Loneliness in a big city can be a real punishment. That is why he had two friends living with him three months ago. And of course, to share the rent.
Will had fought with downheartedness for months because of circumstances he was convinced were not his fault. Despite the company of his friends, he still had to pay the rent alone. His friends would very much like to contribute to the expenses, but so far, they have not been able to do so.
There was only one bed and one mattress on the floor. His friends took turns sleeping there. Their food was extremely scanty, irregular, and consisted mainly of oatmeal and sometimes eggs. If they could not make it to eat dinner, they just drank water from the bathroom and went to bed on an empty stomach.
Tonight, however, Will's friends got lucky. They had been invited by an acquaintance to have dinner at a restaurant, and they had also been offered a job opportunity. They would not come back until late.
Will dropped into a chair. He could enjoy a lonely evening with the room all to himself.
During the day, he worked as a reporter for a gossip newspaper with sensational lying habits. He worked in courts, and at night when he was not too tired, he wrote sketches and stories for magazines that rarely saw the light of day.
This evening he was engrossed in an extremely complicated story of a psychological nature, and he had managed to work himself into a series of sentences that completely confused him. He was out of his depths, and he was not able to write his way out. If he had written it simply it would have been an interesting story, but he had chosen to delve into a difficult analysis of motive and character. And that was completely beyond him.
Will scratched his head, dipped the pen into the inkwell, stared out the blind windows, and sighed deeply. His mind kept wandering to food. The smell of cooking coming from a lower floor through the broken windows was a constant torment to him. He pulled himself together and returned to the problem on the paper in front of him.
He had forgotten what he had meant by his words. He was stuck and that confused him terribly. He should rewrite it. It was a grind, sure, and besides, he was tired and sleepy.
Ah, what did it matter anyway? He put his head in his hands and began to think deeply. His mind soon shifted from thinking to revering. He wondered when his friends would finally find work so they could relieve him of his financial burden. When would his luck turn?
His thoughts drifted behind him. Far behind. His house in the old country rose before him. He saw the lawn and the cedars in the sun. He started to suffer. He had to stop and drag his mind back to his psychological masterpiece. But he did not care anymore. It was always the same story. Once he got to the cedars in the sun, he did not want to go back. As far as he was concerned, the pages could be wiped off.
There was a soft knock on the door. Will was shocked. There was another knock, louder this time. Who in the world could be at this late hour of the evening? One floor above him lived a foolish man, who sometimes invited himself in and chatted endlessly. Nevertheless, Will always treated him with courtesy, aware that the man was lonely. But tonight, Will could not bear to be endlessly bored by his upstairs neighbor’s cackling.
-"Come on in." he cried. It didn't sound very cordial. The door opened. Will did not turn around right away. Someone had entered but said nothing. So, it wasn't the upstairs neighbor. Will turned around.
He saw a man of about fifty standing in the middle of the room. He could not see his full face, because the man was standing sideways. He wore a jacket buttoned up to the neck. Fresh raindrops glistened on the hat he held. In his other hand, he carried a black bag. He looked shabby but respectable. Will immediately sensed something was wrong.
Though young and inexperienced, Will knew a thing or two about offenders from his work in court. He felt that there was a criminal aura around this man. But it was more than that. There was something peculiar about this man, something that was not commonplace. The man radiated something inhuman.
-"You are Mr. William?" The stranger began in a quiet and respectful tone.
-"Yes, that's me." Will replied.
-"Mister William Hadrian?" the man continued with his question.
-"That's my full name, yes." Will said, "But won't you sit down for a minute?"
The man stepped forward with a strange sideways step and sat on the edge of the couch. He laid his hat on the floor at his feet but held the black bag firmly in his hands.
-"I came here because a benefactor of yours sent me here." the stranger said in a deep voice without raising his eyes. Will hoped the man would finally introduce himself, but he remained silent and waited.
-"A benefactor?" Will stammered. He did not know what to say.
-"Exactly!" the man replied, his eyes still on the ground. Will was wondering what would come out of his visitor's mouth next.
-"I have come to hand you something, and I must get a receipt for it." Will was staring intently at his strange visitor:
-"What do you have for me then?" he finally asked. In response, the man began to open the bag. He produced a package about the size of a book and loosely wrapped in brown paper.
The man took an unnecessarily long time to untie the knot of the string with which the package was tied. When the paper finally unfolded, a series of small packages appeared. The man carefully took out the packages and lined them up on his knees.
-"Here are twenty thousand dollars." he said calmly. Will tried his best to suppress a cry.
-"And they are for you." he continued.
Will gasped, "Twenty thousand dollars." he repeated with a strange feeling in his throat. "Are you sure they're for me?"
The man kept complete silence. Will felt elated with excitement. Was he hallucinating? Perhaps this man was mistaken. He could not believe his ears and eyes. It was too incredible.
He began to fantasize about what he could do with that money, and what he would say to his friends when they could come home later. He thought about his rent arrears and food. Clean linens, and so many other things that are only possible when excitement and surprise throw wide open the gates of the imagination. Very wide!
