For Charlotte Danner, landlady of Shadow Brook Arms, the apartment complex was more than just a place to live in or a job. It provided her with a philosophy and meaning for her life. Likewise, her renters had become more than mere tenants; they had become her pastime and favorite sport.
When not complaining to them or collecting their rent, Charlotte would play spy. Due to the central location of her apartment, she could eavesdrop on many of them anytime she wanted night or day. Thin walls and one good ear allowed her to hear what was going on in 2a beside her apartment, 4b above her on the second floor, and apartment 9a directly in back. What she could not actually hear herself first hand, she could gather as gossip or overhear in the hall. After spying and eavesdropping for so long, she discovered many interesting things about her tenants which she hoped she could use later on. So far in her research she had not actually found any prostitutes, homosexuals, or drug addicts living at Shadow Brook Arms. But she had discovered what she thought were unsavory characters and two families that she suspected of harboring illegal immigrants. Even such innocent behavior as family arguments and marital sex could not escape her ear. Sometimes, when the mood came to her, she would leak these secrets to willing listeners. On several occasions, when eavesdropping failed, Charlotte had even fabricated tales. She based her opinions, as she had on everything else, on what she had heard through the walls, saw in the hallways, and felt intuitively in her mind.
As a result of her eavesdropping and gossip mongering, Charlotte Danner had made enemies of almost everyone she knew. A few times in the past, this had led to heated arguments in which Charlotte's victims had been threatened with eviction if they did not old their tongues. Despite her acid tongue, most of tenants were forced by circumstances to tolerate her acid tongue. Occasionally, a tenant would come close to hitting her, speak his or mind, then pack up angrily and leave. But seldom would eviction be the cause of such departure, unless the rent had not been paid. At Shadow Brook Arms, failing to pay the rent was the one inexcusable act which Charlotte would not forgive. Everything else from disrespect to angry outbursts were expected by the old lady. Rarely, though everyone entertained such thoughts, would a tenant to threaten her with bodily harm.
Today, as she had done for a quarter century now, the old woman began her rounds in the morning, hoping to find her renters at home. For those who had paid or weren’t home, the dreaded ritual would be avoided (at least temporarily). Unless she found some other reason to visit them, those who had paid were safe inside their apartments, until they left to go to work or go shopping and then they were fair game. On the first of the month, regardless of the day, in rain, sleet or blazing heat, came a tap-tapping, followed by a gravely voice: “This is Charlotte. Your rent is due!” If the tenant was, in fact, absent, a note was often written and slipped beneath the door. At times it would be a reminder to pay on time or, if the tenant had been delinquent before, a threat to take action this time. If a face to face confrontation developed, as she hoped, the old woman would win. Her crafty mind had countless arguments, innuendos, and insults to trade. But the promise of eviction would be her ultimate tool. That was the hold she had over them in this low rent district: the age old power over tenants that could shut mouths and quell tempers instantly, leaving them fuming quietly until the old witch had shuffled away. Most of her renters were on a fixed income or were getting wages too low to rent anywhere else. To avoid homelessness and winding up on the street, they would scrimp and save quietly until the next month when it was time to give the devil her due.
Beginning with apartment one, she knocked on the door several times, before announcing who she was.
“This is Charlotte Danner. Your rent is due!” she finally chimed. Then when no response was heard, she snapped: “Hurry up Marge, I know you’re there!”
Peeking through the living room curtain first, Marge Pringle shuddered at what she saw. Charlotte Danner seemed to grow uglier and meaner each day. Her gnarled hands, hook nose, and dark beady eyes reminded her of a bird of prey. The old woman had detected the shuffling of Marge’s slippered feet. She could see, with mounting delight, the curtain moving, and could almost smell her fear. The spinster began struggling with the many locks securing her from the outside world, until, after several more seconds of hearing Charlotte muttering under her breath, she finally opened door
“Here, take it,” she murmured, poking it timidly out the door
“Hand it to me directly, Marge.” Charlotte pulled playfully on the knob. “I don't have the plague.”
“I'm not dressed,” Marge replied honestly, as she held her robe.
“You never are.” Charlotte cackled. “What do you do in there all day long, play with yourself?”
At that point, as the sunlight flooded in and Charlotte's awful countenance filled the room, poor Marge Pringle, not only an agoraphobic but an introvert as well, was again forced to deal with both of her phobias at once. Using this occasion to inspect Marge's apartment, Charlotte wandered around a few moments, marveling at the tidiness that her tenant exhibited in each and every room. It struck her as strange that Marge always acted as if she had something to hide.
“What's the matter,” she asked. “You gotta man hidden in here somewhere?”
“No.” Marge shook her head.
