The one-story, three-unit apartment complex that Bobby Dobbs called home was located in Encanto. It was north of Imperial Avenue and not far from the barbershop. At first sight, the small building was pale and looked pinkish-orange under the mid-morning sun. To get there, I had to steer carefully along nearly 500 feet of a narrow driveway off Atkins Avenue. Hanging trees and wild brush smacked against the windshield of the car. Were it not for the entrenched tire marks trailing to the left, I might have passed the entrance to the graveled parking lot.
From the looks of it, Dobbs must have been saving up money to buy an actual house one day. The rent sure seemed like a bargain here. Huge patches of dried, peeling paint were curling from the structure’s walls. Trash, loose paper and other pieces of debris were speckled and tossed about the empty parking lot. From somewhere in the distance, the lingering stench of an angry skunk permeated the dry morning air.
I got out of the Buick slowly and took a look around for Dobbs' maroon-colored Volvo. It still wasn't here. In the backdrop facing east were three palm trees towering over the apartments, swaying like anemic, mop-topped skyscrapers. A chain-link fence ran around the perimeter of the entire plot, with wild jasmine shrubs planted sparsely every twenty feet or so. To my left was a rusted Toyota Corolla with three flat tires, parked for what seemed like the long term in front of a large garbage bin. Walking toward a cemented walkway just outside the doors of the building’s tenants, the whole complex resembled the type of inexpensive, patched-up housing that made quick profits and attracted temporary settlers in this area of the city.
All three units had vertical blinds drawn closed, and Dobbs’ apartment was the last door on my right, nearly camouflaged by thick brushwood. I peered curiously through the dense leaves and smiled at the sight of a small vegetable garden along the length of the southern wall.
The apartment's front door was bare and unfinished, garnished only with the pair of metallic letters A3 as if to indicate another floor of units existed. Out of curiosity, I stepped back and peeked at the neighboring door, confirming my presumption of door number. Sure enough, it was marked as A2.
The doorbell sounded like a stifled pig's squeal when I pushed it. There was no response, even after a few more prolong pushes of the button. So, as I always do, I knocked firmly but politely.
Suddenly, a swift gust of dusty, hot wind blew against my back, opening the wobbly door before the first rap of my knuckles. The effect was just like one of those scary movies, only this time the draft of air exposed the interior of Dobbs' small apartment. I scanned the jamb from top to bottom and left to right, and checked the dead latch and strike plate for any possible damage. Nothing seemed unusual.
From where I stood could be seen an interesting variety of throw rugs that were placed tidily in certain spots on a wooden floor. Each matting had a different color and shape. As was the case with Maybella Honore, you could easily see that Bobby Dobbs had a penchant for neatness. The contrast of his apartment’s tidiness against the trashy parking lot was as stark as day and night.
I stood at the opened door, slightly confused about the next move to make.
“Hello?...” I inquired like a typical stranger. “Mr. Dobbs?...Anyone home?”
I glanced backward before poking my head in further, trying hard to be not too good at being inquisitive. But it was times like these when my sixth sense always kicked in, letting me know in an uncomfortable way that something just wasn't right. I started getting that feeling before I got here. It might have been the hundredth time that I walked into an empty residence like this and having no clue about what the hell might have went wrong. But what I did need to know now was, why would a person like Bobby Dobbs leave his front door unlocked for unexpected visitors like me to just walk right on in?
They often say thin walls make for bad neighbors. From somewhere nearby, I heard the oohs-and-aahs of a familiar social activity. When I found the source, my eyes widened a bit at the sight of the woman’s massive derriere humping up and down rhythmically against a well-endowed john. She was positioned above him, working her special magic with enormous hips and thighs. Although the sound was lowered on the television, the tantalizing video had enough visual action to raise any man's blood pressure in the right way. And just like any man would, I tried hard to concentrate on the task of finding Dobbs while contending with a budding erection.
The living unit had been converted into a low-scale facsimile of a studio apartment. The strange array of its windows was the first indication. I found them to be spaced apart in an unusual way. Then there was the interior finishing of the ceilings, walls and baseboards that were rather substandard. I frowned at the sloppy workmanship which had been done, and the thin paint that had been brushed over the drywall and globs of rippled joint compound.
But the place did have the true feeling of a bachelor’s pad: uncluttered, maneuverable and perfectly equipped with all of the physical pleasures of a single man. In front of a contemporary leather sofa stood a monumental home entertainment center, spanning the entire wall to the right of me, replete with every video game, DVD or A/V component a man-child could ever want. Throughout the floor space were other kinds of household electronics, miniature car models and tall floor lamps resembling metallic cranes. On a long table near the windows sat clean and shiny tonsorial equipment that were carefully placed as one-of-a-kind artifacts in a history museum. Large posters hung on the walls depicting the colorful character of black barbershops and painted in a manner evocative of Ernie Barnes and Frank Morrison.
After a few instances of quick admiration, I went back to the front door, peeped outside and slunk toward what could be called a kitchenette. It wasn't much bigger than an English phone booth, with a stove, a rusted sink and a dwarfish refrigerator squeezed within its tiny footprint. There was a fresh, half-eaten Reuben sandwich and pickle slice left on a small platter. Inside of the fridge were your typical condiments, a gallon of milk, orange juice, more corned beef, ripen fruit and four unopened beer cans. It was a good sign; at least Dobbs was still eating. So I went to explore the bathroom next to the kitchenette.
It looked as if the barber may have had a quick shave before getting to wherever he was at this moment. Dripping waters echoed down the hole of a slightly rusted face basin. I bent forward to study an expensive-looking steel razor that had been left drying beside a lathering bowl. I took a whiff of the rich shaving cream inside, impressed with its unique scent, as well as Dobbs’ obvious taste in men's grooming. The bathroom walls and floors had been tiled with black ceramic pieces, and every square inch of the shower stall sparkled with a quartziferous luster.
I was about to leave the apartment and end my uninvited tour when I wondered why I hadn't noticed a thin painted door situated between the kitchenette and the bathroom. It had the same off-white color as throughout the apartment. The door was about two feet wide and so level against the surface that it virtually blended unnoticeable into the wall. I tried pulling at it, but the door appeared bolted like the Fort Knox Repository. I thought better at giving it a second try, becoming ashamed at the thought of being caught snooping around another man’s personal space.
But it was the faint thump against the door that stopped me in my tracks.
With a final, rigorous jerk, I found out why the small knot in my gut was getting tighter.
Bobby Dobbs knew why too, only he couldn't tell me.
Behind me, I listened to the spunky couple climax simultaneously, bringing their invigorating workout to a shuddering end with cascading orgasms. I released a chestful of repressed air through the grinding teeth in my mouth. I wanted to close the door and get the hell out of Dobbs' little private hell as fast as I could. But as much as I tried, I couldn't move a muscle. I just couldn't stop staring at the moist droplets trickling from the dead man's exquisite face. It smeared against the clear plastic bag that encapsulated his toweled body as it slumped jaggedly and motionless between the walls of the slender closet. It looked as if his protruding tongue was trying to tell me something between mustached lips. But I couldn't hear a damn thing Bobby Dobbs may have been trying to tell me.
He had taken his last perfect shave. Only this time, he didn't have anyone around to check out his work. I'd never been a religious man, but I said a little prayer for the dead barber on this day.
Book excerpt from "The Safe of Old Lies"
Copyright 2013 Forrest Greenley Mysteries.
All rights reserved.