, and hands lend themselves to any action required and the whole body moves gracefully like a living thing.
The translation from Latin of a text by 2nd century author Lucius Apuleius
From DEEPER INVESTIGATIONS INTO SHADOW THEATRE AND PUPPETRY
by Keith Rawlings, April 2003
In midtown Manhattan, Ann and Pete Westfall huddled in front of a little bonfire at the entrance to the 34th Street alley. Drinking a nightly cup of tea, they enjoyed an evening of people watching in spite of the temperature being below freezing. Bundled up in blankets, they sat as close to the fire as they could get. It was veryearly morning and the last partyers should be walking toward the 34th Street subway, respectable bars having closed at two.
“Where is everyone?” Ann said.
No sooner were the words out of her mouth, an androgynous couple came into view walking toward the station. Both tall and thin, their hair covering aided in hiding their gender. One of the figures wore dark athletic clothes with a black hat and gloves, the other jeans and leather jacket, a cap pulled down tight. They disappeared down into the station. In the distance, the Westfalls’s heard the familiar screeching of the train getting louder and louder as it approached the station, but didn’t stop. It was an express train, going downtown. Ann and Pete could feel its vibrations as it quickly passed under their feet and then slowed down further south. Seconds later, a lone figure emerged from the tunnel, the unsexed person in black leaped into a sprint from the top stair.
“It must ‘a left ‘is buddy down there to wait alone,” Pete said.
“Let’s get inside. I’m freezin’.” They slowly gathered their blankets. While they prepared for sleep, snuggling in close to each other to stay warm in an appliance box, the runner was already making quick time going south.
It was a she. Alexandra Donicka fled. Gliding along the pavement, she kept looking over her shoulder with a swiveling head and backward glances. What had just happened? Adrenalin cruising through her body would make her trek home faster than ever. She wouldn’t stop to think about what she had just done. Feeling a new urgency to get home, she didn’t waste time tonight because she had someone waiting for her. For over twenty years, the streets of New York had offered safety and a refuge, but no more. She saw dangers lurking in dark, dank alleyways. The smells of filth, urine, and garbage had escaped her previously but tonight were nauseous, permeating her nostrils, sticking to her clothing. The sounds of the streets, foghorns blasting through her eardrums, petrifying screams, the mumblings of the homeless she experienced as if for the first time.
So much rested on her shoulders, it wasn’t only her life at stake. She wanted to take as little of this night back to her apartment. Even in the cold, sweat ran into her eyes and dripped off her nose. The heat and sweat were unbearable, and in her hyper, adrenaline saturated state, she stripped off her cap and hooded fleece with the cell phone in its pocket, throwing them to a homeless man laying on the pavement in front of a bodega. A steel window guard pulled down in front of its windows like the back wall of a cage scared Alexandra, and she ran faster to escape its possible impingement. In the next block, irrationally she pulled her shoes off and threw them down an alley where they would be on the feet of a derelict woman by morning. Ridding herself of the evidence of an unplanned murder was preformed unconsciously, unpremeditated.
Running in stocking feet and bare arms in the freezing cold, Alexandra quickly cooled off. Her heart rate returned to normal in spite of her sprint. Before tonight, running was a necessity but some aberrant healing process was taking place that may soon make it unnecessary. Maybe. Incredulous that she ever preferred the outdoors at night to the warmth of home, the role of the street had exchanged places with that of her apartment, which loomed ahead as a beacon of safety.
Reaching Chelsea, she breathed a sigh of relief as the familiar buildings came into view. Quietly letting herself into her apartment after three in the morning, she’d have to be up in less than three hours to return to her job for the first time after a week’s absence. Only a week. So much had occurred, she hadn’t taken the time to examine it, not realizing it might be more than a human being could tolerate.
Tiptoeing through the bedroom into the bathroom, she flipped the light switch after closing the door. The light was harsh and yellow. She looked in the mirror, startled at her own reflection. The lines around her mouth relaxed and her expression had softened. The pinched look she’d grown used to seeing was gone. Looking peaceful and contented, hardly recognizing the face staring back, she was smiling. In time, she would grow accustomed to the peace.
Her acceptance of the change would not happen overnight, and she would repeatedly be surprised when she looked in the mirror.
She carefully shut the door, entering the living room where she’d been sleeping, a bank of uncurtained windows looking out over 8th Avenue. Fog was starting to make its regular voyage along the street. She longed to sit and watch out the window, but had to get some sleep. Pulling the covers back from the couch, she got in between the cool sheets and soft blankets. Her life had changed forever in a less than a week. Circumstances beyond her control had dictated most of what had been her adult life. Finally, she was in control. She would make the decisions for her grandchildren and herself. She couldn’t go back to the way it was before. All the years she’d grieved for her daughter, all the pain and worry she’d suffered, had not been in vain regardless of what had just happened. Good things in the future would make all the suffering worth it.
She closed her eyes as her body slowly relaxed, sinking deeply into the bedding. Everything in life was better than she could ever have hoped or imagined.
In the French Quarter of New Orleans early Saturday morning, Tom Ryan was sleeping when his phone beeped. Still and hot in the room, windows were closed against the noise of Friday night revelers. Reaching for the phone with closed eyes, he fumbled in the gloom, trying to see the accept button without his glasses on.
“Ryan,” he mumbled.
“Tom, its Van Ogden, Colleen Rodriguez parole officer. I thought I had better warn you that she missed her check-in yesterday. I gave her until midnight before we classified her as a no-show. I drove by her house and her mother’s and she’s not at either place.” Tom sat up in bed, trying to focus.
“Do you think she left town?”
“Her kids went with the grandmother to Manhattan. I wouldn’t doubt that’s where she’s gone.”
“I’ll make a call and get back to you,” Tom said, saying goodbye. Going into the bathroom, he angled his mouth under the faucet for a drink and then let the water run over his head. Since his last call to Alexandra a week ago, he’d been unable to reach her, her phone ringing, voice mail full. There was no business reason to talk so he tried to forget her. But with the daughter missing a mandatory appointment with her parole officer, the lives of Alexandra and her grandchildren could be at stake. He got out his cell phone and scrolled through the contacts until he found her number-Alexandra Donicka, MD. Pushing the call button, his heart started to race when the ring stopped. The only problem was that a man answered.
“Hello,” a deep voice said.
“Can I speak to Doctor Donicka?” Tom asked.
“Doctor Donicka,” Tom repeated.
“Ain’t no doctor here. I found this phone in the trash,” the man replied, not exactly telling the truth. “And I don’t have the charger cord. You got the cord to it?”
“Where’d you find the phone?” Tom asked, incredulous.
“In the trash. By Fellows Korean,” he answered, referring to a Korean grocery on the corner.
“You need to turn it in to the police,” Tom said, thinking, yeah, right. The man ended the call. So that explained it. She’d lost her phone and a street person would use it until it needed charging again.
It was Saturday and she wouldn’t be at work, so there’d be no sense in calling the hospital. He remembered a friend of hers who lived in the museum by Jackson Square. Weeks ago, he’d driven Alexandra there in the squad car, on the night she’d discovered she was a grandmother. The detective was inexplicably drawn to her. He’d head over to the friend’s house later; surely, she’d have new contact information. Heart banging in his chest, he was excited to have a reason to contact the doctor again, but worried about her with the crazy daughter on the loose. Waiting for a decent hour to visit the friend at the museum, he packed an overnight bag, then sat at his computer to book a flight to Manhattan.
I hope you enjoyed this small taste of a new psychological thriller, Gracefully, Like a Living Thing by Suzanne Jenkins.