Chapter 5

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Dan left me at the station to go buy something to eat, and gave me the keys to his apartment. I was hungry and tired, but I couldn’t wait to find out more about that Robinson. I went up the stairs and when I reached the door, I found it open. I was sure he had shut it before going out, so I immediately thought of a thief. Before I could make any move, a voice spoke behind me, and I heard the sound of a loaded gun close to my ear.

“Try anything funny and I’ll shoot you.” It was a woman’s voice; she must have been around fifty. I tried my best to stay calm, and I slowly lifted my hands up.

“Good,” she said. I was trying to think of something to say, when the woman forced my hands behind my back and handcuffed me. I had no idea what was going on. It clearly wasn’t a thief. Was it the police? No, they would have told me. She had me turn around to look at my face, still pointing that gun at me. It was a small gun, easy to use for a frail-looking woman like her. And I could tell that she knew how to use it. The woman was thin, as tall as I was, and much older than fifty after all. She had long braided hair falling on her chest, platinum blonde at its root and black at the extremities. She was flashily dressed , with a long, purple dress and a silk foulard on her shoulders. Her makeup was heavy, with black on her eyes and lips of the same color as her dress.

“One word out of you and you’re dead,” she told me. After she said that, I was glad I had stayed silent. “Sara, come out dear,” she screamed. A young woman in her twenties came out of the door on the other side of the corridor. She had naturally red curly hair, collarbone length, light brown eyes, and she looked frightened. She came close and spoke with a trembling voice.

“Mama, who is this person? Was I right?”

“I don’t know yet, sweetheart. Let’s find out. Search him.” The woman sent the girl toward me while she kept threatening me with the gun. I thought I could kick the girl, push her on the woman and run away, but it was too risky. The woman could shoot me from the stairs. In addition, with my hands handcuffed that way I couldn’t go too far.

Sara, like the woman called her, looked more scared than I was. She put her hands in my pockets and searched me. I had nothing on me except the house keys and my watchpad. She took both and showed them to the woman.

“Turn on the watchpad on his profile,” she ordered her. Sara did it, so they could see my name and all my personal information. “An Uptown rat, apparently,” said the woman with disdain. “Let’s go inside. We will have a nice talk, Andrew Lowell.” She forced me inside the room and had me sit on a chair.

“So,” said the woman, “why do you have these keys?”

“They were given to me.”

BANG! A gunshot passed right by my face and ended up on the couch. I was about to have a heart attack. I had no idea who those people were, but I was seriously risking my life there. Were they after me? Why? Was it related to Shallie? Or Dan maybe? I wondered why he hadn’t come back yet. Was I wrong to trust him in the end?

“Oh, sorry, I believe I haven’t explained the rules of our little chat. You see, I like my interlocutor to be polite. When I ask you a question, you have to be polite and answer properly. If you don’t, I shoot you,” she said. I tried to swallow air, but my mouth was completely dry. I was hardly breathing. “Who did you steal these keys from?” she insisted.

I tried to breathe, empty my mind from fear and think clearly. The girl had come out of the apartment next to this one. They were asking me about the keys. Therefore, they had something to do with the room, or the person who lived in it. I wondered if it was the case to tell them his name. Were they there to kill him? Even if they knew Dan, he could have given them a false name. Also, was that really his house at all? I had my life on the line, but in the end there was nothing I could do but tell the truth.

“I didn’t steal them. Dan, Dan Price gave them to me.”

The girl, Sara, made a sound of surprise and brought her hands to her lips. The woman looked surprised too, but she didn’t let her guard down.

“Where is he now?” she screamed. She looked angry, her eyes were full of hatred, and I knew she was ready to shoot me anytime. So that was it. That woman was there to kill him, and she even knew his real name. If I told them where to find him, would they let me live? No, I thought. She will kill me anyway. If I’m going to die no matter what I say, I don’t want to sell him off. If not for the person he is, I have to do it for the person he was.

I could see her finger tightening around the trigger.

“I won’t te—”

“WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON HERE?”

Dan’s screaming voice stopped her from pulling the trigger. He ran to me and took a look at me to see if I was hurt. “Are you alright? What did she do to you?” he said. I was too shocked to reply, but I shook my head. He turned back to the woman, angry like I had never seen him before. “What do you think you’re doing? You’re insane!” he shouted. The woman lifted the hand she was holding her gun with and hit him hard in the face. He almost fell from the hit, and I could see drops of blood on the ground.

“You have no right to speak to me like that after what you’ve done,” cried the woman. “I’m gonna beat some sense into you now.” She lifted the gun ready to hit him again.

“No, please no!” screamed the girl. She had fallen on her knees and was crying desperately. The woman stopped and put the gun away.

“Sara…” said Dan.

“Dan, I’m so sorry all of this happened. I called Mama. I heard noises in your room, and this morning I saw this boy I had never met before leaving the apartment. I didn’t know what to do. I… we all thought something had happened to you… You’ve been away for so long…”

“Six months,” added the woman, who seemed to be back to her senses. “Six months without even a call. Do you realize how everyone here was worried for you? We thought you were dead!” Now I could understand better the situation. It wasn’t hatred that I saw in the woman’s eyes before. She sure had a violent way of showing her worry though. “I’m going away for a job, he said! And then nothing! Is this how you thank me for all that I’ve done for you in the past seven years?” she said.

