The Room * Chapter One

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The following is the first chapter from the book “The Room” by Brian C. Copper. All Rights Reserved.

                                                      Arrival Of The Snowman

       I remember our first meeting vividly. I’ve replayed it in my mind so many times over the years, like an old movie that gets my finger to stop clicking the remote button once it appears on the screen.
       Outside the weather was anything but calm. Nature was whipping around in some choreographed lunacy that beat at the trees, causing them to sway to and fro. It was the third day of what the weather reports had stated would continue for at least another five days. I was standing by the bay window in my robe, watching the storm in all it’s wintery glory, when I saw a set of headlights trying to poke through the onslaught of snow and wind as they made their way down my driveway.
       On a clear day the road was not visible from my window, nor was the house visible to cars passing by. Amidst some 40 acres surrounding me, there was just over 2,600 feet of dense trees and a winding path that stood between my front door and the roadway.
       The headlights inched closer. The plowman had been here just two hours prior but already the snow was reclaiming its territory. I was finally able to see some distinguishing marks on the approaching vehicle just before the police cruiser came to a stop close to the front walkway.
       I walked over to the front door in anticipation of the approaching officer’s knock and invited him in. “Good evening, Sir,” the officer said, as I closed the door behind him. “I’m out checking on folks to make sure everyone is okay. Much of the town is without power, but I can see your generator is working just fine here.”
       “It is, thank you,” I said. “With isolation and privacy comes the need to be prepared. Especially in this area. Can I offer you some hot cocoa ?”
       “Thank you, but that won’t be necessary. You’re my last stop before heading home after a long shift to start my vacation,” he said. “Everything looks good here, so I should really get going before the roads get worse.”
       “Thank you for checking on me, Officer Braun. I appreciate your efforts,” I said, as he started to turn, adding, “Stay safe out there.”
       He had the slightest bit of hesitation when I mentioned his name, but continued on his way. “You as well, Sir,” he said, as he stepped back out into winter’s fury.
       I secured the door behind him, went back to the bay window, and offered a wave as he drove off into the elements. When the lights were out of view, I walked over to my office. The computer said there were several new emails, but I was more concerned with watching the big flat screen monitor mounted on the wall.
       Being this far out in the wilderness offered other concerns besides power failures, but most of those were put to rest by the array of security cameras positioned around my property. From what they were now showing, my recent visitor had not quite made a departure. It appeared that sometime after his arrival a sizable tree had fallen across both lanes of the driveway nearly 200 yards from the street, blocking the path. It also appeared that the police cruiser was not only stuck from moving forward, it was stuck from moving backwards as well. I watched as the vehicle’s lights did that familiar pattern of brake, reverse, brake, drive, repeat. Despite a valiant effort on the part of the officer, it was proving to be an exercise in futility. Eventually the car stopped trying and sat still while the weather built a gentle cocoon around it.
       The police scanner over on the file cabinet was mostly quiet, as it had been much of the day, despite the goings on with the storm. A few reports of stranded cars here and there, updates on more power outages, downed wires and several fallen trees around town. I listened to hear if my visitor had signaled his distress.
       Nothing.
       Perhaps he had called it in over his cellphone ? That seemed to be a more common thing these days, as discretion was sometimes needed in the exchange of information over the airwaves.
       Time to take action. I ventured upstairs to put on some clothes, then back down again to gather my boots and snowshoes, two pairs, just in case. Another quick look at the cameras and I could barely make out where the cruiser was positioned, even though I knew where it should be on the screen. The lights were now off and winter was quickly surrounding it like a pack of hungry dogs.
       As I was heading back to finish suiting up, there was a bang on the front door. Quickly, I opened it and ushered in a veritable snowman, just as quickly sealing out the winter beast trying to get in behind him. “Is that cocoa still available ?” he asked, as I helped him remove his outer jacket. He dropped the duffle bag he had slung over his shoulder. It fell at his feet with a dull thud and jangle of metal strap loops.
       “Indeed it is. But first, let’s get you out of these cold wet clothes. Pile them up on the bench there and I’ll get you a robe,” I said, then hurried upstairs, grabbing a pair of slippers while I was there as well.
