It was a quiet night as Will sat down to the watch his favorite program on the tele. He had his bowl of chips, some dip and a sweaty, cold glass of cola dripping happily onto the cork coaster underneath. With a grin all to himself, Will propped his feet up on the beat up coffee table and clicked on BBC. “Black Books” was just starting, and he couldn’t wait to see what Bernard and Manny were going to get into this week. Will always had “a thing” for those ridiculous comedies made across the pond. It started with Monty Python in his youth and grew from there.
Will liked his solitary like in the apartment house he lived in. His neighbors didn’t bother him, and he didn’t bother them. His extent of interaction with his fellow tenants didn’t go past a courteous “Hello, how are you today?” at the mailboxes, or as he passed them on his way out the door. Will didn’t bother anyone, and they didn’t bother him. Will liked it that way. He didn’t know most, or any, of his neighbors personally. He knew their names from the row of bronze colored mailboxes embedded into the block wall of the lobby. He even knew some of the faces that went with those names. The only person in the entire building that he had more than a passing knowledge of was the superintendent, Mr. Slade. Will knew him well because Will’s garbage disposal had been giving him trouble for the last few months. And now that was fixed, he was quite content to slip back into the shadows of anonymity of apartment life. Will smiled and nestled snugly into the seat of his favorite recliner and felt the warm, fuzzy fingers of sleep pull his eyelids closed.
He was startled awake by a heavy pounding on his door. The television was still on and a talking head was spouting some droll news story or another as the pounding came again. Will looked at his watch, it was 230 in the morning. No one he knew would dare to knock on anyone’s door at this hour unless it was a true emergency. He struggled with himself and the cobwebs of sleep as he got out of the chair. “I’m coming, I’m coming…” he grumbled and set the half spilled bowl of chips onto the coffee table. Again came the pounding as he placed his hand on the doorknob.
When he opened the door, Will wasn’t prepared for what greeted him. It was one of his neighbors (he assumed) in an obvious state of distress. She was crying and her clothes were rumpled and the sleeve of her grey t-shirt had been torn away and was now hanging by a thread. He didn’t know her, just her name, Katherine.
“Uh….hi.” he said wiping the sleep crumbs from the corners of his eyes.
She stared at him with glassy, dead eyes. “Hi, listen…” she began, “I live in 509, my husband is pretty drunk.” Will could now see the bruise forming around her eye. “He’s…he’s not nice when he’s drunk.”
Will was awake now. “Ok?”
“I know it’s an imposition, but can I stay on your couch tonight? My family is coming to pick me up in the morning. I’ll be out of the way before 9.”
Will thought this was strange to say the least, but he wouldn’t turn away someone seeking shelter from an abusive storm. “Sure…that will be ok.” He stepped aside to let her in. Will felt an ice-cold breeze follow her through the door but paid it no mind. The building’s air conditioner worked overtime, even in the winter months. She smiled and sat down on the couch. “Let me get you a pillow and a blanket.” he said as he closed the door.
“Thank you.” was all she said.
Will got her settled, and made sure she knew where everything was in case she needed something before he awoke. With a smile he wished her a good night and went off to bed.
He awoke the next morning and his apartment was colder than usual. He shivered as he threw the blankets off of himself and looked at the clock. it was 9:45. he dressed himself in jeans and a plain white t-shirt and went into the living room. His guest was already gone. The pillow and Blanket he left for her was folded neatly and left in the same spot he had placed it. Will almost thought for a moment that she didn’t even use them. he didn’t think anything of it. The woman did say she would be gone before 9, and he woke up considerably later than he had intended. With a shrug, Will went about his day.
The day went as Will’s normally would. Coffee, a small breakfast of cheese and toast, then off to work at the office where he was an administrative assistant. The day trundled on monotonously, like every day does. Will found his thoughts going to the woman from last night. Was she ok? Would she go back to her husband? All sorts of questions flooded his mind, and will stuffed them away as soon as they cropped up. He helped her when she needed it and that was the end of it.
Will got home later than usual because of traffic. It was nearly 7pm before he turned the key in the fake brass lock of his door. He paused and looked down the hallway to the door marked 509. He thought about knocking on it, just to see if she was there. But what would he say if she was? He laughed at himself as he opened his door. He knew what lie in store for him this evening. Another night of his favorite online game, a small tv dinner and tv until he couldn’t stay awake any longer. It crossed his mind how the unexpected visitor of the previous night had injected a bit of excitement in his otherwise mundane existence. Again, Will found himself chuckling at the sheer absurdity of himself wishing she would come back. His night droned on, and once again he found himself asleep in his chair when there was yet another pounding on the door. Will shot up and crossed the room quicker than he intended and swung the door open without bothering to look through the peep-hole.
There she was, again. Wearing the same clothes as yesterday. The t-shirt with the sleeve hanging from a thread like the sword of Damocles, the rumpled jeans, even her hair seemed to be exactly the same.
“Hi, listen…” she began “My husband is pretty drunk. He’s….he’s not nice when he’s drunk.”
