A few weeks ago Marla Fischer had been on top of the world. Now she was sitting in a police interrogation room, across from a detective, trying to explain herself, to explain something that she couldn’t even come to terms with.
“Miss Fischer, I need to know what happened between you and the victim, he was obviously a very troubled individual, but most of his anger seemed to be directed at you over the last few days. I need you to help me understand why?”
Marla sighed, “Can I smoke in here detective?”
“I’m afraid not.” He slid a legal pad and a pen across the desk towards her. “You aren’t being charged, Miss Fischer, but I will need your statement. Just write down your side of the story, in your own words, that’s all.”
“And if my statement makes me sound even crazier than he was—what then?”
“If it’s worth anything, I don’t get the crazy vibe from you, and believe me I’ve seen a few nuts in my day. You just look tired, and shaken up, which is to be expected, all things considered. When you finish you should go home and get some rest, I’ll be back in a half hour to check on you, you need anything just let someone know.”
He closed the door and left her alone. She liked him, something about him was rough, and yet comforting. He was tall, and ruggedly handsome, but above all, she decided that Detective Kent Gishpen had honest eyes, and that is what she liked about him the most.
She picked up the pen and wrote her name at the top of the page, dropped down a few lines, and began.
“I moved my business into the fourth floor offices of the Cobalt Tower a little more than two months ago. I’m an insurance broker, formerly working out of my two bedroom loft apartment, but I always had dreams of expanding, so I had kept my eye open for a bargain. When I came across the Cobalt Towers in the newspaper, I couldn’t believe the price, too good to be true, I remember thinking, but when I went to check it out, I fell in love.
First off, the building is a classic piece of architecture, beautifully designed and in a decent location. The lobby was a combination of the most gorgeous blue marble and white oak trim, with an elevator literally lined in polished silver. It was so far out of my range, I was beginning to think the price in the newspaper was wrong, that it was a typo. It wasn’t. As far as space, the fourth floor had plenty, eight large offices, enough for me, an assistant and six full-time agents. Needless to say, I was trying not to get my hopes up.
The gentleman who gave me the tour explained that the terms for this particular floor were different from the other nine above and below it. It was for sale only, with a lease to own option. Long story, short, I took a chunk of my savings to make a down payment, and signed the paperwork that week. I moved my equipment over from my apartment, and got everything situated. Then I used nearly the remainder of my savings to switch the utilities over, and to hire an assistant, a college student named Marcy. She has since quit, but I can at least provide a phone number.
Things started to go wrong the Tuesday of our second week in the building. Marcy had opened up that day and I arrived about twenty minutes after her. Her morning routine was pretty much the same, open up, raise all the shades, put on coffee, check messages, check the fax machine, and sort the previous days mail.
As usual she greeted me with java in hand, all smiles. She was sorting the mail when she popped out of her office and said there was a funny message on the voicemail. She thought maybe it was a friend of mine joking around. Intrigued, I stepped into her office and she dialed into the message system. I didn’t recognize the man on the other end, but he sounded mid-thirties to early forties.
“Very funny, okay, I’m sure you had a good laugh at our expense, with your scary little voice machine. You’ve called five times already, you scared the shit out of my wife, so don’t call back! It’s three o’clock in the morning, we have kids who are sleeping, I work construction and my day starts early. I’ve got your number on the caller ID, I don’t want to call the cops, but I will if it happens again.” Click.
Marcy and I stared at each other, was this guy for real? He had to have made a mistake when he called back and there certainly wasn’t anyone in this office at that time of night.
I thought maybe he had been half asleep when he called back, and dialed the wrong number, or maybe he was the one pulling the prank, but something about his voice sounded convincing.
I decided to call him back, to straighten this out, and let him, or his wife know they had the wrong number, but when I pulled up his call, it was tagged as Unknown Caller.
Wednesday morning, Marcy greeted me with coffee, but no cheerful smile. “He called again, Marla. It’s not good.”
