It was an impossibly cold morning a year ago. My sister, Sherri, and I had just moved into our own place. We rented a small ranch-style house from an older man named Mr. Purvis. Mr. Purvis was a recent widower. His wife had passed away, and we never got the whole story. He struggled to keep his income, and decided to rent out his home. He was a lenient landlord, but always stressed that the rent had to be paid on time.
Being young women, Sherri and I did not really understand his plight. We were worried about getting to work on time, meeting our friends on time, or catching up on a Netflix binge. We knew that Mr. Purvis relied on our rent money, but we never really grasped just how important that income was to him. It wasn’t until the third month when we really found out just how serious he was about paying on time.
That cold morning three months into our stay at the new place, the furnace kicked out. It was a week after rent was due. We had gone out the night before, and in our drunken stupor, we had blown through most of our cash. We had some in savings, but not enough to cover a full month of rent. Sherri was going to get paid the following Friday. We shamefully called Mr. Purvis on the first of the month and told him we were short on rent money, but the furnace was out. We assured him we could pay by Friday.
“What?!” he exclaimed over the phone. I could almost feel his seething breath through the phone receiver.
“We are so sorry Mr. Purvis. We have half of the rent, but we can’t cover the whole payment until Friday. Can you just look at the furnace? We are frozen.”
“HALF?! Half won’t cut it, girls! I need ALL the rent – NOW! I don’t care about the damn furnace.” He huffed into the phone. Before I could reply, the call cut off – indicating he had hung up on me in his fury.
I looked at Sherri. She was red in the face and tears were welling in her eyes. She never had been very good with dealing with other people when they got angry. She frequently shut down and turned to tears. I wanted to console her, especially because we were now running late for work.
“Sherri…It’s okay, really. We can pay him on Friday. I’m sure he is just upset and it is still early in the morning. He probably needed the money for his own bills. Let’s offer to pay him half now, and the rest on Friday. We will be eating oodles of noodles for the week, but if it will make you feel better, let’s just pay him something. We need to get going, come on.”
Sherri swallowed hard. She looked at me and managed a weak smile. “You’re right, Claire. I’m fine. Let’s call him back. Real quick. Please? I won’t be able to work all day without talking to him again.” She watched me as I dialed Mr. Purvis once more.
“Mr. Purvis? It’s Claire. I think we must have gotten cut off before,” I lied, knowing he hung up on me.
“Did you figure out the rent?” He was clearly peeved. His voice shook.
“Well, like I said before the phone call was lost, we have half the rent. We can pay you what we have now, and the rest on Friday. Would that be okay?” I tried to ask as sweetly as I could.
“And like I said before, no! That would not be okay! I need all of the payment. If you do not pay me by the end of today, you can pack you stuff and leave! Freeze, for all I care!” Once again, he hung up the phone without me replying.
Frustrated, I ended the call on my side. Sherri was fidgeting, trying to keep herself from crying.
“We can ask Mom for help?” She really did not like making other people upset.
“Mom needs her money just as much as Mr. Purvis. I think I’m just going to drive by to his place and give him what we have after work. I know it’s not what he wants, but it’s the best we can do.” I sighed and put my phone in my pocket. Sherri, happy enough with my resolution, resigned herself to get ready for work.
Both of us packed our bags for work and headed to the car. I dropped Sherri off at her office building before driving to my own job. I could not shake the feeling that Mr. Purvis was acting strangely. Up until now, he had always been kind. He offered to make midnight repairs to broken appliances. He was never annoyed when we called about a strange noise within the walls. He was always very professional.
But something about today’s interaction was off. His tone of voice had conveyed something beyond anger. There was fear hanging off of every phrase. What would scare such a gentle old man? I knew he had lost his wife recently, but that did not seem like a reason to be both angry and afraid of missing a rent check. Things were not adding up.
I talked to my supervisor and decided to take half a day off of work. At lunch time, I left my office and went to the bank. I withdrew all of our savings, except for a little spending money for the week for food and gas. I neatly placed the money inside an envelope and headed to Mr. Purvis’ residence.
Mr. Purvis had greatly downgraded from the ranch-style home he was renting out to us. The apartment complex he had chosen had no security. Cars lined the narrowed streets. There were barely any open parking spaces. The green space was all but dead, and the sidewalks were cracked. The parking lot was in serious need of repair. Even in the bright of daylight, it felt less than safe.
The apartments all faced the green space in the central area of the complex. It was reminiscent of an old motel, with units on the ground floor, and a staircase outside leading up to the second floor of units. I watched as kids played on the staircase. I carefully made my way up to the corner unit belonging to Mr. Purvis, trying to avoid the children or slipping on the icy surfaces.
The windows were tightly shut with the blinds drawn. There was no noise from inside the apartment. I knocked loudly and waited for him to answer.
“I DON’T HAVE IT YET!” he yelled from behind the door.
“Mr. Purvis? It’s Claire…” I said after knocking again. I heard a loud rustle from behind the apartment door. Several locks and a chain were undone before Mr. Purvis answered. He looked disheveled. His white wiry hair was frazzled around his balding dome. His eyes were sunken in. His clothes were stained. Clearly, he was not expecting a visitor.
“Oh. Claire. It’s just you. Did you bring the rent check?” His eyes lit up a little with the hope of money.
“I told you before, we don’t have it all. There is no way we can make the entire payment today. I’m really sorry. I know you refused our offer to pay what we had, but I really wanted to pay you something today. We just really feel awful.” I handed him the thick envelope of cash.
“Claire…this won’t help me. This won’t work. This will just…” he stopped before offering any more information. He pushed the envelope back towards me.
“Just get me the rest. Figure it out. You are grown women. Get me the cash by the end of the night.” He turned around and slammed the door in my face. Before I could turn around and leave, I heard two separate deadbolts and a chain lock shut.