The man sat quietly counting the parcels. Will had never seen so much money put together in his life. But the excitement caused by the shock of such an event soon gave way to caution. It all seemed a bit too much of a good thing. After all, he had heard about people are seduced into dark things that can be used to extort with impunity. The city was undermined by extortionists and other abominations protected by the police.
It might have been absurd, but this was so unusual, and the thought would not let go of him. Will decided he had to be careful.
-"If you give me a receipt now, I can leave the money here." the man who never lifted his eyes from the carpet said, with a hint of impatience in his tone.
-"Can you tell me how or why I got such a large sum of money in this extraordinary way?" Will asked cautiously.
-" Because you need it very much." the man replied, "And it is a gift without conditions. You just need to give me a receipt."
-"A receipt." Will repeated.
-"To convince the sender that it has indeed been received." Will noticed that his visitor was in a hurry to complete the transaction.
If I take the money and hand over a receipt in front of a witness, what could go wrong, Will thought to himself. It would protect him from blackmail. His thoughts raced so fast, and under the strain of excitement, he was unable to weigh them all properly. He turned to his visitor and said softly:
-"This seems like a very unusual transaction, but I will take the money. I'll give you a receipt."
-"A receipt is all I want." the answer sounded.
-"But in front of a witness." Will tossed in.
"Completely satisfactory," the man interrupted his eyes still on his feet. "It has to be properly dated."
Will thought of Mr. Henderson, who lived in the room next to his. An old gentleman who was retired and said to keep large sums in his room, according to the property owner. But Will thought he was a respectable man and would at least be a good witness for such a transaction.
Will got up to get his neighbor. As he crossed the room to reach the door, he saw the other side of his visitor's face for the first time. There was a terrible blood stain on the skin from the ear to the neck. It gleamed in the dim light. Will's mind was in terrible turmoil. His first and main goal was to escape the room.
A pair of wicked eyes and a sly smile was suddenly directed at Will. It was that man's face, but in the mirror, looking at Will. His heart was pounding in his throat and all he could think about was how to get help.
After three jumps he started hammering hard on the miser's door as if his life depended on it. His fists did not seem to make a sound. He got no answer.
Perhaps Mr. Henderson was fast asleep. Will could not wait any longer, so he turned the handle and walked into the room. It was so dark he couldn't see anything. As soon as the hallway light began to dispel the darkness, Will was relieved to see his neighbor asleep in his bed.
He opened the door as far as it would go to let in more light and hurried over to the bed. He could see Mr. Henderson's figure more clearly now and noticed that he was fully clothed and that he was not under the covers. He also noticed that he was sleeping in an almost unnatural position.
Something grabbed Will to the heart. He tripped over a chair and stumbled on the floor. He called for Mr. Henderson to wake up. The man lay still on his bed, his throat cut from ear to ear.
There were dollar bills all over the floor, just like the man's bills he left in his room.
Devoid of his ability for movement, Will stood motionless. When his courage returned, he fled the room and ran down four steps at a time. He reached the ground floor but immediately charged back up the stairs to his room, determined to grab the man and prevent him from fleeing.
When he reached the landing, he saw that his door was closed. He grabbed the door handle and fiddled with it roughly. It felt slippery and kept spinning under his fingers without opening the door. After a few minutes it gave in, and Will burst head over heels into the room.
At first glance, he saw that the room was empty. Bills were scattered on the carpet, and half hidden under the sofa where the man had been sitting, he saw a pair of thick leather gloves and a butcher's knife. Even from a distance, the bloodstains were visible.
Dazed and confused by the terrible discoveries of the past minutes, Will stood in the middle of the room, overwhelmed and unable to think. Unconsciously, he stroked his forehead and noticed that his skin felt wet and sticky. His hand was covered in blood. He ran to the mirror and saw blood smeared all over his face. He remembered the door handle. He was so intoxicated with horror that numbness took hold of him. He was in a state of complete helplessness. What if the police came? The thought hit him like a clap of thunder.
The bell rang with a terrible roar. Male voices rang out excitedly and soon heavy steps began to come up the stairs in the direction of his room. It was the police!
Will started laughing like a fool. He was unable to move. He stood face to face with the evidence of a heinous crime, his face and hands smeared with the victim's blood, and the police were pounding down his door.
-"Here it is." He heard a voice calling. It was the man with the bag who led the police officers.
Barely knowing what he was doing, Will stepped forward. Two police officers approached and grabbed him.
-"Dinner!" a voice sounded in his ear.
Will spun around in his chair and looked into the face of one of his friends. A little further back he saw his other friend with a bottle of beer in one hand and a paper package in the other. He rubbed his eyes and looked from one to the other.
-"W... what is that? What have you got there?"
Will stammered, pointing at the parcel. His friend dropped it on the table.
-"Get up you sleepyhead and go boil water. We brought you eggs...