CHAPTER 9: THE PHONE CALL
Night fell without much more incident, as defeatist as that sounded to Keith. But it was for the best, he reminded himself. His world had become embroiled in high strangeness, there was no sense in letting Bethlehem Steel make any decisions here. No tongue, no groping, no boners, no problem.
But he did manage to get her to talk a little bit more, which was good. He found out that the firm liked to get bit wild for its annual Christmas parties, that her family was from Milwaukee, the best dinner in town was at Restaurant Nippon, and that she couldn’t stop watching that new show, Matlock. That last one he make fun of her about.
With the cheese board dwindling to its last crumbs and his pop can long empty, it was time to clean up and go back inside. Dawn he brought down first, though this time he was able to clutch her more shamelessly to his chest as they descended the two stories of grating.
He put everything away while she poked around a little more. Keith liked to shower twice on days like this and Dawn agreed, so they went their separate ways to clean off. (And he was of course sure that it crossed both of their minds to bathe together.) When he was done, and done cleaning up the earlier mess from the bathroom floor, he found her nosing around his studio.
He had four work-benches in the space, racks of shelving holding wood and scrap, a washout sink, and behind a clear bath curtain in one of the partition boxes was his little office, protected from the dust. He used power tools quite frequently in here, and the jury-rigged ventilation only removed so much of it.
“I have to admit, when you said you designed furniture, I was imagining something obnoxious,” Dawn said, her hands running along the legs of a side table.
He pulled a catalog of his '84 work of a shelf and blew the dust off. He opened it to one of the pages with photos and set it down on the floor for her to look at. He was pleased when she did. KEMO, Inc. had done six large commissions that year for residences, three for offices, and sold a decorative sculpture at auction for $4,000.
Dawn looked genuinely surprised. “This stuff is so much more interesting than that coffee table! It’s…”
“A little mid-century, a little nouveau, a little Calder, a little Nakashima…”
He almost forgot that she wouldn’t know what any of that meant. She didn’t seem to need to know to be impressed, though; what was important was that he sounded confident, he supposed.
“And all in bronze!” she gaped.
“I started working with a foundry about ten years ago. It’s been a complete game-changer.”
“Now Nakashima… Nakashima… Where have I heard that name before?”
“You mean George?” Keith asked, grabbing a magazine. “Surely you know George.” He fwapped down the two-page feature on the lauded Japanese-American master.
“Aha!” she practically squealed, pointing at the pages. “Vincent–Vincent Thurlow–has a table of his!”
“He does? I’m jealous.”
“You know if I never change back, I should hire you to design all the furniture that’ll have to go in my new dollhouse.”
“Just think how inexpensive rent will be. You could be making the same figure and living at a fraction of the cost.” He scooped up the reading material and put them away.
“That would be nice…” Dawn’s voice trailed off as she thought about it.
He yawned, stretched, and she looked up at him. “Bedtime already?”
“M’fraid so. You should get to sleep too, you’ve got a phone call to make at 8:30 sharp.”
“Don’t remind me.”
Back outside, he crossed the floor to turn the lights off, leaving the Christmas strand on again.
“Carry me to bed, would you?” Dawn said effetely, and he obliged.
Keith set her on top of the pillowcase and she slipped in. Without taking her eyes off him, the tiny woman pulled off the doll dress, pushed it beyond her head, and twisted a little under the fabric. It was hardly enough to cover her breasts, and stretching her arms above her head brought them tantalizingly close to the edge.
He caged her in and bent down low. “Try to get at least a little sleep, alright?” Keith gave her a short peck on the mouth and chin, a wink as he lifted away, and retreated to his bedroom where he tried to fall quickly asleep.
But the artist tossed and turned, unable to get the image of her in that thin pillowcase out of his head; with a growl reached over to his nightstand for a squirt of body lotion and got to work on himself like a damned teenager.
The mood was very tense in the morning. When Keith checked in on Dawn, she was already clothed and sat on the couch, her body language guarded. It was around 8am, they had half an hour to go. He turned the TV on to help kill the time and stuck a bagel in the toaster for them.
She wasn’t much for talking this morning either, and he didn’t press it.
A 8:29, he showed her to the phone, lifting her up to the side table and keeping an eye on his watch for the moment 8:30 rolled around. When it did, he set the receiver down face-up and dialed the number she gave him. Dawn was wringing her tiny little hands as they both leaned in to hear.
“Good morning, Raymond Thurlow, this is Crystal speaking.”
“Crystal!” Dawn blurted into the receiver. “Crystal, it’s me! Dawn! Dawn Cooper!”
There was hesitation for a moment.
“Crystal, please, don’t hang up!”
“Miss Cooper? Miss Cooper, is that you? Y-you sound… far away, I can barely hear you! Is everything all right?”
Relief seemed to flood the tiny woman and she wiped her eye.
“Everything’s fine, Crystal! I-I want you to take a message for Vincent, James, and Emily. I want you to tell them that I’m alright, that there’s been… there’s been something of an accident, an embarrassing one. I’ll need to go on medical leave f-for a little while.”
She put both of her hands to the holes on the mouthpiece. “Do you have a fax machine?” she hissed up at Keith. He nodded.
“What hospital are you at? You might have some visitors.”
