The Upstairs Neighbour is a story I started last year. It started off as an assignment for a creative writing class, and I rewrote it into the first chapter of a novel I’m writing. I spent the second half of 2021 breaking down the rest of the story and figuring out where I want it to go. May 2022 I plan on posting chapter two, and then at least one chapter a month after that. What I am posting to Wattpad/Patreon/Substack is essentially the first or second draft of each chapter, and I am hoping to get feedback from the public and my patrons to determine what the final printed version of the story will be.
What is it about? Read below and find out:
It's not every day you find yourself being taken in for questioning. Usually just once a week. Maybe twice around the holidays. Today, private investigator Arthur King is certain the most excitement he is going to have involves collecting the drops of water from his leaky ceiling. Little does he suspect he will be knee deep in a gruesome murder mystery before lunch. Normally he would be far too busy to look into a case like this without being paid, but he is already in too deep, and needs to see it through. Besides, it's not like he has any clients banging on his door at this very moment. I mean, he might, but he's currently being questioned by the police, so it's not like he'd be around to answer the door anyway, right?
I hope you like it, and follow along here, or on Patreon, where I will be posting first drafts and behind the scenes materials.
I’ll shut up now and leave you now with the story:
The Upstairs Neighbour - Chapter 1: The Stain
Private investigating isn't the most glamorous job in the world, but it does have its perks, like working from home. The problem with working from home is that you always take your work problems home with you, and your home problems back to work with you. In this case, my upstairs neighbour has what sounds like a leaky waterpipe, and the water is making its way into my office/apartment and landing on my desk. I put out a salad bowl to catch the water. Lucky for me, I never eat salad. I probably should, I am getting to the age where I need to watch what I eat, but then I should probably exercise too. One problem at a time.
For now, I need to dump that salad bowl before it overflows. It has been dripping through all weekend, but the superintendent didn't get my messages until this morning. He needs to give Mrs. Lawrence twenty-four hours' notice before entering her apartment, so I need to keep bailing water until she either answers the door or the super lets himself in. The brown and yellow stain on what was once a pristine white ceiling is getting bigger and starting to bubble. Half of this ceiling will have come down on my desk by the time the leak gets fixed. Good thing I don't have any clients stopping by to experience my ceiling collapsing on them. Mostly because I don't have any clients right now. Like I said before, one problem at a time.
As I dump the sixth bowl of water down the bathroom sink, I notice the water is getting darker, a rusty red color. Maybe if I go up the fire escape, there is a chance that maybe, Mrs. Lawrence will have forgotten to lock her window, and maybe I can open it and let myself in. Maybe I'll just break the damn window and stop the leak myself before I find myself swimming in rusty water. It's funny I keep thinking maybe when I am already halfway out my window and climbing up the fire escape. The super is going to have words with me later.
When I start getting clients again, I should see about hiring a therapist to help me work though this impulsive behavior. Then again, if I get caught breaking into my neighbour's apartment, that therapy could very well be court mandated. The window that faces out onto the fire escape is open a good six inches, which makes sense to me, it's got to be close to 40 degrees Celsius today. Makes me wish I lived in one of those fancy buildings with air conditioning, but I settled for the one that at least had a washroom in every suite. It looks as though this window hasn't been opened in a while. The super must have painted with the windows closed. Multiple times. I see cracked and jagged rows of broken salmon pink, seafoam green, canary yellow, and a basic glossy white paint on top. You'd think he'd have at least cracked a window one of those times. Maybe he likes the fumes. Mrs. Lawrence isn't a strong woman. Her lungs are though, I can hear her screaming at her cats most of the day, and night, but that wouldn't have helped her crack open this window.
I lift the window open another twelve inches and work my way in. I really need to start working out. Sitting at the desk all day has got me out of breath already, and I don't think it's normal for anyone to lift their leg that high to break into their upstairs neighbour's apartment. I'll be sure to air my grievances about the window heights at the next tenants meeting. I half expect to see her laying on the floor in front of the window, having thrown out her back trying to open the damn thing. I holler her name to see if she's home or not. "Mrs. Lawrence? It's your downstairs neighbour, Arthur. I'm not here to steal anything, I just need you to let the super in."
"I might be here to strangle your cats." I yell. That was a joke to elicit a reaction. Still no answer. I don't think she's home. It occurs to me that for a small apartment with four cats, there is no stench of ammonia in the air. My eyes and nostrils should have been burning as soon as I entered the apartment. Only one window was open, possibly for the first time in 20 years, but there was no way this apartment should smell this clean. Looking around the living room I see the floors have been cleaned, the pillows fluffed, the chesterfield looks like one big scratching post, but clean. it probably looked nice when it was upholstered. Maybe the old lady was expecting company? I flip the light switch and look in her bedroom. The bed is made, all clothes appear to be put away. All the drawers on the mahogany dresser have been neatly closed with no clothes sticking out. Maybe I'm the only one who just dumps everything into a dresser drawer and considers it put away. I turn around and am shocked by the sight of fresh blood on the light switch. I look at my hand and am relieved its mine.
I borrow what looks like a hair scarf and wrap it around my hand. I follow the trail of blood back to the window. I must have cut myself on the jagged paint around the window frame when I let myself in. I was so concerned about a pulled groin I didn't even notice that I cut myself. I hope none of those paint chips embedded in my hand are lead based. One problem at a time I think to myself. That is starting to become my catchphrase. Someday I'll get that tattooed on the palm of my hand as a constant reminder about staying focused on the task at hand. This one being the cause of the leak in my ceiling. Still, it wouldn't be very neighbourly of me to leave a trail of blood behind me. It looks like a gory Family Circus cartoon in here. I dig through her room to find a towel, but the closest thing I can find to a towel are more scarves, and I think I've already ruined one. No linen closets in these closets, so I make my way to the kitchen. Maybe I can find some paper towels or something to clean this up before she gets home. That's probably where the leak is anyway. Also, where the hell are her cats? Did she take them with her? A vet appointment maybe?
I get an instant sense of dread in the pit of my stomach. I see brown stained towels pressed up against the bottom of the bathroom door. Mildew growing over the glossy white painted door. I brace myself as I kick away a towel and push the door open. It's not like in the cartoons where a tidal wave comes crashing through the doorframe as soon as the door is open. Nope, just a small collection of water that was being held back by some mouldy towels. Just enough to ruin my shoes as the rust-colored water rushes from the bathroom down the hall into the kitchen. I think I have found the source of the leak. I'll have to call the super and open some windows in here quick. Mop this place up before my entire apartment caves in.
That's when I see it and smell it. A body floating in an overflowing tub with a plastic bag duct taped around the neck. I don't have to get any closer to know that bloated corpse is Mrs. Lawrence. I see wounds on her wrists and throat. I have no idea how long she has been in here, but this just became a crime scene. I need to clean up my blood, wipe down the doorknobs and – I hear a loud shriek behind me. I turn around and I see the superintendent standing at the bathroom door. I look him in the eye and blurt out "Oh good, you're early!"