I went straight to the phone.
“Ok, goddamnit, enough is enough! You’ve been ringing this phone for more than an hour, and then with the creepy voices. I’m telling you, you son-of-a-bitch, this is your last chance!”
Right before the receiver slammed down, I could hear a baby screaming in the background, as the man continued to yell. I felt sick, as I sat there thinking about what to do. This time the man had called the office around four o’clock in the morning, and again the number came up Unknown.
“You don’t think he would show up here, do you?” Marcy asked.
I told her no, but I wasn’t sure I believed my own words. What if he did? That question got me moving fast. I had to find out if anyone was harassing this man, and his family from inside my business, or if he was out of his mind. This particular phone system also kept a log of outgoing calls. I checked that list next and sure enough, both calls were placed to an unidentified number from extension 404, the second office down the hall from mine. Marcy had 401, and 402 was mine. 403 through 408 were in service, but those offices were currently unoccupied. I walked down the hall, and opened the door. I reasoned that if someone was making prank calls, there should be something noticeably out of place. The room was empty, except for a small desk, a phone, and an old file cabinet, there wasn’t even a chair. I slowly pulled the door shut as my brain processed my next move.
I took the elevator downstairs to the lobby. There was a security desk near the front door, and a security office in the sub-level basement. I explained to the guard on duty who I was, and that I would like to speak to someone in management. He picked up the phone and asked me to have a seat. In a few minutes I saw Mr. Vincent, the man who had initially given me the tour, step off the elevator and approach me, this made me at least a little bit more comfortable, with what I was about to say.
I followed him to a meeting room of some kind, one floor beneath the lobby. Across the hall was a door marked “Security – Authorized Personnel Only.”
He asked me to take a seat, and offered me coffee. I declined, politely and he poured himself a cup. When he sat down, I told him all about the situation with the strange man. I told him that I thought someone was using the phone in one of my offices to make threatening calls to this man, as crazy as it sounded.
He sat back with hands folded. He explained to me that after hours, especially the early morning hours, there was only one security officer on duty, a retired police officer in his late sixties. Mr. Vincent assured me that this gentleman was not the prankster type; in fact, in his opinion the man was a straight arrow. He also told me that the security detail patrolled only the lobby and the floors below. The elevator was put into sleep mode, so that any occupants wishing to go to the floors above would have to insert a special key, a key which I possessed. A spare key was locked in a safe, at the building management office across town.
“Miss Fischer, I assure you that nobody has set foot on that floor after closing, but…” He paused, and smiled. “As you are my newest resident, I feel it is my duty to put your mind at ease, and now, to satisfy my own curiosity. Would you come with me?”
He took my hand and led me across the hall, to the security office. He knocked, and there was a buzzing sound, and the door unlatched.
We stepped into a dimly lit room with monitors covering one entire wall. At a desk was a young Hispanic man in a blue uniformed shirt.
“Good morning Hector, this is Miss Fischer, she is the new owner of level four.”
“Nice to meet you, Mrs. Fischer,” Hector offered his hand. “If you ever need anything, don’t hesitate to ask.”
Before I could thank him, Mr. Vincent asked Hector to pull up the cameras on the fourth floor for the past two nights, between two and four. All three of us watched as Hector forwarded through two hours worth of footage in a matter of seconds. During the entire time nothing moved up or down the hallway on the fourth floor. The elevator door never opened. I asked if there was any sound, or any way to see into the individual offices, but Hector said it was a stand alone camera without a microphone, set up to monitor the hallway and elevator to see who comes and goes.
Mr. Vincent motioned me towards the door. “Thank you, Hector, good work.”
In the hallway Mr. Vincent told me that I was most likely dealing with someone who was unstable, and it might be in my best interest to at least mention it to the authorities. I thanked him for his help, and stepped outside to have a cigarette and make a call. Information gave me the number and address to the local police precinct. I drove down after lunch and filed a formal complaint, which turned out to be a good idea.
