33 Sink or Swim

“Daddy,” whispered Gertie, “you awake?” Her father’s reply, from the easy chair where he had nodded off, was a snore. She smiled. If he did wake up while she was gone, he’d figure it out.Chapter 33Sink or Swimedit

She’d discovered that the pool was usually empty in the evening and often went down for a swim. To make the workout better, she took the stairs down from the penthouse and after her swim up as far and as fast as her legs could stand it, where she hopped the elevator the rest of the way. She was trying to add floors, last time making it up to the 11th. When she got back, Gertie routinely rinsed out and dried her stuff, then packed up the swim bag again the following morning. It would be there all ready for her each night, so no excuses.

She changed into her sweats and let herself out quietly, guessing he would still be in the recliner when she returned though often he pretended he’d never been asleep. It was easy enough going down. She heard a bam, the sound of a closing door echoing through the vacant stairwell, a bit disconcerting. Not at all like her dorm, with kids everywhere. Here, she had never actually met anyone else on the stairs. There must be someone else using them besides me, she reasoned. This building was too new for ghosts.

As she drifted down the stairs, she looked forward to the slow repetition of laps and gliding push-offs lulling her into her own quiet space. Time to think, not even think really, just be. She wondered if this was what meditation was like. Her room-mate Jody meditated. They must compare notes sometime soon, before they graduated. She reflected a lot these days about what she wanted to do next. So far, life had been pretty much laid out for her. Knowing that she didn’t have to plan a career, or even get a job for that matter, didn’t stop her from dwelling on it, likely because everyone around her at school was fixating on it. Perhaps she was just going along with the tide.

Gertie Steinhardt, Bert's daughter,with their bloodhound Pocano

Gertie Steinhardt, Bert’s daughter,with their bloodhound Pocano

She never experienced real ambition, not like some of her friends. Her family was pushing for her to join the family firm, take on a cause and run with it, and had recently been featured in one of the local, glossy magazines. Easily the most photogenic member of her clan, she’d been pictured both looking out at the lake from the penthouse, with Pocano nobly at her side, and on horseback out with her pack at Asphodel Meadows. Her Dad said it was like pictures of the Queen of England, trailing corgis. Gertie had grown up around animals, dogs especially, familiar pets, and as a child lavished her attention on breed groups. Dogs were her dinosaurs, her childhood fixation, committed to memory.  Of late, her interest had shifted to rescue organizations and animal rights.

Descending to the pool level floor, she pushed open the door and was on the deck before she stopped, startled. Not only was there a TV on and blaring but she was not alone, not this time. A man she’d never seen before was standing on the edge of the deck, whizzing into the water.

“Warming up the water for you,” he slurred. She stood frozen to the spot, revulsion rising as she fought back fear, her swim bag dangling at her feet. Recognition broke through his glazed stare. He blurted out, “You’re the rich bitch in the magazine.” Stumbling, he leered, pointing at the ceiling. “Let’s go up. I’ll show you something else by the windows.” He fumbled closer, advancing with his arm still upward, now raised to reach for her, and lost his balance.

She threw her shoulder hard against his and pushed as hard as she could in the direction he was tripping. Snatching up her bag, she fled out the stairwell door unsure of her escape, not looking back, afraid he could possibly catch up with her. He staggered back toward the edge of the pool, briefly regained his footing and stood up again, arms windmilling, then teetered and tipped backwards into the water.

Welling anger drowned Gertie’s tears and rose to fury. She took the steps as she had never done before, rage driving her, nearly breathless, all the way to the top. Only inside, panting against the inside of the door, did she pause. ‘Fight, or flights?’ crossed her mind.  She had just managed them, both.

“Gertie…you back so soon? Everything alright?” One look at her told Bert it was not. Wide awake now, he steered her into his quickly abandoned chair, and handed her a glass of water. As she took a few sips, he smoothed her hair, waiting for her to speak. Pocano rested his head on her knee.

“Oh Daddy, it was disgusting. He was disgusting.” Fighting off tears she began again. “There was a man, a stranger, standing and…and…having a pee into the pool, holding his ‘thing.’ Then he started hitting on me. So I pushed him.” She gulped down more water. “And I ran out.”

“What do you mean ‘hitting on me’? Did he hurt you?”

“No, no. He tried to touch me but I stopped him.”

“Go back and tell me exactly what happened, while it’s fresh in your mind.” Bert poured her a glass of brandy. “Try not to leave anything out, except I think I get the peeing part, already.”

“OK, I’ll try and remember, though I don’t want to. He said he was warming up the pool for me. Yecchhh. Then that I was the rich bitch from the magazine article. Then, he pointed up and said I should bring him upstairs so he could show me something else looking out the window. He moved to try to grab me and started to fall, so I shouldered him and pushed hard so he’d keep falling, away from me. I left right away, in case he came after me.”

“Thank goodness you got away. And to think I ever teased you about taking Judo.”

“His breath smelled awful.”

“Was he drunk?”

“Drunk or a cretin. Or both. I don’t know. No taste, that’s for sure.”

“Money doesn’t buy class.”

“Our family motto. But I have this mind worm, now. Red hair with pink trunks.”

“Sad. But you’re safe, now. How about a soak in the whirlpool? You look completely done in. And we have an early start in the morning, remember?”

“Oh, and one more thing, Daddy. There was a TV on – loud – next to the pool.”

“Loud, what?”

Gertie had to stop and think. “Stock market report. How weird is that?”