On Record

Published: March 13, 2015

Bruno Williams pressed the button on the recordable turntable and spoke into the microphone:

“This is a confession. A reluctant one but my crime has been witnessed, and there is no way out. I killed Sonny Bumbass, my neighbor of 15 years in this Brooklyn tenement, today, July 12, 1959, at roughly 9 p.m. and in cold blood.

“You would have too, if you had endured the years of sleepless nights and constant noise, if each of your legal avenues to get him to shut off the incessant music had failed. You would murder, I contend, as I have murdered.

“Sonny began bootlegging records three years ago. Two hundred a week, all hours, playing them on one turntable and recording them on the microphone of another table to make the duplicate. A low-end affair, he maxed the volume to get the sound. Others complained, but it’s my bedroom that shares a wall with his bathroom, where he records — ‘for the acoustics.’ I appealed directly to Sonny, but as the landlord’s nephew, he laughed me off.

“Twice I called the police. Someone is on the take, and they never came. This apartment was grandfathered to me, I can’t afford another, not since I lost the job at the plant. For falling asleep on duty.

“Bumbass … even though he’s dead, I still hate that name …

“For 30 months we argued to the edge of violence. But in these last weeks I changed my tactics. I charmed. I don’t know if I planned to kill him, but I wanted Sonny to like me, to take me into his apartment, to let his guard down. He began to invite me over to listen to his favorites. Always the capitalist, he played the redneck music and boogie-woogie that is so popular with the kiddies these days. Nothing with taste.

“Tonight, I arrived with something better: ‘Ellington at Newport.’ Duke sells so Sonny was willing to play it. When we reached Gonsalves’ famous sax solo, Sonny closed his eyes to take it in. I beat him to death — in four four time — with a plaster bust of Beethoven.

“At that moment I considered I might get away with it. Sonny was a black-marketer, connected to riff-raff far more suspicious than a veteran like me. But then I saw a horrified face looking in through the window — Frank Malone. Out to sleep in the cool air of the fire escape, Malone dropped his mattress and fled down the ladder. By the time I reached the window he was two levels below me. He descended to the street, turned a corner, and was out of sight.

“Malone will bring the police, of course. So, I have taken Sonny’s recordable to my own apartment, where I leave this message as my final — ”

Three hard knocks at the door.

“They’ve come. Well, I’ll say again that you’d have killed Sonny too. All that noise, all those years. They might convict me, but they’ll never blame me.”

Bruno clicked off the machine and opened the door to his fate. In rushed Fidel Canada, a first-floor tenant, nearly out of breath.

“You got a phone, Bruno?” he said between gasps.

“I had it pulled years ago. No one could ever hear me over all that noise from …”

“Frank Malone’s dead.”

“What?”

“Yeah, I saw the whole thing. Frank climbed off the fire escape, and went tearing into the street still in his pajamas, all panicked, shouting something we could never make out, then got bulldozed over by the Chauncey Street bus.”

“My God.”

“There’s an ambulance down there, around the corner, though it won’t do him no good now. The police got the whole street blocked off. I gotta call my cousin in Queens. He was real close with Frank.”

“Yes … Yes, you do that, Fidel. Try Mrs. Polk on the 14th floor. I think she has one.”

“I’ll go on up, Bruno. This’ll break her heart too.”

“Yes, break …” Bruno glanced at the disc on the recordable turntable. When Fidel was gone, he picked up the record, opened the window, and tossed it away.

Freedom!

Emancipation!

Quiet!

His confession eviscerated into a thousand pieces on the cement 11 stories below.

Or so he thought. Instead the disc spun away like a rebellious Frisbee, slamming unbroken into the seam in Sonny Bumbass’ window. It wobbled as it hit, as if something out of a Chuck Jones cartoon, then hung still, wedged solidly in the gap. A circular black flag on the building’s exterior.

Bruno stared in disbelief, cursing the gods of music and aerodynamics, then reluctantly eased himself out onto the rickety fire escape. Bumbass’ window was more than an arm’s length beyond the banister, but if he could just lean out a bit … his fingertips could almost touch … yes, he could feel success within his grasp … a tad more …

Through the dusty pane he could see Bumbass’ body lying still … he laughed, though the banister pressed hard against his ribs … You deserved it, Sonny, you son of a bitch … play Chopin once and a while and I might have forgave yeah …

Just one more inch …

**

“Never seen a banister give way like that before,” said Officer Moody, kneeling over the broken body of Bruno Williams. “Nasty fall.”

“It happens on these old tenement fire escapes, Sid,” answered Officer Ureno standing nearby. “You should never lean on them, especially a big man with all that weight.” He shook his head. “First Malone, now this guy. Tough night for the building losing two people.”

Moody fingered one of the countless black shards covering the pavement. “What was this record in his hand anyway?”

“Unlabeled.”

“Give you 10-to-1 it was recordable and he was a bootlegger. Moving his wares out the back fire escape late at night.” Moody grimaced. “A conman stealing from Bing and Dean and everyone else with talent. Kinda got what he deserved.”

“That’s heartless, Sid. And even if you’re right, I’d go on record saying the punishment didn’t fit the crime.”

Read More:
You might also like ...

  • Great dialogue – sparing prose and wonderful use of irony

  • Layla

    A darkly humourous little story! I enjoyed it, particularly the choice of murder weapon…