Will nodded and listened as she repeated, word for word, what she had said the night before. “Of course you can stay.” he replied when she was finished. “I’ll get you a pillow and blanket.”
As he placed them on the couch beside her he added. “Maybe you can stay for breakfast this time?”
She smiled and averted her cold eyes from him, but never answered. Will smiled and wished her a good night and went to bed himself.
When he awoke the next morning he found her gone again, the pillow and blanket left where he placed them. They hadn’t been used at all. he shrugged and put the things away. Not everyone needed a pillow and blanket to drift off to sleep. He was a little upset that the damsel in distress didn’t stay for breakfast. He had intended to help her in any way he could, whether it be a place to stay or a ride somewhere else. But Will knew that some people, like himself, would rather settle their own affairs without any outside help, so he put that from his mind as well. He dressed for the day and grabbed his briefcase. With a light whistle he left his apartment. Will walked ever so slowly as he passed apartment 509, straining his ears for any sound from within. He couldn’t hear anything, not even so much as the tv on, or a radio. The walls in the tenement house weren’t exactly thin, but neither were they sound proof. It struck him that a fight of such violent magnitude would surely be heard by Millie Teagle in 508, or the nosey old Frank Simms across the hall in 510 would have certainly stuck his head out to hear. And if it was a fight of that magnitude, surely the police would have been called. Millie Teagle called the police on a rambunctious part on the second floor just last month. And to his knowledge, the police haven’t been on the fifth floor since he moved in. These tantalizing questions plagued his brain as he rode the elevator to the lobby.
The doors opened and the sunlight came crashing through. “Hello, Will.” a pleasant voice greeted him as his eyes adjusted to the brilliance of the light. he knew immediately that it belonged to the super.
“Good morning Mr. Slade.” he said as his eyes finally made the corrections.
“Nice morning isn’t it?”
Will nodded and placed his hand on the door. “Mr. Slade?” he turned.
“Yes? Your garbage disposal isn’t on the blink again is it?”
Will shook his head. “No. Nothing like that. Can I ask you something?”
Mr. Slade smiled. “As long as you’re not asking for my secret barbecue recipe, sure you can Will.”
“Well…” he thought for a moment, “There’s this girl…”
Mr. Slade chuckled and put the screwdriver he was using in a pocket. “There is always a girl, young Will.” he said jovially.
Will laughed lightly in turn. “Yes, well, you see Mr. Slade, she is being beaten by her husband, and it seems pretty bad. She stayed on my couch the past two nights, and I don’t even know her name. I just want to make sure she is ok.”
Slade nodded. “You’re a good egg Will.”
“Thanks. Just wanted to know, who is in 509?” he asked.
Mr. Slade’s face went ashen and his eyes grew wide. “509?”
Will nodded. “She said she lived in 509. I thought if the fights were that bad, somebody would have called the police. When I went by there this morning I couldn’t hear anything…so I don’t know.”
“Will…” Mr. Slade’s voice was shaky and cracking. “you sure she said 509?”
Will nodded, confusion crept over his face as he noticed the normally happy and pleasant demeanor of Mr. Slade change almost instantly at the mere mention of 509. “Yeah, Mr. Slade….509”
Slade sat down heavily on a long bench in the lobby. Without thinking Will had sat down beside him. Mr. Slade looked at Will for a moment, wrestling with telling him something that he wasn’t sure he should. “Will, you’ve been here for what…6, 7 months?”
Will nodded. “Seven.” He answered.
Slade sighed softly and closed his eyes. “Luke and Michele Owens lived in 509. About a year ago, Luke, in a drunken rage accused Michele of cheating on him with someone in the building. No one was of course. Ask any of the long timers here, Will, they will tell you, no one was ever anything but cordial to the pair of them…”
Will could feel his blood growing colder with each syllable.
“Well….” Mr. Slade continued, “Luke killed her. He beat her to death with his bare hands. After he had done the deed, drunk as he was, he tossed her body into the hallway. He thought he had simply knocked her cold, ya know? He was too drunk to see that she was dead. Well the police came, there was a big hoopla upstairs, as im sure you can imagine…but Luke is serving life in the Moundsville Penn, and poor Michele is resting in Gravel Lawn Cemetery.”
Will sat there, his eyes bigger than the moon. “Bollocks!” he said. “You can’t be serious!”
Mr. Slade stood up and went to the door in the lobby with the brass “SUPER” plate bolted to it. He waved Will over. Will had never been in Mr. Slade’s apartment before, but it was much neater than he had imagined. Everything was in its proper place. Within moments Mr. Slade had reappeared with a newspaper. “Is this her?” He showed Will the front page. On it was the image of the pretty young woman who had visited him two nights in a row. Will reached for it with a trembling hand and unfolded it so he could read the article. Luke Owens murdered his wife in a drunken rage, dropped her body outside their apartment door and passed out. Will found out that Luke was now indeed serving life in prison. And that his unexpected guest was, in fact, dead and buried.