She answers on the first ring, “Natalie?”
“Yes. Listen, are you okay?”
Svetlana takes a moment to comment, “Yes. Why? Something wrong?”
I fill her in about the weird phone calls. When I finish, she says, “I don’t think this has anything to do with Catherine or Amelie. They don’t know you, and they wouldn’t call you or Ali. How would they even have your phone number or know your name? Besides, as crazy as she is, Amelie’s not the kind of person who would get someone to call you like that. I’m sure of it.”
“I’m freaked out. This wasn’t a random phone call. He knew my name. He knows how I look!”
“You’ve never received such phone calls before?” Svetlana asks.
“Okay, so was there anything weird that maybe happened in the last few days?”
Weird? Of course not. Unless we count as weird befriending a Russian mobster’s girlfriend, breaking into an eclectic art collector’s home who stole a jewelry-eating kitten, witnessing cougar-escort sex, and a debt payoff with designer shoes at gun point. I feel like my life took the insane train to Demented Town.
And then it hits me… the creep from the Doors to Hades nightclub!
“Wait. There was that weirdo in the dance club,” I tell her the short version of the story.
“What exactly did he say to you there? I mean, the first time he talked to you—outside the Doors to Hades?” she asks.
“He said to tell Colin… that’s my boyfriend, that Razor is back. And something that this is just the beginning, and that Colin will pay for what he did to her. I have no idea who or what he was referring to. Colin didn’t know either. We thought the creep mistook me for someone else.”
“Okay,” she says slowly. “Plug the phone back in and wait for the next call—”
“Are you insane?” I jump up to my feet.
“Wait. I have a plan.” How can she sound so calm? “Just let me explain and do as I tell you.”
Okay, boss lady. I roll my eyes at another one of Svetlana’s plans. Do I really want to know what she’s going to propose this time?
“If he calls, you let him talk. Even if it’s just crap that you have no desire to hear. We need to know if he’s close by. He called as soon as you turned the lights on, right? That means he knows where you live and he’s watching your windows—”
“What? Fuck no!” My hands start to shake uncontrollably, and I feel my knees go weak, so I sit on my bed before I could fall onto the floor beneath me.
“Natalie, listen. I will bring two of my guys with me. They are good at what they do, trust me. We’ll get him, but we must know where he is.”
I’m about to start hyperventilating, but I try to pull myself together. “Okay, okay.” As I stand up from my bed and take a step toward the window, Svetlana says in her measured, no-nonsense voice, “And do not go look out the windows now or he will know you’re trying to see if he’s close by.”
Geez, is she a mind reader or something? I stop myself and, instead, turn around to plug my phone back in. If I could only take a little peek between those closed curtains.
“What the hell am I supposed to say to that creep when he calls? Do I really have to pick up?”
“Just lead him on to see if he’s outside and if so, where. Let’s say, you stand by the window and brush your hair. If he comments on that, you will know right away he’s seeing you. Then ask him something to figure out where exactly he is, but be careful not to give him any clues about what you’re doing. Makes sense?”
“You’ve done this before?” I squeak.
She sighs. “Let’s just say, you don’t want to know what I’ve had to do before.”
I know, I know. This is insane. Normally, I would call Dad right away, but he and Mom are on their cruise, and I don’t want to spoil their fun. Maybe I should call Dad’s friends from the precinct or his PI buddy, instead of relying on the freakin’ Russian mafia? But last time I did, when he and Mom were traveling, things didn’t turn out well for me. Someone broke into my storage unit downstairs and stole a few boxes of some old, useless crap, including the hideous vase Mom brought from Greece for my birthday. Of course the vase was on the list of stolen items. Mom had a fit about me putting her precious gift in storage instead of properly displaying it in my apartment. Let’s just say, this has been one of many small disagreements Mom and me have had in the past year. You can see why I don’t want to involve my parents in anything that could possibly get solved without their knowledge. Svetlana’s thugs seem like a better option with every passing moment.
The phone rings, and I yelp. Svetlana immediately says, “Keep the cell phone to your ear and pick up the other phone. This way you can hear me, and I can clearly hear what you say to him too. We’re on our way. I just texted the guys.
Geez, who is this girl? I take a deep breath and pick up the receiver. “Hello.” I manage to keep my voice steady.
“Ah, Natalie,” the creep says slowly, his voice dripping with a syrupy sweetness. I’m about to gag.
“What the fuck do you want?” I snap.
Svetlana hisses in my other ear. “Play along.”
Right. I catch a glimpse of myself in the hallway mirror. I walk there to see the idiotic scene better: holding a phone to each ear, elbows out, I look like a complete moron. I see the scarf, hanging limply around my neck and immediately remember the earlier lunacy of the day—breaking into Catherine’s house with the scarf wrapped around my face. I start suspecting I’m cursed by the Wicked Witch Of Madness.
The creep continues in my left ear, “Such a pretty girl, and such a dirty mouth.”
“I’m sorry, I can’t place your voice. Do we know each other?” I try. Nothing better comes to mind and I hope this will do. What I really want to tell him is to ‘suck my dick’. Yeah, okay, never mind the anatomical improbabilities.
He chuckles quietly, just like the phone stalkers do in the movies. Maybe that’s where this nut job gets his ideas. Okay, I can play that game. Or so I hope, because my whole body is now in full freakout mode, quivering uncontrollably, while my heart is beating a crazy staccato rhythm against my ribs.
The psycho whispers, “Maybe we do. Maybe we don’t. Or maybe… I know you, but you don’t know me.”
I refuse to give in to panic. I’m my father’s daughter after all, and there is no way in hell some ass-wipe is going to ruin my evening.
