In the Night Room

In the Night Room by Peter Straub Read Free Book Online Page B

Book: In the Night Room by Peter Straub Read Free Book Online
Authors: Peter Straub
remainder of his fear prickle his lungs. For the hundredth time, Timothy Underhill observed that fear was a
cold
phenomenon.
    Now that he was on his feet, he needed a diversion that might restore his concentration. He walked across the loft to his refrigerator, but the thought of putting food in his mouth made him queasy. Underhill wandered to one of the big windows and looked down on Grand Street. A huddle of stationary umbrellas at the corner of West Broadway belonged to people waiting for a break in the traffic. Then he noticed that one figure, a man in loose, dark clothing, had turned his back on the crowd to gaze across the street at Underhill’s building. The oval blur of his face gleamed white beneath the hood of his sweatshirt. When the umbrellas began to drift across the street, the man moved down into the shelter of the corner building, keeping his eyes on the entrance to 55 Grand. Tim thought he was waiting for someone to come out of the Vietnamese restaurant on the ground floor. Then the figure shifted position, and his identity snapped into focus.
    Hooded gray sweatshirt, jeans, a bright plastic bag clamped under one arm—Jasper Kohle had not, after all, left the neighborhood; he had circled around from wherever he had gone, and he was keeping watch on Tim’s building. What was he doing out there, and what were his motives? Hunched and utterly still, he had the pure attentiveness of a hawk on a telephone pole. He made no effort to shelter himself from the rain, although he could easily have moved to an awning fifteen feet down the block.
    Unless he wanted to spend the next few days hiding in his loft, Tim realized, he would have to deal with this character.
    Abruptly, Kohle straightened his spine and swept the hood off his head. Any hopes that Tim might have been mistaken disappeared with the exposure of the man’s face. Streaming with water, his dark hair flattened to seaweed on his forehead, Kohle’s head pointed like a compass needle to the door at 55 Grand. Strange to remember now that when Tim had first seen him in the diner, Kohle had struck him as youthful, fresh, almost innocent. That freshness had been the first thing to go; with it had vanished the illusion of youth. Thinking back, Tim thought he remembered that Kohle’s face had subtly darkened as the man’s tone had changed from adulation to confrontation.
    It happened so quietly that Tim had only barely noticed the deepening of the lines across the forehead, the spreading of a web of wrinkles around the man’s eyes and mouth. The process he had noted in the diner had continued. The patient being beneath Tim Underhill’s third-floor window looked like nothing so much as an implacable ex-con in the grip of a really lousy scheme. An embattled history of brutal triumphs and bitter defeats spoke from his unblinking acceptance of the rain streaming down his face, the set of his mouth.
    Why me?
Underhill thought.
How did I attract the Charlie Manson of fandom?
    The instant this thought appeared in Tim’s head, Jasper Kohle stepped forward, raised his head, and with a sizzling glance found Tim’s eyes across fifty feet of rainy space. Tim jumped back. He felt as though he’d just been exposed in the commission of a sordid crime. Jasper Dan Kohle continued to stare up. The situation brought back in roaring sound and color April’s flashing out at him from the crowd on West Broadway. He saw the hands bracketing her mouth, her dear small body bending forward to hurl her message across the street. This time he could read her lips. April had not shouted some nonsense about whistling. Instead, she had bellowed,
Listen to us!
    When the memory-vision of bellowing April receded, Jasper Kohle no longer glared up at the Grand Street building; he was gone. No, he
was going,
for Tim saw his drenched, unhooded figure backing slowly down the sidewalk in the direction of Wooster Street, still looking up but no longer quite managing to hold Tim’s eyes with his

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