Action! Intrigue! The invisible hound at your heels. The cold barrel against your neck!
Part 6 of "The Cold Slope Incident"!
The phone was ringing as Woodson arrived back at his apartment. He heard it as he was unlocking the front door, a rattle that he felt as a blow to the head. The lights were out in the stairwell. Not pitch black for the line of blue light coming out from under JoAnne's door. He dropped his keys back in his pocket and took the steps three at a time.
"Yeah?" he answered the phone to stop the scream.
"Woodson. It's me. Where the hell have you been?" Birkman's voice sawed like an echo of the ring. Like he'd projected himself through the phone and compelled Woodson to answer.
"Out." What did he want?
"I've been calling you for the last hour. It's Megan."
Woodson's hand fished in his pocket, fingers digging into his cold keys. He felt a breeze from the porch and shivered.
"What happened?" he said. He leaned against the wall and checked the pack of cigarettes in his breast pocket. He had a few.
"She was here a while ago, tearing the house apart. Alma nearly fainted she was so upset." Alma was the stepmother. "She's on something, there's no doubt about it. She was with someone, but they didn't come out of the car. I chased after her but they buzzed off before I could get a good look at him."
"What car? Her's?"
"No. It was a green monster of a car. Roared away. You better find her, Woodson, you better find her quick."
"Did she say where she was going? Anything helpful at all? Any clue."
The screen door slapped inward as a gust of wind blew through his apartment. He smelled exhaust.
Birkman paused for a moment, choosing his words.
"Yeah. She did say something. I don't know if it means anything. She talked about the Gold Palace, or like that. Figure it's one of those dives. Someplace she can get high?"
"Might be. I'll check it out." Woodson was hardly listening. A car door had slammed outside. "I'll get back to you. Soon as I can."
He let the phone fall from his hand and he ran to the balcony. He leaned over into what had become a blistering wind. Something cold bit into his palm as he watched her cross the street, something he'd been holding in his hand as her father had talked him through his latest fiction.
He looked at the necklace in his palm, silver falling from red tracks of pressure. A loop slipped out of his hand and it began to wind itself away, so he snatched it back.
"Is that you, Woodson?" she said from the sidewalk below. She was wearing some diabolical blue dress, strapless and the fabric peeling away from her like torn paper. The exposed skin on her chest and her arms were red from the wind.
"Come up," he said. He scanned the street. The engine had roared away already and he wasn't able to get a look at the car. From the sound of it, it was the hulking thing Birkman and Tony had described. He turned around and saw the gun. He hadn't left the screen door open, he realized. She been here the whole time.
"JoAnne," he said as the woman walked onto the porch and into moonlight. She was still wearing her suit from earlier. She'd taken off her hat and her gold brown bun was unraveling. She's been searching the place. For what?
"Not my name, obviously. Take your hand out of your pocket."
He'd stuffed his left hand into his coat so she wouldn't see the necklace. The door was swinging closed downstairs as Megan hurried to his apartment. He let go of the chain and hoped she couldn't hear it collect on top of his keys like slush.
"It's okay. I'll do whatever you want." He raised his hands towards her. "Just don't hurt the girl."
She smiled. It was just a distortion below her eye and above her lip. She waved the gun at him.
"Get inside. I'm going to be out here, waiting until she leaves. Get rid of her. If she finds out I'm here, I'll shoot you in the head. Don't think I won't do it. I'm pretty good with this." She shifted one foot out the door, and willed Woodson to the spot she'd vacated with the point of the gun.
His heart stabbed at his throat in an exhilarating reverberation. He closed the door behind him. He closed the shade to hide the woman's shadow on the window. It elongated into a line across the dirty cream plastic, an angle pointing at him. He took of his hat and slumped into the chair in his living room, clicking on a lamp as footsteps rode unevenly up the stairs.
"What's going on?" He asked before she could fully enter, her body sliding through the door with a kind of horrified caution. She'd been crying, that much was clear.
"It's happening," she said stepping towards him. She looked about to collapse so he jumped from the chair to catch her before she fell. Her skin was so cold it sent needles through his hands. Her eyes rolled in her head. Drugs.
"I'll help you," Woodson whispered, setting her down gently in his chair before fetching her a hot towel from the kitchen, and a glass of water. This she waved away, her other hand holding the rag against her forehead. "Now what's happened?"
"A man came after me. My father was right. I hate him so much." She choked for an instance but recovered. "I've been meeting someone. Someone who had information for me. They turned out to be lies, but what can you do. He wanted money."
"Who was it?" She should have called him. He knew what to do. He could protect her.
"He didn't use his real name. Called himself . . . Mister Silas."
"He drugged you."
She nodded. "He wants to kill me. He has friends. I barely got away."
"And who have you been with? Just now?"
"It's nobody. Just someone I can trust. A friend."
"Now listen to me," Woodson said, letting his eyes snap a picture of the screen door to the porch. He felt the woman waiting for him. "I can get you safe. I know a place you can hide out, until this blows over." His uncles.
"Yeah, okay." She didn't look at him. She let him take her to his room, where she collapsed on the bed, shoulders shuddering with her silent scream.
He had a gun in his desk and he made sure it was loaded.When he went to the porch, the woman was gone.