It was almost 4:00 PM when Colton drove across the George Washington bridge into Manhattan. Two things had delayed them by four hours.
Swapping vehicles had cost them over three hours. Unfortunately, a direct trade, or a sale and repurchase weren’t feasible given the lack of title for Mildred’s Mercedes. At Exit 260B they’d detoured and taken I-81 North to Scranton, Pennsylvania to purchase a 2011 Ford E-Series E-250 Cargo Van they’d found on the Internet. The cash price, after a little negotiating, was $19,800. From there, after another Google search, they’d driven both vehicles fifteen miles northeast to Jermyn Self-Storage in a town of the same name and spent $1,300 to hide the Sprinter for a year. Unlike the business where they’d stored Colton’s RAM in Rockford, Jermyn didn’t provide an APP or any other service for offsite viewing and inspecting their vehicle.
Then luck or fate had intervened to offer a flat tire on the Ford. This had caused another forty-minute delay. It had happened on I-80 in Teterboro, New Jersey. Thankfully, a tire repair outfit located at a local truck stop quickly responded and had Colton and Sandy back on the road less than a half-hour ago.
As they exited the bridge, Sandy noticed a small metal sign for The Little Red Lighthouse. During the flat tire incident he’d learned the place he and his family had visited on vacation while he was just a kid, although decommissioned, was still open to visitors. The Lighthouse was underneath the bridge on the eastern shore of the Hudson River. “Take the next right, the tour will take thirty minutes and I’ll check it off my bucket list.”
However, the visit was not to be. Colton quashed the idea, preferring not to waste any more time. Plus, he wanted to arrive at Millie’s place before dark. Sandy didn’t articulately respond, instead mumbled something under his breath.
Colton continued east on I-95, crossed the Harlem River, and slowed to a near crawl as he navigated the loop before merging onto I-87 South. The traffic was heavy, and, along with two tolls, consumed another thirty-five minutes before the pair reached The Allendale building in Jackson Heights, a Brooklyn suburb. Eighty-second street was one-way but thankfully, there was an open parking spot in front of the six story, well-kept Co-Op.
Sandy noticed two middle-aged women approaching on the sidewalk, heads buried in their cell phones. They walked up the stairs to the Allendale door, entered a code on an electronic keypunch pad, allowed the double doors to open automatically, and walked inside. “Okay, Mr. Brainiac, what do we do now?” Sandy asked an anxious Colton.
“Wait” was all he said as he opened the driver’s side door and exited the vehicle. He walked to the front bumper and stared upwards and across the beautiful brick building. From its architecture, including equally separated brick columns built into the facade, it was reasonable to conclude there were four apartments on each floor. Sandy joined him, and watched as Colton walked the sidewalk to the corner of the building.
He stood, stared, and concluded the Co-Op was deep enough for a total of eight, equal-sized apartments per floor. With six floors, that meant he and Sandy might have to knock on a maximum of forty-eight doors before finding Molly and Millie. Time-consuming, but doable.
Colton continued to ponder. There might be another option. If there was an intercom panel in the first floor foyer they could use it to call each unit, assuming they weren’t labeled with the resident’s name which was unlikely for Millie and Molly’s apartment buzzer since they’d just moved in a few days ago. Either way, Colton didn’t like this contact method. Millie would recognize either his or Sandy’s voice. This would cause panic and likely a quick reaction. She probably would call the police before Colton and Sandy could reach her and Molly’s apartment.
Of course, both contact methods—knocking on doors throughout the building and using the intercom system to call the apartments—assumed Colton and Sandy could gain access through the exterior door to begin with.
After ten minutes of Colton’s staring at the Allendale and leaning against the hood of the van, Sandy walked up the stairs to the main entrance. “Here’s an idea. We watch someone enter their code, write it down, wait a few minutes, then use it to gain access.”
Colton was surprised that he hadn’t thought about that. So far, his best idea was to use Google to learn if there are any apartments for sale within The Allendale. Then, hopefully tomorrow, gain access with the help of a local realtor who would show-up thinking he had a potential buyer. Colton nodded at Sandy who was returning to the van. “Not bad. Let’s give it a try.”
They both retook their respective seats. “Even a blind hog finds an acorn every once in a while.” Sandy said, proud of himself.
“Okay Mr. Hog, go back to the door and pretend you are entering your code. I want to see if your idea will work and whether we need to move the van a little.” Sandy did as instructed while Colton reached behind him and retrieved a pair of binoculars from a duffel. He’d had them for years, often using them for closeups of pretty women traversing a college campus or a mall parking lot.
After a few minutes, and backing the van one parking spot, Colton motioned Sandy to return. “Now, we just need someone to be our guinea pig.” Sandy said, wondering why the address Ray in Perrysburg had given them didn’t include an apartment number.
“Maybe we’ll get lucky and Millie and Molly will show up after a leisurely stroll.” Colton said, looking up 82nd street through the binoculars.
At 8:00 PM, a short oriental man crossed the street in front of the van and approached the Allendale. “Here we go,” Sandy said. They’d spent the past two hours being bored but studying a drawing of the keypad Colton had made in a notebook. The numbers were laid out the same way as his iPhone, which was the opposite of the old adding machine he used at work. Obviously, there were ten options: 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, & 9. The numbers, one, two, and three were left to right and at the top of the keypad; four, five and six filled the second row; and seven, eight, and nine completing the third row. The zero occupied the center spot in the fourth row at the bottom.
