Authors: David Bernstein
Tags: #ghost, #horror, #Edward Lee, #revenge, #supernatural, #Richard Laymon
Sometimes you just have to take matters into your own hands.
Eighty-two-year-old Beth Baker can hear the cop in apartment 7C beating his wife. Again. She’s also having dreams—or are they visitations—of her dead daughter, Alice, who was killed fifty years ago by an abusive husband.
The message is clear—Beth has to take care of the cop. But he’s a decorated detective and over two hundred and fifty pounds of muscle, so what’s a little old lady like her going to do? When things turn ugly and the cop threatens Beth’s own life, she realizes she needs to resort to extreme measures. Blood must be shed.
For the woman with red hair who loves to raise chickens.
“Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”
Beth Baker couldn’t fall asleep. She lay in her bed, eyes closed, hoping the ruckus would stop. The cop in apartment 7C was beating his wife again. There was usually a plethora of sounds that accompanied the woman’s cries—shattering glass, things being thrown, the cop’s booming voice as he spewed obscenities, but it was the smack of flesh against flesh that was the worst.
Beth heard the thuds and slaps through the wall, cringing after each one. She didn’t get to see the woman much and whenever she did pass her in the hallway, the woman was usually wearing long sleeves, a hat and sunglasses and walked quickly, keeping her head down. Not once had she stopped to chat. Beth had never actually seen any bruises on the woman, but she knew they were there. Tonight was no different.
The cop’s name was Carl Bradley. He had come home from work shortly before 7:00 p.m., his usual time. Something hadn’t been right with dinner. He started yelling, his booming voice shaking the wall that separated the apartments.
“You do nothing all day,” he began, “and you can’t even cook me a decent meal.” Beth heard the dinnerware shatter. “I wouldn’t feed this to the whores that blow me.”
Marcy was pleading, begging her husband to calm down. She would make him a new dinner, whatever he wanted.
“Of course you will; that goes without saying,” he said. “But first—”
“No. Carl. Please don’t.”
Beth heard the smack of knuckles on flesh, then a body collapsing to the floor.
“Come to think of it, I’ll eat out,” Carl said. “And clean this shithole up before I get back.”
Now, hours later, he was yelling at her again.
Beth wished she could do something, but what could an eighty-two-year-old woman do? She hated shutting it all out. But she had to. She needed sleep. At her age she hardly got much to begin with. Earplugs. She’d have to purchase a set of really good ones.
Marcy started pleading again. Beth closed her eyes and plugged her ears with her fingers.
She’d always considered herself blessed to be in such good health. Her hearing was fine, eyesight too. “Good genes,” her doctor had told her. She had thought so too at the time, but now being a little hard of hearing would be nice. Maybe the elderly weren’t supposed to have good eyes and ears, or be able to walk up six flights of stairs without huffing and puffing. Maybe it was nature’s way of giving them peace from the world and its ugliness.
Realizing that remaining in bed was pointless, she decided to go into the kitchen and try reading, maybe have a cup of chamomile tea, when a brain-rattling thud erupted from the wall. Beth jumped, putting a hand over her heart.
“What the hell?” she shouted, her fear turning to anger. Had the guy just thrown a boulder against the wall? Geez. The woman’s crying had ceased along with the cop’s verbal battery.
Beth’s heart wasn’t cut out for this shit. Well, actually that wasn’t true, at least according to her doctor. Beth’s heart was like that of a thirty-year-old runner’s.
Since the wall-shaking thud, Beth hadn’t heard a thing from next door, and was eventually able to find her way to a restless sleep.
The next morning while Beth was in the kitchen making a cup of tea, she wondered if there was anything she could do to help the woman next door. She kept thinking of her as
, but she knew her name. Both their names.
Beth had only lived in the apartment for three weeks. And almost every night was the same crap. That bastard in 7C beat and verbally battered his wife. Thank God they didn’t have children.
When Beth first came to look at the apartment, the real estate agent—along with telling her about the washers and dryers being in the lobby and not in some dingy basement—informed her that she had one of the safest apartments in the building. Not that the area was dangerous; it was a good neighborhood, but anything can happen anywhere. “You even have a member of New York’s Finest living next door,” the man had told her. “You’ll feel safe all the time.” Beth almost choked on her tea remembering the words. She felt anything but safe.
