Carl Emerson’s hand shook slightly as he reluctantly reached for the phone. He put on his reading glasses and dialed the number.
When the lady answered, the noise above his bathroom, presumably the guy up there pounding his head on the floor or something, came yet again. There was no way she would ever hear it over the phone.
He glanced at the clock. It was two-thirty-two a.m.
He briefly explained the problem to the property management company’s on-call night manager.
“All right.” He heard her deep sigh of resignation over the phone. “I’ll come over and check it out.”
“I’m in three-oh-four.”
“Yes, Mister Emerson.” Again there came that sigh.
He bit down hard and rang off as politely as he could manage. This shit had been going on for a year and a half. It started two weeks after moving in.
Putting the phone down, he shook his head. The odds of her catching the guy, or even doing anything real about it if she did, were very slim. A one-bedroom unit generated eight thousand a year in revenues for the company. When someone moved out, the place was vacant for at least a month while the unit was repainted, the carpet was steam-cleaned and necessary repairs, including broken cupboards and the usual fist-holes in the drywall, would be fixed before it was shown again.
It’s not like he didn’t understand their problem.
When someone was evicted, and in his observation the only thing that could make the company do that was non-payment of rent, it might take three months to get them out. The place would be wrecked and cost a bundle to fix. Cleanup took another month to complete. In this neighborhood, at the low end of the income scale, naturally the firm was reluctant to take on the additional costs in the name of anything remotely resembling justice to the other tenants, all of whom had the same rights and paid for their apartments at the same rate. It was good, clean capitalism in action.
He had called the police five or six times, and the fellow had been ticketed for noise several times according to police. Emerson had written letters to the landlord at least seven or eight times, as without something in writing, they couldn’t go to the Landlord-Tenant Tribunal. He wondered how many people backed off on that something in writing thing.
No one liked a snitch, and it always came back on you.
Still, the problem persisted, with no relief in sight.
The building manager showed up in about twenty minutes. She stood just inside his door after going into the bathroom. He wondered if she was going to claim noisy pipes again.
Perhaps she knew it wouldn’t wash, for she didn’t bother just this once.
She had heard nothing, and yet Emerson just knew the damned noise would come again. It was the middle of the night. Just how long could he expect her to hang around?
“I’m sorry, sir, but you have to understand it’s an apartment building…”
Emerson blew up.
“Every fucking door in this building…”
“What?” She was mystified. “There’s no need for such abuse, sir. I don’t have to take it.”
Yeah, in a series of noise complaints they were sure to turn against him rather than address an actual problem. Swearing just made it easier for them. He wondered why no one else had ever complained. Maybe they had. What a minute.
Of course they had…
Again he bit down hard.
“I’m sorry, I really am. Look. Every door in this building is solid wood. It’s in a steel frame. There are no closers, there are no rubber bumpers in the frames. Half the people in this building need a six-week course in how not to slam a door…” The windows were old, aluminum sashes, noisy old sliders that hit home with a bang.
The closet doors had aluminum tracks, hollow wooden doors and every caster needed oiling. He knew when people were home as the walls were thin and you could hear talk from other units whichever end of the unit you were in.
“Do you think it was a door you heard?”
“No.” He shook his head. “The guy’s up there banging on something. Every twenty minutes, maybe every half-hour or so.”
He knew from experience that it would go on all night. The guy knew from experience how it would go. They both cocked their ears.
Babble, babble, babble…babble babble, babble, kapow!
Someone down the hall, perhaps arriving home after the bars closed, had just closed their door, a noise all too familiar in the night. Yet the people right next to him were quiet. They knew how to close a door. They didn’t engage in long and involved conversations at the top of their lungs while going down the hallway. He knew it was, at least theoretically, possible to be quiet and to show some respect the other tenants.
She gave him a look and shrugged her shoulders. He looked away in pure disgust.
“Do you know where that came from?”
“Probably. But it’s awful hard to prove, isn’t it?”
“Yes, I have to observe it directly or it’s no good.”
She was right there. He knew fucking well it was the people three doors down on the opposite side. Bad as they were, they were at least in for the night, right on schedule, and thank God, but it wasn’t a mere twelve feet from his pillow.
