34 Bottom of the POPS

Peter hurried back to Hans’ place, going straight to the cupboard where he’d last seen the big beach towels from their trip. They weren’t there. Hans must have moved them. Exasperation growing, he searched in the next most likely place, and then in the next. Peter knew he hadn’t taken them. Glancing in at the bathroom door, he saw them hanging from the shower Chapter 34 Bottom of the Popseditbar.

Peter figured Rusty wouldn’t feel hot from cold, not in his condition. Still, it wouldn’t hurt to fluff the towels up and deliver them, toasty warm. He loved a cozy towel. He stuffed them into the dryer and turned the dial. Five minutes should do the trick. Five delicious minutes to snoop around and find out where else Hans had moved things, or if there was anything new. No signs of a new occupant anyway, that was something. Hans was beginning to look good to him. Pleasantly engaged, he was startled by the dryer buzzer. The towels were hot and smelled of Hans. He lingered over them, then folded them into a large kitchen bag and headed once more for the stairs.

“Here we are, Rusty, all lovely and warm.” He was trilling as he waltzed through the pool doorway. Rusty was floating face down in the pool. Peter shrieked. Drowned? He looked drowned, and far past the help of any towel to warm him. Why hadn’t Rusty waited for him to come back?Ā  How stupid could he be to get in the water alone when he couldn’t swim? This was all Rusty’s fault. Peter hadn’t even been there when it happened, when he could have helped him. No, it had nothing at all to do with him. This whole helpless affair was now just that, beyond even hope. Vexed, Peter petulantly reached for the remote and switched to his favorite cooking channel. They were making soup. Grabbing out one of the towels, he wiped the remote and the TV cart handles, then stuffed the towel back into the bag.

He knew he had to think. It was going to be hard. He kicked the empties into the pool and bounded back upstairs, towel bag in tow. He ran into the bedroom, dumped out the towels. Rusty might have touched things. Peter ran a still warm towel along the dresser and around the knobs. He hung both towels back exactly as he’d found them. Whipping off his swim trunks, he folded those back into the drawer and retrieved his clothes from the couch where he’d tossed them. He dressed, and using the empty plastic bag as a glove extracted another from under the kitchen sink, wedging the first into his back pocket. He picked up Rusty’s shoes and socks, dropped them into the new bag then emptied the pockets of Rusty’s jeans out onto the bed. He briefly considered and calculated that, as Rusty wouldn’t be needing it any more, he’d just slip the sizable wad from the money clip and the few coins into his own pocket. He threw in the rest of Rusty’s things, stooping to look under the bed in case he’d missed anything.

In the living room where they’d been sitting, he plumped up the cushions, picked up the empties and stuffed those into the bag with the clothing. He washed and dried out his snifter and returned it to the cupboard. Sighing, he paused over the stemware but opted not to take it. If his fingerprints were all over the place inside the unit or the building, that would be okay. He had lived here, after all. No-one, especially Hans, would ever know he’d been in the unit much less have brought Rusty along. He could take Hans up on that invitation to come by on Monday night, hear about his boring conference and while he was visiting, be sure to touch as much as he could. Maybe even Hans. Reconciliation was good. It could lead to harder but better stuff.

Little Susie, the only POPS elevator. It takes you up and down in its own time.

Little Susie, condo elevator. She takes you up and down, in her own time.

He’d have time to come back one more time before Hans returned, if he had to, if he remembered something he was forgetting. Best if he didn’t count on it. He wasn’t even out of the building, not yet. Taking a last look around, he slid his hand through the full plastic bag handles and pulled the unit door behind him. He tiptoed along the corridor to the garbage chute, tipped open the bin and let go the full bag. From there, it was only a few steps along the hallway back to the stairs and the garage. No standing around, waiting for the elevator. Too risky. He thought he heard something, froze momentarily, then realized it was not somebody coming but just the bag going through the chute, probably the shoes clunking on their way down. Dead man’s shoes. Who would gain by this death, Peter allowed himself to think, other than me with his money in my pocket?

Pulling himself to attention, stealthily, silently, he reached his car just as the garage door opened and a sporty red car pulled inside. It was that awful woman from their floor, the one who always used to stare at him. He wouldn’t have wanted to meet her again at the best of times. Slinking down in the seat and out of sight as far as he could, he waited as she parked. Her spot was only a few spaces away. In the rear view, he glimpsed her get out and remove some luggage from the trunk. He crouched down further. Then, mercifully, he heard the wheels of her luggage squealing away towards the elevator. The elevator was agonizingly long in coming. She was pounding on the door with her fist and screaming obscenities. His leg was in a painful cramp.

When she had finally gone, he stretched his leg out as best he could and started the engine, sloped up the ramp, and turned north and into the avenue, where he began to crow, “Olly-olly, in free.”