I Killed My Landlord - by Shannon Woolfe
My first apartment in Greensboro was in a lovely old mill house on Tate Street. It was divided into three apartments, one tremendous apartment on the ground floor and two upstairs. Mine was upstairs, and on the right side of the house. It was roomy and flooded with light in the afternoons. It had two things I most most required in a dwelling back then, it was close to campus and it had an enormous bathtub.
I shared the place with a big girl named Beth. She was an Actress. She sang show tunes in the morning, and well, I hated her for that. She thought I was a floozy and I suspected she wanted me to sleep with her. We didn't see eye to eye on the bills or food, but we did agree on one thing; our landlord was a pervert.
Mr. Waddell was the spitting image of Burl Ives. The house had been his mother's house, in fact, he had lived in the house with her til she died, poor old thing. He had a heart condition, and often, he would show up at our door, unannounced, huffing and puffing after climbing the two flights of stairs attached to the back of the house. He'd let himself in to our kitchen and shout, "Is anyone here?" and I'd be in various states of studying or undress or what-have-you and I'd shout back, "Mr. Waddell! Please get out of here!" He let himself in one evening when I was in the bath. There I was, all alone, soaking in bubbles, the Rolling Stones blasting out of my stereo and here comes old Waddell. I didn't hear him standing in my kitchen, so he came down the hall and opened the bathroom door! I screamed. He slammed the door and ran for the kitchen. I threw on a towel and ran after him dripping wet. "Mr. Waddell! We're putting a chain on the door tomorrow! Get out of here!"
It was the eighties and I was a kid. I didn't think to call the police or even my family. Next day, my boyfriend helped Beth and I install a chain on the door. Two days later, Waddell showed up and tried to get in. I heard the door open and the chain ratchet and then the door softly banging open and shut, open and shut. Waddell stuck his face in the two-inch crack of the door, like Santa Claus in The Shining, "Miss Wolfy! This is an outrage! This is my property. I need to be able to access all of these apartments at all times!"
"Mr. Waddell, we will call you if something needs to be fixed. You have no business coming in here. Please leave now."
"But my mother . . . "
"Your mother has nothing to do with this, hmmm, or does she?"
He shut the door and I heard him standing in the hall breathing. Finally, he went down the stairs and I saw him get in his truck and drive away.
Beth was a terrible student. She failed half of her classes in the two semesters we lived together. The weird thing was that she was very conservative and seemingly responsible. She rarely drank. She stayed home on Friday nights, yet she couldn't keep her grade average up. Me? I smoked. I drank. I came home at all hours, but I maintained a B average, and every once in a while I got an A . . . in Animal Behavior classes, those were a cinch for me.
That spring, Beth quit school and left town. I was left to find a new roommate.
Mr. Waddell started coming around again when Beth moved out. He'd show up every other day, open the door, fight the chain, and then holler in at me, "Have you found a new roommate Miss Wolfy? Will you be able to pay the rent?"
"Not yet Mr. Waddell. Please go away now. And the rent's not due for another week!"
I met a girl on the street, out in front of Hong Kong House, which was not just any old Chinese restaurant. It was our Public House. Only a block from my apartment, Hong Kong House provided me with lunch, dinner, and all my social needs. It was a place to network. It was a hippie joint extraordinaire. And the wall out front with the myrtle tree growing up through the middle of it, was an equally important gathering place. So I met my potential roommate Chandra on the wall. She had just come to town. She was thinking about going to school in the fall, but she wasn't sure. She had been following the Dead for a couple of years. She was a mountain girl and came with only the backpack that sat at her feet. But she said she had money, she needed a room.
Chandra moved in the next day. And not surprisingly, she moved out three days later. Gone like a circus, someone on the street told me she'd found a ride to Berkeley. "Shit, now what am I going to do? Rent is due and I've got no damn roommate!" It took me about an hour to figure it out. I called home, like any good college kid does and they wired me extra scratch for the month. But that wasn't going to go over well next month, and besides, I was due to graduate soon, and that meant the golden fountain would go dry for good.
