The Buffalo State Asylum for the Insane is a grand and terrible building. Abandoned over forty years ago, its rooms and halls no longer ring with tortured screams.
When his younger brother goes missing, Thomas Verkraft comes to Buffalo to find him. Following a trail of black and white photographs and homemade videos, he tracks Henry down to the doors of the State Asylum.
It’s the last building his brother entered before he disappeared.
Praise for Phil Tucker’s CRUDE SUNLIGHT
“Taking his readers from the slums of early New York to modern day, and to the very pit of hell, Tucker weaves a tale that pulls no punches and lands each and every one.” – James Garcia Jr., author of Dance on Fire
“A promising first novel from an interesting stylist with a lot of atmosphere and chills.” – Jeff Vandermeer
“…fantastic atmosphere that sends shivers down the spine.” – Marrisa Farrar, author of the Serenity series
“This story is gonna scare the crap out of you.” – Novel Opinion
Dusk was falling by the time Thomas arrived in Buffalo and parked his Mercedes outside his missing brother’s building, the sky a deep shade of blue that darkened to cobalt toward the east. He got out and slammed the door, invigorated by the cold, pausing to look up at the sky, at the ragged, collapsing castles of cloud that were fading to darker shades of gray. He felt good. He felt energized by the drive, by the aggressive way he’d handled the car on the way up from New York, the manner in which he’d courted the cops, daring them to pull him over. Escaping the problems at home, cauterizing frustration with speed. It was a near miracle that he hadn’t been stopped.
His brother’s apartment complex was grim, hunched and sullen looking like a pair of crossed arms, rising some six stories into the air. Spatterings of snow crusted the window ledges, were scraped into low drifts lining the approach to the glass lobby doors. A vague attempt at an ornamental garden had been made and then abandoned before the entrance, leaving a circular swathe of withered grass around a bare gravel pit. It was his second time out here, the first having been August last year when he’d helped Henry moved in for his Junior year. He’d never found the time to come back to visit. Ah well. He’d been busy. Missing Henry could ask missing Michelle if he didn’t believe him
Suddenly chilled, Thomas hunched his shoulders and stepped up onto the curb, crossed the wide cement pavement and up to the doors. They were locked. A small steel panel with an LCD screen emitted a dull green glow to his left, and leaning down he squinted at the blocky text and pressed # several times till he came to a list of names. Scrolling, he searched and found and then buzzed Materday, the superintendent.
A long pause. Finally the panel crackled to life. “Yello?”
“Mr. Materday, this is Thomas Verkraft. I’ve come about unit 457?”
“Oh… the missing kid. I see.” Thomas pursed his lips and waited as the super processed this information. Materday had been the first to notice Henry’s disappearance, calling Thomas when the second month’s rent had gone unpaid. A chill wind picked up suddenly, blowing through the parking lot, lifting his collar. Thomas checked his watch—almost 7pm. The stock market would soon be opening in China, and things would be picking up at the office in NY. Nothing else seemed forthcoming from the panel. Suddenly annoyed, he opened his mouth to say something sarcastic but the door buzzed before he could so. “Come on in then. I’ll meetcha in the lobby.”
Materday backed out of a service door next to the elevator and turned to stare at Thomas. He hadn’t improved since the last time they had met. Short, fat, and swarthy, the superintendent had small eyes and a large, splayed nose that must have been broken several times over the course of his life. His chin was practically nonexistent, giving him the appearance of a sly frog in a hunter’s cap with the ear flaps down.
“Verkraft?” Thomas nodded, and the super looked down at a massive ring of keys he held in one hand. After a few nervous, darting gestures he finally removed one and gave it to Thomas. “Here’s the spare. When are you gonna be done?”
Thomas took it, impressed by the man’s indifference. No questions, no concern over the tenant that had been missing for three months now. “Probably by tomorrow afternoon. I’m going to see how much there is tonight, and call the moving guys tomorrow morning.”