“Woman?” Charlotte sneered.
“No.” Marge eyes narrowed to slits. “I was going to take a shower.”
“Taking a shower? Again?” Charlotte said mockingly. “You must be the cleanest woman I've ever known.”
“That's none of your business.” Marge replied bravely. “You have the rent Charlotte. If you don't mind, I have things to do.”
“Things? What things?” The old woman snarled. “You don't leave the house. You never use your phone. The only thing you ever do is take a shower!”
“I pay my rent. I mind my own business. I keep my apartment spic and span. What do you want out of me Charlotte?” Marge's eyes filled with rage.
Knowing that Marge heard the rumor she had spread, Charlotte was delighted it had hit home. The spinster had dropped her hand long enough to expose the top of a breast and indicate that she might be naked beneath her robe. If anyone was a pervert in this room, it was Charlotte Danner. The old woman's dark beady eyes stared at Marge's cleavage much too long a time, causing the modest Marge to turn her back and shudder at the thought.
“Want? Why Marge, I don't want anything but the rent from you.” The old woman finally replied. “I’m just being neighborly, that’s all.”
“Neighborly? Is this what they call it?” Marge Pringle whispered back. “You told Hector Villa, my grocer, that I was gay. You told the Arnveldts that I messed around with young girls.”
“Why, I said no such a thing.” The old woman scowled, turning toward the door. “I might of said you were queer, but I meant queer in the head.”
“They knew what you meant,” Marge said wearily. “The Good Lord knows what you meant, and I'm sure everyone at Shadow Brook Arms knows what you meant. Fortunately for me, my friends know that’s a lie!”
“Friends? What friends?” she muttered to herself, as Marge opened the door. “Those Villa girls that deliver your groceries?. It gets awful quiet over there when they enter your place...Tell me Marge, would does a recluse do for fun anyhow: watch TV, walk around naked all day, or does she just take showers...with young girls?”
“Good day Charlotte” Marge said with forced composure. “I'll see you at the beginning of next month. Please Charlotte, just get out!”
“Okay, Marge,” Charlotte responded with a cackle. “Give my regards to your friends!”
After shutting the door softly and peeking out the curtain, Marge was satisfied that she had made her point. It was not terribly brave; other woman might have strangled Charlotte for what she had said. But at least she had not ignored it as she had last time. Earlier this year Charlotte had spread the rumor that she was a nudist and that all she ever wore when she came to the door was a robe. Shortly afterwards, the rumor had spread that she was mentally retarded and that a rich aunt was taking care of her expenses, including a supply of drugs that kept her doped up all day. Recently, Charlotte’s rumor mongering had worsened to include inferences that she was gay and was sweet on the Villa girls. The truth was, of course, Marge was terrified to go outdoors. The few times she had been forced to leave her apartment had been with Lois Villas’ help, scenes which were probably seen by her landlady time and again.
Lois would coax Marge into her car, drive her downtown for her appointment with Doctor Samuels, and wait patiently until their session was over. The doctor would continue working on Marge's troubled mind. He had a theory that Marge’s awful childhood had created the introvert in her, while her agoraphobia (the most serious phobia) had been created by circumstances in the last few years. A near fatal automobile accident, followed by an episode in which she had been beaten and raped, had destroyed what little trust Marge had in the world. Until Doctor Samuels came along, there had been little hope for Marge Pringle leading a normal life.
A small trust left by her parents would take care of her needs as long as she lived modestly and did not travel much. There had been no need to enter the work force or even go to the store. Fortunately for Marge, the Villa’s neighborhood market delivered groceries to invalids as well as patients like herself. After several months of service, in which Marge always gave a handsome tip, the Villa sisters began arguing over who got to deliver to her next time. To Marge's good fortune, Lois, the oldest and wisest of the Villa sisters took charge of her orders finally and soon was running other errands as well.
In spite of Charlotte's rumors of Marge's nudism, retardation, and lust for her own sex, Hector Villa, owner of The Corner Market, believed what his daughter Lois had said. He knew, as many others in the neighborhood, that Charlotte Danner had a vicious tongue. Not only did he trust Lois taking her groceries and bringing her mail and newspapers to her each day, he also allowed her to drive Marge to the hospital for her therapy each week. So far Doctor Samuels and Lois Villa have helped Marge begin her return to the outside world. Through Doctor Samuels, Marge had made several friends at the hospital and at the apartment where she lived. Through Lois Villa, Marge had learned what trust really means. Since her collapse several years ago, Lois Villa and Doctor Samuels provided her with two different kind of friendships: a listener, who managed in his professional capacity, to make her admit things she would never have said before; and a talker, who, in her innocent sincerity, knew just the right things to say.
