Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Little Red Riding Hood, Watergate Apartments, Spokane, Washington

     Cannon opened the door and there she was, about twelve years old, red hair pulled back in a pony tail, freckles across her nose, brown eyes flecked with gray. She was holding a straw basket, dressed in a white blouse and jeans with a scarlet cape: Little Red Riding Hood.
     The young girl stepped away, taken aback by Cannon’s scowl. She started a spiel, but was jittery and he could only catch the ending: “… piano lessons.”
     He asked her if she was collecting money for her piano lessons and she nodded. Cannon turned, leaving the door ajar and went into the bedroom, taking five dollars from his wallet. There was something about the girl.
     When he returned she was sitting at the table, across from where Cannon had been eating his salad. A bone-in rib eye was waiting to be seared and Cannon was hungry from a long day.
     “I’m tired and need to rest a minute.” The girl said, looking at him wistfully. “May I have a glass of water?”
     Cannon went to the kitchen and got a small bottle of Fuji Water. He gave it to the girl and then asked if her mother wanted to come in. She told him her mother was a nurse and working nights.
     “She allows you to go out collecting money by yourself? Don’t you know that is dangerous?” Cannon scolded her. “Where do you live?”
     “The next building in 201. I just visit these apartments and I quit at eight. I need the money for my piano lessons.”
     Cannon shook his head. “I admire your initiative, but there are strange people out there. Surely your mother knows better. Do you have a cell phone?”
     “I don’t need a cell phone. I can take care of myself. Believe me.” She said, looking at him. “You have no idea.”
     Since coming into the apartment and settling at the dinner table, the girl had gained confidence. “You remind me of Little Red Riding Hood; I’ll call you Red, okay?”
     “Of course,” she replied, “I like you.”
     Cannon smiled. “You need to leave as I have to finish dinner and do my homework. You can take your water with you.”
     The little girl hung her head, but got up. “I feel good knowing you are here, just a building away. I do need someone.”
     He told her to go home. “No more knocking on doors tonight. When you get to your apartment, go out on the balcony so I can see you are home safely.”
     She agreed and departed, taking a cookie from her basket and handing it to Cannon. “Something for you, so you remember me.”
     Cannon went into the kitchen and got a glass of wine, then went out on the balcony and looked across to the next building where he saw that apartment 201 was dark. Suddenly there was movement and the little girl with her scarlet cape came out on the balcony. “Do your school work and go to bed.” Cannon called softly to her. She nodded and held up her Fuji bottle, and then vanished inside.
     That night Cannon did not sleep well. The girl was on his mind and he worried. Finally, he made a decision and fell into a troubled slumber.
     The next morning Cannon left early and went north of Spokane where cell phone coverage was spotty. His job was scouting areas in the west for cell phone towers. With all the data now being transmitted to cell phones, there was a soaring demand for more capacity.
     Cannon returned at four and went to the building next to his. He paused at the second floor landing. There were two apartments, 201 and 202. He intended to knock on 201; the mother should be home. He wanted to talk to her mother about what Red was doing, maybe offer to shepherd Red as she door knocked.
     But he got cold feet. What would the mother think? What would she say? Better to leave it alone. He turned away as he heard footsteps plodding up the stairs, accompanied by heavy breathing. He looked and saw a portly, gray-haired woman lumbering up the steps carrying four plastic shopping bags.
     Cannon hurried to help her and took the two heaviest bags, then followed her up to the third floor. She produced a key and opened the door of 301.
     “Thanks. You here to see me? What about?” The woman demanded.
     “I’m looking for the woman who lives below you, the nurse in 201; she has a young daughter. Do you know if she is home?” Cannon queried.
     “Below me?” The woman asked, catching her breath. “That apartment is empty, been empty for almost three years, since the tragedy. Occasionally someone comes, rents it a few days, and then they run away. Me? I don’t know nothing.”
     Cannon stood puzzled, staring at the woman. “Do you know a little girl, wears a red cape? She’s been knocking on doors, asking for money for her piano lessons.”
     “That girl? You’re crazy!” The old woman said, slamming her apartment door.
      Later Cannon was puttering in the kitchen, getting ready to sear Italian sausage to add to his sauce for a spaghetti dinner. He stopped and looked around. There it was… a light, almost timid, tapping at his door. He knew the knock, Little Red Riding Hood.   Cannon went to the door and Red was there, with her straw basket wrapped in her red cape. “Hello again, I just wanted you to know I am quitting for the evening and going home now. I know you worry about me.” With that she walked in, brushing past Cannon, taking a seat at the dining room table.
     Cannon laughed and went to the kitchen and got a small Fuji Water bottle, setting it in front of the young girl. This time he took a seat across from Red. “I was in your building today.” He said. “I met the woman who lives above you, 301. She said she did not know your mother, or you. In fact, she claimed the apartment below her has been empty for three years.”
     The young girl frowned. “That must be Mrs. Rumpke. Used to look after me, but now she hates me.”
     Cannon smiled. “It can’t be that bad. Why would she hate you?”
     “Because I killed her dog, an old, mean hound. He lunged at me, so I cut his throat.”
     She reached in her pocket, pulled out a two inch Swiss Army knife, opened the blade, held it up and made a cross-cutting motion. “Just like that.” Red said.
     Cannon was startled, not sure what to believe.
     “I told you I need someone to look after me. Can you?”
     Before Cannon could respond, the girl looked away. “Mrs. Rumpke is an old hag and I wish she were dead.”“I see I have unfinished business tonight.”
     Shaking his head, Cannon told her to go home. And not to worry about Mrs. Rumpke. Red nodded and reluctantly got up, leaving behind a cookie.
     “I know you worry about me. But I can take care.” She said, her gray-flecked eyes solemn as she left. Cannon waited on his balcony until Red appeared and waved.
     The next morning at daybreak Cannon was awakened by a shrill screaming, then loud voices. He got up and went into the living room. The commotion was coming from the building diagonally across from his.
Cannon went out on his balcony and was horrified to see someone dangling from the third floor in the next building. A small group of morning walkers were gawking at the body which swayed in the morning breeze. Cannon stared, and then looked away. It was Mrs. Rumpke.
     That night Cannon sipped a Willamette Pinot Noir and gazed at the fading twilight over the snow-capped Cascade Mountains. He would relocate tomorrow to Boise, Idaho; spend March and early April in Idaho, then on to Wyoming, and then into the Dakotas. With all the new apps on the market, the demand for cell phone capacity was endless.
     Suddenly Cannon froze, his wine glass in mid-air. He held his breath, but all was quiet. There it was again. He cocked his head and felt a chill, the hairs on his neck standing up.
     There was a light tapping at his apartment door.

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