Wednesday, 7 May 2014

An Evening with Walter

Below is my entry for the Writers' & Artists' Short Story Competition 2014: 'An Evening with Walter'. I wrote this short story in July 2013. You'll see that I already had the serial killer idea at the time.


An Evening with Walter
 
It was the summer of 1977. At long last night had fallen, bringing an end to another day of scorching heat. I opened the bedroom window of my tiny first storey apartment on the corner of 127th Street and Jamaica Avenue in Queens. I remember enjoying that pleasant yet short-lived moment of cooler air drifting into my bedroom, providing some temporary salvation to my sweaty body. The lingering aroma of cooked seafood coming from the kitchen of Montanes New York Restaurant underneath flirted with me. I could hear distant car traffic and the next train on its way from Jamaica to Elmhurst and Astoria, and beyond, Lower Manhattan. This was only background noise. In fact, the neighborhood was unusually calm for such a night in early-August.
I had spent the day locked up in my apartment, curtains drawn, reading the papers on my bed or simply getting lost in my thoughts. I occasionally broke the routine by raiding the refrigerator for some leftover pizza or a Bud, or by sometimes lighting up a smoke. That made me think I was running low on the Lucky Strikes and I’d have to go out and get some more. Yet, the sole thought of wandering outside my apartment made me shake with fear. I quickly abandoned that idea and lied down on the bed, contemplated the crack in the ceiling and lowered my tired gaze to the holes in wall in front of me.
I shut my eyes. Tried to picture my landlord renovating the goddamn place, enlightening the decaying decor. Sure I would have done it myself, but my extinct career prospects and meager veteran's compensation meant that it would take me a while before getting round to the revamp. Hell, I was struggling to keep the Bud and smokes supplies afloat. Taking care of my surroundings would be a job for another day. Some day when I would actually give a shit.
A police car dashed by, siren screeching through the silent night, projecting hazy blue light onto my bedroom ceiling. It reminded me of the day's feature article in the paper, brought me back to sad reality.
The killer who called himself 'Son of Sam' had shot and critically wounded his 12th and 13th victims, Robert Violante, 20, and Stacy Moscowitz, 20, the previous evening. They had been attacked while making out in Violante’s car parked near the Brooklyn waterfront. According to the paper, ballistics experts confirmed that the bullets were from a .44-caliber gun used by Son of Sam. Police had reportedly intensified patrols in Queens and East Bronx, warned by his latest letter, one in which he exposed his plans to strike again on the anniversary date of his first shooting. Next to this article was a police sketch of Son of Sam.
This plain and simply terrorized me. And it is safe to say that I wasn't the only New Yorker with such feelings. After all, these were harsh times. The city’s economic prospects were bleak and the crime rate had jumped almost seventy-five percent in three years. Not to mention a two-day blackout in mid-July and the mandatory aftermath of looting and vandalism. And on top of that, we had this maniac on the loose, killing folks with his .44-caliber and leaving sordid letters with the police detailing how he was prowling on the streets, hunting, looking for tasty meat right here in Queens. Sure the attacks were random but I had read that they were under the command of Sam, a man who supposedly lived six thousand years ago, now relaying messages to his son. That's why people were indoors. It wasn't due to the sweltering summer. It was more to do with survival instinct.
I rubbed a pillow on my forehead to get rid of a few beads of sweat, tried to think about more positive things, but couldn't. I stripped naked, went to the bathroom, brushed my teeth and drank water from the tap. It tasted like copper. I returned to bed and closed my eyes, hoping that sleep would come shortly and that my dreaming would be of the pleasant kind.
It may have been minutes or hours later. Suddenly, I was awoken by a noise of shattering glass followed by a deep 'thump'.
I rose from the bed and staggered to the door, my eyes having difficulty adapting to the dark. I knocked my shoulder on the door frame and cursed to myself. I was naked, my prick dangling, defenseless.
 I called out in a deep and virile voice, 'I gotta gun. Get the fuck out'.
I got no reply.
My dark thoughts came back to me at light speed. Shit, what if it were Son of Sam in my apartment? What if I was his next piece of fair game? I was as much a random target as any other poor schmuck in this neighborhood.
After such a realization I stepped backwards into my bedroom, slammed the door and ducked behind the bed. My breathing slowed down. I tried to listen to the sounds of my apartment. It was faint, but I could hear something going on in the kitchen. Someone had definitely broken in. That someone seemed to be rummaging through the cupboards, searching the worktop. Why didn't the intruder react to my warning? What the hell was going on? I was lost and confused. I was scared shitless.