Colton watched as the man quickly used his right index finger to press four buttons. Per agreement, Sandy’s assignment was to use a second drawing of the keypad to record the keystrokes themselves. That is, the sequence and exact movement of the oriental man’s hands. Colton’s job was to focus on the numbers, more particularly, the numbers that appeared in the small rectangular window directly above the keypad.
The doors opened and the short man went inside. Colton and Sandy conversed and finally agreed the man had entered 3 6 1 9.
They waited five minutes and walked to the Allendale’s front door. Colton noted there were no intercom system built into the exterior wall beside the entrance, unlike some buildings he’d visited in Chicago. He turned his focus to the keypad. His first attempt failed. As did his second: 3 6 1 6. Success came on the third try. The correct code was 3 6 1 8. Both he and Sandy had been wrong but, surprisingly, by only one digit.
The double doors swung open. They were in.
Colton and Sandy passed through a small, unadorned foyer into the hallway. To their left was a bank of post office boxes, forty-eight to be exact. They paused and noted that underneath each five-inch by five-inch box was an apartment number; no names at all. “That narrow, single-door to the left of the main entrance must be for the mailman.” Colton said, turning to continue the walk to a bank of two elevators straight ahead, located approximately in the center of the building.
While waiting in the van, Sandy had conducted research on the Allendale. From its website, he’d confirmed Colton’s thesis that there were forty-eight units (the post office boxes confirmed this). Sandy also learned each unit had the same floor plan, except possibly for the first floor apartment that had given up square footage for the mail room. He concluded the hallways and the space for the elevator shafts were extra space, making the building larger to begin with, and hadn’t come at the expense of any of the apartments.
In addition, the website briefly described the apartment numbering scheme. The first digit for each apartment represented the floor number. The second and third digits represented the individual apartment number. Per the site’s example, apartment 317 was on the third floor, which indicated the forty-eight apartments were numbered sequentially (the first two floors would contain sixteen apartments, eight per floor).
After Sandy and Colton walked to the elevators, they noticed one was marked Service Elevator, and the other, Resident Elevator. They also saw the intercom system wedged between the elevators. There were eight rows of six buttons. Thankfully, all but four of the apartment buttons had a small bronze plate underneath containing a first initial and a last name, likely representing the apartment’s owner. Both men stared at the rows and bronze plates.
“I bet apartments 212, 429, 538, and 644 are empty.” Sandy said.
“Or, they have new residents and the building super hasn’t updated the plates.” Colton quickly added. He removed his iPhone and snapped a photo of the intercom wall while Sandy heard a door closing to their right.
The two men waited until a roundish woman wearing a tan toboggan exited an apartment. She walked their way and completely ignored them as she continued to the main entrance. After she departed, they walked the hallway toward where she’d originated and noted apartment numbers 103 and 104. These were closer to 82nd Avenue and the front of the building, while apartments 107 and 108 were directly across, towards the rear of the building. They returned to the elevators and continued walking down the opposite hallway, this time noticing the two front apartments were number 101 and 102, with the latter closest to the elevator. Directly across from these were apartment numbers 105 and 106, again, with the latter closest to the elevator.
“Now, I think we know, apartment 212 is on the second floor, toward the front and down this hallway.” Colton pointed toward the roundish woman’s apartment.
Sandy chimed in and followed the same logic and mentally located apartment numbers 429, 538, and 644. “Do we intercom these or knock on their doors?” He asked as Colton scanned the bronze plates underneath the buttons.
“Before we do anything, see if you can determine if any of these four are for sale. The website might say.”
It didn’t take Sandy two minutes to discover the answer. The website had a menu item labeled “Apartments For Sale.” Numbers 212 and 538 were the only two listed. “Looks like 429 and 644 are our best bet. They’re not listed for sale. Seems reasonable to conclude they have new residents.
Sandy stared at Colton as to say, ‘well, do we use the intercom or head on up?’
“I think it’s a no brainer. Using the intercom will give Millie more time to react.” Colton pressed the ‘Resident Elevator’ button and the door opened. Inside Sandy pressed button number four.
The older sounding woman in Apartment 429 would not open the door, but did answer, in the negative, Colton’s question whether she knew Millie Anderson. Surprisingly, under Sandy’s ruse of being a plumber and asking if she was having any problem with hot water, the patient woman announced the kitchen sink and bathroom laboratory were fine but since moving in two days ago she hadn’t tried the shower.
Sandy and Colton fared a little better at Apartment 644. Better and worse. A middle-aged man opened the door in response to Sandy’s knock, but, he too, didn’t know a Millie Anderson. They didn’t bother with the hot water ruse but asked how long he’d lived here. He’d responded by asking if they were cops or just casing the joint. His seriousness had quickly turned light. He finally admitted he wasn’t the owner but just a father helping his daughter move from Topeka, Kansas to New York City. The pair arrived last Monday.
Sandy and Colton returned to the elevator and descended to the first floor. They walked to the main entrance but stopped for Colton to snap a photo of the post office boxes. “Let’s go find a hotel. Tomorrow we’ll confirm whether 212 and 538 are truly unoccupied and for sale. Then, we’ll return and watch the building all day.”
Sandy said what Colton was feeling. “Are you starting to think we’ve been snookered, that the nice couple in Perrysburg gave us the wrong address?”
“Shit, shit, shit. You might be right. Come on.” Colton couldn’t believe he’d been so dumb, and so overconfident after he’d used restraint, only politely threatening Ray and his wife to handover Millie’s address. Now, it looked like the young, prosperous couple had outsmarted him and Sandy.