Dead End Job: A Louisa Hallstrom Novel(71)

By: Ingrid Reinke

After we got home from the appointment, my mother packed her small bag and returned to her home in Anacortes, a small town to the north of Seattle. I’d insisted that I would be fine, that she had return to her life, and even though I still needed help around, I assured her that I would be able to get friends to help out.

Alex turned up the next evening. I gave her one of my vicodins, we shared a bottle of wine, and we spent the next few hours shopping online in a slightly stoned and drunk state.

The rest of the week flew by: Amanda came over the following day after work, then I had only one day to myself and Beverly was over entertaining me, picking up dinner and driving me around for two nights and three days. By the Sunday before I returned to the office I was alone again, but, feeling optimistic, I took a city bus down to the Gene Juarez Salon & Spa downtown and spent the afternoon having fresh highlights put into my long hair, getting a facial and having my fingernails and toenails painted in a beautiful blush pink. Even though my arm was still in a sling, my wrists were still bandaged and I had some little scabs left on my arms and face, I figured that getting pampered was a good way to put a positive spin on heading back to Merit. It sort of worked, I was feeling much better about my appearance, but by the time I got home in a cab I was completely wiped out. I had planned to select, iron and lay out an outfit for work in the morning, but instead I found myself only having the energy to barely glance in the mirror at my $300 worth of services before I brushed my teeth and headed back to bed.

Monday morning came much too quickly. My alarm went off at 6:30 and instead of struggling to get up, I found myself wracked with anxiety, feeling like it was the first day of high school all over again. The fact that I was really headed back to the office was not only surreal but also completely anxiety-inducing. My heart was already pounding as I practically jumped out of bed into the shower, brushed out my newly blonded locks and put on some light eye make-up and a whole shit-ton of bronzer, attempting to cover up the very pale skin of my face that I’d not been able to tan since the accident. Because it was now officially “Seattle hot” outside I donned on a light but long, bell sleeved dress that had an empire waist and large graphic red and pink floral print, matched with my gold strappy flat sandals. I stopped by the coffee shop on my way to the bus and got a cranberry bran muffin and a latte, which I picked at nervously while waiting for the bus on the corner of 76th St. and Highway 99.

The bus came quickly, and I made it into the office by 7:45. I pressed the button for 29 and rode up in the elevator alone. When the elevator bell chimed twenty seconds later and the doors opened up to the Merit reception it was difficult to relate the brightly-lit and immaculate hallway with the carnage and horror that I’d experienced there only a couple of weeks before. In a creepy mind-fuck, the beige carpeting that had been stained by pools of mine and Martin’s blood was gone. It had been neatly replaced with carpet that was the exact same pattern and color, and the glass doors that had been installed were undamaged replicas of the doors that Rocky had put multiple bullets through.

Even though on the surface it seemed that nothing sinister had happened in that clean and bland office hallway, when I walked slowly over to the doors, my body was overwhelmed with a sudden chill as I took my key card out of my purse. A shiver started at my hair follicles and worked its way all the way down to my calves as I pressed my card close to the sensor box. The buzz of the door provided a sharp break to the quiet hum of the fluorescent lighting in the hallway, and I held my breath.

I don’t know what horrible sight I was expecting to encounter when the door clicked open and I slowly pulled it towards me, but as soon as I stepped through it, I was greeted by the familiar early morning sounds of the IT department chatter on the left side of the kitchen and the coffee machine grinding and humming as it brewed up a morning pot. I paused for a moment, standing just inside the door in the exact place I had survived a bullet wound weeks earlier. I turned around and stared at the door where glass had shattered down on my bloody body, and I had closed my eyes readying myself for death, surveying the normalcy with suspicion. Suddenly out of the corner of my vision I spotted a dark mass coming towards me. I gasped and whirled around, ready to defend myself.

But when I completed my turn and jump combo, I came face to face with one of the IT workers—a large, BO-smelling man with a greasy grey ponytail who was merely putting more wear and tear in the already well defined, grimy carpet trail between the IT department and the coffee maker. He looked at me and blinked, probably surprised by my defensive reaction.