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

Chapter 8 – Animal Rights and Wrongs  (2259 words)

Beth watched as John stepped out of his apartment at Building D and tugged his jacket closer around his neck. 

“It’s a chilly day, but it’s a sunny one,” he said

Beth smiled at him, “I see you are ready for petitioning.”

“Yes, I’ve got everything we need. Petitions, flyers with detailed information, I even created a business card for us to give to those who still need time to think.”

“Wonderful,” Beth said. She took the board that he handed her and put a few of the business cards in her pocket. “Let’s get the “A” through “J” sections done first. We’ll do the next section after lunch.  

It was a Saturday and they both agreed it should be a time when many people were at home.  

“Let’s separate and keep in touch by cell phone.” John held up his phone.
“Good idea,” Beth replied.  

They waved at each other and headed off. Beth took Buildings A, B, C, D and E. John took Buildings F, G, H, I and J.  

After only an hour, they had collected just a few signatures each, so they came together again and decided to move on to the next quadrant.  

“Where is everyone?” Beth asked.

“Sleeping in?” John mused.

Beth took Buildings K, L, M, N and O. John took P, Q, R, S and T. 
Beth wondered if knocking on doors would be better than just standing around hoping someone would come out. She approached an apartment at Building L and rang the doorbell.

Nothing happened.

She pressed the doorbell again.

“Who’s there?”

Beth hesitated. Who was she to this person? A stranger. Why should someone come downstairs for her? “I’m Beth, I’m a tenant here at Quercus Gardens and we are trying to get repairs made.”

“Get repairs made? Oh, you need to talk to the Super, Ramon Perez.”

“Yeah, I know, we’re circulating a petition to get repairs made to the parking lots, gutters, broken windows, that sort of thing. Come down please and I’ll explain.”

Suddenly the door opened. A short round woman appeared. Beth first saw the top of her head where her gray hair was tied up in a big braid that circled her head. She looked up at Beth. “So how can I help you?”

Beth felt she had seen that hair style before, but where? She tilted the petition board toward the woman and began explaining. “We’re trying to get repairs made around the buildings here at Quercus Gardens. See that pot hole in the drive way? We want things like that repaired.”

“That’s been there since the last ice age, honey, you don’t think it’s going away soon, do you?”

“Well, actually, we think that if we get enough signatures here, we might get some repairs made. Just last week the landlord was pressured to make lots of repairs to several tenant’s apartments.”

“My apartment is just fine,” the woman said.

Beth stopped and looked at her. Yes, this woman had come to the first meeting. She was the woman who was going to run out of the room.  
“You came to our first meeting, didn’t you?”

“Was that in the laundry room over by building A? Oh, I didn’t know what kind of meeting it was. I just went to see what was happening. My apartment doesn’t need any repairs.”

“Oh, I see,” Beth said, “As I recall, you told us something about a murder here at Quercus Gardens.”

A small yellow kitten popped out between the woman’s bare feet. It meowed and looked up at Beth. Beth cooed, “Oh how sweet, a little kitty.”

“That’s Ginger, Ginny for short,” the woman replied. She was softening now that she saw Beth’s response to the kitten. “Yeah, my name is Rosie. I was at the meeting. Why don’t you come up and have a talk. I want to know exactly what you are doing. I don’t want to stand out here too long. Perez will see us. Come up.”

She reached down and grabbed Ginny and turned inward. Beth followed her up the stairs. They entered an apartment that had the same layout as Beth’s and it was funny to see a place that looked the same, but was full of someone else’s furniture. 

They sat on the sofa. A big black cat came to sit between them.  

“This is Sooty. I rescued him. He was living in the garbage shed here. It was winter and I just couldn’t leave him out in the cold. You see, he had a bad eye. I took him to the vet and got him fixed. Now he sees almost as well as when he was young.”

Beth looked at Sooty next to her and Ginny in Rosie’s hands. Two cats in a one bedroom apartment. Amazing. Beth looked around. The place looked clean and very neat. The decor was early American, with a colorful hand-made quilt used as a throw on the sofa, curtains that looked like burlap tied back with twine. A rag rug of various colors and designs circled on the floor under her feet. 

“So as I was saying, we are trying to get repairs made to the outdoor problems. Not just the potholes, but get some broken windows replaced, not just taped. Get some gutters that are falling off the roof re-attached. That kind of thing. Would you be willing to sign the petition?”

A little gray kitten came bounding across the room from the bedroom doorway. It stopped short, looked at Beth, arched its back and hissed. The two women laughed.

“Oh, she’s so ferocious,” Beth said.

“That’s Smokey, I just accepted her from a tenant who had to move out and couldn’t keep her. You know, it’s a shame that some landlords discourage people from having pets. One of the reasons I stay in this apartment, even though I’m fed up with the lack of repairs, is that they let us have pets here.”

“Yes, I do remember seeing something in the lease about allowing one pet per apartment, but it looks like you have three here.”

“Humm, they are kittens. That’s like half a cat, so two makes one. They are so cute I just can’t turn them down. You know, it’s sad how many homeless kitties there are in our society. I try to do everything I can for them. I feed a lot of cats in this neighborhood. There’s about ten cats out there that need my help. I try to tame them. When winter comes, I do my best to find them homes. It’s not easy.” Rosie held her head up as though expecting praise for her heroic deeds.

“Oh, I’m sure it’s not easy.” Beth said, amazed by Rosie’s concern for homeless kittens, but she couldn’t bring herself to sing praises. “It must cost you a fortune in cat food.”

