Thursday, March 12, 2015
I want you to know that I am not a Nosy Nellie – one of those people who are constantly peeping at their neighbors through the blinds or analyzing the contents of carts belonging to shoppers ahead of you in the checkout line. I believe in minding my own beeswax at all times. My name will never appear on any Prosecutor’s witness list, only to end up being relocated to a nowhere town in New Mexico with a new identity. No. Never. At least, not until I saw the bag.
It was on the seat next to the window in the last row on the driver’s side of the bus. Okay, so I take the bus to and from my job in the city. I don’t use public transportation because I want to help preserve the environment and protect future generations from destroying the ozone layer or any of that other crap. I work for a downtown law firm as a file clerk; so I never learned to type – don’t judge. It’s a good job with 9 to 5 hours, but no way can I afford to buy a car, much less afford to park it in one of the safer garages in the city. The secretaries look down on me for riding the bus, but at least I don’t lay out half my salary on parking fees. Anyway, back to the bag.
It wasn’t exactly a bag in the true sense, like the bums carry. You know what I mean – the small, brown, paper ones they can fit a pint of whiskey in and then sip on it at their leisure all day long. I wouldn’t have gone within ten feet of it had it been one of those; but then, you don’t usually see bums riding the downtown express. This was one of those fancy, what I like to call, tote bags. It was dark brown with a green and violet flower pattern on both sides, a snap closure in the middle and two cloth handles. It was fairly good size too. I think if you took it to the grocer, it would probably hold a couple gallons of milk and a frozen dinner or two. But, somehow I knew in my heart of hearts, it was never used as a grocery bag.
The woman who carried it every day never got on or off at the same place in the morning or in the evening. I noticed this since I was always on before her and got off after she did. I didn’t pay much attention at first, but some things just seem to catch your eye. She was very stylishly dressed in expensive suits and heels and carried a designer handbag, and the tote. She always had a firm grip on the tote, but her purse just swung on her arm. When she sat, her purse was carelessly placed on the seat next to her, but the tote was in her lap, cradled there in her arms like a cherished newborn infant. Like I said, I’m no Snoopy Sallie, but who could help but notice behavior such as that?
Day in and day out, it was always the same routine for her, until today. Sure, she got on at Third, which she’d never done before, with her fancy outfit and handbag, and clutching that tote like it had a million dollars inside. I was reading a new mystery novel on the way to work this morning, so I didn’t see where she got off. But I did see the tote left on the seat. I couldn’t believe my eyes. She had deliberately left her precious cargo behind? Why, and for whom? Was it documents? Was it drugs? I watched anxiously to see who would pick it up, but no one paid any attention to it. By the time I got to my stop, I realized how foolish I had been thinking it was a kidnapper’s ransom or an installment on a blackmail scheme, and I continued on my way to work. Once the bus got to the terminal, the driver would take it to the lost and found department, the woman would claim it, and that would be the end of it. No international intrigue here – just a lady who got distracted and forgot what was most likely her knitting. End of story, right? Wrong.
As I waited at the bus top to go home, I was again reading my mystery book. I had picked it up at the drug store based on the picture on the cover of the knife dripping blood. I know it’s probably not dignified, but I love all that type of nonsense, and this story offered it all. There was the horrific murder of a sexy prostitute, a cop who was haunted by the image of her corpse – you get the idea. It was absolute trash and I was loving it. I was so involved in Chapter 4 that I almost didn’t see the tote right where the woman had left it that morning. It was still on the same seat, still right next to the window, and still, no one was paying it any mind. Apparently, the drivers don’t look for any items the passengers may have left behind, or perhaps they only did that after the last run. I found it interesting too that the same bus took me home as to work. I had always thought the buses were rotated around during the day, but evidently, that was not the case.
I took the seat across from the one where the tote was and waited. Certainly, the woman would get on at some point to reclaim her personal treasures, whatever they may be. We got to within two stops of mine, which is almost at the end of the route, but still no tote woman, as I now referred to her. What if she were ill? The bus company obviously didn’t have any regard for their passengers’ belongings, so someone had to step in and be responsible. This is where I come in. As I pointed out at the start, sticking my nose in other people’s affairs is definitely not one of my flaws, but helping out my fellow man, or in this case, woman, is assuredly one of my virtues. I slid across the row, grabbed the tote and placed it under my coat. I didn’t want the driver, or the one other passenger, to perceive me as a thief. Since today was Friday, I was going to take it home over the weekend to keep it safe, and whenever I again saw the lady, I would inform her that I had her bag and that I would bring it to her the very next day. It was a simple enough plan, or so I had thought at the time.
I was still holding the bag tightly under my coat when I ran into old Mrs. Jenson in front of my apartment building. She normally walked to the corner market to pick up her six-pack of beer after supper. Why on Earth was she out now?
