Bewildering Stories

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The Neighbour

by Ásgrímur Hartmannsson

My neighbour is a criminal. Or was. I’m not sure. Depends on what your sources say on the matter, and maybe from what angle you look at it. When does a man cease to exist? Does anyone care to philosophise about the matter? I’m game.

A man came knocking on my door the other day. He looked at me and asked:

“Do you live here?”

“Yes,” I answered. He handed me some papers, and said, “Here is a subpoena. It’s for your neighbour.”

“Why don’t you give it to him?” I asked.

“He’s not around, and neither is his next-door neighbour. You seem to be the only one here, so, if you see him, make sure he gets it.”

“Lucky me,” I said, and took the papers. I knew it would be no use. The guy wasn’t coming back.

He was a real criminal, my neighbour. Fraud, tax evasion, theft. Well, actually the fraud and theft parts were all legal, but I think I’ll hold that against him anyway.

A week later the police came to see me. They flashed their ID badges at me. They were made from paper. The cops are on a budget here. Made me feel like an extra on Law and Order.

I was somewhat annoyed at their timing. I was having dinner. A strange thing: people tend to only call me on the phone during lunch. But people are like that. The herd mentality. It runs deeper than you think.

Imagine working at answering phones. Long silences often happen. Every day, there is a 15-minute unbroken silence, then, when the phone finally rings; it rings at least three times in short succession. After that, silence again. There seems to be no special rule to this. People just seem to have this uncanny ability to act many together at once.

Well, they wanted to speak to me about my neighbour. He seemed to have disappeared. This was bad in all sorts of ways, they explained; he owed rent, he owed the electric bill, the TV/Radio bill, his insurance... etc.

I told them in all honesty, that I hadn’t seen him return to his home. Haven’t met him in the stairwell for weeks. As a matter of fact, I didn’t really know the guy. He used to hang around with a different crowd. And I don’t know why his car is still here.

I offered them some food, after all, hospitality is a virtue. I was having goulash. Well, actually just some meat in brown sauce, but it’s the same thing, really.

They politely refused my offer. Good. More for me.

It’s a shame I couldn’t tell them anything of use.

They actually told me more than I could tell them. My neighbour was worse than I thought. He was suspected of having murdered his partner in crime. They found his body some months earlier, hanging in his garage. He had chafe-marks on his wrists from nylon string, which had been removed post-mortem. They found the string in the garbage. How sinister is that? How do you just hang a man?

They wouldn’t go into the specifics. They just told me he was a suspect.

When the cops left, I flicked on the TV. In due time, my neighbour’s amazing disappearance was on. He was a big item: 45 million he’d neglected to pay the tax man. 45 million, a part of a 100 million he had legally stolen from various parties.

His vile thievery was most sickening to me. I changed the channel. I didn’t want to think about all the unredeemable evil the man had done, the property he’d taken, the property the government was about to swallow as its own, through taxes. It’ll all be lost when they have it.

You think you know your neighbours, then they turn out to be bad people. You can’t tell by their looks.

And you can’t taste it. Or can you? The trick may be in the sauce.

Copyright © 2004 by Ásgrímur Hartmannsson

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