Plywood Walls

Submitted into Contest #148 in response to: Write a story involving a noise complaint. ... view prompt

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Suspense Crime Drama

                                                Plywood Walls

    I took it for as long as I could. So did Dean and Bob. But at last we had no choice but to head over to the property management office a few blocks down the beach where we laid it out: William was out of control we told Maggie, the woman who handled our fourplex for the out of town owners.   From the day he moved in  things had been getting progressively worse and now that  his girlfriend had moved in with him it had become intolerable.  The worst of it was the awful sound when he  shoved his girl around his apartment and she caromed like a rag doll off the thin common wall that separated his bedroom from mine. It happened regularly late at night and it was loud enough so that Dean and Bob, who shared the other charmingly  ramshackle two unit building across the narrow courtyard, were also awakened by the thuds.

    We liked Maggie. She was as much a surrogate mother to the three of us young single guys as she was a property agent. Maggie was middle aged and plump and always wore bright red lipstick. Her mouth turned down and she shook her head when we finished. “Just before you boys arrived I got a call from the plumber we sent over to fix his sink. The plumber said William accused him of botching the job.”  She looked at us. “You  need to know William showed the plumber a gun in his waistband and chased him out.”

    Bob, Dean and I looked at each other and then back at Maggie. “What are you going to do?” Dean asked her.

    “Evict him, of course. But that will take time. Meanwhile,  avoid him as much as possible guys, none of us want this to escalate.” Maggie nodded at each of us in turn. “Look. I can put you in other apartments at the same rate if you’d like. But I can’t guarantee you’d be together. Think about it, o.k.?”


    The three of us held a pow-wow in Bob’s place that afternoon. It made sense to take Maggie up on her offer, but if we did we’d have to go through the hassle of packing and moving and relocating to other beach properties which likely wouldn’t match the funky charm of the fourplex we had called home for almost two years with its colorful mosaic table in the courtyard, access to the surf just a few steps away and, best of all, it’s location within crawling distance  of the best pubs the beach had to offer. In addition, we reasoned, William contained his fury to his own apartment. If we kept our distance and avoided a confrontation as Maggie advised he’d be gone in time. That was our notion. Looking back on it now I wish we’d left.


    I had finished grad school when I moved in. Dean was still doing his master’s degree and Bob got by as a handyman which gave him lots of time to surf. We’d all moved in within a couple months of each other and instantly bonded. There were bar-b ques on the patio and happy hour wine parties with some ladies we’d met over that first summer and endless sunsets shared   from the bungalow roofs. The occupant of the fourth unit was an older man who was nice enough but also wise enough to know that when a bunch of guys in their twenties moved in, it was time to move out. 

    And then came William.

    He was older than we were, pushing forty. Slight, long black hair pulled back in a pony tail, a wispy mustache and beard gracing a face the main feature of which was a nose that looked like it had  been broken more than once. He smoked a lot of cigarettes and even more dope and when he laughed it sounded like his throat was plugged with mucus. We soon discovered he had a coke habit.  And he had a lot of tattoos in the days when tattoos were not common. Rough tattoos at that, nothing artistic. Just black and blue blotches on his arms and shoulders. Not long after he moved in and before relations soured he told Dean he’d been inked in prison.


    I started dating one of the ladies we’d met that first summer, a wonderful woman named Jean who was studying Sociology and loved living  close to the ocean. I came to realize that this was my first real adult romance, the connection of two young people committed to  success in their chosen fields but at the same time delighting in the quiet confidence couples find in  mutual interests and the affection held by each for the other. We ran on the beach and body surfed together, discussed the books we’d read, laughed ourselves silly watching funny films and held hands a lot. Dean and Bob told me I’d found something special. And one night, while lying in  bed, Jean put her hand on my chest and whispered  she loved me. 

