March 20, 2021

The Clearwater Crypts

I rounded the corner to Charles’ office just as Dirty Gertie and her crew rolled up on me.  With 160 pounds of loose, oily flesh stooped over the handlebars of her tricked-out low rider electric scooter, Gertie looked more like a circus orangutan riding a tricycle than a geriatric psychopath.  Still, I couldn’t completely discount the stories I had heard from Rose especially considering that this particular orangutan was glaring at me.

“You the new kid who moved into Libby’s apartment,” she asked.

I considered my choices before answering. “Who’s Libby?”

“What’s it matter who she is. She’s dead now. Carried her out in a box on Saturday and here you are moving in on Monday. What kind of strings you pull to make that work?” Gertie’s tone was quiet but menacing.

“No strings,” I responded. “My daughter put my name on the list. Guess I got lucky.”

“Lucky.” She parroted my words as if I had just done a stand-up routine and this was the late show.  “You ain’t lucky,” she said.  Her crew tittered.

“I don’t know,” I replied. “Just the other day I won $5 on a scratch ticket and then this Libby dies and here I am. You calling that a coincidence?”

Oh, I’ve made my bones with Gertie. We’ve reached an understanding. You want to survive here, best you do the same,” he said

She gassed her scooter and drove forward until she was practically in my face.

“You got quite the lip on ya for a new girl.”

“I look new to you,” I said.

She was obviously unaccustomed to having anyone push back but this wasn’t prison and I don’t like bullies.

“Maddy says you caused a ruckus in the dining room today. Says you nosed in on her business. That true?”

“I don’t know any Maddy but if you mean that business with the nurse, I stepped in. I don’t care much for violence. Or bullies.”

“That a fact,” she said. “You hear that ladies, she doesn’t like violence.”

More titters from her crew. An inside joke I wasn’t privy too.

“Well listen up new girl. I don’t know what strings you pulled to get into Libby’s suite but if you want to stay, you got to pay your dues.”

“I paid the rent to Charles this morning.”

“Well, you see, he may not have mentioned it but there is a hospitality charge in addition to the rent. These ladies and I are on the welcoming committee and we’ve come round to collect the fee. Isn’t that right ladies”.

Grins all around only this time there was no humour in their eyes.

“As it happens, I was just on my way to see Charles so perhaps I’ll have a word with him about these fees,” I said.

“Charles isn’t going to be able to help you with that. He ain’t on the welcoming committee. Best you pay up now if you want to avoid any late payment fees.”

“I appreciate your concern about my finances but unfortunately I didn’t bring my purse along with me. Perhaps I can catch up with you ladies in the morning.”

Her eyes remained menacing and I felt a chill run down my back as I realized that she might very well dismount and try to clobber me right there in the hallway. Instead, a smile flickered to her face and she said “Tomorrow then.”

And like that, as if on cue, they powered up their electric scooters and began motoring past me down the corridor. Once their engines had died to what felt like a dull roar, I turned back towards Charles’ office and found myself walking straight into an old man, bent at the waist, who had seemingly materialized out of the air in front of me. He looked amused but I couldn’t tell whether that was from my exchange with Gertie or some private joke.

“You going to get yourself killed you keep that up,” he said.

“What do you mean? With Gertie,” I asked.

“She’s not one to be trifled with. Frankly, I am surprised she didn’t just run you down with her scooter. She must be going soft in her old age.” He laughed at his joke. “Where you going at this hour anyway.”

“I was going to see Charles to discuss the matter with the nurse,” I said.

“Charles isn’t going to help you with that kind of problem.”

“Come again.”

“That man loves his rules and his etiquette and his sense of perfection but he gives Gertie a wide berth and so should you.”

“He’s the administrator. He should be told what’s going on around here.”

“Oh he knows plenty. He just cares less.”

I considered the old man for a moment before responding. “What makes you an authority on the subject of Charles, or Gertie for that matter?”

“I been living here since the place opened. Started out alright, Charles cared a bit more back then. Place was new and fresh. Service was of the highest quality. People cared about one another. Then Dirty arrived like a cold north wind and the mood changed. She started bullying and chiding and carrying on until pretty soon everyone started feeling the chill. People started keeping to themselves, everyone that is, except those that joined her gang. They started calling themselves the Clearwater Crypts, like some teenage street gang. They started squeezing money out of people…”

“The welcoming committee and their hospitality fee,” I muttered.

“Hospitality fee. More like extortion.”

“Why hasn’t anyone done anything about it?”

“What? Like call the police,” he asked. His voice made it clear he was dubious. “I suppose they tried that. Police don’t take old people seriously. Old folks extorting old folks isn’t high on their list of priorities.”

“What about you? How come you haven’t stood up to her?”

“Oh, I’ve made my bones with Gertie. We’ve reached an understanding. You want to survive here, best you do the same,” he said.

Before I could respond, he began shuffling down the corridor, a white ghost against the pale fluorescent lights.

“What’s your name,” I asked.

“Omar Mubarek,” he said. “But people just call me Lumierre.”

“I guess I will be seeing you around then.”

“If Gertie don’t get you first.”

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