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

Chapter 16 – Corpus Delicti(3080 words)

Beth looked through her email. There it was, an invitation from Alice. Alice was at work right now but about to leave. She wanted to get together and let Beth know about the additional information she had found about Mrs. Mary Gilligan, the one who actually lived in Quercus Gardens.

Dos Amigos was becoming their favorite Mexican restaurant for meeting. Beth emailed back saying she’d meet Alice there. Beth grabbed her jacket and headed out the door.  

Spring had arrived at Quercus Gardens. The oak trees had little yellow-green tassels that were actually the blossoms of the oak trees. Pollen was drifting everywhere, collecting on glass windows and along the edges of the sidewalks. Squirrels danced around the tree trunks as if they were celebrating the birth of acorns, a food that would keep them alive during the next winter. 

Beth came to the door of Dos Amigos and entered. In the corner she saw Alice looking over an advertisement inviting restaurant patrons to come celebrate Cinco de Mayo.  

“We’ve been so busy at the office lately,” Alice began, seeing Beth. “New cases and a new attorney. I’ve had to train him on all the software for time log and research.” Alice slouched in exhaustion over the wooden table of the booth as Beth sat down. 

“No problem, Alice. I just wish this murder wasn’t such an issue with these tenants. There’s nothing we can do about it, either way.”
Alice reached down to her briefcase, opened it and pulled out a folder.
Beth thought Alice certainly looked like an attorney, even if she were really only a legal assistant.  

“Here’s the additional stuff I’ve been able to come up with,” Alice said. “I was sent out for research on a project very much like ours, so I did a little extra work for our cause.”

Beth leaned back and smiled.

A waitress came and placed menus on the edge of the table. “I’ll give you ladies some time.” 

“No, we’ll take our usual two tacos and two Mexican beers,” Beth told the waitress. Beth looked at Alice, she nodded in approval. The waitress headed for the bar. Beth picked up her napkin and put it on her lap. “What did you find?”

“I researched in the local newspapers again. This time I went beyond the days of the internet. I looked into the microfiche and some hard copy morgue files of local papers. There were lots of murders, way more than I expected for our town. But again, none involving the name of Ramon Perez or Mrs. Mary Gilligan.” 

Alice picked up her taco and nibbled on it as if to create greater suspense for Beth who was leaning over the table waiting. 

“Yes, and what then?”

“So I was thinking, where else could I look?” Alice took a sip of her beer.
“Where else?” Beth asked. She didn’t really like beer much, but she wanted to be agreeable since Alice was doing this research for free, so she took a sip of her beer.

“I was talking to one of the attorneys where I work,” Alice began. “He suggested that I talk to an acquaintance of his who works as a civilian in the town police communications department. He’s been on the staff in communications there for years. He knows the cops. I asked him to ask around. So he’s been doing this for about a week now.”

“Sure. Cops should remember a murder,” Beth said eager for the final word.

“He emailed me a report.”

Beth leaned back and looked at Alice.

“They mentioned a murder that did occur at Quercus Gardens, about thirty years ago. But no one recognized the names, neither Mrs. Mary Gilligan nor Ramon Perez,” Alice said. 

Beth slumped over the table. “No?”

“It’s not a case of Corpus delicti,” Alice stated. She sipped her beer again. “That’s an assumed murder based on circumstantial evidence. But circumstantial evidence is not the direct cause. It doesn’t meet the standard of “without a shadow of a doubt” that is required for a murder case. What we have is a possible death, with a dearth of facts. No body, no proof, no murder. I’m convinced that what we have is pure hearsay.” 

Beth had to appreciate that Alice was learning how to talk like an attorney, on the chance that she might someday become one.

“So you’re sticking with the idea that Crazy Cassy is just making a story to cover up something else. But what would she be covering?”

“Good question. Maybe if we pretended to make friends with her, she might trust us and spill the beans. We might then learn the real reason she keeps bringing up the maddening murder.” 

“I was hoping for some proof, not exactly a dead body, but a news article about Mrs. Mary Gilligan’s murder. I was hoping to challenge Cassy and put this nonsense to rest.” Beth moaned. “I really don’t feel like pretending to be her friend.”

“I know what you mean. We could ask her for proof of what she says—if she brings it up again. Yes, we’ll tell her that we’ve researched it thoroughly and found nothing. Could she show us some proof?”

“But you said there had been a murder,” Beth stated, “at Quercus Gardens, years ago. Maybe she overheard talk about that and imagined it to be her neighbor, Mary Gilligan. Especially if Mary Gilligan disappeared. Tenants sometimes move out overnight, even the landlord doesn’t know they are gone.”

“Possibly. Or Gilligan died suddenly and was removed before Crazy Cassy found out.” Alice piled the plates on top of each other and pushed them to the edge of the table. “Here’s some additional news. That heating oil company bill that you sent me, I looked into that. It is far more useful to us.”

“Great,” Beth responded, looking hopeful.

“Would you ladies like anything else?” the waitress interjected, as she grabbed the empty plates.

