The Wanderings of Amy Ch. 01bycaligula97236©
Chapter 1 - Robert's Apartment
Chicago attorney Robert Johnson sat down at his office desk at 8:00 as usual. Behind him was a plate glass window that overlooked Lake Michigan, but he was in no mood to enjoy the view. Today is December 10, he reflected, exactly six months since Amy, the daughter of his law partner and friend John Debbs, had disappeared. It had been exactly four months since he lost his wife Tricia when she was hit by a drunk driver. It had been exactly two months since John himself had died, leaving Robert with the unenviable task of tracking down Amy, if at all possible. He had a feeling that something else would happen today on this 10th, another loss. It seemed that the 10th of the month had become an unlucky day for him.
As his desk phone started to ring, Robert checked his ID machine before picking up. "Police Precinct # 14" read the display window. "What now?" he groaned as he picked up the phone.
"Mr. Robert Johnson?" asked a tired cynical male voice on the other end. Typical cop voice. When he answered yes the voice continued. "We have a young female in custody, Amy Debbs. She claims that when she tried to call her father, John Debbs, from the station, the call was forwarded to your number."
Robert sat up in his chair. Amy! So she had finally re-surfaced after six months! Thank God!
"Ms. Debbs was picked up last night for shoplifting." the voice continued "She's here if you want to talk to her."
Robert's initial reaction of happiness was replaced with a mixture of annoyance and worry. The 10th! It figures! "Put her on."
A terrified sob came over the other end. "Robert? Where's my father?! Please! I'm so sorry! I need to talk to him!" Robert was shocked at the change in Amy's voice. She had always had a sarcastic in-your-face way of speaking to her father, or to anyone older than her, for that matter. He had known her since she was a child, but during the last couple of years, whenever he or any of the other partners in the office talked to her, she had been thoroughly rude to them. Amy, who in high school knew everything, now sobbing and saying she was sorry. Her voice reflected that that she was truly scared and that her spirit had been totally broken. He wondered what had happened to Amy during those six months. He would find out soon enough...
"I'll be over in a few minutes to get you out. Put the cop back on..." Robert's annoyance had not gone away, but the first priority was to retrieve John's daughter, now the only living member of the Debbs family. He was pleased to find out that he could have her out of jail as soon as he posted bail. He was less pleased when he found out how much it would cost him.
The first stop was the bank. Robert's bank account shank when he withdrew what he would need to post bail. It seemed ridiculous that such a large amount of money would be needed to post bail for a shoplifting charge. His annoyance increased when he examined the pre-bail and post-bail balances on his draft statement.
Robert then entered the police station, shook hands with the officer who was handling Amy's case, and followed him to his desk where she was sitting. As they walked to the back of the station the officer explained the circumstances of Amy's arrest. She had entered a Fast-Mart at about 10:30 last night and started stuffing food items into her pants and pockets. There was a store videotape showing this. The three clerks in the store at the time grabbed her and pulled the food out of her clothes, then held her until a squad car arrived to pick her up. The clerks did not speak much English and there was not much to go on other than the videotape.
In her post-arrest statement Amy Debbs claimed to have arrived alone from Detroit, where her best friend had died from a heroin overdose. She claimed not to have had anything to eat since being kicked out of a women's shelter, three days ago.
Amy's change of appearance was even more shocking to Robert than the change in her voice. The first thing he noticed was her hair. She had permed it about three months before, and it could not have looked worse. About three inches of her natural brown color grew next to her scalp, but beyond that her hair was a tangle of dried matted curls, dyed blond and green, crackling from the chemicals she had put in it and full of oil and dirt. She was much thinner than she had been the last time Robert saw her, her face pale and with bags under her eyes. The only clothes she had were a pair of filthy jeans, a jean jacket that seemed to have been dropped in motor oil, a stained sweatshirt, and wet hiking boots. Her hands were cracked and the cracks filled with black dirt. Worst of all, the girl smelled as bad as she looked.
