Condo Chronicles: Secrets beneath Our Feet

During the previous summer, in the first awful months of living in our new home, I had awoken early on a Sunday morning to the sound of heavy drops bursting on a window in our living room. Fearing yet again that rainfall was transforming our poor constructed windows into makeshift aqueducts, I investigated the living room and was relieved to see that the drops were on the outside of the frame, forming and then crashing from an air conditioner installed just above. Unfortunately, when one is stirred from their slumber with an induced shot of adrenaline and angsty despair, sleep becomes as distant as the closest galaxy, even as you lie still and impatiently wait for it to overtake you. If it’s late enough in the morning and the actual sun approaches the horizon, your circadian rhythm beats on your internal drum, and then a return to nocturnal visions becomes nearly impossible. Knowing that to be the case here, I decided to make the most out of the beautiful morning unfolding beyond the glass encasing, and without making too much of a stir, I left Rhonda and Flukeman to savor their fantasies of sneaking and pouncing. I went on a quiet stroll in order to explore my peaceful neighborhood, when it is even more quiet than usual and before the temperature climbs to the level of sweaty underwear. After grabbing a cup of coffee and having a few moments of walking by myself, my thoughts turned contemplative, as I’ve found they often do when you’re approaching the fall season of your life. (Even though one could debate the age ranges that constitute such an autumn, I would say that it’s fair to designate 55 as its end and the beginning of one’s winter, when death declares you fair game. That will probably change in the centuries to come, and you, reader of the distant future, might scoff at such an age or even at death. But I’d say that it fits for now.)

Simple yet honest considerations dug their way out of my subconsciousness as I walked under the buzzing Frigidaires hovering from windows above and passed the occasional dog-walker, one of the rare breeds of people who greet the sunrise. I wondered about the number of promises that the current Me had fulfilled at the request of my younger self, and I wondered if either would even recognize the other. My immigrant friends who had become naturalized citizens told me how they had changed as people in their new home country, how they could even mark such a transition when their dreams were no longer spoken in their native tongue. I had no clearly indicated marker, but in my bones, I knew it to be true. The past was now stirred in my immediate atmosphere, to the point where its smell coated the inside of my nose. As I passed by the dog park that clung to the cliff’s edge, I recalled faint memories of the family hound, long since dead like the rest. Much like the movie A Field of Dreams, I yearned to play with her one last time…and then, serendipitously, two playful faces had appeared in the fence next to me at that moment, barking their welcome to come inside and frolic alongside them. I accepted their canine invitation, and in the process, I met their two owners: sisters Ulva and Adela. Even though they were almost octogenarians, you would not expect such vitality from two women who had seen the passing of so many moons. Having lived through World War II in Austria and then migrating to New York City in the turbulent 1960s and 1970s, they had seen and experienced much over their lifetimes before eventually settling into Little Peru a couple decades ago. Ulva, the owner of the adorably feisty and small Herbert, had turned a bit bitter through suffering unrewarded risks and numerous failed marriages; her sister Adela was much like her Fünf, in that very little actually bothered them. For better and worse, against the opinions of their children who suggested a move to Florida, they had retired and then remained as steadfast citizens of Little Peru, through its various demographic transitions. And so, for a few hours every Sunday, I had the honor of being a temporary member of their family; I was bestowed with the gift of their company and regaled with epic tales from bygone eras. (For some reason, all history tends to sound so dramatically profound when compared to the present.) Through them, I had slowly accumulated a knowledge base about the history of my new neighborhood, learning about its politics and about its officials’ suspicious salaries that were double the incomes of their peers in New York City. And, though I would never have my original pup back, I also had the chance to play with my new ones, if only for a short while.

I examined the scribbled writings on the lids of the coffee before me. “Okay, so I think that this is the sweeter one, Ulva. And then that would mean the other has only cream and belongs to you, Adela.”

The elderly sisters graciously accepted their beverages and thanked me. As I opened mine and blew the bubble of steam away from its top, Adela looked at me with a sincerely affectionate concern. “So, Peter…how are you doing? Is that lawsuit in your building still happening?”

“Yes, how is that going?” interjected Ulva. “Is that German bitch still causing trouble?”

Contrary to all assumptions about the nature of central Europe, the two sisters had instructed me on the strained relationship between Germans and Austrians, how the latter considered the former to be pompously rigid and arrogant. So, when I had told them about the lawsuit and the German valkyrie Helga who helped to lead it, I found immediate sympathy from my audience. “Well, Hegla’s been pretty quiet lately, along with Bertha. Well…that’s not entirely true: they still complain about everything. But they do seem to be working on some sort of solution with their lawyer. It’ll probably involve some sort of compromise, like my public execution. If so, I’m inclined to oblige the request since I’d do anything not to suffer them. Plus, as Mark Twain said: ‘Never argue with a fool. Onlookers may not be able to tell the difference.’ And since I look foolish enough with my poor excuse of a beard, one that resembles more of my body’s attempt to grow a scarf around my neck…I think that I’ll do anything to look less stupid.”

As the two sisters chuckled, I took a sip of coffee. “Actually,” I began, “I’ve been spending more time lately on that pet project of mine.” Even though I hadn’t elaborated on the details of my amateur sleuthing about black market organs in Little Peru, I had confessed about dabbling with investigating some corrupt affairs of Captain O’Bannon. I wasn’t sure whether they believed me or not…but, in the case of such two charming commères, did it even matter to them? With no further need of details, I again found a receptive audience, and they were more than willing to listen and help when possible. “The plot definitely thickens…and much like a roux, you have to keep stirring in order to make sure that it turns out right. I’ve almost got the goods on O’Bannon…almost.”

“I can’t vait until you’re done with the story,” Adela pronounced, supportive as always. “I vant so to read your story in the Jersey Journal!”

I held up my coffee as a toast to her enthusiasm. “And I’ll make sure that you get the first copy when it gets in there! I’ve gotten some good leads…but I still have one big problem: no actual proof. Miguel and I were able to get into our boiler room of the building…but we didn’t find anything. I’ve looked around elsewhere, but for some reason, it’s nowhere to be found. He seems to conduct this clandestine business of his in some sort of secret lair…and I don’t have the faintest clue where it would be.”

Just as Ulva began to speak, a wrestling jumble of Fünf and Herbert tumbled into her lower leg, causing a string of guttural curses in German. “Herbert! Fünf! Get avay…I’ll throw you off the cliff if you do that again! Little shits…as I was about to say, you’ve said in the past that this funny business of O’Bannon involves something about medicine, right?” As I nodded, she continued. “Well…then if I vere him, I’d choose to go down to the retirement home. And, then, from there, I’d do this funny business in the abandoned subway tunnels under Little Peru.”

Slurping another injection of caffeine which hadn’t yet quite made its way into my bloodstream, it took me another few moments before the point of her words actually pierced my consciousness. “Which retirement home are you…wait a second…tunnels? No subway tunnels have ever run along the Hudson waterfront in Jersey. They’ve only existed across the river in NYC…!” I paused as I stared at them. “Right?”

Peter Bolton is the author of Blowing the Bridge: A Software Story and has also been known to be a grumpy bastard on occasion. For those who wish to read previous chapters of The Condo Chronicles, the Table of Contents is available.

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