Party in Four-Fourteen ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp
Hulga Farrington had made many conquests. Men fell all over themselves to be near her to or spend time alone with her. She had been invited by married men she hardly knew to spend the weekend away with them. She had had so many proposals of marriage that she had lost count. When she pulled out a cigarette at a cocktail party, as many as three or four men were at the ready with their lighters.
Whenever she met a worthy man—that is, one to whom she was attracted—she expected him, at the very least, to show some interest in her. When he didn’t, she knew something was wrong—not with her, but with him.
One such man was one Gerald Dinwiddie. He lived in the same building as Hulga, in the apartment right above hers. Whenever she saw him on the elevator or in the lobby, he didn’t even bother to notice her or to look her way. She couldn’t understand him. He was good-looking, fairly young—or at least not old—and, by all accounts, lived alone and didn’t have a wife. He was the appealing fly and she the seductive spider but for some reason the way of the spider wasn’t working.
One day when she met him near the entrance to the building, she stood in his way, effectively stopping him in his tracks, and smiled winningly into his face. He looked at her without expression.
“I believe we’re neighbors,” she said.
“Yes?” he said.
“I thought it was time I introduced myself.”
“You live here?” he asked.
Still he didn’t smile or attempt to ingratiate himself as he said, “I don’t know many people.”
“I’m having a small party, just a few of my most intimate friends, and I was wondering…”
“I never socialize,” he said and with those words he stepped around her and was gone.
When she got up to her apartment, she was glad to have her plain-as-a-stick friend, Mildred Ishmael, to talk to.
“I’ve never been rebuffed quite in that way before,” she said.
“Just forget him,” Mildred said. “He isn’t interested in you. I know that’s difficult for you to accept, but you must try.”
“I wanted to ask him to the party Saturday night.”
“Some people don’t like parties.”
“What kind of a person doesn’t like parties?”
“I think you’ve met your match,” Mildred said, pulling the head off a chicken.
The party on Saturday night was a raucous affair. About forty of Hulga’s most intimate friends showed up, some of whom she had never met before. At midnight the music was as loud as it had been at seven; the party was showing no signs of breaking up.
A little after midnight two police officers arrived at the door.
“Is something wrong, officers?” Hulga asked, looking innocently from one to the other. She was barely able to stand, her lipstick was smeared down to her chin, and she was halfway out of her cocktail dress.
“You need to turn the music down, ma’am. The neighbors are complaining.”
Right away Hulga was defensive. “Who was it? Who complained?”
“It doesn’t make any difference. You need to quiet down now and call it a night.”
“I’ll bet it was that son of a bitch Gerald Dinwiddie, wasn’t it?”
“It doesn’t matter. What matters is that you turn the music down and send your guests home.”
“Just who do you think you are, telling me what to do?”
“The next time we’re called, we won’t be so nice about it,” he said. “Do you want to spend the night in jail?”
“No, I don’t think I’d like that,” Hulga said.
“Well, then, the party’s over.”
“Yes, sir!” she said, saluting like a drunken sailor.
She turned down the music and told everybody they had to go home. In five minutes she was alone. She made her way to the bed and passed out.
When she awoke at eight-thirty Sunday morning, she was sick and had a terrible headache. Her first thought, besides how awful she felt, was to confront that son of a bitch Gerald Dinwiddie and tell him what she thought of him. How dare he complain!
She was going to call him on the phone, but she knew that what she had to say was better said in person. Wearing her silk Japanese kimono with the red dragons, she took the elevator up one floor and knocked decisively at the door of his apartment.
When he opened the door, he was wearing a bathrobe. He looked at her without expression.
“You called the police on me last night, didn’t you?” she said.
“Who are you?” he asked.
“I live in the apartment right underneath yours. We were having a party last night.”
“If you bother to read your lease,” he said, “it plainly tells you that music is not to be played loud enough to be heard outside your apartment.”
“You didn’t need to call the police.”
“I thought I did.”
“Why didn’t you come down and knock on my door and ask me to politely turn the music down?”
“It isn’t my place to tell you and your friends to stop behaving like adolescents.”
“Well, I’m so sorry if you were inconvenienced.”
“Just have a little consideration for other people,” he said, after which he slammed the door.
“You’ll be hearing from my lawyer!” she said to the closed door.
In the days to come, she listened for the slightest noise coming from his apartment so that she might complain, but she heard nothing.
When she saw Gerald Dinwiddie in the lobby or met him on the elevator, he didn’t look at her. When she placed herself in front of him so that he might collide with her if he didn’t watch himself, he deftly stepped around her and went on his way. She began to question not only his eyesight but also his sanity.
“Admit it,” Mildred said. “It wounds your vanity to have a good-looking man ignore you.”
“Who says he’s good-looking?”
“You did. Several times.”
“Well, I suppose he is good-looking in a peculiar sort of way.”
“Peculiar is your favorite flavor, isn’t it?”
She considered inviting him to another party but she was sure he wouldn’t come and she would end up feeling more of a fool than ever.
One evening when she was returning from a night of bar-hopping, she saw him going up in the elevator with a young woman.
“She’s too young for him,” she said to her boyfriend of the moment, a man who said his name was Raphael. “He ought to be ashamed of himself.”
“Is he your ex-husband?” Raphael asked.
“Of course not! I don’t even know him!”
“Then why do you care?”
Hulga began discreetly asking other tenants in the building about Gerald Dinwiddie. She wanted to know where he came from, what he did for a living, whether he had ever been married, who his friends were, what kind of liquor he drank, what books he read, what shows he liked to see. If she knew these particulars, she reasoned, she would begin to be able to understand him.