Amy, in fact, had almost ended up being badly beaten in the holding cell because of her smell. Three female gang members stood over her taunting her while she cowered on the bench with her arms around her knees. She knew that the slightest response from her would provoke a beating from the gang members. The insults, and later threats, went on for hours. Finally, when it seemed that the gang members had grown bored with insulting her and were going to beat her up anyway, Amy was pulled out to call Robert. The cop processing her case had realized what was about to happen in the holding cell, and knowing that Robert was on his way, kept her at his desk until he arrived.
Robert thumbed through the case folder, ignoring the terrified girl momentarily. There were no words of hello. Finally he turned to confront her. Still smarting from the money he needed to post bail, he stood over Amy glaring at her, as she cringed in her chair. Robert was not tall, only about 5 feet and 7 inches. However he compensated for his lack of height with a muscular build from working out and a sharp critical eye.
"Amy, I am mad at you. The shoplifting is only part of it. How in the hell could you let yourself look like this?!"
Amy stared at his shoes. "I...I didn't really want to call you. The police made me because they said the jail was too full and they wanted me out. My father isn't picking up and the line was forwarded to yours. I'm sorry I put you out like this. I'll go away as soon as we leave."
"Oh no you won't! Remember the bail money? You are going to get your charges cleared up. I can't get the bail back until you do! You are going to pull yourself together! You are NOT taking off again!"
"But what about my father? Why didn't he come to get me?"
Robert paused. Now was not the time to tell Amy that her father was dead and that he had been left in charge of her affairs. Amy had enough to deal with right now and there would be plenty of time later to tell her what happened to John. Finally he said, telling part of the truth, "John wanted me to take care of this. I'll explain later, when we have some time."
Robert called his office to tell them he would be out the rest of the day. He motioned Amy to follow him to his car. As she sat down in the passenger seat she realized that he seethed with anger at her. It wasn't the bail money he explained. Not really. He was disgusted that she had let herself become so degraded, that the once pretty girl that he knew only six months ago was now this pathetic shell of her former self. She had allowed herself to be broken, to be weak. And it was all due to her own actions. In spite of the cold outside he had to roll down his window to reduce the stench in the car from the filthy young woman.
After a trip across the city they finally arrived at Robert's apartment building. The apartment reflected his personality, a practical demand for physical comfort and disdain for ornamentation. It was very large, with four bedrooms, an enormous living room, a large kitchen and two bathrooms. It occupied half of the top floor of his building. One entire wall of the living room was covered with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves containing thousands of books. All of the furniture had been chosen because it was practical or comfortable, not for any concession to fashion. The colors were all neutral. Numerous pictures hung on the walls, but none of them had been chosen by him. They were vintage pictures from his mother's house, inherited after she had died a few years ago. Were it not for his mother's death and the inheritance of the pictures Robert would have had none at all. The apartment's living room had a spectacular view of Chicago and the lake beyond, a view that would captivate Amy over the next several weeks.
Robert's bedroom reflected the environment of a recently widowed man. Amy realized with a shock that Robert's wife Trisha was no longer at the apartment, and shocked again when Robert told her that she was dead. She had not known Robert's wife that well, but Amy felt that Tricia had been the only adult with whom she could get along in high school. For some odd reason Amy felt that Tricia would be the one person who could understand her, and had hoped to talk to her upon getting to Robert's apartment.
Robert was struggling with the issue about what to tell Amy about John Debbs. She had to know, but there were other issues to contend with that needed more immediate attention. Courtney was dead, according to the police. He would need to find out the details and see if there was anything from that end that he needed to do. Amy needed to pull herself together, and Robert was not sure that knowing about her father at this moment would in any way help her. Above anything else, the girl needed to take off her fetid clothing and take a bath.
"Stand there. Don't touch anything." Robert snapped at Amy.
He started to fill up the Jacuzzi-style bathtub in the large bathroom, and ordered her to take off her clothes, put them in the washing machine, then get into the shower and shampoo her hair before getting into the bathtub. Amy hesitated about stripping in front of him.
"Right now you're not much to look at. Just do it." But he turned away while she stripped and walked to the bathroom.