Materday sniffed loudly, pointedly, and nodded. “All right, good. Have the key back to me tomorrow by 8pm at the latest. Anything left behind gets chucked out on Monday. Got it?”
Thomas looked down at the man and struggled to stay calm. Don’t get upset with this little turd, he thought. Just ignore him. He nodded, and something about his stare unnerved the super, who turned and bustled back through the service door. Left alone in the lobby, Thomas glanced at the key and then turned to summon the elevator. Entering the elevator, he hit the button for the fourth floor and let his eyes unfocus. He’d filed a missing persons report when Materday has called him a month ago, but nothing had come of it. Just disappeared, had been the cop’s verdict, like thousands of others across the country. The legion of the vanished. They had interviewed Henry’s friends, spoken to his professors, given his apartment a cursory search, but the police had come up with no reason to suspect foul play. Their conclusion: that Henry had simply taken off, another kid inspired by On The Road or Into The Wild. Materday had called yesterday to see if Thomas as the co-signer would pay Henry’s rent. He’d agonized over the decision all night long, and when he’d finally called to say no it had felt like telling a doctor to pull the plug. The elevator shuddered to a stop, the doors rattled open, and Thomas stepped out.
The hall reeked of wet dog, and was the kind of place that roaming site locators for zombie movies would die for, sending back copious photographs and floor plans with adjectives like ‘creepy!’ and ‘moody-esque!’ written all over them. It was poorly lit, the ceiling lights placed a little too far from each other, the carpet a dull, neutral vomit color somewhere between brown and beige. Each end terminated in a fire door, large and ponderous, the iron looking like it had been beaten with hammers. Behind each small, wire meshed window flickered the lights of the stairwells, and Thomas easily imagined a bloody hand suddenly smacking against the glass.
Henry had lived but two doors down from the elevator, and Thomas quickly unlocked the door and escaped the fetid stench into the dark apartment. Which, Thomas noticed immediately, still had a faint, lingering smell of incense in the air. Henry hadn’t been a fan of the dog stench either, it seemed.
The grey light of dusk came in from the broad window on the far side of the living room, illuminating the small apartment with clear, wintry hues. The last time he’d seen it the place had been almost empty; Henry having brought a few boxes of books, a closet full of clothing, a mattress and little else. Thomas stood in the tiny entrance hallway and remembered the fierce pleasure that Henry had felt for his new apartment, how he had stood with his hands on his hips gazing out through the window as if surveying his kingdom. The sunlight then had been golden, autumnal. Now the light was cold and hard, and nobody stood framed in its pale radiance.
Taking a deep breath, wishing Michelle were here to help, to make a wry comment or simply give his arm a squeeze, he stepped forward, past the small kitchen on the right, cramped and dark, a mess of dirty plates and glasses in the sink. Henry had acquired some furniture, the kind of items you might pick off the curb or buy cheap on the internet. A battered blue couch was set against one wall, facing an ancient, bloated TV set on a short, wide bookcase against the other. A desk was set under the window, its surface dominated by a computer.
Turning, Thomas poked his head through the bedroom door. A rumpled single bed under the window, the sheets littered with large print photographs, casually shaken out of a manila envelope. An open closet door filled with what looked like mostly monochromatic clothing. A bookcase, a bedside table.
Bare basics. Reaching out, he flicked on the lights and fluorescent bulbs bathed everything in an immediate wash of stark, sterile white light, the dust suddenly visible and ubiquitous, lying thickly on the table top and photographs, on the barren length of the window sill, on the picture frame of their parents. It covered everything in sight.
Melancholia took him by the throat. He’d never been very close to Henry; seven years his senior, and preoccupied with his career, he’d paid but little attention to his strange and introverted younger brother. When was the last time he’d seen him? Six months now, perhaps, since Henry had come through New York en route to begin his Junior year. Thomas and Michelle had taken him out to a fancy restaurant—D’Orsia—and then dropped him off to go meet up with some of his friends. Thomas had had an early meeting for the next day which had dragged until late afternoon, and by the time he’d managed to escape he’d only had time to take Henry to the airport.
