A childhood remembrance from the depths of old Bed/Stuy in Brooklyn.
When Mr. Gruenwald killed his wife and hanged himself in his basement, Aggie was the happiest thirteen year old in the village.
They lived in back of Aggie. Mr. Gruenwald was a cranky old bastard and he owned a hardware store. The Gruenwald’s argued a lot, and from her bedroom window, Aggie would watch them in their kitchen waving their arms and shouting at each other.
When the hardware store didn’t open for three days straight, the police came to the conclusion that they better check on the Gruenwald’s. They found what was left of Mrs. Gruenwald in a pile on the living room sofa and Mr. Gruenwald was hanging from a beam in the basement.
Aggie was ecstatic. It was like Christmas had come; she was a murder junkie.
“We gotta get ourselves over there,” she nudged me as we watched the police go over the house with a fine tooth comb.
“I gotta see — they say he went at her with a hatchet — chopped her up real fine, like stew meat.
“ She was making me sick. “Must have been a lotta blood,” I ventured.
“Buckets and buckets,” she said eagerly.
After a month or two somebody bought the hardware store, but nobody wanted the house. “You can’t sell a haunted house,” Aggie said. Although I’m sure Aggie would have bought it if she had the money.
”You know Mr. Gruenwald still walks around in there, don’t’cha?”
“How about Mrs. Gruenwald?” I asked her.
”No,” Aggie shook her head. “She’s gone to Heaven, but Mr. Gruenwald’s gotta walk around in there forever.” She looked at me shrewdly. “I found a way in. Wanna go in there with me?”
She had found a way in through the back cellar door. The police sealed it but somebody had broken the seal. Aggie claimed it wasn’t her, but I’m not so sure.
“I’ll meet’cha here after school,” she said. “Y’better bring your flashlight, it’ll be dark in there.
“ It was about four in the afternoon when I got there. Aggie had already been there an hour. “Geez, you’re slow,” she fumed. “What kept’cha, I been here forever.”
I tried to explain about stopping for a flashlight but she ignored me. She worked the police seal loose and we let ourselves into the cellar. ”Is this where ….?” I started.
“Yeah, see that chair over there? I think that’s what he jumped off of.” I swallowed hard and turned on the flashlight so we could find the stairs to the kitchen.
There were dirty dishes in the sink. They might have been from the Gruenwald’s, but more likely the police. A lot of furniture had been taken away, but the kitchen table stood in the middle of the room. ”He did it in the next room,” Aggie whispered.
We edged our way in and I saw the sofa by the window. She was breathing hard now. “Right there — that’s where he took the hatchet and hack …. hack.” She made wild chopping motions with her hand.
”Who the hell’s down there!!” It was a gruff man’s voice and it was followed by a raspy cough. I could hear footsteps on the floor above us and I think I was more scared than at any other time in my life.
I looked at Aggie and her hair was standing on end, straight out of her head like the Bride of Frankenstein, her eyes were big as billiard balls. She looked for all the world like a scared shitless Little Orphan Annie.
I looked up the stairs, and from where I stood I could see a pair of naked hairy legs. ”It’s him!! Gawd-a-mighty Aggie, it’s Mr. Gruenwald!!”
We ran wildly through the dining room, then the kitchen, the two of us bunched up together in the doorway to the cellar trying to get out first. We clattered down the stairs and headed for the cellar door — I remember taking one last look as we burst out into the open air. The naked legs were coming down the cellar stairs.
We ran. We ran until we couldn’t run any more. We ran all the way across town and we didn’t know where we were when we stopped running.
The next month the city tore the house down. Somebody said tramps were hanging out there. Aggie didn’t believe it for a second, she said they did it to get rid of the ghost of Mr. Gruenwald.