Copyright 2014 MillieAnne Lowe, Orange County, California
I ran up the stairs. Everything I owned was in that apartment. The pictures of my mom and dad, my collection of awards, my passport, clothes, and jewelry.
Eric, Jeanne, and Krista were behind me racing to our apartment, number 24. The thought of what I might find as I climbed the stairs filled me with dread. When we got to the door, it stood open, but it wasn’t the only thing not in order. The accordion gate of the elevator on the left side of our apartment stood partially open. We could see through the gate that the elevator was stuck halfway up, or was it halfway down? A dead dog lay on the floor. Its stomach ripped open.
“Oh my God, it’s Mrs. Hamlin’s pup, Sweetie Pie,” said Krista. The whole of her being shook as she began to sob.
“If that’s her pup, where’s Mrs. Hamlin? She’s never without her dog,” said Jeanne.
“Quick, get inside your apartment and call for the police,” said Eric. “No wait! Someone might still be in there. I have a better idea.”
The rest of us stood frozen in fear. My mind was racing, as was my heart.
We listened carefully as Eric whispered his plan and we shook our heads in agreement. While he went downstairs to get his walkie-talkie, and make a call, I hand-signed to the girls that our building was unusually quiet. It was a talent we decided to acquire as a group years ago.
They nodded in agreement. Jeanne looked at her watch and pointed to it. Then using her charade techniques, we came to realize that the man downstairs, an opera singer from Austria visiting his brother, was not practicing at his usual time. Every afternoon, his strong and full beautiful voice, could be heard through the air well created by the four buildings facing back to back. As he practiced his DO RE MIs the rich melody of his voice rose up from his opened kitchen window and floated into ours. It was like a center seat at the opera house.
Whispering to us again, Eric told us, “They’re on the way. I told the Fire Chief Mullins what we needed to be done, and why.”
Eric seemed to have taken over what we would do, and he now gave us the okay to go into our apartment. He went in first.
The apartment door opened two more inches and stopped. I stepped sideways and found little space to stand on. My heart lost its hope and distress filled it in seconds. Everything it seemed, that Jeanne and I cared about had been smashed or torn. Jeanne’s record collection, her West Side Story album that she listened to every night before bed, stood on its edge in one corner, while her portable phonograph lay broken under the kitchen table, along with our cookware, china, and books. Carefully, each one of us went in a different direction to check that the rooms were empty of intruders.
The door to my bedroom had been knocked off its hinges. Inside, my clothes, all of my dresses that I had so carefully purchased, and my shoes, they had been purposely thrown in all directions. My lingerie drawers stood empty. My most intimate apparel dumped here and there. A pair of my panties fell off the windowsill before I could get to it. I hoped the fire escape blocked it from the sidewalk.
Scrambling through a pile of papers I looked for my one best picture of mom and dad, and I found it next to one of my tan loafers. I spotted the other one across the room underneath my writing desk. Eric had just come into my room. He saw what I was looking at and said, “I’m closer. I’ll get it for you. There’s broken glass everywhere.”
I watched him avoid stepping on any of my broken valuables. Everything, I thought, has been shattered to tiny bits in here. Eric handed me my other loafer after checking that it was safe to put on. I did the same for the one I had in my hand. He helped me keep my balance while I put my shoes on. I left the blue papers slippers he gave me on the floor with everything else. My one and only carved Swiss back chair lay on the floor, broken.
On tiptoes, my first step toward the door caused me to lose my balance, and fell against Eric. I felt the muscles of his arms as he caught me. I was in awe that the power in his muscles had done damage to someone’s face. I noticed that the warmth and comfort I felt in his arms, was far beyond what I had expected to experience.
“Hey, you two, this isn’t the right time for romance,” said Jeanne. “Darn. We need new decorators, Haley. You won’t ever have to complain about my unmade bed anymore. My Murphy bed is in shreds. Your room looks like mine, and mine looks like the kitchen. Everything looks the same! Trashed!”
