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Stay


Stay









































































































































































































































  

I took three cabs, getting in and out after random intervals, before I found a driver who spoke English and who spent just a second too long looking in the rear view mirror at the roll of money I took from my pocket. His ID said his name was Joe Czerna; he had a red nose and grey hair. Late fifties, maybe. I made my body language younger, more excited. I smiled a lot, as though nervous.

"So, Joe, what's it like driving a cab in New York?"

He shrugged. "It's okay."

"Bet you get some real whackos to deal with sometimes."

"Sometimes."

"You ever see anyone get shot?"

"Maybe."

"Did you call the cops?"

"Nobody shot me. I just drive. I got money to earn."

"You want to earn some money for helping me?"

Pause. "How much?"

"A hundred, plus fare and tip."

"You gonna shoot anybody?"

I laughed. "No, no. No shooting, but some people might be upset. It's my sister, y'know? She's, like, a bit crazy. I'm gonna go get her, from where's she's staying with her boyfriend. But she might not want to come, y'know?"

"No drugs, nothing like that? I don't want no throwing up in my car."

"Nothing like that. Just some yelling, maybe. Okay?"

"Your sister?"

"My sister."

"My family shout alla time. Where you want to go?"

"West Broadway."

It didn't take long. I got out, tore a $100 bill in half, gave one piece to him and put the other in my pocket. "Wait for me. I shouldn't be longer than half an hour maybe."

He tapped the meter. "Gonna keep this running, too."

"Okay, whatever. But wait."

I was beginning to wake up. I had been too long in the woods. I had forgotten, for a while, to be cautious. Bears and bobcats could be dangerous, but they didn't feel the need to hide, and they weren't smart enough to hide their addresses. If I needed to get Tammy away against her will or anyone else's, I wanted a cabbie with a vested interest in taking what would look like a risky fare. Of course, she might not even be there, in which case I'd just wasted a hundred dollars.

Number 393 was a brick-faced building, a shop front, Anderly Flowers, and six steps with no railing leading up to a metal door, with a keyhole beside it. It took me a moment to recognise it as an elevator door, the kind that goes straight up to a loft. My scalp felt tight. I put my gloves on and pushed the buzzer. No response. I waited a minute, then pushed it again. Nothing. Again. Just like fishing. I had all day.

"Who is it?" A woman's voice. Tammy's, though it was hard to be sure over the hiss of the intercom.

"Mr. Karp?"

"He's not here." Definitely Tammy's.

I made my accent warm and Hispanic. "No, no. I'm from Mr. Karp. I have a delivery."

Silence, then: "I'm not expecting anything." Her voice sounded thick, as though she'd been crying, and with a questioning lilt, oddly hopeful, like a child's.

"Well, I have a special delivery here for someone called Tammy. From Prada. They're paid for. I'm just dropping them off." Silence. "A present maybe, I don't know."

"A present?" Her voice was uncharacteristically tentative. "You could just put everything in the elevator."

"No, no, I have to come up. You have to sign."

"Wait, two minutes."

I waited. After a while the doors opened. There were two old-fashioned perspex buttons, Up and Down. No key slot to override instructions from upstairs. A perfect trap, if necessary. But I knew Tammy. She would never cry or sound childish in front of a man. I stepped in and pushed Up. The doors closed and the cage rose.

The doors opened to brick and blond wood, soaring spaces lit by bright, halogen light, and there was Tammy, elevator key dangling from the thin chain she'd wrapped around her wrist, standing straight, and well dressed, but looking destroyed, torn up by the roots. She had just washed her face, but the lids were still puffy and she breathed through her mouth because her sinuses were still blocked from weeping.

I stepped from the cage. "Hello, Tammy."

"Aud?"

She looked behind me, as though expecting to see a young Hispanic woman dead on a pile of Prada couture on the elevator floor. The elevator doors closed. "Aud?" Then her hand went to her heart, as though someone had punched her, and her face turned a dirty grey. "Is Dornan here too?"

"No."

I'm not sure she heard me. She seemed about to topple with fear.

I took her gently by the elbow and considered. To the right, the stainless steel of a chef's kitchen; ahead, a short corridor with three closed doors; to the left, a vast living room with ivory leather furniture, a brilliant kilim worth more than a luxury car, and a minimalist audio-visual system flanked by two large plinths that supported what looked like nineteenth century French bronzes. I steered her towards the living room. "Dornan doesn't know where you are. I didn't tell him. No one knows except me. Come and sit down."

She moved like an ill person, not drugged but docile, and unconfidently, as though the world were a dangerous place. Perhaps it was, or at least this part of it. I led her around a brick support pillar to a couch.

