Wednesday, November 11, 2015
Flash Fiction Friday, Week 11: Old Habits
The prompt this week was about secrets. The challenge was to write a story that involved a secret.
I could hear the sirens for several minutes before the police arrived. There were three cars that responded, all with lights flashing and sirens blaring. One would think there was a crime in progress rather than a dead body. It wasn’t as if the perpetrator was still standing over her, admiring his work. Sometimes I wonder if real cops take their cues from police sitcoms. Not to sound uncaring, but the person was deceased, and the investigators showing up on scene like the Cavalry in an old black and white Western movie, isn’t going to get the case solved any the sooner.
I’m a newcomer to this apartment complex, and I was drawn to its charm, well maintained landscape, and friendly, yet seemingly nonintrusive, residents. Everyone minds their own. There are four units to each building, and I always make sure I introduce myself to all in my immediate proximity, in case an emergency should arise. That is, however, where my cordiality ends. I don’t ‘do coffee’, chat while retrieving the newspaper from my doorstep, or keep an eye on anyone’s children while they run to the market. I respect the privacy of others and expect the same consideration be shown to me.
The victim had lived on the ground floor, in the apartment across the hall from mine. Apparently, she had not arrived for her shift, or telephoned her manager to say she was ill. One of her co-workers was dispatched to find out if the girl planned to show up for work that day. When she received no response to her knocks and noticed what looked like blood coming from under the door, she contacted the Apartment Manager. On making entry and discovering a gruesome scene, they closed the door and phoned the police. The manager knocked on everyone’s door in the building and informed us all that one of our neighbors had been murdered and to prepare for the arrival of the authorities.
She had been a pretty little thing, bright red hair, blue eyes, and quite the chatterbox. I had met her on the day I moved in. I was still unloading my car when she approached me and introduced herself as Bunny. Her given name, she informed me, was Barbara; however, those closest to her called her Bunny. She stated she was on her way to work at a restaurant in the downtown area, and if I had time to stop in, she would provide me with a discount.
She welcomed me to the neighborhood, and proceeded to describe, in great detail, how her life had changed since leaving her parents’ home to strike out on her own. I was relieved when she bid me goodbye, got in her car and drove away. I made a mental note to learn her daily schedule so as to avoid any further chance tȇte-ά-tȇtes. There had been no accidental encounters since and now there definitely would not be. Again, not to sound cruel, but idle chatter was a waste of my valuable time.
There was a great deal of commotion in the parking lot in front of my building that interfered with my conference call, so I informed my client we would need to continue our discussion in the morning. I am a financial analyst and work from home. It pays extremely well, and leaves me free to handle my weekly errands. That had been my last call of the day, so I stepped outside to find out how much longer the disruption to my routine would continue. Evidently, the body had been removed, but the technicians were still going through Bunny’s apartment. The squad cars had departed and the evidence personnel were quietly performing their duties. So, who was making a fuss?
I noticed a woman going through the crowd, informing anyone who would listen that she knew the victim well, that they were very close, and that she knew what happened to her, but it had to remain a secret. There were factors involved that were so treacherous, mums the word. I heard someone tell her she needed to notify the police as soon as possible so they could catch her killer. She dismissed that advice and insisted this was bigger than anyone realized. Perhaps at a later date, if she was assured of her own safety, she might share her information with the authorities, but for now, she was going to keep her own counsel.
I made my way through the crowd that had gathered outside to an elderly lady who lived in the next building. I had seen her at the mail boxes on a couple of occasions and she’s clued me in on who I can say ‘Good Morning’ to and who I should avoid like the plague. The woman with the secret however, was someone whose status she had not shared with me.
“Mrs. Hopper,” I said. “Do you know who that is and what she’s going on about? It sounds as if she witnessed the murder or at least knows who committed it.”
“That one is full of it,” she responded. “All the recent murders in the city have got her all fired up. Each time they’ve found a body, she’s said she knew the victim, they were close, she knows what happened, but she needs to keep it secret. It’s all bull, you know. She does that just to get attention. Good thing I ran into you so I can warn you about her.
“Her name’s Sissy, and if she comes anywhere near you, make tracks the other way. She’s a Nosy Nellie if I’ve ever met one. She’ll bother you at all hours, and try to find out everything about you. Once she leeches onto you, there’ll be no avoiding her, so nip it in the bud.”
“She should be careful and not spread it around that she knows who committed a murder,” I offered. “Doesn’t she realize she’s putting herself in danger?”
“Hon, no one takes her seriously. Everybody around here knows she’s just trying to make herself look special. Oh, no. She’s coming this way. I’m going back inside and I’d advise you to do the same. Take care, Robert.”
The crowd was dispersing, and it looked as though Sissy no longer had an audience. Our eyes met, but before she could approach me for one last declaration of her inside knowledge of the crime, I went back to my apartment to prepare to run a necessary errand later that evening.
Before she went back into her apartment, Sissy informed the neighborhood she was going out to pick up some dinner. I’m not sure why she felt the need to share that information, but evidently, her need to stand out was not exclusive to being a witness. I saw her leave at 7. When she returned at around 9, she was surprised to find me waiting for her in her living room.
“Who are you? Why are…”
I put my hand over her mouth, told her to be quiet and pushed her down on the couch. Tears were running down her cheeks, and I spoke softly to her to keep her calm. It’s true that I was going to kill her, but I didn’t like it when they got all agitated. Everything got messy. I didn’t like messy.
“Answer me. Do you know something about the redhead’s murder? Well?”
“I…but why…did you…”
“Yes or no.” I didn’t have all night. It was getting late and I had calls to make in the morning.
“What is it then that you are keeping secret? Answer me.”
“There’s no secret. I…I’m sorry. I don’t know anything. I just said that because…I don’t know why I say things like that. I’m sorry. I won’t… I don’t know anything. Did you…no. Don’t tell me. I’m sorry.”
She started crying again, but at least she was calm.
I leaned in and whispered to her.
“So, there’s no secret?”
“There’s no secret, she said, sniffling. “Not really. I just made that up.”
“Shouldn’t have done that,” I said. “I have one though, and I know you won’t tell.”
I moved behind her, pulled her head up by her hair and ran my knife across her throat. No mess on me.
I locked her door on my way out. I had gloves on, of course. I never leave fingerprints. No one saw me leave her apartment and go past the couple of buildings back to mine. That’s what I love about these apartments. Everyone minds their own.
This month, it was redheads. I choose a type and kill one a week. It’s a habit I picked up years ago from my Pops. Unusual, but fulfilling. I make it a rule to avoid those close to home, but with Bunny, I took exception. She was almost as annoying as Sissy would have become. Sissy, by the way, was a brunette. I guess rules are meant to be broken.