The notification for a parcel pick-up appeared in my inbox at 5:35 p.m.: You have a delivery at the front desk – Two flat brown boxes. Finally. An escape! Was I excited to receive my new laptop case and book? Absolutely. Nowadays, playing solitaire in the bathroom or retrieving online orders from the concierge desk granted me the brief opportunity of peace from my whining twins and wife shouting over them. Life in lockdown has become far too repetitive and outright suffocating.
On my way to the elevators, precisely 20 ft. from my unit, I could still hear the twins arguing over a Christmas ornament that was as bland as the hallway wallpaper. Apparently, over a $1000 worth of Christmas toys and video games do not fancy their interests.
The elevator door glides open with no other masked (or maskless figure) waiting inside. My journey down from the 8th floor comes to an instant halt as the elevator pauses on the 5th. A man enters—with a bright blue raincoat. Something about him instantly frightens me. It wasn’t the fact that his forehead is plastered with sweat or that he is not fiddling with his phone during an awkward social encounter, but it is his stance. Nearest to the elevator door, he stands on an angle, slightly hunched towards the button control panel with both fists clenched. He reeks of cheap drug store cologne, but another smell is masked below the surface—smoke…, almost like a powdery smoke. His eyes shift and lock on to the left side of my face.
“Did you hear fireworks earlier?” I ask awkwardly. “I swear with the lockdown, everyone is losing their sense of time, it’s not even New Year’s.”
“You heard something…? What did it sound like?”
“Like fireworks… I thought I said that.”
The pressure on our feet indicates my stop on the lobby floor.
“Anyway, well you have a good day my friend and stay safe!” Digging for my keys in the back pocket of my jeans, I drop the set just past the open door on to the lobby tiles. The sensors detect my body and prohibit the door from sliding shut.
“Sorry about that.”
I look up, hoping to not have frustrated the man when I notice something very menacing—his eyes: Near shut, with a redness of emotion and blackness of hate. We both stand still, staring at each other. I am truly intimated by the man. Even with the polished silver doors sliding shut, I can still feel his eyes burning into the steel.
The time reads 3:15 a.m. and I have no reason to be on my laptop. My wife is nearly finished her new read and I’m mustering up an excuse to admire the new navy blue and brown-trimmed case tucked underneath my laptop.
We look at one another in panic.
“Was that the door?” She asks.
Quiet… Quiet… The tinnitus in my ears becomes more apparent from the silence—
It is! Five knocks, growing louder and more aggressive with each contact against the door. “Go see who it is before he wakes up the kids,” My wife whispers. She’s worried about waking up the kids… I agree that would ruin a good night’s sleep, but heck, what if it’s a burglar or psycho?
I squint a groggy glance through the peephole to see two uniformed officers and another in a windbreaker with dress pants.
“Good evening,” the lead officer greets, “My name is Detective Jacobs and these are Officers
Wong and Carter. Do you mind if we come in?”
I agree without hesitation.
“Who is it, sweetie?” My wife appears in the hallway without a bra, flaunting her black lace nightgown, giving the officers a sight that would substitute a boost in adrenaline from a coffee.
“Nobody is here, babe. You can go back to sleep.”
“Who are you speaking to?” Detective Jacobs peaks forward. “My wife, sorry she was just in the hallway. Come in please.”
The officers look perplexed as they enter the main foyer.
“Are you a Mr. Elvis Gromer?”
“Yes. You can just call me, ‘The King’.”
“Right,” Detective Jacobs resumes without a glimmer of humor to my joke, “Mr. Gromer, can you please confirm whether or not this is you in the photograph?”
The photo is instantly recognizable. It’s an image of myself and Mr. Blue Raincoat in the elevator from yesterday evening.
“Yes, that’s me. I was on my way to the concierge desk to pick-up a package from an online order. Can I ask what this is in relation to?”
“Well, the man in that bright blue coat was caught on camera shooting a gas station clerk just up the road yesterday evening and is a suspect to a double homicide in this building.”
A cold chill caresses the back of my neck.
“Oh my god! I knew something was off with that guy.”
“Please identify yourself in the picture,” Officer Wong interjects.
I point, to the only other option…
“Is that you, Mr. Gromer?”
“Yes. That is me, right next to him.”
“Or is that you? With the blue raincoat.”
The humming grows louder, more in the left ear.
“No, uh—I grabbed a package. For my wife and I, she’s right over here, she can vouch for me.
My laptop case, the book—it’s all in my bedroom with her, go look.”
Officer Carter passes to my right, probably walking into my wife doing one of her blog videos about the book.
“The room is empty, Jacobs.”
“Are you guys morons? Go see for yourself or watch the elevator surveillance. I get on at the 8th—”
“This is the 5th floor,” said Detective Jacobs, “Your girlfriend lived down the hall. We found her body and another male yesterday evening after reports of gunshots.”
The officers subtly stagger around me in a circle.
“You’re under arrest, Mr. Gromer.”