Part 133: An Uneasy Feeling
yelling. Far away from this chaos, a lone car made its way along quiet side streets and parked up on the kerb by Cape West Apartments. As the engine stopped, the door was kicked open and a man emerged, gruffly cursing the cold weather.
Clutching his thick jacket around a plain white shirt and black tie, the man reached a gloved hand into the car and withdrew his briefcase.
Drawing himself up to his full six-foot height, he slammed the door shut with his free hand and grasped the lapels of his jacket, defending himself against the bitter cold. Heels dragging with the weight of the world, the man shuffled towards the front door of the building.
His name was Kyle Hyde. A door-to-door salesman for Red Crown, Hyde's job took him up and down the Californian coast. But it was this place -- Cape West Apartments, specifically room 202 -- that he called home.
As Hyde approached the small staircase leading up to the front door, he stopped and
Hyde was a rational, no-nonsense man. Panic and stress were usually foreign words to him. But today was different. A voice rang out in his head like a broken record, repeating the same phrase over and over.
"Know what, Hyde? I've had enough of your bull. You're fired!"
It was four years now since Hyde had packed in his job as a New York detective and moved all the way across the country to California. He had taken the salesman job as an in-betweener, something to put food on the table while he searched for a proper job. And here he was, still doing it. He was honestly surprised that it had taken him this long to be fired; he wasn't exactly the best salesman in the world.
When Hyde first moved to LA, he had been contacted by Ed, an old acquaintance. Ed's offer of a job as a door-to-door salesman had baffled Hyde at first -- Hyde had never been a people person, so it seemed like the worst job imaginable for him. He had to admit, though, that Ed's offer was a generous one -- Ed was the only person in LA who knew Hyde's secret, and yet he was still willing to hire him.
Hyde's secret was the one thing keeping him from moving on for the past four years. He was in search of his ex-parner, Brian Bradley.
Bradley had disappeared four years earlier. He was undercover, investigating a crime syndicate called Nile, and it was discovered that he was on the take and leaking police information to them. When Hyde found out, he confronted Bradley on a pier and shot him. Bradley fell into the water and Hyde never saw him again. He had been searching for him ever since, to ask him the simple question: "Why did you do it? Why did you betray the force and your partner?"
After Bradley's disappearance, the brass closed the Nile case. Hyde was furious, and he quit on the spot.
He began slacking off jobs he didn't like, ignoring his pager for extended periods of time and being generally unreliable. It had all come to a head that very day, with Ed yelling down the phone:
"Know what, Hyde? I've had enough of your bull. You're fired!"
Ed's angry voice still stinging like a slap across the face, Hyde took a deep breath and began to ascend the stairs to the front door.
As he was going up, the door opened and someone came out.
The person in question was a smartly-dressed woman with a wide-brimmed hat and large sunglasses. Hyde's first impression was that she was fairly young and not very subtle about her desire for privacy if she felt the need to cover up so much at this time of night. The two passed each other on the stairs without a word.
Hyde grabbed the door handle and paused, turning for another look at the mysterious woman. She was getting into a car at the foot of the stairs. She started the engine and turned on the piercing head-lights. As she rolled up her window, Hyde caught a glimpse of her profile.
*Don't know her.* With that, Hyde pushed on the front door, which cracked open.
As soon as she saw who was standing in the lobby, he knew his bad day wasn't over yet.
Greeting Hyde like an old friend was his neighbour from 201, Tony Wolf. A musician by trade, albeit not a successful one.
"Hey, man, long time no see!" Tony said cheerfully.
Tony's lax demeanour always rubbed Hyde the wrong way. The man was practically penniless, and yet his attitude setting still managed to be jammed on cloud nine.
Although, Hyde reasoned to himself, if Tony had been here the whole time, he might actually be useful for once...
Hyde asked about the woman in the hat. Tony responded in typical style: lovely lady, no idea who she was, but wasn't she classy?
Tony knew every woman in the building on a first-name basis. If anyone could have identified her, it was him.
Hyde, on the other hand, was hardly ever at home thanks to his job. As a result, he barely knew any of the other tenants.
He had got what he wanted from Tony, so he made for the stairs.
"Whoa, man!" Tony cut in. "You're taking off already? No chit-chat for your old pal Tony?"
Hyde paused, going over what Tony had said. *Old pals, after the stunts he's pulled on me in the past?* Someone needed to be set straight.
"Listen, Tony, we just live in the same building," Hyde said. "Doesn't exactly make us best friends, you know."