Still musing, distracted, he wandered over to Henry’s bed. Thick, slightly curved glossy prints in atmospheric black and white lay over the rumpled sheets like strange autumn leaves. Had the cops gone through them? Reaching down, he picked one up at random and examined it. At first it was hard to determine the subject matter. And then, like a ship emerging from the fog, he saw it. It was a large tunnel, smooth sided with an iron ladder affixed to the left wall. The flash had caused the water running along the tunnel’s bottom to shine like a river of mercury, and in the distance a vague figure could be seen running away into the darkness.
Frowning, he turned it over, and saw a note scribbled in Henry’s spider crawl in the lower right corner: Nov 17, 3:43am, steam tunnels under State Hospital. Thomas turned the photo over again and examined the fleeing figure, holding the photograph to the light. It was small, a smudge of arms and legs, a pale face turned over its shoulder as it ran away from Henry. How odd.
Dropping the print, he lifted a second one. It was much more morbid, a close up of a dead, withered bird, its little spine twisted into a vicious arch so that its beak nearly touched its tail. Bones and dust on a filthy floor. Pulling a face, looking quickly away from the empty eye sockets, Thomas flipped the photograph over and read: Oct 3, 6.47pm, dead pigeon #3 in Radley Hotel. Thomas clicked his teeth together and dropped the print onto the others. Avoid the Radley Hotel, he thought, and picked up a third.
This one was very different from the first two. It showed a naked girl lying on a bed, a long white thigh in the foreground, filling most of the bottom and left of the print, the rest of her body extending away into the depths of the photograph, shadowed declivities, pale breasts and a laughing face almost drowned in gloom. Thomas stared, mildly shocked, taken aback at once by how attractive the girl was and that his brother had been taking nude photographs. He felt suddenly like a prude, an old man; after all, Henry was twenty. Flipping the photograph, he read: Nov 12, 1.28am, Julia.
Thomas let the photograph fall onto the bed, and gazed down abstractedly at it. There must have been at least fifty or so such photographs lying on the bed, most of them showing dark rooms, more tunnels, views of overgrown gardens through mullioned windows. They were dark, evocative, strangely disturbing. Turning, Thomas looked about the bedroom. Where had he developed these photographs? At school? Had he been taking a photography class?
Frustration reared within him. He knew so little about his brother. So little about his life, his interests. He hadn’t even known he’d had a girlfriend until the he’d read the police report. Julia. A very attractive girlfriend, at that. He debated searching the photographs for more prints of her, and paused. Pervert, he chided himself, and snorted. Just keeping it in the family. What had this Julia told the cops, he wondered? Had she told them everything she knew?
He drifted out into the living room, and over to the computer, where he sat down and looked about the desk’s surface. There was a pile of blank CDs spitted on a central spoke, and a number of papers scattered over the keyboard. Stacking them off to one side, Thomas leaned down and pushed the computer’s power button. The tower hummed to life, and he leaned back in the chair. An sheet of type caught his eye, and he picked it up. Sunday, August 3rd, 2009 read the first line. Leaning back, crossing one arm over his chest, Thomas began to read:
When I was young, my family would often picnic at the edge of the Hume reservoir, driving off the dirt road that encircled it onto a shallow spit of land that fanned out some thirty meters into the water. The reservoir was vast, the still surface a soft and sullen green. As my parents extracted the collapsible garden table from the trunk, and my older brother remained in the car listening to the radio, I would shed my shirt and sandals and tentatively enter the water. Arms crossed over my chest, I would gaze at a massive and solitary tree that grew in the center of the lake, emerging directly from the water, and dream of swimming out to it. The ground beneath the water was rough, the reservoir’s edge flooding and ebbing regularly over the stiff grass that grew in irregular tussocks from the mulchy mud. I would wade out till the water had passed over my hips, and stand gazing at the tree, too scared to swim out that far, till my parents called me back to land.
