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June 27, 2022

The Building 3

By Lydia Manx

The guard finished another set of rounds and recalled the rest of the original Jerry Cooper's story. The weeks had come down to the final three or four nights of intensity that still warmed the guard. His listening had given Jerry dimension and a meaning. There was something erotic in being listened to so carefully. That had seduced Jerry into a false hope that the guard didn't bother to correct. He needed all the history to build his life in Florida off of Jerry's. And he'd got it. Every little lie and twist was exposed raw and openly after hours of patience. The guard was a very good listener until the end.

Jerry Cooper had told the guard all about his meeting the detective in front his aunt's home the night she'd died. The guard listened as he related exactly what had happened to send Jerry into the spiral that became his life -- so to speak. He'd confessed to stammering when confronted by the cops and their tough demeanors. What struck the guard as funny was that the entire time he'd kept Jerry manacled in the abandoned building in the forsaken part of Detroit, not once did the man stammer. That absolutely fascinated the guard. He'd thought just being sober and chained would've made the man nervous. The more Jerry disclosed the more confident he became. A shadow of his former glory as a middle management drone for the automotive company rose from the alcoholically aged man. Jerry explained to the guard that his aunt had been huge hypocrite and how he'd eventually found out that she'd spent all those nights hounding him for his drinking while she'd literally been a closet drinker. It seemed that somehow over the years she'd amassed quite the collection of various sized bottles of liquor inside her bedroom. Jerry hadn't a clue. She'd been so disagreeable most of the time that Jerry never got physically close to her unless he had no choice.

Aunt Gerty had been mean and vicious so Jerry treaded cautiously to her side when beckoned by the crystal bell. Any aromas wafting from her would have quite easily masked the smell of apple brandy, orange liqueur or any one of the variety of fruit flavored alcohols that the detective said she'd stashed in her closet. The combination of painkillers and liquor had put her into a coma and shortly afterwards repository failure and death from what else the detective revealed later. But from the first moments he'd come across the ambulance and cops what Jerry couldn't figure out was how had she been discovered? He didn't quite know how to ask without sounding like he was prying. It wasn't like the police were forthcoming with explanations.

The lead detective allowed one of his men to take a statement from Jerry about his whereabouts for the past few hours of his aunt's life. The cop had immediately placed a call to the bar and found out that his story checked out. The bartender had still been working and Jerry's new found friend, the pool shooting buddy, was also hanging out in the bar practicing some of the shots Jerry had shown him while enjoying yet more beer so he was able to confirm Jerry's story for the cops. Jerry was a nervous wreck waiting to hear what was going on and at the same time the slow pace of everyone outside his aunt's home bothered him. In the beginning nobody had told him what had actually happened. He didn't know if asking a question could get him in trouble so he stuck to answering the random questions he was asked. The beer that he'd sucked down rumbled ominously in his belly but he didn't think that the cops would let him go inside to use the bathroom from how they'd kept glancing at him. The buzz from the cheap draft beer had rapidly worn off and he'd started getting a massive headache forming behind his bloodshot eyes.

The detective had gone back into his aunt's house while he was being questioned. The evening kept getting colder and the spot on his pants where he'd fallen on the sidewalk was icy cold and he recalled for the guard how hard his teeth had been chattering. The flakes that had been slowly falling earlier were coming down rapidly as the night had deepened. There were small snowdrifts that formed at his feet as he stood shaking in front of the house. The detective had brushed off the slight dusting of snowflakes from his jacket lapels while asking, "Mister Cooper?" As if he didn't know who Jerry was.

Jerry drew a verbal picture for the guard that kept the guard warm many nights down in Florida. Even years later he too could recall how Jerry recounted the death of his aunt. Once the detective got Jerry's attention that cold winter night things were explained finally.

"Y-Y-Yes?" His stammering was accented by the castanet sounds of his teeth chattering. He never had been so cold before in his life and he was miserable with a full bladder and anxiety racing through him. The detective nodded and held his mouth tight. It was obvious to Jerry that the man wasn't happy with what he'd discovered. A fissure of worry ran through him while he tried to keep from shifting from side to side.

"Your aunt apparently had taken a lethal combination of medicine and alcohol. She called 911 earlier this afternoon saying that she wasn't feeling good and needed some help because she thought she had a broken ankle. It seemed that she had in fact broken her right ankle. She told the dispatcher that she was in a wheelchair and had stepped out of the chair and fallen wrenching her ankle. My investigators concluded she had been trying to put back a bottle of Apple Pucker in her closet and when reaching up to put the bottle behind a book had inadvertently stepped onto another misplaced book and slipped off snapping her ankle." His voice was calm and he seemed to find the account reasonable.

