“Hold the elevator,” Gerry shouted as Carmen walked into the lobby.
“Take your time. Slow down. Slow it down,” I said to her as she hurried toward the elevator, with a computer bag in one hand, and a bottle of sauvignon blanc in the other.
“Thank you, love.” Carmen as she preferred to be called was an uplifting human being. Those were few and far between. A magnetic woman who brightened people’s moods.
An Australian transplant who had some position of stature in the publishing industry. She stood five foot four in a sand colored trench coat and matching hat with knee high rain boots. She was close friends, more like family with The Burrells, who lived in apartment 2A.
Kevin Elster wore the no. 2 for the Mets. In 1989 he briefly held a major league record for playing 88 games straight without making an error.
She was allowed full access to the apartment whether they were home or not. It was gospel, an edict set in stone. Carmen spent more time in the Burrells apartment than the Burrells, who since early retirement enjoyed cocktails and running their Irish Setters on the beach at their cottage in Sag Harbor.
“You’re welcome,” I said.
“You know sometimes I wish they lived on a higher floor. I enjoy our little moments together. I’d love to fix you up with my son’s girlfriend. He’s a shit but she’s a catch. If I wasn’t too old I’d keep you for myself. To be clear, I am too old?”
I smiled, and most likely blushed more than I was comfortable with. I didn’t like any kind of reveal as to what I was thinking or feeling. Everything I felt held a certain amount of embarrassment. I disliked how emotional I was, so as of late I did my best to remain stoic in countenance. No more outbursts. No more public breakdowns. It was a conscious effort to suppress my pesky feelings and to hold myself together no matter how chaotic I felt internally.
“Don’t you ever change, Rainer.” In some respects, I hoped for change but I knew what she meant. I just wanted to feel better, maybe a tad bit saner.
“I’ll see you later, I said, pressing the button to close the door. “Enjoy your evening, Carmen.”
When I got to the seventh floor I switched the elevator over to automatic and sent it on its way. The lobby had an ugly bamboo hemp type wallpapering, with a cream colored rug. I hesitated, and stood dead in my tracks outside the front door of Mrs. Lawrence’s apartment. I thought about death fairly often, being presented with not one but possibly two deaths that day made it hard not to ponder one’s mortality. I wondered if all the things that we make mountains of were worth it in the end. What really mattered in life? If she was gone, I hoped it was swift and without suffering. I hoped she wandered off easy in the next world. I slid the spare key into the lock. I hesitated to turn it. I thought about doing push ups. I felt uneasy. A tightness inside of me constricted. I rubbed my index finger and thumb together as if the anxiety was stuck to my fingertips and I could wipe it away. If Mrs. Lawrence wasn’t the type of person that she was, I’d be fine, I might even be eager to find her corpse. I would have no reservations if it was someone else. I’d have no compassion. Did that make me a bad person? I can think of a hundred people who should die before her and I’d celebrate every single one of their deaths. I’d cheer for it. I was working diligently on my list.
If I was going to discover Mrs. Lawrence’s corpse on the other side of this red door, that needed a new coat of paint, it would be sad but she had a good run. Not everyone gets to live as long as she did and in that good of shape. I did wonder how she viewed her life? We all have different takes on how things occur or of who we are, it was all in the perception, and I wondered what her perception was. We don’t see ourselves the same as how other people see us. I knew I harbored on the negative but did she? Did she regard her time on earth as nice or would she be secretly relieved because now the heartache and the regret was about to be done and gone? If her life was an unhappy one, well that sadness would be over. I would never know the truth, but no one ever knew the truth, they only get shards of it.
The upside was knowing at least Iona wasn’t a vulture. Another lesson I’ve learned in this ongoing study of grotesque human behavior was seeing how some people reacted to a relative’s death in this building. The mourning is superficial. It’s all crocodile tears. It quickly becomes about possessions and contested wills. These people want for nothing but they will cut each other’s throat and stab each other in the back for a bigger cut of the inheritance or some treasured heirloom that they wouldn’t even appreciate but they would rather no one else possess or enjoy. Greedy fucks. I’m young but I’ve lived long enough to have seen some of the worst in humanity.
I knocked repeatedly on the door, calling out her name with no response. I turned the key and entered the apartment which I felt uncomfortable doing. The less time I spent in the apartments the better. You can’t be accused of stealing or breaking something if you never go into the apartment. Not that Mrs. Lawrence was like that but you always had to be on guard.
There is always a chance for a person to disappoint. The apartment had a distinct smell but I could not place it. Jasmine? Lavender? A stack of vintage postcards of Joan Crawford posturing on the top one, sat on a table beneath a large mirror that allowed you to greet yourself when you first walked in. A few pairs of tattered tennis shoes rested on the floor beside a collection of umbrellas.
“Mrs. Lawrence,” I called out. “It’s Rainer, are you in here? You ok? Hello?”
Nothing then there was a whirring, droning sound that got louder as I approached the bedroom. I made my way through the antiquated apartment. A time capsule. The door was ajar, the sound got louder. An old fashioned television was on, with no volume, and the subtitles activated.
I pushed the door open and Mrs. Lawrence was reading a book, listening to a discman while pedaling feverishly on a stationary bike. She screamed a piercing octave at the sight of me, and I caught the hardcover murder mystery she had thrown at my face in a knee jerk reaction.
“Rainer,” she yelled, pulling the headphones off. “Are you trying to give me a heart attack? Jesus H fucking Christ.”
“I’m sorry. I’m sorry,” I said. I couldn’t stop smiling. “Iona has been trying to reach you. We were worried. Just wanted to make certain everything was good with you.”
“Everything was good until you nearly frightened me to death.”
I said I was sorry.
“I know. You’re a good boy. Stop smiling already.”
I couldn’t. “Look. Your phone is not hung up.”
The receiver was knocked off the base on top of the nightstand, that was covered with books, lots of James Patterson and John Grisham novels. “Son of a bitch.”