What does that old woman talk about? Simon watched from the corner of his apartment building as the little ancient lady sat on the lone bench out in front of it, talking to the air. Her rambling never grew above a certain noise level, but she kept at it for hours. Besides a chilling echo here and there, the noise pollution had died in this part of the city along with most of the jobs years ago. The crumbling structure had fewer tenants these days. Simon should have moved. He would have moved. If only he actually had the spine to do so.
He forced himself to take a step toward her. While he'd watched her from this corner nightly for weeks, he never got his blood up enough to approach her. Everyone must have thought she was a loon, but the only talk he ever got was his mother's rants about how he needed to get a job, move out and get on with his life. So this woman's madness gave him a strange warmth in his heart.
He forced another step. And then another. She continued on with her ramble. Simon closed his eyes and swallowed a whole apple in his throat. When he opened his eyes, she was standing and turned toward him.
“What are you up to, young fellow?”
“Listening to you, miss.”
She smiled through a hundred wrinkles. The head scarf she normally wore was gone, leaving her hair swaying like cobwebs from her tiny scalp. Still, Simon could see a gleam in her eyes, which despite the rest of her, appeared pale blue and bright as a child's. She waved him over to join her on the bench. Simon sat down before he could think about it.
“A skunk's smell...”, the old woman said, pointing a finger in the air, “...can be detected by a human a mile away.”
Simon watched her lean back with the utmost hubris over her knowledge. He smiled and nodded.
After a few moments, she waved around them and said, “All of these bricks. Bricks everywhere. Man and woman stoned into this cold existence. Did you know that St. Stephen is the patron saint of bricklayers? Now what do you think of that?”
Simon said, “Um...”
She sat for a while, for what Simon guessed was time to allow another odd fact sink in, as if it were important. The hundreds of bricks loomed higher and wider now. While she did have a point with the bricks, the rest of her statement made little sense. This was why no one ever sat with her. He felt a finger on his nose. He started to turn, but he knew it was her. After a giggle, she said, “You are the one.”
She removed the finger and Simon looked at her. “What?”
“In ancient Rome, it was considered a sign of leadership to be born with a crooked nose. You are the leader we need.”
That was it.
Simon stood and walked away. The kids back in school had teased him enough about his nose. He couldn't help it if God gave him a crooked nose or well, genetics or whatever the cause was for it. Every night when he got done walking about the city all day for a job or at least to get away from his mother, he went home and shut himself in his room after dinner. He should have done the same on this night. The old lady was just as cruel as the rest. All of her gibberish amounted to a cover-up for her own meanness.
Simon paused. When he looked back at her, he saw that she sat on the bench alone and while she wasn't crying, she wasn't talking and she slumped as if a great sadness had wrapped her up in a blue bundle. He should just go home, but what awaited him there but his scornful mother? The old lady saw something in him, apparently. He walked back to the bench and resumed his seat.
“What do you mean 'I am the one'?”
With a wrinkled hand over her mouth, she eased closer to him and then turned those ghastly eyes on the building across the street. It looked emptier than his own apartment building.
“You can set her free.”
Simon watched her, looked at the building then back to her. “Set who free?”
“The third floor. Third room on the right. You must pay and you will. I see it in you.”
“What are you talking about? There's a girl trapped up there?”
“It is an open ransom.”
“A what? Open ransom?”
“Anyone can set her free. You must give the man five hundred dollars. She will be free then.”
“You're telling me someone has kidnapped a girl and they want five hundred dollars for her release.”
After a brief pause, she leaned in close with a light in her eyes. “Anyone can pay.”
Simon watched the building on the third floor for any sign of life. He saw none. He turned back to the old lady and said, “How long-
“Did you know that a skunk's smell can be detected by a human a mile away?”
“Lady, talk to me. I need to call the police.”
“Yet, no one smells the skunks when they are right around them. The police have been called. They found nothing. This skunk knows how to cover up his stink.”
“How do you know about this?”
“All these bricks around...”
Although he tried to bring her back to reality, she refused. She even got up from the bench and talked her gibberish aloud to a few passersby. Simon returned to his usual corner. Looking up at the five-story building, he waited for a sign of the story she told him. None came. Whatever was up there couldn't be good. He should go on home.
