Ch 32: No Answer

23 5 1

[still then]

It had started with a phone call from Monty, on the last Thursday in February, at 9 a.m.

"You need to give Sam's ring back, Ms Greenberg," the agent had barked, with no introduction.

"Hi, Monty," Tova sighed. "He can have it back if he wants. He couldn't call himself, I guess," she'd mumbled, thinking aloud.

"He's busy."

"So I've heard." Annoyance was winning out over sadness in Tova's veins.

"You can drop it off at my office today. I'm here until six."

"I don't believe I can, actually."

"Then I'll come there and get it. Will you be there all day?"

"That's not really your business."

"That ring isn't your property, Ms Greenberg. I don't want to have to involve the police, but I will."

"Okay, Mr. Dickson, this is getting a little creepy. And I'm having trouble believing that Sam asked you to do this."

"I – I'm just looking out for his interests. I'm his agent."

"I'm aware of that. So he didn't ask you to do this."

"That's not your business. You'll be hearing from me again!"

And with that, Monty hung up and finished the call as abruptly as he'd begun it.

Why on earth, Tova had wondered, was the ring so important to him? And where did Sam stand on all this?

At that point curiosity had overcome both annoyance and sadness, and she'd quickly dialled Sam's number. It had rung once, beeped, and told her that the subscriber she was trying to reach was not available.

That was when she'd known she'd have to go see him herself.

Outside her window, big fat flakes of snow had been falling, a typical Toronto late-February snow storm. She'd had the day off work, that day, which was why she'd been available to take Monty's call.

Thinking of Nicky's repeated assertions that the problem had to be addressed, Tova had rubbed some Dubbin into her boots and wrapped herself up for the trip to Sam's.

He'd been living in an apartment across from the Allan Gardens Conservatory, a place she'd avoided since their mysterious estrangement had begun. But it was just a short streetcar ride from Tova's tiny apartment.

"He might not even be home," she'd murmured to herself as she'd stood blinking snowflakes out of her eyelashes at the streetcar stop. "He's probably on tour, in Moosejaw or Gander or some other odd Canadian town named after an animal."

When the streetcar had arrived she'd climbed the steps mechanically and paid her fare, still not sure she should be doing it.

"What am I doing?" she'd thought as she watched the buildings pass by the window next to her seat.

"I should get off here," she'd thought as the streetcar slowed down at the next stop.

She'd sat there, paralyzed, until they reached Jarvis Street, where she'd disembarked and crossed over to Sam's building. Through the glass door into the lobby she'd been able to see the regular concierge at his desk.

She'd opened the door.

"It's good to see you, miss," the concierge had greeted her. "I'll ring right up to Mister Burnside for you, then."

Tova had watched, speechless, as the young man in the green uniform had listened to Sam's phone ring. Up to this moment she'd had no idea what she was going to do when she got here, and he'd solved that problem for her, at least temporarily. She hadn't known whether to laugh or cry about it.

"No answer," he'd said, scowling. "To tell the truth, miss, I've been worried about Mister Burnside. Why don't you go up and knock on his door."

After taking a deep breath, Tova had done just that.

At first she'd knocked softly with her middle knuckle, not wanting to disturb the neighbours. The concierge had seemed certain that Sam was in his apartment, but there'd been no sound from inside.

"Sam?" she'd called through the door, striking it more assertively and with more knuckles. "Sam, it's Tova – are you okay? I brought your ring, Monty said you wanted it back. Sam? Your doorman is worried about you. Are you okay?"

She'd held her breath and pressed her ear against the panel. At the very edge of her auditory perception, there'd been sounds: a rustle, a whisper, a sigh, a soft moan.

A sepulchral voice had called her name.

"Sam!" She'd rattled the door handle, and the door had opened.

The room had been dark and smelled musty, smelled of sickness and sweat. She'd let the light and the air from the hall drift inside for a minute as she'd tried to make out shapes in the gloom.

There was his sofa, no more than eight feet from the apartment's threshold, its outline blurred and irregular.

"Sam? Are you there?"

"Ah, Tova honey," he'd whispered, his voice weak and rough. "I hate for you to see me like this, but I could use your help. Not that I have the right to ask for it."

She'd fumbled under the lamp's shade on the side table until she'd found the switch and turned it on low.

Then she'd crouched next to the sofa and instinctively put her hand on Sam's forehead. He'd been wrapped in his bathrobe and a blanket, his skin pale and clammy, his eyes red.

He'd coughed. "Could y'all make me some tea?"

"Of course I will. What happened to you?"

"I think it's some kind of flu.  Either that or Monty poisoned me."

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