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

Chapter  18 – Chasing the Money (3037 words)

Today’s job interview went well. Beth felt hopeful. She had just experienced a year with no income of her own, but she and Bob had tightened their belts and had managed to survive. They still had their home at Quercus Gardens. They still had good health. 

This year, because of the Tall Trees Tenant Association, they knew more and had gained a power over their lives they had never had before. Besides that, they had new friends, many from the other buildings in the complex. The social media was buzzing as they chatted back and forth about everything and anything that happened along Park Lane. 

Beth strolled down the sidewalk toward her apartment. She could see lots of junk mail sticking out of the metal “snail” mail box next to her door. Stepping onto the porch, she flipped the lid up and reached inside and pulled out the paper mail. 

Catalogs, requests for donations from various charity groups and a small sheet of paper with some scribbled hand writing on it. Beth looked at the note. It looked like something from a tenant. She carried the mail through the door and up the stairs.

At the top, she dumped the mail in a basket on a side table, then pulled out the hand-written note. In a big loopy long-hand writing style, it said, “I’m coming to your meeting. I want to talk to you. I am very upset. You know me.” The hand neat but loopy writing broke down and got sloppy toward the end. Beth felt like it was saying something more to her. It was saying, “I will be there. You better be there, too.”

What a surprise. Who had put this note in her mailbox? Why didn’t the person just come to the meeting? Wednesday was the next meeting day. Beth had already walked the complex and put flyers under every door. Why would someone come right up to Beth’s door and drop this note in her box? How would they know where she lived? 

Only those active in the tenant association knew Beth’s apartment number and door. She had tried to keep it out of sight, giving out only her phone number, the web site and email address for tenants to reach her. She didn’t want them knocking on the door at odd hours of the day and night. Peace and privacy please! 

Beth began to ponder the possibilities. It could be Margaret again, still angry about the child endangerment agency, the health board and the black mold that caused her to be driven from her apartment. Maybe Cassy was angry at Beth for not bringing the issue of spirituality to the meeting. Was Cassy mad because they didn’t hold a séance and speak to Mrs. Mary Gilligan again? 

Rose? Maybe Rose was worried that her kitty cats were in some kind of danger because of all the repair crews and inspectors mulling around the apartment complex. Maybe a health inspector saw all those cats. But surely Rose would just make a phone call if something had happened.

Who would be compelled to drop an anonymous note into Beth’s mail box? In a way, it almost seemed threatening. This person was “very upset.” Had Beth misspoken at a meeting? She tried to think. Had she said something insensitive that hurt someone’s feelings? Beth had tried to be non-judgmental. She had tried to conduct the meetings in a balanced and open way. But you just never know. Some people are easily hurt.

This person had walked right up to Beth’s door. Knew exactly where Beth lived. Why didn’t this person just hint at what the problem was? Why be so secretive? Why did the note say, “You better be there”? Was the suspect thinking that Beth would run and hide? It was giving Beth the creeps. She didn’t think it was Ramon Perez. Or could it be him? Had he finally snapped from all the pressure from the fire inspections, building code inspections and angry tenants making demands? Did the landlord finally decide Perez wasn’t needed? Had he lost his job and was he now coming after Beth for revenge? 

Beth read the note again, “I’m coming to your meeting. I want to talk to you. I am very upset. You know me. I will be there. You better be there too.” She looked at how the hand-writing started out strong, but ended in a sloppy mess. Was she just misreading the text?

Who could it be? Maybe it was the landlord’s spy, Jim Jones, who had come to the meeting and led the walkout. Maybe this person had a mental problem or just couldn’t pay the rent and was hoping to discuss it with Beth to find out what else to do. Maybe this person would come and scream at Beth. Beth couldn’t solve every problem. There is only so much one tenant activist can do. It took the participation of all tenants to really make changes in the conditions. 

Beth was so worried she couldn’t even sit down to the computer and check her email. She peered out the window from time to time hoping the stranger who left the note might stop by with an update. She was so preoccupied with her worries that she had forgotten the good feeling she had after the job interview. It didn’t seem important now. Maybe someone was plotting to kill her? What good would a job do then? 

Bob finally arrived home.

“Bob, I have something to show you,”

“Yeah, what?” He kicked off his shoes and dropped into the sofa. Beth brought the note to him. He looked at it.

“A secret admirer?” Bob asked grinning.

“Very funny. Or not. It gives me the creeps. Why would someone come by here and drop a note like that.”

“I guess he or she wanted to be sure you were at the meeting for the big confrontation. When is our next meeting, anyway?”

“Next Wednesday,” Beth said.