Even though tenants listened to Charlotte’s gossip most of them didn’t believe it. This was true for Arnveldts who lived in Apartment 5a. Charlotte, despite her infinite wisdom, didn’t know that the Arnveldts were orderlies at the hospital where Marge had her therapy. As had the other tenants, Hans and Eva Arnveldt had often wondered about the strange recluse in apartment three. They were very surprised to learn later that she was the same lovely almond-eyed brunette who was a patient were they worked.
Though Rusty Shepherd and his wife Dorothy in Meadow Lane Apartments had managed to pay their rent early this time, Charlotte had a special issue with Rusty. Because they weren’t home, she hobbled to the next apartment where the Arnveldts lived. For Hans and Eva Arnveldt, who spoke with a thick German accent and seemed a bit stand-offish themselves because of their irregular hours, Charlotte had a different approach to antagonizing her tenants. As she once told the Smithfields and Morellos, she didn’t believe the Arnveldts were married. Eva was too “butch-looking” for the timid-looking Hans, who had been much too friendly with the young man in 5b, a tenant the landlady had finally driven him off with her barbs. Although they had never explained their relationship, Charlotte told the Smithfields and Morellos that they were probably brother and sister. Because the Arnveldts, like many of the tenants, placed their monthly rent in Charlotte’s mailbox, there had to be a pretext for visiting the couple. Her last visit in which she exchanged gossip about Marge was necessary because of a plumbing problem. This time would be a follow-up to find out if the problem was solved. There would be no more chances to harass the couple, unless she caught them outside their apartment or in the parking lot, so she must work quickly to get in her barbs.
Hesitant to respond this time, Hans let Eva answer the door. Unfortunately for the blond Amazon, she had just been working out in their exercise room when she cracked open the door.
“Vat you vant?” she muttered irritably. “Vee pay rent. You go way. I yam busy. Get foot out of door!”
“Eva, my dear,” Charlotte cackled, prying open the door. “You forget: my son owns these apartments. I just want to make sure that Jew plumber did his job.”
“Got in himmel!” Hans moaned in the next room. “Don’t let dat woman in!”
“Eva.” Charlotte huffed, forcing her way in. “Lemme do my job.”
As she ambled in, Eva towered over the old woman. “You got no right,” she protested, as Charlotte shuffled passed her and looked around.
“You people live like pigs,” she muttered testily. “It stinks like sweat in here. You two having sex?” “Ho, ho,” she added sarcastically, “that would be a hoot.”
“You tell Vic Morello and wife I yam lesbian and Hans is queer. That is lie!” spat Eva. “You lying about poor Marge too.”
“I didn’t tell anyone you guys were gay.” Charlotte shrugged. “I told them I thought you were brothers and sisters. I know for a fact Marge is gay!”
“So vat?” Hans stormed finally into the room. “This twenty-first century, Charlotte. Even if dis true, you got no right to scriminate against tenants.”
“Ho, ho!” the old woman clapped her hands. “Is that a confession, Hans?” “It’s true ain’t it,” she said, looking around the cluttered living room. “You guys are in the closet.” “That’s your sister, ain’t it?” She pointed at Eva. “Ho, ho, I see the likeness, but she got the testosterone. You got the estrogen. He-he-he-he!”
Eva stifled the urge to pick the old woman up, wring her neck, and bounce her off the wall.
Charlotte insisted on inspecting the plumbing work done to the garbage disposal. Turning it on and off a few times, she turned to inspect the messy kitchen, wrinkled her nose, and ambled down the hall, glancing into each room. To an unbiased observer, the two room apartment would appear normal for most tenants: unwashed breakfast dishes, unmade beds, and a few articles of clothing lying about, but nothing out of the ordinary for a Saturday morning. For Charlotte Danner, however, it was more proof that the Arnfeldts were unsavory tenants.
“Tsk-tsk-tsk,” she muttered with disgust. “This place must be crawling with roaches. It needs a good cleaning and airing out. You live like pigs!”
Eva opened the door and made a sweeping motion with her hands. “Vee know our rights, Charlotte. You go now while you still breathing. Dis last time I open door to you!”
“Watch it, lady.” Charlotte snarled as she was ushered out. “My son owns this establishment. I’ll tell him you threatened me. He’ll get you out into the street—”
Bam! went the door, muffling the old woman’s threats. In the breezeway, Charlotte continued to mutter to herself. Eva turned to Hans that moment and wrung her finger.
“Don’t do what I do,” she counseled sternly. “You hear knocking, look through peephole. She can’t evict us. Vee pay rent. It our word against hers.”