She’d met, if that’s what you could call passings-by in the hallway, most of the floor’s occupants. Things like “hello” or “it’s cold out today” were the extent of the conversations. It was so true in the big city that a person could live next door to someone and never know them, never even step foot inside the individual’s home. Beth was truly on her own, and growing more lonely every day.
After her husband died of a heart attack a little over a year ago, she decided that living in a house by her lonesome was just too much. She didn’t need a lot of space and the upkeep would be a nightmare. An apartment or co-op was where she wanted to go. Everything would be taken care of. Have a problem?—call the super. Garbage was just a toss down the rubbish chute, and leaky gutters or a leaking roof were no longer her concern. And there was no worrying about dusting until she collapsed, the apartment was manageable.
Beth had been through a lot during her eighty-two years on the planet, the worst being her daughter’s demise. An event that left her with a heavy heart and constant pain. Don, her late husband, had learned to live with it. She never had. Don had been her rock, her confidant, but now she was on her own.
And now with the asshole beating his wife every night, Beth was constantly reminded of her daughter, Alice, and of the asshole that had beaten and killed her. Every time she heard Carl yell or hit Marcy she felt like she was reliving the past, a past that was almost fifty years ago, but still felt like yesterday. Time didn’t heal all wounds.
Alice had met her husband, Jim, in college. He seemed like a great guy. Someone any mother would love to see her daughter wind up with. At least Beth had thought so. They were married shortly after he passed the bar exam. A year later the abuse started, as if out of the blue. Jim had become a monster. The polite over-the-phone conversations ended. “She’s not available” or “call back tomorrow” were the most he’d ever said to Beth. And when she was able to see her daughter, she knew something was wrong. It was like looking at a different person, a broken person. Bruises appeared on her arms and legs, never the face. “I’m just clumsy, Momma,” her daughter would say, never looking into her mother’s eyes. Beth of course knew what was going on. She didn’t want to admit it, and had no idea how bad it really was. She agreed to keep it between her and her daughter, Alice begging her not to tell Dad.
“He’s got to get help,” Beth warned her daughter. “Or I will inform your father.”
“Jim’s just really stressed,” Alice said. “Overworked. He doesn’t mean it. Says he’s sorry and he’ll change.”
Beth hardly saw her daughter after their talk about Jim. Phone conversations became the extent of their relationship. Alice had told her that Jim was looking into a few places where he could receive help for his anger problem. He was taking his time, making sure that the place he chose was the the best and very private. He had to be certain that no one he knew was there, whether as a patient or an employee. Jim was ashamed, and for the sake of his and his firm’s image he needed to be very discreet.
Beth tried going over to her daughter’s house on occasion, when she knew Jim was at work, but Alice was never home at the time of her visits. Later, when they talked on the phone, Alice would tell her mother that she had been out running errands or doing her nails, when in reality she had been home, hiding her bruises from the world. Alice always sounded chipper over the phone, leading Beth to believe that her daughter was all right.
A few months later, Alice’s body was found. She’d been beaten and strangled to death in her home. She had bruises over her entire body, ranging from a few weeks old to when she was killed. Jim was arrested and sentenced to fifteen years in jail. He served three before an inmate stabbed and killed him, the whole thing over an unpaid debt. Jim’s death did little to make Beth feel better. Her daughter was still dead.
She’d never been able to forgive herself. She should have done something. Stepped in. Told her husband. Called the police, or, at least, confronted Jim.
Don had eventually forgiven her. He never said what he would’ve done if he had known what was going on—because he had only known of the abuse after the fact. Don was fair like that.
Beth couldn’t stand by and let another woman, if she could help it, die at the hands of an abusive bastard. She didn’t know the Bradleys, had only met them in passing. But a woman, not much older than Alice had been before she was killed, was in serious trouble. Carl was huge, standing over six feet tall and weighing upwards of two hundred and twenty-five pounds. And to further complicate the matter, he was a police officer, a detective, with a propensity for violence.
Beth found out that the police had been called to the scene numerous times by the floor’s many tenants, but eventually the authorities had stopped coming, because the building’s residents stopped calling. Televisions and stereos seemed to get louder whenever the Bradleys were fighting. Nobody cared anymore, and if they did, they simply tuned it out and minded their own business. People were afraid of the big, bad policeman. They grew more comfortable with what went on in apartment 7C. It became common place, a normal occurrence. If Marcy was beaten often, the situation almost normal, a constant, but Marcy and Carl were always there, then how bad could the situation be? She was still alive. People had it tough all over the city. Same old, same old. The beating hours became a time to pump up the volume, vacuum, use the blender, or worse—listen in. If the authorities didn’t do anything, then no one would.