To Jerry's stunned disbelief the man proceeded to explain what his team had figured out. It seemed that his aunt had watched where Jerry had put the pills and wheeled into his room grabbing them from a shelf that he'd thought was too high for her to reach. He'd never realized that she could actually stand but from the detective's report it seemed Aunt Gerty had been keeping quite a few secrets from him. She'd then gone back to her room where she'd chased down a few painkillers with a rather large amount of liquor. Her ankle had snapped under the combination of her weight and the ill-fallen book. It had been a thick book she'd used to hide her stash behind. So as to be undetected the detectives had figured, one of the many books that lined the shelf creating a barrier that made some sort of drunken sense to his aunt. In her haste to drink away her worries she'd missed the gravity of the situation of combining pills and alcohol. But soon the pain of her ankle caused her to place the call.

She'd always kept one of the portable phone receivers in her wheelchair side pocket at Jerry's request. When she was unable to physically get off the floor she called the police dispatch. Unfortunately she was a bit garbled in her conversation as the meds combined rather poorly with the apple liquor. Add in that there were a number of accidents caused by the icy roads it took over a half an hour for an ambulance to respond to her call. By then she was nearly dead. The men tried to unsuccessfully revive her but it was too late. The detective then went on to assure Jerry that it was an unavoidable tragedy and they'd have him sign his statement once it was typed up. Jerry understood that the detective wasn't there to see if he'd caused his aunt's death but to make sure that the city didn't get sued. Once he'd finished telling Jerry about the tragedy it stunned Jerry how quickly everyone dispersed. He was left alone feeling bewildered, cold and alone for the first time ever in his aunt's home.

The guard had found it truly amazing that Jerry had missed the opportunity to sue the city. From everything that he'd heard from Jerry's life story it had seemed to be a natural gamble for the man. But like all of Jerry's ill-fated ventures it didn't go his way. The city wasted no time getting Jerry in and out of the station and sign away his rights to sue. His aunt wasn't even planted in the ground and the ink was already drying on the forms Jerry approved. Not that Jerry realized the implications of what had happened until much later. Again the tragedy of his aunt's death had another chapter left to hit Jerry while he was down.

Aunt Gerty had neglected to mention the true state of her affairs. The alcohol wasn't his aunt's only dark secret. She'd mortgaged her house to the hilt the year before Jerry's loss of income. The funds she'd gotten from the bad real estate move resulted in her home being one hundred percent owned by the bank, not Jerry. In fact, she'd never written up a will naming Jerry as her beneficiary ... something he quickly discovered when the bank foreclosed on the somewhat desirable home. Jerry frantically sold everything not nailed down and a few items that had been. That yielded him enough cash to move to one of the downtown SRO apartments, the single room occupancy buildings that tended to crop up in one of the more transitional neighborhoods just a few miles from his aunt's home. The house was actually sold within hours of the bank taking physical ownership. Jerry didn't have a legal leg to stand on and frankly admitted to the guard that one of the first things he'd done the night his aunt had died was begin to drink his way through her fruit filled bottles. That was before he'd even found out how life was ready to kick him in the teeth again. The alcohol that added to his aunt's demise also propelled Jerry down his road of pain.

The apartment building was filled with men and women living on the edge of society abandoned by friends and families to their singular existences. The first weeks he lived there he'd found that the previous occupant had been stabbed when late one night in a drunken stupor he'd mistakenly answered his door. The shoes on his feet had been taken with his life, which apparently was all that the man had left worth stealing. When Jerry was shown the room and saw the spot just inside the doorway the building's manager had explained the dark stain on the carpet away as being some spilled motor oil that he couldn't get cleaned up. Jerry figured out quickly that the manager didn't much care about telling the truth. His lies were commonplace and usually just said things for his own amusement, like telling the new renter that the victim's bloodstain was motor oil. Another occupant of the building who lived two or three rooms further down the hallway gave Jerry the low down while shaking with palsy and fears of being overheard by the manager.

The owner thus also the manager didn't much care how the folks got their rent but it was collected every Friday morning. There weren't many folks who paid much ahead, Jerry quickly figured out. Some couldn't come up with the cash any quicker between government checks, begging, borrowing and quite obviously stealing. The three pawnshops on the street did steady business usually on Thursdays. Other folks claimed they only paid a week at a time because they were praying that they'd get a better job, win the lotto or find a new roommate and move out of the area. The depressing building drove people out weekly. Most of the occupants were like Jerry, making one of life's many transitions, usually in the downward direction.

Article © Lydia Manx. All rights reserved.
Published on 2011-02-07
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