What You Really Mean Is

Rene Severance and Giles Carter

At some indecipherable moment in their conversation, she hung up on him. And after a dozen phone calls and as many messages on her machine, Giles Carter couldn’t take it. He drove from his Myrtle Beach hotel through the night to Florence seventy miles away, to Rene’s apartment.

Passing the somber, Gothic hospital complex that marked the city limits, he lit another cigarette and lowered his window. The humidity washed over him like a heavy tide, and the salty air trapped in the car's interior was absorbed by the night, gone. The wipers peeled away the foggy film that materialized on the windshield. At red lights, he paused, glanced both ways, then drove on. The dark voice of the tires' gripping the pavement whispered up from the damp streets. It was two-thirty in the morning.

He found her note tacked neatly at each corner, as perfectly centered as a painting on the new white door: Call the police. Please don't be the one.

He reached for the door. It was unlocked, and after easing it open he did take one step. Then called her name. He took another step, called again, and listened.