Beth didn’t understand how everyone could just sit by and not do a thing. Turn their eyes and ears away, pretending nothing was going on in 7C. She needed to do something, but what? Provoke the guy so that he attacked her? She might not live through it. She could call the authorities, report the incident, but if no one else’s calls mattered then why would hers? She’d just be another crazy old lady.
Later that evening, the neighbors in 7C were quiet. Beth heard the husband come home, but then he left a few minutes later. He hadn’t said a word, but she saw him pass by in the hall as she peered through her peephole.
She decided to go to bed early, grateful for the quiet, but it did little to help her sleep. She tossed and turned, thinking about her daughter and her cold, pale corpse on the medical examiner’s steel table. One of Alice’s eyes was swollen shut, the orbital socket having been broken. Her lips were split and bloodied, but it was the purple strangulation marks on her neck that Beth kept seeing over and over. The bastard had choked Alice to death after giving her the beating of her life. Did Alice know she was going to die as the motherfucker was cutting off her air? Or did she think it was another night of “too-much-stress”, Jim just letting off some steam?
And then there was Marcy, her neighbor. The woman was getting abused, physically and mentally, almost every night. Beth tried to imagine the terror Marcy must feel when her husband walked through the door. Did she also think her husband was just releasing a little steam? What was wrong with these women? What was wrong with Beth to let these things go on?
The next morning Beth awoke tired, but sleeping past 9:00 a.m. was sinful. After a light breakfast and two cups of tea, she decided to pay the missus next door a visit. Maybe Beth could talk to her. Feel the woman out. Her husband wouldn’t be home until later. There was the chance he was home now, had arrived when Beth was sleeping. She needed to play the “old lady” routine.
Two hours later, Beth found herself standing in front of 7C’s door. She didn’t want to head over too early in case Marcy was sleeping in. Taking a deep breath, she went to push the doorbell, but stopped her finger short of the small plastic button. Bells were loud and if the big guy was home she didn’t want to risk pissing him off. She knocked instead.
“Who is it?” a female voice asked.
“It’s Beth Baker from next door.”
“No, not at all. I baked a cake and thought you and your husband might like some.”
“Thank you. Could you please just place it at the door?”
Beth wasn’t expecting to hear this. She needed to speak to the woman—face to face.
“Is your husband home?”
“No, and I’m busy at the moment.”
“Are you okay, Mrs. Bradley?”
“Yes, please just leave the cake and go. Or take it with you. I don’t care.”
Beth needed to scare the woman into opening the door. She hated to do it but it was the only way.
“If you don’t open up and talk to me I’m going to call the police. I’m no fool, you know.”
“No, don’t.” The woman sounded frightened.
“I know what he’s doing to you.” Beth paused, leaning in closer to the door. She heard nothing and wondered if Marcy had walked away or was sobbing quietly. “I just want to help, and if some delicious chocolate cake can brighten your day a little, I’ll feel better.”
A lock clicked. Then another. The door opened a few inches, revealing one side of Marcy’s face.
“You don’t understand,” the woman said.
“I understand all too well,” Beth said. “I hear him beating you every night.”
“I’m sorry about that, but there’s nothing I can do. Talk to the neighbors if you don’t believe me.”
“I know everything there is to know,” Beth assured her. She looked right and left down the hall. Lowering her voice, she asked, “Do you think it’s a good idea to speak out in the hall like this?”
“You can’t come in,” Marcy said, her eye blinking rapidly. “Please just leave.” Marcy went to shut the door, but Beth stuck her foot out, preventing it.
“Are you crazy?” Marcy hissed.
“Of course not. But I made you a cake. Spent all morning on it. And I hate to waste food. Why not let me in so we can enjoy it and talk. Just us girls. It’s the neighborly thing to do.”
Beth pulled her foot from the door. She wanted the decision to be Marcy’s.
The woman’s eyelid began to twitch. She was thinking, considering her options. Beth had at least gotten her to do that. Now she only needed to push a little.
“When will your husband be home?”
“Around seven. After his shift.”
Good, Beth thought. The bastard was working and would be gone for a while.
“I’ll tell you what, Marcy,” Beth began, “I’ll come in just for a little while. We’ll have cake and tea. Do you have tea?”
