Wesley dashed through the rain from the bus stop to his apartment entrance as he held his leather briefcase over his head. The day that started out under scheming, grey clouds had turned into a stormy night, with streaks of lightning crashing down and echoing booms trailing the flashes seconds later. Wesley’s brown suit and light brown hair had turned damp and dark during the commute from his office downtown to his apartment complex five miles away, and he wished he had remembered to bring an umbrella. Then again, already running ten minutes late when he saw the weather forecast on the bus monitor, Wesley couldn’t have afforded to turn back around and pick it up. His manager had written him up just last Friday when he stumbled into the office hung over and fifteen minutes late. The manager, a stocky man whose rosacea and German last name were the cause of jokes about his presumed alcoholism within the office, sat Wesley down that Friday morning and gave him an earful involving the importance of timeliness, order, and “ze proper verking attichood.”
The watch on Wesley’s left wrist read nine o’clock. He clocked out at eight-thirty without eating anything since noon, and he wondered whether or not he had any leftovers in the fridge as he finagled his keys out of his pocket and unlocked the entrance door of the apartment complex, a looming, white tower that measured ten stories. Pulling out a handkerchief from the inside pocket of his suit jacket and wiping his face with it, Wesley checked the mailbox labeled “#907, W. Splinter.” Finding a hefty stack, he grabbed everything, closed his mailbox, sauntered over to the elevator, and pressed the button with a red arrow that indicated “Up.” While he waited for the elevator to arrive, Wesley sifted through the pile of paper, which included the bill for April’s rent and a pamphlet adorned with a picture of a smiling, robed white man rocking long, brown locks and a caption above it, “Jesus Saves: Buy Your Subscription of Christians Monthly Today!” The elevator dinged, Wesley walked inside, and again pressed a button – this time the one for the ninth floor. The elevator hummed away for a few seconds until it came to a grinding halt and dinged again, this time on the fourth floor. The door failed to open immediately, and after a couple of times of pushing the open button, Wesley watched as the door slid open and revealed a figure standing outside the elevator.
Wesley guessed the figure was a man – his shoulders were far too broad to have belonged to a woman; otherwise, it was practically impossible for Wesley to tell the gender of the figure. “He” wore a yellow raincoat that reached the middle of his thighs, and his hooded, bent head – as well as the baseball cap pulled over his face – concealed any facial features. The tall stranger – he must have at least been six-foot-three, six-foot-four — held in his gloved right hand a steel briefcase that he positioned near the back of his thigh rather than directly next to his left leg, and Wesley breathed in a odor that he would later recall as the smell of rain and iron, or rust. Wesley, who had been standing in the middle of the elevator, scooted to his right, in front of the elevator buttons, and waited for the man to enter until he asked which floor he wanted to go to. The man, his head still bent at an angle towards the floor, responded with silence as the elevator door squeaked, squeaked, and closed with a thud.
Having lived at the apartment for almost four years, Wesley knew most of the people that lived there. He wondered whether it was the flickering lights inside the elevator (wasn’t maintenance supposed to have fixed that weeks ago?) or the fact that he failed to recognize his quiet companion in a lonely, camera-less elevator that made his skin crawl. Wesley coughed and glanced at the man from the corner of his eyes, from which he caught sight of the left palm of the white gloves the stranger wore. The elevator dinged, and the door to the ninth floor opened; Wesley walked out.
“That looked like blood on the palm of his glove,” he thought to himself. His pace quickened, and he made sure to double-lock his door once he was inside his apartment.
The next couple of days were quiet – Thursday involved the same menial tasks that an accountant at an accounting firm encounters on a daily basis (although Wesley doubted the average accountant had a red-faced, red-nosed, spit-spraying German for a boss), and Friday, outside of going out for drinks at the downtown Irish pub O’Malley’s with nine others from the office, proved to be a peaceful refresher from the experience of being in the elevator with the stranger in the raincoat Wednesday evening. Thus, when Wesley, having gone through another two days of work, woke up Saturday morning with a mild hangover from someone knocking on the door, he had completely forgotten about the incidents that took place inside the elevator. He shouted from his room that he was coming, headed to the kitchen to pour himself a glass of water, and made his way to the door where the stern knocks on the door – Wesley wondered who would want to bother him on a Saturday morning – grew louder. Wesley unlocked the door and opened it to find himself face to face with a police officer.
The skinny, middle-aged man, who sported a handsome, high-cheeked face and a little bit of an afternoon shadow, stood with his hands behind his back and smiled at Wesley with his hazel eyes and his mouth without exposing his teeth. Despite the walkway outside being on a slightly higher elevation than the inside of the apartment, the officer looked up at Wesley, who was barely five-foot-seven. Relaxed as he was by the officer’s appearance, Wesley wondered what a police officer wanted with him on a Saturday morning.
The officer stuck his hand out and introduced himself to Wesley as “Officer Brantley” in a drawn-out accent. Wesley guessed that the officer must have been originally from the south. He asked the officer what he could do for him today.
“Well, sir, it turns out I’ve some bad news. There’s been a death on the fourth floor of this apar’ment a couple of nights ago late in tha evenin’, and we believe there’s been some foul play. My pardner Officer Shannon has gone ‘round to the other floors to inform the residents of this awful, awful news, and we’ve got more of our people comin’ in to the crime scene. For now, we’re just getting around to askin’ y’all folks if you’ve heard anythin’ or seen anything… outtha ordnary.” The officer took out a notepad and a pen from his back pocket and stared at Wesley with the thin remnants of his previous smile affixed on his face.
Wesley, throughout the entire time Officer Brantley had been talking, had managed to keep a straight face, and he said nothing when the officer mentioned that a murder had taken place inside the apartment. He recalled the large man in the yellow raincoat in the elevator from Wednesday evening and what looked to be blood on his glove. After Officer Brantley had finished speaking, Wesley shook his head.
“That sounds very, very awful, but I have no idea that something like that had happened Wednesday night. I came back at five, as usual, and stayed in and watched Netflix until I fell asleep.” The officer frowned and cocked his head to his left.
“Nothin’, sir? Heard nothin’, saw nothin’?”
“I was watching House of Cards pretty loudly, I guess. I’m sorry.” Wesley scratched the side of his face and looked away, but saw how the officer stared at him while he wrote on his notepad.
“And yer sure about this, sir? I don’t want to haveta come back here in case you were lyin’ and gettin’ in the way of the investigation. If you know somethin’, just let us know now, and I assure ya it’ll have contributed to catchin’ the man – or woman – who committed the crime.”
“I’m sorry,” Wesley replied. “I just don’t have anything out of the ordinary to tell you.” Wesley attempted a feeble smile at the officer, who, to Wesley’s surprise, smiled right back.
“All right, then – lord knows I can take a horse down to tha river, but ain’t no way I can make him drink.” He winked at Wesley and put away his pen and notepad. “In the meantime, as a precaution, I suggest thatcha double-lock these doors, sir.” Wesley thanked him for the suggestion, and the officer bid him a “beautiful mornin’, sir,” before he went his way. Wesley finished the rest of his water and went back to bed, where he slept in until noon.
The next day, Wesley, who had woken up with goose bumps, turned on the television and flipped through the channels. A local news channel ran a story of the death that had taken place at his apartment on Wednesday. The title of the story read, “Two male suspects arrested in murder of apartment resident.” Wesley, getting up from the couch in front of the TV, walked over to the refrigerator as the female anchor divulged the background of the deceased man and the murder case.
“The two suspects, pictured here—“
Wesley slammed the fridge door and glanced at the television screen. The cold, smiling, hazel eyes of “Officer Brantley” stared back at him.