47 Homecoming

Bert and Gertie were driving back from Chicago. Conversation turned not to the events of the day but to the events of the previous evening and to what they might face on their return. It was growing darker and, cocooned in the car, they fell into a confidential mood.

“Must be all over but the shouting by now, huh Daddy?”Chapter 47 Homecoming

“Yes, but don’t underestimate the shouting. It’s highly unlikely that anyone else would have been in there after you this morning and not reported it. I’m guessing that by shortly after seven Gervase, on his morning rounds, discovered a man in the pool. Tell me, what exactly do you remember about what you saw, this morning?”

“The stuff in the pool? Did what you saw match what I saw?”

“Yes.”

“It was the same guy, for starters. I remember the hair and the swim trunks. There was other stuff in the pool, things I wouldn’t expect.”

“Such as?”

“The rescue pole. Why in the pool?” Bert nodded but didn’t reply. This item belonged on his own checklist. “And cans.” This also tallied. “And coins, at the bottom?”

“A small contribution of my own,” Bert admitted. “Don’t ask.” He had yet to tell Gertie he’d witnessed this whole disaster with Guy, wouldn’t tell if at all possible.

“And what looked like a rope across his back with a bottle at each end, like the kind Mrs. James uses for flotation exercises. Except these weren’t floating, they were way down in the water.”

“That’s definitely new to me. There was nothing like that earlier. And you say the TV was on something different. So somebody else was there after me but before you this morning. The only other person I saw last night was Kitty Doyle. Said she was back from a trip and we rode up together.”

“Weird enough to have been her, pulling off something like that. Or your ex-neighbor.”

“Possibly. Ignored her after her mercenary intentions became clear.”

“Another one bites the dust. But you know what bothers me?”

“Many things, I would guess.”

“No, the guy was creepy in the worst way. But it’s like we’ve all been, whoever “we” turn out to be, sharing a giant eraser, passing it from one to another and each wiping him off a little more each time. It’s really sad, and terrifying to think that anyone could be so uncared for.”

“That’s very considerate, considering his treatment of you.”

“Oh, I know, and I’m sure I’d do the same thing again, if I had to. In my heart, I don’t think I killed him but it doesn’t help. What do you think he died from really, the first time?”

“Let’s hope that it was accidental drowning while intoxicated and trespassing. And that he got into the pool all by himself. Let me handle the talking, Gertie.”

Downtown Milwaukee skyline as viewed from the south

Downtown Milwaukee skyline seen from the south

They arrived back at the POPS to a blaze of flashing and winking hazard lights, and had to show ID to get into the parking garage. They were asked to check in at the lobby. Gervase was still there, looking all worn out.

“What’s going on, Gervase?”

“The police have been here all day. First, there was a drowning in our pool. Then part of the bluff collapsed on the construction site next door, they say on account of all the rain.”

“A drowning, you say. Who was it? And is our building safe?”

“Yes, so far, we’re told the building is stable, and no, not a resident. They’ve released his name. It’s Rusty Mangold.”

“Really?” Bert attempted surprise.

“Confusing, at this point. The police have set up the meeting room for interviews and are asking everyone to check in with them. By the way, Pocano was a very good dog. We were still together and in on the first discovery, with Mrs. James. He stayed with Mrs. James in the lobby for a long time.”

“Wait, you say Mrs. James discovered the drowning? Poor lady!” Gertie looked uncomfortable.

“She’d just gone in to the pool area after the Mendel girls left for school and I was on my way back upstairs with the dog, when she called me. Best you go along to the meeting room. And for the record, you’ve heard about none of this, please. There are some irregularities.”

“Well, thank you for dealing with our dog in the midst of all this, Gervase. Appreciate it.” Gertie said, as she and Bert turned down the hall.

“I’m doing the talking, remember?” Bert murmured. Martin asked them what by now were routine questions. They said they had left before seven this morning and had been out of the city all day. Their departure time had already been corroborated by Gervase’s account.

“Miss Steinhardt, I understand from some of the other residents that you often swim in the evenings. Did you, last night?” Martinelli picked up the interview.

“I didn’t,” Gertie replied. “We had an early start this morning. I had a soak in the whirlpool instead, and went to bed.”

“And you, Mr. Steinhardt? Did you leave your unit, last night?”

“I took Pocano out for a short walk.”

“At what time? Did you see or talk to anyone?”

“After my walk, I waited for the elevator with Miss Doyle. I’d say about a quarter past nine.”

“Real nice dog you have there. Smart.”

Upstairs, Bert switched off the lights and tried to see outside down to the bluff, or where the bluff used to be. Standing quietly alone together, they watched as the blinking warning lights illuminated the scene below; a slow motion strobe light in a rhythmic on-again, off-again sequence. A topple of trees and a tangle of branches dangled down towards the lake while figures scrambled along the only level ground remaining after the slide, flashlights weaving patterns in the air like pinprick searchlights.

“It’s a little like looking through my old Viewmaster, with a new picture each blink. Look Daddy, the old lighthouse is still there, see?”

“Shall we take that as an omen of permanence?”

“Maybe. So this is as a result of all of the grading and clearing going on there? Followed by heavy rains?”

“It’s very likely that this will delay any more work there for the time being. I’m sure there will be an engineer’s report evaluating the extent of the slide and any potential problems for the adjacent structures. We are set back pretty far from the bluff but still I hope to hell our building isn’t compromised. Damn this whole business. What a mess, start to finish.”

“Daddy, do you ever get the feeling that this building has a personality, like we’ve said about Asphodel? I mean, here we are going about our lives in what seems like this almost perfect place, not thinking about any effect we might be having. Do you ever wonder if the building notices what happens in it?”

“Gertie, I think it’s getting late and we’ve had a rough twenty-four hours. If there’s going to be a ghost turn up, I sincerely hope it shows itself to somebody else, not us.”