I stood in the foyer and pushed open my apartment building’s glass door. A man outside stopped me at the threshold, raising his eyebrows like he hoped I’d help him.
“I’m sorry. But I don’t recognize you. Can you show me your key?”
He stammered and took two steps back.
“Oh, I don’t want to come in. I came here to see…”
His mouth dropped open, at a loss to finish his sentence when he looked down and noticed he was standing on a brown splotch staining the cement.
He frowned. “This is where it happened, isn’t it?”
The door shut behind me. “Were you a relative of Bill’s?”
“I was a member of the jury. We rendered the verdict just this morning. The judge wouldn’t allow us to come here during the trial. But I had to see it for myself. Did you know the man who died here?”
“Bill the Super? Everybody in the neighborhood knew Bill.”
I’m sorry I never had a good thing to say about Bill before he died. Mine was the grief you feel when you lose an un-loved one. I felt an urge to mourn him, even though I didn’t like him.
He was the live-in superintendent for the 1930 pre-war where I lived on East 12th. When I learned he had been murdered right outside the apartment building’s glass door, I felt remorse, but couldn’t cry.
I suppose I never stopped resenting him for making me pay key money when I first moved in. It was an illegal but common practice in the city’s competitive rental market. Two hundred and fifty in cash, and still he snapped, “You should thank me it’s not more.”
I never felt comfortable around him, really—a short-statured, aggressive ex-NYPD cop who might explode into invectives if you mentioned the bulb in the hallway sconce needed changing. Even the long ponytail he wore down his back was macho. I’d take the stairs to avoid riding with him in the elevator.
On Saturday nights, he’d place a folding chair outside the front door and menace the takeout guys delivering moo shoo pork. “No effing menus!” he’d yell. Past midnight, Bill would tap a night stick on his knee, warning the Avenue A party people not to mess with him or urinate outside the building. I was all for security, but to me it seemed that Bill was inviting trouble.
It was Sal, Bill’s second-in-command, who told me the morning after it happened. The tall Italian had stationed himself at the front door where an unhappy odor of ammonia stung the nostrils. He stopped me as I was leaving for work, the glass sparkling clean and the door open, a tarp laid flat across the outside cement. It took me a moment to grasp the custodian’s rambling disclosure that something terrible had happened to Bill.
“Murdered,” Sal told me. “Last night after ten. Right in front of the door.”
“I didn’t hear a thing. Must have slept right through it.”
“Case of domestic violence, if you want to know the truth. Bill and his daughter Dawn were leaving the building. Her crazy Ex was waiting for them. She wasn’t hurt, but Bill was DOA at Beth Israel.”
“How did he die?” I felt sick imagining what lay hidden by the blue tarp.
“Knife through the heart.” Sal jabbed the air with his fist.
My less than cordial feelings for Bill muted me—the way I felt about him when he was alive disqualified me. I would be a hypocrite to utter condolences. Yet I needed to. Just because I didn’t like him, didn’t mean I wouldn’t grieve him. I said, “Nobody deserves such an awful end.” Not even Bill.
“Don’t you worry,” Sal said. “They’re gonna lock up the punk who did this and throw away the key.”
The juror looked up and studied the building’s brick façade as if he were a detective investigating the case. “How do you manage to walk over that stain every day? I sure couldn’t.”
“It’s been two years,” I told him. “Time helps.”
“The daughter must have been standing there, in front of the door,” he finally said. “And the Super over here.” He was speaking to himself mostly, blocking it out, recreating the scene. “The Ex came from across the street. You know, Dawn never testified exactly what went down. Said it happened too fast.”
I repeated what I heard at the memorial Sal had organized. Bill’s daughter had given the eulogy in the courtyard under the Ginko trees, a howling child leaning against her leg. “I thought Bill died defending his daughter’s life.”
“I’m not so sure about that. The daughter’s Ex pled self-defense.”
“Self-defense?” I had made peace in the past two years with Bill’s memory by seeing his last moments as redeeming. “I thought Bill died a hero.”
“Not according to…the defendant.” He faced me, speaking slowly.
“The Ex—guy named Kelly—took the stand and testified on his own behalf. Said your Super grabbed the knife from him. Pulled it right out of its sheath.” The juror pantomimed pulling a weapon from his waistband, raising his outstretched arm over his head.
“They struggled.” His arm zigzagged in midair. “It was an accident.”
The juror’s revelation that Bill might have been the instigator, made my bones ache with an old suspicion. “And you believed the Ex?”
“He was very convincing. That’s why I’m here. Like a tourist going to Ground Zero and trying to imagine what the hell happened.”
He sighed and looked past me. “I think I have made a terrible mistake. Your Super might really have provoked the fight. But the rest of the jurors had made up their minds and I caved.” He shook his head as he looked back down at the cement. “We convicted Kelly of second-degree murder. It should have been a lesser charge.”
The skin on my cheeks burned. I made an excuse—I had forgotten something in my apartment. But I had heard enough. What was the Ex doing with the knife, anyway? I wasn’t interested in hearing his side of the story and I didn’t want the juror upending any more memories of Bill.
I rushed away and stumbled into the elevator. As the compartment droned upwards, I remembered Dawn at the memorial and her toddler who wouldn’t stop crying. She said Bill was a changed man. That her father had welcomed them back in the weeks just before he died. On a portable table next to her sat a photograph of Bill, uncharacteristically smiling. He was holding his granddaughter, her fingers clutching his ponytail.
Inside my apartment, I looked out the living room window with its view overlooking the building’s entryway. I wasn’t surprised to see the juror still standing there, mired in his own regrets. After a while, he shifted his shoes away from the blood stain, like it was a puddle seeping through his soles.
Linda Petrucelli (she/her) is a writer obsessed with short form fiction and CNF. Her latest essays appear in Sky Island Journal, Pollux, Barren, and Gulf Stream Magazine among others. She placed runner-up in the Santa Clara Review Fall 2021 Flash Non-fiction Contest. Linda lives on the Big Island of Hawaii where she writes and shares a lanai with one husband and ten cats. Find out more about Linda on her website.