"Sit." She sat. The features were all the same as Tammy's but this wasn't the Tammy I'd known. "Dornan is worried—" She began to blink rapidly. She couldn't be afraid of Dornan. Afraid of him seeing her like this? "He doesn't know where you are, and I won't tell him unless you want me to. He doesn't have to know about—" Distinct pallor. What had she done? "—any of this. But he's worried, so he asked me to find you and make sure you're all right. Are you? All right?"

Her eyes filled with tears but she made no move to reply. It was clear that she was very far from all right.

"I have a cab waiting downstairs. We can go to my hotel. We can talk. We'll drink tea. You can tell me what's going on. After that, you can come back here if you—"

"No!"

That seemed clear enough, so I stood, took her hand, helped her to her feet, and headed for the elevator.

"No!" she said again.

"You don't want to leave?"

"I mean...." She made a vague gesture towards a closed door. "My things...."

Her things. "Where is Karp—Geordie—when is he coming back?" But she had closed her eyes; she wasn't listening. "Give me the key. The elevator key."

Without the key, she couldn't leave, or let anyone else up. I had no idea what was going on, but I knew she was afraid. I didn't want to be surprised. She handed it over without protest, and I put it in my pocket. Behind the first closed door was a windowless office, almost bare but for a long, utilitarian desk on which stood a printer and small photocopier, and, against the wall, a free standing unit holding a large-screen monitor hooked up to a VCR, and a stack of video tapes. A lateral filing cabinet, free-standing supply drawers. No fax, no phone, no computer. The second door hid a half-bath. The third led to the bedroom which appeared ordinary enough—king sized bed with crimson-covered duvet, two dressers, a lovely eighteenth century beechwood armoire, thick cream rug, reading lamps, long, heavy crimson curtains—but felt strange. I stood there for a moment, trying to work out where the oddness lay, then dismissed it. Tammy's purse sat on the bed. I tipped out the contents to make sure that keys, wallet with credit cards, Georgia driver's license, health insurance—all the personal essentials—were there, then shovelled it all back in. The master bath yielded two bottles of prescription pills and one cream, and contact lens paraphenalia. No watch. I took a toothbrush for good measure, and a comb, and dropped them all into her bag. On the way back through the bedroom, I opened the dresser drawer and scooped out a handful of hose and underwear. They went in the bag, too. Glasses from the bedside table. Was that everything she'd need for twenty-four hours? I didn't want to have to take my eyes off her for a while. Something else, something else... Ring. She hadn't been wearing Dornan's ring. An antique jewellery chest, also eighteenth century, but made of some dense tropical wood I wasn't familiar with, sat on the second dresser, but I couldn't find the ring. I tipped everything out, stirred it with my finger. No ring. Back to the bedside table. Nothing. Bathroom: no jewellery case. I went through the medicine cabinet more carefully. Nothing. I paused. This was Karp's apartment; his ownership was apparent everywhere, from the precisely placed bronzes to the orderly kitchen to the matching leather furniture. Tammy had not made a single impression: she didn't feel safe here. An engagement ring was personal, perhaps even precious, something to keep private, hidden. I went back to the underwear drawer, pulled it out, tipped it onto the bed. Nothing. Dornan still meant something to her or she wouldn't be so afraid of him seeing her like this; she would have kept the ring. I shook out each pair of underpants, one at a time, put them back in the drawer. Opened the packets of hose. Began unfolding the sock pairs. I found it in the third pair, tucked down near the toe.

Back in the hallway, Tammy still stood by the elevator. I held out the bag but she took no notice of it. I used the key, and when the elevator opened, she stepped in without a word.

She didn't say anything when I gave her the bag and opened the cab door, nor when Joe turned to look at her black hair, chocolate brown eyes and full figure, then at my height and light blue eyes, and said, "Sister, huh?"

I gave him the other half of the $100 bill. "Different fathers."

"Uh huh."

I gave him another fifty. He drove.

"We're going to the Hilton," I told Tammy. She stared through me as though I were talking in algebra. Her pupils looked normal, she wasn't flushed or overly pale, and her breath came smoothly; she was not drugged; she had removed herself somehow, as though she had given up all responsibility for herself, or hope. Dornan had said she was smarter than I gave her credit for. What would he make of this?

