Mrs. Abelman was eighty-two years old and very independent; she did her own housework and she did it on a particular schedule. Saturday night was for laundry. The laundry room was down the hall from her two-bedroom apartment in the Oceanside condominium and no one ever used it on weekends so she had it all to herself.
She would put the carefully sorted clothes into the washing machine, go back to her apartment for a half hour of television (usually a re-run of Friends) and return just as the spin cycle ended. This particular Saturday night she was surprised because someone was already using the dryer but, she decided, they should be finished by the time the washing machine cycle ended. The laundry room was quiet and dark when she returned. She took her clothes out of the washing machine and opened the dryer but instead of a nice empty space she saw something that sent her screaming out into the hallway.
Doors opened; people came running.
“What’s going on?”
“What’s the matter, did you see a mouse?’
Mrs. Abelman could only point, with an extremely shaky finger, to the dryer.
“Look,” she managed to gasp, “look inside!”
The neighbors hung back, no one wanted to volunteer but finally eighty-five-year-old Mr. Alonzo, stepped forward.
“I’m old,” he said, “not much can shock me anymore.”
He opened the dryer door and a young woman’s body tumbled out. Her arms were hanging limply over the side and her long brown hair streamed onto the floor covering most of her face. A few towels and socks and shirts fell out and on top of her body.
Everyone backed up; no one wanted to go near the body or touch it.
“We have to get Andy”, Mrs. Abelman said. She turned to the apartment door next to the laundry room and pounded on it. Andy, an intern at a nearby hospital who had just rented the apartment, called out “Go away, I’m sleeping!” But she kept on pounding so he slowly opened the door.
“What the hell”? he asked as he tied his robe around his waist and rubbed his eyes. “I just walked in ten minutes ago from a fifteen-hour shift at the hospital. I’m trying to grab some sleep. What’s going on?”
“Look”, Mrs. Abelman begged him as she pointed to the laundry room. “Just look”
Andy stumbled into the room and, shocked awake by the sight of the body on the floor, he bent down to examine her.
“She’s dead”, he whispered hoarsely. “Someone killed her and stuffed her body into the dryer. You’ve got to call the police; someone call the police.”
Detective A.R and several officers arrived within a few minutes. While the other officers dusted for fingerprints and determined the cause of death (she had been struck on the head with a heavy object) Detective A.R. asked to speak to Mrs. Abelman privately. She took him into her apartment and offered him tea and sugar cookies, He declined both but encouraged her to have something for the shock He asked if she would mind answering a few questions. She, clutching her teacup in one hand, said she wouldn’t mind at all.
“Did you recognize the dead woman?” he asked. “Did you know her”?
“Her name is Alicia Daly, my next-door neighbor”, Mrs. Abelman answered as she bit into a cookie, “but I didn’t actually know her. I mean, I know her name and that she’s divorced and has two little boys, twins, about three years old but we never really spoke except once when she tried to get me to sign some petition. She was trying to get Jose, he’s one of the security guards, she was trying to get him fired. She said he was disrespectful or some nonsense likes that. I told her she’d be better off minding her own business and not to bother me”
Detective AR learned a lot more in the few minutes he spoke to Mrs. Abelman. He found out that Alicia Daly had rented an apartment in the building six months ago and in that short time developed a reputation as a gossip, a busybody, and a troublemaker. In addition to circulating a petition about the security guard she reported a neighbor Mr. Tessler for keeping two cats in his apartment (pets were not allowed in the building) and another neighbor, Mrs. Hernando, for owning a washing machine (washing machines were not allowed in individual apartments). She told Mrs. Logan on the fifth floor and several other people that she saw Mr. Logan kissing some woman in the elevator and whispered to those same people that sixteen-year-old Joanne Singleton on the tenth floor had been sent away to a home for unwed mothers and not, as her parents insisted, to boarding school.
Detective A.R. was taking notes as fast as he could; “Did you ever meet her ex-husband” he asked.
“As a matter of fact,” Mrs. Abelman said as she poured herself a second cup of tea. “I did meet him in the hallway a few times when he came to pick up the twins; he came every week-end. In fact, he was here this afternoon and he and Alicia had a big argument, I heard them yelling at each other even though my door was closed”.
Detective A.R. asked if she might have any idea what they were arguing about. She replied she couldn’t be sure but she might have heard something about custody of the twins and moving to another city.
The detective’s mind was reeling when he left Mrs. Abelman’s apartment. He decided to check with the neighbors whose names she mentioned. He paid a brief visit to Mr. Tessler, Mrs. Hernando, the Singletons and the Logans and he stopped to have a word with the security guard Jose. They all confirmed what Mrs. Abelson said and they all sounded bitter about Alicia Daly.
Mr. Tessler said that the management had given him three months to find a new home for his cats, Mts. Hernando pointed sadly to the empty place in her kitchen where the washing machine had stood; Jose said that he hadn’t been fired but was on probation.
“For what?” he asked indignantly. “I did nothing to the lady, nothing. She said she didn’t like the way I looked at her. What? I’m not allowed to look at a pretty lady?”
The Logans weren’t at home; Mr. and Mrs. Singleton offered to show Detective A.R. the reports from the school their daughter was attending.
“A school,” Mr. Singleton repeated, “a boarding school for theater arts. Joanne is very talented, wants to be an actress.”
“Joanne is not and never was pregnant,” Mrs. Singleton added. “That Daly woman made the whole thing up, made it up out of spite probably because Joanne didn’t want to baby-sit for her little brats.”
Detective A.R. located Alicia’s ex-husband, Carl Daly and asked him to come down to the police station. Carl arrived in a half hour; he was shaken but not surprised that Alicia had been murdered.
“I told Allie her big mouth would get her into trouble one day,” he said. “I have to tell you, Detective; this might sound terrible but it solves a problem for me. I’m getting re-married and moving to California to work in my new father-in-laws vineyard. I’ve already applied to the courts to get full custody of the twins. I didn’t think Allie was a fit mother. Oh, I’m not saying she didn’t love the boys but between her affairs and other stuff, well, let’s just say I could provide a much better environment for them”.
He told Detective A.R. that his ex-wife had been seeing three different men and that she often brought them home to her apartment late at night. He didn’t know their names but he thought that one of them was the intern who lived in the building.
“She said something about how she didn’t have to pay for her drugs anymore; Allie got terrible migraines and was, well, sort of addicted to some stuff. She told me she was seeing some doctor who would get her any drugs she wanted.”.
Mrs. Abelman didn’t get much sleep that night; she kept thinking about the murder and picturing Alicia Daly’s body tumbling around in the dryer amongst the towels and clothes.
“Wait a minute”, she sat bolt upright in bed. “That can’t be right or, if it is right then, I think I know who murdered Alicia Daly.” She called the police station and demanded to talk to Detective A.R.
“Tell him to call me right away; I just thought of something, something that could be very important.” She hung up and waited impatiently by the phone.
“Listen, Detective,” she told Detective A.R. when he sleepily returned her call a half hour later. “That poor girl’s body was lying on the floor of the laundry room when Andy first saw it. But I distinctly remember him saying that someone stuffed her body into the dryer.”
“And that means what?” Detective AR asked.
“It means,” Mrs. Abelman said slowly,” that Andy knew the body had been in the dryer and the only only way he could have known that is if he put the body in there himself after he killed her.”