The Last Tenant, A Collection of Stories
Richard Koss


The Last Tenant

Harvey was an old panhandler, a petty thief, and a wino. He was a nondescript, voluntary member of the "Homeless" who found his own shelter and refuge in abandoned buildings. This morning Harvey woke up on the leather couch in the sixth floor lounge of the old Parker building. He liked that old couch and spent many a night on it. He also liked the sixth floor because of the lake breeze that whistled through the broken windows in the early morning hours of those hot summer months.

Lighting up one of his last three cigarettes, he paused to listen to what sounded like voices echoing over a screeching P.A. system not too far away. Cautiously, he moved towards a window, being very careful not to be seen. He didn't want to kill a good thing by letting anyone know he was using this dump for a hotel. For some reason the word was out that this place was off limits - taboo. Since he began coming here over a year ago, he had yet to run into any competition, which was just fine with him.

Harvey leaned up against the south wall and peered through the corner of a partially boarded window. About two hundred yards away he saw at least 300 people gathered around what appeared to be a few dignitaries standing on a podium. One of them was speaking but he was too far away to be heard. Must be some kind of dedication ceremony he thought. Squinting out at the distant crowd, he could see no new buildings or ground breaking sights, only vacant lots and a few old buildings like this one.

Although his eyes were old and tired, he could still see several large signs with The bright orange letters D_O_Y_L_E. Harvey was not familiar with that name and he could care less who the hell Doyle was. No longer curious, he walked away from the window and plopped himself down on the old couch. Just then, the lake breeze kicked up again and an advertising leaflet flew in through a broken window. The flyer fluttered around and finally came to rest upon the old man’s chest - perhaps a little too late. As he picked the leaflet off his chest, Harvey’s eyes filled with terror and he felt the incredible, deafening BOOM!!! For In that miniscule moment before his soul left his body, Harvey was able to read the words printed on the leaflet:




The Last Tenant (Verse)

An old panhandler, a wino and petty thief;
thus summed up Harvey, to be honest and brief.
A charter member of the "homeless" society,
he found his own shelter, refuge, variety.
His current address was an old downtown rendition
where he found comfort and solace and no competition.
From the sixth floor he surveyed, looking down like the Pope,
in a palace "off limits," said the grapevine of lost hope.
This morning he awakened to voices and applause,
so curiously he rose up to witness their cause.
Unheard and unseen, to an unboarded window he went.
Peering out he saw people, attending an event.
Dedication? ground-breaking? What ceremony could this be?
With eyes old and tired he tried, but Harvey couldn't see.
So he went back to his "suite," eager to resume his rest
and as he lie there, a piece of paper landed on his chest.
It was some kind of leaflet blown in through the window.
For a split second he read it, then murmured an "oh oh."
Then a deafening BOOM! sparked his soul's final mission.




Sam Peepers looked like a big lump lying there in the old leather recliner. His son Billy was sprawled out on the floor as they watched an old "Taxi" rerun on television. Sam was still laid off from the chemical plant and Billy didn't start football practice for another two weeks so the two of them spent almost all of the summer mornings watching television together. You could easily see that they were father and son with Billy almost as big as Sam but not nearly as fat. Even their mannerisms were alike. As Sam gulped on his third can of beer, Billy held a Pepsi in one hand with the other buried in a large bag of Cheetos next to him on the floor.

The house was not a total disaster thanks to Alvin, Billy’s 15-year-old brother who did all the housecleaning, dishwashing, and vacuuming for the meager weekly allowance Sam gave him. Since his mother died two years ago, Alvin had become more of a recluse than ever, spending almost all of his leisure time in his basement laboratory which he put together quite impressively with the help of the popular science and chemistry books he collected. Sam, satisfied that he had at least one son who was an athlete, tolerated Alvin's nerdy appearance and personality and occasionally even brought him home some chemicals for his laboratory experiments. Sam was able to do this when he was on the night shift where security was loose. The toughest part about stealing these items was finding them since he could barely read the names Alvin printed, let alone pronounce them.

