Sunday, February 5, 2012

Brian Wolcott and the Court of Unrequited Love (PART 4 of 5)

If you need to catch up, you can read Part 1 over here.

Ali walked resolutely toward the racquetball court, leaving Brian standing in the doorway calling pitifully after her. She turned back to face him.

Security said you knocked over some seven-year-olds running like a crazy man, you're covered in red welts and you won't tell me what happened,” she called back to him in a voice full of frustration. “I'm gonna get to the bottom of this.”

Don't go!” he squeaked.

Come with me, then!”

Brian cowered back, shaking his head violently.

I would go with you but I... can't,” he murmured.

Ali threw her hands up in the air and resumed walking as Brian watched her from the doorway, light from the apartment streaming out and framing his hunched silhouette.

I don't believe this!” Ali said disgustedly to no one in particular as she walked past the mailboxes. Having just returned from her late-night run, Mrs. Bernman was standing at the mailboxes checking her mail. She called to Ali as she passed.

Ali! Where are you going, dear? It's late!”

Ali stopped and turned to look at Mrs. Bernman as if awakening from a trance.

The racquetball court,” she said, matter-of-factly. “Something weird happened to Brian over there and I wanted to check it out.”

Mrs. Bernman's eyes bulged.

You're not going to go there!” she said shakily. “Not at this late hour.”

I just want to get to the bottom of this,” Ali said with a shrug. “Now's as good a time as any.”

Mrs. Bernman put her mail back into her box and locked it. She started hurriedly toward Ali.

Oh, please don't go there, honey,” she pleaded. “It's a bad place.”

Ali narrowed her eyes and put her hands on her hips.

Yes, I was getting that impression. And you seem to know a lot about it.”

Mrs. Bernman looked embarrassed and then her wrinkled face took on a worried expression.

You're really going to go?”

Of course I am,” Ali laughed. “Unless you know of some reason why I shouldn't?”

Mrs. Bernman looked harassed and after a short pause she grumbled in defeat, “Alright. Suit yourself. I'll go with you, though.”

The two women walked briskly through the night air toward the racquetball court. Moonlight filtered through the bare winter trees and reflected off of the few inches of murky water in the deserted pool. When they reached the court Ali gave the court door a pull.

Locked!” Ali said bitterly, continuing to pull on the door.

What did you expect at this time of night? That they'd leave it open? So some hobo can come live in here?” Mrs. Bernman said.

Mrs. Bernman motioned Ali to step aside and she set her feet wide apart and grabbed the door handle. Ali looked on curiously as Mrs. Bernman gave the door handle a mighty pull. The door swung open and Ali shot Mrs. Bernman a questioning look.

That's not natural,” Ali said. “Aren't you, like, a hundred or something?”

Mrs. Bernman shrugged and said, “There's a trick to it.”

Ali followed Mrs. Bernman inside and said, “When are you going to tell me what you know about this court?”

Mrs. Bernman ignored Ali and the two women stepped into the court, which was pitch black. Mrs. Bernman clicked on the light switch and the over head lights flickered on. Both women immediately covered their eyes and stood blinking for several moments. When her eyes had adjusted Ali looked out at the court. It was littered with Brian, Matt and Kurt's spare racquetballs but otherwise empty.

Something scared them,” Ali said uneasily. “Brian would never have left all these racquetballs behind otherwise.”

Mrs. Bernman looked thoughtful. She looked the court up and down and seemed to be thinking hard to herself. Ali waited for her to speak but she was silent for several minutes.

What was it, Mrs. Bernman?” Ali asked darkly. “I know you know.”

Mrs. Bernman looked helpless and held her open hands out.

I wish I knew, Ali,” she said hesitantly. “I really couldn't say.”

Ali looked at Mrs. Bernman and Mrs. Bernman looked away. Ali picked up a racquetball and hurled it at the front wall angrily. It bounced back toward them and Mrs. Bernman caught it.

I've tried to be respectful because you're just so ridiculously old, but I've had about enough of this,” Ali said sternly. “Brian is covered in welts and is gibbering like a crazy person. Tell me what's going on.”

Mrs. Bernman looked as if she might cry and she shook her head.

I can only tell you what I know,” Mrs. Bernman sighed. “It was back when-”

The lights clicked off and Ali gasped. She could hear one racquetball start to bounce on its own.

Mrs. Bernman,” she called out in the darkness.

I don't know what's happening,” Mrs. Bernman's voice returned.

More balls were bouncing now, and picking up speed. Ali heard them hitting the walls and ricocheting back.

Mrs. Bernman!” she screamed. Ali started to feel her way cautiously to where she thought the door was as the racquetballs flew and whizzed around her. Several speeding racquetballs whacked her in the shoulder and arm. She heard Mrs. Bernman groping in the dark. Another racquetball smacked her in the leg.

All at once, above the din of bouncing racquetballs, Mrs. Bernman called out , “Malcolm Washburne, is that you? You stop all this right now!”

The lights winked on and all the racquetballs in the air suddenly lost momentum and dropped to the floor. Ali looked at Mrs. Bernman quizzically, but Mrs. Bernman was staring goggle-eyed at the front wall of the court. Ali looked in the same direction and froze. A thin, wispy figure in the shape of a young man had suddenly appeared there and it began to speak.

Clarice, is that you?”

Tune in next week for the epic conclusion...

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