“Ya, ya!” Hans frowned irritably. “I don’t answer door; you do. Dummkopf! She has no right inspecting house, but you shouldn’t threaten that lady. What if she’s wired and reports to her son. I don’t to wind up on street!”
Several tenants were not home or simply ignored Charlotte’s knock. For those tenants who were late paying rent or foolish enough to answer their doors, she was, by now, pumped up with venomous energy, banging on doors, her warbling voice sending shivers up neighbors’ spines. Though she had spread rumors about Lucille Pointer having men friends over all hours of the night, which was true, Lucille had always paid her rent on time and was otherwise had few complaints from tenants next door. Lucille received her barbs en route to her car or returning to her apartment. Victor Chavez in apartment nine, however, and his wife and children, whom Charlotte believed were illegal aliens or undocumented immigrants, themselves, received the full treatment.
In a croaking voice, she hollered, “Hey, Chavez, open up! I know you’re in there!”
After looking through the peephole at her hideously magnified face and hearing her repeated demands, Victor unlocked his door, cracked it open and peered out. Before her arrival, the living room had been filled with children’s chatter and the voice of his wife chiding her oldest son. Now, as she perked up a ear, she noted that it was deathly silent inside. Placing the toe of her shoe in the crack, Charlotte gripped the door and, with a shove, plowed passed Victor into the room. Noting immediately the smell of diapers and food odors, she wrinkled her nose as she took Victor to task. “Where’s the rent Chavez? This ain’t government housing. You’re late again. You’re always late!”
Peering querulously up at him, she cocked her head, in a predatory manner, and held out a gnarled hand. Victor clinched his fist and stifled the urge to throttle the overbearing woman.
“I pay soon. I promise,” he said in deadpan voice.
“You pay very soon, senor,” she replied churlishly, “or it’s adios. You comprendé, amigo?”
“Jes.” He nodded. “I pay.”
“Hah,” she clucked, “you sure-as-hell better!”
Looking down at the toy-strewn floor and noting the absence of his family, her bird of prey eyes narrowed to slits.
“Say,” she huffed, “just how many people are living in this apartment?”
“Jes my family,” he frowned.
As she ambled passed him, he wanted very much to stop her but held himself in check. As she entered the hall, she called out rudely, “Get on out here. I wanna make a head count. You heard me. I got a good mind to call the authorities.”
From the two bedrooms, a small, rotund woman carrying a baby and four small children emerged with frightened looks on their faces.
“Jeez,” she gasped, “How old are you Victor. You couldn’t be more than twenty-one or twenty-two. You people breed like rats!”
Seeing Victor’s eyebrows shoot up and mouth drop, she cackled with mirth. The Mexican laborer, normally a peaceful and easy-going soul, muttered Spanish swear words, his dark eyes smoldering with rage. Nevertheless, Charlotte pressed the point.
“Are there any more relatives back there?” She began searching the bedrooms and bathroom. “Anyone hiding in the closet or under the bed. I wanna see some green cards.”
With a trembling hand, Victor fished into his wallet retrieving the official document. His wife set the baby down and, after a moment of searching in her purse that sat on the kitchen table, presented her green card too. Glancing quickly at the cards, she waved them off, turned, and headed slowly for the door.
“Bruja!” Victor swore under his breath. Translated this word meant witch, but it was so faint Charlotte assumed he had called her a bitch. Knowing she had gone too far even by her own standards, she shrugged her shoulders, and called over her shoulder, “Get that rent for me pronto or vamoose!”
As Eva before him, Victor slammed the door shut and then, after throwing the deadbolt and chain, turned angrily to his wife. Breaking into heated Spanish, he vowed to find them a better place to live. Because of the rising rates for apartment rentals it was, his wife knew, an empty vow. The Chavez family were stuck here like all of the other tenants who couldn’t afford to move. Charlotte Danner knew this. This knowledge had given her great power.
Charlotte’s next stop was Ted Simpson’s apartment. She had words with Ted many times. Most recently, she threatened to call his parole officer if he didn’t pay up. Because Ted had long since finished his probation and had a respectable job as plumber, this was a ludicrous threat. Ted cursed at her but said no more. Unlike many of the other tenants, he refused to confront her, outwardly keeping his cool. When she arrived at his apartment and demanded the rent, he once more refused to open the door.
“I told you, Charlotte,” he called out, “I don’t get it until next week. Be patient. You’ll get the rent!”
“That’s what I want to talk to you about.” She continued rapping on the door. “I’m reporting you to my son, who owns Meadow Lane Apartments. He’ll make you pay!”
“I’ve heard that before.” Ted sighed. “I’d tell him the same thing. This conversation is over, Charlotte. Go torment someone else!”
