The three-story brick building lacked classical architectural adornments. She guessed it to be late 1930s modernism. Old newspapers littered the entranceway, where a panel of buzzers listed residents' names. Annie stepped closer to the panel, scuffing a roll of newspapers out of the way, and rubbed her finger across the handwritten letters.
"Just as Rose said. Here it is, number 2F. Rose and Josef Szabo." From her hip pocket, she unfolded the piece of thin fax paper.
Dear Annie and Will,
We are concerned about the heat you are having. Please go to our flat, no. 2F at 647 Károly utca. A man named Edward Weiss is living there. Edward is in his seventies and not in good health. He has diabetes and a heart condition. We are worried about him.
It was true. Temperatures had turned lethal these past weeks. The summer of 1995 was breaking records for the longest stretch of days over ninety degrees, according to Radio Free Europe, the station she listened to every morning since coming here eight months ago. Already a dozen elderly had died. More deaths expected, no end in sight, the announcer had warned in that Euro-British broadcaster's accent she'd grown accustomed to.
"Ready?" Will said. He stood next to her, a good half foot taller than she, blocking a ray of sun poking through the trees. He wore his usual summer attire: madras shorts, collared shirt, tennis sneakers.
"Wait. Her instructions are very specific," Annie said. She reread them aloud: "This is important. You must not tell anyone that he is living there. We are trusting you. The buzzer to the apartment is broken, but the front door to the building will be open. It is never locked. Go to the second floor. Knock loudly. Tell him we sent you. He will not like this. Call right away if you find a problem. Hugs and kisses to Leo.'"
Rose's handwritten consonants curled in the same Hungarian style of script Annie had seen on store receipts here.
"It's odd Rose never mentioned this Edward Weiss," she said. She hoisted Leo from the jogger to her hip.
"I know. Let's go." Will easily lifted the aluminum baby jogger and carried it through the doorway.
She loved entering buildings for the first time. She attributed this pleasure in part to her father who owned a real-estate company in Portland, Maine, where she grew up. He taught her that buildings were meant to be inspected, surveyed, and assessed. But for Annie, it was more than that. Unknown buildings held secrets,
possibilities, surprises—a peek into other people's hidden lives.
A center staircase greeted them.
"There's an elevator," Will said, pointing to a dark corner behind the stairs.
"Let's walk up."
The open stairway turned three times around a shaft shimmering with dust and sun from a skylight above. Leo grasped strands of her short hair. He tightened his plump legs around her waist, the sweat on his soft skin indistinguishable from hers. On the second-floor landing, they found the apartment midway down a dark hall, the last name, SZABO, on a tag beneath a peephole.
She knocked, then looked into the peephole, but it was covered up and she could only see black. Leo reached out to touch it.
She knocked again. Louder.
"Mr. Weiss?" She pressed her ear against the door. "I hear something."
The peephole lightened and after some jostling the door was unlocked. An elderly man with a large forehead stood in the doorway. He eyed the jogger without the usual surprise that Hungarians exhibited.
"Yes? What is it?"
He spoke perfect American English and wore a pajama set: thin navy-colored pants and matching short-sleeve shirt hanging loosely, as if he'd lost a lot of weight. The dark material accentuated his pale liver-spotted skin. Annie took a step back, struck by his bedraggled appearance. The old man's eyes followed her, two dark lights quivering with nervous energy. She wondered if he were feverish.