Re-cap: Ella has moved into a new neighborhood and loves it until she learns someone might have been murdered a few blocks away from her home. A dog threatens her at the murder site. She calls Animal Control to report the dog and the strange animal sounds coming from a seemingly vacant apartment next door to hers. Her neighbor Dave (and his dog King) has been watching out for her. Ella finds him in the inner lobby of her building, looking under the stairwell.
“Hey, Dave. Sorry for all the excitement. What’s going on? Did you find something?”
Dave let King into his apartment then closed the door. I heard the lock click into place. “No, just checking the basement door. It’s not usually locked, but right now… anyway, Ella, don’t apologize. I’m sure you’re right. Something is wrong up there. King senses it, too.”
“Well, Falk looked all around, he said, and didn’t find anything. I can’t imagine what—.”
He wrapped his hand around the doorknob. “Oh, crap, I locked myself out.”
“Why don’t you look for Joe in back? He might still be around and probably has a copy.”
“Good idea. Thanks. Be back soon.” He paused before going outside. “Be careful, Ella.”
“Of course,” I said with a little flutter in my chest. Was that fear or excitement, or both?
I went up to my landing and on a whim tapped the door of 2A. It opened.
I looked over the banister and through the glass inner door of the vestibule. I saw only shadows outside and heard nothing but the crunch of Dave’s feet on the gravel path surrounding our building. After hesitating , I put my palm on the door and pushed, just a little. It swung open.
Twilight filled what might once have been the living/dining room. I felt along the cold and slightly damp wall adjacent to my apartment. Strips of peeling wallpaper snapped off at my touch and fell to the floor where they added to small mounds of paper long torn from the wall. When I reached the hole I’d noticed earlier, I knelt to see it up close. Just as I lit my key ring flashlight to shine into the hole, I heard a familiar growl. Before I could turn my head, something hit me hard on the shoulder blades and knocked me against the wall. The impact forced a yelp from my lungs but when my head hit the floor, twilight turned to midnight.
I groaned at the sound of my name.
“Ella, Ella. What happened? Can you hear me?” I heard a dog whine as it licked my face and I sat up much too fast. Relieved to see the dog was King, I grimaced and peered at Dave kneeling beside me. My forehead was throbbing.
He was about to punch a number into his smartphone. “I heard a scream and a thud just as I came back to my place,” he said. “What are you doing here? What happened?”
“Don’t call 911, Dave. Please. I’m fine. Joe must have left the door open and—”
“And you decided to look around. Then?”
“I heard a growl. Something pushed me against the wall. It knocked me out, I guess.”
Dave said the door was open when he came upstairs but he saw no one on the landing and he couldn’t find Joe. He helped me stand. Wobbly, I held onto his arm. “Would you please stay with me a while. I’m a bit shaken.”
Dave steadied me with an arm around my shoulder and opened my door with the key I took from my pocket. I flipped the light switch.
I couldn’t breathe. Someone had ransacked my place, turned the kitchen drawers inside out and dumped everything on the floor. I staggered into my bedroom, but nothing there was disturbed. Same for all my closets and the bathrooms. What did they want? What would they have taken. I couldn’t imagine.
“This is awful. Who…who could have done this?”
“Probably the same jackass who attacked you in 2A. Let me call the police now.”
“No, no. I’m seeing Officer Ferguson tomorrow morning. I’ll report this to him. It might all be connected.”
“I think you should report this right away, but since you started to clean up the crime scene, what’s the use?” He grinned and helped me right drawers and sort things on the counter. I offered him a glass of Pinot Grigio, which he happily accepted and settled into a chair. I poured one for myself and looked through the mess.
“The wine should calm you, Ella, but that red bump will be a bruise soon. You should ice it.”
“I’ll deal with that later. I have to see if anything is missing.” As I wiped the drawers and replaced items I saw that one important object was gone, a small framed photo of Randy from the year before he became ill. I’d kept it in the ‘junk’ drawer for those melancholy moments that swept over me once in a while.
Dave cleared his throat. I looked up.
“You look upset. Something missing?”
“A photo…a photo I kept of my husband. The only one I have. He didn’t like being photographed.”
“That’s weird. Nothing else?”
“No. Nothing else is gone. But why would someone risk breaking in and take only that?”
Dave shrugged and put his empty wine glass in the sink. Standing next to me, he gave me a quick shoulder squeeze. “Hope you don’t mind the hug. Just being there for you. Now look, two things—Miss Katzer had my spare key so I’m fine and, second, you’re seeing Officer Ferguson tomorrow?”
“Give him all the details and be straight forward. He’s a good guy. And forget that Falk. I don’t like the way he talks to you. Miss Katzer doesn’t like him, either.”
“Well, I thought Animal Control was the right—”
“Not this time.” Dave walked over to the windows, watched the street for a minute, then checked the window locks. “Please keep these closed, Ella, and if you want, King and I can walk you to the police station tomorrow.”
I was happy to hear that. I told him the time I expected to leave and he asked me to knock on his door on my way out. He said good night and, making a lock-the-deadbolt gesture with his thumb and forefinger, he smiled and closed the door.
This night was going to be long.
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