Thursday was bad, it was raining, had been all night. I found Marcy in her office; I could tell right away she had been crying. She stood as soon as I walked in, and grabbed her coat.
“I’m sorry Marla,” She sobbed, “I can’t deal with this—I mean, if you get this thing handled, I’d—I’d love to come back and work for you, but, I really have to go, I’m sorry…I’m so sorry, I just can’t, you have my number, please call me if things change.”
And just like that, with her head down, she got on the elevator, and disappeared as the doors slid shut.
I don’t think I managed to get a word out before she was gone. It wouldn’t have done any good, and I knew it.
The phone on her desk was blinking, a new message, she hadn’t even checked. I was angry for a second, thinking how could she just up and leave without checking, it might not even be him. But that anger passed quickly, she had known it was him again, just as I did.
I could hear rain pouring down in the background as he spoke slowly; I sensed desperation in his voice behind the curtain of anger, like he was physically exhausted beyond normal limits.
“You piece of shit—you bastard, I don’t know how you are doing it, but I’m going to figure it out, I’ll find you. You must be proud, all those horrible things you keep telling my little girl, she can’t even sleep more than an hour without having a nightmare; you leave her alone! You got no right tormenting us from wherever you are, while I am standing here at a payphone, in the goddamned fucking rain, talking to myself, talking to a ghost. Is that what you are? How else could you be doing it? I want to know how you do it—tell me—please, tell me how do you make them ring? I turned them all off and still…ring…ring, ring, you just keep calling until you get an answer. I cut the fucking phone cords, and still you keep calling…I called the cops, I’ll see you real soon.” Click.
As soon as he hung up I got sick in the waste basket. I tried to fight the urge, but I couldn’t. Afterwards, I cleaned myself up in the bathroom, and locked up for the day. I had made up my mind, I was going back to the office that night. Something had been bothering me about the camera, how it only showed the hallway, and the elevator. I was going to sit in that office all night if I had to.
Here is the crazy part, or is it, I’ve asked myself everyday since if it really happened, but I know it happened.
I took something to calm my nerves, and went to bed. I slept all afternoon, and woke up just as the sun was going down. I was rested, and focused. I took along a romance novel, my special elevator key, and an old can of pepper spray, just in case. I stopped and picked up a pizza for dinner on the way to the Cobalt Tower.
I got onto the elevator, pizza box in hand, and inserted my key, and punched the (4) button. I set up my post in the office with extension 404, dragging my office chair and an extra lamp into the room. I made a trip up and down the hallway, opening all eight office doors, and checked, making sure they were empty. I set the lamp down under the desk, and switched it on, just enough to dimly light the room, and the doorway.
Everything was quiet except for the occasional hum of the elevator moving from floor to floor. I ate my pizza and read chapter after chapter, until I must have dozed off.
I started awake to the sound of an audible dial tone. It was freezing cold, I stood instantly, eyes on the phone that set atop the desk. I watched, horrified, as it started dialing an outside number. First the (9) button depressed all by itself, then five more numbers in quick succession. I reacted on gut instinct, reaching down and yanking the phone cord as hard as I could, ripping it from the wall. The lights on the phone went dead. I stood there, behind the desk, against the wall, shivering.
That’s when I heard the buzzing from down the hall—another dial tone. When I reached Marcy’s office, the phone was already in the middle of dialing again, every fiber of my being said run like hell, but I bolted behind the desk, and tore the phone cord from the wall, just like before, only this time I ran out into the hallway, and stopped.
What happened next still seems surreal. I was standing there shaking, waiting, listening, when every phone in the remaining offices produced a dial tone, and started to make the same call. I made it into three of them, and managed to grab each phone and throw it into the hallway, severing the line in the process, when suddenly everything went silent. The remaining calls stopped mid-dial. I was beyond terrified now, shivering violently, I was so cold. I decided to get the hell out of there. I grabbed my bag from 404 and walked as calmly as I could down the hall towards the elevator. Just as I passed my office, the phone on my desk started ringing. I froze in my tracks, staring in at the display on the face of the phone, which showed that my extension, 402, was getting a call from line 407 down the hallway. Part of my brain told me to run, the other part, the part that hadn’t fully grasped what was happening, told me to answer it.