“Ugh, too bad. My union wants me to stop by for a special meeting that evening. We’re going to be doing contract negotiations soon.”
“What? You can’t go to our tenant meeting? I need you there to protect me. What if this idiot comes and beats me up? Who will defend me?”
“I already promised I would go to the union meeting,” Bob said. “Look, John Oldham and Alice will be there. Lisa and Julie too. What about Salvador? You’ll have plenty of people on your side. You can handle it.”

Beth was flabbergasted. Just when she needed Bob the most, he was being pulled away for another important issue. She was wondering if she would have taken the risks she had, if she hadn’t had Bob beside her. Now she would have to carry on with the other tenants. She decided to scan the note and send it to Alice. Alice needed to know what they might have to deal with at the next meeting.  

Beth waited and checked her email several times that evening, but no response came from Alice. What if Alice had to work overtime on Wednesday and could not make the meeting? Beth would have to count on John Oldham and Salvador. But what if they didn’t come? Salvador sometimes worked late in his florist shop. John Oldham was retired, but such a fragile looking old guy wouldn’t be enough to scare off this crazy person.

The next day, Alice replied. “I guess the person just forgot to sign a name. We’ll keep our eyes open.” Alice had no real concerns. 

During the coming week, Beth tried to put the note out of her mind. When it reappeared in her thoughts, she tried to talk herself into believing the writer of the note would probably not even attend the meeting. Someone so cowardly or deranged would either shy away or forget completely the exact day, time and place of the meeting. Surely there was nothing to worry about. Alice, Sal and John would be there.

In spite of this, on Wednesday, Beth felt a little bit like she was walking into a trap. Soon to face death. Likely to be wounded by gun fire. Her heart fluttered. Her mind buzzed and tingled. It was an awakening. Bob didn’t really care about her. She felt sad. Now, she would have to walk to the meeting alone. She took a deep breath and thought, “He’ll be sorry.” She could see it now. He’d return home and she wouldn’t be there. She would be spending the night in the morgue.  

Beth grabbed her lawn chair, her notes and her cell phone, she locked the door behind her and faced the cruel world.

As she walked she muttered, “Oh, forget about it, forget about it.” Then it occurred to her, what would her neighbors think if they saw her muttering as she walked down the street? She tried to remember various times when she was almost killed. Car wrecks, near misses on an airline, the day lightning struck a radio tower near where she was walking. And still she was alive. It could just be another one of those days.

She pushed open the laundry room door. There was Alice, John Oldham and Salvador. She looked at her cell phone clock. She was a little late. They were talking and stopped when they looked up and saw her. She put her lawn chair down and sat.

“Ok, I’m here.”

“I told John and Sal about the note. They don’t think anyone will do anything,” Alice said.

“Sure,” Beth said, “No doubt.” 

The door swung open and other tenant’s came in. One after the other, Rosie, Cassy, Lisa and Julie. In came Ted and Arlene, who had not come to a tenant meeting since they first complained about the loss of heat last autumn. What a surprise, June and Jerry showed up, too. This would be the second time they had come. They lived right next door to Beth. (She could have walked down with them had she known they were coming.) Great, now they’ll all get to see Beth blown away at gun point. 

“Ok, we’ll start the meeting,” Beth announced. She took a deep breath. At least she knew everyone in the room and none of them had a grudge against her. “Does anyone have anything to report?”

Salvador Giovani stood, “Yes, I’d like to report to those tenants who have not seen them yet, that we, the tenants, have planted flowers at the entrance gate here at Quercus Gardens. The landlord, oh I mean, the buildings manager, paid for the beautiful flowers. Quercus Gardens now looks fabulous.”

The tenants smiled with approval and nodded to each other.

“Very good,” said Beth. “Does anyone else have something to report?”
A man stood that Beth had not seen coming through the door. She shuddered. When did he come in? How could she have missed him?
He looked around. “I’d just like to say that this tenant’s association has done more good than all the phone calls and nagging that I used to do, trying to get my place fixed. I guess I was doing it all wrong. Just one person, you can’t get them to move, but with this group, you folks have really gotten a lot done.”

Beth was amazed. The tenants all clapped their hands. Smiling and laughing they turned and chatted with each other until the room was full of noise. 

“A fire code inspector came into my apartment and wrote up two violations against the landlord,” June said. “I couldn’t believe it. I’ve been complaining, like you Ted, for years, nagging them. And they wouldn’t do anything.”

“I’m glad to see the garbage sheds have been cleaned up and they now have containers for recycling the bottles and cans. This is a tremendous change,” said Arlene.

“I’ll tell you what I saw. I was sitting on my porch and I saw the tax appraisers coming by. I know them. I used to work in the tax appraisal office,” Lisa said. “Oh, boy, wait till they get done with this landlord. The City is going to make some money on those fines.”

