Wade Wakeman is worried that Winter has stopped taking his lithium.
Winter’s real name is Bartholomew Winter Pomerantz, but everyone calls him by his middle name because of his disarming personality and ice-blue eyes. A striking, wavy-haired charmer, Winter comes from old money, and not getting his own way is foreign to him.
Wade Wakeman is a pleasant, practical, underachieving red-headed rube from Odell, Illinois who barely has enough money for tuition. Living in a paid-for luxury apartment in busy Carson City, partying with classy co-eds, and eating rich foods he can’t pronounce have afforded him more lessons in life than he’ll ever learn in school. Wade may not run in the fast lane, but Winter has come to rely on his homespun logic.
The pair are coming back from an expensive dinner in Winter’s brand-new Bugatti when Wade notices something unusual.
“Is that a dog sitting in your parking space?”
“Man, I hate dogs, especially German Shepherds,” Winter replies, his tension rising.
Winter stops the car, honking the horn.
The dog remains still, staring at Winter.
“That’s creepy. Horns usually scare dogs off,” Wade says. “I’ll shoo him away.”
“He might attack you.”
“I’m not the one he’s staring at,” Wade replies.
Wade tries to scare the dog with a hearty yell. The dog’s unblinking stare continues to focus on Winter.
Winter gets out of the car, slamming the door. “Nobody, not even a dumb mutt, gets over on me!”
Searching the grounds, Winter picks up a rock, hurling it at the dog.
“I’m not playing with you Rin Tin Tin. Get out of my spot!”
“Why don’t we just park in one of the guest spots?” Wade suggests.
Winter throws another rock at the German Shepherd. The dog growls, baring its teeth.
Winter cocks his arm. “Okay Rover, the next one’s right between the eyes!”
Someone grabs Winter’s arm, twisting it until he yelps and drops the rock.
Angered, Winter considers fighting back. But the towering man in the imported black suit and expensive leather gloves looking down at him is a strapping six-and-a-half feet tall, with dark, earnest features, and unyielding black eyes.
The man’s slightly accented voice is deep, distinguished, and as intimidating as his appearance.
“Leave Candy alone.”
“Candy? Well, she’s not very sweet. That mongrel should be on a leash,” Winter says.
“You act like you should be on one too.”
“I’ve cut down bigger bullies than you.”
The man flexes his gloved hands. “Feel free to start chopping.”
Remembering he got trounced in the only fight he ever had in private school, Winter tries to approximate a gangster look.
Wade pulls Winter away, guiding him back toward his car. ”Maybe we should call it a draw and relax. I don’t feel like scraping you up off the pavement.”
Candy and her owner continue to glare at Winter as Wade stuffs him in his car.
“C’mon. The guest spots are wider.”
Winter honks his horn, giving the man the finger as they drive off.
“Who was that tool?” he asks.
“Castor Doubront, our next-door neighbor.”
Fuming, Winter asks, “What’s the loudest song we have on Sirius?”
“Spooky Tooth’s “I Am the Walrus.”
“Put it on.”
The Armageddon arrangement shakes the walls of the apartment.
Winter turns the volume up.
The ensuing cacophony is so loud they can barely hear someone banging on the door.
Winter opens the door. Castor frowns at him. “Are you two deaf?”
“No, but you’re going to be,” Winter replies, smiling snidely.
Candy growls at Winter, who takes a backward step.
“Turn it down, or I’ll turn it off.”
Winter slams the door in Castor’s face.
“He’s our neighbor, Winter. We should try to get along with him,” Wade says. “I’ve spoken with him. He seems cool. He’s a record producer.”
“This is my apartment. Nobody’s telling me what to do.”
“I Am the Walrus” blasts through the speakers. Wade can feel the floor vibrate.
The song suddenly cuts off. The lights go out and the refrigerator stops working.
“See? Look at what you’ve done. You blew a fuse,” Wade scolds.
