“It wasn’t her time. She was there and then she wasn’t. Maybe it was someone like that crazy Karl that snuck in while I was away on my tragic errand, snuck in and snuffed her and made it look like a stroke. Just the same I had to write the date of her passing into the family tree book. It was so final, once the date is there on the Date of Death line.”
Just then Karl shuffled quickly back from where he had gone. Jon pointed a crooked finger and shouted. “Look.”
Rudy turned his head so fast he gave himself a sharp pain in the neck.
“Like that,” Jon shouted. “He’s up to something. He’s making his escape from somewhere. He’s probably done someone else in. By gawd I’m checking this out, I’ll get to the bottom of this.”
“I don’t trust him either,” Rudy said. “He nearly killed me with those damn pills. Should have warned me not to take so many. How was I to know. This bloody toe causes me not to think straight.”
Jon pushed himself up from the table. His bones creaked. “Why do they even let him on this floor, he doesn’t belong here. Just because he’s old. He’s a lunatic and dangerous. I need to go see what he’s up to.”
Rudy tried to manage his walker so he could offer to go with Jon, but he did not have enough strength in his thin arms to lift himself without help. He was forced to sit alone and wait for Bruce while Jon departed on his mission.
“Watch this for me,” Jon said, leaving his book on the table. “I’ll be back,” he said, mimicking his best Arnold Schwarzenegger accent, then hoping Rudy wasn’t insulted. A few feet away Jon stopped, turned back to Rudy and said, “she looked like Hallveig, laying there. Just like Hallveig laying in her death bed. They had such gentle faces.”
Karl disappeared by the time Jon made it to the empty hallway. There were doors, plenty of them on both sides of the long east and west corridors. Some were open, some were not. He made his way down the hall, pushed open the first door. The bed was made, the room was empty. The next was the same. The third door was open. Inside Mrs. Remple lay on top of her made bed. She looked stiff as a board, her arms straight by her side, dressed in her day clothes. ‘Just like Harriet,’ Jon thought. He swallowed. The gulp stuck in his throat.
Her name made Jon think of Rumpelstiltskin. He called her name in a whisper. No answer. He made his way slowly to her bedside. A hint of light through part opened curtains cast a shadow on her face and at first Jon imagined she looked like the short old man with a long white beard. Rumpelstiltskin. But as he moved closer he could see that she was not the bearded imp from the fairy tale demanding gold to be spun from hair. She was not even Rip van Winkle, sleeping for twenty years. It was just Mrs. Remple, from the dining hall and the face he was looking at was that of a kind and gentle lady.
There appeared to be no rise and fall in her chest. She made no sound, no babble or snore, as old folks do sometimes when they are in the land of sleep. ‘Where do we go when we are dreaming,’ Jon wondered as he looked at her, then thought, ‘where do we go when we are dead?’
He bent forward putting his face close to hers. It was Hallveig’s face. He blinked his eyes to clear them and the face became Harriet’s. He gasped. ‘She must be dead’, he thought. ‘He must have killed poor Mrs. Remple, and made his escape.’
Jon raised his walking stick and gave the body a slight poke. Nothing. He gave another. The face morphed again; there was no Hallveig, no Harriet, no Rumpelstiltskin, just the old kind face of Mrs. Remple. One last gentle poke.
“Hey, ouch.” Mrs. Remple woke and turned to him. “What are you doing? Mr. Magnusson, is that you?”
Jon gasped, not expecting life.
“Nothing, sorry,” he said and shuffled quickly from Mrs. Remple’s room.
“What an odd man,” Mrs. Remple murmured.
He stood outside her door, his heart pounding. By then Rudy had made his way down the long hall.
“What the hell,” Rudy said. “Did you see a ghost? Is someone else murdered?”
Jon bent over to catch his breath.
“Mrs. Remple scared the shit out of me.” He sucked in a few more breaths. “Thought she was dead and then she sprung back to life like a bloody zombie.”
“That nice little lady? I guess he didn’t kill her then,” Rudy concluded.
“I have to pee,” Jon said.
They turned together, made their way back towards the dining hall, their feet moving in unison as if they were marching together. Jon’s walking stick tapped the floor with each step while a wheel on Rudy’s walker squeaked in rhythm. ‘Tap, squeak, tap, squeak, tap, squeak’. Jon stopped, waved his stick at Rudy as if he was annoyed, perhaps mocked by the echoing squeak. Rudy understood. Without saying a word he agreed to move at a different pace. ‘Tap, tap, squeak, squeak, tap, tap, squeak, squeak’. Jon rolled his eyes.
“Sorry,” Rudy said.
Jon turned to Rudy but looked through him. “We loved her, with real love, the kind you find only once in a lifetime if you’re lucky.”
“Your poor wife,” Rudy said.
“Poor Hallveig,” Jon said. “I mean Harriet of course.” Jon took a couple more steps. ‘tap, tap’. “Mrs. Remple. Do you know what her first name is?”
Karl Homesman watched Jon and Rudy coming up the hallway towards him. He pounded on the elevator button frantically. The door opened; Nurse Clara emerged. Karl pushed past her nearly sending her back into the elevator.
“Come on,” Karl begged the elevator door to close as he jabbed at the floor button inside.
“Stop him,” Jon’s voice cracked as he tried to yell.
“Careful, you’ll lose your teeth,” Rudy said.
Jon clucked. “These are my own.” He waved at Nurse Clara but it was too late to stop the elevator door closing. “Shit.”
“What’s going on Mr. Magnusson?” she asked, then gave Rudy a glance. “I see you’re feeling better Mr. Wernbacher.”
Jon waved his stick at the closed elevator door. “That Karl fellow. He’s up to no good. Killing our poor neighbors. We’ve got to stop him.” Jon spoke rapidly. “Poor Mrs. Remple.”
