Read The Sentinel Online

Authors: Jeffrey Konvitz

Tags: #Fiction, #General

The Sentinel

Prologue

A plain manila folder lay on a briarwood desktop. In the upper right-hand corner the name Allison Parker was printed in bold-face lettering. A piece of paper which contained a detailed resume of Allison Parker's life was held over the desk by a pair of well-groomed hands. The folder was opened and the paper inserted.

Another folder, labeled Therese, was placed on top of the Parker file and the desk light was flicked off.

Chapter I

The taxi fought its way up First Avenue, past the United Nations, the Fifty-ninth Street bridge and the singles bars that lined the avenue.

Her head lay against the window; her mind wandered. Had it really happened? Or would she wake up at the sound of the alarm, squint at the reflected rays of light on the smog-coated windows and realize, as she wiped the sweat from her forehead and threw off the blanket, that the last four months had been one incredible nightmare - the hospital, the funeral, the agony and despair (while waiting and eventually hoping for Father to die) - all of it - and that everything she had experienced and seen would dissipate like visions, as they had when she had left home seven years before, forever, or so she had thought. She laughed softly to herself. No, it had all happened, as hard as it was to believe. She closed her eyes, thinking of New York City. Not a bad place once you got used to it. She had been happy here. In fact, returning to Indiana was the last thought in her mind last July when she raced from the shower and, out of breath, lifted the phone to hear Mother's strained voice plead, "He's dying. Come home!" Could she have said no? Perhaps. Every impulse told her not to go back. But if she had left Mother alone, she could never have lived with herself. She'd had to return, no matter what she'd had to give up. Even Michael. And though

she could have spent hours reliving the subsequent events, it would have been a waste of time. She had survived - physically and mentally - and the memories that had plagued her could not have altered that fact. It was over.

The taxi cornered onto Seventy-first Street and pulled to a stop in front of a modern thirty-story apartment house.

The door swung open and the doorman extended his hand into the cab. "Miss Parker!" he said happily.

"Hello, George," Allison said, smiling. She was attractive. Angular and tall. With skin like silk and long brown hair that fell over her shoulders halfway down her back. She looked younger than twenty-six, her face highlighted by a delicately sculpted nose and two enormous blue eyes.

"It's been a long time," George said.

"Yes," she replied cordially. George was always enthusiastically attentive and pleasant. She liked him. "Almost four months," she added. She stepped from the cab and walked under the green canopy that extended from the doorway to the sidewalk. She glanced at her watch; it was late. She looked up at the doorman. "How have you been?" she asked.

"Good," he answered, walking to the rear of the cab.

"And your family?"

"Fine, very fine." He began to collect her luggage. "I asked Mr. Farmer about you many times."

She stepped back toward the polished glass partition. "I hope he said good things."

"Only the best." George smiled, as his powerful muscles began to bulge from the strain of the heavy baggage.

She would remember to tip him handsomely - if just to signify her friendship. And she would remember to thank Michael for his unusual display of affection and discretion. "Is Mr. Farmer in?" she asked. Of course he would be in. Waiting. It was her homecoming.

"No, he left town yesterday."

"He did?" He hadn't said anything on the phone about leaving town.

"He left a note for you. And gave me instructions to let you use his apartment."

They entered the building. He put down the pieces of luggage, returned to the cab, brought in the last two suitcases, laid them next to the car packs, turned and disappeared into a small room just inside the door. He reappeared moments later with an envelope in his hand.

"Mr. Farmer told me to give you this myself." He bowed, obviously pleased with his conscientiousness.

She smiled thankfully and snatched the envelope from his hand. Quickly she tore it open, removed a note and read:

Allison
Sorry couldn't be there when you got back. Had to leave Friday night for Albany. Business. Be back Tuesday.
See you then.
Michael.
P.S. Will call Sunday night.

She folded the paper and shoved it into her purse.

That was just like Michael to disappear when she wanted him so badly. And leave a note that could just as well have been a telegram. Short. Direct. And unemotional. A perfect mirror of his personality, but then again she could never hope to change him into something that he wasn't-nor did she really want to. If she had thought about it, she would have had to admit that it was just his curt and businesslike manner that she found so appealing-and the challenge of every so often coaxing him to let his hair down and betray some of the emotions that he so carefully kept hidden beneath his impassive exterior.

She thought for a moment, then turned to George. "Could you help me with the luggage?" she asked.

"Of course, ma'am," he answered. He lifted the bags under both his arms, an accomplishment that she had thought impossible, and walked around the bend toward the elevators. "Mr. Farmer told me you gave up your apartment."

"Yes. I was going home for an indefinite period. It was best to let it go." She paused, then added, "I'm going to start looking for a new one first thing tomorrow. Preferably a brownstone. A change of pace."

She pressed the call button, looked up and watched the light start ticking downward from number seven.

"Weather's been bad," said George. "Lots of rain and it's been colder than the North Pole."

"Yes, I know," replied Allison.

"You're lucky you were away."

"I suppose I was," she answered just to agree, since it had probably been colder and rainier back home.

The elevator arrived; the door slid open. She entered; he stepped in behind her. The door closed, the cabin ascended and opened smoothly on the tenth floor. They walked out, turned to the right and George opened apartment 10E.

She flicked on the light switch.

"Just put everything on the floor. I'll do the rest."

He placed the luggage at her feet and accepted the five-dollar bill which was offered. "Thank you," he said. "If there's anything you need, just buzz down."