Wade checks the fuse box. “Huh. None of the switches are tripped and the fuses are okay. Maybe it’s a blackout.”
Winter opens the door. “The other apartments and the parking lot have lights. I don’t know how he did it, but that knuckle-dragger shut our power off.”
A humming noise grasps their attention. It builds in intensity, vibrating the walls.
“Power’s back on,” Wade says the next day.
“Yeah, that humming noise finally eased up around four in the morning.”
“Jeez. I finally passed out from the pain. You stayed up all night?”
“Yeah, and I was about a second away from charging into that buttmunch’s apartment,” Winter replies, his nerves on edge.
“I think we should talk to Doubront and bury the hatchet.”
“Yeah, in his head.”
“What do you suppose that noise was last night?” Wade asks.
“One of those white noise machines. Except he set his up to torture us.”
“Well, he sure succeeded. I bet he’s got all kinds of sound effects gear in his place. Let’s talk to him and end this feud before I go deaf,” Wade says.
“No. Nobody tells me what to do.”
“You really want to die on this hill, Winter? In case you haven’t noticed, we aren’t exactly everybody’s favorite tenants.”
“They’ll thank us when I get rid of that monster.”
“I told you, he’s not a bad guy.”
“Not Doubront. His dog.”
“Son of a… I knew it!” Winter shouts.
Wade looks out of the back window at Castor’s empty deck.
“Record producer, ha! He’s a drug dealer.”
“Have you been skipping your meds again, Winter? What makes you say that?”
“I’ve been watching him all week. Every other night three sketchy dudes carrying duffle bags sneak up his back stairs. I bet they’re either crammed with drugs or cash.”
“You don’t have any proof.”
“That’s why I called the cops. They’re here!”
Winter rushes to the front door, opening it. Smiling gleefully at the thick, bow-legged officer, he points at Castor’s door.
“This is a really bad idea, Winter. Did you ever stop to think those duffle bags you saw might contain instruments?”
Castor opens his door. A few minutes later, Officer Edgar Tidy exits, laughing heartily.
Castor and Officer Tidy spot Winter.
“Is this the man who filed the complaint against me, Officer Tidy?” Castor asks, striding toward Winter.
Winter ducks behind Wade.
“I have the right to face my accuser,” Castor says.
“He’s a dealer!” Winter shouts.
“I conducted a thorough search of Mr. Doubront’s apartment,” Officer Tidy says. “The only drug in there is Advil.”
“You, on the other hand, are acting a bit suspiciously,” Castor notes.
Officer Tidy studies Winter’s hollow-eyed, jittery appearance. “He’s right. Would I find any illegal substances if I searched your place?”
“You have to have probable cause!”
“Your behavior is providing it.”
“Sorry that we overreacted, Officer,” Wade says. “Winter is just a little amped up. We got finals coming up. I think Winter’s been skipping’ his medication so he can study more.”
“You’re a two-faced traitor,” Winter sneers.
“I tell you what, Officer, If Winter promises to get take his medication, leaves my dog alone, and stops spying on me, I won’t press any charges against him,” Castor offers.
“You won’t what?” Winter exclaims.
Wade blocks his path to Castor.
“Sounds reasonable,” Officer Tidy says.
“He’s the one sneaking people into his apartment at two in the morning!” Winter shouts.
“Mr. Doubront explained to me that they’re musicians. And they’re not there now, so why don’t you take Mr. Doubront’s advice and take your meds. And one last thing. Stop mistreating Mr. Doubront’s dog. I have two German Shepherds myself. I don’t take kindly to false alarms, and I don’t like people who abuse animals. You understand?”
Winter looks at the computer screen over Wade’s shoulder.
“There’s no digital footprint. I can only find one Castor Doubront. He was born in Lagos. I think our Castor Doubront is French, not Nigerian.”
“He stole that man’s identity.”
“Castor Doubront died five years ago. And he isn’t listed on Jovian Studios’ website.”
“He’s hiding something.”
