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

Chapter  12 – May I Help You?  (1789 words)

Once again Beth stopped at the printers and got an armload of flyers to distribute to all the apartments in the complex. Alice, Julie and Lisa had promised to help distribute the flyers, but this meant that Beth would have to put bundles at their door to be distributed once the women got home from work. Beth decided that since she had time on her hands, being unemployed, she would just go ahead and do the whole distribution. She liked the ideas that the Tenants Action Network suggested, like having building captains for each building, but sometimes the ideas didn’t work as well in practice. What if Perez came by and saw a bundle of 20 flyers on the doormat in front of Alice’s apartment? He would throw them in the garbage. Beth just couldn’t see any reason for them to take the chance.

She started distribution of the flyers with her own building. Beth looked around to make sure Perez was nowhere near. After putting flyers under all sixteen doorways, she moved on to Buildings B and C. Beth passed several of Perez’s work crew as they headed off to another empty apartment with paint buckets and brushes under their arms. 

She crossed Park Avenue to the other quadrant. Her load of flyers was starting to diminish. As Beth moved from door to door, she noticed a young woman standing on one of the porches looking in her direction. Beth tucked another flyer under a door and moved on to the next one. The woman continued to watch.

Beth hoped the woman would not be hostile and call Perez. Sometimes tenants did not like any kind of solicitation and wanted strangers to stay off the complex. Beth continued to tuck flyers under the doors until she was now at the doorway next to the woman.

“Good morning,” Beth said. She stopped and looked at the woman. 
“What are you doing?” the woman asked.

“We’re getting repairs made to these apartment buildings. I’m with the Tall Trees Tenants Association. I’m handing out flyers for our next meeting.”

“Repairs? Oh, this is good. I need a repair. Let me show you.”

Beth smiled. Of course, it stands to reason that if a tenant is watching, there must be a problem.

“Come inside,” the woman said. She held the door open for Beth.
“We have been living here for five years. We hope to buy a house soon. I have a baby and another one on the way. We need a house.”

“Oh, of course,” Beth said, just being amicable. Advertising campaigns were always trying to convince tenants that a house was so much better. “I’m Beth, what’s your name?”

“Margaret Wilson. Come to the bedroom. I want to show you something.”
Beth followed Margaret to the corner where there was a crib with a small child, about two years old lying asleep. With a cautious glance around the room, Beth saw a typical bedroom with a large double bed, dresser and vanity. What was Margaret trying to show her?

Margaret pointed up to the ceiling. Above the crib was a large black spot. It looked like tar or black paint. Beth stepped forward to get a better look. Margaret turned on the bedroom light. Beth looked again.

It was mold.

Possibly the monstrous black mold. Beth had seen some pictures of it on the TAN website, but had bypassed them with thoughts that this could never be in Quercus Gardens. 

“This is very dangerous!” Beth said looking at Margaret. “I would suggest you move the crib immediately. Your baby is breathing this mold. It is gets into the lungs. It could cause serious illness and death.”

Margaret looked at Beth, her eyes wide open and her hand on her mouth. “I never thought it was anything that serious. “Can you fix it?”

“Fix it?” Beth responded, “I don’t fix things myself. I let the landlord know and have him fix it.”

“That Super Perez? You’re going to tell him?” Margaret’s gasp turned into a groan. “No, don’t tell him. He is so mean. He will punish me for complaining. I can’t let him know. Why can’t you fix it?”

“I’m a tenant like you. I’m fighting to get the landlord to fix all the problems we have in our apartments.”

“No, then, don’t tell, please don’t tell Perez. I don’t want any trouble with him or the landlord.”

“But your baby’s health is in danger,” Beth stated. The tenant was not grasping that the mold was more deadly than Perez. Had the rumor of the murder influenced her judgment? “You can’t let this go on. It already may be too late. Has your child been ill?”

“No, I will move the crib out of the bedroom. I will put it in the living room. Don’t tell Perez. I don’t want you to do anything.”

“This is such a hazard. They could condemn the entire building for this black mold problem.” Beth put her hand to her forehead. She would hate to see buildings in Quercus Gardens condemned and torn down because of such extreme neglect. But the threat to everyone’s health from black mold was extreme. 