Still, he didn't want to go home. This could be his chance to really do something. He never had such a chance his whole life. When his mother's TV got stolen, he wanted to go after the crooks, but couldn't. Another time, his father hit her and gave her a black eye. He tried to go after him, but his mother warned the old bastard and he fled from his house and hid from him. He wanted to be the hero those times, but he wasn't allowed to be. Yet now, he had that opportunity.
A look in his wallet revealed two hundred dollars. He shouldn't carry so much around, but he didn't want to be stranded with little money either. Still, he was three hundred short.
A girl's life hung in the balance. There was an ATM right around the corner.
As he expected, the first two floors sat vacant. However, an echo floated through the walls of someone there and people who had been there at one time. These old buildings were never alone. They were always open for actions good and bad and great and horrible.
He exited the dank stairway to the third floor. The single hallway stretched ahead of him like a spider's web you walk through before you see it. That echo died.
Simon took his time. He found that he was taking too much time. So he forced his feet forward until he got to the third room on the right and gave it a quick knock. The echoes returned. He stepped close to the wall. A muffled voice from the room said, “Leave the money in front of the door.”
Simon took out the money from his pocket and placed it on the floor. He was nearly to the stairwell when he stopped. He returned to the door, knocked again and said, “I need proof of life.”
Simon scooped up the money and said, “Then you don't get paid.”
He waited for the voice to reply but nothing came. A thumping ran through his blood against his bones. The door opened, revealing a figure in the shadows that was clearly a man about six feet tall, but he couldn't tell anything else about him. A cold object pressed into his cheek.
“This is a .38 special. It will result in a special, closed casket funeral for you. Do you understand me?”
“Now, walk very slowly toward me and don't let the barrel leave your cheek. You walk in step with me. Walk.”
Simon did as he was told. The barrel left his cheek for a split-second but Simon caught up to it. The figure said nothing. Once he was inside, the figure shut the door and held the barrel to the back of his skull.
“Give me the money.”
Simon handed it behind his back. The figure snatched it and handed him over a flashlight.
“Point it at the corner. Turn it on.”
Simon complied. The light revealed a young woman who Simon believed was in her early twenties, with long hair that appeared unwashed. She wore a sleeveless shirt, shorts and a ring on her finger, but not a wedding ring.
“Now you have proof. Get down on the floor.”
“Is she alive?”
“Down. On. The.”
Simon didn't wait for the last word. Instead he turned and clipped the figure in the face with a right handed punch and then kept swinging. The pistol exploded in the shadows, but missed and Simon swung and swung. His fists clipped bone and flesh and his knuckles cracked and saliva sprang from his lips. He'd never thrown such rage at a human being in his life.
Finally, he stopped swinging. He stood over the figure with hot blood on his hands. And he was trembling. He could swear there was an earthquake going on down below.
Kneeling down, he stepped to the girl. Feeling of her neck, he checked for a pulse. There was one, but it was weak. Rising up, he happened to peer out of the window. The old lady sat on her bench talking. Raising the window, he yelled out to her to get the police. She paused and stared at him.
Simon found himself on the floor. He had a hole in his stomach. The figure must have woken up much quicker than Simon would have thought possible after the beating he dished out. Letting out a long grown, he turned over and fumbled until he found the flashlight. With a flick of the switch, the beam came to life, illuminating the wall.
When he swung the beam around, he saw the figure- the kidnapper himself- crawling along the floor. The beating really had gotten to him. A trail of Simon's money followed him. Simon swung the beam to the girl. She stirred in the softest way. One blue eye stared over at him. The last thing he saw was her sigh with what he hoped was relief.
Simon was on the stretcher moments later. The EMTs shoved him through the front door of the abandoned building. He had already seen the girl loaded up as well with oxygen being administered and talk of how lucky she was. The kidnapper himself had passed out and was carried off as well.
As Simon passed by the old lady on the bench, she stopped talking, pointed to her nose and nodded to him with a smile. On the ride to the hospital, he imagined his mother's reaction to the news that her little boy had saved a poor girl from dying. No matter what happened from here on out, Simon would be a hero and perhaps all of those small echoes through the land of brick and mortar could be quiet for at least a while.
Bio: My name is Anthony David Mitchell. I write crime fiction and currently have four novels available on amazon.com. The newest is "Who You Work For" which is the first book in my Thomas Moore book series.