The Mystery of
Quercus Gardens Apartments
                      by Patricia Hilliard - Copyright June 2017

Chapter  10 – Home-grown Terrorist  (2419 words)

“Hello, this is Beth Murphy. I’m calling to complaint about not having heat in our building again.” Beth listened for a response.  

“Yes, Beth, we understand. We’re sending a repair guy over today. There is no need to worry. We’re working on it.”

“You’ve been working on it for the past month. Why can’t you get this furnace fixed? The weather is getting colder.”  

Beth was losing her temper. Other tenants were getting repairs made, but she couldn’t get them to fix the furnace at her place. Was the landlord punishing her for creating the Tall Trees Tenant Association? Or was the Quercus Gardens management just inept at running this apartment complex? She laughed at herself. The answer to that question might be obvious. If they were running the place right, there wouldn’t be so many problems. 
Beth made a cup of hot tea and sat down at the computer. She was still trying to find a job. The internet had made job-hunting easier. Each day, she did some research until she found something that she felt she qualified for. She then posted her resume to the employer. She had been doing this for a month. She searched and applied. But no response. It was getting on her nerves. Did no one out there need the skills and experience that she had? Was she doing something wrong? 

The apartment was getting colder. She went to the bedroom and got an extra blanket to wrap around her shoulders. The long pants, shirt, sweater and vest that she had put on that morning were just not enough. The last half of her cup of tea had turned cold. Tears came to her eyes. Nothing was going well. She felt useless and rejected.  

She had once been employed in a corporate office as an assistant. Her days were filled with emails and phone calls. Updates to web sites, meetings in conference rooms. Now she was no one with nothing to do, but clean the apartment and fix dinner at the end of the day. After all these years of working, she had turned into a housewife.

She tried to calm herself. The economy was bad. That was not her fault. But friends and family were beginning to notice that after months, she still had no job. They couldn’t believe that the economy was that bad. It must be her fault. 

Beth hated job hunting. You were literally trying to sell yourself. Like a slave at an auction block, you put out a sign that read “Take me, please.” In the old days, she would have to catch a bus and go into the city for the job interview, only to be told that someone else got the job. These days, thanks to the power of the internet, the interview rarely came, but when it did you had a better chance of getting the job. Meanwhile, she sat at home waiting.

Beth needed a change of pace. It was Friday, her usual shopping day. Beth loved to shop for groceries. She thought of the bright red and orange peppers, the smell of fresh citrus fruit and the bright reds of the tomatoes. She grabbed her purse, put on her winter jacket and hat. Out the door she went. The store was only a short walk away. Another reason why she liked living in Quercus Gardens.

The grocery store was noisy, brightly lit, cheery and inviting. Beth roamed through the fresh vegetable and fruit isles contemplating the possibilities while trying to make healthy, economical choices.

“Hey you, I’ve seen you somewhere.”

“What?” Beth said. She turned to look around her. Surely no one was talking to her. Who would recognize her? She was just a lowly unemployed wife wandering around in a grocery store. 

“Yes, I know you. I went to that tenant meeting and you were there. You were the one who was doing all the talking.”

“Talking?” Beth never thought of herself as someone who did all the talking. She looked around again.

“I was the guy in the suit that came to that first meeting. Don’t you remember me?” The man stepped forward. Beth looked up at his face. She had some vague remembrance of him. 

“Oh ok, have you filled out a form requesting repairs?” she said, assuming he would begin by complaining about his apartment.

“No, my place is fine. I just came to that meeting to see what kind of people were showing up and what they had to say.” He was tall and had an aggressive look in his eyes. “I’ve heard that the residents in this apartment complex have been changing over the years. My next-door neighbor has been keeping a watch on things. He was glad to see me moving in. A normal American, you know what I mean?”

“I see,” Beth said. She pushed her cart slowly toward the apples and began to look them over. Gala apples, they looked nice and had a good taste, but the McIntosh were on sale. 

The man pushed his grocery cart up next to Beth’s. “I’m surprised to see so many types of people in our complex. Lots of people here from India, Mexico, Korea, China, and Saudi Arabia. What the hell’s going on? You know what I mean?” He stepped forward and whispered his last words into Beth’s ear. His face had one of those expressions that always means, “just between us.” 

She looked back at him. She guessed his heritage may have been Irish, but he could have been German, maybe French. “Well yes, I’ve noticed that there are many nationalities living in our apartment complex. Many of them work in Manhattan. This is such a cosmopolitan area. There are three airports nearby, people travel, what did you expect?”

“I just don’t like these outsiders coming in and taking over our country.”

“They say it’s a global village now,” Beth said trying to move away. She wanted some potatoes and there was a special today, Yukon Gold at half-price if you bought a bag of onions too. She could always use onions. The nerve of this guy coming at her like this. He didn’t even give his name, just assumed that Beth would talk to him at the grocery store. Couldn’t he see she was trying to get groceries? And then assuming that his worry about “outsiders” was her concern as well.  

“I’m sorry I’ve forgotten, but what is your name?” she asked. She didn’t want to encourage his conversation, but as a tenant organizer, she figured she had to stay on speaking terms with any and every tenant.
“Jim Jones. I just moved into Building R. Quercus Gardens is a nice place.” His shoulders relaxed and he settled into a friendlier stance. 
Beth remembered an article she had just read about job hunting. He might know of a job opening somewhere. Hope springs eternal.

He went on, “I like sitting outdoors in my lawn chair. It’s like my old place in Columbus, Ohio. A nice apartment complex with a beautiful green lawn, yet close to the office. It’s the best of both worlds, trees and grass like the countryside and city life nearby. Now, I’m working in New York City.”

Beth nodded, but she could not get a word in about job hunting. He continued.