Yes, Alvin was certainly the nerd of the family, though his grades were only average, except for science. He did not look forward to his sophomore year. With the exception of chemistry, he had little interest in other school subjects and his social life and friends were practically nonexistent. Alvin was small and slight weighing barely 100 lbs. and he wore glasses which made him look like a real "Mr. Peepers," the title character of an old television sit-com who was definitely a nerd before the word was even invented. One of Alvin’s classmates found an old T.V. magazine at home which featured an article about this popular television show of the sixties starring Wally Cox. The kid brought the magazine to school and the students immediately began calling Alvin Mr. Peepers, which he disliked to no avail because even some of the teachers chuckled at the name-sake resemblance. His brother’s friends also got a big kick out of the comparison and instead of discouraging them, Billy laughed right with them.

 It was almost noon as Sam nudged Billy's protruding butt with the heel of his Shoe. " I'm gonna order pizzas from Gino's. You want everything on yours?" "Yeah," Billy muttered without taking his eyes off the television. Sam dialed Gino’s number. After a hundred pizzas or so, Sam had the number memorized. Knowing Alvin wouldn’t eat any pizza, he ordered only two large pizzas with the works. Alvin didn’t mind picking up their pizzas because Sam let him keep the change. Besides, Gino's was only about two miles away just south of Monroe Boulevard.

Just as Billy was about to yell downstairs for Alvin he looked up and saw the silly looking boy standing in the hallway at the top of the basement stairs. Alvin had a glowing look on his face as he beamed out, "I've done it! I've finally done it!" He was really excited and continued in a confident tone. "I have just created a cloned substance equivalent to Nitro-Glycerin in its most potent form." In his right hand he held up a four- inch vial about three-quarters full of a clear liquid and sealed with a plastic cap.

Looking at the glass vial in his hand, Alvin continued, "This could make me very, very, rich and if it does, you'll never see me again, I promise you that." Billy scoffed at his brother. " The only way you're ever gonna get rich is if you rob a bank, you little weirdo." "Maybe That's exactly what I intend to do." Alvin’s tone was subdued but serious as he leered at his brother through the small, oval shaped lenses which accentuated his overall frail appearance. Sam, ignoring most of this conversation, stared at Alvin from his recliner. He felt a tinge of pity for the little man as he observed how much he looked and acted like his mother.

In one quick motion, Billy grabbed the pillow he had been resting his head on and threw it at Alvin's outstretched right arm. Alvin moved his hand just in time as the pillow whizzed by within inches of the vial. Alvin yelled in his high pitched voice.

"Do you wanna die, you jerk?" Billy smiled and thought about the last time Alvin got this angry with him. It was just last Winter when he pissed in a beaker containing one of Alvin's experiments. "No, I don't wanna die, Alvin," Billy responded mockingly. "But before you blow yourself up, get your ass on your bike and pick up our pizzas." Sam handed a ten and a five to Billy and he threw the crumpled bills at Alvin's feet. Alvin picked up the money and walked out the side door into the attached garage with the vial of clear liquid still in his hand. He placed the vial gently on a storage shelf next to a roll of masking tape. Tearing off two strips from the roll, he firmly taped the vial in an upright position to the back of the shelf. Then he picked up the wire basket he used to carry pizzas and hooked it on the handle bars of his bicycle. Off he went down the street towards Monroe Boulevard on his way to Gino's Pizzeria.

Fifteen minutes later Alvin returned with the pizzas. Billy was waiting at the side door entrance to the garage. He took the two cartons from Alvin and sidestepped the clutter on the living room floor, handing a pizza to Sam. Alvin stared at them both, watching as Billy couldn't wait to get a piece in his mouth. Heading back into the garage, Alvin laughed to himself while listening to Billy utter a garbled profanity as he burned the roof of his mouth on the pizza.

Back in the garage, he grabbed an old pair of sunglasses from another section of the storage shelf and put them in his pants pocket. He then removed the tape from the vial and holding it in his right hand, began his trek, a solo journey he had thought about taking for some time.

So little Alvin, staring straight ahead, continued his slow, steady march and as he reached Monroe Boulevard he turned North. In another three blocks he would arrive at his destination.

The Monroe Boulevard branch of the Franklin Savings and Loan was a small office with four tellers, a new accounts clerk, and a branch manager. The branch had no security guard and only one entrance. Alvin had thought about doing this for a long time. This was the only way he could be free to do the things he wanted to do. The only way he could have all the money he would ever need or want and the only way he could get away from Billy and dad and everyone else who made fun of him.

As the traffic paraded along the Boulevard, no one seemed to notice the five foot three inch frail looking boy with baggy pants and tennis shoes walking along the bicycle path with a small glass vial in his right hand.