       When I’d returned, he was completely naked, his back facing me, while he removed some items from his pockets. The first thing I noticed was the pattern of hair on his shoulder blades, which made it appear as though he had wings. His collection of clothing was hanging on the wall hooks, dripping onto the tiled floor beneath. His uniform, also wet despite the outer layers, was piled neatly on the bench and seemed to have soaked through to the bone. Next to those were his work utility belt and firearm.
       I paused for a moment to allow the image to sink in, then approached and said, “Here’s the robe. Let’s get you that cocoa. I’ll put your wet uniform in the dryer. The laundry room is just over here.”
       “Thank you,” he said, while slipping on the robe, securing the front with the sash.
       “A perfect fit,” I joked, savoring the brief glimpse of his muscular furry chest before most of it disappeared inside the engulfing cloth. His upper chest hair still visible as it poked out of the v-shaped opening at the top of the robe. “Follow me,” I said, leading the way. “This will just take a moment,” I stated, walking into the laundry room to put his clothes in the dryer. I turned the dial to a medium setting, knowing they would fare better that way and be dry soon enough. Then we headed into the kitchen.
       I grabbed a fresh mug from the cabinet, filled it, then handed it to him. He wrapped his chilled hands around it, savoring the warmth. “Can I get you anything ?” I asked as I refilled my own mug. “From the looks of that tree blocking my driveway, we appear to be stranded here for a while. May as well make the most of it.”
       “Would it be possible to use your phone ?” he asked, giving me a repeat of the slightly inquisitive look he’d had earlier when I called him by name. “My car radio has been acting up all day and somehow I managed to let my cellphone battery run out. Guess I was hoping to make it back home before that happened.”
       “Sure thing. Right this way,” I said and motioned for him to follow me to the office. I picked up my cell from the desk, found the police station number in my contacts, hit the call button and handed him the phone. He didn’t notice at first, as he was busy looking at the security camera monitor mounted to the office wall. He turned when I said, “It’s ringing.”
       “Thank you,” he replied, as he took the phone and held it to his ear. After a moment the other end picked up. “Hey, Jack, this is Max. I’m stuck over on Cyprus Ave, car radio went down again as did my cell. Just wanted to check in and let everyone know I’m okay but not at home,” he explained, then after a moment, “Yeah, the cruiser is blocked in by a downed tree over at the Harmon residence. No, I’m good. Mr. Harmon is here playing the role of good samaritan, but it looks like my vacation plans hit a snag,” he continued, smiling slightly. Another pause. I watched as his expression changed for just a flash of a moment, then settled again. “Okay, Jack. Keep me posted. My cell will be back in action shortly if you need to call me,” he said, then after another brief pause added, “You too, Jack.”
       “Thank you,” he said, as he handed the phone back to me. I placed it back down on the desk.
       “Is everything alright ?” I asked. “You looked just a little concerned for a moment there during your conversation.”
       “Well, it seems the roads are worse off than your driveway,” he began, adding, “Jack said they declared a state of emergency due to the storm shifting and all the plows are off the roads for the night. Most likely tomorrow as well, if there’s no break in this weather,” he concluded.
       “In that case, let me officially welcome you to my home,” I said, trying to ease the slight bit of unrest that had crept into his expression during the phone call. “It’s probably not as nice as wherever you were planning to go on your getaway, but the genny has enough fuel to keep us safe and warm far longer than we’ll ever need. The fridge and pantry are always fully stocked this time of year, so no worries there,” I explained, adding, “and there are three guest bedrooms available. I’m certain at least one will be to your liking.”
       “Thank you, Sir,” he began, “what I could really use is a nice hot shower.”
       “Sure thing, but please, call me David.”
       “Thank you, David. I’m Maxwell. My friends call me Max.” he said, extending his hand.
       “A pleasure to meet you, Max,” I said, gripping his firm handshake. “Follow me and you can have that shower.”
       We made the short journey up the stairway which reached a landing near the top, then split, finishing off with seven steps on either side heading in opposite directions. Stopped on the landing, I said, “My room is to the left there at the front of the house. There’s another bedroom beside it and two more on the right side. You are welcome to any of them,” I offered, adding, “They each have a full bath with shower, so take your pick.”
       “Thank you, David. You’re very kind. I’ll use this one over on the back right so as not to disturb you,” he said, as he walked up the remaining steps and crossed over the hallway through the open door.
       “Very well, but, really, it’s no bother at all, Max,” I said, stopping in the doorway while he got situated. “There should be plenty of clean towels in the linen closet and the shower should have everything you might need. I try to keep them at the ready for when guests are here,” I continued, “No worries on running out of hot water either, there’s always plenty. Your uniform should be just about dry by now, so I’ll bring it up and leave it for you on the bed,” I concluded.