“What’re you doin’ in there.” she shrieked, “making dope?”
Ted bristled at this outrageous statement but remained calm. Was this another one of the rumors she was spreading about him? Thanks to her prying, everyone shunned him because of his prison record. When Charlotte continued her rounds, Ted sat down and stared at the door. He wasn’t making drugs nor was a seller of them, but he was, in fact, a drug addict…. Had that old lady somehow got wind of this? His long battle with addiction had seemed to be won when he emerged from rehab last year. So far he had kept this secret to himself. Now, thanks to Charlotte’s outburst, the rumor might spread. Here, at Meadow Lane Apartments he felt like an outcast—a condition created by Charlotte, who learned of his prison sentence. His apparent secretiveness and long hours working different hours, had made him seem like a recluse…. Now, thanks to Charlotte’s outburst, his fellow tenants had more reason to shun him…. Suddenly, like an itch needing scratching, the old urge was returning.
Next door to Ted Simpson was Phyllis Chambers, who faithfully paid her rent. Phyllis, whom Charlotte believed was, like Lucille Pointer, a slut, and her boyfriend Jordan, had, after one of her visits, once made a complaint to her son Michael, who owned Meadow Lane. Normally, Michael ignored such complaints, but because Phyllis was a paralegal at Michael’s law firm, he felt obliged to take Charlotte to task. Charlotte had never forgiven the couple, especially Phyllis, whose reputation was tarnished by the old woman’s lurid gossip. “Men come in her place at all hours,” she told Ramona Gower, a spinster in 3a and Le Roy Trask in 4a—a rumor she told a checker at Villa’s market and also the assistant manager at the Neighborhood Walmart. It didn’t matter that this was the twenty-first century and Jordan planned on marrying Phyllis. Charlotte had set the rumor in motion and, like all gossip, it grew like a cancer, until it became a fact, in Charlotte’s words, “the God’s honest truth.”
Banging on their door as she passed by, she cried out, “the line forms here!”
Phyllis, who had been on the phone talking to her mother and Jordan, who was watching a soccer game, exchanged frowns.
“Who was that?” asked her mother. “Is that your landlady again? That dreadful woman!”
“Yep,” Phyllis sighed, “who else!”
“Phyllis,” her mother groaned, “you gotta get out of there. Find a decent place to live!”
“We can’t afford it Mom,” she replied, glancing at Jordan, “not until Jordy gets his PhD and I pass the bar. We’re stuck her at Meadow Lane, like everyone else!”
Cackling wickedly, Charlotte continued her rounds. The Gordons, Huang, and Aguerro families weren’t home this Saturday. As Charlotte passed by their apartments, she peeked into their darkened living rooms, hearing no sounds whatsoever. This was a dead giveaway to her. All three families had several noisy children, especially the Gordons, who had four sons. Upon reaching the Aguerros’ apartment, she recalled seeing them pile into Hectors beat-up van this morning and speed away, but she made a mental note to talk to Hector Aguerro, the patriarch of another “wet back” family she suspected of being illegals. Hector was, in fact, late in paying his rent, which explained their hasty departure. Hector, like many of the tenants, never answered her knocks, but she would catch him Monday morning as he left for work.
For the Mikloshevskis, a Russian immigrant family, who had relatives overstaying their visit, she had a special dislike. Though Igor and his family were Russian Orthodox Christians and Igor was a member of the Republican Party, they were from Russian, which was once the Soviet Union. For Charlotte Danner, whose father had been an ardent McCarthyite in his youth, their accent and strange ways made them suspect. Charlotte had learned her prejudice from her father and husband for Jews, Blacks, and immigrants. Because Igor faithfully paid his rent and there was no other reason to harass him other than her suspicions, Charlotte would have to use subterfuge.
“Hello, Igor…Misses Miklos-whatever…Anyone. Open the door. I need to talk to you. A gas leak was reported up here. Come on folks. It’s an emergency!”
“Don’t open door!” Igor’s daughter Sonya pleaded. “You can’t trust that woman.”
“What do you think Natasha?” he turned to his wife. “I don’t smell no gas. Maybe Sonya right.”
“Igor, what if she right.” Natasha gestured. “And boom—just like that accident in Moscow. Everybody there blown to bits.”
“Oh... I dunno,” he shook his head. “I agree with Sonya. I don’t trust her.”
“I look through peephole,” Natasha offered. “Maybe she tell truth. I can tell by her face.”
Moving passed him, she looked into the peephole, uttering a gasp after looking into the lens. There magnified hideously was Charlotte Danner, a crooked smile on her wrinkled face, her head inclined characteristically as she waited patiently by the door. Shrugging her shoulders she moved away to allow Igor to looked in. Sonya and his relatives also took their turns, recoiling at this sight.