Salvador looked at his fellow tenants, “Yeah, it’s kind of funny isn’t it? The feds have cut funding to the cities because they spent the money dropping bombs on Iraq. Now the cities have to find another source of income. I know as a business man, I better not break any traffic codes, fire codes or cheat on my taxes, they’re chasing the money.” 

“I think there is someone in the room who needs to get a big thank you from all of us,” John Oldham insisted. “Beth stand up. What would we have done without you? You brought us all together. You are the mother of the Tall Trees Tenants Association,” he looked at the other tenants. “She’s the one who started it all.” 

“She created a web site and put so much useful information there,” Lisa said smiling. Cassy stood and clapped her hands. Rose nodded in approval, “Yes, I’ve learned a lot from our tenants’ web site.”
The tenants cheered and laughed. Beth smiled and repeated the words “thank you” so many times she seemed to be stuttering. It felt good to know that she had accomplished something this year. She had broken down the alienation they had all once felt.  

Throughout the complex there were people of many nationalities, religions, beliefs, lifestyles and ages, but they were all tenants of Quercus Gardens Apartments. Many of them had never paid any dues or made any donations to the cause, but in spite of this, they saw themselves as members of the Tall Trees Tenants Association. They had turned into a community. Now they contacted each other by email and phone and at last, they talked face to face.  

She looked around the room. Everyone looked happy. Beth was pleased that the meeting had gone so well. She relaxed in her chair and watched as the tenants spoke back and forth to each other. It was nice to have friendly neighbors.

Suddenly the door opened. 

An unknown woman stepped through. The crowd grew quiet.

“Hello, I came here tonight to talk to someone. Who is Beth?”

Alice looked at Beth. They both knew this was the person who had written the strange note.

Before anyone could point to Beth, the strange woman began to speak again.  

“A friend of mine came to one of these meetings. She said you were all talking about me. I don’t know why you would do that.” 

Beth looked at the woman. She did not recognize her in the least. What was going on with this tenant?

“How could you say such things about me?” The woman continued as she looked around the room.  

The tenants turned in their lawn chairs and looked at her. “Who is she?” they whispered to each other.  

“Who are you?” John Oldham asked, looking at the stranger.  
“I just came here today to clear my name. You should all be ashamed of yourselves.”

“Who are you?” Alice asked. She raised her voice into a professional tone, “Madam, we can’t help you if we don’t have your name.”

“My name is Mrs. Mary Gilligan. I was not murdered. How could any of you say such a thing?” 

The tenants gasped.

Beth was horrified. All this time they had listened to the gossip. Beth turned to look at Cassy, who had started the rumor. 

“Oh, spirits, you are among us,” Cassy said and fell to her knees. She put her hands over her eyes and began to cry.

“I’m not a spirit,” Mary Gilligan stated. “I’m right here. You’ve been spreading lies about me.” She walked toward Cassy. “All those years that I lived next to you. Being kind to you. Why would you do this?”

“I didn’t mean anything. I was told by the voices. Everyone knew it. Ramon Perez is to blame. He’s a maniac. He should be locked up.”

“He didn’t do anything to me. I’m standing here before you. I moved away from here a few years ago. I moved to a senior community. I just came here today to clear my name. You should all be ashamed of yourselves for listening to hate and suspicion. Now I think I’ve made my point. Good day, neighbors and good luck.”

With this, she turned and marched out the door.  

“I’m so sorry,” Cassy screeched. She looked around the room. “I just don’t like that superintendent. He scares me. I wanted to get him fired from his job.”

“He has an attitude,” Beth stated feeling some sympathy for Cassy.

“I’ve always thought it was because he was overworked,” Alice stated emphatically. She frowned at Cassy. “Now that he has more help, Perez may be easier to deal with. The problem was with the landlord. He was squeezing the super as much as he was squeezing us tenants.”

“I would say that might be the case,” John Oldham agreed. “Let’s call it a day, folks. I think we’ve covered all the issues.”

“We’ve even solved the mystery of Quercus Gardens Apartments,” Beth said.  

They all gathered their lawn chairs and headed out the door.

As Beth walked home with Ted, Arlene, June and Jerry, she paid no attention to their talk about other ways to improve the complex. She looked up at the trees branches blowing in the wind and wondered where the squirrels were sleeping. 

Arriving at her apartment door, she sighed with relief. The note-writer had come and gone. Beth was still alive. She laughed at herself. How crazy was it to worry so much about her safety? All she wanted was to help her neighbors and herself get what they paid for in rent and what they deserved in safe, clean housing. 

Why had they listened to Cassy and repeated the rumor that spread the fear? Now with the victories they had achieved through the Tall Trees Tenant Association, they could live with a greater sense of control over their lives. Never again would they tolerate poor living conditions and a lack of respect from any landlord.