“It’s not THAT unsafe around here…there are kids playing outside, for Pete’s sake…” I said under my breath as I headed down the stairs. I unlocked the car door as I made my way across the parking lot. I had about an hour before Sherri needed a ride home. Without enough time to head home first, I drove straight to her office to wait.
Mr. Purvis’s behavior really disturbed me. He looked like a totally different person. Why wouldn’t he take our offer? It had to be better than nothing. Maybe there was something going on that I did not know about. Curiosity gripped me. I did what I thought was my best shot at getting information – I searched Mr. Purvis on the internet.
My search revealed that his wife had died mysteriously. At first they suspected Mr. Purvis himself. After multiple interviews and polygraph tests, he cleared any suspicion. He said that an intruder had killed his wife. They were still searching for her murderer.
Sherri knocked on my window. I jumped. The doors were locked and she had been trying to get in the car, but I had been so engrossed in my research that I had not noticed her. She looked angrily at me, rubbing her mitten-clad hands together to keep warm. I unlocked the door and she quickly jumped in.
“Jesus, open the door right away next time! It’s too cold to be standing around outside.” She pulled off her mittens and hat as she adjusted to the warm car.
“I went to see Mr. Purvis. He was acting really weird. He wouldn’t take the money. It felt like there was something he wanted to tell me, but he wouldn’t. I’m kind of worried. Did you know his wife was murdered?” I handed her my phone with the article still pulled up.
“No! What?! That’s crazy! Now I feel even worse about the money. You just couldn’t keep that one to yourself, huh?” She slowly scrolled through my phone. When she was finished, she set it down and exhaled heavily in disbelief.
“I know. I feel bad too. I just don’t know what else to do. Maybe we can sell some stuff and make up the rest of the cash?” That was the best idea I could come up with at the time. We had plenty of clothes we barely wore. We could even sell our gaming console, even if it meant taking a hit on what we had originally paid for it.
“Sounds like a plan. Let’s find some stuff around the house to get rid of. I really want to try and get the rest. How much are we short?” Sherri asked.
“We need at least another $400…” Saying the number aloud made it sound much less attainable.
When we got back to our place, we gathered all the clothes we were not wearing. We packed up our game console and the games for it. After searching every corner for anything of value, we headed to go make our sales. First stop was the clothes resale shop, then the game resale shop.
All of our items only netted us another $275. We were still $125 short, and stores were starting to close. The clock read 9:30PM. I really did not want to drive back to Mr. Purvis this late at night, let alone without all the cash. It was disheartening. I wracked my brain for any other options, but came up short, just like our envelope.
Sherri was depressed. The guilt was really eating at her. She barely touched her dinner and would not stop checking her phone. When not nose-first in her phone, she was almost catatonic. I really felt bad for her. It had been my idea to go out, even if we had both agreed to spend most of our cash that night.
“Come on, Sherri. Let’s just give him what we have. He said we had until tonight. I don’t want to go back to that frozen house without at least making one last effort to give him this money.” We headed back to the apartment complex.
Cloaked in night, the complex was much more nefarious. The shadows of the barren trees looked like fingers scratching up against the buildings. The winter wind whipped up our hair. The nervous sweat coating my forehead froze to my skin immediately. I tightly gripped the envelope in my hand. Sherri and I got out of the car and headed for Mr. Purvis’s unit.
We barely made our way across the central area of the complex to the stairs before we heard the commotion. A bang and flash rang out from the corner unit where Mr. Purvis stayed. We ran up the stairs. Sherri slipped on the icy metal, catching herself with her hands. She shot up and raced ahead of me toward the door.
“Sherri! Be careful! Wait for me!” I called out to her. She raced down the open corridor to the corner. I arrived shortly after her. More loud bangs and crashes were heard from behind the door.
“Mr. Purvis? It’s Claire and Sherri. We have your money. Are you alright? Can you open the door?” Sherri called to him. The rest of the complex was eerily quiet. I thought I saw a neighbor peer out from behind their window.
I pushed my way passed Sherri and pounded the door. A few more rustles and a sharp popping sounded from inside. Silence ensued. I pounded again.
“Mr. Purvis?” I asked – a little more quietly than Sherri had. I was more conscious of the neighbors, even if none of them had stepped outside to help or complain.
I turned the knob. It was unlocked. Fear enveloped me, gripping my chest. This was not right. Mr. Purvis had more locks than I could count on his door before, and that was during daylight hours. Why was his door unlocked in the middle of the night? Surely he wasn’t expecting us.
Trembling, I pushed open the door. Sherri held my hand and stood close to my back. Before I could open the door all the way, a grisly scene greeted us.
Mr. Purvis was lying in the center of the apartment. He was still dressed in his disheveled garb. His hair seemed even more frazzled and splashed with red. The back window to his apartment was open, the screen laying inside, propped up against the wall. Amongst the chaos of trash and knick knacks, there was a bright white piece of paper. Sherri was already dialing 911 as I made my way to the table with the paper.
On that paper was a note neatly printed. The lettering was not ominous. The ink was simply black. But the words it read instilled a fear that my sister and I will carry the rest of our lives.
“Claire and Sherri: Purvis mentioned you would have our money on Friday. Clearly, we do not appreciate waiting. See you soon.”
With wide eyes, I looked at Sherri and held the note out to face her. She dropped the phone. We both bolted from the apartment as fast as we could.
Mr. Purvis passed on his debt to us. Now we have the same money troubles as he did. I’m not sure who killed his wife, or who killed him. What I do know is that whoever it is sends someone to show up on the first Friday of every month. A different person every time. And we always have their cash.
Written by BlizzardLemon