The people next door didn’t come home from work and sit in the parking lot with a seven-hundred watt stereo pounding out the bass of a hip-hop tune, waiting for the song to end.
They didn’t yell from their balconies or have strange people show up at all hours and honk their horn intermittently while trying to get the attention of folks inside the building.
It was always the same ones. The ones with a big dog in a small apartment, the ones that went away for the weekend with the surround-sound TV turned on and going full blast. The ones that left windows open at both ends of the apartment in windy conditions and made everyone else listen to unsecured bedroom doors slam and bang for days on end.
Only two days previously, the superintendent had shoved a pamphlet under his door and likely every door in the building. He didn’t know if someone had made a specific complaint or if they just did it the same time every year.
The pamphlet, all about noise concerns, quoted the Bible in the first line.
“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” What a crock of horse-shit.
Too many people could not learn by example. He was tired of turning the other cheek and getting a kick in the ass. The lady, with nothing to contribute and no discernable action to take, decided to leave at that point.
Emerson felt sick to his stomach as he carefully closed the door to avoid waking the little old lady who lived below. The people next door were moving out soon, and their door was only ten feet from his. They were just on the other side of his kitchen wall. They were nice people, although he had never really gotten to know them. But you could just tell.
He wondered exactly what sort of piece of shit would be moving in all too soon and how he would deal with their self-centered ignorance and abusive behavior. A lease was a contract. Honorable people honored their contracts. Idiots signed it because it was the only way they would get an apartment. They never gave a shit what was actually in it.
The lease clearly stated ‘No unnecessary noise after eleven p.m. and before six a.m.’
It said a few other things, too. The lease was a bad joke.
The damned pamphlet had even mentioned that some tenants worked nights and tried to sleep during the day. The problem was that Emerson was trying to sleep at night and wasn’t having much luck with it. The pamphlet made no mention of anyone trying to sleep at night.
As he lay down to try and fall asleep, he wondered just how long it would be before buddy-boy up above was banging and thumping around again.
He didn’t have long to wait.
“I was sort of wondering if maybe you were suffering from something we call noise anxiety.”
The shrink was a damned fool, but then so was Emerson.
When the noise came again, he lost his temper, which he had always tried not to do.
Like a damned fool, this time he called the cops.
In a sleep-deprived, surreal daze, they took him into custody the moment he opened the door. They transported him to the psychiatric wing of the local hospital for three days of observation. It never occurred to ask who exactly had signed the thing, or how long they’d had it lying around.
“People under stress, people suffering from depression, will often develop noise anxiety. It’s all too easy to think it’s directed at them, that it’s somehow personal.” They met eyes.
“We’re not talking about dump trucks going down the road in broad daylight or freight trains pulling out of the yards in the middle of the night.” The shrink looked away from Carl, flushing slightly.
Emerson had lived fifty meters from the tracks. The whole building shook. His tall bookcases wobbled back and forth and figurines rattled on their bases. That had never really bothered him, but then it couldn’t be put down to ignorance or even harassment. It was even kind of soothing, when you considered that he had been homeless for a couple of months before renting that place. He’d left there in a hurry after the daughter of the landlord starting cranking up her music when Momma wasn’t around. He lived there for three weeks. He’d wasted a thousand bucks in rent, first and last, and it cost him two more months of sleeping in his sister’s basement and another fourteen hundred bucks to get in here. Before signing the lease, he asked the inevitable question.
“This is a clean, quiet, professionally-managed building.” That’s what they said.
Like a damned fool, Emerson signed the lease and paid, cash on the barrel-head.
“Yes, that’s one thing that deeply concerns me. This fixation on another individual can be dangerous, and we would hate to see you in trouble, or, or, harm another person.”
“I’m in trouble now.” They had told him he wasn’t under arrest as they snapped the cuffs into place.
The doctor had nothing to say on that score.
Actions spoke louder than words. The thoughts of them railroading him ate quietly away at the insides of his guts.
They were so busy trying to convince him he was mentally ill that they simply would not listen.
They were incapable of listening.
Buddy-boy was fucking him over real good. Emerson had smelled crack one time when he went up to talk to the man in the middle of the night, a few days after a particularly humiliating discussion with three officers attending on a noise complaint. Some people freaked out on a noise complaint, and if there was a way they could make your life miserable afterwards, they would do it. It was inconceivable to their vanity that they could ever cause a problem for anyone.