He stepped out; she closed the door. Breathing deeply. Tired. It had been a long day what with the goodbyes, the flight to Kennedy International and the discouraging drive into Manhattan. She propped herself against the largest valise and surveyed the apartment. Living room straight ahead. Dining alcove to her right. Furnished early bachelor, endearingly tacky. He still hadn't thrown out the faded couch, or the rug, or the ridiculous painting of Napoleon Bonaparte. She would be sure to speak to him about that.

She removed her jacket and shoes, carried the car packs into the dining alcove and hung them one at a time in the alcove closets. She was pleased to see that the clothes she had left several months before were still neatly folded in place and apparently had not been moved or exposed to anything that might have injured the fabrics. She turned, grabbed two of the valises and hauled them down the hall past the kitchen and into the bedroom, where she laid them on the black shag rug next to the night table. She turned on the table lamp and pulled the white fur bedspread off the bed. It fell to the floor and lay crumpled, contrasting brilliantly.

The bed looked empty without him. But it would have to do. The note said he wouldn't be home until Tuesday.

She removed her clothes, washed, then climbed under the bedsheets, blinking at the lights that shone through the window. She threw Michael from her thoughts, turned off the night-table lamp and clutched the crucifix that lay around her neck. She pressed the cross gently against her lips, remembering.

The return to the old house during Father's funeral. She had refused to go with the mourners to the cemetery. She had felt too sick. It had started in the hospital, about an hour before Father had died. The pain had been relentless, noticeably increasing in intensity, the headache becoming a pounding migraine and the dizziness spiraling into disorientation. They had missed her at the cemetery. Just as they had missed her earlier in the day when she had refused to enter the church for the services. But neither impropriety had mattered. They had all understood. The family history was public knowledge. The why of it patently obvious. She had needed rest. And the opportunity to retrieve the crucifix. The house would be empty. She could trespass on her past undisturbed, satisfying that curious impulse of redemption that had haunted her since her return, waiting for Father's death to seek its fulfillment.

Before opening the front door she had stood silently on the porch. Then she had entered the main hall and, after climbing the staircase, had walked into a dimly lit corridor that ended in a solid gray wall. To the right was a solitary door. It had once been her parents' bedroom. For seven years it had remained untouched and locked.

Inserting a rusted key, she had turned the round crystalline handle, gently pushing open the door. It was poorly hinged; the squeaking had vibrated through the halls. Terrified she had stepped inside and looked about.

The bedroom was simply furnished. An old wooden bed occupied the center. Above it hung a crucifix. On the left side of the room was an antique dresser. On the right were the closets. The room was carpeted with dust; cobwebs covered the furnishings.

She had stumbled. Dizzy with the memory of dead voices. Remembering her escape through these halls all over again.

The confusion.

The police. "Allison, tell us what happened."

Mother crying.

"What happened?" Mother asked over and over until her words had become nonsense.

"I don't know."

"Tell me."

Tears.

"Please tell me."

Then the truth.

The doctors. "Why did you throw away the cross, Allison?"

"Because."

"Because what?"

"It was dirty. Everything was dirty."

"That's not true, Allison."

Silence.

"You know that's not true. Let's talk about it again. Let's talk about everything again."

"No."

"Yes."

"I can't. I want to die."

She heard herself cry as the blade bit into her wrists. Then there was nothing. She had looked around. The room was quiet, the voices gone, the past, attempting resurrection, dead again.

She had walked to the dressing table. The top had been covered with pictures standing in frames. She picked up several, viewed them briefly and returned them to their places. Searching the rest of the table, she lifted a small box behind the picture of Bugle, their black Newfoundland who had died many years before. She removed the top. Inside, on a wad of cotton, lay a crucifix about the size of a silver dollar. Trembling, she had carefully removed it. Could it have been that long since she had last held it in her hand? It looked the same. The figure of Christ was still intact; the chain remained unbroken. Slightly more tarnished, perhaps, but one would have had to expect that after seven years.

Glancing about the empty room, she had placed the chain around her neck and started to close the circular catch; she paused.

Father is dead, she had told herself angrily.

Then she had snapped the latch and looked in the mirror. The crucifix lay just right. It felt comfortable.

And still did, but perhaps even more so, now that she was secure in the confines of Michael's bedroom.

She rolled on her side, burying her face in the soft beckoning pillows. The impulse of redemption was still strong. Inciting a return, part conscious, part subliminal. The most terrible stigma had been removed by death. The others remained. Confront them? The disavowals? The reality from which she had fled? The attempts at self-destruction? The death of Michael's wife Karen with all its unspeakable horrors? Reconcile her past with her future? Yes. It would happen. Slowly. It was inevitable. Whether she knew it or not. Whether by choice or momentum. Now in the silence of the bedroom or soon, wherever, whenever.

She fell asleep, her hand caressing the figure of Christ.

Chapter II

The ad was located in the lower right-hand portion of a page marked "Commercial Lofts and Storage Facilities." It read:

ATTRACTIVE BROWNSTONE APARTMENT, OLD, PARTIALLY RENOVATED BUELDING, FLOOR THRU. ONE WBFP, UPPER WEST SEDE, 3 ROOMS, FURNISHED. CALL RENTING AGENT, YU 6-1452. ASK FOR MISS LOGAN FOR APARTMENT 3A.

It was out of place. It should have been entered under "Residential Apartments." If it had, she might not have wasted the entire day chasing from building to building, agent to agent. Yet, as she removed a dime from her pocket, she warned herself not to be overly optimistic. The apartment might have already been rented. Or it might prove unacceptable, as had most of the other "favorable" leads.

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