As Amy settled into the bathtub, for her first bath in several weeks, Robert came in with a glass of orange juice and a bagel. It wasn't much, but if she had not eaten in three days she might get sick if she ate too much too quickly. Amy was too hungry to worry about the fact that Robert could see the tops of her breasts in the water. She emptied the glass and devoured the bagel. When she looked up at him, obviously hoping for more to eat, he responded, "You can have something else to eat after you get out. But don't get out for a while. You need to soak." He hung up a thick white terry-cloth robe on the door and left the bathroom.
Amy had forgotten how comfortable a bath could be. To feel weightless in the water, especially after spending night after night on hard shelter beds, benches, and doorways, was like being in paradise. Robert did not need to tell her to stay in the tub. She had no desire to get out for a long time. Finally the pangs of hunger and the promise of more food forced her out.
Amy looked at herself in the full-length mirror of the bathroom. No wonder her father's partner had said that she was not much to look at. She was very thin. She was pale and had sores on her feet. Even washed, her hair was hideous. She noticed how tired her face looked. Depressed by her appearance, she put on her robe and went to the dining room.
Robert gave his guest the first of a series of small meals that she would have during the rest of the day. When she finished eating, she sat on one of the living room armchairs while he knelt in front of her to put disinfectant on her feet. It was then that he decided to ask about Courtney.
Robert remembered that his partner had always disliked Courtney, and that he considered her a bad influence on his daughter. The two girls ran wild in school, going through numerous boyfriends, partying, and bad-mouthing everyone. John even considered moving to get Amy away from Courtney. Robert had only seen Courtney once, when she and Amy came to the office to see John, and was shocked by how rude Courtney had been to the secretary. Amy may have had a sneering in-your-face way of talking to her father, but it seemed that Courtney was that way with everyone. However, to everyone's surprise, the two girls managed to have a grade-point average last spring just high enough to let them graduate. Robert wondered if the school simply wanted to get rid of Courtney and Amy, but said nothing to John. Then, ten days after graduation, the two girls disappeared, taking nothing with them except backpacks and a large amount of cash that Courtney stole from her mother. They did not tell anyone where they were going, when they would be back, or how to get in touch with them. There was not much the police could do because the two girls were 18. Both Amy's father and Courtney's mother were devastated as the days without news from their daughters dragged out into weeks, and then into months.
Amy, in her subdued way of talking that was still a shock to Robert, told the rest of the story. At first the road trip was fun. Living on Courtney's money, the two teenagers spent the whole summer going to beach parties. They hit all the major party spots: Daytona Beach, South Padre Island, Virginia Beach, New Orleans. But towards the end of the summer Amy noticed a change in Courtney. Her friend had started using heroin, was partying less and becoming obsessed with money. She started charging for sex, sometimes 5 times per night. She became ill-tempered and took no interest in anything other than getting money, always more money.
Amy at first was curious to see what heroin would be like once she saw Courtney using it. Instead what she got was a cold, dead look from her friend that scared her. "Look, you don't want to go there." There was both fear and resignation in Courtney's voice. Amy quickly learned she was right.
In September they drifted towards Buffalo, where one of Courtney's ex-boyfriends lived. They stayed at his place for three weeks, while Courtney stole his credit card numbers and cleaned him out. They took off and then their lives became ugly. In spite of Courtney's looting of her ex-boyfriend's accounts, the two girls were broke. One day Courtney snapped at Amy. "You need to bring in some money. I am doing all the work for both of us." Amy lost her temper and grabbed her friend's arm, jerking up her sleeve. The inside of her arm was a mass of sores and needle tracks.
Amy was not about to do anything just to support Courtney's drug habit, but she was afraid to leave her. The two girls drifted around the Great Lakes area until they landed in Detroit. By this time they had the appearance typical of homeless teens. They learned to sleep under bridges, find shelters, beg money. The weather got cold.
Amy spent Thanksgiving huddled behind a dumpster, waiting for Courtney to come back. Finally Courtney re-appeared. She stumbled. Her lip was swollen and she had several bruises on her face. Her eyes were glazed over. Amy wondered how well her friend could see.