“No, we’re fine,” Alice said, leaning closer to Beth. “Our landlord turns out to be an INVESTMENT COMPANY.”

“You mean our home is someone’s retirement dividend?” Beth asked.

“Yeah, possibly, but if we ever need to sue, we’ve now got more to go on than Quercus Gardens Apartments LLC. We now know it is Cambridge and Sultan LLC.” Alice held her head high and spoke like an expert, “A big part of a legal battle is piercing the corporate shield. We might have to get past the limits of the liability on this corporation. Finding the responsible party and the real pot of money is what convinces attorneys to take a case.”

“Well sure,” Beth responded, unsure of what Alice was telling her. “If we ever need to sue our landlord,” Beth replied, “but I’m hoping they just keep making the repairs and we won’t need to take any legal action.”

“You and me, both,” Alice said with a smile. “But knowing more about the landlord—in this case an investment company—could give us insights into how and why they are operating the way they do. We could look at what’s going on in the real estate investment markets these days.”

Beth sipped her beer and wondered what else Alice had in mind. She thought back to the last meeting where the tenants walked out. Who was Jim Jones, anyway? 

“Alice, what can we find out about Jim Jones?”

“Who is Jim Jones?”

“Oh, that’s right, you weren’t at the last meeting. Jim, he’s the crazy guy you told me about, we’ve both met him in his effort to rid our nation of terrorists. Remember? You said he was following Arabs and recording their phone calls. Now, do you remember?”

Alice gasped, “Oh yes, that nut. You mean he came to the meeting?”
“When Margaret came in, you know, Margaret, the moldy mommy, who didn’t want to risk telling the landlord about the mold in her apartment. Right above her baby’s crib! She accused me of squealing to the health board. Can you believe it? I was concerned. Hearing her accusation, Jim stood up, before I could say anything in my defense, he amplified the tenants fears and led the whole bunch of them out the door.”

“Do you think he was an agent for the landlord?” Alice asked. 

“He said he was a business man,” Beth offered. “Wouldn’t he be sympathetic to a big corporate landlord?”

“With his attitude toward immigrants, he might be assisting the landlord in running some folks out of the complex,” Alice suggested. She looked off across the room, lost in thought for a moment, then added, “Maybe the landlord is hoping to renovate and bring in higher quality clientele. I mean, higher earners who could afford higher rents.”

“We’d all be thrown out of Quercus Gardens, you, me, even someone like Cassy who does séances to pay her rent.” Beth looked at Alice.

“Our request for repairs would persuade the landlord to fix the place and raise the rent,” Alice said. “This makes it seem like we’re working toward getting ourselves thrown out of our apartments. I’ll do some more research. I believe they can raise the rent quite high if they claim they are doing capital improvements—that’s when they do big expensive repairs, like replacing heating systems, putting in new kitchen cabinets, remodeling bathrooms.”

“Like fixing bath tubs that fall through the floor?” Beth asked

“Yes. I need to look into this. Our market value rents may actually go up if the investment company is seeking higher profits,” Alice grimaced. “I don’t know where I’ll live if this place gets too expensive.”

“I’ll need a job more than ever. Right now, Bob is paying for everything, but it will take two of us working to stay in our apartment if the rent gets much higher,” Beth said. “I really like our apartment and this neighborhood. I don’t want to leave.”

The waitress put their bill on the table. “Let me pay for this,” Alice said, “while I still can.”  

“Thanks,” Beth said. “I feel I owe you and Bob so much.”

“How’s the job hunting going? Any hope?” Alice asked. 

“Every now and then I get called for an interview,” Beth said. She really hadn’t had any calls for interviews, but she wanted to assure Alice. 

“God, I hate being interviewed. It’s so degrading,” Alice responded sympathetically.

“I’m getting better at it,” Beth said. “Who knows, someday I’ll perfect my pitch and get hired.”

“Have confidence, woman, you can do it,” Alice cheered.

Beth smiled. It was nice of Alice to encourage her.

The two women said good-bye and went their separate directions.  
Not ready to go in, Beth meandered around the apartment complex. The sidewalks were cracked, some sections having high corners that were lifted by tree roots, some sections were sunken and holding rain water from the day before. These were places where someone might trip and fall. Places where a tenant could sue the landlord. Beth laughed. Well, at least she knew which parties to sue, but she really didn’t want to fall.

Looking ahead, Beth saw some people on the street in front of a church auxiliary building. She stopped to watch. What were they in line for? She walked over closer to see. Above the door was a cardboard sign that read, “Sisters of Mercy Shelter - Soup Line opens at five o’clock.”

Beth didn’t even know there was a soup line so close to her own home. She stood and looked at the poor homeless people milling about near the door waiting for it to open. This was all they had. A soup line and the Sisters of Mercy Shelter. Maybe at one time in their lives they had rented an apartment, but could no longer afford it now. Did an investment company raise the rents to increase the profits? Maybe Mrs. Mary Gilligan was one of them? Now she was gone without a trace.

