The Caretakers

Read The Caretakers for Free Online

Book: Read The Caretakers for Free Online
Authors: David Nickle
 
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    The meeting with Miss Erish started earlier than scheduled, in a room other than the one arranged. That meant they were all late, even Evelyn Simmons, who had flown in the day before and, unable to properly sleep owing to the time difference, risen long before the dawn.
    She lingered in her room barely an hour, then took an elevator down to the lobby. It was empty but for the night manager, who dutifully inquired as to her needs and then left her to herself, to wander restlessly from chair to bench to sofa in the cold and quiet predawn.
    Evelyn pored over emails, sent texts to her still-sleeping daughter back in the home time zone. Eventually, she watched the sunrise through the glass walls fronting on the parking lot as she chewed on a bagel from the continental breakfast table, slathered with most of a bubble packet of peanut butter and a dollop of strawberry jam. It had snowed the night before, and the dawn light made bright orange rinds of the frosted car hoods.
    Unbeknownst to her or any of the others, the meeting had commenced at that moment, in its new room and on its new schedule, absent nearly all of them. By the time she sorted that out and arrived ten minutes early, reckoned against her understanding of the schedule, it was too late.
    The skin of Evelyn’s forearms contracted in premonitory gooseflesh as she opened the double doors to the meeting room on the fifth floor, and she shivered as cold air from within washed over her. The room was empty but for its furnishings: eight black leather chairs, a conference table, and a dry-erase board, fringed with half-erased pictographs. The middle of it contained a note, written at some length in the cramped, antiquely cursive hand that Evelyn had come to recognize.
    The note was accusatory: the tone was not as angry as it might have been, but nevertheless quite clearly disappointed. Evelyn stepped out of the room, and checked her email. But there was nothing, certainly no indication as yet of a rescheduling. She had not yet finished keying in a text message to the rest of the group when Leslie Hunter—of course it was Leslie Hunter—stepped off the elevator. He had cropped his hair short to his skull and gained some weight around his middle since the last time.
    â€œMorning, Evie,” he said. “We the first?”
    Evelyn started to explain about the rescheduling but Leslie shouldered past her into the room before she could finish. He read the note himself, shaking his head as he went.
    â€œI should have known,” he said, “when I saw the note on the door.”
    Evelyn had wondered that too when she read that first message taped to the door of the Cumberland Suite, where they were to have met: this one not handwritten but printed on hotel stationery, advising of the relocation.
    What else had changed?
    â€œWell, it’s too late,” she said.
    â€œAny rescheduling email? A text?” Leslie didn’t bother with his phone but motioned to hers, which dangled in her hand at her side. “A call ?”
    Evelyn shook her head no.
    He rocked back on the balls of his feet and forward again, rolling his shoulders and puffing his cheeks—as though bracing himself or readying for a sprint.
    â€œNothing to be done,” she said.
    Leslie swallowed and nodded.
    â€œDidn’t see you at the bar last night,” he said.
    â€œI got in late. Went straight to bed.”
    â€œAnd woke up at four, am I right? Evie, Evie, Evie.” Leslie stepped nearer, touched her forearm. His hand was warm. Was it damp also? Or was she the one sweating? “You have to power through the jet lag. Just stay up as late as you can when you get in. Only way.”
    And that was as close as they got to the nut of it before Andrea Retson and Bill Allen and the new one—[email protected] was the only name that Evelyn knew her as—got off the elevator in a group. Leslie told them what had happened and pointed to the board, but

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