Saturday, May 7, 2011


“Did y’tell your husband where you was going?”

“You know I didn’t,” Rita replied.

Rigby wore a cap with its flaps pulled down over his ears, fingerless gloves and several layers of tattered wool, which were still damp from the freezing rain. He stepped inside the doorway of his basement hovel. As Rita squeezed by, she could smell the foul steam rising from his clothing.

The room was no bigger than a large utility closet. There was a cot in the corner and a crate with a kerosene lantern, which cast a claustrophobic gloom. The outer wall was insulated with stacks of magazines in various stages of collapse. The window, near the top of the wall at street level, was broken. Rags stuffed in the cracks reduced the drafts but did little to keep the winter bitterness from intruding.

“Welcome to my domicile,” he said with a grand sweeping gesture of his outstretched arm.

He offered her an upturned crate to sit upon while he sat on the cot. He retrieved a lit cigarette from a tin can overflowing with butts and inhaled deeply. He was drinking from a half empty bottle. He extended his arm and handed her a glass. “It’s gin. I got the glass in an office upstairs. Even washed it for ya, too.”

She accepted the glass but wouldn’t touch the gin, so she tried to smile and engage him in conversation, instead. “You work here?”

“Yup, I’m the janitor of this here building.” He guzzled more gin and took another long pull from his cigarette.

“Is that how you came by all these magazines, from the offices upstairs?”


“Do you read any of them?”

“Some of ‘em. Some are nothing but numbers an’ fancy words. But I like the ones with pictures from foreign countries. Ever been to a foreign country, Rita?”

“Once, several years ago,” she replied wistfully.

“Where’d y’go?”

“Paris. It was the spring of 1929. We ate pastries and drank coffee at sidewalk cafés. We visited the Eiffel Tower and …”

“Built in 1889 and 984 feet high! I read it in one of them magazines!”

“I tried eel for the first time,” she said.

“Did y’like it?”

“No.” She was about to continue when Rigby abruptly changed the subject.

“Y’know where I was when I seen you the first time, Rita? Up on the roof of this here building last summer. It gets hot down here in this stinking hole, so I go up to the roof to get me some air. That’s when I saw you. I could look across the street and right into your windas. You was sitting atop of a guy, going at him like a carnival ride. I go up there most days just to watch the show.”

She could feel the bile rise in her throat.

“I didn’t mean to scare you today, stopping you on the street like that. I could tell it bothered you, seein’ as how I was a stranger to you and all.”

He took another sloppy swig from the bottle and wiped the drizzle from his mouth with his sleeve. “’Course I knew who you were,” he added with a wink. The fetid air was beginning to stifle her breathing.

“You is so purty, Rita. I noticed that right off. You is so little and delicate like a china doll. And that long, dark hair of yours … Makes a man just ache.” He sucked the last remnants of life out of his cigarette, then stubbed it out in the smoldering pile of butts. He lit another cigarette and said, “This is nice, ain’t it. Just two friends talking over drinks.”

He staggered to his feet and extended his arm towards Rita with the nearly empty bottle of gin. “How’s ‘bout s’more?”

“What do you want, Rigby?”

He straightened up unsteadily, his movements exaggerated by the alcohol, and replied, “I thought we could be, y’know, friends.”

“What do you want?” Rita repeated, as she stood and faced him.

He sidled up close, uncomfortably close, so close that she was forced to inhale his stench and to feel the bristle on his face rub against her cheek, his chin kneading into her shoulder as he whispered in her ear, “I want you t’climb on top of me and ride me just like you done with them others.”

Rita jerked herself free of him and pushed him backwards onto his cot.

“Don’t play shy with me, Rita. I seen you do those things with lots of guys, even your husband.” He saw the terror in her eyes. “But he don’t know ‘bout them others, does he? No, I reckon he don’t.” He drained the bottle and said, “I thought we could do some business. Business is what you do up there, isn’t it?”

It seemed like a simple answer at the time. When Rita lost her job, she was afraid they would lose the apartment, too. It was the landlord who, while looking her up and down, had taken advantage of her tears and suggested bartering for part of the rent. Her husband’s meager pay wasn’t enough. So she told her husband she did bookwork for businesses at home.

“You don’t have any money, do you?” asked Rita.

“I figger my silence is worth sum-thin.” He slapped the place next to him and said, “Sit by me, my purty little Rita.”

Facing the inevitable, Rita sat down and whispered, “You won’t tell, will you Rigby?” 

But Rigby didn’t hear her. He had slumped over still holding his lit cigarette, which dangled perilously over a pile of papers. Just the slightest nudge of his arm with her foot, barely a tap really, was all it took to dislodge the cigarette. When the flames took hold she closed his door, and as she walked across the street to go home she decided she must find money for curtains.



  1. Very well done! Dug that. Great finish.

  2. Good read! I enjoyed the atmosphere of this story a lot.

  3. Blackmailing anyone is always a dangerous game as our overly friendly janitor learned the hard way. Love the way this is written, in a nice, icy cold deadly tone. Love this.

  4. I like it when a blackmailer gets burned. Good tale.

  5. lol Rigby reminds me of an ex-boyfriend. Both won't ever tell.

  6. I had no idea I even had any comments. Didn't realize I have to approve them. My bad. Thanks to all of your compliments!