As four-year neighbours, Tony clearly thought the two of them were like family. Hyde, of course, thought otherwise.
Then Tony asked the question Hyde had been waiting for since the start of the conversation.
"Here's the deal," Tony began. "I got this need for a little cash real quick. My mom's sick and had to check in to hospital. You know how it is. So anyway, I need to scrape together $1000 to cover it all."
Hyde wasn't buying any of it. Two weeks earlier, Tony had come to him with a sob story about his little brother being sent to hospital. Out of the goodness of his heart, Hyde had given him money for a taxi ride. He later found out that Tony had used the cash to take a girl out on a date.
"Aw, man, knew I shoulda gone teetotal..." Tony whined.
Hyde knew that he shouldn't have been surprised, but he still felt cheated. A bar tab. Big surprise there.
Tony, seeing the obvious signs of Hyde's anger, apologised sincerely. "Cross my heart, I won't try a stunt like that again. You got my word."
"Yeah, yeah, and the rest," Hyde retorted. "I hear the same thing every month. I predict I'll be hearing it next month too."
"Wait, what?" Tony said, nonplussed. "There won't be a next month. This month's all we got left."
Hyde stared back. "What do you mean, all we got left?"
Was Tony moving? Possibly to a place with lower rent, given his financial situation. But Tony merely shot Hyde a suspicious look.
"Man, I'm talking about the letter Mags sent out. Tell me you got the letter? Would have arrived in your mailbox about a week ago. We all got one."
Hyde barely even checked his mail once a week. He wasn't interested in flyers and bills.
According to Tony, the landlady, Margaret Patrice, had sent out a letter a week ago. The letter said that the
hall from Hyde and worked in a shop selling fashion accessories.
"So, what are you guys talking about?" she asked. Before Hyde could protest, Tony told her the whole story.
"No way! He didn't know?" Betty snorted. "That's so like you, Kyle! You always act so focused. Then again, I guess we all have our quirks."
Hyde shrugged it off. Betty was just like Tony, acting like they were all living in a college dorm. He had no time for their antics.
Tony and Betty started chatting about the big move. Betty had apparently already found a new place to live. When Tony complained about her not telling him, she gently reminded him of the same thing Hyde had just said -- that they were living in the same building, but they weren't really friends.
"Anyway, I've got to dash. Don't want to be late for my date!" Betty headed out the door at top speed, leaving Tony gazing wistfully after her.
Hyde knew he was going a bit too far, but he couldn't help himself. "Face it, Tony, you don't exactly exude charisma."
Tony balked. "Yeah, thanks for that, friend. Way to kick a man when he's down, right?"
He shook his head. "Listen, man, I'm off for a walk. Later."
Tony took off out the front door. With both of the walking loudspeakers gone, Hyde was finally able to think again. He tightened his grip on his briefcase and continued on to the staircase.
Shower time, he thought. Maybe I can wash this hellish day away.
"Good evening, Mr Hyde."
The voice came from behind him, and it belonged to a petite middle-aged woman in a black dress.
Hyde knew the voice right away -- Margaret Patrice, the landlady of Cape West Apartments. She had bought up the building when it was still Hotel Cape West, and had refurbished it into apartments. As landlady, she lived on the first floor. The other residents generally referred to her as Mags, half out of affection and half out of irony, given her steely personality.
Mags had kept the whole building in very good shape over the years, despite its age.
She got to the point straight away. "Mr Hyde, I always check the mailboxes when I pass and yours is practically overflowing!"
Hyde knew there was no point in arguing with Mags, so he simply nodded and promised he would deal with the matter.
"Also," Mags continued, "there was something I wanted you to pass on to Mr Wolf. Please ask him to kindly furnish me with four months' worth of rent that he owes me."
Hyde had always been amazed at Mags's ability to remain cool and composed, even in frustrating situations like this.
Tony was lucky he went out when he did, mused Hyde. *But did he have to leave me here to be scolded by the schoolteacher?*
It occurred to him then that Tony wasn't the only one behind on his rent. And just as he realised that, Mags voiced the thought.
"And by the way, Mr Hyde, I believe you are two months behind on your own rent. I'd appreciate it if you could pay me the $400 you owe by the end of the week."
Hyde could only nod.
Mags nodded back briskly and made to return into her apartment.
"Before you go," Hyde said, "mind if I ask you something? Why did you decide to sell this place all of a sudden?"
"Ah," said Mags. "I had a feeling you'd ask. Originally, I had no intention of giving this place up."
