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

Chapter 14 – Squirrelly Neighbors  (2070 words)

Beth and Bob were the first to arrive at the meeting. A phone call earlier from Alice indicated that she was working late tonight and could not attend. 

It was held once more at Alice’s laundry room in Building K, which everyone agreed was the most centrally located laundry and meeting area in the whole complex. 

People started trickling in, bringing with them their own lawn chairs. John Oldham came from Building D, letting them know he wanted to report on his petitioning campaign. Alice’s friends, Julie and Lisa, came from Buildings J and M. June and Jerry came from Beth and Bob’s Building A, but Ted and Arlene still did not attend. Ted was the one who had inspired the first meeting of the tenants back when their building had just lost heat.  
Salvador Giovani, from the Tower, entered with his lawn chair, telling them he wanted on the agenda with a brilliant idea he had. Rosie, the cat-lover came with her friend Cassy, the psychic who had spoken to Mrs. Mary Gilligan’s spirit. A few others came, gave their names and signed the new member’s sign-in sheet. Bob handed everyone copies of a two-page newsletter that told them about the web site, the email and what had been accomplished so far. Their victories were listed, including the falling-in-bath tub and the curtailed eviction of the pregnant mother. Links were also given to the Tenant Action Network so that tenants could become more aware of their rights.

Beth sat at a card table with her notes before her. She was curious what Salvador would have to say so she put him first on the agenda. 
“Sal, what is your idea, please let us know.”

Salvador smiled then came to the front of the crowd to explain, “I have this idea. I think everyone will like it. You all like flowers, yes? And you want Quercus Gardens to look nice, yes? Now let me tell you what I have done. I live in the Towers, you know what it is, the really tall building down further on Park Lane.”

The crowd leaned forward and noted his location in reference to their own apartments.  

“We have a roof top outdoors space, we don’t have lawn and trees like the rest of you do. So I and the other tenants started bringing in potting soil and flower pots and planting some pretty flowers. The Super, he doesn’t mind. We made it look beautiful. So beautiful! I think we can do more. We want to get more tenants to help plant flowers around Quercus Gardens.”

“It’s too shady. All the big oak trees are in the way,” one tenant called out.
“Now wait, there’s a nice sunny spot in front, by the big sign, you know, at the entrance where it says in fancy stone, Quercus Gardens.”

“I pay too much in rent to be doing the gardening around here. Let them pay to have someone plant the flowers.”

“I just thought it would be nice,” Salvador said and shrugged. “Just an idea. I worked with Mary Gilligan. She started a garden on Park Lane, do any of you remember seeing it?”

“I did,” said Rosie.

“Me too,” said Cassy, “It was beautiful. I showed her how to plant
 beneficial herbs among the flowers. She liked that.”

“I don’t think anyone has the time for this,” a man in a business suit stood up. “I’m Jim Jones from Building R. I want to bring a serious issue to the table. We have terrorists living in our midst. There are Arabs with computers plotting against us. I’ve reported them to the FBI. There are Muslims living here. Hindus—not even Christians, can you believe it?” 

“I noticed some Mexicans moving in across from me,” another tenant said. 

Beth frowned. None of this was on her agenda. She tried to interrupt them, but they continued. 

“I have neighbors who are from Korea. Isn’t Korea an enemy nation now? What are they doing in this country?”  

Bob stood up. Using his booming voice he announced, “Listen, I’ve heard enough. Please raise your hands. Ask to have your issues put on the agenda. If we have time, we’ll put them on the agenda. Now let’s get back on track, we have a lot of real tenant issues to consider.”

Beth looked at Bob with approval. She sat up and looked around the room. “Yes, we do have a lot of issues to consider. John Oldham, tell us how your petitioning is doing.”

John stood and explained the purpose of the petition to get outdoor repairs made. He told of how he had spent hours going door to door and had gathered hundreds of signatures. “If any of you have not had the chance to sign, please do so now. I’ll pass this clip board around.”

Beth took over. “Once we get enough signatures, we’ll send the signed petition to the landlord with a letter requesting repairs. Tell us John what repairs are on the petition.

John stood, “Yes, we want repairs to pot holes in the parking lots, we want lines painted to mark the parking spaces for our cars, too. We want tree branches that are hitting windows trimmed away. We want repairs to fallen gutters and cracked sidewalks.” 

Again, Beth took over when John paused. “We’re petitioning the landlord to make the needed repairs. And something else. Oh, yes, litter pick-up.” She remembered the bill of lading from the oil company.

“Those pot holes could swallow a truck,” one tenant yelled.

“Maybe we should push the litter into the pot holes to fill them,” another responded. Everyone laughed.

“Next on the agenda…” Beth began.

“Squirrels!” shouted a tenant. “Squirrels are making a mess of the place. They are in and out of the eaves of the building. I saw one carrying leaves and litter to build a nest right under my bedroom window.”

“Yes, me too, I’ve seen them running around the gutters and leaping into the trees.”

“They’ve taken over. I’ve never seen so many squirrels in my life.”

“They need to cut down some of the trees in this place. Too many trees and they are all oak trees. The acorns feed the squirrel population. We need to tell the landlord to cut down the trees.”

