Sequence: Alas Falada (part three)
She snugged her sash, and bending over Martin, traced his bare shoulder blade. Freda didn’t believe investigating noises was a man’s job, necessarily. She felt that Martin ought merely to be told what she’d been about when last seen.
“Someone,” she whispered, “is pottering in the kitchen. A burglar.”
He sat up, and tilted his head. A drawer opened and closed. Whoever it was left the kitchen, his movements becoming a distinct tread of feet. “Healy,” Martin told her, whispering too. He got up, and found his trousers. “Drunk. Forgot he doesn’t live here now. You just stay where you are, and I’ll go talk to him.”
“You think…not a burglar?”
“No, listen…” They heard the springs of the sofa, a tune whistled through teeth. Martin slipped out, and closed the door. Freda saw the living room light shine suddenly, a thin margin around the door frame, a wide bar at the bottom that made her blink, and seemed to throw the bedroom into blackness. She heard new noises, a thud and a grunt, three bumps in rapid sequence, the last ending with a disturbing squelch.
The apartment had only one telephone, and it was out there. The bedroom had a window. Freda found herself on her toes, half-turned, half-panicked―and partly persuaded that she should go the other way, towards the living room. It might all be nothing.
The door burst open. There were two of them, that was all she knew. That, and the cloth, pressed to her face.
Bruner recalled closing the door. The intruder, a human shadow silhouetted by light from the street, cocked an ear and watched expectantly, his arm thrown over the sofa back—the way a party guest would wait for the host. Bruner wasn’t bothering to speak, not until he’d got his finger on the switch-button. He could even recall coaching himself…Healy might be a dog, as well as drunk…might have supposed Freda here alone. The ceiling light, feeble in strength and amber in hue, had shown him an unknown face, wearing a merry sort of leer; the man had looked right over Bruner’s shoulder. But the telegraph arrived too late. There’d been a shock.
Now again the room was dark, and he heard low murmuring, far away. He thought he’d been left here, the rough fibers of the rug glued to his face by drool, or by the watering of the eye jammed there by the weight of his head. Freda…she was behind the door, where they were…Bruner pushed with a hand that seemed also in contact with the rug. He couldn’t find his other hand. He labored at this objective, got leverage from a knee, popped the arm he’d fallen onto free. From the elbow down, he felt nothing for an instant, then an agonizing prickliness. And knew he was going to vomit, if he did not lay his head down and breathe.
(2018, Stephanie Foster)