Inside, the building was quieter than Dustin was use to. Normally it was filled with the sounds of the people which inhabited it. Door slamming or music usually rattled and wafted throughout the foyer like thunder and clouds. Now there was nothing save for the muted whine of sirens that echoed in through the broken windows.
He climbed the three flights of stairs to his one bedroom apartment amazed at how far it seemed now. Last night it had felt like he’d bounded down each level in one step. The stairs creaked and groaned beneath each one of his footfalls. Dustin was not sure if he hadn’t noticed the noise before or if their protest was an indication of the buildings weakened integrity.
There was a definite lean to the structure now. It was not so pronounced that he had to focus on keeping his balance but more subtle. There was a complete absence of right angles on all of the floors and fixtures. The pictures in the hallway hung askew and the old wooden slats of the floor had come up or buckled in a few places. The apartment was a complete loss.
Arriving at his door Dustin was embarrassed to find that he’d left it open. He must have forgotten to close it in his haste to flee the night before. This was not unusual as most of the occupants had seemed to leave their doors open. He’d noticed this coming up however it still bugged him that his neighbors had more than likely gotten a look inside where he lived. Since moving here he’d become intensely private and more than a little self conscious about the things that he chose to keep around him.
Entering the apartment and setting the birdcage on his kitchen counter Dustin looked around as if seeing the place through a stranger’s eyes. Self help posters lined every wall and little plaques which use to sit on his bookcase and tables littered the floor. Their optimistic sayings seemed ironic and trite looking up at him amidst all the destruction.
On Dustin’s living room wall, directly within sight of his open doorway was the most embarrassing decoration that he owned. It was a picture of a kitten which was hung above his ornamental fireplace. The saying “Hang in there!” was written in dainty golden script above its tiny little claws that were trying to cling on to a tree branch.
Normally Dustin smiled when he walked through the door and looked at the image. He liked absorbing its cuteness and unabashed cheerfulness. Now he just felt mortified that James and Alexis couldn’t have helped but have seen it when they’d come up to grab their things.
Sighing he stepped over fallen furniture and broken glass to make his way back to the bedroom. There he grabbed his suitcase off the closet floor and loaded it with a couple of changes of clothes and fresh underwear. Dustin had no real keepsakes or mementos that he cared to hold on to. Outside of his laptop and a few files from work nothing in particular tied him to the apartment. Those things were already loaded in a gym bag that he kept by the bathroom door.
His cell phone began to ring from beneath a pile of clothes near the dresser.
“Hello.” Dustin said as he untangled the phone from its nest of garments and put it to his ear.
There was a cough as his partner Steve cleared his throat. “Hey man.” He said in his slow southern drawl. “We’ve got one hell of a problem out at the site.”
Dustin straightened. “What sort of problem?” He asked, a sick feeling rising in the pit of his stomach.
“Shoot!” Steve barked. “I can’t even begin to describe it to you over the phone. I’ve been trying to get a hold of you all morning long. Where have you been?”
“I’ve been busy.” Dustin snapped back. “The building across the street fell down and I had to rush out of the apartment in the middle of the night.”
“You got a TV?”
“No.” Dustin replied. “Are you crazy? The power’s out everywhere.”
“I’ve got a generator out at my place.” Steve said proudly. Dustin could hear him crunching away on a bag of chips as he spoke. “I lost my power for all of about forty minutes before I had her fired up and was watching the news from the comfort of my sofa.”
“Good for you.” Dustin shot back. Walking over to the closet he grabbed a pair of khaki dress pants and a blue oxford shirt. “I live in the city Steve. I’m not into all of that survivalist junk that you love. I like eating out and reading.”
“Well if it wasn’t for this survivalist junk, neither you nor I would know that we’ve got a big ole mess on our hands right now.” The man quipped. “I saw it on the news.”
“The news?” Dustin asked stopping dead in his tracks. His tone of was more of a moan than an actual question.
“Yeah.” Steve chuckled. “They were flying helicopters out over our land. Still are!”
“Oh Jesus.” Dustin exclaimed.
“Look, I ain’t going to deal with any of this mess without you here to smooth things over dude.” Steve said casually as he chewed. “I’ve already turned away four different people at the gates. I told them that I manage the grounds crew and keep up the appearance of the place. I don’t got no people skills.”
“Well, what do you want me to do?” Dustin wondered as he draped the shirt and pants over his arm and made his way into the bathroom. “I don’t even know what you’ve got going on.”
“Just get out here man.”
“Can’t.” Dustin quipped trying to switch on the light and then remembering that he was without electricity. “My cars sitting in a sewer.”
“Oh heck!” Steve exclaimed. “That was a nice car!”
“I know.” Dustin replied.
“Well, I’ll have Juan watch the gate and I’ll head out to pick you up myself.” His partner said. “The Bay Bridge is down but my truck can get through anything! I’ll meet you out by Seal Rock in about two or three hours.”
Before Dustin had a chance to ask another question, he’d hung up.