The squat guy, Moses, spots me. He waddles across the broken asphalt of a now dysfunctional basketball court. Even though it is half two in the afternoon, the entire place is cast in cold shadow by the tall buildings around us. The squat guy clicks his tongue and shakes his head as he walks past me. I follow him through a doorway into the maze.
He moves confidently. He has been here before. It is does not take him long to find the apartment.
“Here it is,” he whispers. “Count to twenty, then knock on the door. If nobody answers, use the key. You got the key, right?”
I show the key to him.
“One, two, three…” I start to count.
The squat guy races down the windowless hallway. I stop counting. I look at the door. It is like the others I saw earlier. I peer up and down the hallway. Empty. Raise my fist and knock on the door. Wait. Footsteps? No, my imagination. I knock again. Was that a flash of light under the door. No. My imagination again.
I look at the key in my hand. I slip it into the lock and try turn it. It does not move. I turn it in the opposite direction and its slides full circle with a click. My empty hand presses the door handle down and pushes.
Nothing. Stuck? Locked.
I turn the key in the opposite direction and retry the door. It opens.
The door swings into the apartment. I stay outside.
There he is.
At the end of the short, bare hallway lined with a worn nylon carpet. I am startled. He must be too. Neither of us move. We stare at each other. At the precise moment I step into the apartment, he comes toward me. I panic, then realise it is a reflection of myself in a large mirror bolted to a wall at the end of the corridor.
My phone rings. I jump, curse.
“No. I mean, I don’t think so. I mean, I don’t know.”
“Jerry. Calm down, okay. Calm down.”
“Okay, I’m cool.”
“Have you checked the place out?”
“Okay. There’s nothing in this place. I can see a kitchen and dining room. They’re empty.”
“Go to the bedroom.”
“Wait. Shhhhh. Shhhh. I hear something. He’s here.”
I stand in an empty, curtainless bedroom. A hiss comes out of one of the built-in cupboards that rises from floor to ceiling. And smoke. Odourless smoke that wafts through the slits of the cupboard door.
I run out of the room, hand over mouth. The hiss stops. I stop. Wait. In silence.
“Jerry. What’s happening?” Lyle’s voice comes from the phone. I switch it off and pocket it.
Then turn around and tiptoe back to the room. It is empty. Silent. I hold a deep breath, step in and walk to the cupboard door. As I’m about to open it, the door swings at me. I sidestep it.
Standing on the other side of the doorway is a brunette, fresh from a shower, wrapped in a blue towel.
“Paul,” she exclaims as I splutter the air from my lungs.