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Authors: Jerry Amernic

The Last Witness

BOOK: The Last Witness
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THE LAST
WITNESS

Jerry Amernic

STORY MERCHANT BOOKS

LOS ANGELES

2014

Copyright © 2014 by Jerry Amernic. All rights reserved.

No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without the express written permission of the author.

www.jerryamernic.com/the-author

www.facebook.com/jerry.amernic

Story Merchant Books

400 S. Burnside Avenue #11B

Los Angeles, CA 90037

http://www.storymerchant.com/books.html

New York City, 2035

1

He was a tough sort. Ninety-five years old with elastic skin stretched across his bones like taut canvas, he was supposed to be an easy mark. Fragile and weak. A pushover. Albert Freedman lived by himself in a flat on the upper East Side, and when they came for him they didn’t expect any trouble. Albert knew something wasn’t right when the second one walked in, but the voice was soft and reassuring.

“We’re here to change your palm reader,” he said through the door. “We’re doing all the apartments on your floor today and you’re the first. It won’t take five minutes.”

“You’re here to change my what?”

“Your palm reader.”

“I donno what yer talkin’ about. Go away!”

“You don’t understand. There’s a problem with the sensor. You know, the thing that opens your door when you put your hand in front of it? The palm reader?”

“What?”

“It scans your hand. Your print. Then it lets you in.”

Nothing.

“Look,” the man said, more softly now. “Mr. Freedman? You are Albert Freedman, aren’t you?”

“Yes.”

“I realize you don’t want to be bothered but this is for your security. It’s like putting a new lock on the door.”

“A new lock?”

“That’s right. The sensor in your palm reader is ten years old.”

“It is?”

“The year’s inscribed on the side of the door. It says 2025. See for yourself.”

Albert looked, but he didn’t see anything. His eyes weren’t good. “Where does it say that?” he said.

“On the side of the door. It might be hard to read. The numbers are small.”

“Where are they?”

“Trust me. The thing is ten years old and it’s not working right. But we have new ones now that are much better. But it’s not only that. You see there was a break-in last week and they want everyone’s palm reader changed. That’s why we’re here. You’re the first one on our list, Mr. Freedman. We’ll be done in five minutes. Can we come in?”

“Five minutes you say?”

“That’s all it takes.”

He started jiggling the latch from the inside and then he stopped. “Wait a minute. Why am I the first one? This isn’t the first flat on the floor. You should be down at the end of the hall. Unless you’re doing it alphabetically and then you wouldn’t be starting with me. Why am I the first one?”

He was ninety-five years old. He wasn’t supposed to be asking questions like that. He was just supposed to open the door so they could kill him and make it look like a robbery.

There was an audible sigh from outside the door. “Look Mr. Freedman. It’s like this. Doing all these sensors isn’t going to be much fun for us but the landlord said you’re a nice guy and we thought we’d start with you.”

At first nothing and then the jiggling from inside the door started again.

“All right. Come in. But make it fast.”

Albert released the latch that was linked to a sensor that had nothing wrong with it in a building where there had been no break-ins the past week, the past month or the past year. The first man through the door was short and slight, thirtyish with close-cropped hair and a soothing voice. He had a tattoo on his arm that looked like a snake, and if Albert had seen that he wouldn’t have opened the door. But then it was too late.

“Thank you,” the man said with a disarming smile.

The one behind him, younger and bigger with straggly hair and brown skin, burst through the door and pushed Albert out of the way. Old Albert fell against the wall and managed to brace himself with his hand, but the sudden impact jarred his wrist. The arthritis. Then the girl appeared, tall and skinny, dressed in black. Albert never got a good look at their faces, but it didn’t matter. He would be dead before they left.

“Where do you keep the money?” the girl screamed at him. “Tell us!”

The small slim man with the snake on his arm turned, retreated into the hallway and closed the door behind him. In his hand was a little gadget with a screen on it. He touched the screen and a list of names came up. He ran his fingertip over the last name – Albert Freedman’s name – and it disappeared. Then he was gone.

The girl began riffling through Albert’s cupboards and drawers. Albert was confused. He didn’t get many visitors.

“Where do you keep the money?” the girl said again.

“What do you want?”

“Your money!”

The man who was now inside Albert’s flat didn’t waste any time. He came for him with his fists clenched. He hit him in the face and knocked him to the floor. Albert fell on his side, his hip, but was close enough to the door so he could reach behind it for his cane. The one with the heavy metal handle. He always kept it there. Blood dripping from his nose, he scrambled to his knees, brought the cane back over his head, and with every ounce of strength he had walloped the intruder or thief or whatever he was across the ankles. There was a loud cry, but Albert wasn’t finished. He got to his feet, straightened up, and brought his cane back a second time. Now he turned on the girl and landed that metal handle square on the back of her shoulders.

“I’ll kill you both!” he said.

But Albert was old and the man was enraged now. He tore the cane from Albert’s hands and started hitting him with it. He hit him on the head. He hit him on the chest. He hit him on the arms. Albert tried to shield himself with his flailing hands, but the blows were relentless. They kept coming and coming and coming. The girl was going through his drawers, throwing everything she found on the floor. Albert always kept his place neat and he didn’t like that, but he could barely see through his eyes now.

“Here’s his wallet,” she said. “Get it over with.”