As I stepped through the doorway into the room, I was hit by a wave of ice-cold air that caused me to inhale deeply. As I exhaled, I saw the white cloud of my breath float across the room towards the desk, and morph into the shape of a hand and half an arm.
I was just about to scream when a thick, raspy voice from behind me whispered in my ear, and the phone stopped ringing.
“It…is…finished….” The voice hissed.
Now screaming at the top of my lungs, and crying, I bolted for the elevator, I must have pressed that down button a thousand times in the moments it took to arrive, and when I stepped off in the lobby my feet were moving fast towards the front door. The night guard was nowhere in sight, I went out to my car, and fumbled, as best I could to unlock the door. I took one last look up at the fourth floor window of the Cobalt Tower, and there staring back at me was the faint silhouette of a man, eyes glowing white, grinning down at me.
I sped out of the parking lot, without any kind of direction, I got as far away from there. I drove around the city until the sun came up, and then went home. I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t eat, I tried to let it go, but I couldn’t, I had to go back, one last time.
The drive uptown took forever, or at least it seemed to. I hadn’t even changed clothes, just splashed some water on my face, and went. I walked through the doors trying to be as inconspicuous as I could. I hesitated before stepping off the elevator. The hallway was warmly lit, rays of sunshine beamed into the corridor from the eight open office doors. That cold voice kept playing over and over in my head, but I pushed it out of my head. I knew what had to be done. I went directly to the first office, and when I saw the blinking light on the phone. I picked up the receiver and keyed in the pass code. One new voice message had been received at 3:50 a.m. I listened.
“I know who you are. Everything you said was true, I know that now, I’m sorry I resisted you. I understand what has to be done, soon you will welcome them into your arms, and they will know the truth, as I do.” The line went quiet, no click, just silence.
I saved the message, and left as fast as I could. Two days later I had a moving company pack up my office on the fourth floor, and I am again working from my apartment. It’s cramped, but I feel safe here. I am barely making my lease payments, and have considered putting the whole thing up for sale, something which I will eventually have to do, regardless of my own moral dilemma.
Marla Fischer signed her name at the bottom of the page, and put down the pen. She stood, stretched, and checked her watch. The detective would return any minute now. She decided not to wait. Instead, she tore a scrap of paper off and scribbled a short note, “Detective, call if you need anything. Marla.” Folding her jacket over her arm, she walked out of the interrogation room and out into the sunshine.
Later that day, Kent Gishpen read over the woman’s account. Amongst the paperwork spread across his desk was the formal complaint she had filed about the strange calls. Her phone records, detailing times and dates of calls, just as she had described, as well as a statement from a Mr. Arnold Vincent, an employee of the Cobalt Tower. His statement coincided almost exactly with that of Marla Fischer. Gishpen also had a digital audio recording of each message left on her voicemail.
Detective Gishpen removed a manilla folder from the bottom of the stack. He hesitated before opening it. It contained the rather gruesome photos from the scene of the incident, as well as the autopsy photos.
Timothy Ames Barton was the man who had left the messages. He was a thirty-nine year old unemployed contractor from the lower east side. On the night Marla Fischer was camped out at her office, in the early hours just after leaving her his last message, he had drugged his wife and children, taken them up to the roof of the twenty story building where they lived, and thrown them off. Timothy Barton then leapt to his death. He left no clue as to a motive, except for the strange calls to the Cobalt Tower.
Detective Kent Gishpen gathered up all the files and packed them neatly into an evidence box, before sealing the lid. He pulled a Sharpie from a drawer and wrote on the outside of the box, “BARTON/MURDER/SUICIDE.”
He had just switched off the light, and was about to walk out the door when… the phone rang.