Smoke and Mirrors – Part 2

What kind of trouble will Jake and Karen get into today? If you need a refresher or to catch up, read Part 1 here.

***

It wasn’t until a middle-aged gentleman patiently asked her if she was alright for the fourth time that Karen realized she was muttering incoherently and sprawled on the sidewalk. The concrete suddenly felt heavy beneath her limbs. She shut her mouth and took in the concerned look on the face of the man hovering over her. He was Middle Eastern with olive skin, swarthy eyebrows and a naturally jovial face despite the concern it showcased now. The man extended a hand to Karen and she shakily took it. With a considerable heave, the man helped Karen to her feet. She smoothed her skirt, made sure Nixon was still concealed, and then began to cry.“Oh dear,” the Middle Eastern man sighed. “Come into my shop.”

Karen stayed frozen on the sidewalk until the man took a few steps away from her and then turned and gestured hurriedly. Before following him, Karen braced herself on a nearby trashcan and removed her sling back stilettos. She rubbed her left hip, wincing as she realized there would be a considerable bruise there tomorrow. Karen could hear Jake, with his sardonic sense of humor, asking her if she’d had to deal with a particularly rough conference call at work.

“Come. Come,” the man urged as Karen joined him in the entryway to the coffee shop.

Photo by flickr user "gga."

Photo by flickr user “gga.”

 

Stepping into the shop was like stepping into another world altogether. The smell of Arabica beans was pungent and rich, but aromas of dark chocolate and baklava played with her senses, too. The décor was modern, black leather couches and dark wood tables, but little ethnic touches were thrown here and there, a magenta and gold fringed pillow on a couch here, gold knick knacks on tables there, Middle Eastern rhythms piping quietly but surely out of the sound system.

The owner of the coffee shop took Karen’s arm and led her to a couch toward the back of the establishment, away from the other patrons. A slim and stunning Middle Eastern woman appeared out of thin air. The woman looked upset and Karen couldn’t tell if it was because the shop owner was bringing in a stray off the street or if she’d witnessed the attack.

The Middle Eastern man said something to her in a language Karen didn’t understand. The woman hesitated and glanced at Karen. After a beat, she nodded dutifully and then disappeared behind the coffee counter.

They sat in silence until the woman came back with a small tray with three steaming mugs. She placed a mug in front of Karen and the shop owner and then took a seat next to him. She called out an order to a young man near the espresso machine and then turned her dark, almond-shaped eyes toward Karen. Karen could see genuine concern in them and kicked herself for believing otherwise.

The Middle Eastern man started. “I am Adeel and this is my wife, Majidah.”

“I’m Colleen,” Karen said, careful to use her pseudonym.

Adeel gestured at the drinks in front of them and the group picked up their cups and raised them to their lips. Karen was greeted with the familiar smell of hot chocolate, but it was exceptionally dark and peppered with cardamom, cinnamon, and a slightly savory spice she couldn’t identify. The chocolate slid down her throat with ease and Karen breathed easily for the first time since the mugging.

“That should calm your nerves,” Majidah said with a heavy accent.

“Thank you,” Karen managed.

“I didn’t see much of the attack,” Adeel started, “but some of the customers flocked to the window and started shouting that someone was being mugged. I came out at soon as I could…”

“But that little bugger was too fast! I can’t believe what happened to you. Right in the middle of the day. That boy’s parents should be ashamed of his behavior,” Majidah chimed in melodramatically.

Adeel beamed amusedly at his wife. Nearly smiling, Karen took another sip of the hot chocolate.

“What do you remember, Colleen?” Adeel encouraged.

“Well, I was walking. And then, it all happened so fast. I smelled the coffee and stopped for a moment. And next thing I know, my breath was knocked out of me and my ribs started aching,” Karen said.

Majidah nodded approvingly and Adeel remained quiet. They both seemed to inch forward a bit more in their seats, craning their ears to Karen, hungry for information. Karen quickly deduced that this was probably the most exciting thing that had ever happened to them at their shop.

“I got a quick look at the guy. Well, not a guy. The kid. Red hair. Young. Too young to be pulling a stunt like that,” Karen finished.

“Are you hurt?” Adeel asked next.

Karen let her left hand float up to the right side of her ribcage, which she hadn’t noticed was throbbing until that moment. She let out a small groan when her fingertips pressed there.

“My ribcage. And my hip,” Karen said, remembering the pain from earlier.