“Which is why you should let all this ride and leave Doubront alone, Winter. You don’t know who you’re dealing with.”
“Neither does he.”
Winter places a bowl of dog food in his parking space.
“I can’t believe it, you’re making peace with Candy,” Wade says.
“Not hardly. There’s enough anti-freeze in that food to run two cars.”
“Don’t do it, Winter! Doubront is going to know you poisoned his dog.”
“Nope. Candy eats the food. She croaks. We get rid of the evidence and toss the dog in a ditch. Doubront will think she just wandered off, especially if you suggest it. He likes you; he trusts you.”
“No, I’m not getting involved in this. It’s not right.”
“She reads my thoughts, Wade. I have to kill her before she kills me.”
Wade rushes toward the deck, pausing to look out the screen door.
Winter is standing on the deck. Dead birds are falling from the sky, pelting Winter.
Wade pulls Winter inside. He catches a glimpse of Candy sitting on Castor’s porch. Candy appears to be smiling.
“She tricked me,” Winter mumbles. “She read my thoughts. She knew the food was poison, so she made the birds eat it.”
“And then she had them fly right over our apartment and drop dead. She’s a German Shepherd, Winter, not an air traffic controller.”
“No. She’s a witch.”
Wade yawns, closing his textbook. Opening his door, he sees a light is still on in the kitchen.
Winter is sitting on the deck, staring at Castor’s apartment.
Sliding open the door, Wade jokes, “Considering’ all the dive-bombing dead birds we cleaned up, I’m surprised you’re not sitting under an umbrella.”
“The three men… I saw them again…”
“He isn’t a drug dealer, Winter.”
“No, he’s something worse. The three men… They looked over at me before they went inside. They… They weren’t human… They had huge black eyes, blue skin, and six fingers on each hand…”
“You need to take your meds and get some shut-eye, Winter.”
Wade helps Winter back inside.
“She said you wouldn’t believe me.”
When the humming noise begins, Winter rushes to Wade’s room, finding him fast asleep. The humming builds, piercing Winter’s skull like a nail. His headache intensifies. He curls up in a ball, whimpering.
Looking to ease his stress, Winter suggests going to the local bar and delving into some serious day drinking. Turning on the charm, Winter convinces Lynn and Rebecca, a pair of local girls, to come back to their apartment.
Golden Earring’s pulsating driving tune “Radar Love” is blasting on the radio when the Winter’s Bugatti pulls into the driveway.
Candy is sitting in Winter’s parking space.
“Such a pretty dog,” Lynn slurs.
Incensed, Winter lets out an enraged scream, stepping on the gas.
Screaming “NO!” Lynn and Rebecca cover their eyes.
Candy remains steadfast, staring at Winter as the Bugatti bears down on her.
The Bugatti slams into Candy, running over her.
Winter backs the car up, running over Candy again.
Lynn and Rebecca flee, wailing and crying as they run down the street.
“What have you done?” Wade asks, nearly retching at the sight of Candy’s mangled body.
“I had to do it. She was reading my mind!”
“I think you’ve lost yours,” Wade replies. “Don’t you think if Candy could read your thoughts she would have run away?”
“It wasn’t just her mind-reading. She was giving us brain tumors by helping Doubront make that humming noise.”
Winter downs a half a bottle of vodka, going into a fugue.
“Starting to realize the trouble you’ve caused?” Wade asks.
“You should thank me. That dog was a witch.”
A loud bang on the door catches their attention.
Wade opens the door, gasping. Castor is holding Candy’s corpse, her blood smeared across his black suit.
“No, but you will be.”
Winter bursts into laughter. “SHE WAS A WITCH!”
“He’s been drinking too much, hardly sleeping, and he’s been off his meds,” Wade explains. “We’ll pay you for Candy.”
“Yes, certainly will,” Castor says gravely, turning and walking away.
The humming wakes Wade from his sleep. It’s louder, angrier than before, forcing Wade to cover his ears.