They could justify putting it all on him.
It was who they were.
“Oh, no, we’re just here to help you.” The shrink, a thin, reedy, limp-wristed individual named Santorini, forced a cheerful look onto his face.
Mister Emerson was not responding well, and the key to a successful treatment was, first and foremost, to get the patient to admit a problem. Once that was done, and reassurances had been made that there were treatment options available, most people wanted that help, no matter what sort of debilitating bug-juice it involved. Mr. Emerson was not being very agreeable. He was eminently un-suggestible. Assessing what sort of a danger he might represent to the community was going to be difficult.
“Do you ever hear voices?’
“Suck my cock, you rat-faced piece of shit.”
A reddening Doctor Santorini, eyes downcast, made a note of his truculence.
“Well, I guess we’ve had enough for one day.”
“I’ve had enough bullshit for one fucking lifetime and one fucking town. I’ll tell you that much.”
The doctor let him out and Carl went back to the common area where they had a TV set permanently tuned to BSTV News Channel, which rather contradicted one of their statements.
You’re not being punished.
Sure I am.
But that’s what they claimed.
Finally they let him out. Going home was one of the hardest things he had ever had to do in his entire life. He had nowhere else to go. No doubt the rest of the building knew all about it and they were all laughing at him.
Trying to ignore the sound of music coming up from below, something he actually accepted as it was broad daylight and it couldn’t be heard in his bedroom with the air conditioner going twenty-four hours a day, he tried to put back the pieces of his empty and meaningless existence.
It was only after a cold glass of milk and a sandwich made with cheap no-name bologna and the last couple of slices of stale bread that Carl Emerson remembered that he had a lottery ticket sitting right there on top of the mantel.
Hitting the button on his computer, there were loud thumps coming from up above again, as he waited for it to warm up. Buddy-boy obviously knew he was home.
When he went to the website to check the number, he got the shock of his life.
Carl Emerson had just won a hundred and eighty-nine million dollars in the Power-Bucks Lotto and that sort of thing took a while to sink in.
Officers Bill Sandberg and Gina Q. Toklaz exited police headquarters at a dead run, ears assaulted by the eerie, unnatural silence.
There was rioting and looting in the streets. There were multiple-vehicle pileups at every corner. People ran around, clasping their heads, eyes bugging out in disbelieving terror.
It was like some horrific vision, a bad dream, or the end of the world.
Jumping into the cruiser, Gina snapped on the flashers and hit the siren.
It sounded oddly muted, as if there was something wrong with it. She pounded her fist on the dash in frustration.
The radio crackled with a dozen units, all heavily engaged.
“What in the hell is going on?”
The whole town was going nuts. She slammed on the brakes. A body lay in the street with a widening pool of blood around the head. A shiny silver .357 Magnum lay just beyond the outstretched hand…he’d put it in his mouth and pulled the trigger, his motorcycle parked right there by the side of the street.
Hopefully the noise, the last sound he ever heard, was worth it to him. Sandberg, unable to think of what else to do with no available EMS units, put a blanket over him, and a red safety cone by the body, and they moved on. There were more bodies just up ahead.
“What my client is saying, Sergeant, is that the first thing people do when they buy a new Harley-Davidson is to dismantle the exhaust system and take out the baffles. What he is saying, Sergeant, is that kids are putting three-thousand watt stereos in their little cars and driving around all night, spewing out frequencies that are known, well-documented in fact, to cause stress and aggression in ninety-nine percent of all individuals tested, and that the other one percent can be induced to violence quite quickly. What he’s saying, is that neither you, nor any of the officers under you command, have never issued one noise-related ticket in your entire career. It is apparently beneath your notice or your dignity. I know, because my team has checked and we know our facts, even if you don’t. You even went so far as to lie to my client and say that you did.”
Don Eldridge turned to his client, a look of sardonic good humour, for which he was widely known, stamped indelibly all over his rugged good looks.
“I think we’re just about done here.” He wasn’t particularly surprised to discover that they weren’t.
His client wanted a word on his own.
“Sergeant. While there may be noise by-laws, there is, and never will be, a law against silence.” He would see to that personally.
Lawyer and client stood.