“No, no, go now. Forget about this. My husband and I will deal with this. I will put bleach on it. It will go away. I did it once before and that worked. We will be moving soon into a house. We will be buying a house and leaving this moldy place.”

“The Health Board needs to see this,” Beth said.

“No, never. I will not let them in,” Margaret screamed. “Now, go or I’ll call the police.”

Beth wasn’t sure what to do. The police could arrest her for trespassing. But if they came, Beth could show them the mold. Maybe they would realize that something was wrong here. A child was in danger. But it was not Beth’s apartment. She could not invite the police in. There was nothing left to do but leave.

Beth walked out of the apartment and stood on the porch. “You really need to contact the Health Board. The landlord needs to be made aware of this. Think of your child.”

“I know what to do. Thank you very much. My husband and I will take care of it.”

Beth looked at the remaining flyers in her hands. She had to get the word out about the next meeting. She headed down the sidewalk to the next building. 

Thoughts were now swirling around in her head. How could Margaret let her child sleep under that mold? So she used bleach before to alleviate the threat, but the best thing to do would be to fix the roof to keep it from leaking and take out any part of the ceiling and wall that had mold. Who knows how far the mold had spread? Beth was sure she had read that mold could get the whole building condemned. The community could not take this chance.

She finished off with the distribution of flyers at the regular apartments and dropped a pack at the tower for Salvador. Then she hurried home. At home, she phoned Alice at work. 

“Hi, I hope you’re not busy.”

“Not right this moment, what’s up?”

“I just met a tenant that has black mold in her apartment. What should I do?”

“Oh my god, call the Health Board immediately. That stuff’s dangerous.”

“But the tenant doesn’t want the Health Board in there, Beth explained. "She’s afraid of Perez. But listen, she has a baby in there sleeping in a crib under the mold.”

“What? That’s crazy. That baby could get sick and die.”

“What do we do?”

“Wait, let me just run this past one of the attorneys here.”

Beth held the phone and waited. Maybe she should have contacted TAN but it was nicer to get a quick response from Alice. 

“Ok, the attorney I spoke to says you have to tell Perez.”

“Me talk to Perez? I don’t even talk to him, I let Bob do it. Besides, Perez won’t fix it. If he would fix it, Margaret wouldn’t be in the dilemma she’s in. She’s afraid of him.”

“She should be more afraid of the mold killing her child,” Alice screamed.

“I know, I know. Ok, well, thanks for answering my question. I’ll let you know what happens.”

“I’ll talk to you more later,” Alice said. “I’ve got to get back to work.”

Beth paced back and forth in her living room. She went to her own bedroom and looked into the same corner of it that had the mold in Margaret’s apartment. What would she do if there was black mold there? She would have Bob tell Perez about it. Why wouldn’t Margaret do the same? A fear of being murdered by Perez? Or was the promise of buying a house causing them to procrastinate with the repairs? 

Beth went to the internet and looked at the Tenant Action Network website again. Yes, there it was, all the information about black mold and how serious it was. Never did Beth think she would need this information. A list of Health Boards gave the number Beth needed to call for her town. 
Why not call? Beth asked herself. Just to get some information. She dialed the number.

“Hello, I’m Beth Murphy. I’m calling about black mold. What? Yes, I’ll hold.”

A recording came on telling her to go to the Health Board web site. Didn’t anyone hire people to answer questions anymore? Finally a man’s voice came on the phone.

“May I help you?”

“Yes, here’s my situation. I’m calling about a neighbor who has black mold in her apartment.”

The man laughed. “Yeah, sure, you’re calling because you have black mold in your apartment.”

“No, really, a neighbor has it. You see, I’m organizing the tenants to get repairs made. At first I thought our only problems would be getting the heat turned on or getting drippy faucets fixed. But today, I just saw black mold on the ceiling of one tenant’s bedroom. Her baby was sleeping in a crib right under it.”

“Oh, that’s terrible. Give me the apartment address and number and I’ll send an inspector out as soon as possible.”

Beth thought for a moment. She could just hang up the phone. Try to forget about the child and the mold. But it wasn’t right. She was trying to be a good advocate for tenants. Yet here was a tenant refusing to do something that would be best for her own health and that of her child’s. What should Beth say? She gave the tenant’s name and address to the health board officer and wondered what would happen next.