The felt letter board in the lobby stood three feet tall, bordered by stainless steel. A thin pole and a round base, heavy but not fixed to the marble. It read, all guests must be announced.
An important rule for some, a nuisance for others. I dreaded talking to anyone, in person or on the phone, and especially them. The last thing I wanted to do was use the intercom. The idea of calling up to notify a tenant that a person had arrived, friend or family, that they most likely invited over to their apartment in the first place baffled me. The worst offenders were assholes who threw parties and wanted to be rung up for each guest. Announce ’em all.
I would stare at the sign in the lobby. The children would sometimes rearrange the one inch white plastic letters, or pocket some. Little entitled thieves. Murphy kept a spare board and a ton of extra letters. Most children of the building were great, I loved the conversations and games of catch out front but even they would reach a point when they realized what we were to them, they figured out early you were beneath them. The subtle change in them was obvious to me.
Russell Cevallos stood at the door, with sweaty disheveled brown hair, in a Shai Hulud hooded sweatshirt, 6 color desert camo shorts and a cup of coffee in each hand. Mauricio would make him wait. Mauricio hated that the shareholders loved Russell, pegging him as the golden boy even though Russell was late all the time, not five minutes late, not ten minutes late but an hour or two and often. Russell’s mother had passed away recently, hitting him pretty hard and his coping mechanism was partying. He went out with his friends almost every night, getting hammer smashed face, mostly from beer and whiskey and occasionally he ingested some powdery drugs. Any excuse to go out to the bar would suffice. Mets game. Rangers game. A hardcore or death metalband he liked was in town. Ten cent wings. Some girl. Anything he could do to take his mind off her death, he did it. He welcomed any distraction, good or bad.
Russell looked at me and then made a face directed at Mauricio. The door buzzed and Russell went to open it but the buzzing silenced and the door locked again, he just missed it.I preferred the porter shifts over the doorman shifts. You kept busy and the day went by fast unlike the dragging of hours inside the lobby. I liked the solitude of that position’s requirements. I could throw in my ear buds and disappear with the freight elevator to collect the rubbish and mop the halls. Pushing the wet mop across the floor reminded me of coloring books when I was a kid or doing fill-ins when graffiti meant something to me, but there was something meditative about completely coloring in something or making sure the mop graced every inch of the floor. Of course, when there was ongoing construction or renovations occurring in one of the apartments, which there always was, the buzzing of the elevator would become slightly annoying. I enjoyed sorting the mail, more so than delivering it to their doorstep. I didn’t mind changing out the light bulbs or helping one of the good tenants with opening a jar of sauce, hanging a painting or killing a bug.
“You got me,” said Russell, “You know what? Murph’s coffee is getting cold.” That was Russell’s way to apologize for fucking up. He knew he was wrong but still couldn’t pull his shit together. Once he got to work he was fine, Russell did everything expected of him, it was getting to the building that was the problem. Mauricio was never there to see how Russell stayed late to make the hours honest, maybe not every time he was tardy but it wasn’t uncommon to spy him after his shift had ended, catching up a task to ensure it all got done.
The front door buzzed again. The door was a large metal door, painted black, it had some weight to it, and there were twisting metal bars and filigree, and latches that held the glass pane in place. There were screws to untighten the latches to remove the glass for cleaning.
“Thank you,” said Russell, as he entered the building.
Mauricio ignored him as he did most people.
I leaned back on my stool, half on the marble wall and half against the glass window sipping my coffee. The little endearing courtyard behind me. The lass in the fountain read her book. Many visitors of 534 admired the courtyard and the statue in the fountain. I killed time by drawing a self portrait on a memo pad, provided by the doctor’s office next door, sponsored by zoloft. I could’ve been the poster boy for selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors.
“Hi, Rainer,” Russell said. “Rain is beginning to let up. Murphy got the elevator?”
I said, hey. “Yeah, he got it. Russ, did you have fun last night?”
“Too much fun. You should have come out.”
“Thank you but I’ve not been in the mood lately.”
“I’m always in the mood. That’s the problem. Why are you here today?’
“Aponte is on vacation,” I said. “What are you listening to?
“Liquid Swords,” Russell answered.
“People said his brain was infected by devils.”
There was a faint hum followed by a ground shaking wallop, a tremor of low magnitude hit the courtyard. Nothing that would impress Charles Richter, nevertheless a shocking one-two punch, a giant thud as the body hit the courtyard followed by the spatter of blood on everything, including the lobby windows and the poor teenager standing in the fountain. The young lass was no stranger to the sight of blood. The crash behind me startled me, and the chair I had been sitting on came out from underneath me. I hit the floor hard, but not as hard as Kranepool. The coffee mug that belonged to Agnes was in pieces, the marble floor decimated it, rendering it irreparable. The coffee mug could be replaced, maybe Sydney would argue the same for her husband.
Kranepool had opened his window, never before had he pondered defenestration, though he took a few steps back and then after a deep breath, he stretched his feet, twinkled his now hairless toes and ran, diving out of the window. In just under four seconds Kranepool kissed the concrete, not enough height or time to achieve terminal velocity but possibly enough time to reflect on his impulsive decision to self terminate. Was he immediately filled with regret? No heart attack mid fall. No psychogenic shock to ease the reality of what he had done. His feet landed first, then his body whipped into an inhuman position, breaking him and slamming his head down on the cement, turning off his lights evermore. His feet exploded on impact, resembling some kind of butchered orthopod, a science fiction massacre. A bone jutted out here, a patch of fat exposed there. An ungodly sight to behold, Kranepool was gruesomely spread amongst the courtyard. His blood mixed in with the water of the fountain. A tacky mist of red licked the petals of all the flowers. His demise would etch itself into our brains forever.
“Unholy Shit,” I said, quickly getting up from off the floor.
“What the fuck? Who is that? Oh, my god. Is he fucking naked?”
“It’s fucking Kranepool, man. Yeah, he’s naked.”
“Why is he naked?” Russell asked, covering his mouth with a coffee cup.
“How about why the fuck is the man in the courtyard? Did he fall? It had to be intentional, no?”
“Grown men don’t just fall out of windows,” said Russell. “ I have to call the police. Right?”
“I think you have to clean this shit up,” I said, only half joking.
“My god,” said Mauricio who looked to be experiencing some fair amount of shock. He murmured something that I took to be a prayer in Spanish for the lawyer. Mauricio backed away, retching and burping, until the contents of his stomach spilled out like a gutted animal. If I had to guess I’d say he had a sausage, egg and cheese on a roll and a coffee, extra milk for breakfast.
“What the fuck is going on today?”
“Well, Maybe,” I said, “if you would have gotten here on time none of this would have happened.”
“Shut the fuck up,” Russell said.
“Russ, go and get Murphy.”