Click! Nothing! “Fuse must of blown!”
I’ll say one thing for old Garrani: He has no fear of the unknown. None at all! Or maybe he’s just insensitive to atmosphere? While I’m standing petrified in the doorway, my nerves straining to catch a betraying sound, Garrani walks calmy across the sitting-room to flick the light switch on the far wall. He’s positioned right next to the bedroom door – and it’s open, God help him!
I try to sing out, to warn him, but I’ve lost my voice. At any moment the old lady will come hurtling towards him like a banshee, knife upraised like the schizo in Psycho!
Click, click! Still nothing. “Fuse”, he confirms, calmly stomping back. “Soon fix him.”
“Just a minute, Mr Garrani,” I plead, laying my hand on his arm as he shuffles past.
“Won’t be a sec,” he declares. And he’s gone.
What could I say? Mrs Erwin is probably not hiding in here after all. Another false alarm!
I push the front door open as wide as I can, and suddenly the lights in the corridor go out again. They’re on a three-minutes switch, thanks to our penny-pinching Body Corporate. God, I jumped! Pitch black! If Mrs Erwin had lunged towards me, I was dead. I’d never hear her coming, thanks to Susan’s thick carpet!
I groped for the wall and threw myself on the floor. Maybe I could make a dash to the french doors leading to Susan’s balcony? Heavy drapes effectively masked even their outline, but I could catch the muffled hurt of the waves breaking on the rocks embe dded in the shallow beach below.
Maybe that’s where the old witch was hiding? Behind the drapes or on the balcony itself?
Best wait for back-in-a-sec Garrani!
What was keeping the old fool? Be back in a sec!
I scarcely dared to breathe. The suspense was choking me.
At least the door stayed open. I’d swung it right over and there was no way it could close by itself. I couldn’t tolerate being shut into this room. The whole atmosphere has become stiflingly oppressive. This is where Susan had lived – and died so suddenly, violently, the young life ruthlessly choked out of her in a few screaming seconds. Her spirit still abided in the sterile modernity of her furniture, still hid behind the bandage of drapes which shut out the pain of the sea, still radiated from the bleak orderliness of every too-neat Lust-for-life Van Gogh print and Toby-charged piece of china.
The corridor lights snap on suddenly and Susan’s sitting-room bursts into a reflected still life. This was the same carpet and over there… But I’m not afraid any more. Bring on all your mad Mrs Erwins, come out all you crazy knife-slashers, you psycho zombies! I’m not scared of you! I don’t care any more whether I live or die. I don’t care!
Old Garrani is taking his time. The lights came on in the corridor. I heard the door open and close, but now I don’t hear so much as a shuffle. Who turned on the lights?
I can’t take it any longer. I roll over to the doorway, scramble to my feet and look up and down the hall. No sign of old Garrani. No sign at all! The whole passage is empty – and just as I realize I’m all alone, the lights snap out again.
This time I won’t coddle myself in the past. This time I won’t be caught shivering like a wedding guest who finds himself at a funeral. I stride off into the dark, brushing my arm against the wall until I hit the switch. Furiously, I punch it in! If had a wad of chewing gum…
A loose button on my shirt. I yank it off and jam it into the socket. It works!
Don’t creep up behind me like that! “Where’ve you been?” I shout angily.
His rheumy old eyes open wide in surprise. “Fuse box.”
“What took you so long?”
“I’m tryna tell ya! Some thievin’ bastard’s made away with all the spare fuses – the whole packet gone. The whole packet!”
“Who’d take a packet of fuse wire?”
“You tell me. You’re the bloody expert! The place over-run with coppers all day, and some clown swipes all me bloody spare fuses right under their stupid noses!”
“So we’re still in the dark?”
“Not exactly. I nicked Mrs Erwin’s. Reckon she won’t be usin’ her lights for a while. Well, come on, let’s get this over with. What exactly ya lookin’ for anyway?” He’d now reached Susan’s sitting-room, reached inside, flicked the switch and turned on the light. Grunting with triumph, he looked up at me for applause.
I had to admit I was impressed. The old codger was more ingenious than his slovenly and even comical appearance pre-supposed.
I checked his pistol and stalked over to the drapes on the balcony doors. Despite my blood freezing over, I made a good show. Grabbing a handful of gray velvet, I jerked it back with such gusto, the curtain rings squealed in protest.
No-one was hiding behind the drapes and the balcony doors were locked.
“What do you make of this, Mr Garrani?
He was so eager, he positively ran over. “Key’s gone,” he said unnecessarily. He rattled the door handles. “Locked,” he conjectured. He peered through the glass. “Won’t be nothin’ out there anyway.”
Just someone hiding around the corner, just out of sight! “You can lock the doors from outside?”
He scratched the back of his neck. “I guess so, Mr Manning. But who’d want to lock themselves out on a balcony? Tell me that!”
“You’ve got keys for these doors?”
“Nope. Never need ’em.” He scratched the stubble on his chin. “Tell you what though, Mr Manning: all balconies the same. Mrs Erwin’s next door – we could borrow hers!”
I was glad he said “we”.