Laina jolted awake. Sirens tore through the morning air. She blinked at red flashes breaking into her room. They penetrated a finger-wide gap in her lined taupe drapes and splayed crimson across her dingy walls.
Pounding on a nearby door rattled through the apartment’s thin walls. Voices echoed from the hallway. “Police! Open up!”
She sprang up from her platform bed and snatched her robe from the bathroom door’s hook. A splintering thump resounded from the neighbor’s place. She tucked her arms into the sleeves on her way through the apartment and wrapped the terrycloth over her nightshirt.
Click. Twist. Slide. Turn. Three deadbolts and the knob. She left the iron chain connected. Laina cracked her door two inches and peered into the hall. The sound of boots pummeled the main stairs. A sea of inky uniforms clotted the landing in front of Maryanne Shaw’s apartment.
“Get the M.E. in here,” A cracking voice shouted from inside Maryanne’s.
A pair of officers turned toward the hallway and their gaze fell on Laina’s place. They strode in her direction. She pressed the door shut. Turn. Slide. Twist. Click. Laina pressed a hand against her throbbing chest and raced to the bathroom.
Medical examiner? No ambulance? She swore, hacking the brush through her matted, rust-toned frizz until her eyes stung. Splashes of tepid water failed to draw color to her ashen cheeks. She glared at the faded sun freckles on the bridge of her nose, desperate to summon traces of warmth. A grey-ringed stare met hers. Three such wee-hour crises in the last month. Was young Maryanne now dead, too?
A fist banged three times on her apartment door. “Police!”
With trembling fingers, Laina tightened her robe belt and answered the door.
“Mrs.–” An olive-skinned officer with a goatee took a step toward the threshold.
Laina blocked the opening, keeping it just narrow enough to fit within her shoulders. “Miss. I didn’t see or hear anything. If that’s what you’re asking people.”
His female partner peered over Laina’s head. “Any other residents or company in your flat last night?”
“No, I live alone.”
The officer drew a small notepad from his pocket. “Full name please?”
He eyed the numbered door and jotted something down, muttering, “A lot of single women in this building.”
Laina cleared her throat. “What happened to her? She seemed so nice.”
“We’re not at liberty to discuss details in an ongoing investigation.” She glanced over her shoulder as a stretcher bearing a black, human-shaped bag emerged from Maryanne’s doorway. “I’m sorry.”
“You sure you didn’t hear or see anything?” The man looked up from his notes.
“Sirens woke me. I didn’t hear anything before that. Just like . . . ” She gazed into the female officer’s grey-blue eyes. “This is the fourth time in two months. Is there anything I should know about this? There’s got to be at least some kind of safety tips you can tell me.”
Furrows deepened in the woman’s line-etched face. She lowered her voice and leaned forward. “I know it’s hard to find affordable one-bedrooms, but you should try to move if you can.”
“Don’t let your girlfriends talk you into joining the concealed carry fad. Guns aren’t the protection some people think they’ll be. Beef up your security system or get a big dog. ” He tucked away his notepad. His teeth gleamed an unnatural white as he winked. “Pretty thing like you ought to be able to get some live-in company.”
Rolling her eyes, the other officer said, “Dog’d be less trouble.”
“Ah, that’s my partner. Gentle as a kidney stone.” He flipped a card between his fingers and handed it to her. “If you think of anything else, give us a call. Take care, now.”
Laina relocked her door and leaned against it with a sigh. Of course she had tried to find another place. Nothing within forty-five miles and a thousand dollars of her budget. And when the landlady heard a chihuahua barking last month, she evicted its eighty year-old owner. So much for cheesy-grinned officer’s advice.
The alarm buzzed from her milk-crate night stand. Six-fifteen. She’d have to set aside worries about how to protect herself from the serial predator until meeting with her cousin, Jayme after work. If only she could do that. If only the nightmares didn’t haunt her all day long.
* * * * * To be continued. * * * * * *
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? . . . Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?” (Matthew 6:25,27)