Chapter 64 – The Broom Closet

Two weeks later

Let’s tuck ourselves in here,” Karl said.

Jon shuffled slowly in his fleece lined slippers; the butt of his striped pajamas sagged. He was groggy from sleep; rubbed his eyes to clear them of grit and gave his head a small shake to rid the cobwebs.

Karl guided Jon into the broom closet beside the service elevator and pushed him inside before Jon had time to resist the small space. The clock hanging from the ceiling in the middle of the hallway read 11:05. There was dead silence.

“We’ll just wait here to see who sneaks around and we’ll follow him, catch him in the act. Tonight is the night, you’ll see, we’ll nab that sucker red handed.”

‘Red handed?’ Jon wondered. ‘Does that mean his hands will be soaked in some poor soul’s blood? I don’t want to see such a gruesome thing.’

“I thought we were going to get Peter to help us. At least he was a policeman. He might know what to do.” Jon pushed a mop handle back against the wall so he could fit into the small space. It sprung back, hitting the corner of his forehead. “Christ,” Jon said. “That will leave a bruise.”

The space was made even smaller with both he and Karl packed in tight. Jon’s gut burbled, he felt a movement coming on, sweat began to ooze from his pores, his heart beat so hard it felt as it was on the outside of his chest. It was dark, there was no air.

Karl closed the closet door slowly, the squeaky hinges screeched out against the quiet of the night, echoing down the empty hallway. He peaked out of the small crack left open. The dim glow of incandescent light from the nurses hub down at the center of the hall, cast shadows like statues waiting to pounce. Jon let out a near silent fart, a puff of noxious fumes into the small confined space. Out of the deafening silence the service elevator erupted to life with a high pitched groan followed by its deep metal whine.

Jon tensed like a sphincter drawing taught; he farted again, louder this time.

“Jesus,” Karl complained.

“Sorry,” Jon offered.

The elevator’s whine faded as it descended.

‘Who was riding the damn elevator at this time of night?’

“It must be him riding the elevator. We’ve got to stop him. You’re next I bet. He’ll probably want to get you before your birthday, like old lady Branbury.”

Jon tried to recall when the spate of unusual deaths had begun. ‘Was it when Karl arrived as a third floor resident? Before? Or was it when Odd came upstairs? Or before that? No, they were already letting Karl roam around on three even though he didn’t have his own room yet. And out of the blue he decided to track down a serial killer. Was there really a killer or just old people coming to their end? Or maybe it was Karl. Or maybe it was Oddur Gunnerson. Or maybe Karl just made the whole thing up.’ Jon was trapped at the back of a tiny broom closet coffin, blocked in behind a crazy man.

“I have to pee,” Jon said, then farted again.

“We just got here,” Karl said. “You’ll have to hold it.”

“I have to pee for crying out loud. I’ll be right back.”

“Maybe you could use that mop bucket.”

“No way. I’ll end up peeing all over myself.”

The elevator whined back to life. The groaning grew louder as it rose.

“Why aren’t there quiet elevators in this place. Can’t we do this during the day?” Jon asked.

“That would be pointless wouldn’t it,” Karl said, “when the killer is doing his dirty work at night. Are we supposed to ask him to save his killing for the daytime so we can sleep in? How do you expect to catch him red handed if we don’t catch him in the act.”

“Like a cat coming on a mouse about to take the cheese from the trap,” Jon agreed.

“Exactly.”

“So who gets to be the cheese? And what if the cat is the one caught by the trap?”

Karl clucked as he continued his surveillance through the crack in the door opening.

“Maybe there really is nobody killing people,” Jon said.” Maybe it’s all just people coming to the end of their days. Maybe it’s just their time. People just get old and die you know. Anyway, we’re too old to be doing stuff like this, hunting down murderers.”

“Nope, something fishy going on. Don’t talk so loud.”

“I don’t know if it really matters,” Jon said. “My time is near.”

“What do you mean?”

“My birthday is just around the corner. I’m going to make it. Then it won’t matter.”

The elevator stopped. The door opened, a short body emerged in shadow, hunched slightly over, carrying a sack by a looped handle.

Karl shushed Jon. They watched the shadow disappear behind the nurses hub.

“Who the hell is that?” Karl said.

“Gryla or a troll,” Jon said.

“What?”

“Gryla, the Christmas witch that eats mischievous children.”

“What?”

“Naw, can’t be her, she would be much bigger than that. Probably a troll or maybe a dwarf.”

“C’mon,” Karl whispered as he rolled his eyes. “Let’s go find out.”

“I have to pee,” Jon reminded him.

They crept down the long hallway in the dim light, staying as close to the wall as possible; the white noise of the HVAC faded as they inched their way; the sound of the silence was loud, amplifying every footstep the pair took. There was nobody at the nurses hub. Nurse Shirley and the night assistant Rosa would be doing the late bed check, doing their rounds like prison guards. Rosa usually checked the rooms down one side of the hallway, Nurse Shirley the other. Tonight Rosa was doing both sides, Shirley had slipped away ‘for a cigarette break’, she told Rosa.

“Okay let’s get Peter,” Karl said. “He can come with us.”

“Gawd, we’ll be like a herd of elephants. Somebody will hear.”

“The killer maybe,” Karl said. “It would be good to have a cop with us.”

Peter van der Groot had retired from police service a dozen years before. His room faced south and even though it looked out over the parking lot and the busy main street, he liked it because it was open to the afternoon sun. He could open his curtains and take his afternoon nap in its warm glow. His door was open, the room was dark. Karl and Jon slipped inside.