    A full time teaching job didn’t come right away, so to earn a few extra bucks while I worked as a sub I taught kids to play guitar. Nothing fancy, just simple chords to songs that were popular at the time. Small classes, four or five boys and girls. We met at the local rec center and the city paid my stipend.  The first thing I did in the morning after a cup of coffee and an  unhealthy breakfast of doughnut holes was to tidy up my place, head out to the beach to scope out the surf and then around mid-morning get out my Gibson and play for maybe thirty or forty minutes. Knowing how thin the plywood was between William’s unit and mine,  I played in my tiny living room facing away from our common wall.  I also used a real light nylon pick so the sound was muted. He’d been living in his unit for about a month when the first note appeared on my door:

                      PLAY SUMWHERE ELSE. YOU WAKE ME UP.

    OK, I thought, I’d be more considerate. I pushed back my practice time to noon if I didn’t have a substitute assignment  but that didn’t work either.  A short time later a second more impolite note was tacked to my door: 

                        WHAT DON’T YOU GET, FUCKER


    William’s girlfriend moved in with him a few weeks later. She was painfully skinny and without a hint of hips or boobs under her jeans and tube tops and her complexion was vampire white. I rarely saw either of them—they usually entered and exited by the second door the units had at the back of  their tiny kitchens-- but I could hear muffled talking through the plywood in the afternoon and their door shutting in the evenings as they made their way out, not to return until the early morning hours. Dean was certain they were dealing.  William began his rages when they returned, fueled either by alcohol or coke or both. I could hear it building, the louder his voice became, the quieter grew the voice of the girl. And then came the sound. I could trace where they were in their bungalow  by the intensity of the thudding and the seismic shake of the plywood walls. If she fell, it stopped. When she got up, it began again. I expected her to cry or scream but she never did.   I listened, flinching in bed in anticipation of the next blow as if I were  the victim.  It was after several of these horrible  sleepless nights  that the three of us had gone to see Maggie.

     William got his eviction notice and  figured out his neighbors had gone to the management company and made the complaint. He and his girlfriend became entirely invisible after that, hunkered down inside during the bright sunlit hours, venturing out only after dark. Sleep was hard to come by and  I found myself counting down the days until he would be gone.   Then a note appeared on his front door written in block letters with a wide marker pen, the better to make sure Bob and Dean and I wouldn’t miss it as we walked through the courtyard. The note read:



    I had dinner that night at Jean’s place and told her about it. She put her fork down and looked solemnly at me. “Blake, you’ve got to get him out now. Please go back to the office tomorrow and tell them about this. Please.”

    Maggie threw up her hands when I told her. “Blake, honey, this is the sort of thing where we’ve done all we legally can. If his girlfriend doesn’t call the police because she’s being abused, there’s nothing else to be done. He will be evicted, I’ve seen to that. But he hasn’t directly threatened any of you boys with mayhem, has he?”

    “No,” I said. “But that note… and you do know he’s done prison time.”

    “Yes, but now he’s out. It was all on his rental application, he’s off parole.”

    “He might use the gun on his girlfriend,” I said. “Or just aim it at my bedroom wall.”

    Maggie shook her head. “You boys didn’t want to move, so you’ve got to avoid him.”


    Shortly afterward  a second note made an appearance on William’s door:



    By my count the clock on the thirty day eviction notice would run out just after Thanksgiving. There was no sign that William was going anywhere and   when the sea breeze blew from the north a stench wafted out of his place and into the courtyard.


     Jean and I decided to spend Thanksgiving together at the beach rather than head north to see our folks. She cooked the turkey, I brought mashed potatoes and a tube of cranberry I’d bought at the supermarket. That November the rains had come early and hard and the narrow beach alleys  flooded until they resembled  Venetian canals as  I sloshed down the boulevard to her place in high rubber rain boots. Jean had to work Friday morning so I kissed her goodnight after dinner and waded my way home. There was no wind with the downpour  and I could hear  the melded sounds of surf and raindrops as I walked into the courtyard. Bob had left for the holiday but Dean’s light was on and I could see him through the living room window.  I was tempted to knock on his door for a mid-evening chat but decided I’d better get inside and get some decent sleep while William’s unit was dark.  The rain hosed down and I fell asleep to the lullaby.  

