Don’t you hate upstairs neighbors? I cannot tell you how long it took for me even to get a sniff at an apartment like mine—how many real estate agents I had to suck up to, and how much networking it took. Finally, I got it though, the whole first floor of a beautiful old building on the Lower East Side. Every inch of it was mine and I made it my castle. It was perfect, except for the guy living upstairs.
There were only three floors in the building—three apartments total. The upper apartment was occupied by an elderly couple—the Gerards, according to their mailbox. They looked well-off, but kept to themselves. I probably wouldn’t have minded being under them. The guy on the second floor, a Mr. R. Hart, was in his mid-thirties, single and active. I could hear every step he made: from bedroom to bathroom, from kitchen to living room. It drove me crazy. It was worse when his girlfriend stayed over, and almost unbearable when he decided to have a party for all his friends—yuppies or hipsters or whatever that type is called these days. I would go to sleep with headphones on, willing the strains of Aaron Copeland to drown out the blare of dubstep from above me.
Our building had a dedicated elevator—you needed a key to use it. That was one of the things that drew me to the apartment. It meant that it could only go to one apartment at a time, since only one key would fit at a time. I loved that feature more than anything. It meant no awkward elevator rides with neighbors that I had no desire to speak to—talking about the weather or some other nonsense. Sometimes I would come home to find one of the other neighbors waiting for the elevator and I would pretend to check my mail until they had gone up.
The elevator opened into my entryway, just off my living room, but I had a box rigged up in the kitchen with a call button and a display to show the floor the elevator was on. So, even though I never met my neighbors I knew a lot about when they came and went. The Gerards never went out after seven, except on Sundays. Mr. R. Hart came and went at all hours, but once he was in for the night, he usually didn’t go out again. And just like me, they never visited each other.
One night I was up late, reading Kafka in the living room with a glass of wine. I got up for another glass and saw that the elevator was moving. It went up to the third floor. It was just after midnight on a Tuesday and I suddenly became worried. The Gerards were elderly and anything off schedule couldn’t be good. I looked outside for an ambulance, but the street was deserted.
I finished my third glass of wine and was bringing the glass into the kitchen when I saw the elevator going down. It stopped on the second floor. Probably Mr. R. Hart had called it. I watched for it to go down to the lobby, but it never did.
There were several footsteps above me and then a thump. There was another thump and then a crash. Normally, I didn’t think anything of any sounds coming from the apartment of Mr. R. Hart but with the mystery of the elevator, I was getting seriously anxious.
There was another thump and then another. Then the sound became rhythmic—thump, thump, thump—and I realized with a flash of relief and disgust where I had heard it before: it sounded just like a headboard hitting the wall. Right away, I could picture the scenario. Mr. R. Hart had had a woman over. He had called the elevator for her to leave but they had gotten caught up in the throes of passion again and started crashing around up there. I had heard similar, and worse, from his place before.
The thumping continued, on and on, while I clenched my fists and ground my teeth. I grabbed a broom and started pounding on the ceiling.
“Hey, jerks!” I shouted. “Quit rutting like a pair of drugged up hyenas. Some people are trying to sleep. I just called the police—they’ll be here in a few minutes.”
The sound stopped abruptly and I gave a smug smile. A moment later, the elevator started moving down to the lobby.
I rinsed out the wine glass and was just about to turn off the light, when I heard a sizzle and smelled a hot, metallic smell. I looked up at the light, just to see a large drop fall from it and splash in a tiny red puddle on my polished oak floor. I called the police.
By the time the police arrived, blood was dripping down my light and the towel I had put down was soaked. I was almost in hysterics—not something I like to admit, but I blame the wine. The police called the landlord and found Mr. R. Hart dead on his living room floor. His skull was crushed and blood was everywhere. The police estimated that the killers must have smashed his head against the floor at least fifty times.
The Gerards were dead too—brutally beaten to death and all their valuables taken. Based on my testimony, the police determined that the perpetrators had gone there first, then down to the apartment of Mr. R. Hart. No one knows how they got in, but the police suspected that they used a set of keys that the landlord admitted to losing several months earlier. Nothing was taken from Mr. R. Hart’s apartment. It seems the burglars had gotten scared and fled the scene. No one mentioned it, but I could only think of where they would have gone after the second floor.
* * *
The apartment building is silent now. The burglars were never caught and the two apartments above me are still active crime scenes. The police confided in me that even if they were arrested today, it would be years before the apartments could be rented again. I would never move though. I changed the locks, upgraded my security system, and now I sit, alone in a building that is two-thirds crime scene, while the ghosts of neighbors I never knew disrupt my sleep with their silent steps.
I almost wish I had gotten to know them.