“I don’t understand this,” I said. “How can so much damage have been done without anyone hearing it, and calling it in?”
“Beats me,” said Eric. “I’m still wondering where everyone is right now. The hallway is deserted.”
“What happened in our bathroom?” I asked Jeanne.
“Oh, I forgot to look there.” She put her hand to her mouth and tiptoed down the hall to our bath.
“Oh, Gads!’ she yelled. We ran to see why.
On either side of the bathroom window, someone had written in red, “Bitches”.
“He used my most expensive red lipstick! I’ve gotta kill him!” said Jeanne.
Krista picked up a few of our tiny perfume bottles. These aren’t broken,” she said. “I wonder what’s waiting for me in my apartment down the hall.”
“Oh, I am so sorry. We’ve only been thinking about ourselves,” I said.
“Well, the killer, or the creep, might be thinking that I lived here, too. I’m over here all the time,” she said with a shrug of her shoulders in wonder.
“Let’s go find out now.” I reached out for her hand to keep my balance, and then gave her a hug at the door before we left. “You are so precious to us, we don’t want anything to happen to you either.”
Her hug back felt half-hearted. I assumed she was worried and fearful of what we might find, just like how I felt.
As we went down the carpeted hall way to her apartment the stillness once again caught our attention. Krista took her keys out of her pants pocket. She used two keys as her door had a double lock.
It creaked open. The scent of candles burning alarmed us right away. All of us, once again, went toward a different room.
“I didn’t leave any candles burning when I left last night,” Krista said. She searched her bathroom first.
“The fragrance smells like the candles were just lit a few minutes ago,” said Jeanne.
The layout of Krista’s apartment was a flip-flop of ours. Eric went ahead of us into the kitchen, and said, “Stay back where you are.”
“What’s going on, Eric?” I needed to know. I felt panic gaining on me again.
He came back in less than a minute. “Krista. You live alone, right?”
“Everyone, we’ve got to leave now!”
“What is it, Eric?” I demanded. “Tell us!”
“It’s Mrs. Hamlin. She’s dead. Her throat has been cut.”
Jeanne grabbed Krista’s arm and we all ran through the hall and down the stairs into the lobby. Fire engine sirens slowed to a stop. Firefighters came through the front door and headed up the stairs. They knew exactly where to go. Fire Chief Mullins recognized me. He knew me from charity events I hosted. Then he saw Eric and the rest of us.
“Has something else happened, Eric?” he said with an Irish lilt in his voice.
“Yeah, plenty,” said Eric. “Number 24 by the elevator, the elevator, and be careful in apartment 28, too. There’s a body there.”
“Still alive?”asked the Fire Chief.
“No. but let me tell you this.” Eric pulled Chief Mullins away from us and over to a corner. When Eric put his hand over his mouth, his stance seemed to be that he was listening to the chief, but what I heard him say at the end was, “You can place that call to the police now.”
The Fire Chief sprinted up the stairs after his men. Eric put his arms around us. “We’ve got to keep to ourselves. I want you girls to get in my car and go to this address. It’s my aunt Robin’s home. He gave me a piece of paper with the address written on it. Here are my keys. Listen carefully,” he said, “and follow my directions precisely.” We nodded in agreement. “Get in my car right away when you leave this building. And do it before the cops get here. Drive away and make sure no one is following you. Then go to this address and tell my aunt, Robin Glower, your names. You will not have to tell her anything else. I’ll take care of the rest.” He ran his fingers through his hair that was now a lighter shade of brown. The dust from the damaged rooms covered all of us. “This is where all of you can be safe until the killer is caught. I repeat. Do not talk with anyone else or let anyone know where you are going. If you need anything at all, I’ll get it for you later. Meanwhile, I’ll keep the cops busy.”
“But how are you…” started Jeanne.
“Go now! The cops are on their way!”
Copyright 2014 MillieAnne Lowe, Orange County, California