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.Will looked over his shoulder.The girls chatted, heads together.Deirdre turned back toward him and smiled.CHAPTER TWELVE: CLEANIt had been days since Timothy Stillman packed up his truck and left the comfort of Provident.From time to time he stopped to eat or to rest, but mostly he drove, taking the long way back to the city.The thumping of washboard grooves along the side of the dark highway startled him from his half-sleep.Tired and hungry, he checked into the nearest and cheapest motel he could find.The lobby vending machine would have to do until the complementary breakfast."Served 6 AM to 9AM," the clerk explained.“Don’t be late.They take it all away right on the dot and you’ll miss it if you’re a minute past.Alarm clock’s on the nightstand.”Stillman stood before the machine and considered his options.He pulled out his wallet, empty except for a single wrinkled dollar bill, an OTB receipt, and a check for ten-grand, made out to him, dated six months earlier.The machine rejected his dollar twice.Stillman tucked it back into place and pocketed his wallet, the appeal of peanut butter and imitation cheese crackers not tempting enough to warrant a third attempt, not even on an empty stomach.He wished the clerk a good night and walked to his room a few doors down the hall.He dropped his duffel bag on the foot of the bed and tossed his keys onto a small desk with a miniature coffee maker, a thin bar of hand soap, and a brochure with a watercolor portrait of Abraham Lincoln on the front.Welcome to Ottawa, Home of the Lincoln-Douglas Debates.Stillman leafed through the brochure and dropped it on the nightstand next to the alarm clock.He sunk onto the edge of the worn mattress and kicked off his boots.The dingy teal bedspread invited sleep despite its disagreeable color.Unpacking nothing, he crawled under, pulling the covers close around his unshaved chin.He clicked off the lamp and slept off and on until the late morning light sliced through a crack between the stiff vinyl curtains.Stillman crawled out of bed, pulled a toothbrush from his bag, and dragged himself to the bathroom, not bothering to look in the small mirror mounted above the vanity.He had missed breakfast.He re-packed his toothbrush then fumbled with the coffee maker.He ripped open the complimentary packet of coffee, nearly losing the grounds to the olive shag.He snapped the carafe into place, switched the machine on, and waited for the aroma to fill the room.Stillman guzzled a cup of weak coffee and dumped the rest, collected his things, and checked out.He plugged his phone into the charger in his truck and merged onto Interstate 80.He settled behind a slow moving minivan, camping gear loosely bungeed to the top, clean Starved Rock bumper magnet on the dirty liftgate, kids' eyes glued to the DVD.Two hours later, he arrived on the north side of Chicago and collected a thick bundle of mail from the local post office where, he swore, the clerk snarled at him as she handed it over.Stillman circled the block near his apartment twice before he found a spot big enough.He grabbed his mail and his bag and walked down the street.The sensor on the door of his neighborhood mini-mart bing-bonged as he swung open the door.The store was empty of customers.The clerk greeted him from the storeroom door."Afternoon, mister." His accent was thick and his English broken, but he seemed eager to chat."Help you, mister?" he offered."Just grabbing a few things, thanks." Stillman gathered a small bag of coffee, white bread, packing tape, and a quart of milk."Good weather today.No rain, only sun.""Yeah.It's good." Stillman dropped his items on the counter."This'll be all." He paid with a credit card."Nice day, mister." The clerk pulled out a paperback and a dictionary and sat down behind the cash register."You, too." The door sensor bing-bonged as he left for home.Stillman walked carefully down the mossy steps in front of his garden apartment.He dropped his duffel bag on the ripped couch inside the front door.He took the rest to the kitchenette.He tossed the mail onto a second-hand bistro table.His stained mug still sat upside down in the plastic dish drainer on the counter.He unpacked his mini-mart bag, put a pot of coffee on to brew, and sifted through the envelopes, most marked "confidential" or "past due" or both.The yellow box of sugar had solidified in his absence.He chiseled out a couple of good-sized lumps with a butter knife and doctored his coffee the way he liked it.He took a slow sip then went to his bedroom.His laundry hamper bulged.He pulled the sheets off his bed and stuffed them into the flimsy basket.He dragged it to the front door, pulled the clothes out of his duffel bag, and piled them on top.He hauled it all across the courtyard, down to the coin-op laundry room in the apartment opposite his.He spent the next two hours washing, drying, folding, thinking.When he returned to his apartment, the sun hung low in the sky.He made the bed and left the rest of the clean laundry folded in the hamper.He went to pour himself another cup of coffee.His mobile phone rang, number unknown.Stillman answered the call."Where are you?" the voice on the other end demanded."What?""Are you in the city?""Yes," answered Stillman."You were supposed to deliver it by now.You have the money.There's another ten for you when I get it.You need the money and I need the package.I need it! Don't you understand?"Stillman did not speak.The voice softened."Look, a man like you could clean up a few messes with twenty grand.That’s what you want, isn’t it?"Stillman frowned."I'll call you when I get settled.""Fine.But, don't take too long." The line went dead.Stillman looked at his phone."Why does every conversation with you end this way?" He tossed the phone hard onto the counter.The battery cover popped off and skittered across the kitchen floor.Stillman dug a suitcase out of the coat closet, packed away his clean clothes, and zipped it shut, leaving it next to his duffel bag at the door.He went back to the kitchenette to finish his coffee.He sat at the wobbly table, picking at his unopened mail then went for carry-out at the Thai place around the corner.After dinner, he shaved and showered.He made his bed and slipped between the fresh sheets.He reached for the lamp, hesitating before turning the switch.He pushed his covers away and jogged to the front room.He rummaged through his duffel bag and pulled out the small brown-paper package and Dotty's bible, running his fingers along the deckled edges of the bible's pages as he walked back to his room.He sat on the side of his bed and read the passage marked with the blue ribbon.He laid the bible and the package on his nightstand, crawled back under the covers, and turned off the lamp, sleeping soundly for the first time in months.Morning came too soon.Stillman stumbled to the kitchenette and reheated a cup of stale coffee in the microwave.He popped a couple slices of bread into the toaster and picked up the pieces of his phone.He shut off the ringer and put it in a drawer.The toaster began to smoke.He rescued the too dark bread, scraping it over the sink until it seemed edible.He finished his meal, cleared the envelopes from the table, and stashed them in the drawer with his phone.CHAPTER THIRTEEN: THE STUDYJordyn ran home after school.She changed out of her scratchy uniform into Levi’s and a white t-shirt, plain except for the word ‘maybe’ in clean letters written across her chest.She threw on her favorite leather jacket and her new sunglasses and headed for the el.She arrived on Will's doorstep at five sharp and rang number two."Jordyn?" answered Will."Expecting someone else?""I'll buzz you in.We're on the second floor."“Number two [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]