We went only once to the reservoir during that last summer before my parent’s divorce. I remember the tension in the car, my gaze fixed on the shoulders of land that would slide into the reservoir’s surface as we rounded them to reach our promontory. It had been a dry summer, and the sparse grass was bleached to a brittle brown, the dirt gray and soft where the water had receded. As always I shucked my shirt and sandals, and stepped out to the water’s edge where the ripples lapped at the dirt. My parents were arguing quietly in flat voices behind the car, and Thomas had walked away along the water’s edge, listening to his CD player.
The tree still stood, closer perhaps than it had ever been, a heavy looking branch emerging ponderously from its trunk, close enough to the surface that I could have surged up and grabbed it if I had been treading water beneath. I stepped out into the water, arms crossed over my chest, resisting the cold that goose pimpled my skin. Pale sunlight broke through the cloud cover to occasionally warm me, to transfigure the water around me from a dull gray green to warmer tones of brown.
When the water reached my ribs I let myself fall forwards and began to swim with tense, rapid breast strokes, heart pounding, losing contact with the muddy floor. I ducked my head under the surface and swam like a frog through the green murk. My head broke surface, I gasped for air and saw that I was still far from my goal. Experimentally, I straightened and tried to touch bottom; my foot penetrated a zone of numbing cold, as distinct from the warm layer above as if drawn with a razor. I yanked my foot up with a gasp, and ducked under once more, to gaze into the depths.
The sun broke free as I did so, so that the water near the surface blazed from dull to emerald green, vivid and dusty, gradating softly down into darkness. I hung suspended, and stared into the velvet black that massed below, a void without light, without warmth, depthless and old, conscious of my presence as I hung before it. I sensed something within it, sensed something looking up at me from the bottom of the reservoir, something inimical to me and mine, and all thought of reaching the tree fled my mind as I turned and surged back towards the shore in a blind panic.
When my feet once more found purchase in the tusseted muck, I rose, breathing heavily, and saw that nobody had noticed my frantic swim towards the shore. My father was rooting around in the cooler with stiff, annoyed motions, while my mother sat in the car, smoking a cigarette and gazing away. I stood shivering, knee deep in water, and realized that I couldn’t talk to either of them about the darkness. Instead, I emerged and took up my towel, wrapping myself in it and sat down on the grass, water running down my face, gazing out at the tree that stood miraculously alone in the reservoir’s center.
Thomas sat back, and closed his eyes, reached up to pinch the brow of his nose. Of course he remembered those summers. The stupid trips their parents had insisted they take to spend time together, which, as far as he could remember hadn’t been particularly fun for anybody. He tried to remember Henry, tried to remember this tree that seemed to have been so important to him, and drew only a blank. It had been so long ago.
A couple of chirpy beeps announced that the computer was ready. A password prompt. Thomas paused, fingers frozen an inch above the keys. Password. Hesitating, he moved the mouse over to the question mark button and clicked it. A little beige box opened up, saying Hint: I am. I am? What sort of hint was that? He’d hoped for something like date of birth, or mother’s maiden name, but no luck. Clicking on the password box, he typed in Therefore I think. He pressed Enter – nothing. He typed in Henry. Again, nothing. He stared at the hint. I am. He had no idea.
He knew that he should be thinking about how much storage space he would need, but couldn’t rouse the enthusiasm. He opened the desk draws and rifled through their contents. Text books, folders, wads of paper, random pens and loose change, a pair of shades, CDs and more. Perhaps he should go through it all methodically, sniff out more information, but he felt restless. With a pang he regretted not having brought Buck; he would have attacked this problem with an energy and enthusiasm which in turn would have galvanized Thomas. As it was, he felt uneasy, listless, subdued. What was Michelle up to, he wondered? Was she thinking of him?
He could feel a large and all-consuming funk coming on, the sort of hellishly introspective mindset that could swallow him for the rest of the night, so instead he stood and walked over to the couch and sat down heavily. It was comfortable, he decided, despite the metal framework that he could feel through the cushions. Leaning forward, he picked up the remote control and turned on the television.