“Reminds me of KGB agent,” Uncle Boris remarked.
“Everyone remind you of KGB,” Aunt Svetlana sneered.
“I’m waiting,” Charlotte grumbled, tapping her foot. “I got a check your gas meter.”
“What gas meter Charlotte?” Igor frowned. “Gas meters are outside. You mean water heater?”
“Yes-yes!” she nodded. “That’s what I meant. Everyone is cooperating except you.
Igor thought for a moment, as his children, Uncle Boris and Aunt Svetlana, and their sons, murmured amongst themselves, until finally, his wife made the decision for him and unlocked the door. Unfortunately, unlike the previous tenants, Natasha didn’t merely crack the door but opened it wide enough for the landlady’s crotchety frame to immediately bolt into the room.
“Ah hah!” she cried, wringing her finger. “Gotcha—the whole lot of you.” “One, two, three, four, five.” She counted “For shame. You been hiding relatives in here—all along. How many others you got back there.”
“These are guests,” Igor corrected her, his face turning scarlet, “that is all. There’s no law against guests. I pay rent. We are good tenants. “
“That don’t matter,” she gloated, shaking her head vigorously. “Rules is rules. I have the right to evict you foreigners. These apartments aren’t built for large numbers of tenants.”
“I told you,” Igor wrung his fist. “These are not tenants. These are relative visiting from Karkov. I will call you son Mikail, tell him I sue for discriminating. You can’t bully me like you do Chavez family. I know American law.”
Seeing what seemed like murderous rage in Igor’s gray eyes, Charlotte backed away toward the door. As Natasha stood by the doorway pointing to the breezeway, Igor made sweeping motions with hands while the others chanted “Go, get out!” But just as Charlotte emerged outside the apartment and the door slammed shut, she cried out defiantly, “We’re not finished. I’m calling the authorities on you people. I’ll get you deported.”
“You’re a liar and sneak!” Igor shouted back. “The only gas here is from your infernal mouth!”
“That women is insane,” declared Sonya. “She lied to get inside then comes up with this cockamamie nonsense.”
“Even so,” Natasha murmured, “we are in big trouble if the authorities come!”
All of them understood exactly what Natasha meant. As in the case of Ted Simpson, who Charlotte had found a half truth in Ted’s drug habit, she had hit upon half truth in her accusation against the Mikloshevskis. For the and their relatives, however, it was not merely their reputations that were at stake. Uncle Boris and Aunt Svetlana had overstayed their visas and were, in fact, like many refugees in the United States, illegal aliens.
After regaining her composure, Charlotte moved on. Her intentions now were to pay a visit to a tenant whom she secretly thought of as the resident “Jungle Bunny”. It didn’t matter that Warren Jeffries was an Afghanistan veteran, who had been wounded in battle. Nor did the fact that he was in the seminary studying to become a Lutheran minister. He had an attitude, in her way of thinking, like all his kind. Warren simply refused to talk to her when caught outside his apartment, letting her barbs remain unanswered. Today, though, Charlotte had a particular grudge against this tenant. In spite of his ability to pay on time and quiet life style, the very look on his chocolate brown face was an affront to her sensibilities. Right in front of Elwood Simms, who she was being scolded for his loud music Friday night, Warren had snubbed her again. She had merely wanted to remind him not to rep his motorcycle up in the early morning—a perfectly reasonable request, but once again he ignored her like an oncoming plague. This time he actually snarled at her. She had in her pocket a letter she wrote to him that had the force of law.
According to City Ordinances, loud and extreme noises are not allowed before six am in the morning. You start your bike up each weekday at five-thirty. I know you have to drive across town for your job at the VA, but rules are rules. Henceforth, for now on, I will call the police each time you disobey this ordinance. I will make sure I have a witness, too. If you have to travel that far so early in the day, ride the bus or buy a car. Your motorcycle is noisy and offensive to tenants here at Meadow Lane Apartments!
Warren saw the note slipped under his door, read it, and then flushed it down the toilet—symbolic for how he felt about this woman. What he couldn’t flush away was his resentment for how he treated his visitors, whom Charlotte called junkies and crack heads. All of them were veterans such as himself, who shared his post traumatic syndrome and he was trying to help. Mentally, it was a difficult road back for them, and Charlotte wasn’t making it any easier for them with her threats. Recently they were assailed in the parking lot by the landlady and, like Ted Simpson, accused of dealing drugs. Again, there was partial truth to this. Warren was working with some of them, but had found out two of them were, in fact, using (not dealing) hard drugs again. Often they were, in fact, high or hung over. His concern that he might get cited by Code Enforcement for his motorcycle wasn’t as great as his concern that she would one day live up to an earlier threat to report them to the police.