I looked around in a vague attempt to look at the options at my disposal. Exit my bedroom through the window? No, bad idea. Hide under the bed? Surely not. Son of Sam would find me there. And then the solution dawned upon me. It was sitting on the bedside table next to the lamp: the phone. I fumbled around the bed and retrieved the newspaper, began leafing my way through to the page with the latest NYPD update on the Son of Sam slayings, and dialed 9-1-1.
After hearing the connection sounds and first few ringtones, I yanked the phone away from my ear for a few seconds. The noises in the kitchen were ongoing but remained faint.
A female operator answered. '9-1-1, how may I be of assistance?'
Conscious of the noise I would probably make, I took a moment before replying in a voice which I tried to make as soft as possible. 'My name is Walter Slominski.'
'I'm sorry sir. I didn't quite catch your name.'
'Wal-ter Slo-min-ski!' I said louder. 'I live on the corner of 127th Street and Jamaica Avenue. I want to report a home invasion.'
The female voice replied, 'Is this your home or are you reporting a home invasion from another location?'
'My place,' I replied, irritated. 'Please send a patrol quick. I think it might be Son of Sam.'
'Sir, there is no need to panic. A call will be made. You will receive assistance soon.'
I was furious and temporarily forgot that the sonofabitch was in my kitchen.
'Listen, lady. Make it real quick! The patrol might have to report another of the .44-caliber Killer's victims if they don't hurry.'
'Sir, we're getting hundreds of phone calls every day with regard to Son of Sam and we are doing the best we can.'
'You're not the one with a serial killer in his home!' I replied.
I looked at the paper. 'Get Deputy Inspector Timothy Dowd on the line. I know he's investigating the case. He'll understand me,' I said, panicking.
'Mr. Slominski, try to stay calm. Where are you exactly?'
'In my bedroom. Door's closed. I think he's in the kitchen.'
'Do you think he knows you're in?'
'I'm not sure. I warned him that I have a gun, but he didn't react and he hasn't come to check the bedroom yet.'
'Mr. Slominski, do you have this gun with you now?'
'No, I pretended to have one'.
'Okay. The best you can do is push your bed against the door and remain in a corner until the patrol arrives. Can you move the bed easily?'
'I think I can,' I replied, drily.
'Go ahead, do it. I'll remain on the line'.
I put down the phone and did as instructed. The bed made a loud screeching noise as its legs scraped the floor. I finally managed to push it right against the door. Before I picked up the receiver, I listened carefully. The intruder was still silent.
'Sir, sir?' I could hear the operator's voice on the phone enquiring.
I resumed the conversation, 'I'm still here.'
'Good. Did the intruder hear you?'
'I don't think so. He might be gone,' I replied. 'What's happening with my patrol?'
'I told you they're on their way. Hold tight. I'll stay on the line until they arrive.'
And so I did.
I sat on the floor, holding the phone, stroking the cord nervously. I could hear an occasional thump or very quiet footsteps coming from the kitchen. Maybe Son of Sam was feeling hungry tonight and needed a snack before moving on to the next victim of his killing spree? I guessed it was a good thing that only a few slices of pizza were left and that I hadn't gone grocery shopping. Perhaps he would realize that he hadn't chosen the best of pantries.
Tortured by the near absence of noise, I mounted the bed and approached the door. I looked through the keyhole, saw nothing. All I could hear was the sound of my heart’s private rock concert. Maybe he was gone? Maybe I wasn't going to be his next victim after all?
With no imminent police arrival, I reckoned that I could have another go at frightening him off.
'Hey man, get the hell out of my apartment!' I yelled. 'Gun's loaded, you fuckin' scumbag.'
No response.
Confused and angered, I decided to end the absurd situation myself. I yanked the bed back into place and opened the bedroom door loudly, made it smash against the wall.
'I'm comin' to getcha!' I shouted.
I moved stealthily closer to the kitchen at the other end of the short corridor. I suddenly realized in the midst of my gung-ho euphoria that I was still naked and totally vulnerable.
I rested my back and butt against the wall next to the kitchen door. Then I closed my eyes, turned around. I charged clumsily, dick swinging, into the kitchen.
I opened my eyes.
The shattered glass was on the floor, as expected. However, the window wasn't broken. It was slightly ajar, the way I had left it.
I couldn't see Son of Sam. Where the hell was he? Had he really decided to torment someone else?
A few of the kitchen's cupboard doors had been opened. A washing up liquid bottle and some sponges had fallen out and had tumbled to the floor. I guessed the shattered glass could have been the water jug I had left on the worktop, as it was no longer there.
All of a sudden, a flash of pain jolted my body. It came from below and ran upwards, freezing me on the spot. It felt like I had been stabbed in the calf.
But the pain instantly dissipated.
I turned around in surprise, expecting Son of Sam to deliver his final blow. He was not standing behind me. There was no one there.
The stabbing in the calf sensation immediately started again, which forced me to look down.
And there he was the sonofabitch. There he fucking was, hissing at me.
The neighbor's grey tabby cat had stuck his claws into me, surely to avenge himself from an unfruitful search for food.
I stared the slender and demoniac creature in the eye.
He met my gaze, mano-a-mano, and meowed. Goddam heat wave-induced paranoia.