A blue screen snapped into life. What, another password? he wondered in annoyance, and then realized that it was the video channel. Curious, he shifted around and dug out another controller. VHS. He examined it quickly, and pointed it at the VCR and pressed play.
The blue screen vanished, replaced by something that had obviously been shot on a handheld camcorder. It was dark, night time, outside some massive building that loomed vaguely in the near distance before the camera. The sound of nervous breathing filled the apartment with a hoarse roar, and Thomas jackknifed forward to lower the volume as Henry spoke, “C’mon, hurry up!”
Henry. He was holding the camera. The voice had come as if from behind Thomas’ shoulder, and before he could help it he was on the edge of the couch. Several people dressed in black were leaning a massive ladder against a tall wire fence. Someone muttered something, and another laughed. The chain link fence sagged under the ladder’s weight, and then somebody was going up, scaling it like a monkey. Henry turned the camera quickly, showing some trees looming up in the darkness, the lights of the city all around, tall buildings, all of it blurred in this quick check before he focused once more on the ladder.
The first guy had reached the top, swung his legs over, and was now dropping down, grabbing handholds of the diamonds in the wire mesh, the fence chattering and clinking till he dropped from halfway to the grass below. The second figure was already at the top, and the third was at the base of the ladder, looking up.
“Ok, here we go,” whispered Henry, and stepped up to the ladder. The angle swung up, and suddenly Thomas was looking up at the third person’s ass as they climbed up quietly.
“Nice ass,” said Henry, eliciting an amused chuckle from above. Julia, he thought. Then Henry was going up, mounting each rung quickly. The screen whipped around violently as he reached the top and dropped the camera to the waiting hands of someone below. It was caught, steadying, fumbled around and then aimed at Henry as he dropped down onto the grass.
Henry’s face, right there, staring out of the TV screen at Thomas. He looked excited, eyes wide, a black hoody falling back off his head, exposing his tousled mop of black hair. He reached up, pulled the hoody down and then grabbed the camera. The point of view swung around, and then they were running, ladder abandoned. The massive building loomed high above them, looking like a fort, a castle, something improbably old and European. The terse, quick breathing of people running. Someone made a joke, people laughed, were hushed. Finally they reached the building’s base, lined up against the wall, and the camera panned up and across.
It truly was huge. Made of brick, thick walled with tall, narrow windows that were choked full of broken glass behind the wire meshing that covered them. Two huge towers rose into the night like the horns of a gazelle, their points capped with verdigrised copper, gleaming eerily in the moonlight.
“C’mon, it’s around here somewhere,” somebody said, quiet and authoritative. The group moved along the base of the building, walking quietly in single file for about a minute till they rounded a corner and stopped before a huge crack in the wall. It was as if someone had pulled a seam apart, had burst open the bricks so that it gaped, empty and dark like a wound in the side of the building.
The camera focused on the interior: it was too dark within to make anything out. Quiet whisperings, and then everybody drew flashlights. One by one they slipped inside, and one of the guys whispered a warning about pigeon shit, something about gas. Henry went last, and then the flashlights were switched on, their broad bright discs swarming across the walls, ceiling, floor. The room was large, empty, the wallpaper bulging with fist sized cysts, the pattern long faded and leached of color by washes of filthy water that had stained it to brown. Crown moldings topped off the walls, giving the place an air of regal desolation.
There were more excited whispers, and then one of them turned to the camera, holding the light beneath her chin, illuminating her face from below as if she were around a campfire and about to tell a ghost story.
Julia, thought Thomas again, definitely. Her face was brilliantly lit, the base of her chin, the underside of her nose, the under swellings of her cheeks, her brow and forehead glowing an incandescent whitepink. The rest dimmed to darkness, but her lips were pulled back in an ironic smile, and Thomas saw that she wasn’t beautiful, not exactly, but instead incredibly striking, her hair cut short almost like a boy’s, her features sharp and betraying a certain harshness. She smiled and then turned back to the darkness.