“Yes, but it is well worth it. And I buy them only the best.”

“Of course,” Beth said. She was here to get signatures on her petition. She needed to stay focused. “Listen, I have a buddy out there working with me, I must be going. He’ll wonder where I’m at. Would you like to give me a quick signature?”

A white cat appeared from behind a chair. Beth was startled now. Four cats in a one bedroom apartment. This was a violation of the lease, no doubt about it. 

“That’s our little Snowball,” Rosie said. “Now you’ve met the entire family.”

“Oh, the entire family. Sure.” Beth was about to get up from the sofa when she saw two blue eyes were looking down at her from a book shelf. “What’s this then?” Beth pointed to the cat.  

“Oh that’s Coriander. She’s a tabby-point Siamese. She’s not a cat, she’s human. She is so intelligent, you wouldn’t believe it.” 

“Amazing, you have a lot of beautiful cats here. They all look well cared for and healthy.”

“Yes, and our home is very clean, don’t you agree?”

“Certainly, I agree. It’s very pleasant here.” 

Beth liked animals, but the increasing number was beginning to give her the creeps. She wanted to get out before a lion appeared at the door and made that impossible. She turned to the door, and sure enough, a large calico cat with long hair was sitting there licking its paw.

“And this one’s name?” Beth asked, surrendering to the craziness of the situation.

“That’s Cali.”

“Of course.”

“Please, Beth, sit down. There is something that’s bothering me. Ever since I went to your tenant meeting, I’ve wanted to ask you.”

Beth turned and sat down again next to Sooty who was still occupying the sofa. He looked up at her. She could hear a loud rumbly purr vibrating from his body. Beth reached over and rubbed his ears.

“As I may have mentioned,” Rosie began, “my apartment is near Mrs. Mary Gilligan’s. One day, I was out feeding the kitties and I saw this garden along the fence. I like gardening. But it was all weedy and abandoned. I asked my neighbor, Cassy—you remember, Cassy was at the meeting—I asked her whose garden it was. She told me it used to be Mrs. Mary Gilligan’s. I wanted to take over the garden if no one was caring for it.”

Beth braced herself for the next part of the story.  

“That’s when Cassy told me about the murder. The landlord allowed Mary to plant the flowers, but Perez didn’t like tenants planting flowers. He said it made it difficult to mow the lawns. Sometimes he would mow them down and tell her she couldn’t plant anymore. I guess they were in quite a heated battle with each other. You know how ugly Perez gets when he’s upset with a tenant.”

As Rosie told the story, Beth wished she would stop. Yet Beth couldn’t deny it, she knew what the woman tenants were talking about. They all pointed to Perez’s nasty temper. She too could feel Perez’s fury every time she saw him. He seemed to bristle. He would probably explode if he knew what Beth was doing today. Beth didn’t need this constant reminder from the women tenants. She was getting a knot in her stomach just thinking about it.

“So he murdered her. He got off because the landlord covered for him, said Perez didn’t have a key to the place. Yet we all know that the superintendent has keys to every apartment. That’s supposed to be for emergency repairs. I had my locks changed so he can’t get in here without my permission.”

“Landlords have a right to inspect the property, but they do have to give you advanced notice,” Beth explained.

“That’s right, but I wanted to make sure. I have my kitties to protect.”
Beth looked around at Ginger, Sooty, Smokey, Snowball, Coriander and Cali. This was a clear violation of the lease. But the place seemed clean and nice. Nothing bad was happening. As a tenant advocate, Beth could not and would not report this cat population to the landlord. It was not her responsibility. She was only trying to get repairs made. If the landlord did not allow so many pets in one apartment, it was his problem and his superintendent’s obligation to do something about it. They could take legal action and have Rosie evicted. It was not Beth’s responsibility.
Beth explained this to Rosie.

“I know, but I will do whatever I have to do to protect my babies.”

Beth looked up to see a big brown tiger cat stroll along the outside edge of the large living room window. It turned and walked through the opened side window. 

“What?” Beth asked.

“Oh that’s Big Brown, he’s the tough dude of the neighborhood. He’s looking for lunch. I better get moving and feed these kids. Here, let me sign your petition and not waste any more of your time.”

She reached for the petition and scribbled a name, a phone number and an email address, then handed it back to Beth.

“Thank you, Rosie,” Beth said. “I appreciate your support. Have a good day with your kitties and don’t worry, I won’t tell the landlord or Perez anything about them.”  

Beth made her way down the stairs and out the door. She turned to look up at Big Brown who was sitting on the window ledge looking down at her. How could Perez not see this army of cats prowling around the neighborhood? As Beth walked along she now noticed something she had never seen before. Here and there were tucked little plastic trays with cat kibble in each one. Cat food was all over, under the trees here and there on the lawns. From a treetop a squirrel was making a screaming sound as if warning of some eminent catastrophe. Beth looked below the squirrel and saw a big gray cat gnawing on a baby squirrel. It had captured some wild prey rather than stop into Rosie’s bistro and deli.

A ringing sound came from Beth’s phone. 

“John here. I’ve been able to get twenty signatures. How’s it going for you?”

Beth felt too embarrassed to respond, but she had to be truthful.
“I got one signature, sorry. I’m not doing so well.”

She looked down at it and realized she could not read the name. The phone number was clearly a fake. How many people had a number like 201-888-3333? And the email was so sloppy there would be no deciphering it. Rosie was protecting her kitties.