“I will get you some ice and some Tylenol,” Adeel said resolutely and disappeared into the back of the shop.

Majidah clucked her tongue in disapproval and shook her head. She leveled her eyes on Karen and seemed to look straight into her. “Kids these days. They are so disrespectful.” She took a sip of her chocolate and Karen did the same.

Trying to calm her nerves, Karen took a deep breath. When she got to the top of her inhale, however, her right ribs reprimanded her with a stabbing pain. She closed her eyes and let her breath out slowly.

When she reopened her eyes, Adeel was standing before her with two Ziploc bags filled with crushed ice and a bottle of Extra Strength Tylenol. Karen gladly took the ice packs, positioned herself on the couch so she could sit with her left hip on one of the icepacks, and then held the second one to her ribcage. She opened the bottle, shook four pills into her palm, and tossed them back.

Adeel sat back down. “Did he take anything from you?”

Isn’t that the million dollar question? Karen thought.

She looked down at her lap and then down at her feet as if to take inventory and suddenly realized that the small purse she had been carrying was gone. A new wave of anger shuttled through Karen and she sighed heavily.

“No, he didn’t take anything,” she lied.

“Well, that doesn’t make sense,” Majidah said. “To attack a young lady in the middle of the day without taking anything doesn’t make any sense.”

Adeel nodded once in agreement. “Though I didn’t see the attack, I saw him running away and he seemed to be carrying something.”

The tone of this conversation had turned into one of interrogation and Karen shifted slightly in her seat. She rubbed her temple with her free hand and then said, “I’m sorry. I’m a little disoriented.” She paused. “I was carrying a small purse, blue, leather. Luckily, it only had some cash, my apartment key, and a tube of lipstick in it.”

“I knew it,” Majidah said triumphantly.

“We should call the police,” Adeel said, starting to rise from the couch.

“No. No,” Karen said. “Honestly, it’s not enough of a loss to report. The cash wasn’t much and the apartment can be rekeyed.”

“There’s a CVS down the street,” Majidah said. “We can go together to replace your lipstick. My treat.”

Karen smiled at Majidah, her feelings of being interrogated dispelling immediately. They really just wanted to help.

“Honestly, I’m okay. A little shook up,” Karen admitted, “but I’m feeling better. Thank you for the hot chocolate.”

“It’s good for the soul,” Majidah said, patting Karen’s knee. Her hand rested there a little too long, and Karen pushed back a shudder.

Adeel still looked unconvinced. “Are you sure you don’t want to call the police? Or go to the hospital? I’m worried about those ribs.”

“Nah, I’m a tough one,” Karen commented.

“Yes,” Majidah agreed, “I could tell you take after me the moment you walked in.”

 ***

 

Photo by flick user "van Ort."

Photo by flick user “van Ort.”

…five, six, seven, eight more steps to the fourth floor. Jake silently cursed the historians that felt it necessary to picket for the preservation of dilapidated buildings in this part of town. “Preservation” meant no installation of elevators. It also meant Jake might toss his cookies before he made it to his destination.

Jake’s legs gave one final push and he was standing on the fourth floor. Stained pea green carpet was beneath his feet and the benign smell of mold permeated the hallway. Right or left?

Jake painstakingly reached into his pocket and pulled out the slip of paper with the address scrawled on it in Gio’s cryptic handwriting. 13B. Or was that 18B? Jake closed his eyes hard and then reopened them, squinted.

“Shit…Okay, I’ll try 13 and hope for the best,” he muttered to the tattered wallpaper before him.

He turned to the right and started walking down the hallway, frighteningly aware that he could barely feel his legs as he moved. He was swaying between an escalation of senses, a gnarly stomachache, and an overwhelming calm. The combination of feelings was unsettling to say the least. Whoever decided pot and coke was a good combination should be committed, Jake decided. And he was about to deliver heroin to men who could easily kill him in his vulnerable, drugged-up state. Awesome.

13B loomed in front of him. Jake’s fingers were tingling and he was afraid he wouldn’t be able to make a sufficient fist to knock on the door. He curled his fingers as much as he could, feeling like the little ligaments and tendons within his fingers were rippling spasmodically, and managed a quiet rap four times. And then all was silent in the hall.

Jake’s brain swooned and he had to hold onto the doorframe to stay standing. The episode passed as quickly as it had come and Jake tried to flex all of the muscles in his body to keep himself upright.

This must be the wrong place, Jake thought and was mustering the energy in his body to move a few doors down when he heard a lock unlatch. 

