By Lou Gaglia
Regular readers of our rag may remember a story last month about Jay Gills, 21, whom carpet cleaners discovered after knocking on his apartment door each morning for three weeks in the hope of getting paid before finally breaking in, only to find him sprawled across the kitchen floor. A dented copper-bottom percolator lay next to his equally dented skull, and there was no blood or checkbook in sight. The detectives at the scene grilled the cleaners for several hours but released them after they insisted that staple guns were their method of forcing payment and only savages would use coffee pots.
The case has received more attention recently after a family member of Mr. Gills, who wishes to remain anonymous, found his diary and submitted it to this paper in the hope that it would shed light on her brother’s murder and also clear him of the suspicion that he failed to act last December when the electronics plant where he was security guard caught fire. Mrs. Waters, formerly Ms. Gills, of 35 Amber Lane, told our throng of editors, off the record, that clearing her brother’s name and solving his murder are her only ambitions, and that she has no interest in securing her brother’s impressive percolator collection, which is now up for grabs.
The final entries of Mr. Gills’ diary are reproduced below. Grammatical errors and food stains have been removed in the interest of clarity.
August 28 Again my mother failed to include a Milky Way with my dinner. It is hard enough making my hourly rounds, including having to pass through that crazy room with all of those zapping machines. Even worse is the jammed candy machine near the cafeteria, with its Kit Kats and its Milky Ways side by side. Still, that wouldn’t be a problem if only she would pack me one simple Milky Way. I’m twenty-one years old, and I can’t even get my dinner packed right. I’d like to see her try to pull all-nighters in this place with nothing but a phone at the desk and the hum of radiation-filled machines in the room down the hall.
August 29 The coffee machine in the back room doesn’t work either. I became increasingly despondent as I made my 11 o’clock rounds, wondering why we are put on this earth, and then I had a thought—that maybe we all have individual missions to accomplish while we’re here, and that once we complete our particular mission, then we’re marked for death. In that case, I hope I don’t have to complete my mission until I’m ninety-seven.
Before I began my shift, I went to Dunkin’ Donuts for coffee and held a door open for a mother pushing a stroller. I stood patiently with a smile while she crashed the stroller into the side of the door on the first two tries. Later she thanked me very much and tried to give me a quarter, but I gallantly refused. Now I wonder if that was my life’s mission all along and that maybe tonight I’ll die in a nuclear explosion when I have to walk through that crazy zapping room. Then on my way to the Light, God might say, “Good job holding that door. You really helped her out, man.”
August 30 The stupid boss gave me hell, telling me that I have to punch the clock at every stop on my rounds, even in that crazy room. So tonight I sprinted through it, punched in, and sprinted out. Later in the men’s room, I washed my face and arms free of possible radiation and shivered over what my charred body would look like in case of an explosion.
I remembered when I was around ten. There was a fire in our house at nighttime. My mother had left the stove on and a pot melted. In my hurry to get out of bed, I became tangled in the sheets and had to kick my pajama bottoms off. Then they got all twisted up with my underwear as I hurried to put them on again, with my mother screaming at me to run. Outside, the neighbors were on our lawn, and sirens screamed down Third Avenue toward our house. Mr. Taylor our neighbor wasn’t paying attention to the fire, though. He was smirking at me. Confused, I looked down and saw that my underwear was outside of my pajama bottoms. When the firefighters arrived, I sneaked into the backyard to change, then saw one of them looking dully at me from the back kitchen window. I was embarrassed then, but now, as an adult, I wonder why the hell he wasn’t doing his job. Stupid fireman.
September 2 Last night I found an old drip coffee machine and a half-pack of filters in the back room. Excited, I passed up Dunkin’ Donuts tonight and bought myself a can of coffee and brewed my own. It smelled good as I made my rounds, even from the other end of the building. Then I swiped a carton of milk from the cafeteria and returned to the machine and tried a cup. It was awful.
For the rest of the night, between rounds, I sat at an office worker’s computer and researched the best coffee makers. I found percolators for sale and was fascinated. I’d thought they were obsolete, but there they were staring me in the face. So I let myself be late for my 3 a.m. rounds as I researched the best percolators and the best coffee to percolate.
September 3 I couldn’t decide on one particular percolator so I bought three of them this morning at Macy’s. One of them has a copper bottom and the other two have stainless steel bottoms but with different kinds of handles. I also had to buy a hot plate so I could perk the coffee and keep myself awake.
Last night I’d fallen asleep at the computer, and when I woke up at around 4 a.m., I heard a cough. It came from the direction of that radiation room in the back, so I didn’t go down there, and tonight when I began my shift, the boss gave me hell because he said there’d been a break-in.
“I must have just missed him,” I said, but he didn’t seem satisfied. Lucky for me I’d decided to leave my new copper-bottom percolator and a fresh pack of organic coffee in the car until I got situated inside. Maybe God was watching out for me up there in the Beyond. He didn’t want me to get fired, maybe, so he put a thought into my head (Leave the coffee pot in the car until later, stupid) because He knew the boss would be there to break my chops over a simple break-in at the back door. Meanwhile, that door was probably broken already. Stupid boss.
September 4 Tonight I stole a few scoops of coffee from my mother’s cabinet when she wasn’t looking. Later she caught me grabbing one of her mugs and said something, but I used logic on her (“How can I drink coffee without a mug?”). She couldn’t think of a comeback right away, so I beat it out of the house.
On my way to work I mused that it was about time I got my own apartment anyway. After all, I had my own mug and a few percolators, and all I needed to do was pack my clothes, buy a bed, and make sure I had a kitchen. Then I’d be on my own.
