Victim. The word itself seemed cold, vulgar and totally medicinal. They weren’t victims, they were my neighbors.
Ferdinand was the timid man from across the hall who filled his life with the ever-changing whims of a pot bellied pig named Lois, and Barbara, a black cat of indeterminate age. They were like his children, coddled and spoiled and always with some sort of ailment between them. “Oh, Lois has a bit of cold, I’m afraid,” Ferdinand would answer if I asked how he was. “Barbara will no doubt be next,” he’d sigh, throwing his hands up in surrender and rolling his big brown eyes.
Ferdinand himself was always dressed in perfectly pressed khakis and a white button-down shirt. Not a cat hair to be found on his person. His brown loafers were polished till gleaming. When asked to describe him, I said he struck me as neat and a bit eccentric on account of the Lois and Barbara show. I couldn’t say much more.
Roland lived next door to me, to the left. He was the artist of the bunch. Why on earth he chose to live in our building, I’ll never know. The rooms were small and boxy. Not much light came in through the old, smudged windows. I once asked him why he didn’t rent out a big loft space with large windows. Roland shrugged and insisted he worked better in dark spaces.
Roland said he could live in a fancy loft, but why would he when he could live here, and at that he’d throw his head back and close his eyes, sighing contentedly. I saw his work a few times, he was so private about it, but it was pretty good. Subdued hues and cozy scenes, featuring people doing ordinary things like cooking and reading. I didn’t know much about Roland, either, I admitted. But I was sure he was a lovely person.
Cecile was the most cosmopolitan of the group. She lived kitty corner to me. Aged close to sixty, but you’d never know it. She acted French, but I don’t think she was. I’m not even sure Cecile was her real name. She was always wearing a beautiful dress, accompanied by totally non-sensible heels. Never did I see her without candy apple red lipstick painstakingly applied and her hair coiffed in an elegant chignon, her Hermes scarf trailing after her.
Cecile always waved flowery-like with her manicured hands and said, “Au revoir, ma cherie!” as she rushed past, on her way to what I imagined was an important gathering of beautiful, multi-cultural intellectuals. Cecile smoked Gitanes, one always dangling seductively from her hand, and she wore the most exquisite perfume, French no doubt. I could always tell when she’d been in the hall recently, a faint scent of glamour blossoming in her wake.
I was still smelling that scent when he detective kindly roused me from my revelry.
“Elizabeth, are you ok? Do you need a moment?”
“Oh, no,” I said jolting upright in my chair. “I’m sorry, but this is all sort of a shock to me. I mean, you know, I’ve only lived there a year, and couldn’t imagine in a million years that…well…”
“No doubt; I’m sure it’s a shock to you,” he said, looking at me with pity. “It would be for anyone.”
“What will happen to them?” I asked beseechingly? “I mean now that…” and I trailed off, wiping a tear from my cheek.
“Oh, well…the coroner will do the autopsies and the families will be notified. It’s all procedure, you know, and I can’t really speak much about the details of the investigation,” he said.
“Oh, god, yes, of course” I said, smacking a sweaty palm to my mouth. “It’s just awful. But I was actually thinking of Lois and Barbara. What will become of them?”
“I’m sorry,” the detective said, looking at me quizzically. “Who are Lois and Barbara?” He seemed genuinely perplexed by this.
“Oh…um, they are Ferdinand’s pets, or they were. I just wondered where they’ll go now.”
“I’m sure they’ll be taken care of properly,” he said while scribbling furiously on his notepad. “Would you excuse me please? I need to step out for a moment. Can I bring you a glass of water?”
He seemed overly excited in a way he shouldn’t be as a detective investigating the murders of four people, but I felt too tired to ponder this any further.
“Of course detective, whatever you need to do,” I said. “And water would be nice.”
The man stepped outside and shut the door to the room quietly. He turned to his colleague who had been watching from the other side of the two-way. “Did you hear that? Lois and Barbara are new. Same story as before, but now she’s adding in those two. What do you make of it?”
His colleague scratched his chin, sighed loudly and turned to the other man. “I think it’s getting old, this routine of ours, but I don’t see any other way to treat her. I do find the addition of pets, and such interesting ones at that, as a sign that her mental state is deteriorating even further. Let’s up her dosage of Haldol and see how she does.”
And with a flourish of hand, he signed an order for increased meds and handed it to the other doctor standing beside him. Then they both turned to watch as Elizabeth began talking to the ghosts of the murdered people in her head.
The man playing detective stopped and turned to his colleague and said, “Do you ever wonder if she’s actually telling the truth? Maybe these people did exist and maybe she killed them.”
His colleague didn’t respond. The only sound was their footsteps, echoes bouncing off the cement walls of the asylum.