Monday, August 31, 2009

A Twist Of Noir 147 - J.R. Lindermuth

THE ENUMERATOR - J. R. LINDERMUTH

He knocked again. The murmur of their voices drifted out to him along with the clatter of china and the soft thud of footfalls as they moved about the rooms. They know I'm out here. Why don't they answer?

His stomach growled. It was getting late. His impatience mounted. But he mustn't leave. They had to answer. He waited.

The dingy hall of the tenement was thick with the odor of a thousand badly cooked meals, overflowing trash cans, dust, dirt. The smell cloyed at his sensitive nostrils. He was tired. It had been a long day and he wanted to sit down and relax. His legs ached from all the unaccustomed walking, the briefcase under his arm an annoying weight.

Why don't they answer?

A woman inside laughed in response to a muffled comment by the man. Are they laughing at me? Is it some sort of joke to keep me waiting? Muttering to himself, he pounded on the door again. He waited. He crossed the hall and knocked on the door of the other apartment, though he'd already been told it was vacant.

Then, just as he'd turned to go back downstairs, he heard the sound of footsteps approaching their door. He swung around, hand raised to knock once more, and the door popped open.

A pudgy, unshaven face gawked at him from the doorway. "Was you knockin'?"

"Yes. I did. I'm from the Census Bureau."

"So?"

"I need to talk to you. I'm the enumerator."

The man squinted at him. "What's that mean?"

He sighed. Poor was bad enough. Did they have to be stupid as well? "I need to ask you some questions. It's for the government."

The man grunted. "Come on then."

He followed the man into the apartment. It was worse than he'd expected. One large cluttered room with a small kitchen and bath opening from it. A television blared in one corner opposite a battered sofa. The woman had her back to him, wallowing in dishes at the sink in the kitchen. She turned and glanced at him, then went back to her work. The man stood beside him, waiting. A rancid odor emanated from his thick body.

"I'm from the Census Bureau."

"You said."

"Did they send you a form?"

"It's on the table, honey," the woman said.

The man walked over to the table and searched through a clutter of newspapers, mail and several shoe boxes. He came back with a sheaf of papers in his hand.

The enumerator took them and glanced over the form. "You haven't filled everything out."

"What else you need to know? Government's always wantin' to know too much about people's business."

"It's just the two of you?"

"Yeah."

"Do you have a job?"

The man scowled and shuffled his feet.

"He has back troubles," the woman said. She came toward them, drying her hands on a dingy dish towel. "He can't get no job."

"What about you, missus? Do you have a job?"

"She has enough to do taking care of this place."

The woman shrugged. "Joey don't think women should work outside the house."

The census-taker nodded. The bureau was right about them. "So you're dependent on the government?"

It was the man who shrugged this time. "Supposed to take care of its citizens, ain't it? I mean, what else is it for? Don't give you much and won't let you in peace, neither. You about done?" the man asked. "I'm missing my show."

A raucous game show on the TV. Its din enough to give the enumerator a headache. He made a notation on the form. Deceased. The pen scratched harshly on the paper. "What? Yes. I'm about done." He stuck his pen into his shirt pocket, knelt and opened the briefcase on his knee. He shoved in the papers and extracted his pistol. A neat Colt Woodsman .22 fitted with a silencer. He rose and faced the couple.

The man saw it first. His eyes popped wide and he took a step back, bumping into his wife. "What's that for?" the woman squawked.

He shot the man between the eyes. The gun made a pop, barely audible over the TV. The woman opened her mouth but no sound came out. He shot her and she collapsed across her husband's body.

He glanced down at her prostrate form. "I'm sorry," he said, putting the gun back in the briefcase. "I'll be going now. Thank you for your time."

He turned and left the apartment. The television blared in the hall from the open doorway. He went down the stairs. It was time to see about some supper and a rest.

BIO: J.R. Lindermuth is the author of seven novels, including three in the Sticks Hetrick mystery series. He has published short stories and articles in a variety of magazines, both print and online. Check out Jack's Place for reviews and sample chapters.

3 comments:

Al Tucher said...

That's a first--census noir! And well done!

Paul Brazill said...

Kafka noir. Thick, dark and strong like and Irish Coffee.

Gavin Bell said...

Great story JR, reminded me of one of Stanley Ellin's finely-polished gems!