“Hey, Susie Q,” she said. “What’s shaking?”
For the record, my name is Angela.
“Not a thing, Ms. J. Just home from work and anxious to get inside so I can put my comfy shoes on.”
I attempted to get by her and into the building when she grabbed my arm.
“What you got there under your coat, Miss Chrissy? You pick up your lottery winnings?”
I pulled away from her and made my way to the building’s front entrance.
“My supper, Ms. J. Just trying to keep it warm,” I said as I entered and closed the door behind me.
When I looked through the peephole, she was still standing there, staring. I knew that answer wouldn’t satisfy her and that she would knock on my door on her way back from the store. I made up my mind I wouldn’t answer since she’d want to come in. Knowing what a Peeping Penny she was, I knew she would want to look inside the tote, and I could never allow that. I was now responsible for it and I wasn’t about to let anyone and everyone violate it. I, however, was obligated to determine its contents, albeit behind the locked door of my apartment. What if there was medication in there that would go bad without refrigeration? I put the bag on my coffee table, unsnapped it and looked inside. I couldn’t believe my eyes.
The only items in there were a thermos that contained what used to be hot coffee, now very cold, and a key on a small ring that also held a circular plastic disk with the name and logo of Ken’s Keep-It-Safe Storage printed on it. They were located over on Logan Avenue, and I recalled tote woman had caught the bus on the evening run a couple of times from the corner of Logan and Fifth. Had she been to Ken’s on those occasions? Why bring a thermos filled with coffee to a storage unit? Did she sit inside sorting out stolen diamonds or put counterfeit bills into stacks of hundreds and twenties? I was being ridiculous again, right? Or was I…
I noticed the key had the number 74 cut into it, not that it mattered to me. I wasn’t about to cross the line of decency and pry into a stranger’s inner sanctum. Then again, why pair coffee with a storage unit? She didn’t drink any of it on the bus. If she had, I would have been made aware because the drivers on that route permitted no open food items or beverages consumed. What did she do with the coffee in the unit? Did she share it with her hostage? I knew it. That’s what all the mystery and covert behavior were all about. That woman – that sadistic fiend, would board the bus with her coffee and key, hanging on to her bag as if it contained the Crown Jewels. She would then make a stop at the unit only to provide the minimum nutrition to the lover who had rejected her, who now only barely existed, shackled inside a hermetically sealed, and most likely soundproof, oversized box. That’s why she walked away from the bag. Her lust for torment has been fulfilled and she’s left him there to die. I must go to him and set him free from his ghastly prison.
I’m glad I refilled the thermos and brought it with me before I came to number 74. These units can be quite chilly once the sun goes down. Who knew? I waited until after dinner to catch the bus to Ken’s. Access to the units is twenty-four hours, seven days a week, and the buses run until midnight, so I had plenty of time to free her captive and still make the last run out of the terminal. The place is all gated and fairly well lit, but not so much as to preclude discretion. I found number 74 toward the back, and seeing no one around any of the units at this late hour, I made my move and unlocked number 74. There was a pull string bulb set-up in the center, so I lit the unit up and pulled down the door to prevent any Spying Sally’s from interfering with my mission. I heard a click that was quite comforting. Apparently, the doors auto lock when they are pulled down. I’m sure there’s a lever in here somewhere to release the door just like there are in car trunks, but I’ll look for that later. My priority is to locate, and unchain, this heartless killer’s prey.
Imagine my surprise to find the unit contained only stacks of boxes filled with old clothes, albums filled with black and white photographs, a couple of tables with missing legs and a heavily chipped dresser sans mirror. There was also a chair pulled up to the dresser that looked as if it had been utilized as a port-a-potty catering to every raccoon, squirrel, and flock of birds in the tri-state area. There was definitely no tortured soul hog-tied and crying in a corner, but there was an abundance of dust and cobwebs everywhere on everything in the unit. It became clear to me that tote woman had not come into this unit for several months, at a minimum. So, why carry the key around and not go into the unit? Why protect that $5.00 bag as if it contained the Hope diamond? Why…
Well, no sense agonizing over the habits of a stranger, however odd they might be. I managed to brush all the crap off the chair so I could sit and have some coffee. It does get chilly in these units at night. Oh, sorry, I think I already mentioned that. See, when the light was on, it felt a bit warmer, but after the bulb burned out awhile ago, the temperature seems to have been steadily dropping. I’m sure that’s my imagination though. I mean, how cold could it possibly get since no air can get in. Oh yeah, I forgot about that. They seal up real tight once the door is pulled down and locked. The office here usually opens at noon on Mondays, but with this being a holiday weekend, no one will be in there until noon on Tuesday. I have no doubt my tote woman will be their first customer when they open so she can get a replacement key for this unit. I’m certain she’ll feel guilty about neglecting it for so long and will want to pop in and clean the place up.