Not surprisingly, nobody knew anything about him. Most had never heard the name.
When she returned at night from wherever she had been, she fell into the habit of looking up to the fifth floor to see if lights were burning in Gerald Dinwiddie’s apartment. If the windows were dark, she figured he was gone or asleep. If lights were on, though, she wondered what he could possibly be doing at two in the morning.
On Sundays when most people were at home, she took to riding up and down in the elevator, hoping for a chance meeting with Gerald Dinwiddie. On one rainy afternoon when she rode all the way to the top floor and then back down again, the elevator stopped at the fifth floor and, the door opening, Gerald Dinwiddie got on wearing a rain coat and hat. He didn’t look at Hulga, only turned his back to her and faced the door. When the elevator reached the lobby, he was out the door and gone.
“He is the most insufferable man I’ve ever met,” Hulga said to Mildred.
“Admit it,” Mildred said. “You want what you can’t have. I’ve heard of people like you.”
“You’re crazy! I don’t want him!”
“Then why are you trailing him like a mad-struck teenager?”
“Is that what I’m doing?”
“You’re a very sick person. You need professional help.”
On a Friday afternoon in June when Hulga was returning home from an extended luncheon engagement, she saw Gerald Dinwiddie and another, younger, man getting into a cab in front of the building. They had large suitcases and were apparently going away on a trip. As she watched the cab drive away, she hoped that Gerald Dinwiddie wouldn’t be away too long.
Being convinced that Gerald Dinwiddie had gone on a trip, she called his number several times, over three or four days. She was prepared to hang up, of course, if anybody answered, but nobody ever did. Letting the phone ring twenty or thirty times, she pictured the inside of his apartment: the tasteful furniture, the bookshelves, the pictures on the walls, the objet d’art, the large bed where he slept.
She knew Eddie Hopgood, the manager of the building. She had, in fact, had a brief affair with him a couple of years earlier when his wife was having a baby. She went to him and asked for any information he might have about Gerald Dinwiddie.
“I’m not supposed to divulge information about any of the tenants,” he said. “I could lose my job.”
“I won’t tell anybody,” she said.
“No, it’s against the rules.”
“How’s that wife of yours, Eddie?”
“And the baby?”
“He’s fine, too.”
“I’ll bet your wife would certainly be disappointed to hear that you were unfaithful to her while she was in the hospital having a baby, wouldn’t she?”
Eddie sighed. “If you tell anybody I told you anything about Mr. Dinwiddie, you know I’ll have to kill you, don’t you?”
“I swear I won’t tell a soul.”
“He’s an unmarried gentleman. Lives alone. Pays his rent on time. Never any complaints.”
“Is that all you can tell me?”
“I can make something up if you want.”
“I think he’s away on a trip now, isn’t he?”
“He didn’t say anything to me about a trip.”
“How about giving me the key to his apartment?”
“That I absolutely will not do! What kind of a fool do you take me for?”
“I think I’ll call Ethel and invite her to lunch one day.”
“Her name is Eleanor. And just what do you want with Mr. Dinwiddie’s key?”
“I just want to go in and have a look around before he comes back. I promise I won’t take anything. I won’t even touch anything. Nobody will ever know I was there.”
“I can’t do that.”
“I could take the key when you’re not looking and you’d never know it.”
“You mean steal the key?”
“Something like that.”
“And if you got caught, you’d leave me out of it?”
“Sure. I promise.”
“Well, I don’t think so. And I hope you never ask me to violate the rules in this way again.”
“Just tell me where the key is and while you’re away I’ll sneak in and take it.”
“I don’t know anything about any key,” he said. “The key that maintenance uses is on a hook on the back wall in the office to the left of the clock, along with some other keys. The key is marked maintenance but I don’t know anything about it.”
“Of course you don’t,” she said.
“It’s time now for my break,” Eddie said. “I’m the only one here. I’m going to walk down to the corner and buy myself a candy bar. I don’t know anything about any key.”
She took the key easily enough and, grasping it in her hand, went up to her apartment.
At a little after one o’clock in the morning, dressed all in black, she took the stairs rather than the elevator up to the fifth floor. Moving along the hallway to apartment five-fourteen, she heard not a sound.
The door to Gerald Dinwiddie’s apartment opened silently. She entered and closed it behind her, standing for a moment just inside the door, shining her small flashlight around the room.
About what she expected. An expensive-looking couch and chairs. Persian rug. Bookcases. An upright piano. Art prints on the walls. A couple of large potted plants. Everything in perfect order.
She moved into the next room, the dining room. A beautiful table and six chairs. A sideboard with doors and drawers and a silver tea service. Some liquor bottles. On the other side of the large table a display case full of little figurines and glass pieces.
Across the hall from the dining room was the kitchen. She stepped into it and shone the light along the cabinets, sink, stove, refrigerator. All spotlessly clean and orderly.
Then back into the hallway and the bedrooms. A small bedroom on the left and another on the right. Straight ahead was the master bedroom, where Gerald Dinwiddie would sleep.
The door to the master bedroom was open about two inches. She approached it without making a sound and pushed the door back and entered. Just as she was about to use her light to see all there was to see in the room, there was a rustling sound, followed by a flash and a loud pop. For a fraction of a second, she didn’t know what she had just seen and heard, but then she knew she had been shot in the chest. Gerald Dinwiddie jumped out of bed and turned on the light, gun in hand.
She fell to the floor, bleeding profusely from the chest. Gerald Dinwiddie stood over her in his pajamas. She looked up at him and attempted to smile but then she closed her eyes and it was over for her. Café society lost one of its leading lights.
Copyright © 2017 by Allen Kopp