“No, don’t cut down the trees,” Rosie said with a look of pain on her face. “I love the trees around here. That’s why I live here. You feel like you’re living in the country.”

“We can ask them to trim the trees away from the buildings,” John Oldham offered as a compromise. “But let’s not have all the trees cut down.”

“We should call an exterminator to get rid of the squirrels,” another tenant suggested.

“We should call an exterminator to get rid of the terrorists,” Jim responded with a laugh. 

“We are not calling exterminators in except for roaches and rats,” Beth said. She was happy to see new tenants at the meeting, but now she feared that this new group was pushing the agenda in ways she did not want to go. She liked the squirrels, they had never been a problem for her. “Let’s stay focused. Next on the agenda is…”

“Murder,” Cassy growled. “There’s been a murder at Quercus Gardens. It still has not been solved.”

Everyone turned toward Cassy. 

Beth was beginning to like the topic of squirrels better.

“What murder?” one tenant asked.

“The murder of Mrs. Mary Gilligan. A poor innocent woman who loved nature and planted a garden, just like you, Mr. Salvador. You better be careful. Our superintendent, Perez, does not like gardeners. He killed Mary and the landlord covered up the murder.”

“Are you suggesting that Mrs. Mary Gilligan may be buried under her flower bed here in Quercus Gardens?” Salvador asked then laughed. “You can’t be serious. I know Mr. Perez. He’s a kind man, but sometimes a little too busy. He likes the flowers I’ve planted on the roof top. Well, he did say we cannot use big pots—too heavy for the roof.”

“Mary confided in me,” Cassy said in her spooky voice. 

Beth remembered hearing it when she spoke to Mary’s spirit.

“Mary was fearful. Perez had threatened her,” Cassy looked around the room. “Then suddenly she disappeared.”

John Oldham stood up, “Now listen, there was a murder at Quercus Gardens years ago. I believe I remember it. Maybe twenty years ago. But no one knows the details. It was so long ago. I don’t think Perez was the Super here at the time.”

Another tenant stood up, “It was back about ten years ago. There was a fire in an apartment, a woman died.”

“Set by Perez,” Cassy declared. “This place isn’t safe with him around. He’s Haitian. You know what they do, they practice that voodoo stuff.”

“I believe he’s Puerto Rican, but why do you bring it up?” John Oldham asked. “If he had committed a crime, he would be in jail, wouldn’t he?”

“You can’t trust the government,” Cassy hissed.

Beth looked down at her agenda. There were only a few small items. She thought it might be best to end this meeting since it was going right over the edge.

The door at the back of the room flew open. Beth looked up and saw Margaret standing there. 

“You! There you are! You called the authorities on me and they gave me so much trouble. You started it all. I told you I could handle it. Now I’ve got the child protection agency on my back and the building codes department and the landlord coming into my home. They evicted us.”

The tenants turned to look at Margaret. They gasped when they heard what she had to say then turned to look at Beth.

“I had to call. That was black mold. It is very dangerous. It could have poisoned your child.” Beth looked to Bob.

“You had no business blabbing it all over town,” Margaret continued. “We’ve had to move out of our apartment. It’s been a terrible inconvenience, let me tell you.” She turned to the other tenants. “You might not want to work with this little witch, she’ll squeal on you.”
Margaret stormed out of the room with tears in her eyes.

Beth looked at the tenants and they looked silently back at her.  
“There was mold on the ceiling right above the baby’s crib. What would you do?”

The tenants turned and looked at each other.
  
“You wouldn’t squeal on me because of my kitties, would you?” Rosie asked.

“Of course not,” Beth said. “I’m not a squealer. If anything, I’ve taken a huge risk with this tenants’ organization. With all the repairs we’ve gotten done to your apartments, the landlord has never spoken to me. I only told the health board about the hazardous mold to protect the baby and the health of everyone in the building. That stuff spreads quickly.”

John Oldham stood, “Really, please, everyone get a grip on yourselves. A baby should not be exposed to black mold. It’s deadly. I’m sure Beth didn’t want to do it, but she just couldn’t ignore it.”

“This is disgusting,” Jim declared in a haughty indignant voice. He stood and looked at his fellow tenants. “Terrorists everywhere and so-called tenant advocates who report us to the authorities. I say, meeting adjourned! I’m out of here. This is too dangerous for me.” 

The tenants looked up at Jim, rose from their lawn chairs, folded them, and followed him out the door.

Empty floor space stretched out between the organizers and the back wall. Sal and John turned to Beth, “What happened?” 

“I can’t believe them,” Beth said. She pulled together her note pad and papers. She looked at John Oldham, “How could they follow someone as crazy as Jim? They don’t even know him, at least not the way they know me.”

Bob looked at Beth, “Beth you know what it was, it was fear that led them out the door.

Sal and John stood and looked at the empty room. “We’re still on your side Beth, don’t worry.” They picked up their chairs and bid them a good night. 

Bob began folding the card table. “Don’t worry, Beth, they’ll be back. Remember, they have a landlord who does worse things than protect a baby from danger.”