It was good to have company on a long drive, even if that company stuck his head out the window most of the time. At least Cade got to control the music.
Trying to think like a detective (yet conceding that he probably couldn't), he decided that the logical first stop was Matt's apartment in Amherst, Massachusetts. He flipped open his cell phone, dialed the number he had written on a scrap of paper, and the apartment manager picked up on the second ring. Cade identified himself and what he wanted to do, to which the manager readily agreed. He tossed the phone carelessly onto the passenger seat, forgetting that it was occupied. The phone bounced off Loki's back; he raised his head, looked around, and promptly went back to sleep.
Twenty minutes later, he was back on the Mass Pike, pointed in the direction of, but not going, home. He had about two hours to kill; his mind wandered...to much happier times, fortunately. He drove West, the rising sun at his back.
* * *
They made only one stop during the trip, for gas and a breakfast sandwich. When they pulled up to Matt's apartment, Cade saw a man dressed in ratty jeans and an even rattier Green Bay Packers sweatshirt trimming the hedges that ran alongside the building under windows that looked brand-new. Cade knew that they were, because they were being installed the last time he had been here, less than four months ago.
Four wasted months.
Putting his grief aside, he pulled into the parking space closest to Hedge Trimmer Guy and got out with a simple "Stay" to his companion. It was unnecessary, but old habits were hard to break. He walked towards Hedge Trimmer Guy who dropped what he was doing when he noticed Cade walking his way.
"Mr. Becker?" he offered.
"Cade. Yeah. Mr. Yuroff?"
"Yuri." They shook hands. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a key ring with surprisingly few keys on it for an apartment manager's key ring. "Let's head up" he said as he deftly flipped to the right key. He stopped on the top step before the door, looking at the car, engine still ticking.
"Your dog coming, or what?"
* * *
The smell hit them as soon as the door to Apartment 415 swung open just a few inches. Cade, mortality still at the forefront of his mind, initially mistook it for the smell of death. It was nothing so poetic.
It was the smell of the rotting steak on the table. They would find more rotting food in the fridge.
"You know, I thought I smelled something, but I thought it was that slob next door." He moved to the window and raised his eyebrows, seeking confirmation that he should open it.
Yuri complied, Cade watching with interest as he raised it slowly and evenly, making almost no noise at all. It looks like he doesn't want to disturb the crime scene. At another time, that might be amusing.
"When was the last time you saw my brother?"
Yuri made no attempt to move away from the window while he thought about the question. Loki, who had positioned himself under the manager's hand so that he could scratch the dog's head with minimal effort, made no attempt, either.
"Couple weeks, at least. Then again, he was pretty quiet. I never knew if he was here until he stopped by my place to drop off the rent or something, and even then, sometimes he just slid it under the door. In fact, the rent's a few days overdue, so I haven't seen hide nor hair of him in over a month, now. His car, neither."
The two fell into silence.
"I have to finish up the hedges. Just give me a yell when you're done, and I'll lock up."
Yuri looked at the dog, still attached to his hand. "He have a leash or something? I could tie him up outside, you know, let him soak up some sun."
"Backseat. It's unlocked."
Yuri nodded and clicked his tongue in rapid succession, like he was leading a horse. Cade said, "Go ahead" and the dog did. They got to the threshold when Cade said, "I appreciate it, Yuri."
Yuri led the dog downstairs. Cade stepped to the window, breathed deep a few times, and watched as Yuri went to the car, grabbed the leash, and tied Loki to a nearby tree, close enough for the dog to feel comfortable yet far enough for Yuri to safely swing around his electric hedge trimmers.
He was getting used to the smell, so he walked around the apartment. Other than the food situation, which was more than a little odd, everything was as he remembered it. Untidy without being dirty, almost entirely "sheets used as curtains" utilitarian, Melissa liked to call it "bachelor-chic". Cade's own penchant for such decorating had long since been married out of him, but he still had a fondness for it.
He walked into the bedroom. Acording to Cade's watch, the digital clock on the nightstand was 26 minutes fast. My father's son. The drawer held a box of a dozen Trojan condoms with six missing. Well done, bro. Nothing else out of the ordinary.
"What the hell am I doing?" he asked of either himself or the empty room. He got the same answer from both. "I must be out of my mind."
He returned to the kitchen, grabbed some trash bags, and just started throwing out food in sandwich bags, aluminum foil, and Tupperware by the armful. The entire fridge took only a few minutes. The last thing to go was the steak on the table. This bothered him, not only because it was most likely his brother's last meal, but it also implied that Matt had felt compelled to leave in a hurry. Cade could see him get up and leave, still chewing, headed to...where?
It was a possibility.
He sat down in the chair where Matt had been. He stared at the spot where the plate had left a subtle circle in the dust. He sighed and looked into his lap.
Matt's wallet was under the table. He picked it up. It was probably nothing, but if he was being honest with himself, he had to admit it was all he had. He tucked it into his pocket and stood up.
He tied off the trash bags, shut the door behind him, and lugged them outside to the dumpster that he had seen on the way in. Yuri had finished with the hedges, and was now sitting under the tree with Loki's head in his lap.
"Dog person, huh?"
Yuri laughed. "Apparently so. You boys hungry? I make a mean fajita."
Shortly thereafter, Cade had to agree.
To be continued...