Silence fell in the room. All we could hear was Sara’s crying. Dan got close to her and helped her stand up.

“I’m sorry,” he said.

“You better be,” said the woman. “We’re gonna have a talk about this. Come with me.” That said, she walked toward the door and stopped in front of it. “Sara, you take care of that boy,” she added. Then she looked at me and said, “It’s unfortunate you got caught into this,” and she walked away.

Dan got close to me and knelt to look in my eyes. “Drew, I’m so sorry,” he said. His lip was still bleeding. The cut seemed deep.

I gathered all my energy to say, “Is life here like this every day?” and I did my best to smile.

He smiled back at me and said, “No, it can get even worse.”

“Good.”

“Can I leave you with Sara for a while?”

I nodded, and he left the room. Sara took a small key from her pocket and opened my handcuffs. It felt strange and good to be free again.

“Andrew, right? I’m so sorry for what happened. It was all my fault.”

“Would you have killed me?”

“No, no. Mama just wanted to scare you. I know her, she wouldn’t be able to kill a bug.”

She looked like a perfect serial killer to me though.

Sara went to the kitchen and put the boiler on the fire to make tea. She looked perfectly comfortable in Dan’s house.

“Well, she really did scare me. I was saying goodbye to my life, you know.”

“I’m so sorry. Mama really loves us all, and sometimes she’s a bit overprotective with us. Especially with Dan. He’s been here since he was fourteen, and he’s always been a problematic child. Mama really thinks of him as a son, even though she would never admit it.”

“A problematic child? He was nothing like that when he lived in Uptown.”

She looked surprised. “Do you know him from back then?”

“Yes.”

Sara brought me my tea and we sat on the couch. I couldn’t stop watching the hole made by the bullet, while she was acting like nothing happened. Despite looking so shy at first, she was now talking a lot. “Dan never talks about that time. When he moved to Downtown with his mother, she started working for Mama. But after just two months she ran away, leaving Dan to pay all her debts. After that, he came to live here. Mama didn’t want him to do any dangerous job, but he never listened to her, and always did what he wanted. They usually fight a lot.”

Dangerous job? I hoped he didn’t go killing anyone or anything like that. After being almost shot in the head, I felt I could expect anything.

“Ahem… when you say ‘working for Mama,’ what do you mean?” I asked.

She stared at me and then said, “Of course, you wouldn’t know. Mama is Madame Papillon, the one from the sign on the other side of the street.”

I was about to breathe the tea out of my nose.

“So you…?”

“I work for Mama too. All the apartments in this building are Mama’s and she rents them to her workers.”

“And Dan…?”

“Dan too of course. He’s worked for Mama for years. But he also did a lot of other things he would never tell any of us.”

“Ehhh…” I was kinda shocked. Finally, the smile of that morning made sense. “It could be very expensive,” he had said. Right, of course, he would know best.

Sara looked at me, suddenly flustered. “I’m sorry. Maybe I wasn’t supposed to tell his boyfriend such things.”

“Eh? No, no, no, no. I’m not his boyfriend.”

“Really? I thought…”

“I’m not.”

“I see… Sorry,” she said.

“You’re in love with him, aren’t you?”

Her face turned scarlet and she covered her mouth with her hands. “How… wha… why?” she muttered. She was so embarrassed I couldn’t help but find her cute.

“Well, you look shy, but you’re really talkative when it comes to him.”

“No, that’s… I could never… please don’t tell him.” She was covering her face with her hands. Her timidity made me smile and then burst into laughter.

“Don’t worry, I was just teasing you.”

“Youuu!” she gently hit me on the head with her fist.

I was still laughing when the door opened.

“I’m glad you two are having fun,” said Dan. He had a medication on the cut, and looked completely run-down. When he came in, Sara blushed again and couldn’t look him in the eyes.

“I… I’ll be leaving you, then,” she said, and stood up. “Andrew, I’m happy to have met you. I mean, not of how I met you. I mean…”

“It’s fine, it was nice meeting you too,” I told her.

She went to the door and Dan grabbed her hand saying, “Sara, thank you.” She looked like she was about to faint.

“No, Dan, I’m just so happy you’re back.” She was about to cry now. “I’ll be going now,” she said, and ran to her room. Dan closed the door behind his back, and looked at me with a worried face.

“How are you feeling?” he asked me.

“I’m fine. She’s a nice girl.”

“She is, yes,” he said, his gaze still on me.

“I’m alright, honestly. I was in shock before, but everything’s okay now. If I can be frank, I haven’t felt so alive in a long time, you know.” I found myself laughing. Suddenly I couldn’t see well, I touched my face and realized that I was crying at the same time. I was probably going crazy; I had quite a mixture of emotions I couldn’t describe.

“Today’s been a crazy day. Take a shower and go to bed, I’ll bring you something to eat. I’ll sleep here tonight.”

I had so many things I wanted to discuss with him, like Robinson, the drugs, his past, the old lady, but I couldn’t think clearly anymore. I did as he said; I went to shower and straight to bed. I wore a jumpsuit he had left me on the bed and fell asleep as soon as my face touched the pillow.


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