“Wonderful. So we’ll have tea, cake and just shoot the shit. I’ll be out of your hair before long, and definitely before your husband comes home.”
Beth could see that Marcy was still on the fence.
“Come on,” Beth said, winking. “I’m sure you could use the company. I know I can.”
The eye closed for a moment, then opened. “I can’t. Now please go.” Marcy was growing a pair. Becoming a fighter. It was good to see that she wasn’t a completely empty shell.
“Is it the bruising?” Beth asked, tenderly.
Marcy’s eyelid fluttered. Her skin began to pale. She was embarrassed.
“It is, isn’t it? Well don’t you worry about that. I’ve seen way worse than whatever you have.” Beth was thinking about her daughter now, the corpse of her loved one on the medical examiner’s table. Alice had been barely recognizable. Her daughter’s face was littered with bruises, her nose disfigured. Both of Alice’s eyes were swollen, one completely closed. She had deep, skull-revealing gashes across her face and head and a jaw that had been broken so badly it had to be taped in place when they carted the body away. Beth shuddered at the memory. She’d pictured her daughter’s corpse twice within the past twenty-four hours. She hated seeing Alice as she was in death, always trying to remember her when she was alive, vibrant.
“You have?” Marcy asked, timidly.
Beth nodded. “Let’s go inside, have some tea and cake and a little conversation.” She sighed loudly. “Since my husband passed, and yours isn’t dead yet, I think we could both use some companionship.”
Marcy invited Beth in, turning away before Beth could get a good look at her. Beth followed her down an unlit hallway, stepping carefully as not to trip over anything that might be lying on the floor, but the way was clear. She passed by a few open doors, one leading to the bedroom, the other to the living room.
The apartment looked orderly, clean. She had expected to see broken things, like pieces of glass or ceramic plates, but guessed Marcy was forced to clean after every beating or tirade.
Beth stepped into the kitchen and glanced around. Like the rest of the apartment, it was clean. There were no dishes in the sink, nor any crumbs or stains on the table or floor. The place was drab, with yellowing curtains around the windows, walls the color of over-cooked eggshells and wooden cabinets that appeared like something from the early 1970s. There were no charming plaques that read “Marcy’s Kitchen” or “Café Brooklyn”. There were no pictures of fruit in fruit bowls, or ceramic tiles with vegetables painted on them above the counter. It was obvious the place belonged to a tyrant, the asshole never giving Marcy a penny toward decorating the home. But when Beth had passed by the living room, she saw a large flat-screen and a beautiful leather recliner. She was sure these belonged to Carl, and that he had other nice things as well.
The entire apartment was cold, unwelcoming.
Marcy walked to the table and turned around to face Beth. With the bright sunlight blasting the room, there was no more hiding what she looked like. Beth lost the ability to breathe at what she saw.
During the walk down the hallway, Beth had tried to prepare herself for Marcy’s appearance, by thinking of Alice’s battered corpse—for nothing could be so horrible in appearance. But seeing Marcy now, the door no longer obstructing her face, the shadows pushed back by the light, it took everything Beth had in her to not cry out. She felt herself begin to shake, and grew angry. She couldn’t let on how upset she was feeling, or how much she pitied the woman.
Marcy’s right eye looked like a boxer’s after a grueling ten-round fight, puffy and plum-purple. Her lips were swollen on the right side and split on the left. But it was the scabs and scarring along her face, neck and arms that told the story.
Marcy’s abuse had been going on for some time, years most likely. Carl was taking his time, killing her as slowly as possible, avoiding the authorities. Anything serious, requiring a hospital visit, and not even he’d be able to cover it up.
Beth didn’t want to dwell on what she was seeing, but it needed to be done—because her own daughter had been beaten, the beatings worsening over time until the one day the guy went too far and had lost control.
Carl was like her daughter’s husband, Jim. Both men had cold, maniac’s eyes that made a person want to look away. But at any time, Jim, like Carl, could put on his mask, making those peepers appear friendly, welcoming, warm. These men were monsters, demons. Beth wondered how such abuse could go on with so many witnesses on the floor, in Alice’s life, but then she remembered Alice.
Alice had friends and family too. Beth had let the abuse go on, hadn’t she? She’d known what was happening, but did nothing. To her defense, she had no idea how bad the abuse was, her daughter keeping it well hidden. Jim never left any marks where they could easily be seen. Too many public events for the couple.
