Chase – Seven Years Ago
My phone buzzed on my desk. I picked it up and barked without saying hello. “You’re late.”
“Did you really expect me early?” Peyton asked. I knew she was smiling from her voice.
I shook my head and smiled back even though I wasn’t happy she was late. Again. “Where are you?”
“I got out later than I thought and had to make a stop. Go on without me. I’ll meet you at the restaurant instead of your office.”
For an actress, she really needed to work on being less transparent. “Where you heading, Peyton?”
“Just running an errand for Little East.”
“Running an errand or following Eddie?”
“Aren’t they the same thing?”
“No, they’re not. Please tell me you’re not heading uptown again to that homeless camp.”
She was quiet.
“Damn it, Peyton. I thought we agreed you weren’t going to do this shit anymore.”
“No, you told me I wasn’t going to. That’s not the same as agreeing.”
I dragged my fingers through my hair. “Wait for me at the coffee shop on 151st Street when you get off the subway.”
“You’re being overprotective. Is this what it’s going to be like when we’re married? Are you going to expect me barefoot and pregnant, waiting with your slippers at the door?”
I’d proposed two days ago. It was probably not a good idea to tell her I’d love exactly that. At least then I’d know what the hell she was up to. I grabbed my suit jacket from the closet in my office and headed for the elevator.
“I’m on my way, you pain in the ass.”
Out on the sidewalk, I called my sister as I trekked to the subway to tell her we would be late.
“You’re going to be late to your own engagement celebration?”
“This thing was your idea, not mine. You look for any excuse to throw a party.”
“My little brother is getting married. It’s a big deal, not an excuse. God knows we all thought you’d die from some STD before Peyton came along.”
“This is not a discussion we’re having. We’re going to be late because my bride-to-be thinks she’s Columbo. I gotta go.”
“Forget it. I’ll see you in a bit. And thanks, Anna.”
By the time I exited the subway up on 151st Street, it had started pouring. As soon as I could get cell service, I called Peyton’s phone. She didn’t answer.
“Fuck,” I grumbled to myself and went to stand against the nearest building. Rain pelted down diagonally, and I had to cover my phone with one hand just to keep it dry. I hit redial and waited for Peyton to answer. She didn’t.
“Goddamn it.” I knew the makeshift homeless community wasn’t far, and I assumed Peyton hadn’t bothered to wait. Pulling up Google maps on my phone, I found the area of the park with the trestle. It was only three blocks away, so I started to walk in the rain. Every thirty seconds, I hit redial. I grew more and more anxious each time the ringing went to voicemail. There was a strange feeling in the pit of my stomach, and after the third unanswered call, something made me start to jog.
I turned the corner and saw the area under the trestle that Peyton had described off in the distance.
Peyton’s voice came on, telling me to leave a message at the tone.
Something felt off. Horribly off. My jog turned into a run.
By the time my phone vibrated in my pocket, my heart was pounding in my chest. Seeing Peyton’s face flash on the screen should have calmed me, but for some reason, it didn’t.
“Chase, where are you?” Her voice was shaky; I could tell she was scared.
“Where are you?
She didn’t answer.
“Peyton? Goddamn it. Where are you?”
The clank of the cell phone tumbling to the ground was loud in my ear. But it was what came next that would haunt me for years to come.