We pulled up outside the hotel. "We're getting out here," I told her. She climbed out obediently. I sighed and reached back into the cab for her bag. Joe drove off without a backward glance. I held the bag out; she took it. "This way." She followed me through the lobby, crowded now with guests checking their watches, exuding stress and impatience. "We'll be in my room soon," but she didn't seem bothered by so many bodies all trying to breathe the same air, the same molecules that had just slithered down one red throat, then back up, to be snatched by the phlegmy lungs of a passing bellboy, who exhaled near the mouth of an old woman whose heart was probably as weak as her watery eyes. My clothes felt too tight. I wanted to punch my way to the street and not stop running until I reached Central Park and could lean against a maple trunk and look up into the leaves and believe I was not in the middle of ten million people; but here was Tammy, standing by the elevators, empty as a gourd, and Dornan, my friend, needed me to make sure she was safe.

The elevator opened and Tammy just stood there. I began to shake. I lifted my hand, but turned it instead into a light touch on her elbow and a gesture. "In. We have to go up."

Halfway up she began to weep silently, but her expression didn't change.

"You're safe," I said, wondering if I was lying. "We're almost there."

A couple was waiting at the twenty-second floor to go down. The younger of the two noticed Tammy's tears and gave me a sharp look, but neither of them said anything.

Housekeeping had already tidied and cleaned the room; with my personal things hidden behind doors, it felt as comforting as an autoclave. I sat Tammy down on the edge of the nearest bed and went round turning on all the lights. The dim yellow glow added some warmth to the room. I closed the curtains to make her feel safer. "I'm going to run you a bath, and I'll order some food while you're relaxing." Tammy just sat there. I took her hand and tugged her gently towards the bathroom. Her hand was cold. "The bath will get you warm." The water gushed into the tub. I made sure there was soap, that the bathmat was on the floor. The chlorinated water frothed on itself, water so clean it was dead. I tried to ignore the automaton breathing behind me. The tub filled. As though she were a child, I tested the temperature of the water with the back of my hand. Not too hot. I turned off the taps. "I'll shut the door, but I'm just out here if you need me."

I listened outside the door. There was no quiet snick of the lock, but after a moment I heard the soft plash of flesh meeting water, and moved away.

I called room service, ordered tea and coffee, sandwiches, water, juice.

No matter how many lights you turn on, hotel rooms are always too dark and always too small, and when you press your face up against the glass, all the people so many stories below always seem to have more freedom than you do. Even the people in the building opposite, harshly lit by flourescents in their office cubicles, seemed to have fuller lives. One man, wearing a shirt and suspenders right out of the eighties, kept scratching at his sandy haired head with a pencil. He held a phone in his right hand and the pencil in his left, talk talk scratch scratch, then he swapped hands, scratch scratch talk talk. If the pencil was sharp he would have tiny rips all over his scalp.

Stationery cabs lined up like golden beetles down the centre of Fifth, glittering in the strange New York sunshine. In any other city on earth the drivers would have been standing by their cars, arms folded, leaning against hoods and gossiping.

No noise from the bathroom. To the left of the office building, a huge sign spelled out Essex House backwards. Sandy Hair put down his pencil and scratched fiercely at his temple with his fingernails, exactly the way a squirrel would, only much more slowly. Cabs opened their doors, closed them, and drove off with fares. Other cabs took their place.

Someone rapped on the door and announced that they were room service. When I opened the door, a rotund woman, crisp as a fresh-baked dinner roll in her white jacket, pushed the cart briskly into the room. I stepped in front of her before she could go any further. "I'll take it." I signed the tab and herded her out of the room.

Sandy Hair was still scratching his scalp. I set the table up so one chair faced the corner and the other the door. "Room service is here," I called to Tammy. I lifted plate rings, poured tea, divided sandwiches. I ate one. Tuna salad. No sound from the bathroom. I sipped tea. Not made with boiling water. Tammy was probably sitting in the bath with her mouth hanging open. She hardly knew me, yet here she was, depending on my goodwill, like a child. Selfish, like a child. What gave her the right to assume I'd just take care of everything? There was no way to know what to do with her. It was obvious she didn't want to see or be seen by Dornan, but I couldn't leave her on her own in this state; I didn't trust her to look after herself. I didn't trust her, full stop. If I put her in my truck and drove to Atlanta, or anywhere else for that matter, I wouldn't put it past her to cry kidnap when she recovered her wits.

"Tammy. Food," I called again. Nothing. The bath water was probably getting cold. Maybe that would prompt some movement.

I will find her, I had told Dornan, but all I'd found was a shell. I had no idea how to go about finding the rest.

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Excerpted from Stay by Nicola Griffith. Copyright © 2002 by Nicola Griffith. Excerpted by permission of Doubleday, a division of Random House. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.