The beating took less than a minute. Albert, barely conscious, lay on the floor, bloodied and battered to a pulp, a near corpse of broken bones. He couldn’t move and the only thing to feel was pain. The man with the brown skin and straggly hair turned him over so he was face down and all there was to see was the cold dusty floor. It was the last thing Albert would see in his ninety-five years. He sniffed at the acrid air as a knee went deep into his back and the cane came up under his chin. Albert gurgled a few times, there was a crack, and his body went limp.

December 1, 2039

2

The message said ‘
Happy 100
th
Birthday, Jack.’
The column in the middle of the lobby was wider than the others, on each side a monitor with the news of the day rolling down to the floor before starting up at the top again. There was the coming bingo tournament, the time and route for the walk through Washington Square, and a short bio on the pianist who would perform that night in the Grand Hall.

‘Happy 100
th
Birthday, Jack. The staff, executive board and residents of the Greenwich Village Seniors Center are pleased to announce the 100
th
birthday celebration for resident Jack Fisher to take place December 1
st
, 2039. Please join us in the recreation room on the lower level at 2 p.m.’

The letters looked like they might have been drawn by a deft hand, but you couldn’t tell for sure. They were crafted in a golden script with long curly stems, the ‘100’ bigger than everything else to show the accomplishment of living for a whole century. Not that it was unusual. Lots of people around here had made it to a hundred. Jack was merely the latest. But as the words said, it was a celebration and you can’t have enough of those in a building for the old.

Jack had slept through his alarm. It went off every morning at seven o’clock sharp. Seven o’clock and that thing that looked just as old as he was released its piercing blare from atop the night table next to his bed. Sometimes he got up and sometimes he didn’t. Today he didn’t because of the old pain in his shoulder, a subtle reminder of getting whacked with the butt of a rifle when he was a little boy. It had been going on all these years, but he was lucky. Awfully
lucky. The madman who hit him, one of countless many in a sea of unending insanity, didn’t bother to shoot. Still, after all this time, it hurt.

December 1
st
was a special day for Jack and he took extra care combing his hair. It was ashen white, but for a man one hundred years old having any hair at all is a victory. He opened his closet and chose the fancy shirt with the long, button-down sleeves, a French brand he had never heard of but they said it was the best cotton shirt around. It had solid gray lines running up and down, and in between them thinner lines. It was the kind of shirt that went with a suit, but Jack didn’t wear suits anymore. They were stifling. The shirt with a sweater on top would be fine. It was his birthday, December 1
st
, and the chill of winter filled the air. He put on his glasses and washed his face.

His two sons were coming with their families. Ralph lived in East Rutherford, so Manhattan was no problem for him, but Bill was coming from Canada and that would be a treat. They would have their wives and their kids – Jack’s grandchildren – and in Ralph’s case his own grandchildren, which made them Jack’s great-grandchildren. Jack was never one to crave attention, but having them all around would be nice. Unfortunately, Bill’s two granddaughters couldn’t make it. The older one, Tiffany, had a little girl of her own, which made this one Jack’s great-
great-
granddaughter – five generations, pretty amazing all things considered – so Tiffany was at home tending to her daughter. As for her younger sister Christine, she was a schoolteacher whose job always came first, but even though Christine couldn’t attend, she didn’t disappoint.

Christine never disappointed Jack.

Her call woke him after he had slept through his alarm and it wasn’t the ring that roused him but the flashing light on the console. Jack’s eyes weren’t good, but they were still better than his hearing. His hearing had been waning for years now. He reached for the phone on his night
table and it was her. Christine. The first thing she said was, “Happy one hundredth birthday, Jack!” It would be the first of many such greetings that day. Then she said she had sent him a 3D e-mail. A
3DE
she called it. Last Christmas she had bought him one of those little box things. It came with some newfangled medical device that let him self-diagnose his blood pressure and heart rate and a host of other indicators that confirmed he was alive for yet another day. Once he got the all-clear, he would pop open the lid, hit
receive
, and see and hear his messages three-dimensionally. She told him to look for it. She said good-bye and apologized for not being there.

After getting dressed and combing his hair, he perched himself on the chair in front of the box. He checked his blood pressure – 160 over 90. Heart rate 74. He popped open the lid, pressed the button and
Happy Birthday to You
started up. Then there she was. Christine. All of her. A perfect likeness no more than a foot high. All dressed and ready for school to begin her classes. Living. Breathing. Talking.

“Good morning, Jack. Well what can I say? You’re the first member of the Fisher family to reach one hundred and I’m so proud of you but I feel guilty for not being there but this week has been just impossible. It’s not so much my students but those bureaucrats at the school board. You know what I mean. We’ve been there before, you and me, and you always say to keep fighting so that’s what I’m doing. Fighting them tooth and nail. I told them about you … it’s not the first time … and they don’t care. Some of them don’t even think it’s true. Can you believe that? And this is a school yet. Indifference remember? That’s how people are. But I just can’t accept it. I never will. Anyway I’m seeing my department head this morning and I’m going to give him a piece of my mind. Whatever piece is left. To tell you the truth I’m not doing too well with this condition of mine. I’m so dizzy every morning. Twenty-five and I feel like an old woman. It’s really starting to wear me out and if not for you I’d probably feel sorry for myself but one
thing you always taught me, Jack, is never to do that. When I look at you, well, that’s why you’re my inspiration but then you always have been. Because of you my life is one big mission and that’s why I feel terrible about not being there today. I’m so sorry about that. I really wanted to make it. Still I can wish you a happy hundredth, can’t I? Say hello to everyone for me. You have a great day!”

BOOK: The Last Witness
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