[The suspense is growing. Did Ella make the wrong move? She’s happy in her new home for now and meets Dave, a friendly downstairs neighbor. She shares her suspicions about the tenant next door.]
Sometimes, Dave and I would meet by the mailboxes in our vestibule. We’d chat for a while. I found out he’d retired from a city desk job around the same time I retired as a big law firm’s ace paralegal. When King was with him, which was almost always, I’d commune with the pooch. I’d squat next to his snout, then sweet-talk him with pats and scratching around his ears and under his chin. He loved it. We were best friends forever before long. I hoped Dave thought I was okay since King liked me so much.
“Look, Dave, I’m sure I heard a dog—sometimes howling, sometimes whimpering—and right next door. On the other side of the kitchen wall. It was eerie.”
He scratched the back of his head and pushed his glasses up his nose. “Well, once in a while—not often, let me tell you—I have to leave King alone in my place for more than an hour. Maybe you heard King that time.”
“But the sound came from next door, not down below.”
“Sound travels funny around here. You’re not hearing things, but you’re probably not used to all the noises in in this building. It’s quite old, you know. Been renovated several times over the past 50 years.
“Look, you’d like a cup of coffee? C’mon up. I’ll brew a pot. You’d make King very happy since—” Dave smiled and tilted his head. “Well, coming?”
“Sure, thanks, if it’s no trouble.”
“None at all.”
Dave’s place had the same floor plan as mine, but much more furniture. A big oak desk sat squarely in the middle of the “living” part of the main room. Where my place only had a butcher block table, an island with a granite counter divided his kitchen from the rest of the room.
Dave dropped his keys on the hall table and filled a wide ceramic bowl with kibble. King danced around his legs, then set to eating noisily. He sighed, “I’ve never heard any of the noises you’ve mentioned…” He paused. “Except—”
“Except?” Sitting on a stool next to the island I was absorbed in the pretty pattern of his green and black granite. His “except” made me look up.
“Except, just before my wife died, a couple of years ago.”
“Oh, I’m so sorry. I’m a widow, too, I mean, my husband died a while back.” My turn to pause. Taking a deep breath I asked, “Did you ever hear noises in 2A?”
“Well, yeah, once. Clarice—my wife—was getting home hospice care. I won’t bore you with the details. She was near the end, and I wanted her to have peace and quiet, but all through the night before she died, neither the nurse nor I could get any rest because of loud noise from upstairs. Clarice was sedated, but she moaned hearing the first loud thump. And the thumping kept up. Worse, King was staring at the ceiling and I could hear his low, slow growling. Really creepy.
“I went upstairs and pounded on the door. No one answered. Deathly quiet. So I went back home. After about ten minutes the thumps started up again. I nearly called the police; but Clarice’s breathing changed. The hospice nurse said we were hearing her death rattle. Oh, God; that was awful. And then—she was gone. Clarice died, and the thumping stopped.” He clamped his lips shut. Raising his eyebrows, he said, “You’re a widow?”
“Twelve years ago was when he died, well, it’s complicated.”
Dave tilted his head again.
“Um, it was a bizarre accident. A crash. A fire. They never found his body, just some of his belongings and bits of his clothing.” I shivered.
“Hey, I’m sorry. Look, try to relax. Nothing’s going on next door. Some holding company owns the place. I’m sure they vetted the tenant. Hey, mind if King and I see you home? I have to take him out anyway.”
“Oh, sure. Thanks.” I put my coffee mug in the sink, tossed the paper napkin in his wire waste basket and followed him out the door.
When we returned to my landing, King dashed to the threshold of 2 A and sniffed it, running from one side of the door to the other.
“Hey, King, quit it. Leave it alone.”
The dog was after something. “Dave, he smells it, whatever’s in there.”
“Nah, sometimes he gets these notions, chases after a nothing, then he calms down.”
“He’s looking pretty frantic to me.”
Crouching next to his dog, Dave reached out to pet him. King snapped at his hand and Dave fell backwards, breaking his tumble with one hand. “Ouch. King, what’s gotten into you?” King growled a warning and Dave scrambled to his feet. “I think he wants me to get away from that door. I’ll go back downstairs to grab some treats, calm him down. Hey, boy, you O.K.?”
Other than a serious case of raised hackles, the dog seemed quiet and docile. Dave squatted again and extended his hand under King’s muzzle. The dog sniffed it, sat back and whined.
“What is it, boy? Want to go home?”
They went down one flight and running to Dave’s door, King scratched it furiously. Dave took out his key, patted King’s head, and let his pet inside. Dave called up: “I’m confused. King never acts that way and I know he’s not sick. Look, Ella, talk to Joe—you haven’t met the super? —okay, I’ll talk to him. Maybe he will check it out for you.”
I couldn’t help saying, “Dave, King didn’t like something in 2A and he did not want you anywhere near it. Who is this “Joe?” I’ve never seen a janitor around here.”
“He’s a contract maintenance man. Doesn’t have to come in all that often. We take care of most problems ourselves and we haven’t had many lately, until, well, now.”
I stepped back from the banister, “Sure, fine, thanks for offering. He must have a master key or something.”
No sounds came from 2A. I returned to my place and double-locked the door.
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