Because of all that musing, and because I’d stopped to buy an extra percolator, I was a little late for work, and the boss gave me hell and warned me for the last time. After he finally left, I tried Mom’s coffee, using the new percolator, and it was the best coffee I ever had. Maybe it was the percolator itself, or maybe my perking skills are blossoming.
At around midnight I brought a hot coffee along on my rounds, figuring to splash any intruder in the face. I stopped in the bathroom and took a few sips while watching myself in the mirror. I wondered if I could make coffee commercials someday and afford a bigger apartment. Then I became a little philosophical. I moved very close to the mirror and stared into my own eyes and wondered about the afterlife again. I figured there had to be an afterlife, because logically, how could life have coffee and women in it only for us to die into nothingness someday, just like that? I thought of the counter woman Millie at the Dunkin’ Donuts, that maybe I should give up making my own coffee and return there and meet her. Maybe I could ask her, by way of making conversation, if she thought there was coffee in Heaven. But maybe that would be too personal. That’s a question only married people ask each other.
Still, as I sipped and stared into the mirror, I wondered if I’d ever done anything bad enough to keep me out of Heaven. After all, I’ve held doors open for people. I’ve never won a fight. I’ve prayed whenever I’ve been scared, and I’ve felt bad for people who are stuck with flat tires at the sides of roads. So why wouldn’t I make the cut, I thought. I’d never really bothered anyone, except for teachers at school, maybe, and they didn’t really count—especially the math teachers, I joked to myself, and I laughed my way out of the bathroom.
Rick Sellman, my old elementary and high school classmate, was laughing too, and he scared the hell out of me. He was outside the bathroom door, cackling, and his eyes were wide.
“Rick.” I gulped.
He laughed again.
Rick had a crazy laugh. In junior high school, when Danny Costello fainted in the hallway, Rick kicked him in the ribs and told him to get up, and he cackled when Danny stayed on the ground moaning. After high school, he dated my sister for about two months before she found out he stole a car. He wouldn’t let her break up with him, though. He said that he, not she, would decide when they broke up. Then he broke up with her two days later.
“What are you doing here, Rick?”
“Looking for Kelly,” he said, staring me in the face.
“Kelly, who’s Kelly?”
“Kelly. You know Kelly.”
“I don’t know any Kelly, Rick.”
He came closer to me. “You know her.”
“Rick, I don’t even know who Kelly is. I’ve never known a Kelly.”
“You just denied me three times,” he said, and he cackled.
“How’d you get in?”
He stared at me.
“You want some coffee?”
He smirked. “Does Kelly like coffee?”
“I don’t know any Kelly, Rick.”
“Do you believe that Kelly likes coffee?”
“I don’t know.”
“Do you believe that I could kill you right now, without even moving from this spot?”
I looked into his crazy eyes, and I said slowly, “Yes. I believe you.”
He laughed again, his eyes wide.
“But Rick, I’m just working here. There’s no one here.” He seemed to be thinking that over, so I walked past him back to my station. He followed me and watched me as I poured another cup of coffee and sat at the security desk. After a while, he moved close to me and patted my shoulder.
“You’re all right, man,” he said, patting. “You’ll be all right…Poor kid.”
I took a sip. “Thanks, Rick.”
“But if you tell anyone I was here, I’ll kill you.”
“Okay, but Rick, why would I say anything?”
He thought about that, then looked over my shoulder toward the back room. “What’s that?”
I turned to look. There was nothing, and when I turned back, he was gone. And for the rest of the night, I didn’t move from my station or complete my rounds. I listened for footsteps or the sound of a door but couldn’t hear anything besides the humming and zapping from that stupid room.
September 6 I found an apartment yesterday morning. It has a kitchen and it has outlets and it has enough ceiling room for my head. The cabinets above the stove are perfect for my percolators, and the building is a short walk to the harbor. I dreamed of buying myself bacon and egg sandwiches each morning after work and sitting near the dock and watching the tied-up boats bob around and go nowhere.
Last night at work, though, I was tired. I didn’t dare sleep for my usual fifty-minute intervals because I didn’t know if Rick was going to return and kill me. At about 2 a.m., though, I couldn’t help but nod off, and I stayed asleep until almost dawn when I woke to a steady piercing alarm. Blaring sirens came closer. I’d just reached the door when firefighters hurried in, and I pointed in the direction of the back room. The last firefighter who came through made a wisecrack, something about napping on the job. I stared at his disgusted face as he went by. And then there was nothing for me to do, and nowhere to go, and I didn’t want to stand there and take any more grief from those firefighter bums, so I grabbed my percolators and left.
Now I don’t know what’s worse, getting caught with underwear outside my pants or sleeping on the job when a fire starts. I just hope that this affair doesn’t interfere with my possible trip to Heaven when I’m ninety-eight and that there is no spiritual detour to a place where I’ll run into that crazy Rick Sellman again.
At least at home I can drink my own coffee from my own mug and not have to sneak it, and maybe I’ll invite Millie up for a cup or two. Maybe I could even grab Mom’s old carpet that’s been gathering fungus in the basement and put it down and look up some carpet cleaners to fix it up nice and fluff it out before Millie visits. She’d be impressed. And here in my new place, no will ever find me unless I want them to find me, especially Sellman with his crazy laugh. I only hope that he’s never gone out with Millie or even knows who she is, or I’m dead.
Meanwhile, I know for sure that whatever my mission in life is, I probably haven’t completed it yet, so I’m safe for now. When I’m ninety-nine, maybe I can help some little neighbor runt with his homework, and then I can say to God, “All right, you can take me now,” and on my way to the Light, He might say, “Good job teaching that kid fractions. You really helped him out, man.”