The armed visitor to the ten-story apartment building at 400 Columbia Street had gotten the idea all of a sudden: press as many buzzer buttons as necessary until anybody buzzed back and opened the locked lobby door. Having done that he quickly darted across the lobby in order to catch the elevator, sitting unused, at the ground floor. He stepped deftly inside and pushed the button that would get him up to the sixth floor.
As he left the elevator, he unzipped the summer-weight jacket which reached to just his hips. It served to conceal the holstered gun fastened to his belt. After making his way to apartment 6B, he pressed the door bell several times to no avail and then, in frustration, pounded on the door with his fist. He yelled, fairly loudly, "Grandpa! Grandpa! He waited a few moments and the door opened just as he was about to yell again.
"Hello Apu," sorry if I missed the bell, but I was at the window...."
"I know Grandpa "Apu said (his name was really Gordon Daniels, but he had earned the nickname "Apu" while trying to say the word "apple" when he was three years old) with a broad smile. "I truly love it that you like your 80th birthday present, but it has made it hard to get in here to see you these past three months. You were at the window with the "Super Ear" as usual, weren't you? That thing is sure a wonder, isn't it? I bet you can hear every word that's said in that nursing home park across the street, can't you?"
"You bet I can. Clear as a bell most of the time. You cops must use these "Ears" all the time, poking into other peoples' business. Want some coffee or tea? I've got one hell of a story to tell you from what I've seen and heard. Take a comfortable seat on the sofa. I'll bring you a beer. I know that's what you really want on a hot day like today. Just let me close the window first."
Clarkson Daniels, a retired former office manager for a real estate firm, was very proud of his tall and muscular grandson who was a detective with the New York City Police Department. He loved "Apu" almost without reservation and was very happy about the generous amounts of time that "Apu" spent with him every couple of weeks.
"You remember, Apu," Grandpa began, while loosening the belt of his favorite blue terry robe and pushing himself deep into his easy chair. When we were all considering whether I would be best off in a nursing home or in an apartment like this, we found out that the home across the street, "Golden Care," accepts only those patients who are willing to sign their "Life Care" agreement. Sure you remember. It's one of those where you sign over all your assets and they agree to care for you for the rest of your life."
"Yeah, Grandpa, I remember. It sounded like a good way to get some security against those rising home costs which go up every year. But on the other hand they'd be hoping that you wouldn't live too long. Could make a patient pretty (ha, ha) scared I think.
The elder Daniels awkwardly shifted himself in his easy chair, by avoiding any reliance on his right arm or leg, neither of which had ever returned to full strength after his stroke at age seventy-two. His eyes flashed brightly, then narrowed as he leaned forward toward "Apu" and spoke in a lowered voice, even though the two were alone in the apartment.
"Apu I had been noticing for about three weeks that old men would walk out of the home and sit on one of the benches. Then others would come out also but each one would find a bench where they would be completely alone. It didn't make any sense to me 'cause they'd sit out there sometimes for hours and say hello to strangers who passed, but never get together to talk to each other. It seemed to me that they would all naturally buddy-up, being all more or less in the same boat, wouldn't you think?"
"And I noticed something else, Apu, that was even stranger still. There was this one guy, I'll call him "Gabby," who looked to be about seventy-five, who would always sit down next to one of the older men, real close to them, and talk his head off. Occasionally, I'd be unable to hear all of what was being said because of that damned boom-box that crowd of young staffers of the Home play on their breaks and lunch hours. Stand up and look through the right side of my window and you can see them now."
"There's always a bunch of five or ten of them gathered around like they are right now, sharing joints and passing around some other kinds of dope, that could be anything. Their supplier comes around eleven o-clock every day and they all pitch in money to buy that poison."
As "Apu" was looking through the window, grandpa Daniels posed a question that he had often planned to ask but had invariably forgotten, until after "Apu" had ended his visit. He inquired, "Apu, would it be good for your career if you were to arrest those drugies? I could tell you exactly when to catch them? I might even be able to make some kind of a statement being an eye witness, if you were to need that to get them convicted. Want to do it? Whata you think?"
"Apu" smiled to himself, while his back was still turned. "That's okay Grandpa, to tell you the truth, it doesn't work like that. I can't just go investigating and making arrests in some other cops' territories. Who knows what they have going on already, maybe about these same perps, right this minute. Anyway, I'm much more curious about the old men talking on the bench that you were telling me about."
"Okay," Grandpa continued, somewhat disappointed, "but don't ever say you didn't get the chance. Like I was saying, this "Gabby" guy sits right up close on somebody who had been alone and jibber-jabbers away, as soon as the other guy starts reminiscing about himself. Well, you can imagine how surprised I was when I first got to understand what the "Gabby" guy would be saying. The two of them would be comparing what they had accomplished in their lives, like, you know, my kids are doctors, or lawyers or engineers, even dentists. I was a hero in WWII, got such and such medal, once became manager of a furniture warehouse; was married for fifty years to the wonderful love of my life, and so on."