“What I am saying, is that some miserable piece of shit on two legs can abuse his neighbors using the most petty of means—and you can’t catch him, probably because you don’t want to. That’s because I’m on disability, after falling from a scaffold and breaking my back in three different places. And so I have no rights, and all you can do is label me mentally ill and chuck my ass in the loonie bin. You’re a fucking no-good piece of shit and a disgrace to that uniform.”
Don put his hand on Carl’s upper arm and he stopped there. Don had explained about libel and slander and all of that. The name-calling was over.
“You caused a riot!”
“No, asshole. You did—by neglect and default, by your sheer, unmitigated ignorance and carelessness.”
People just couldn’t stand the quiet. It gave them a chance to hear their own thoughts and they couldn’t take the fatuity, the uninspired vapidity of what was inside of their piddling little brains.
“Charges are still pending. You haven’t heard the last of me.” The sergeant was pissed.
Emerson had created, using Wikipedia, schematic circuit diagrams, large-scale emitters, and high-tension cable bought for a small fortune, something he called a silence generator. He must have pushed the button, sat back, and enjoyed his sweet revenge, right up to the hilt.
“I wouldn’t leave town if I were you.”
The sergeant understood the theory of white noise, and how it could be used to muffle other noises, but that was the least of the issues involved.
“My client’s premises are private property. If you violate your oath, or the law, we will pursue you and your kind to the ends of the Earth.”
“And if I want to crank up my silence machine to the max and just stomp all over this poke-ass little town, then that’s exactly what I’m going to do. Fuck off, Sergeant. Fuck off.”
“My client saw a need and he fulfilled it, Sergeant. Think of it as free enterprise and you’ll be all right. He’s designing a more power-efficient model and is rationalizing the design and production process. Major cities all over the globe, property developers…rich people, are interested in his machine.”
“I’m not a piece of shit on ODSP anymore, Sergeant. You’d be surprised what a little money can do. I’m a great man, now.” Emerson nodded firmly, a feral snarl on his face.
He had caged tiger written all over him. He looked at Don.
“Now, we’re done here.”
The attorney nodded agreement.
Carl and Don stood watching, just for a second, as he chewed on it. The sergeant fumed, but he wasn’t ready to move just yet, although a psychological-commitment did have its allure. The trouble with that, was that it would only buy him three days. They had a limited supply of pre-signed documents left. A board-assessment on psychiatric grounds took a while, and for that they needed a long history of actual evidence. It could be done, but the trouble was that the case was drawing a lot of international publicity. Emerson’s legal team had copies of all his records, freaking all of them, from every agency known to man, going back over forty years…
No one beat him. No one. This wasn’t over yet.
They looked at each other.
“I’ll buy lunch.”
Don smiled. He had enjoyed this perhaps more than he should. It was the experience of a lifetime really, when he thought about it.
“That would be very nice, Mister Emerson.”
Emerson made sure to slam the door as hard as he could on the way out, although he didn’t bother to look back to see the sergeant flinch at the percussive impact on his guts and psyche, leaving him trembling and red-faced, the sweat of anger beading his seamy and rather rakishly-sloping forehead. In the small space of the sergeant’s cubicle, it sounded like an eighteen-inch naval gun going off.
After they left, the sergeant pondered for a while, fingers folded across his ample belly, a look of sheer, white-hot hatred on his face. His mouth worked back and forth. That miserable son of a bitch Emerson had shares in the recently privatized power industry. With all his new money, he could afford to pay the bill for five or ten thousand megawatts a month well into the foreseeable future. Apparently he didn’t even live in town these days. He had six thousand acres somewhere up in northern Ontario and thought he was untouchable.
It probably was pretty quiet up there. The thought lacked even a trace of wistfulness.
Society really was stupid, when he thought about it. He should have shot them both as they sat in their chairs, and answered questions later. There were no witnesses and he had an exemplary record with several decorations to prove he was a hero.
Second thoughts were always hell.
Finally his hand moved to the phone.
“Get me Dale Craydon.”
“Yes, sir. Right away.”
Craydon was the local Member of the Legislative Assembly of Ontario. While a Conservative and in opposition, perhaps a Private Member’s Bill would be supported by enough members of all parties to pass.
The one thing the state could not tolerate was defiance.