“Murder at the Apthorp” by E.B. Miele
Mondays Are Murder features brand-new noir fiction modeled after our award-winning Noir Series. Each story is an original one, and each takes place in a distinct location. Our web model for the series has one more restraint: a 750-word limit. Sound like murder? It is. But so are Mondays.
This week, E.B. Miele deals with an unexpected situation in an uptown apartment building.
Mid-eighties Manhattan, when the weird were weirder, the dirty dirtier, and neon orange tits pulsed the heart of Times Square. When hookers in hot pants and platforms sneered at the down-and-outers on 96th and Broadway, and even the cushiest berth, like the Apthorp, with its locked gates and classy facade, hid horror. This tale took place back when there was a single fountain in the cobblestoned courtyard and all the apartments were rentals.
Don’t ask how I happened to be living among the hoity-toits when I first spotted Alma. Blonde with brick-house curves, she’d moved into 8C to babysit the oldest resident of the building, terminally confused ninety-three-year-old Miss Pettibone. Spackled makeup couldn’t hide the hard lines of the new caregiver’s face. With hair color closer to Pabst Blue Ribbon than champagne, and a twelve-inch difference between chest and waist, her look was way too vulgar for the Apthorp crowd.
Alma had something, though—that way she looked men over, crude as hell, but it got you as hot as if she’d run her hands over you, hard.
We met face-to-face after she’d nearly broadsided me exiting the elevator. She jabbed out an arm to shield old Pettibone, who was focusing on remembering to breathe while inching her walker forward. The sixty-ish elevator boy, a sad slob who dashed around like a teenager to earn the half-dollars the rich tipped him, rushed to assist.
“Some manners some people got,” Alma said to Carlos, rolling her eyes. Her voice was rough grass and three-buck buttered rum. I personally can’t stand a squeaky woman. She fussed over the old bird, but I wasn’t buying. What would this broad get up to when no one was watching?
Two years in, early Saturday, Thanksgiving, the weekend most New Yorkers exit the city. Grow old on the inbound tunnel lane in panoramic East Orange some Thanksgiving Sunday, if you doubt me.
Old Pettibone was still hanging on at ninety-five, but her so-called aide rarely took her out. All night long, sleet from the pink-and-gray city sky had stabbed the air. By dawn, a cold white fog, heavy as bandages, erased the silent courtyard.
Carlos, buzzed awake by the jerk in 5D, thought at first some delivery boy had dropped a pillowcase of laundry or a plastic trash bag on the fountain’s stone lip. Mierda. But this pillowcase had arms and legs. Miss Pettibone, in a see-through cotton nightie, scrawny as the last frozen turkey in the grocery cooler, had died rictus-faced, her arms hugging her narrow chest.
At the funeral breakfast she hosted, Alma licked garlic-scented oil from her fingers and blamed herself. Had she left the service door open accidentally? If only she hadn’t been sleeping when the old woman snuck out. She hated to say it, she said, reaching for another Zabar’s homemade dolmas, but the building’s handyman had stopped in late Friday afternoon about the stove. Staff could be so careless. The few dimwitted souls at the funeral breakfast in 8C guzzled sherry and clucked. Miss Phony Caregiver had her act down cold.
I waited till curtains. She thanked me for coming while hustling me to the door.
“Whoa, sister,” I said. “I saw you do it.”
Like all great liars, there wasn’t a frisson of anything but bemused wonder. No flushed cheeks, no panicky sweat. Alma’s solid glass heart beat steady as a metronome, and her glacial eyes didn’t shift from mine. But only one woman ever bested me, and that was long before Alma. I think you can guess how she shut me up.
When she had me where she wanted, she fed me the sexy details: the midnight trip to the roof, Alma cozy in a black down parka, the barefoot old lady in her nightie.
“You got antifreeze in those veins or what?” I asked.
“Look,” she bragged, her bare nipples hardening as she shoved some legal-looking documents at me. “I talked the stupid old bitch into adopting me. “
What did I really care about some fossil who’d lived her long life enjoying the Apthorp’s cloistered air, Baccarat chandeliers, and carved ceilings ever since Papa Pettibone signed the lease in 1910?
If you’re one of those finger pointers, blame rent control.
That dusty lease guaranteed right of succession. Alma, the adopted daughter, a nobody with a tricky past and a devious mind, got it all—bedrooms the size of tennis courts, three full baths, the doormen’s bows—for $257.56 per. Wouldn’t you, breaking your back to afford that mousehole studio in parochial Queens, do the same?
Would you like to submit a story to the Mondays Are Murder series? Here are the guidelines:
—Your story should be set in a distinct location of any neighborhood in any city, anywhere in the world, but it should be a story that could only be set in the neighborhood you chose.
—Include the neighborhood, city, state, and country next to your byline.
—Your story should be Noir. What is Noir? We’ll know it when we see it.
—Your story should not exceed 750 words.
—E-mail your submission [email protected] paste the story into the body of the email, and also attach it as a PDF file.
Posted: Feb 2, 2015
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