I’ve seen enough of Abigail’s blue notepaper to recognize this at a glance. She hadn’t changed her style of complaining either. I held in my hand a curiously similar list of faults that only a maintenance man could fix: slider of window too hard to move, disposal in kitchen too slow to drain, toilet running excessively, sliding closet door keeps “coming off track,” doorbell jammed, etc., etc. Always polite, she signed her notes with an abbreviated “Thnks” as if vowels were unnecessary and the quick initials AS. I laid this on the table and looked among the debris on the floor for more, shuffling the fallen files into order.
A receipt indicating the return of her initial deposit said September 29, 1976. I flipped to the back of the file where an application was stapled. It was dated March 1, 1976. Her previous address matched Kevin’s on Fifth St.
I tiptoed over to the open door and listened for Barbara’s and Tina’s voice. Then, as quick as I could, I placed the receipt on the drum of the copier, shut the top and hit start. It chugged into use, slow and bright.
I managed to slip what I’d rescued of Abigail’s thick file into the drawer marked “Archive” somewhat near the S’s, and tug the warm copy as it emerged from the Xerox machine before Mr. Eberhard rushed into the office, heading straight for the telephone. His concentration gave me the seconds I needed to pull a fresh folder from the table and appear to be engaged in filing when he looked up and, startled, saw me staring at him. A deer in headlights. I smiled, or thought I did, but was unable to speak. I could feel a tingle of sweat rising from each individual pore. It felt like hot rain. He looked at me kindly.
“You look like you could use some fresh air,” he said. “Hey, Tina,” he called from the door. “Come set up Nora for a walk-through.”
“Got a pen? Make as many notes as you can on what you see. What’s out of order, what needs to be done. Pretend you’re at Arborgate.’
“Do I need keys?” I croaked, wishing I could get him out of the room and rescue Abigail’s work order.
“Just look at the property. Don’t pick up any litter but check which areas are worse than others.” He reached for the phone on the desk and was dialing before I could say more.
I could not seem to move quickly feeling still the withdrawal, pore by pore, of the fright-induced pinpricks. I knew the sensation. It’s exactly how one feels after a near-miss on the road. I must have looked quite calm, making my little show of clearing up, because Mr. Eberhard shooed me out at last without a hint of suspicion.
“Take about an hour,” he said. If I’d had a hat, he’d have handed it to me. “ I’ll drive you to your car on my way to Arborgate later.”
In the outer office Tina handed me a clipboard. “I’ve attached a map of the complex,” she said. “What’s that? A file? Are you looking at a unit?”
“Uh, no. I was just holding it when he came in.”
“I’ll take it,” she said.
“That’s okay,” I said, heading for the door. “It’s empty.”
Burdened now with a folder, clip board, map and legal pad, I walked quickly away from the office burning for a chance to secure the Xeroxed receipt.