They moved through the room, shoes crackling on the detritus strewn across the floor, and out into a large hallway. It had the look of a hospital, the corridor wide and box shaped, long and lined with doors. An old hospital, from the looks of it, with the moldings around the doors artfully done in dark wood. It looked damned spooky, Thomas decided, sitting back and shaking his head. There was no way that he’d ever go in there.
Some of this must have been felt by Henry and his companions, for the quieted down and began to file down the corridor, the sound of their feet loud in the echoing silence. There were a few old leather and wood wheelchairs abandoned in the hallway, large clunky devices that must have been at least fifty years old. They paused before them and whispered comments to each other, snapped off a few photographs. They paused before each door, flashing their lights inside, seeing little more than broken glass, random pieces of furniture knocked down and destroyed, the walls covered by mostly obscene or drug related suggestions in spray painted letters.
The end of the corridor opened into a shoe box shaped hall with a staircase on one end and a large arched entrance leading out into a dark room beyond. They paused, discussed options and as one turned toward the steps. They stopped at the head of the stairs and flashed their lights down into the depths, examining the dim corridor visible far below.
“Eric, what do you think?” asked Henry.
A young man with curly hair the color of beaten bronze turned to look at the camera. “We go down. That’s where the steam tunnels are that lead out under the other wings.”
“Well all right then. Saddle up, guys.” Eric nodded, and turned to stare down the stairwell. He seemed about to say something further when a loud shuddering sound echoed up from below, like a heavy object being jerked across the floor, something ponderous like a wardrobe or desk. They froze, looked at each other.
“What the hell was that?” Julia, tense, but not frightened.
“A bear?” The third guy, face as of yet unseen. The camera suddenly yawned, whipped around, and the guy let out a yelp of protest as Henry did something to him, the others laughing uneasily, tension broken. The camera swung up, to show Eric moving slowly down the stairs, straining to see what might be moving below.
“Hold on guys,” said Henry. “I’m going to put in a new tape.” Eric looked up, face serious, pensive, and then the film crackled and cut to the blue screen of the VCR channel.
Thomas blinked and rose to his feet. His heart was beating strongly and without thinking he raised the remote and pressed rewind. For a second nothing, and then, as if in protest, the whirring sound of the tape rewinding, picking up speed. Thomas waited for five seconds and then pressed play. A clunk from the VCR, and the image kicked back in. They emerged once more into the shoebox shaped hall, panned around, focused on the steps. Dialogue, and then as they prepared to go down, that sound.
Thomas paused the tape, causing the image to freeze, two bands of white crinkly chaos appearing across the screen, frozen in overlay. He rewound, pressed play, listened to it again. What was that? Had there been somebody else down there? Henry must have made it back out if the tape were here in the VCR. What had they found below? Had they made it into the other wings? Thomas suddenly wished Michelle were there with him, wondered what she would have made of the tape. Standing, Thomas rounded the low table and crouched before the VCR. There were a number of blank tapes in a shoebox to one side of the TV, each of them numbered in red pen. Ejecting the tape, Thomas saw that it was number 7. A quick rummage of the tapes in the box showed that there was no number 8.
Rising to his feet, Thomas walked into the bedroom and looked down at the photographs. Rustling through them, he picked up the one taken in the tunnel and flipped it over. Steam tunnels under State Hospital. He turned it again and stared at the figure in the distance that was running away into the darkness. Was that Eric? Julia? Somebody else they had found down there? He set the photograph aside, and sat on the edge of the bed, pushing photographs back as they began to slide down the indentation his weight had made in the mattress, and picked one up at random.
A view of a mist-wreathed garden through a broken window. A quick flip showed that it wasn’t the Hospital. A second: an ornate staircase curving around a hallway, filled with weeds and plants that had grown up the steps and the floor of the hall to the height of a man’s chest. Checked, Thomas stared. An interior garden? Then he saw the broken windows. No, a ruin. Another: A dark hallway, a wheelchair sitting by itself against a background of splotchy, scabrous wallpaper. Thomas flipped it: Nov 17, 2:52am, ground floor of State Hospital.