"Can you believe, Apu, that everything the guy who was alone would brag about, this "Gabby" guy would claim he had done twice as well. He even carried around a packet of military medals and ribbons that he would show, along with newspaper clippings, battle photos, school rings, old big salary pay check stubs, all that stuff as proof of how much more man he had been than the other guy."
"Apu," politely asked for another beer as he struggled to hide a perplexed look, indicating that he had no idea of what his grandfather was getting at. He thought, "so what?"
"I know you're thinking I'm getting a little, or maybe a lot, senile," grandpa volunteered," but let me tell you something. I think the "Gabby" guy must have been reading the patients' records at the home because he would also put in a claim that he had carried on a sexual affair with the old guy's wife for several years. He knew the wife's name, their old addresses, what she had looked like, the ages of any children, when the wife had died and from what, on and on...."
"You're kidding me,"Apu," interrupted.
"Not on your life," his grandfather insisted. "He even would get his listener to believing that maybe his kids hadn't been his at all, that he and the old man's wife had played the old man for a fool year after year after year.. The "Gabby" guy was really clever, sincere sounding, like Ronald Reagan or any of those other actors turned politician. Can you imagine what that kind of treatment did to a poor old nursing home patient? Almost every one "Gabby" did that to broke down crying and moaning right there on the spot. He got them to believing every word he said. But, sure as shootin' they would still be anxious to talk to "Gabby" whenever he would show up. I guess they got to be gluttons for the attention; like being hypnotized by a cobra or something or even like getting hooked on heroin or coke or maybe opium. They never would realize that he was killing them, but sure enough, within two or three weeks they went into deep depressions, lost their will to live and passed on. It's a sad thing to see."
Grandpa Daniels, had been speaking in a quiet, conspiratorial voice for almost half an hour when his tone and volume changed and he suddenly sounded triumphant as he continued: "I had gotten a notion for a long while that this "Gabby" wasn't a real person. And just like I thought, I listened in to him and the Home manager talking by themselves on a bench one day and it all came out."
"Apu" was beginning to get mixed notions of belief and disbelief, wondering whether Grandpa Daniels was indeed becoming senile, but he was careful not to change the accepting look on his face, as he leaned forward to hear more.
Grandpa continued, at first a little loudly, then settling into the quiet tone again, "the guy was an actor, hired by the Home! He was actually forty-five years old made up to look like seventy-five. He was getting all the information he wanted from the Home's files and even from interviews of relatives while pretending to get background data on the patients for medical purposes."
"What do you have to say about that?" Grandpa Daniels asked as he leaned back in his easy chair while displaying a wide self-satisfied grin. "Not young flunkies smoking dope, but real, out and out murder! Now I bet you want to arrest somebody about what's going on over there, don't you?"
"Apu" unconsciously felt for the gun on his belt as he squinted at his grandfather with a half-frown, as though by looking hard he could see whether there was any reality in what he had just been told.
Grandpa Daniels pressed at what he felt was his great triumph. "Well, Apu when do we go into action? When are you going to bust that nursing home racket wide open and get us in the papers and all?"
"Apu" felt that he had to be very cautious so as not to insult grandpa and also to be certain not to make a fool of himself.
"Grandpa, the funny thing is that right now I can't think of any law that's been broken even if everything you say you saw and heard is exactly right. The Constitution says free speech is protected. If you talk somebody into depression and they die, nobody could prove that what you did was the cause, let alone prove that it was your intent to do that in the first place. It would simply be listed as a death from natural causes, you know. No crime!"
Grandpa Daniels stiffened as he began, "you mean to tell me that..." but he couldn't finish his thoughts because he worried that he might insult "Apu." He had a host of respect for his grandson but he believed that "Apu" had to be dead wrong about this. In a tone of conciliation, he suggested: "Why don't you give it some thought for a few days. Then we can talk about it again. In the meantime I'll go on listening and watching, maybe even make some notes, so if you decide to take action we'll be sure to have a strong case."
"Ok Grandpa, that's a great idea. But don't get yourself upset about it all, 'cause it might turn out to be a series of coincidences. Anyhow, I have to be going now, got to meet my partner on the Upper West Side to follow up on some leads in a real murder case. Thanks a lot for the very interesting story, and of course, the beers. I'll tell everyone at home that you send your love, and that they should call you more often." He smiled, hugged his grandpa and left.
During the following week, Grandpa Daniels twice saw one of the Home's patients, who had been getting most of the recent attentions of "Gabby," meet with the supplier of drugs to the Home's flunkies across the park. However Grandpa Daniels was annoyed that he coulnd't hear what they said to each other because of the noise of the ever present boom-box.
In the middle of the next week, "Apu" was shocked to his core when he read in the Daily News that: "a crazed patient of the "Golden Care" nursing home on Columbia Street fatally wounded an actor, hired by the home to entertain the patients, because he believed that the actor had once carried on a secret sexual relationship with the patient's deceased wife."