For a moment, Warren was tempted to charge out the door and finally confront the woman. She had given him plenty of reasons for having it out with her. But sparse finances limited the veteran to cheap rent. With the help of the VA and his new job, he was lucky to find Meadow Lane Apartments. Without his job and residence he might become homeless like many other veterans, wrecked by war…. He couldn’t let anything, even Charlotte Danner, upset the status quo. He was, like it or not, a victim of circumstances like the others, a prisoner in Meadow Lane.
For Rusty Baker and his wife Dorothy, there was a much different problem with Charlotte Danner. As an employee hired by Michael Vincente, Charlotte’s son, he was even more totally dependent on her goodwill, for she was his boss and chief critic. While he did plumbing jobs, mowed the lawn, and did other repairs at the complex, his wife worked as a Molly Maid in town. Charlotte had tried getting Ted Simpson, a professional plumber to work Meadow Land, but Ted was smart enough not to get under the old woman’s control. She had also tried to get Dorothy to do janitorial work around the complex with no success. No one wanted such jobs, especially working for Charlotte Danner and yet, with Rusty’s police record and general attitude, he had been fortunate enough to get his position here as maintenance and handy man. Part of his pay was free rent and, considering the reputation of his employer, he had, in spite of her threats, job security, as long as Michael liked his work.
It was rumored that Michael had mob connections, a factor that frightened Rusty and Dorothy and, more than even Charlotte’s foul temper, kept him in check…. Today, however, as he and Dorothy returned from having breakfast at Denny’s Restaurant, Charlotte was waiting with a singular grievance the young man couldn’t shrug off.
“Well, Rusty,” she called from the top of the stairwell, “you screwed up again. Wait till my son gets wind of this!”
“What she talking about?” Dorothy asked from the corner of her mouth.
“I don’t know,” Rusty’s voice quivered. “It might be the plumbing job I did in the Thompson’s apartment… Christ, I’m not a professional plumber. I did the best I could.”
Expecting a disaster ahead, he prepared himself for the worst. Almost immediately, however, he realized it was something much worse than poor workmanship. Wordlessly at first Charlotte led him back down the stairs, pushing past them with a snarl playing on her face.
“Come into my office,” she finally spoke as they approached apartment 1a. “I have something to show you!”
Rusty and Dorothy muttered back and forth fearful of what came next. Michael Vincente and his mother Charlotte knew he was arrested and sent to prison for stealing cars. That record wasn’t a secret. A drunken driving arrest and his juvenile record shouldn’t be issues either…. Was it that incident years ago in Arizona in which he got off on a technicality? Surely there would be no record of that. As they followed Charlotte into her apartment and then into her office, which was filled garishly with junk art, Rusty sensed the worst and was not disappointed.
“What is this?” She pointed to a Xerox copy on her desk.
Though smudged by a dirty copy machine, he recognized it at a glance. On the letter head were the words Phoenix Arizona Municipal Court… The printing after this was illegible, but it was plane what was written beneath…. It was a record of his arrest for raping a fourteen year old girl. He had been eighteen at the time, legally an adult. Exacerbating the storyline, which included details of how he got her high on ecstasy and then had his way, was the fact that she had committed suicide when he was acquitted because of conflicting testimony. According to the record, Rusty’s DNA had been found on the victim but the sample from the girl also showed DNA from other partners, which left the door open for the possibility of other felons. Because Rusty was the youngest member of the group and cooperative and his lawyer successfully convinced the judge that Rusty was unaware of the date drug given to the girl, the most he could actually be charged with was statutory rape. Given the testimony of the partygoers that she told everyone she was eighteen, even this charge appeared extreme. In the end, because of these facts and Rusty’s cooperation, he was given immunity for testifying at the inquest. Unfortunately for the prosecution, the other young men couldn’t be found, which still left the onus of culpability on Rusty’s head. Rusty’s lawyer, who had been appointed by the court, had in fact done poorly up to this point, but the immunity was still in force. It would have been better for him if the judge had found him guilty of a minor offense, such as contributing to the delinquency of minor. Because he was given immunity, a fact covered in local news, the medical examiner admitted that there was evidence of forced rape and, in fact, the public was left with the notion he got away with a crime.
In a sputtering fashion, Rusty tried to explain this to Charlotte, but the old lady held up her hand and shouted, “That’s what they all say!” “This is unacceptable,” she ranted. “…I saw how you ogled the Villa girls. I don’t know why my son hired you. You’re nothing but a lowlife pedophile—”
“Wh-where did you get this? sputtered Rusty.