Marcy appeared to be a different story—like a damsel trapped in a monster’s den, never allowed out.
Marcy finished up her third piece of cake, leaving only a few crumbs behind. Pecking at a fallen morsel resting at the center of the plate, she looked up, meeting Beth’s eyes.
“I’m sorry,” she said, pulling her hand back and leaving the crumb be. Then she looked down at the almost empty plate. “My husband doesn’t allow me to eat such things. Says I’m fat.”
“Ridiculous,” Beth said, gently, reaching out and patting the back of Marcy’s left hand. “You’re a bag of bones, child. Eat up. Enjoy. I bet he eats whatever he wants.”
Marcy chortled. “Yeah, he does. He’s a health nut. Always wants fish and poultry and salads. Oh and his precious Gatorade. It’s all the asshole drinks when he gets home from work. Says it rejuvenates him.”
Beth pushed the plate with cake on it closer to Marcy.
The woman had another two pieces before sitting back and saying how full she was. They chatted about the weather, but not much else; they had very little in common, save the abuse, which after a moment of silence, Marcy brought up.
“Did you really mean it when you said you’ve seen worse?”
The question surprised Beth. She was beginning to think the topic wouldn’t be broached, at least not by Marcy. Maybe the girl did want help. Maybe she was stronger than Beth gave her credit for.
“Yes,” she said. “I most certainly have.”
In gruesome detail, wanting to portray the images in Marcy’s head so she would never forget them, Beth went on to explain what had happened to her daughter.
“Oh my God,” Marcy said, wide eyed, holding a hand to her mouth. “He killed her.”
Beth nodded. “And that’s why I’m here, dear.”
“You think Carl will kill me. That one day I’ll end up like Alice?”
“If you stay with your husband…yes.”
“He’d never kill me,” Marcy said, glancing away and sounding disappointed. “He enjoys pounding on me too much. And besides, he’s a cop. He knows what to do and has an army of brothers to help.”
“That might be true, but there’ll come a day when he goes too far. Trust me.”
Marcy said nothing, seeming to have gone inward.
“The only thing he can’t cover up is a dead body,” Marcy finally said. “At least I don’t think he can, and if he tried it would be much harder to explain.” She looked up at Beth. “That’s what I tell myself every day, you know?”
Beth didn’t care for Marcy’s body language or the woman’s tone. Her shoulders were slumped, and she looked lost again.
“More tea?” Marcy asked, as if in a daze.
Marcy rose to her feet slowly and meandered to the stove. Beth hadn’t noticed it earlier, but the woman was walking with a slight limp.
“Leg bothering you?” she asked.
“No, it’s my back.”
“You know, Marcy, you’re a much stronger woman than I’d imagined. You’re not some delusional wreck making excuses for her husband. Why haven’t you left him?” Beth wanted to be blunt. Get the woman’s spirits up and find out what was really going on with her.
Marcy stood in front of the stove, waiting for the water to boil. It was already hot and wouldn’t take long.
“I’ve thought about it,” she said, staring ahead at the wall. “I can’t imagine a woman in my condition not thinking about it. I’ve got nowhere to go. What would I do? How would I survive? I never even finished high school.” She gave a chuckle. “I’m unemployable.”
“There are plenty of women’s shelters. And they’ll even help you get your GED.”
Marcy stared hard at Beth.
“He’s a detective. A very well-respected and high-ranking officer. He’s really, really good at his job. He’d find me no matter where I went.”
“I thought shelters were private. Protected women’s identities. Like AA.”
“I’m sure they do their best, but if someone wants to find someone they can. And a person like Carl, a bloodhound, can’t be stopped. Won’t be stopped.”
The teapot began to whistle. Marcy turned the burner off.
“Do you know how he became a detective so fast?” she continued. “He’s got a nose for finding things out. For finding people, guns, drugs. It’s like he’s supernatural or something. Made for that shit.”
“So he’s an intelligent abuser,” Beth said gently. She didn’t want Marcy going into defensive mode, like Alice had. Alice could talk badly about her husband all she wanted, but the minute someone else did she went into defensive mode. Made excuses for the asshole’s actions.
“Yes, he is,” Marcy confirmed.
“What if I hired an attorney for you? You could get a divorce, take half of Carl’s pay. That’ll keep you on your feet and really get that bastard.”
Marcy shook her head rapidly. “No, no, no, no. No way. He’d kill me for sure.”
“We’ll get you a protective order.”