‘So, what do you think?’ Melanie asked. She turned towards the prospective tenants, and gave them a beautiful, bonded-and-veneered smile. She’d spent the last half hour touring them around the apartment community, selling them on its virtues. Now they were back in her office.
‘The property’s gorgeous,’ Anna said. ‘And I love the gym and the pool.’
‘Nice location, too,’ Ethan said.
Ethan and Anna exchanged a look. ‘Can we see a unit?’ Anna asked.
‘Sure. Now, you were interested in two bedrooms, two baths, right?’
‘Right,’ Ethan nodded.
‘Let’s see,’ Melanie murmured as she looked through the listings. Then she smiled again. ‘You’re in luck. There are a few available right now. One’s right by the pool…’
‘Oh, thanks, but no,’ Anna said. ‘Pools can get noisy, and I’m a writer. I need more quiet than that.’
‘Not a problem,’ Melanie answered. ‘Here’s one that’s in a quieter location. It’s not far from the playground, but it’s not right next to it, either.’
‘Wait a sec,’ Anna said. She pointed at another unit marked as vacant. ‘It’s in such a nice, secluded spot.’
‘Oh, that’s got some real structural problems,’ Melanie said. ‘It’s not occupied, but it’s not available.’
Ethan nodded. ‘Let’s see the one you suggested,’ he said.
‘Great,’ Melanie said. ‘It’s available for immediate occupancy. You’ll love it.’
And they did. Ethan and Anna took possession a month later, and settled in right away. Anna loved the view from her office window, and Ethan was happy that the new place was only a ten-minute drive from his office. The community staff members were friendly, and, wonder of wonders, there weren’t any maintenance problems. Finally, Anna thought, she could get some peace. It hadn’t been easy, getting readjusted to the outside after three months at the mental health place. But she was feeling a lot stronger now, and this new place just made it even better.
Still, Anna couldn’t help noticing the vacant apartment whenever she passed it. There were piles of things on the patio, and the windows looked sealed shut. What was even weirder was that there was never any progress made. It looked as though the apartment was completely abandoned, and in bad condition, too. It didn’t make any sense to her.
‘Oh, that one,’ Melanie said when Anna asked about it. ‘Yeah, it’s still being worked on.’ Then, concern in her voice, she asked, ‘Is there a problem with your unit?’
‘Oh, no, not at all! We love it. I’m just curious, that’s all. Guess it’s the writer in me,’ Anna said with a short laugh.
Melanie’s face cleared. ‘Well, that’s good to hear. And no, it’s nothing mysterious.’ She smiled. ‘It’s just a huge project. Takes a lot of time.’
Anna nodded and got up. ‘Well, guess I better get back to it.’ She thanked Melanie and left. Melanie watched her go. When she was sure Anna had left, she picked up her telephone.
After dinner that night, Anna got ready to take the trash out. After she’d emptied the bags into the dumpster, she looked around. It was a beautiful night – might as well take a short walk and enjoy it. She couldn’t help it – she accidentally on purpose walked by the building with the abandoned apartment. That was odd – there was a light on! She stepped closer, glancing around her to be sure she was alone. She didn’t want to be caught snooping. Just as she got within good viewing distance, the light went off. If it had even been on. She shook her head, annoyed with herself for seeing things.
When she got back to the apartment, she told Ethan about it. ‘It was so weird. I could have sworn there was a light on, but then it went off. Or maybe it wasn’t on in the first place. It was just…odd.’
‘Must have been a trick of the light or something,’ Ethan said.
‘Yeah. Or my writer’s imagination on overdrive.’
Two nights later, though, Anna saw the same thing again. A light was on in that abandoned apartment. As she watched, she saw a figure moving around. This was too much. She rushed back to her own apartment and told Ethan what had happened.
‘What were you doing over there, anyway?’ he asked.
‘You don’t have to snap at me! I was just walking around, stretching my legs.’
‘Well, you don’t have to go looking into other apartments, that’s all.’
‘I saw what I saw, Ethan. It’s really strange.’
‘Give it up, OK, Anna? It’s your mind playing tricks on you.’ Then, in a kinder tone, ‘I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said that. But it’s only been a couple of months since…well, maybe you’re just tired. Or maybe you should get a tuneup?’ His words for a visit to her psychiatrist.
‘Yeah, maybe.’ Ethan could be right. She took a deep breath. Then she nodded. ‘I’ll call and make an appointment.’
Ethan smiled. ‘Just relax, honey. The move and everything – well, you haven’t had time to relax.’
He was right about that, Anna thought. And for a few days, that’s what she did.
Then one evening, almost a week later, it was just too nice outside to stay indoors. The smell of freshly-cut grass, and the sounds of the evening birds, lured Anna, and she went for a walk. This time, she didn’t tell Ethan. For a few minutes, she took in the pleasant feeling of being outdoors, and looked up at the stars. Then, almost without thinking about it, she walked towards the abandoned apartment.
When Anna got close, she saw the light on inside the apartment. She got closer, her slip-on shoes crackling against twigs as she went. She stepped up to the patio, still piled full of who knew what. Then she peeked in through the patio door. There were people there! She could hear them now, their voices too muffled for her to hear what they said. She leaned close to try for a better view.
‘There you are!’
Anna whirled around. Then she laughed a little. It was just Ethan.
‘Busted,’ she said, sheepishly. Ethan didn’t look at all amused.
‘What are you doing here?’
‘I just – I’m curious.’
‘We talked about this,’ Ethan said sharply. ‘You’re letting all this get to you.’
Then, Anna heard a crack – like a gunshot. She grabbed Ethan’s arm. ‘Did you hear that?’ she gasped.
‘A shot! That was a shot!’
‘I didn’t hear anything, Anna. Come on. Let’s get back home. You need help.’
‘No, Ethan, I know what I heard!’
But Ethan wasn’t listening to her. He walked her firmly back to their apartment and sat her on the living room sofa. He got her a glass of water, and said, ‘Take little sips, Anna. Then let’s go to bed and talk about this tomorrow.’
Anna nodded. With tears at the corners of her eyes, she took a few sips of the water. After a few minutes, she started to feel a little unsteady. Damn him! Ethan had crushed up one of her pills in the water! She looked at him, standing across the room. He was making a call. She tried to get up, but felt too dizzy. She heard his voice, almost like an echo.
‘Yeah, it’s me, Mel.’ Mel? ‘I know, but I thought I ought to tell you. It’s Anna. She…..yeah, but everything’s fine. I’m taking care of it. Don’t worry…’
Anna couldn’t hear anything else. By the time the team from the hospital got there, she was completely sedated.
Ethan signed his name to the hospital paperwork with a flourish. It would be at least six months before they let Anna out again. And with her out of the way, he’d be able to tighten things up at that apartment. He’d thought that moving to the complex would let him do a better job of overseeing the operations. But you could never tell what would happen when new people crossed the border. And those coyotes were capable of anything. Flaco’d been stupid to use a gun, but maybe someone just gave him too much trouble. It would be all right. At least Flaco knew how to get rid of a body. Tomorrow Ethan would give Melanie her cut. And who would care that that apartment never seemed to be occupied?