Waking up early for no reason is annoying enough. I didn’t need a stranger staring at me as well.
His face pressed against the sidelight window next to my balcony door, leering up from the foot of my bed. His features were distorted, but I managed to make out clear blue eyes and dirty blond hair.
I grimaced. You’d expect more privacy in the top rear apartment of a four-story walk-up.
I glared at him.
He didn’t even blink.
I thought he might go away if I went back to sleep. Better yet, I hoped I was still asleep, dreaming him. I shut my eyes and rolled over.
My alarm clock disagreed.
I turned back to the window. “Still there?” I muttered, adding a few choice curses. Grateful that, for a change, I’d bothered slipping on pajama bottoms the night before, I finally climbed out of bed.
I grasped a heavy bookend in my right hand and reached for the door latch with my left. My fingers paused against the cool metal. The intruder still didn’t move. Now I saw why. His lips were pressed, distorted, against the glass, but the pane remained unfogged.
That wasn’t fair. He wasn’t my corpse. I hadn’t put him there. And now he was my responsibility.
I backed off, took a caramel candy from the jar on my dresser and popped it in my mouth. Saliva helps me think, gets my creative juices flowing. I needed to review my options.
My balcony sat on the roof of a setback. Lower apartments in the line were roomier, compensating for the lack of an outdoor facility. Buildings on the block were attached, as were the setbacks. A shoulder-high picket fence protected me from the monotonously non-flowering illicit plants cultivated by my neighbor to the west. Even were that vegetation thick enough to conceal a body for a day or two, said neighbor would almost certainly toss it back on my side.
That might even be how the body got here in the first place.
I considered heaving the corpse over my waist-high railing. It would land in the backyard of the ground floor tenant, a nice white-haired lady who’d tried to look after my cat while I was in hospital. That seemed ungrateful. It wasn’t her fault the animal got out of the backyard, onto the street, to get hit by a cab. I still sometimes need to remind myself not to blame her.
Both plans were deeply flawed. Forty or fifty rear apartments on the next block faced mine. So did the upper floors of the hotel across from them. There was certain to be someone watching.
This was a two caramel problem.
How much did the dead man weigh? More than my slender frame could handle, I guessed. With a baggage carrier, I might wrestle him downstairs and over two blocks to the Hudson River, but there was the same issue of observers. If there’s anything residents of Manhattan’s Upper West Side enjoy more than spying on neighbors from their windows, it’s doing so from their stoops. Even at six in the morning.
I contemplated other increasingly grisly and ridiculous scenarios for disposal. Once they were out of my system, I did what I knew I would have to do all along.
I phoned the police.
I heated enough hot water for a dozen cups of tea or instant coffee, as a courtesy to my official visitors. The fresh mug of cocoa was for me. My sour stomach deserved some pampering.
Lieutenant Chesney, the lead detective, arrived with his team within half an hour of the uniformed police. His shoulders were broad. He smelled of peanuts. His sky-blue tie was knotted left of center. He didn’t want a caramel. His questions mostly mirrored those the officers had already asked. I pretended they were new. Neither of us was fooled.
“The name Roger Baker means nothing to you?” They’d gotten that, presumably with other details, from his wallet.
“I’d never seen the man before. Under any name.”
Chesney scribbled in his notebook. “That’s an interesting qualification.”
“His ID might be phony.” I finished my cocoa, frowning at the scum of chocolate that always remains on the bottom, no matter how much I stir. “My apologies. It’s a mental trick I use to calm myself. I look at what’s bothering me from every angle. The less likely the scenario, the better. It gives my mind something to do, helps soothe my nerves.”