“That reminds me, one day when I was sitting out, I saw the most incredible thing.”

Beth didn’t want to ask, but she felt she was now obligated. “What did you see?”

“Two Arabs with lap-top computers,” he stated emphatically and stepped back to see her reaction.

Beth wondered what she was supposed to do with this information. What did it mean?

“And so?” she asked.

He gasped and looked at her, “The news is all over television. You don’t get it? You don’t realize what’s going on here? It’s easy to see. Plain as the nose on your face. Terrorists.”

“Terrorists?” Beth asked wondering how he had drawn this conclusion. It was a global village and people were now jetting from one city to the next doing business on lap-top computers all day long. She wished she were among them.

“What else could it be?” he asked. “What company would let Arabs have computers? Lap-top computers, no less.” His jaw dropped in disbelief. “I’m a business man. I work to obtain investments for small companies, you know, it’s the basis of what America is about. Start your own business, be your own boss. We can’t have these aliens coming into our communities and taking over.”
“This is your concern?” Beth asked.

“It should be everyone’s concern,” Jim responded with a look of indignation. 

“I’m afraid I can’t do much either way on that issue,” Beth responded. “I’m trying to get the tenants at Quercus Gardens to work together to push the landlord into making repairs. So far, the landlord has been sending in contractors to do the work. We were amazed by that. Now some of the repairs are being made. I just wish the tenants weren’t so afraid of the superintendent.”

“If you won’t do anything about terrorism, I’m going to do something about it,” Jim declared. “I’m going to report these Arabs with computers to the FBI. That will put a stop to it.”

Beth looked up at the man. The metropolitan area had been the landing point of the world’s immigrant population for over two hundred years. Even Jim was a recent immigrant, but from another state. Everyone was moving over the globe in search of work. Beth laughed and wondered if her chances of getting a job would improve if she were willing to move to Bangladesh.  

“Well if you don’t mind, I’m trying to get some groceries,” she said. Beth pushed her cart past the man. 
“I’m going to call the FBI. Someone has to be the hero and fight to protect America.” He grabbed his cart and headed off toward the meat and poultry section.

Beth tossed a couple of loaves of bread into her cart and headed toward the check out. As she waited to pay, she studied the people in the lines. They were from a variety of cultures and beliefs, but in line, they were all the same, tired hungry people eager to get home and eat.
When Beth got home, she checked for responses from employers. It was another disappointing day. Still no job for Beth. Still no heat in their apartment. Money was in short supply. Beth was feeling overwhelmed. She dutifully put the groceries away and began fixing their evening meal. 

Bob stomped his way up the stairs. “Beth, good news. There’s a truck outside from a furnace company. Maybe they’ll get the furnace repaired again.”

“Again, why not fix it once and for all?”

Bob kissed her on the cheek. “How was your day?”  

“Crazy, go wash up, I’ll tell you later.”

Soon they were sitting at the table, knife and fork in hand.
“This guy came up to me at the store. He’s a tenant who had come to our first meeting. He wanted me to do something about terrorists. Can you imagine? I told him it was a global village. He’s from somewhere out in the hinterlands. He’s not used to having the world at his doorstep.”

Bob picked up a slice of bread and spread some butter on it. “Ever since the planes crashed into the World Trade Center, everyone here has been suffering from anxiety. We’re only getting a taste of what the U.S. has done around the world. Our military says: Give in to U.S. or we’ll bomb you. With a policy like that, someone was sure to retaliate.” 

“I know, Bob. People are crazy,” Beth took a sip of water. “Speaking of crazy, did I tell you about Rosie, the tenant with a billion cats in a one room apartment?”

“You’re exaggerating, I guess,” Bob said looking at Beth with doubt in his eyes.

“Only by a few thousand,” Beth replied. “And then there’s Cassy. Did I tell you she speaks to spirits? She lured me into her living room which is decorated for a séance. She often invites the neighbors in to tell their futures. I think she uses it whenever she needs to do a little fund raising. People are crazy, but who has the cure?”

“The cure?” Bob said. He looked over at Beth, “The cure is, we need to run this society for the greater good, not for the one percent who owns everything—you know, like our landlord.”

Beth liked Bob’s clear-cut approach to the world’s problems. She jabbed a slice of tomato with her fork and placed it on her plate. 

“I get so depressed sometimes. I’ve been trying and trying to find a job. I feel useless. What’s the point in living?”  

“Beth, you’re doing a great job of organizing the tenants. The landlord is making repairs now.”

“Yeah, making repairs for everyone else. We can’t get any heat in our apartment,” Beth grumbled.

“Don’t worry, they sent a repair crew out today and…you’ll find a job soon. As long as I have a job, we’re alright.” 

Bob spooned some more corn on to his plate. “I know, everyone wants a safe home, good food and a decent job. Robin Hood had the solution all along. Take from the rich and give to the poor.” Bob took another slice of tomato. “I was listening to the news on the car radio. Unfortunately, at this time, our comfort relies on oil from somewhere. We’re in a big mess in Iraq. President George W. Bush’s strategy of dropping trillions of dollars of bombs on Baghdad hasn’t scored a victory. Even his generals are calling it a “quagmire.” Such a loss of innocent life! And soon we will feel the pain in cuts to social service programs. The rich don’t pay for their wars.”

“Hey, what’s that sound?” Beth asked. She turned and looked into the living room where a clunking noise came from the heat pipes.
“It’s the furnace. The heat is coming on.” Bob smiled, “And it’s all because of your work, Beth.” 

“Well, that’s a relief. We will have heat tonight.” Beth smiled with a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction. “Now that things are normal again, I can focus on the really important stuff: Who murdered Mrs. Mary Gilligan? I want to put an end to that craziness. I need to know.” Beth picked up her plate and went to the kitchen.