Walking very gingerly, it took Alvin almost ten minutes to reach the crosswalk at Hamilton Avenue and Monroe Boulevard. The entrance to Franklin Savings and Loan was now in front of him only fifty yards away. The red light turned green and Alvin's heart began to beat more rapidly as he moved along the crosswalk. Stopping in front of the glass doors, Alvin gently slid the vial into his right pocket and reaching into his left pocket, removed the pair of sunglasses. He took off his regular glasses and stuck them into his left pocket while putting on the sunglasses. Now he could barely see the figures inside the bank through the glass doors.

Although he was extremely nervous, Alvin opened the doors and walked directly to the customer counter where there were deposit and withdrawl slips and pens. He was all alone at the customer counter and despite his nearsightedness, Alvin could see the only bank customer seated at the branch manager's desk.

Taking a withdrawl slip from the container box, Alvin picked up a ball point pen and began to print on the blank side of the slip. As he printed each word, he could feel his heart racing faster and faster. After printing several words, he stopped to read what he had printed. He crumpled the slip in his hand and threw it into the waste can underneath the counter. Taking another withdrawl slip, he began again.

In a few minutes, his work was completed. He held the slip up close to his face and sliding his sunglasses to his forehead, read his printed words over several times. With his back to the tellers' windows, he glanced over to the branch manager's office just in time to see the lone customer leaving the manager's desk and heading for the doors. He stood at the counter for a moment. The bank was quiet except for the faint sounds of a calculator and a line printer in the teller area.

Alvin began his silent walk across the carpeted floor to the manager's glass enclosed office. As he entered the manager's office, he held the slip of paper in his left hand and placed his slightly trembling finger tips on the top of the glass vial in his right pants pocket. His entrance to the front of the manager's desk was so quiet that the young manager failed to notice his presence for a few seconds. The manager, athletic looking and well groomed, was somewhat startled to look up and see this almost waif-like boy with sunglasses standing in front of him.

His tone was pleasant as he asked, " And what can I do for you, young fella?" Quickly, his smile evaporated for he sensed the boy's state of trauma as Alvin handed him the printed slip without saying a word. The young manager read the printed message. PLEASE DO NOT UNDERESTIMATE ME. I HAVE ENOUGH NITRO-GLYCERIN IN MY HAND TO BLOW THIS BANK INTO A MILLION PIECES. GO TO YOUR VAULT AND FILL A SACK WITH TWENTIES AND TENS. IF YOU SET OFF AN ALARM OR NOTIFY THE POLICE I WILL THROW THIS VIAL AGAINST THE WALL AND WE WILL ALL DIE.

Discarding all the standard operating procedures he had learned in his formal training on how to deal with crises situations, the manager remained seated and began to admonish Alvin. "Do you realize how much trouble you could cause your parents and yourself by this crazy stunt?" He looked at the vial Alvin was holding in his hand and stood up. He was well over six feet and towered over Alvin as he continued in a calm voice. "Why don't you set that thing down here on my desk and let me call your parents? We don't have to get the police involved in this." The boy was now visibly shaken and the manager realizing this, stepped out from behind his desk and grabbed Alvin's upper arm firmly with his left hand while reaching for the vial with his right hand. As Alvin attempted to pull away, his fingers came apart and the glass vial with the clear liquid began its descent to the carpeted floor of the manager’s office.

Sam reached for his last piece of pizza as Billy continued his channel surfing.

" Look at the mess you made on the carpet. Why the hell can't you use a tray like me?" Billy answered, "Alvin's gonna vacuum this afternoon. Where the hell is he anyway?" The living room windows facing Monroe Boulevard rattled and Sam and Billy felt the unmistakable vibration as they heard a distant boom like an explosion of some sort. Sam barked, "What the hell was that?" They both got up and looked out the windows. It looked like a typical summer afternoon with the normal flow of traffic moving along the Boulevard. As Sam got back in his recliner, Billy looked at him, and in a cackling voice said, "That was probably Alvin blowin up somethin’ with his Nitro." Billy’s comment came out of nowhere and caught Sam by surprise so that he nearly choked on his pizza.

The sight of his father spitting and coughing anchovies and green peppers and mushrooms all over the place got Billy started and now they were both roaring with laughter. And the roar of their laughter made them oblivious to all other sounds; even the sounds of the sirens of the fire engines and police cars speeding north on Monroe Boulevard.



Copyright 1999 Richard Koss
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