The parties started up in April, regular as allergies. Thumping bass echoed across the cemetery that split my nook of the city from that one. The neighborhood chat page lit up with complaints and counter-complaints.
Is it ok to call the police?
Move to the suburbs.
Never call the police.
Not that I ever get involved, but it’s fun to see what sets off jangled nerves.
It’s city life, suck it up.
I called the police. It’s my right.
Rat. Now yr responsbile for the worst nite of someones life.
Like I said, regular as child-support for a kid you’re not allowed to see, and nothing getting done.
Me, I didn’t care, until a five-beat loop invaded a Monday morning dream. Rehearsal before a big audition? Maybe, but then it broke into the usual thud-thud-thud DJ Wa-Na-B favored.
I can see a weekend bash, even a Thursday get-together that rolls on into Friday. But who the hell is grinding minutes before rush hour?
Come Tuesday—Wednesday, I should say—the 3:30 pulse echoed like the plodding of an elephant. No melody, just that one reverberating note. At that volume, what is there to enjoy?
It wasn’t his taste in music that bothered me, but the lack of sleep the rest of the neighborhood suffered. Despite their whining, I’m good to them. I shovel the whole sidewalk in winter, not just that foot-wide path, and I don’t let my trash blow all over. I’ve had plenty of experience with community service.
Time to do something.
I zig-zagged deserted streets. A few lit windows told of working stiffs getting started on the day. The pounding grew louder. What passed for a melody wrapped around the beats like poison ivy. I circled a few more blocks until I found the epicenter.
Despite the nightly soirees, it was no Gatsby mansion. It might have been cozy once, but now the front steps were lopsided and severed porch columns hung like stalactites. It seemed the whole thing would shiver like matchsticks under the constant barrage. That sonic weapon in Cuba made everyone sick. What kind of damage was he doing here?
The derelict porch somehow supported a swaying crowd. In the shadows, people drank, smoked, made out. Suspicious eyes followed my car, so I rounded the block and parked on the opposite street. I carried nothing but keys and a pocket-knife jingling against loose change. The neighbors must’ve put up heavy drapes to cut the sound down, but I still felt every vibration deep in my gut.
I pressed on against the swelling sonic tide.
A basement window reflected a nearby streetlight, a winking invitation. Up close, the glass rattled in the frame. I jimmied the lock in about two beats.
I slid through, dropping to the floor. Picking my way around piled suitcases and other detritus, I found the master switch. I expected a big knife-switch, like for an electric chair, but it was just a cheap one-armed bandit. I guessed it might take the lord of the dance two minutes to arrive when his tunes went dead, so I unlatched a closer window for an escape hatch.
That done, I pulled the lever. The sudden silence felt like a giant’s grip relaxing. A collective groan rose up, and I got to work, unscrewing the fuses and putting my handful of pennies behind them. In my hurry I knocked a box of fuses to the floor.
Screwing in the last fuse, I heard clomping on the basement steps. A flashlight swept the area and I pressed against a pole, behind a file cabinet.
He had a clear path to the electric panel, and I realized he must’ve done this often enough, given the box of fuses. He was half again as big as me, weaving through the dark.
He shone the light on the fuse box, and poked at one or two gingerly. Nothing. He unscrewed one fuse and shook it next to his ear, then replaced it. Just a few more, and then he’d investigate the master switch.
I shrunk deeper into the shadows, realizing for the first time just how damned quiet it was down here. Not even the furnace was running. I shifted just enough to cause the remaining coins in my pocket to clink together.
“Gotcha,” he shouted, crossing the distance in two steps.
He grabbed me by the hair, yanking me forward. I got the knife in my hand, still opened to the screwdriver. It sliced him, and as he recoiled he slipped on one of the dropped fuses.
I dashed for the open window, scrabbling with my feet against the wall. I almost squeezed through, but then he dragged me back by the ankle.
By now, two others had come to check on him. The three of them rained fists and feet against me and I staggered to the wall. As it happened, I crouched below the master switch, and Gatsby flipped it on while his friends continued to turn my ribs to splinters.
“Now we get to call the police,” he sneered. He pulled out his phone, dialed 911, reported a break-in. The light from the screen revealed a sweaty, gloating face.
Meanwhile, the music started up again. The booms matched the throbbing in my head. They left me, secure in the belief I couldn’t escape through that window. They were right.
As I lay there, the pennies did their job. An arc flashed out of the box, illuminating the basement in blue light. At the same time, I heard sirens. Flames rippled out along the floor joists and up the walls. A second later, the party-goers stampeded into the night.
No one would think to rescue me.
The neighborhood page was right: this was the worst night of someone’s life.
I should have listened.
About the author:
J. M. Taylor has appeared in such mags as Thuglit, Crime Factory, Crime Syndicate, Tough Crime, and Wildside Black Cat. His first novel, Night of the Furies, was published by New Pulp Press, and Genretarium released his second, Dark Heat. He lives in Boston with his wife and son, and when he’s not writing or reading, he teaches under an assumed name.