Another sound of a deadbolt releasing and then the door creaked open. A stern little face peered up at Jake. It belonged to a boy, probably no older than nine, with a shock of black hair and a pair of Batman boxers on. The boy simply stared at Jake suspiciously.

Jake knew he needed to say something, but the words weren’t coming to him. Jake realized the boy held something shiny in his right hand. My God, is that a knife?

 “H-, hi. Um…is your mom or dad home?” Jake stammered.

The little boy answered by shaking his head negatively.

“Uh…well…”

“But my uncle is. What’s your business?” the boy asked, voice hard as steel.

And I’m in the right place, Jake thought.

“Adult business,” Jake tried.

The boy chuckled. He turned, threw the door open, and took a few steps into the apartment. “You have five seconds to follow me,” he said over his shoulder. “Lock the door behind you.”

Jake took a couple of uneasy steps into the apartment, turned and locked the door. The tingling in his body was intensifying. The high would hit its apex in the next 15 minutes or so. Jake was fucked. Hospitality didn’t seem like something he’d receive if the doorman was any indication of those who lived here.

Jake quickly scanned the room. Most everything was a blur until his eyes rested upon a torn brown leather couch. It looked like the little boy who’d answered the door had practiced his knifing skills on it, but all Jake could think about was how cool and smooth the leather would feel. Like melted chocolate. Or the ocean at sunset.

Jake lurched forward, nearly tripping over his own feet and then sunk into the couch. The feeling was more exquisite than he imagined. His muscles grew slack and the leather felt like silk. Jake closed his eyes and felt like he could truly breathe for the first time since the drug had hit his system.

Photo by flickr user "SproutingWings."

Photo by flickr user “SproutingWings.”

When he reopened his eyes, Jake found the young doorman staring at him from across the room, slicing an apple and eating it piece by piece. That suspicious look remained plastered on his face. They stared at each other for a few moments and then Jake became vaguely aware of footsteps approaching.

“Delivery for you, Uncle,” the boy said wryly, his focus still on Jake.

“He’s late,” a gruff voice commented.

“He’s pretty fucked up, too,” the boy said and bit into an apple slice.

“I see that,” the voice said and then the owner of the voice walked into Jake’s line of sight. An overweight, white, middle-aged man in a wife beater and a pair of black Dickies stared at him in amusement. Though he was a few feet away, he smelled of cat piss and bacon grease. He was unshaven and a slight sheen of sweat covered his forehead. “All kinds of tweaked out.”

“I, uh…” Jake tried. The sound of his voice was pathetic. “I think I smoked…” That was all he could manage.

“Uh huh. I know what happened to you,” the man said. “It’s not the first time Gio’s sent me someone lit up.”

“Oh, good,” Jake said.

The man’s eyebrows furrowed together. “No,” he bellowed. “Not good. I’m not a fucking babysitter.”

Jake felt a pump of adrenaline shoot into his system. This was fight or flight. He didn’t think he stood a chance at either.

“Do you have it?” the man asked, coming closer to Jake.

Jake was confused at first, couldn’t comprehend what was being asked.

“Do you have the goddamn merchandise, you shit maggot?” the man boomed.

Jake hesitated, afraid he would swallow his tongue if he tried to speak. It must have been too long of a pause. The burly man made a small gesture with his hands to his small companion, something that looked like a thumbs up sign, but not quite. The young boy nodded, wiped his mouth on the back of his forearm, and then in one quick motion, threw the knife at Jake. It speared the couch about an inch away from Jake’s left ear. The burly man laughed and then beamed in pride at the boy.

Jake suddenly had more control over his limbs. He planted his feet  and reached into the inner breast pocket of his jacket. He removed the bag of heroin and held it out in front of him. He was terrified to realize he was shaking. And even more unnerving, he wasn’t sure if it was the drug or terror.

The man smiled and Jake was reminded of the Cheshire Cat in Alice and Wonderland.  He approached Jake and then sat down on the couch next to him. He took the bag with one hand and clapped Jake on the back with the other. The laughter that followed was loud and hideous.

“We’re just fuckin’ with ya,” the man said, but Jake wasn’t so sure. He managed a weak laugh anyway.

The man gestured to the boy and the boy came to him, taking a bite of his apple as he walked. The man handed the boy the bag. The boy retrieved his knife from the couch by Jake’s temple, and then retreated into a back room.

