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Thursday, August 14, 2008

A Bump in the Night by Liese Sherwood-Fabre 

The first thump woke me.

The second made me reach for the phone, ready to dial 9-1-1.

As a member of our co-op’s security committee, I knew all the tenants’ vacation schedules; and I knew Elizabeth Harper, my friend and upstairs neighbor, was definitely out. Two days ago, she’d called to say “good-bye” before leaving on a two-week Hawaiian cruise.

I sat in my bed, barely breathing; listening for additional sounds.

Footsteps. Directly over my head.

I hit the speed dial button and reported the break-in.

“We’ll have a patrol car there in a few minutes,” the dispatcher said.

I supplied them with the security code for the front door and returned the receiver to its cradle. My hand shook as it rested on top of the phone. With part of my inheritance from my grandmother, I had purchased in this particular co-op because of its locked entryways, cameras, and an actual committee to oversee it all. A young single girl in a big city couldn’t be too careful; but in the span of ten minutes, I’d lost all confidence in my decision and felt as vulnerable as a newly hatched chick.

The noise overhead continued, giving me hope the intruder would still be there when the police arrived. That thought boosted my spirits. I’d be responsible for putting a criminal behind bars because of my quick thinking and light sleeping.

But to get credit for it, I needed to make sure the police heard my side of the story. They would probably want to interview me for their report as well. I got out of bed and pulled on my jeans and a t-shirt.

I was hunting for my second sneaker when I heard footsteps, then someone pounding on a door, followed by shouts. After the sounds died down, I thought it would be safe to go upstairs and check out what had happened first hand.

As I climbed the stairs, I could make out a buzz I knew were the neighbors gathered in the hallway, and over their noise, one man’s shouts. When I stepped into the hallway, his words were clear and loud. “I’m telling you. This is my sister’s apartment.”

I pushed my way through the bathrobed crowd to an area just outside Elizabeth’s door. One police officer held the shouting man’s arm while a second officer confronted him, practically nose-to-nose.

“You got any proof?” the policeman asked.

The man’s back was to me, but I could hear his words clearly. “You’ve got my driver’s license. The woman who lives here is Elizabeth Harper. I’m Joseph Harper, her brother.”

The officer squinted at something in his hand. “You could’ve forged it.”

“But I didn’t.” The man drew in his breath. I could almost see him counting to ten before continuing in a somewhat less agitated voice. “She left on a cruise two days ago. I called her just before she left, and she said I could use her apartment while in town for a business trip.”

The one with the license turned around and spoke to everyone in the hallway. “Can anyone verify what this man’s said?”

I took half a step forward, forcing myself to raise my voice. “Where’s his license from?”

The policeman studied me for a moment and said, “Arizona.”

“Elizabeth Harper does have family in Arizona. I don’t know if it’s a brother.”

“Look,” said the intruder, twisting about to look at me, “Lizzie left a key with the man in 1-E. I picked it up about an hour ago.”

I checked the others in the crowd; George Collins wasn’t among the others. His apartment was on the far end of the building, and he might not have heard the ruckus. “He’s not here, but he should be at home.”

Like a swarm of bees relocating their hive, all those in the hall moved downstairs to reassemble in front of George’s apartment. The poor man took a step backwards when he opened his door and found two policemen, a red-faced man, and half the co-op standing outside his apartment.

He blinked twice before he confirmed Joseph’s story. “She had a taxi waiting and said she couldn’t find anyone on the security committee. I told her I would tell them later.” He shrugged and looked at me. “I forgot about it until he came to pick up the key. Sorry.”

Once the police released the man, everyone drifted away, leaving me and Joseph standing alone in the hallway. Now up close, I could see the resemblance between Joseph and his sister, especially about the eyes.

Swallowing hard, I stepped up to him and said, “I’m Tiffany Edwards. I...uh, I called 9-1-1.”

The man stared at me. “It was you?”

“I...I heard a noise, and...”

All of the sudden my actions seemed a little extreme. He probably thought I was some sort of nervous Nelly.

The corners of Joseph’s lips twitched slightly. “Lizzie told me about you.”

I froze. Before I could ask what she had said, he continued. “According to her, you’ve been a good friend and really helped her adjust to the city. I’m glad to know she’s got others here looking out for her.”

My smile widened as I understood he was not upset. I gave a sigh of relief. “I’m afraid your welcome hasn’t been so pleasant. Maybe I can make it up? Can I offer you a cup of tea?”

His eyes twinkled just like his sister’s. “I’d like that.”

As we walked to my apartment, he said, “You know, I’m moving to the city. I hope I can find a place with neighbors as nice as you.”

“We do have a vacancy on the third floor. I’m sure I can help you pass the security check.”

About the Author: Liese Sherwood-Fabre was born in Dallas, Texas. After spending ten years abroad, she returned to Dallas with her husband of twenty-seven years, three children, and one English mastiff. She has spent most of her professional career with the Federal government, having worked in Washington, D.C., Honduras, Mexico, and finally Moscow, Russia. Her experiences have blessed her with a variety of people and places that inspire and populate her stories. She has been writing for about twelve years, and her stories have appeared Girls' Life’s Big Book of Friendship Fiction, CrossTIME, Fresh Ink, and Briar Cliff Review.

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