Hyde wasn't surprised. Cape West Apartments was a four-storey building with a café on the first floor. It was quite old, but it had a mellow, relaxing atmosphere to it. The fourth floor had never been renovated and still had the old hotel rooms on it, but almost every other room was full. From Hyde's perspective, it looked like a money machine.
Mags continued. "But, you know, sometimes unexpected things happen, and... Well, it's complicated."
*Complicated? What's so complicated?*
Hyde pressed further about Mags's situation, to which she pointed her finger at him and bluntly replied, "It's not easy for a widow like me to take care of a place like this, you know. I can trust you to understand that, can't I?"
Hyde didn't have too much difficulty understanding her situation. His mother, Jeanie, had raised him on her own after his father died. Having seen what she had gone through first-hand, he wasn't envious of Mags's position.
"Also, there are land sharks in the area who are putting me under some pressure. And there are other reasons that I will not go into because, frankly, it's none of your concern. Good
with envelopes. Hyde entered the code on the lock and the mail stack pushed the door open for him, envelopes cascading out all over the floor.
Hyde rifled through the envelopes until he found the one from Mags. He ripped it open, pulled out the letter and read.
"My dear tenants,
After much deliberation, I have chosen to sell this property. The new owner plans to have the building demolished, so it is my unfortunate duty to inform you of the need to vacate at your earliest convenience. Further information will be posted on the noticeboard in the coming days.
So it was true. They had to vacate their apartments, and everyone else had known about this for over a week.
With a sinking feeling, Hyde made for the stairs and finally managed to get to the second floor without interruption.
When he reached the second floor, he nearly ran into someone about to descend the stairs. He recognised the man immediately as Dylan Fitchar, the handyman from room 304.
That was all Hyde knew about him. He was quiet, unassuming. Hyde had noticed a somewhat gloomy manner about the man; he had a tendency to look down at the floor as he walked.
He was carrying a hammer, which to Hyde seemed somewhat suspicious, but upon questioning him, Hyde discovered that Mags had asked Dylan to handle maintenance through the building. Dylan explained in his meek voice that he was to look after building right up until the deeds were signed.
How like Mags, thought Hyde.
"Oh, by the way, your door is fine," Dylan murmured, before continuing down the stairs.
Hyde didn't care, as long as it opened and closed. He headed own the corridoe and unlocked his door.
As he entered the room, something fell to the floor. Reaching down, he picked up the small envelope which had, he realised, been lodged between the door and the frame.
The envelope was blank, with no delivery or return addresses. With the envelope in hand, he entered his room and threw his briefcase down on the table in front of him.
Gazing at the battered briefcase, Hyde mused that even it looked tired. It was no wonder, he had been carrying it around with him ever since he came to LA and started working for Ed. It had previously belonged to Hyde's late father, and had been through its fair share of scrapes with both Hydes.
Hyde slipped out of his jacket and absently draped it over the arm of the sofa. Returning to the envelope from the door, he ran his finger across the top to open it and withdrew a letter.
*Item: Locate the Scarlet Star, which disappeared at Hotel Cape West 25 years ago."
An order sheet? Hyde had never received one of these directly; they had always gone through Ed. He wondered whether this was a bad prank.
He was snapped out of his thoughts by the phone ringing. It rang once, however, and then stopped. *Odd.*
The light on the answering machine was blinking, indicating that a message was waiting for him.
He recognised Rachel's worried voice immediately. Rachel was Ed's secretary, and had her own side job: acting as a mediator for Ed and Hyde whenever Hyde was slacking off. Unfortunately there was only so far she could go, and Hyde's latest slip-up had got him fired. He felt it was nice of her to check up on him, though.
There was one more message on the machine. Hyde didn't recognise the voice.
"Kyle Hyde? I have an order for you. The request has been taken directly to your room."
An anonymous order, for an item lost 25 years ago. This was a decidedly odd request.
It had to be some kind of joke. The apartment building had indeed been a hotel 13 years prior, but finding something from 25 years ago was an unthinkable task. Hyde didn't even have the slightest idea what this "Scarlet Star" was.
Hyde went to bed early that night. He knew he didn't have to wake up for work the next day, but the long day had left him feeling exhausted.
But no matter how long he closed his eyes for, sleep refused to claim him. The day's events repeated over and over, challenging his weary mind to make any sense of them.
Losing his job, having to move out... And then there was the order sheet.
When Hyde moved to LA and become a salesman for Red Crown dealt in door-to-door sales. However,