Stumbling out of bed, he checks Winter’s bedroom to see if he’s all right.
“Over here,” Winter says from the living room.
Pouring himself a water glass of scotch, Winter plops down on the couch, rubbing his throbbing forehead.
The humming intensifies.
An ashtray bounces across the glass coffee table.
Winter takes a gulp from the glass, covering his ears.
“I saw them again…those men,” he says.
Wade looks around the apartment at the quivering pictures on the walls, the rattling dishes, and the vibrating bottles of liquor.
Winter looks up at Wade. His nose is bleeding.
“He’s gone too far this time.”
Winter picks Castor’s lock, carefully closing the door behind him to keep it from creaking.
The pulsating humming noise is nearer, coming from somewhere in the apartment.
Winter is stunned by the amount of equipment in the living room, including a large screen and three interlocking consoles. The center console has a large oscilloscope for measuring electronic signals. The panels on the console are labeled with symbols Winter has never seen before. On a table next to the far console are drawings of the human body. Another diagram depicts a humanoid form with a large head, bulging eyes, and six fingers.
“Can I help you?” a gentle female voice asks.
He turns to face an exotic-looking brunette with alluring light blue yes, a slinky figure, and a pleasant, friendly smile. Despite her casual dress, she’s wearing full-length velvet gloves.
“I… I had to see for myself…”
“You must be one of the neighbors,” she says. “Are you Wade, the friendly one, or Winter, the unstable one?”
“I’m afraid I’m the wild one.”
“You killed Candy in a most savage and despicable manner.”
“I don’t know what came over me. I’ll admit I don’t like dogs, and yours was always in my parking spot…”
“You killed Candy over a parking spot?”
“Why did she pick my spot?” Winter asks, exasperated.
“Your parking spot gets the best sun.”
“How do you know what she was thinking?”
“Candy and I shared a sixth sense.”
“I’m sorry for what happened Ms…”
“Candide Doubront. I’m Castor’s wife.”
“Similar names… Similar minds…,” Winter says to himself. “Why haven’t we met before?”
“I work at our studio in Carson City. Castor mainly works here.”
Winter stares at her, his infatuation etched dumbly on his features.
“…You’re so beautiful…”
“You really are an emotional college boy, aren’t you? All hormones and anger. Say whatever comes to mind in the hope of impressing a woman. I’m not some wide-eyed party girl you can charm, Winter. My husband doesn’t like you, and if I tell him you broke in here and made a pass at me…”
“I’m sorry. I just want some answers. Where is your husband?”
“We’re going on a trip. He went on ahead.”
The humming noise begins to build in intensity. Winter covers his ears.
“What is that?”
The noise appears to be coming from a nearby closet.
Winter moves toward the sound, grimacing as it drills into his head. He can feel blood dripping from his nose.
Winter turns to look at Candide. She watches him closely, unaffected by the noise.
The humming increases. Winter groans, rubbing his throbbing head.
Reaching for the doorknob, he opens the closet.
He is nearly struck blind by a beam of white light. The light begins to spin, disorienting him.
Winter feels Candide’s hand against his back. She pushes him. He feels himself falling into the white light.
“This had better not be one of your cockamamie complaints,” Officer Tidy says.
“He’s been missing for two days.”
“Based on his history, this is the last place he’d be,” Officer Tidy notes. “He’s probably in Key West sipping Pina Colada with some stripper.”
Officer Tidy reaches for the doorknob. The door is unlocked.
“Stand back,” he cautions, opening the door.
Castor’s apartment is empty. Officer quickly checks for any sign of Castor or Winter.
“Well, he’s obviously not here. I’ll file a missing person’s report. On the plus side, your troubles with Mr. Doubront appear to be over.”
Wade remains in the living room. Not so much as a piece of paper or a dust bunny remains.
A humming noise draws his attention.
Wade traces the noise to the closet.
Opening it, he looks inside. Like the rest of the apartment, the closet is empty.
“…Help…,” Winter’s voice echoes.
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