As it turned out, I had another brief encounter with the Brown-Eyed Girl that day. Far from clarifying anything about her, the chance meeting only increased the number of question marks.
I was heading out at 5:10 p.m. (I was in no mood to work any voluntary overtime—not after the past few days.) The Brown-Eyed Girl was on the elevator when I boarded it on the third floor. As I’ve mentioned, it seemed that I always ran into her on the elevator.
Whatever had been bothering her lately, she seemed to have recovered from the trauma. I said hello and she gave me a tentative smile and a greeting in return.
Now would be a good time to talk to her, I thought. Just the two of us in the elevator; and we’d ride two floors together down to the ground floor.
The elevator door closed behind me. I tried to think of something to say. I noticed (not for the first time) how pretty the Brown-Eyed Girl was, albeit in an understated sort of way.
Then I heard the elevator doors ding behind me. Someone else was boarding the elevator. The elevator had been set to descend, but someone had pushed the open button before it began its descent.
That person was Donnie. He immediately noticed me, threw back his shoulders and smirked.
That took only a split second. Then the Brown-Eyed Girl and Donnie noticed each other.
Donnie threw the Brown-Eyed Girl a similar smirk. She, on the other hand, was visibly horrified by his presence.
I was a bit surprised by her immediately negative reaction. While Donnie was a blowhard and a jerk, he was one of those big, flamboyant guys whom a lot of women find attractive. Bethany was certainly fascinated by him, as I’ve already mentioned.
But not the Brown-Eyed Girl. I could have sworn that she gasped when she took the full measure of Donnie.
Then she proceeded to exit the elevator.
“Excuse me,” she said, to both of us and neither of us.
The Brown-Eyed Girl stepped past me. She pushed the button on the elevator’s internal control panel that opened the twin doors. The doors opened with a pneumatic wheeze, and the Brown-Eyed Girl walked out without looking back.
Donnie’s gaze followed her out. He made a long, self-satisfied sneer in her wake.
I looked at Donnie, waiting—stupidly—for him to provide an explanation and a context. There was backstory here. But I should have known that Donnie wasn’t going to tell me.
“What are you lookin’ at?” he finally asked.
A few days ago, I would have pressed Donnie for an explanation to the obvious question. But I now knew that he was far more dangerous than I’d previously thought. I would have to tread carefully with him.
“Nothing,” I said simply. I leaned forward and pushed the door-close button.
I said nothing to Donnie during the ride down. I leaned against one of the elevator’s back corners, having decided to let him exit first. By letting him go ahead of me, I would avoid a walk out of the building with him at my side.
When the doors opened on the first floor, Donnie started to step out. He paused on the threshold of the elevator and turned in my direction.
“You’re up to something,” he said. “I don’t know what it is yet, but you’re up to something.”
My heart skipped a beat, and I could feel the blood drain from my face. I maintained sufficient composure to reply, “What I’m ‘up to’ is leaving for the day. Come on, Donnie, it’s been a long day. Let’s not play games.”
Donnie’s half-smile told me that he did not believe me, that he knew I was hiding something from him, even as he was hiding plenty from me.
Mercifully, though, he chose not to pursue the matter any further. He walked out of the elevator and toward the main entrance of the building. I waited a few seconds and walked out, too, giving him a healthy head start so that I would be done with him for the day, at least.
But I was still shaken from what he had said. Intrigue, I now realized, was not my forte, and I was doing it badly. Among the conspirators, Donnie was easily the dullest of the three. If he had seen through me so easily, then I was in considerable trouble, indeed.