Nurse Clara looked over Jon’s shoulder. Mrs. Remple emerged from her room into the hallway.
“Killing people? What about Mrs. Remple?”
“We just came from her room,” Jon sucked in oxygen trying to catch his breath.
“Why would you be in Mrs. Remple’s room?”
Jon pointed at the elevator. “We thought he might have done her in. Like he’s done the others.”
Rudy held his palms up and shook his head, denying that he had anything to do with Jon’s claim.
“Others? Mr. Magnusson, what are you talking about? Mrs. Remple is right there, behind you.”
Jon turned to see the small woman approaching, a pleasant smile on her face.
“Yes, of course,” Jon said quickly. “We scared him off before he could snuff her.” Jon gave an embarrassed nod to Mrs. Remple.
The old woman stood next to Jon and placed her small hand on his arm.
“He poked me,” Mrs. Remple said.
“What,” said Nurse Clara.
“He snuck into my room while I was napping and next thing you know, he was poking me.”
“Poking you? Who?”
Jon shook his head in nervous denial.
“Yes, with his…his…,” Mrs. Remple struggled for the word. “His thing. His big, long thing.”
“His thing, there.” Mrs. Remple pointed at Jon’s stick.
Nurse Clara had just come from the ‘Holding Room’ in the sub-basement, where she had met with Dr. Hauptman. Some called it the ‘Cold Room’, some called it ‘The Morgue’, though the room was clearly not a morgue or a place to conduct human autopsy. It was a cold room, kept that way for obvious reasons; it was soundless and even with the blinding lights turned on, a gloom hung in the place as if the dead hated to be shuttled into this bleak purgatory to await transfer to their funeral home. Dr. Hauptman, a former pathologist by profession, was a short man, bald down the middle of his head, with a small thin nose. He wore old blue jeans, running shoes and short sleeve dress shirts that were old enough to be coming back into fashion. He was a friendly, unassuming man that enjoyed sharing his expert knowledge about a deceased person’s cause of death. Dr. Hauptman was well past typical retirement age and could easily be taken for a resident of The Lodge.
“Now isn’t that interesting?” he would say. “Isn’t it good to know that?” he would say, holding up a small jar filled with formaldehyde and a lump of somebody’s cancerous organ.
“Mr. Magnusson poked you with his cane?” Nurse Clara continued.
Jon wanted to deny the claim but he could not force out a lie. He shook his head halfheartedly as if the limp flopping of his head was neither a denial nor admission of the poking.
“It’s a walking stick,” was all he could say.
Mrs. Remple nodded, with a smile. “Don’t worry dear, he doesn’t poke very hard, he’s very old.”
Nurse Clara let out a sigh of exasperation. “I’ve had other complaints,” she said. “You’ve been making the rounds with that cane of yours, haven’t you Mr. Magnusson?”
“I,” Jon choked out. “I don’t think so. People must be mistaken, seeing things, telling stories. You know how old people’s imagination can run wild.”
Nurse Clara shook her finger at Jon. “Imagination doesn’t leave a bruise the shape of a cane tip, Mr. Magnusson. I’m inclined to believe there is some truth in these reports.”
“I, I, well I,” Jon turned his face down sheepishly. “I’ll try not to poke so hard.”
“Mr. Magnusson,” Nurse Clara gave a stern look.
“Well nobody has complained to me.”
Rudy Wernbacher nodded his head in support. He had not heard a complaint either.
“Until now,” Nurse Clara pointed at Mrs. Remple.
Jon turned to Mrs. Remple, his face still down cast, he slunk and said, “sorry”. He turned back to Nurse Clara. “It is important that I check on our poor neighbors. They’re dropping like flies because of that nut job. He shouldn’t be allowed up here, he’s not one of us. The police should be called in.”
Nurse Clara motioned for Jon to make his way back towards his own room.
“I will speak with Mr. Homesman,” Nurse Clara said. “You must stop annoying your neighbors. You can check on them when you’re telling stories from your book. They seem to quite enjoy that.”
Jon looked Rudy up and down. “My book. Where is my book? I told you to watch it, for crying out loud. Did you abandon my life’s work? That’s my only copy. Hurry, go find it.”
Squeak, squeak, squeak. Rudy Wernbacher pushed his walker as fast as he dare back towards the dining hall.
“Oh my gawd,” Jon threw his hands to his head, nearly hitting Mrs. Remple with his stick. “What a thoughtless, reckless thing. Poor Snorri. I have to go; I can’t talk anymore.”
Tap, tap, tap. Jon made his way as quickly as he was able. Nurse Clara followed with Mrs. Remple. A resident’s door opened, as Jon passed, Nurse Shirley stepped into the hallway. She hung the small do not disturb sign onto the doorknob.
“Shirley,” Nurse Clara said. “You’re still here.”
Nurse Shirley gave a sad frown. “Mrs. Kyvonis. It was her time. I couldn’t leave her alone at her end so I stayed a bit past my shift.”
“Mrs. Kyvonis?” Nurse Clara asked.
“Oh dear, oh no. Has something happened to Gladys?” Mrs. Remple held her hands to her mouth.
“See,” Jon pointed his stick at the do not disturb sign. “I bet it was him. We saw him running to the elevator to make his escape. You have to get the police on this.”
“What?” Nurse Shirley said.
“It’s nothing,” Nurse Clara said. “I’ll take care of it. You can go home now.”
“I’ll get Bruce to help with Mrs. Kyvonis before I go.”
“Was he in there? Did you see him, that Karl fellow?” Jon asked.
“I didn’t see anyone Mr. Magnusson, just Mrs. Kyvonis. I have to go.”
share this with your FB, Twitter and other friends and follow me on my website