“No! No… I’m…” She wracked her brain for a precious moment. “I’m upstate. Look, Crystal, if there’s any paperwork you need me to finish up before transferring my caseload, there’s a fax machine here. I won’t be able to come to the phone very often.”
“O-OK, Miss Cooper. I’ll pass the note along to Emily. Are you sure you’re alright? You don’t need anything?”
“No! Totally fine, here, I’ve got everything I could possibly need,” she tried giving a laugh but it sounded like it hurt.
“What number can we reach you at? I’m sure Emily will want to talk to you, and to find out how long you’ll be away.”
“Right, right, of course, ah…” Dawn made a pleading gesture at him. “It’s…”
He tore open the side table drawer, looking for a business card. In his panic he knocked a few pens to the floor and grimaced silently. But there was nothing.
“I-I’m just looking for it, I wrote it down here somewhere…” She mouthed his name, eyes wide.
Without any other ideas, or even a pad of paper to write on, he started holding up his fingers. 7-1-8…
“Seven, one, eight…”
“Hey, Miss Cooper, isn’t that a borough area code? Did… didn’t you say you were upstate?”
Dawn slammed her fist down on the switchhook with a tiny woman’s growl and stood there, clenching and unclenching her fists.
Keith swallowed. “Well, mission accomplished?”
She stood there until the off-hook tone started yelling at them. He hung it up for her.
“I need you to call Beverly.”
“My girlfriend Beverly. She won’t be at work yet. You need to tell her that you’re a friend of mine and… and that she needs to meet you here ASAP.”
“A-are you ready for someone else to see you like this?”
“I don’t exactly have a choice.” A pause. “She has a car, tell her to bring my juicer.”
“Your juicer?” He wasn’t sure where this was going.
“I just have a craving for carrot juice. It’s a Panasonic, very easy to operate. Won’t take up hardly any room on the counter, I promise.”
He rubbed the back of his neck. “Well, alright.”
“Go on, pick up the phone. She’ll be out the door any minute now.”
Keith sucked in a breath and did as he was told. Dawn gave him the phone number and he waited while it rang a few times.
“Hello?” came the clipped greeting on the other end. He could tell she had a thick Jersey accent already.
“Uh, hi, good morning, uh, Beverly, is it?”
“Yeah, who’s this? I’m about to leave for work.”
Keith switched ears. “Uh, hi, my name’s Keith Morgan. You might not’ve heard about me before, but–”
“Look, guy, whatever you’re sellin’ I don’t want any.”
“W-wait wait wait! Don’t hang up! I-I know where Dawn is!”
Dawn smacked her forehead.
“Oh my god,” came the startled voice on the other end. “Ohmygod. Ohmygod ohmygod ohmygod, who is this??”
“I’m Keith Morgan,” he said slower this time, enunciating. “I’m a friend of Dawn’s. She doesn’t talk about me much, we’re not very close, but I know where she is.”
“W-w-well where, buddy! Talk! She’s been missin’ since last friggin’ week!”
“She’s with me! Look, there’s been an accident, and she’s suffering from a very embarrassing injury. I happened to be close by when it happened, so she’s been recovering at my place. She didn’t want to go to the police, so she asked me to call you.”
“Put 'er on the line.”
Keith looked to Dawn with wide eyes. ‘She wants to talk to you!’ he mouthed. Dawn made X’s with her arms and shook her head.
“I said put 'er on the line if she’s really there!”
“A-alright, will do. Here she is.”
He shrugged and thrust out the phone.
“Beverly, hun, how are ya?” Dawn said, trying not to sound like she was shouting.
“Jesus, girl, what happened to your voice? You sound like you swallowed a balloon.”
“Well, see, Bev, that’s the, ah, embarrassing part of this whole thing. I’m sorta… stuck like this for a while. Something happened and I don’t really want anyone to see me.”
“Wait, if you’re fine, then what the hell happened Thursday night? Cops tore your place apart and said you never came home.”
“I didn’t. Look, can you come see me today? I’m stuck out in Flatbush and could really use the moral support.”
“Well I guess… business is slow right now. What’s a few hours? I’ll be there in forty-five minutes. Where am I going?”
“I’m at Keith’s studio, he’s on Avenue D and Foster, right across from the station. Big place on the corner. Buzz the third floor. Thank you for coming. And please, whatever you do, promise you won’t scream when you see me?”
“I don’t know what the hell you’re talkin’ about but I don’t make promises I can’t keep. Love you, hun. Glad you’re safe. See ya in a bit.”
Keith gently hung up the phone. “You forgot to ask about the juicer,” he said.
She ignored him. “I don’t know what I’m going to do, Keith. I don’t know how to sugar-coat this!”
“Just calm down, it’s going to be fine. If she’s really your friend, she’ll get over it quick.” That was bullshit he just made up, but it sounded right.
“Oh god Keith I think I’m going to be sick.”
“Oh no you don’t, c’mon. Deep breaths, deep breaths…”
Dawn sat down on the table and hugged herself, sighing. She appeared to be alright after all.
“Would you like a real hug?”
“Well all I have is the extra-large size. Hopefully it fits.” He picked her up and held her up to his shoulder while he patted her little backside. He sighed too, eyes on the ceiling. He had to try and figure out how to get forty-five minutes of work done today.