For some odd reason, the mayor of our town had decided that a few given streets needed a particular makeover. Luckily, ours had been one of them. Some additional trees had been planted (whose species was selected to withstand harsh winters, little soil, and the constant deluge of dog urine), the sidewalks were cleaned and repaired, and the streetlights had been replaced with contemporary models. These miniature lighthouses shone so brightly that some nights were better illuminated than some days. Those stellar beams proved their magnificence as they glinted off the polished belt buckle and snap of the gunslinger’s holster. He waved his arm and shouted Spanish curses at the fawning trio, who had been boldly staring us down only moments ago.
“I’m thinking that I should call the cops now,” assessed Brian, with a confused and somewhat wet Canal standing by his side. The poor pooch shook the rainfall off of his coat, tilting his head up and sideways toward his towering master. It was obvious that he was patiently waiting for his master to start moving towards the dry, warm interior behind the lobby door.
Copying Canal, I tilted my own head as I scrutinized our supposed vigilante. “Hmmm…you’re too late,” I interjected. “They’re already here.”
Taking a second look for herself, Rhonda looked down the street and recognized the same person in those dark clothes. “Well, look at that…it’s Captain Richie.”
As if he could detect the announcement of his own name (but likely following the gaze of his intimidated audience), Captain Richie turned around and spotted us under the weeping night sky. Subtlely, he adjusted his frame into something less menacing, and he flashed a broad smile in our direction as he waved amiably at us. We waved back, and just as I considered walking down the street towards him, he turned quickly and ushered the trio through the open door, giving the one woman a not-so-friendly push through its frame. Just as well, I thought. I’m not certain that I should be talking to any cop in my pajamas. He briefly turned to us in order to issue one last wave, and then he escaped into the embracing shadows himself. The whole encounter couldn’t have taken more than 30 seconds.
“Well, that was weird,” commented Rhonda, while she simultaneously patted Canal’s head and looked at him adoringly. Oh, I know that look, I thought. There’s a puppy in our future for sure.
“Yeah,” I agreed. “Must have been some sort of domestic disturbance issue. Maybe this has happened before and he knows them? More importantly, I didn’t even know that Richie was fluent in Spanish.” I paused. “Speaking of weird…Brian, you didn’t happen to see a naked white chick running around out here, did you?”
Brian, still focused on the other end of our block, finally became aware of my seemingly random question. “Wait…what…naked chick? Huh?”
I shook my head. “Never mind. Forget that I asked. You got leaks in your place too, right? Oh, and I forgot to ask before: you planning on being on the board?”
“Yeah, I got leaks worse than yours,” he said through gritted teeth. “And am I gonna run for the board?” He shrugged. “Maybe…I heard that Babbu wants to be on the board.”
I laughed. “But where’s he gonna find the time? Isn’t he still running that social media campaign? What’s the name of his site…KirpanWedgiesAreHateCrimes.org?”
“Oh, trust me, he’ll find the time,” answered Brian. “That guy’s an insomniac. I see him going in and out of the building in the dead of night. Along with that Chinese lawyer/escort…”
“Chinese lawyer/escort?” Rhonda asked with fascination.
“Hmmm,” I pondered. “Lawyer/escort? That sounds like my version of a superhero.”
Brian nodded. “Yep. I talked to her once in the elevator, and Babbu knows her law firm. She’s definitely a lawyer…but about half the time that I’m out here with Canal, I’ve seen her being picked up by a different guy in a different car on that corner.” He pointed down the street.
I raised an eyebrow questioningly. “Well, I’m not sure if that makes her an escort…but from what my Chinese friends tell me, that isn’t outside the realm of possibility.”
“What about you?” Brian asked. When I raised the either eyebrow as well to clearly emphasize my confusion, he clarified his question. “What about you being on the board? You seem pretty sensible.”
I grimaced. “I don’t know…to be in charge of this loony bin? There’s no reward in being the mayor of Crazy Town. I know, I know…that’s even more of a reason to be on the board. Man…this place has got bad juju. There’s just something wrong with this building…”
Embracing its frontier spirit, the people of Little Peru had stumbled upon a symbiotic way of dealing with some of their smaller pest issues. Instead of practicing cleaner habits (which, aside from a strict regimen for laundry, were not employed), they had invoked better sanitation by fostering feral cat colonies throughout the neighborhood. We had learned the colony nearest to our building had been proclaimed los bastardos by the locals, and at this point, one calico bastardo nonchalantly wandered out of the alley that was a few steps from our entrance. Unfortunately, the normally placid Canal took notice before any of us, and likely suffering from the delusion that mangy feral cats must taste like filet mignon, he bolted with fervor towards the bastardo, dragging his unhandled leash behind him.
“Canal!” roared Brian. “Get back here now!”
With Brian in the lead, all three of us pursued the barking chaser, following him into the alley on the northern side of our building. Having only the width of two people, the dim alley really served no purpose other than to provide an access door on its side for our basement and boiler rooms; the only likely people who had explored this dingy concrete corridor were plumbers and electricians. At its end, there was a wooden fence that marked the border of a neighboring building’s yard, and as Canal began to close the distance between himself and his intended meal, the agile bastardo writhed and escaped through a miniscule gap under the fence’s bottom. Sitting at the fence and robbed of his trophy, we caught up to the whining Canal, and Brian reclaimed the leash once more.
“Bad dog!” reprimanded Brian, with an aggressive yank at the harness around the thick trunk of Canal’s body. “Goddamnit, Canal, I swear…”
I had heard that particular whispering tone in Rhonda’s voice before. By nature, it was easy to startle her. Sometimes, she would need to put the wee in the wee hours of the morning, and waiting patiently outside the bathroom door for my turn, my mere unexpected presence upon her exit was enough to make her shriek and undergo palpitations. However, you couldn’t really regard such amusing fits as actual fear. This tone, however, carried a palpable dread to it. Somewhat concerned myself now, I followed her line of sight to its end and immediately felt a slight shiver crawl up my spine. “Woah…now that’s fucked up.”
Years ago, while touring an ancient cave in southwest France, a guide had pointed us to the handpainted Paleolithic images on a nearby wall, and he explained the theory that our ancestors might have used the flickering of a torch in order to animate them. Using their latest technology of fire, they might have been able to convert these smeared drawings into the primitive version of a flip book. So it seems that the classical elements can bestow life in more than one way, and in this soaked alley, water took the place of fire as it ran along the wall and performed a similar form of dark arcane magic. In a spot at almost eye-level to our small group, we stared at the faint yet clear shape in the concrete wall of a human hand with fingers spread. This outline, though, was not the analogous signature of a Hollywood star or a proud mason; in this case, it was convex rather than concave. As the rivulets ran vertically through its fingers in the dim light, tricks were played on the eyes, and one could swear that those fingers were desperately waving for attention, for help that could wrest its owner from this hulking condensed prison. My imagination couldn’t decide whether its intentions were benevolent or hopeful of pulling some company into its lonely cell.
Shuffling next to us, Brian followed my finger and nodded gravely as I pointed to the specific patch of concrete that was sure to provide a year’s worth of nightmares. “Well…that is definitely not Han Solo. But you were right…there’s definitely something wrong with this building.”
Peter Bolton is the author of Blowing the Bridge: A Software Story and has also been known to be a grumpy bastard on occasion.