Cambridge and Sultan LLC. These words popped into Beth’s mind. What if she went there and applied for a job? Beth ran the last block to her front door and dashed in. Up the stairs she went to the computer, clicked it on, and entered that company name into a search. 

There it was! An office in Manhattan. Yes, she could go there, dressed nicely, with her resume in hand. She wouldn’t bother to see if they were hiring, that was not the purpose, but there was something about knowing more about that business. Who were these people that determined so much about the building you counted on for a good life?

That evening she told Bob she had a job interview. He was happy, just like Alice was happy. Everyone was happy if you had a job. You could be responsible again, but Beth had time on her hands and she was still able to get into mischief. 

The next day, having ridden the train into the city, Beth headed for the address that was on the heating oil company’s invoice. The elevator bells sounded and the door opened. Beth steped out. On the wall in front of her was the name of the investment company, Cambridge and Sultan LLC. The name was embedded into a silver metallic art work that gleamed with wealth. Beth went to the left and entered the double glass doors.

 Standing in a waiting room she looked around. The first thing she noticed was the high, wide brown draperies that cover what was possibly a large window that no one ever dared to look out. The carpet was also brown. The upholstery was a tan. On a large maple wood coffee table was an ornate white vase with red and orange flowers. 

There was a receptionist’s desk is in the far corner of the room near the door. But no one was in the room. Beth took a seat in the corner and continued to look around. There were plaques on the walls with the names of some of the advisors and attorneys. They had studied in various colleges around the area. The office was quiet. Beth wondered what it would be like to work here. She waited. 

A woman office worker came into the room and sat at the reception desk. She was dressed in a gray suit and settled herself behind the low wall that wrapped around the desk. The phone rang. Beth listened.
“Cambridge and Sultan LLC, may I help you?”

Beth looked down at the carpet. 

“No, Mr. Jones, we don’t have anything on that yet. I see, yes. Ok, we’ll let you know if we hear anything.”

Beth gasped. Mr. Jones? Could it be the Jones guy that came to the meeting and led the tenants out? But Jones was such a common name. Beth needed to be more like Alice, don’t make connections out of coincidences. They didn’t need to spread any more rumors than Cassy already had. 

Beth leaned back on the sofa. She wondered when the receptionist would notice that she was there. She felt awkward. Leaning forward she picked up a magazine, Investment Today. She tried to look as though she were engrossed, just in case the receptionist suddenly discovered that she was there.  

A phone rang again. This time the receptionist answered it differently. “Quercus Gardens, may I help you?”

Beth had heard that voice before! She stood and peaked over at the woman answering the phone. Such a nice looking woman, well dressed and pleasant. Beth recalled the surly way this woman spoke to her when Beth was calling about the eviction of the pregnant woman. Suddenly Beth felt afraid to be in the waiting room. What would they do if they knew she was right under their roof?

“Yes, the rents are market value. We will soon be making upgrades and increasing the amenities. You can see the apartments online, there’s a floor plan too. Call our agent to make arrangements.”  

Beth looked down at the magazine in her hands. How could she sneak out now?

A gray-haired gentleman came through a wooden door next to the receptionist’s desk.

“As I was saying Jared, this investment is a guaranteed good deal. I’m sure you’ll be pleased with your return.”

The younger man who was being addressed reached out and shook hands with the older man. “Thanks, I’m sure this will work out.” He turned and went through the double glass doors.

Beth peeked up then turned her face down toward the magazine. The gray-haired gentleman addressed the receptionist.

“Mary, I’m going to be on a conference call for the next two hours, please hold my calls.”

Beth watched as he disappeared through the door that he had come from.

“Certainly sir,” Mary said.

Beth sighed. Mary—could you believe it? But there were hundreds of Marys in the world, she couldn’t be Mrs. Mary Gilligan.  

“Danielle, do you have some time to talk?”

Beth listened.

“Oh, girlfriend, I’m telling you. My boss just wants everything right now. He’s out today. Flew to Reno, making deals. You know. I’m here with Mr. Sultan, but he’s a sweetie, he’s in a conference call for the next two hours. Listen, I think I’ve found an apartment for you. Yes, it’s with our company. You’ll love it. I sent you an email with the link. Did you get it?”

Now the receptionist was deep into her conversation and had swiveled her back to the waiting room. Beth laid down the magazine. She had no business being there. She hunkered down and made her way to the double glass doors. Quietly she pushed them opened and slipped out.

Now standing before the elevator doors, she wiped the sweat from her forehead. Whew, that was close. Why had she come here? What did it accomplish? She rode the elevator down and crossed the alcove of the office building. Outside she saw, across the street, some workers on a picket line. Their signs demanded they be given a raise in pay. Beth walked toward the subway station and took the train home.

Home, that’s what she called it. Her little apartment in Quercus Gardens. As she arrived on the property, she was amazed to see at a distance, Perez and a group of six men walking along the sidewalk with tool kits, paint buckets and pipes in their hands. It looked like somebody got a new job. The work crew at Quercus Gardens had grown.