He passed the house and parked around the corner. He carried both HP boxes back to the apartment house. They were big, but they were not heavy. He just needed to act like they were. As he hoped, the manager occupied apartment one. Schram was in #11, up two flights, on the top floor. Someone had already written Richie Schram on the label next to #11. All the labels were printed in the same feminine handwriting. He set the boxes carefully on the porch and rang #11.
After a minute, he rang #1. The name printed on the label was J. Ramirez, Res. Manager. He could hear her coming. When she opened the door, she was smiling, apparently perfectly glad to see a handsome UPS man at her door. She was about 40, chubby but sexy in bright stretchy clothes.
“I have a delivery for a R-R-R-Richard Schram, #11.” He stared at the label, as if he was just reading what it said.
“Already?” she said.
He knew what she meant, but looked at her and said: “I’m at the end of my delivery day, ma’m.” He was trying to give her the right combination of eye contact and courtesy.
“I mean he’s only lived here about a week, and now he’s getting big packages. I am just surprised.”
“Well, they are addressed to him at this address.” Steele blasted her with one of his best smiles.
“It’s fine,” she said, obviously overwhelmed.
He waited. He wasn’t sure what to ask for. “If you open his door, I could deliver these right to his apartment. I can’t just leave them in the hall, you know.”
She gazed at the packages. “He’s on third floor. Sorry.” She wanted to please him.
“No, ma’m. I’m just glad I don’t have to come back Monday.” He gave her a quick friendly look followed by another smile. Some women like shy smiles more than brassy ones. He thought she’d be that kind. He was right.
“Let me get my keys,” she said.
By the time she had returned, he had hefted both packages. He was worried she’d offer to carry one.
“Follow me,” was all she said as she headed up the stairs. Her pants were tight. Steele couldn’t help but study her well-balanced rump as she led him up four flights. She dangled the keys on a long lanyard.
At the top, she led him to the end of a long hall, the last door was marked 11. She knocked loudly and said “Richie! Richie!” “That’s a rule for landlords,” she said, her look confidential. “We have to call out even if we know the person is not home.” She turned a key in the lock and pushed the door open a little. She hollered “Richie” once again. She backed up a couple of steps to let Steele pass.
There was room for the boxes right inside the door. Steele set them down slowly. He looked around desperately, not knowing what he was looking for. He was trying not to look desperate, but it was too late to act casual.
“Ma’m, would it be too much to ask to use the bathroom? I’m desperate. I’ll be just a minute.” She looked dubious. He faced her and shrugged, holding his palms outward, completely helpless. “I know it’s unusual,” he said, wearing a face of perfect innocence.
“It’s all right. You go ahead. It’s just through the living room there. No problem.” She didn’t want him to feel bad about it. She was still standing in the hall. The door was half open.
Steele went into the living room. Weight lifting equipment and a lifter’s bench took up most of the space. He saw the bathroom on the right, but turned left into the kitchen. There on the kitchen table was an old Panasonic boom box and another smaller device. Piled next to them were some music CD’s and blank cassette tapes. It was an old boom box that allowed you to make tapes of your CD’s. The other device was a battery operated portable cassette player in a black leather case. It was not much bigger than the cassette itself. He leaned down to read the backs of the music CD’s. They were greatest hits from the 50’s—Elvis Presley, Ricky Nelson, Chuck Berry, Fats Domino, Little Richard, and The Killer, Jerry Lee Lewis. He also had some 60’s rock—Beatles, Stones, Motown, Grateful Dead. There were more, but he didn’t dare to take more time to look at them.
He turned to go, but he stopped stunned in front of the refrigerator. On it were printed in red marker four 10-digit phone numbers. The second one in the list was Steele’s cell phone. He looked around frantically for something to write with and spotted a pencil on the kitchen counter. In his pocket he found the receipt for the clothes he was wearing. He held the receipt against the refrigerator and quickly wrote all four numbers on it. He put the pencil back exactly as he’d found it. He turned and walked back out of the apartment, rejoining the manager who was waiting patiently in the hall.
He gave her a look of gratitude. “Thank you,” he said. “That was close.”
She laughed. “No problem,” she said.
It occurred to him that she might have noticed that he hadn’t flushed the toilet or run any water. You’d think she would have expected to hear that. Perhaps she really didn’t notice. He thanked her again, said goodbye, and went back out to the street. He checked to see that she wasn’t looking after him, wondering where his brown van was parked.
When he got to his car, he looked at his watch. Only 4:20 PM. Suddenly he was flooded with the realization that Schram would be able to guess what had happened while he was gone. What else could he think when he opened the boxes filled with foam? Who had addressed them so carefully? How had he gotten in? He would ask the manager, and she would tell him everything about the man in brown. Then Schram would know that someone had seen the equipment on the kitchen table. He would know someone had seen the phone numbers on the refrigerator. Schram would put it together. It would stoke his fire, provoke something unpredictable.
Steele sat in his car. He’d botched the job. He needed a plan. This called for rework. If you don’t do it right the first time, you have to go back and make it right, even if it costs you.
He ransacked the glove compartment looking for something official. He found a plain #10 envelope containing a folded sales receipt for a set of tires he’d bought last fall. The receipt was set up as a form, carbonless, multicolored triplicate, the white sheet removed and retained by the dealer. He slipped the form back into the envelope. He put it into his wide front shirt pocket, half of it stuck out. He started walking casually back toward the apartment building and rang #1.
She opened the door immediately. “Yes?” She wore a hopeful smile. He wondered whether she was hoping he’d come back for her?
“I’m so sorry,” Steele said. “I made a mistake with the delivery to number 11. The customer called in a change order yesterday, and we guaranteed delivery to a different address.” He pulled out the envelope and unfolded the form. “Let’s see. Richard Schram requested we deliver the equipment to his workplace. Goodwill Industries, downtown.
“He does work there,” she said slowly, but they’ll be here for him as soon as he gets home from work,” said the landlady.
“I know. It seems like nothing, but the customer paid for guaranteed delivery. I’m very sorry to bother you again, ma’am.”
“It’s okay,” she said. “Call me Juanita. I better come with you.”
“Thank you. You are saving me from a lot of trouble.”
“You are welcome, um...” She hesitated, wanting him to fill the gap.
“J-j-John,” he said.
“Hi, John. She held out her hand to him. He held it, squeezed it, and gave her another look.
Again he watched her ample rear as she climbed the stairs in front of him. Again she knocked, hollered, and opened Schram’s door. Steele picked up both boxes at once, catching himself and boosting them upward with a show of effort. He carried them out into the hall. She closed the door and double-checked to see it was locked.
“If he comes in from work tonight carrying those boxes, then I’ll have a big laugh,” Juanita said, laughing already. Steele laughed along with her. He wanted to warn her. Don’t laugh at him. Don’t talk to him. Stay far away from him. He’s dangerous.
He wrestled the boxes into his car and left the neighborhood. It was only 4:30 PM. He was getting a new appreciation how some important things take only moments to accomplish. He had already accomplished a great deal today. Now he’d go home, shower the gel out of his hair, get dressed, and eat. He hadn’t eaten for a long time.