The ding on the elevator echoed throughout the small foyer just before the doors opened to the empty space. With a weary sigh, the solitary occupant emerged. He pulled a large suitcase behind him on his way to the other side, where his destination awaited. He stared at the digital door lock as he approached, thankful he wouldn’t have to fumble with keys.
"99633," he mumbled quietly to himself.
When the green light flickered and a chime could be heard with the releasing latch, he sighed again in relief that it still properly functioned.
As soon as he entered, he covered his nose. The door shut behind him and another chime alerted him that the door had locked once again.
"Did I leave something out?" he wondered aloud, his voice muffled behind the sleeve of his blue and white sweater.
The color reflected in the black of his ebony eyes.
He set aside the suitcase and kicked off his white sneakers on the way to the balcony doors. Looking around as he opened them, he could see everything was still in the orderly fashion he’d left it.
"Dead," he remarked at the balcony garden.
He shook his head in annoyance and returned inside. He briskly rubbed his arms as the cold from the temporarily abandoned apartment began to overwhelm him. Stepping up to the thermostat near the kitchen, he set the temperature to 68ºF/20ºC, then continued to look around.
He examined the refrigerator for rotten food, although he was certain he’d cleaned it before he left. The smell wasn't from there. He looked around the counters and the sink until he realized the odor was strongest near the trash can.
Covering his nose and mouth, he pulled it out from beneath the counter and opened the lid.
"Dammit!" exclaimed when he saw something rotten and moldy at the bottom.
He carried the whole thing outside onto the balcony and had a better look.
"Breakfast," he remembered. "I never brought out the trash. At least I don't have a pet," he grinned to himself as he thought of his carelessness with the plants and the garbage.
With a heavy sigh, he returned inside and opened every window. Then he returned to his suitcase and wheeled it into his bedroom. He separated his clothes to be washed later from odds and ends he collected from his trip.
On his way to the bathroom, he pulled the sweater over his head and laid it across a chair. While unbuttoning the crisp white shirt that had been beneath the sweater, he picked up his phone to make a call.
"Doug, it's Garrett," he said when it was answered. "I just made it back in."
"How was the flight?" Doug asked.
"Flight was fine but the cabbies here make me miss South Korea already," Garrett laughed.
He unbuckled his belt and unfastened his jeans as he talked.
"I told you to call me," Doug replied with a slight huff. "I could have picked you up."
"It's fine," Garrett told him. "There were quite a few delays and I didn't want you sitting at the airport for hours waiting. I'm on my way to take a shower and sleep. I just called to let you know I'm back and that I'll be at work in the morning as planned."
"Why don't you take off tomorrow?" Doug suggested. "You’ve been hopping around half the world for almost six months. You'll be jet lagged all day. The boss will not only understand but insist. All your missions were a success. You’ve earned a break."
Garrett pulled off his socks and stood before the mirror above the sink to look over a recent wound on his side.
"I'll be fine," he replied. "I know Mr. Pinkerton and the team are waiting for a more detailed report than what I could encrypt. I'm getting into the shower now. I'll see you at work."
"All right, then," Doug replied. "Sleep well, little brother."
Garrett pressed the red button to end the call and set his phone onto the grey granite counter. He went to the large shower at the corner of the room and moved aside the glass door.
The showerhead sputtered and spat a moment before finally pushing out hard streams of water. He held his hand beneath the cold spray until he could feel the warmth and stepped inside.
He stretched his arms upward and back and rotated his neck to relax his sore muscles, then leaned against the wall for a moment to allow the comforting heat and steam to penetrate every pore. With a deep breath of exhaustion, he ran his fingers through his long jet-black hair and sighed at the refreshment of finally being home.
As he began pouring shampoo into the palm of his hand, he thought he heard crying. He stopped and listened, but there was quiet. He finished washing his hair and lathered up his body to wash away the hours of being in airports and planes, cramped on shuttle busses and the carelessly driven cab on the way home.
Just as he was about to step out of the shower, he heard the crying again. It was unmistakable this time with the shower off, and it lasted longer.
He looked around the bathroom and concentrated on where it was coming from. He stepped back into the shower and pressed his ear against one of the walls. The crying was louder and he could hear someone speaking. The voice was mournful and feminine. He listened carefully to understand what the person was saying, both out of curiosity and to find out if they needed help.
The apartment next to his was vacant when he left. He had been assured by the landlord that he would have privacy on that floor. He wondered what kind of person had moved in and what trouble they’d brought with them.