Sylvia and Abraham Abramovitz still occupied the same second floor apartment that he remembered from his youth.
Living on the first floor was Robert Blalock, the son of the building’s owner, and his family. And the Schuster’s lived on the third floor.
Both buildings were exactly the same on the inside with a large front room which lead to a nice size dining room where everyone gathered on Sundays. A narrow hallway connected the front rooms to the kitchen. On one side of the hallway were two small bedrooms and on the other side was the family’s one and only bathroom. At the back of the kitchen was a small room without a closet. It was stifling hot in the summer and chilly in the winter. That was his bedroom. Saul Abramovitz had the exact same bedroom in this building. On hot summer nights they would open their windows wide and talk across the narrow gap that separated their buildings. That was years ago. Thirty years ago to be exact.
He and Saul were part of a pack that included Sam Larstein, Curtis Brooks, and Rebecca Schuster. Rebecca had a love/hate relationship with them, he recalled. She loved tagging along but hated the fact that they were in charge of her safekeeping. “She’s a girl, and you boys are like big brothers. It’s your job to keep an eye on her and make sure she doesn’t get hurt, lost, or stolen by some stranger.” His father told him that whenever he complained about Rebecca following after them. “She should go play with the girls and do girl’s things”, he whine. His father smiled and said, “Soon enough you’ll want Rebecca following after you.”
As he remembered it, they were good kids. Yes, they were curious and adventurous as most young kids their age are. But they never got into any real trouble. At least, not until the neighborhood pets started disappearing. That was in the spring of nineteen sixty one.
He pressed the buzzer for R. Schuster but did not get a response. He couldn’t help but wonder why Rebecca was still living in her parent’s old apartment. Had her curiosity about life been stifled by her illness? He wondered if the years had been kind to her. Had the old timers in the neighborhood forgiven her? Or were they still keeping her at a watchful distance because of what happened in sixty-one? Was that why she’d never married?
He rang the bell again. No answer. Suddenly, he felt conspicuous standing in the hallway outside of Rebecca’s door. He felt as if he were somehow prying or snooping. He held his head down so no one could see his face, and his left shoe kicked aimlessly at the gray and black tweed rug that was in front of her door. Shit, she was probably away for the holidays, he thought. After a few anxious minutes, he gave up, walked downstairs, and pressed the buzzer for Abraham and Sylvia Abramowitz. And elderly woman’s voice answered. “Yes.” Mrs. Abramovitz, asked Frank. “Yes.”
“My name is Frank Roberts and I used to live in the building next door. I was a friend of Saul’s.”
“Oh yes, Morrie and Edna’s little boy.”
“Mrs. Abramovitz I was wonder whether you could spare me a moment of your time?”
The apartment smelled of mothballs, lavender, and Lemon Pledge. He remembered Sylvia Abramovitz as a tall, dark haired woman who gave them lemon-aide and home-made butter cookies. Now in her seventies, Sylvia Abramovitz was a tiny frail gray-haired woman bent over from arthritis. She ushered him into the front room and offered him a cup of tea and store bought butter cookies shaped like little flowers.
They talked for well over an hour. From her he learned that Saul had become a dentist and was living in Westchester, a well-to-do New York suburb. And yes, Samuel Larstein had visited last month speaking with both her and Rebecca Schuster. He thanked her for her hospitality and left.
Before leaving, he thought he’d try Rebecca’s door one more time again. He climbed the steps like a man in his late forties being careful to make sure that his foot was solidly planted on a stair step before taking the taking the next one. Age was hot on his heels, he thought to himself. And he realized that he was climbing these steps more out of a need to compare lives than a belief that Rebecca was a murderer.
He was a little winded when he reached her door but happy too. Was her hair still a crown of vivid red ringlets? The door bell rang and nothing.
He was on his way down the stairs when he saw them coming in – David Walker and a woman he’d never seen before.