Courtney held out a hamburger and $20. "I'm sorry" Then she lay down. Amy ate the hamburger and looked at her friend, too numb to think about what was happening to her. She got up and walked around to ease the cold. She returned to the dumpster and noticed Courtney in the same position as when she left. She tried to roll her over, but she did not budge. Amy tugged harder. Courtney rolled over, stiff. Her face was gray and her eyes half open.
There are certain moments in a person's life in which his or her character is tested. Amy was tested at that moment and her character failed her. She panicked. The only thing she could think of was to get away, anywhere. She grabbed her backpack and ran to the bus station, only a few blocks away. She laid all her money on the counter, and found out it would be enough to get her as far as Chicago. It was only by shear luck that Amy picked Chicago; in her confused state of mind she could have gone anywhere. However, the Chicago bus was leaving immediately and that was what she wanted. It was only later that the memory of Courtney's body in that cold ally would come back to haunt her.
Chicago welcomed Amy with the loss of her backpack. She set it down for a moment to look at a phone book for a shelter, and it disappeared in a flash. She managed to stay at a women's shelter for a few days, but then was kicked out for lack of room. She spent the next three days sitting over an air vent for warmth, wondering where she would get something to eat. Finally she decided to slip some food out of a Fast-Mart. The Fast-Mart was aptly named, the clerks jumped on her immediately and reached into her clothes, her underwear, her bra, searching for stolen items. One twisted her arm behind her back and had his arm around her throat while they waited for the police to arrive.
Robert handed Amy another glass of juice when she finished her story. As disgusted as he was by the fact that she had simply abandoned her friend's corpse, he was relieved with the rough manner that she was detained by the Fast-Mart clerks. He pondered how he could use their treatment of her to have the case thrown out.
Robert began the process of making phone calls to set everything as straight as possible. While Amy ate another small meal, he started out by calling the Detroit Coroner's Office. He asked if they had a Jane Doe that matched Courtney's description who had died about 10 days ago from a heroin overdose. Sure enough, they had a young white female who matched. That was relief, at least Courtney could be returned to her mother for a proper burial. Another withdrawal from his bank account assured Courtney's transfer to a funeral home. Robert was not looking forward to having to face Courtney's mother to return the body, but obviously Amy was not up to it. He then went to work phoning friends to resolve his guest's legal problems and the charges.
That night Robert laid out the rules of the apartment. He expected Amy to stay with him until her case was resolved and he got his bail money back. She was not to leave the building unless she had his permission. She was free to eat what she wanted, use his computer, exercise equipment, library, and the living room TV. Furthermore, the apartment had an indoor swimming pool that Robert had exclusive use from 9:30 to 11:00 three days a week. Amy could lock the door during those hours and would not need a swimsuit.
To Amy, who had spent the last three nights huddled over an air vent, the amenities that her father's partner offered her seemed like something out of a dream. She was looking forward to living in comfort for a few weeks, even if her host's cold presence made her nervous. At any other time she would have rebelled against the order to not leave the apartment without permission. However, she was in no mood to do so now, certainly not after her terrifying experience in the holding cell.
Amy brushed and flossed her teeth for the first time in weeks and crawled into the bed of the guest bedroom. For some reason Robert's cold words "You are not much to look at" burned in her mind.
Amy spent the next four weeks enjoying simple things: good food, a clean bed, Robert's books, the Jacuzzi bathtub, the exercise room, the swimming pool. He seemed to be gone most of the time, only coming back late at night and leaving early in the mornings. Amy's street clothes, now clean, lay un-moved on her dresser during the entire time. She had no desire to put them on, preferring the white terry-cloth robe, or nothing at all when he was not present. She had spent the last three months without taking her clothes off, and felt determined to make up for it now.
Amy never missed a chance to enjoy the pool. Usually she just floated on her back, naked, her hair floating out in all directions. Often she lost all track of time in the pool and only got out when she heard the angry buzzing of the doorbell from the neighbor who had the 11:00 to 12:30 time slot.