     I was jolted awake initially by what felt like an earthquake—the heavy mosaic table in the courtyard being pushed over—followed by  pounding on my door and some guttural sounds I didn’t recognize and a voice I did. “Come out, fucker, I’m going to kill you!” More pounding. All I had on were boxer shorts  as I bolted  out of the bedroom  towards the living room. Still more pounding. The door buckled but didn’t give and  I heard William  slam the front door of his apartment  followed by a snarling through the plywood about ‘the little prick next door.’ And then came the sound of something else: A drawer jerked open followed by the metallic click of a hammer drawn back.

           I didn’t think. I didn’t need to. Because for weeks I had been rehearsing what I would do if this nightmare came to pass. I’d gone over the scenarios a hundred times and now that it was real I pulled open the kitchen door and ran, first away from the fourplex in case William was waiting for me out front, and then down to Jean’s. She opened up and stood wide eyed and slack jawed while I shivered  in the rain. “He’s trying to kill me,” I said.

    Jean threw a blanket around me as I dialed Dean. In a low voice he said “He’s walking up and down the courtyard, Blake.”

    “Do you see the pistol?”

    “Tucked into his pants now,” Dean said, then, “Wait—he’s settled down on his front steps and his girlfriend is sitting with him.”

    “I’m going to call the cops,” I said.

    “I think he’s calming down,” said Dean.

    And then came the sound of glass shattering. “Call the cops!” Dean yelled  I knew he was heading for his kitchen door.


    I moved out the next day with a little help from my friends and a police officer who stood by keeping an eye on William’s unit from beyond the shattered courtyard table. “He’s got a gun,” I told the cop.  The officer patted his holster. “So do I.” Dean moved shortly thereafter and Bob, having learned  what transpired on Thanksgiving night, followed suit.

    Good to her word Maggie worked hard finding the three of us new  apartments a fair way removed from the fourplex. We were spread out but stayed in touch and got together often at a pub well down the beach and out of William’s prowling range. My new apartment was sunny and light, bigger than the old one and I settled in quickly with neighbors about my age. Leaving the bedroom window open at night I got reacquainted with falling  asleep to the  boom of breaking waves. Jean shortly afterward moved in with me and we’d lay awake after making love, not speaking, listening to the surf and the tempo of our hearts. I told Jean I would never own a gun but after the experience I’d had, I needed something for protection. Just in case.  Jean said she understood. I bought a Louisville Slugger and kept it next to our bed. 

    Maggie stayed in touch  because we were still her boys. She said William stuck around until the last minute but was finally gone from the property which was a huge relief to her as well as he had made some threats in a phone call. She told me the cleaners she sent in said they’d never seen anything like it, his unit was a hovel of filth, heaped with garbage and rotting food. Maggie had spotted him in the area so evidently he’d found another place to live.


    It wasn’t long after that call from Maggie I turned on the local news one late afternoon. A reporter was standing in front of the familiar rental office, the background filled with emergency vehicles and police officers. A distraught woman I recognized as a part time employee was sobbing and stumbling over her words as she tried to describe what had happened. He’d came in around four in the afternoon, walked up to Maggie as she sat at her desk and  drawn the gun from his waistband. He’d gotten away, the reporter said, and although his name hadn’t been released  the police had a good idea of who had done it.

    So did I.


June 01, 2022 15:56

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1 comment

J.C. Lovero
12:04 Jun 09, 2022

Hi Mark, What a sad ending! I was happy to read that the boys got away but sad for poor Maggie. You did a nice job of keeping the suspense throughout the piece with tension as I wondered what would happen with the neighbor. The story kept me reading without any breaks or stops. Nicely done!


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