“Pete,” Karl whispered into the dark. “Pete, wake up. We’re on the hunt.”

No answer.

“Pete,” Karl whispered louder.

“Mr. van der Groot,” Jon spoke into the dark.

Karl shushed him for being too loud.

Karl tip toed towards Peter’s bed to give him a gentle nudge. Jon flipped the light switch by the door. A blast of blazing white from Peter van der Groot’s special LED light fixture blinded them out of the dark. Karl cursed; Jon shrunk back at the brightness. The residents rooms were all equipped with 60 watt lighting, but Peter van der Groot had installed a high intensity three-winged fixture filled with dozens of bright white LED bulbs that illuminated his room brighter than Dr. Hauptman’s cold room. Two hundred and fifty watts of blazing white, to help him see the fine print of the newspaper, he said. Jon and Karl covered their eyes against the glare, squinting and slowly opening their eyes until they could see through the light.

The covers on Peter’s bed were pulled back, he was not there.

“Turn that off,” Karl ordered.

“Sorry,” Jon said.

Jon flipped the light off. The afterglow remained for many seconds before finally fading back into blackness.

“Where is he?” Jon whispered.

“What the hell is he doing with lights like that? I thought the damn room exploded. He’s not here,” Karl whispered hoarsely. “Check his bathroom.”

Jon peeked through Peter’s bathroom door. Their friend was not there.

“I have to pee,” Jon said, closing the bathroom door behind him.

Mr. Z’s now vacant room was next to Peter van der Groot’s. The light was on, someone was moving about. Karl and Jon hushed themselves in the hallway just outside the door.

“Is it Peter?” Jon asked.

They stiffened their backs against the wall to make themselves as invisible as possible.

“Probably,” Karl said. “But what is he doing in Harold’s room in the middle of the night.”

“Looking for something maybe,” Jon said. “Clues or something.”

“In the middle of the night?”

Jon shrugged. “Check,” he said, encouraging Karl to peek around the corner into their deceased friend’s room.

“He’s probably already on the trail of something,” Karl said. “He was a cop. He’s got that cop’s brain. Probably on to a clue or something.” Karl peeked around the door into the room, expecting to see the tall dutchman.

It was Rosa, the nurse’s aide, standing dumbfounded at the end of Mr. Z’s bed. One hand covered her mouth, in the other she held one of Mrs. Remple’s knitting needles. Peter van der Groot lay prone on Mr. Z’s bed; his legs stretched all the way to the footboard. Peter’s eyes were fixed open, jaw dropped wide, his left hand held an empty vial, a spent syringe was buried into his neck precisely through his carotid artery.

Karl gasped.

“What is it?” Jon asked.

“It’s van der Groot,” Karl said. “I think he’s dead. That Filipino nurse’s aide killed him.”

Jon planted himself flat against the wall.

“No,” Jon groaned.

Karl planted himself as well. Hoping that Rosa hadn’t seen him. “Shush.”

“The killer,” Jon whispered. “We’ve caught her. I was certain all along it was a man. I even thought it might be you.”

“Shush.”

“We’ve got to tell someone. That nurse,” Jon started to tip toe away. Karl followed quietly, wobbling on his tip toes.

Three doors down the hallway they were surprised by Nurse Shirley speaking quietly in a nighttime voice as she left Mrs. Remple’s room.

“There you go dear, sleep well,” Nurse Shirley said. She shrieked as she nearly bumped into Jon as he creeped by the doorway. She jerked back; brown liquid sloshed onto the bottom of Jon’s pajama leg from the mug she carried. He stumbled back a step bumping into Karl following close behind.

“Jesus,” Karl protested. “You scared the shit out of me.”

Jon let out another silent poof.

“What are you doing out of bed,” Nurse Shirley scolded. “It’s the middle of the night. Move away from here, you’ll wake Mrs. Remple, she’s already having trouble sleeping.”

Nurse Shirley held out the mug with the brown liquid.

“Warm chocolate milk for the poor dear.”

The night nurse smelled of cigarettes and alcohol.

Jon looked down at the brown stain on his pajama leg, the wet now clinging to his skin.

‘That won’t come out,’ he thought.

“Go,” the nurse commanded.

“Peter,” Jon said. “There’s been a murder.” Jon tucked himself in close behind Karl. “There.” He pointed to Mr. Z’s room.

The nurse rolled her eyes. “For crying out loud, Harold passed away days ago. You need to go back to your rooms and put your imagination to bed.”

“Not Z,” Karl said. “The big dutchman. Your helper injected him.”

“For crying out loud, Mr. Homesman, perhaps you’re sleep walking.” She looked at Jon, hiding tightly behind Karl. “The both of you. Like nighttime dream buddies. Move along now and go back to bed.”

“There’s been a murder,” Karl protested.

“Murder,” Jon repeated.

“One of your own, you need to call the cops, we’ve caught the person that has been killing everyone.”

“You can be sent back to the second floor Mr. Homesman. Shame on you for getting Mr. Magnusson all excited. He’s an old frail man for crying out loud. Dragging him around the hall in the middle of the night. Shame on you. You’ll be the death of him.” Nurse Shirley gave Karl an angry stare.

The words ’death of him’ reverberated in Jon’s head.

Rosa stepped from Harold Z’s room still holding the knitting needle. Her mouth was open but no words came from her.

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