“So what’s your name?” I try to sound upbeat and flirtatious even, which makes me want to throw up. Besides, my acting abilities do not extend past the role of the Glow-Worm in the James and the Giant Peach production when I was in second grade. Needless to say the Glow-Worm didn’t have many lines.
“What do you want it to be?”
I want it to be Hang-Up-And-Disappear. Instead, I say, “How about your real name?”
Svetlana whispers in my right ear, “You are doing great. We’re getting in the car. Will be there soon. If you decide to stand in the window, don’t let him see that you’re holding the cell phone to your other ear.”
Ah, that. I totally forgot. I press my right elbow to my side and shake my hair down so it hides the cell phone in my hand. I pull my scarf with my teeth to cover my arm. There—nobody can even tell that my arm is up.
I live in the corner unit with most windows facing the street. But the window in my spare bedroom is on the perpendicular side of the building. There is a small patch, where in summer some of the neighbors, including old Mrs. Yeng, plant flowers and tend to the tiny vegetable garden. Right now the fenced garden contains only upturned dirt ready for the spring planting. If the stalker is hiding on this side of the building and not on the street side, the only place would be around the old house that sits directly between the apartment building and the garden.
I know the elderly couple that lives in that house. They keep an undisclosed amount of cats and two huge dogs that look totally mean, but in reality are suckers for behind-the-ears scratches and back rubs. So where the hell is he?
“You want to know my real name?” The creep chuckles. Nobody uses it anymore. Just call me Razor.”
I gulp. Razor? That confirms he is the asshole from Doors to Hades! His words from that night are as vivid as ever: Tell that fucking boyfriend of yours that Razor is back. This is just the beginning. He will pay for what he did to her.
To her… to whom? Hell on wheels.
“Natalie,” Svetlana whispers in my ear. “Is he talking? You need to lead him on. Remember?”
Shit, but what do I say now? I clear my throat and say, “Razor, huh? That’s your nickname?”
“Something like that,” he says. “Do you want to know how I got it?”
“I carved a smile on someone’s face. He was an uptight son of a bitch and beat his girlfriend all the time. And then I carved a heart on someone else’s chest, because the asshole didn’t love his wife and cheated on her. Another one got a cross on his back for stealing from homeless women. Do you want to hear more?”
Who is this psycho? An angel of freakin’ justice? I imagine a tall, winged figure wielding a huge blazing sword. Okay, Natalie, focus.
“So you punish the wrongdoers?” I ask, getting even more disturbed by his confession.
“Exactly. One by one. Each of them gets the prize he deserves,” he whispers.
“And now you’re calling me. Did I do something to—”
“Not you!” he roars, and I jump, dropping my cell phone to the floor. I quickly pick it up.
Svetlana is asking what’s going on, but I can’t talk to her without letting the creep know that someone else is listening. She knows that, so I just keep quiet.
“It was him. The man you are with. He killed her!”
I’m stunned. Colin? What? “What do you mean? Killed whom? When?”
“Faith. My Faith,” his voice breaks. He’s sobbing. Okay, this is getting even more bizarre.
“Faith?” I ask. “She died in the car crash.”
“He killed her. He is responsible,” the creep says, and his voice drips with hatred.
“She was driving, and she was drunk. It was an accident.”
“Is that what he told you?”
I’m speechless. Colin wouldn’t lie to me. He wouldn’t. I can’t afford having stupid doubts about the man I trust over some psychopath’s revelations.
“This is what happened. And you need to get your story straight instead of getting all worked up about some imaginary facts,” I hiss.
He’s quiet. Too quiet. Oh, shit, I pissed him off. But then he says slowly, “I will find him, and when I do, he will pay.”
“We are here,” Svetlana’s whisper comes from my cell phone. “Lead him on, come on, Natalie. We need to know where to look for him.”
An ambulance drives by, siren blaring. I hear it coming from both phones. Okay, so the creep definitely is close by. I quickly say, “Listen, let’s talk about this. How about if I meet you somewhere?” I sound crazy even to my own ears.
For a moment I think he’s gone, but then he says, “I would like that.” And this simple declaration scares the living crap out of me. What did I just do? Svetlana better be there with her thugs and their big, illegal guns.
“Making yourself bait is not a good idea.” I hear Svetlana’s disapproving voice.
I ignore her and say into both phones, “There is a bar close to my apartment. They are open really late. It’s called Roy’s Brothers.”
“I will see you walk from your apartment, so don’t try anything stupid.” Razor chuckles, but his laughter doesn’t sound like a laughter should. It sounds like a menacing warning.
I gulp. “Of course not. I will be there in a few minutes. It’s just around the corner from my place, Broadway and Olive—”
“I know where it is,” he snarls. “You have five minutes.” He hangs up.
I figured he knew the place when he didn’t ask right away where it was. But I wanted to make sure Svetlana and her goons knew it too. As if reading my mind Svetlana whispers, “We are parked across from your building. Now we’ll be driving there. Keep the cell phone on. And stick with the street crowd. Don’t walk into any buildings or alleys on your own. Go straight to Roy’s Brothers, okay?”
“He hung up,” I tell her. “Gave me five minutes to get there.”
“You will see me with two guys by Roy’s Brothers. I will pretend to make out with one of them. The other one will be talking on the phone next to us.”
“Okay,” I say in a shaky voice. “Listen. I have the photo of Razor I took outside the Club. I’m texting it to you so you know who to look for.”
I put my jacket and running shoes on. Maybe I should bring something to use as a weapon, but I quickly dismiss that idea. Better leave the fighting to Svetlana’s hooligans.
And so the race begins: with grandma Helga on the loose, Colin turns to the police for help, and Natalie is a stiletto heel tip outside of the law. But being in the wrong has never felt so vindicated.