I put word out on the street that I needed a cheaper apartment and it didn't take more than a few hours to get news of a place that was half the price of Waddell's House of Fun. The new place was across the tracks, in a questionable neighborhood, but I didn't care, I was ready for a life free of roommates and Waddell.
Lease? Yeah, I had signed a lease with Waddell, and it didn't run out for another year, but I found two girls to move in on the day I moved out and I handed them the lease and said, "Call Waddell, tell 'im you two live here now. Keep the chain on the door, pay your rent, and it'll all be cool." I thought it helped that they were cute southern girls too. Waddell would like them. They would probably let him in the door occasionally and bake cookies for him, just like dear old Ma used to do.
8 months later, in the dead of winter, I'm futzing around with a kerosene heater in my rundown apartment on the wrong side of the tracks, only a few steps away from God's Miracle House of Deliverance and a good mile from campus, when there's a knock on the door. I open the door, keeping the chain in place, cause, yes, I was going to have a chain on every door from then on, and there's a Greensboro policeman standing outside my door. I'm going to tell you this now, and I will expand on this thought in a future story, but back then, the Greensboro Police were a thing to be feared. They wore all black uniforms, not navy blue, and they were dangerous. If you want to start reading up on them, read about the KKK shootings back in '83 in downtown Greensboro. That will begin to give you an idea of why we were afraid of those guys. And in the neighborhood I was living in, it was just standard that when something went wrong, you called your neighbors for help, not the police.
"Are you Miss Wolfy?" He had his right hand on his gun holster and he held a manila envelope in his left. I thought if I am Miss Wolfy do I get the envelope or a slug in the face?
"Yes, yes, I'm Miss Wolfy." I left the chain on the door. The cop pushed the envelope at me through the crook of the door.
"This is a summons. Read it and appear in court on the dates stated." He turned and went down the stairs and got in his black cruiser. My nosy old neighbor across the street stood in her front yard holding a rake. She looked up at my window and I knew what she was thinking, "I knew that girl was no good."
It was a summons from Waddell's lawyer. They were suing me for breaking the lease. They were taking me to court to recover one year's rent . . . $4,800. I nearly passed out. What the fuck was I going to do? I couldn't call my grandmother. And then it hit me. I would call my bulldog, my father. My father loves nothing more than a fight. He'll fight anybody and he doesn't always win, but I was pretty sure he would tear Waddell to pieces. I had no idea how swift a job it would be.
I called the elder Wolfy and felt the hair growing on the back of his hands while I told him the story, "So you found sublettors and he's still suing you? Are the girls still there, they didn't walk out too, did they?"
"No, I walked by the other day, and they waved to me from the porch. And I even told them he was a pervert and how to handle that so they wouldn't leave."
"Pervert? He's a pervert? Whatdoyoumeanhezapervert!?!"
"He used to let himself in the apartment."
"He would come at all hours, afternoon, nights, and come in without knocking. He let himself in once when I was in the bathtub!"
"Yeah, but . . ."
"Did he see you in the tub?"
"I told you he was pervert."
Next thing I get is a phone call from Waddell, "Young lady! You're a liar!" And then he hung up. Seems my bulldog of a father filed a counter suit with Guilford County accusing Mr. Waddell of Sexual Harassment. Waddell went down to the court house to pick up papers and they gave him the summons right there in the hallway and he blew a gasket. He had to be removed by police escort from the premises. And then, he was in such a state they had to call an ambulance and take him to the ER. That night I went down to The Night Shade Cafe, a seedy little bar beneath The Hong Kong House and I danced barefooted to the beat of Steady Rollin' Bob Margolin. I was outta my mind happy, there were few times that the old Bulldog came through and this was one of them.
But the story doesn't end there . . .
We were due in court just a few weeks later. Waddell was going to say I skipped on the lease and my Bulldog father was going to stand next to me and accuse Waddell of being a pervert. But we never got to court.
Waddell died of a coronary two weeks before the joust was to go down.
I killed my landlord, yes, I did.