“Ho-ho,” She cackled. “Wouldn’t you like to know. He-he-he, I have my sources…There’s more too…”
“Wh-what do you mean,” Rusty’s mouth dropped.
He predatory gaze grew intense. “Oh, I know a lot about Russell Howard Baker…Yes, yes…The tenants have complained about you. When this gets out you and your wife will be on the street, along with all the other dregs”
“You’re a damn liar!” he shrieked. “I’ve been clean and straight since jail. Did you even read that report? You’re evil—demented. Everyone at Meadow Lane knows it!”
“You’ve never liked him,” Dorothy shook her head in disbelief, “but this?… My god.”
“It’s the law for pedophiles to register with the authorities….Have you registered Mister Baker?” she toyed with him. “You could be arrested….Or maybe I’ll just let you quit and join the bums on Skid Row.
“You-you goddamn bitch!” he exploded. “I’m not a pedophile. I-I’ve tried to live a decent life. Why are you doing this? Your son gave me a chance, but you’ve never liked me…. You’re a senile old lady—a goddamn, twisted bitch!”
Charlotte rifled through papers in her tray and presented Rusty with a list with the names of several tenants. “These are people complaining about your attitude.”
“Lies! Lies!” Rusty slapped it away. “I get along fine with the tenants. You’re the one with the complaints.”
His face scarlet and fists clinched, Rusty’s eyes were filled with murderous rage.
“Oh please Charlotte,” Dorothy began pleading for him, “don’t use this against my husband. He was only eighteen. He was a victim too. Give him a chance.”
“Tell that to the authorities!” she chimed, shuffling out of her office. “Now go,” she screamed, “before I call the police!”
Rusty was led out of her apartment in a daze by his wife. When the door slammed behind them, they looked around self-consciously. “I’m going to kill that woman!” muttered Rusty.
“No,” Dorothy counseled gently “let’s just move. We can live with my parents in Seattle. You’re not on record as a pedophile. She just wants an excuse to fire you.”
“I can’t take it anymore.” He rubbed his temples. “Your father hates me, Dorothy. We don’t have much money. We have nowhere else to go!”
That night, as the tenants of Meadow Land Apartments relaxed in front of their televisions, Charlotte made her night time rounds. It was a secondary ritual, not as important as her morning and afternoon rounds, but nevertheless provided her with an opportunity to eavesdrop on folks. In the past she had gleaned valuable gossip. Tonight she targeted Rusty and Dorothy’s apartment first, but then, after hearing only the voice of a newscaster on television, continued on her way, her ear perked up and large flashlight held at the ready. After meandering around awhile, she heard a rustling sound in the dumpsters alongside of the complex. Her first thought was that it might be a f dog again or perhaps a cat. It could, she reasoned, just as easily be rats, which would explain why the creatures didn’t scat when she banged her flashlight on a dumpster.
“Infernal critters!” She muttered. “Gotta call the exterminator…. My Lord, that’s too loud to be rat….That must be a raccoon or possum.” “….What is it?” She asked fearfully, training her flashlight toward the sound.
The faintest whisper now replied, “Charlotte! Charlotte!”
The old woman froze in terror as a familiar figure emerged in the light. Her voice caught in her throat. For once in her career at Meadow Lane Apartments, she was silent, except for one last word, “No!” An observer would have heard a boned crunching whack, followed by a thud, as Charlotte’s body fell to the ground. A gloved hand picked up the flashlight she had dropped and gave her several more whacks. Afterwards, the shadowy form tossed the flashlight and tire iron which gave the initial blow, in one dumpster, and then, tugging at the corpse awhile, hefted it up with a grunt, and tossed it into the second dumpster now filled with the weeks garbage. How fitting it would have seemed to many of the tenants she had tormented. Monday morning was trash pick up in this neighborhood. Slipping away like a phantom, Charlotte’s killer returned home, whistling off key without a care in the world.
The remainder of the weekend was, even for a Sunday, uncommonly quiet. Unfortunately for the corpse of Charlotte Danner, her son was out of town on business. She had few ties with relatives other than him. No one here at Meadow Lane Apartments cared about her absence. Not hearing her cantankerous voice throughout the complex was a blessing, and it was, after all, Sunday. Some of the residents attended church, watched television, or went shopping in town. As a measure of her unpopularity, not one person reported her missing. The next morning when the lumbering trash trucks arrived at Meadow Land Apartment, the dumpsters were emptied with Charlotte tangled up in plastic garbage sakes and general refuse, and then, when the shift had ended dumped in a nearby landfill. Down rolled the refuse to the pit of the landfill, followed by more dumps, until Charlotte’s corpse was buried beneath a weeks garbage gathered across the town.