Frowning, Thomas compared the times of that and the tunnel shot. The photograph of the figure fleeing had been taken nearly fifty minutes after. It had taken the crew about five minutes after the wheelchairs to reach the stairwell and go down. That meant they were in the tunnels or wherever they led for over an hour. Thomas made a face and sat back. An hour down there. He shook his head slowly in amazement.
More photographs, his impatience causing him to flick quickly through them: a stairwell viewed from above that looked like the curve of a nautilus shell; a factory shot from the distance; a control panel covered in dust and filth; an abandoned pair of boots in a locker; a wall covered in graffiti depicting a rotting head; an empty room in which a chandelier had crashed to the floor; a side shot of Julia, arms crossed, head to one side, gazing seriously at the camera.
Thomas dropped the other photographs and examined it. She was wearing a white oxford shirt under a gray sweater, the sleeves pulled up her forearms. He turned it around, and saw Sept 29, 3.42pm, Julia Morrow. Julia Morrow. Reaching into his pocket, he drew out his cell phone and dialed 411.
The phone rang twice, and then he quickly navigated the options to reach the operator. A bored woman’s voice, rich with cadences and the sound of gum being chewed asked him which listing he desired.
“Julia Morrow, Buffalo, New York.”
“Thank you,” said the operator, clearly not meaning it. Thomas listened to the sound of keys being typed, and then the woman came back, “All right, connecting you.”
Thomas started – connecting him? He stood up, took a step, froze, holding the photograph, staring down into her unequivocal gaze. The phone rang, and rang, and then—
“Hi – Julia? Julia Morrow?”
“Yeah? Who is this?”
“Hi. This is Thomas Verkraft. Henry’s older brother.” She hung up. Thomas took the phone away from his head and stared at it. He looked at her photograph, and then dropped both it and the phone on the bed. Well.
Scratching his head, he walked out and into the kitchen, took a glass from the sink and filled it with tap water. Lifting the glass he saw that it was filled with dried crud, stained with what looked like strawberry jam, thick and clotted. Frowning, he set it aside, and pulled out a mug that was stained with dry tea, which he easily cleaned and then filled.
Moving back to the couch, he sat down and tried to think, to focus, but his thoughts kept coming back to Julia. She had to know something, otherwise why hang up on him so promptly?
His cell phone rang. Thomas set the mug aside and strode back into the bedroom, where he snatched it up and answered.
“So -” her voice was strangely guarded and tentative at the same time, “You’re the brother.”
Thomas let out a sigh and nodded, “Yes. His older brother. I’m in town taking care of his belongings.”
“What do you want?” She sounded half resigned, as if she were asking a rhetorical question.
“I’ve got some questions.”
“I’m sure you do.”
“I’d like some answers.”
“Are you trying to sound like an FBI agent, or do you just naturally pull it off?”
“I…” Thomas had no idea as to how to reply. “I’m about as far from the FBI as you can get,” he said, “I’m an emerging market manager for a hedge fund.” There was silence on the other end. “Look, can we meet? I’d like to talk to you.”
There was a long pause on the other end of the line, and he tried to picture her, her lips pursed, her brows furrowed as she weighed factors he couldn’t imagine. “Fine. The Campus Center coffee house, eleven o’clock.”
“All right, great. Listen, I really -” She hung up. Nonplussed, Thomas stared at the phone again, and then slipped it into his pocket. Well then. It was a start. Fatigue washed over him, and he looked at all the photographs with a suddenly melancholy indifference. What game had Henry been playing? The tapes, the pictures, the disappearance – what had he gotten himself into? Thomas felt worn out. He’d deal with it tomorrow. He’d meet with Julia and then call the movers. But right now all he wanted to do was to get out of this apartment, this building, and go to his hotel room and sleep. Turning off the lights one by one, he paused by the front door and looked over his brother’s stuff. Then, with a deep breath, he opened the door and stepped back out into the dog stench.