       “Thank you again,” he said, stepping out of the slippers.
With that, I took my leave and headed back downstairs. I heard the shower turn on as I reached the bottom of the stairs. It was followed by the buzzer on the dryer as I was approaching the laundry room.
       After removing the clothes and folding them, I brought the uniform upstairs and laid it out on top of the comforter. Max had left the bedroom and bathroom doors open.  Communal activity at the police locker room did much to strip away any modesty between fellow patrolmen, so this came as no surprise. There was little temptation to sneak a peak at him, though the thought of hot water streaming over his fit and hairy masculine body was very intriguing. Especially after the glimpse I’d gotten earlier in the front hallway. Still, it was always better to be offered than to take.
       Back downstairs, I started preparing a nice dinner for my guest, opting for a simple salad, some reheated grilled chicken from the night before, steamed broccoli and some quinoa. Lots of flavor and protein with minimal fuss.
       As I was putting the finishing touches on the plates and delivering them to the table, Max entered the kitchen/dining area. Seeing him in his uniform without the outer layers was quite a feast in itself. His muscles were accented by the contours of the shirt and pants, making his physique even more bold and striking. A tuft of fur poked out of his collar where he’d left the top button undone.
       “That smells great,” he said, joining me at the table. “What would you like to drink ?” I asked, “You name it and I probably have it.”
       “Whatever you’re having is fine with me,” he said.
       “You may rethink that decision once I tell you,” I said. “It’s an odd choice, but I’ve decided on root beer. There’s something about this particular combination of flavors that just works for me.”
       “Make it two,” he said, with a hint of daring in his voice.
       I grabbed a couple of bottles from the fridge, opened them, then handed one to Max as I sat across from him at the table. He raised his bottle and said, “Cheers.”
       “Cheers,” I countered, clinking the bottle neck he had extended in my direction, adding, “Dig in.”
       The meal was mostly quiet. Very little conversation between the bites. But it was a comfortable silence. No trace of awkwardness to be seen, almost as if we’d done this many times before, or perhaps he was still in ‘cautious officer’ mode. When we’d finished, I cleared the table and offered coffee or tea. He chose the latter, as did I. While the water was boiling I gave him a brief tour around the kitchen in case he got hungry later, suggesting he should make himself at home. Then we adjourned to the living room.
       Outside, nature continued to dance away uninhibited, as we took seats at opposite sides of the sofa. Max broke the silence, “David, you have a wonderful home. How long have you lived here ?”
       “Coming up on five years now,” I said. “What about yourself ?” I asked.
       “I’ve been here my whole life it seems, but really only since age 7,” he stated, “so, almost 20 years now.”
       “That puts us close to the same age,” I said. “Are you content ?” I inquired.
       “Mostly, yes, I think,” he stated. “I’ve got a great job in a nice community. I really enjoy helping people. How about you ?” he asked, opting for the slight deflection before venturing too far into personal territory.
       “Content ? I am,” I offered. “I have privacy when needed, the bustle of a small town when the urge to mingle with others gets too strong, and I have my work which usually keeps me busy.”
       “What do you do, if I may be so bold ?” he inquired.
       “I’m an artist of sorts,” I said, letting the ambiguity hang in the air for a moment, giving him the option to nibble or move onward.
       “You must be good at what you do to enjoy all this,” he said, looking around him.
       “It’s a subjective thing, but people seem to appreciate my talents,” I stated.
       “Always nice to feel appreciated,” he said, just as a big yawn snuck up on him. “Excuse me. Not sure where that came from. Guess it’s been a longer day than I’d realized,” he concluded.
       “You’ve had quite an adventure,” I replied. “Don’t feel obligated to stay up keeping me company if you’re feeling tired. There will be plenty of time for talking tomorrow,” I added, “Neither one of us is going anywhere any time soon.”
       “You’ve got a good point there,” he said, as he got up.
       “Leave the cup. I’ll take care of it when I finish my tea,” I offered.
       “Thank you again, David,” he said as he turned to leave. “Enjoy the rest of your evening.”
       “Goodnight, Max. See you in the morning.”

                                                                                    * * * *

       As I went off to bed later that night, I noticed that Max had again left his bedroom door open. I didn’t bother to peek in as i could hear his relaxed breathing. Sounded like he was sleeping peacefully.
       I continued on to my room, leaving the door open as well, as was always the case.

                                                                                    * * * *

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