The two men on the couch were silent for a few minutes, only the sound of the burly man’s laborious breathing filling the apartment. Jake could almost make out the sound of cartoons coming from a back bedroom, but he couldn’t be sure that’s what it was.

“You need water,” the burly man said and got up from the couch.

While he was gone, Jake allowed himself to stretch out on the couch, smell the leather, sink into the shitty cushions. He felt enveloped by coolness and it was delicious. He felt his brain swimming, his toes tingling, his heart beating rapidly in his chest.

A memory of Karen in a bikini on the beach in San Diego flashed on the back of Jake’s eyelids before he became dead to the world.   

  ***

Karen stood on the sidewalk a couple doors down from the coffee shop with a tube of lipstick in one hand and a half-eaten slice of lavosh in the other. They were all she had to her name other than the clothes on her back and Nixon. That thought scared the shit out of her. Somehow she didn’t think that offering her diamond clients a tube of Mulberry Madness and some traditional lavosh would suffice. Though both were wonderful in their own right, neither were a blue diamond necklace that weighed as much as Karen’s fist.

More than anything, Karen was upset that she didn’t have a way to call her husband. Just hearing Jake’s voice would calm her down, allow her to think straight, reinstate her resolve – and he would let her cry if she needed to without asking what was wrong. She’d thought about asking Adeel and Majidah if they had a phone she could use, but she was afraid her emotions would surface when talking to Jake and she would crumble into a fit of sobs and angry curse words.  And then the questions would begin again, along with insistence that the police should be contacted. No, Karen would have to figure this out on her own.

Karen inhaled the last piece of the lavosh and then wiped her mouth with the back of her hand. Automatically, she reapplied her lipstick and then walked down an alleyway nearby to secure it in her thigh holster next to Nixon.

When she reappeared on the sidewalk, Karen felt stronger and more put together though she had no idea what she was going to do. Her client lived nearby, but showing up without the diamond necklace was out of the question. A debutante could turn on you in like an abused animal, especially if they didn’t get their way or even worse, their goods. Materialism, Karen had learned, was the nastiest of addictions. It consumed and cluttered and painted people with greed and dissatisfaction. Materialistic people needed things to be happy. So Karen showing up and saying she’d lost the diamond necklace would be tantamount to showing up and telling someone they weren’t allowed to be happy for that day. Impossible.

Karen thought of Carlos’s henchman and she instantly felt as if a snake were crawling across her limbs. Something about him still unsettled her. Karen couldn’t place her finger on what it was exactly, but she’d experienced unrelenting anxiety throughout their interaction that morning. Finding him wasn’t an option either. Karen would probably wind up pulling Nixon on him, and she really didn’t want to have one of those days.

She thought about trying to find Carlos, but without a phone, a key, and any cash, it would prove a difficult task. She knew the area where he lived, but not the exact address. She’d have to ask around, and though she was armed, a petite girl with honey-blond hair in a skirt asking about a diamond smuggler’s whereabouts? Yeah, not the best idea.

Karen would walk and think and hopefully come up with a solution.

Karen didn’t realize how fast she’d been walking until she passed she and Jake’s favorite Thai restaurant, Kura. She slowed her pace to take a look around. A regular Thursday afternoon greeted her; soccer moms pushing strollers down the street in Yoga pants; two uniformed students, obviously cutting class to enjoy the beautiful weather (or dodge a test), lounging on the stairs leading up to an apartment building; businessmen in smart suits walking back to their offices after lunch. The normalcy was like a slap in the face. Karen didn’t know how to reconcile it with her feelings of loss, anger, and confusion.

Photo by flickr user "Rishabh Mishra (possible 248)."

Photo by flickr user “Rishabh Mishra (possible 248).”

In half a block, Karen came to a deserted children’s playground. She looked at the swing set and smiled. A moment later, her sling backs lay in the grass and she was creating footprints through the manicured sand. Karen sat in the middle swing, felt the rubber squeeze her hips, the warm metal of the chains on her palms. She backed up as far as the swing would let her, standing on her tiptoes, and then sat and tucked her legs under her in one swift movement. A couple of pumps and Karen was sailing.

I’ll just swing until the sun goes down, Karen thought irrationally. Jake will find me here.

A middle-aged woman carrying groceries passed by and shook her head, smiling. A young man jogged down the sidewalk with a black lab on a leash. The kids cutting school walked by with ice cream cones. A girl in her late teens in a purple sundress and wedges strutted across the pavement. When she was directly in front of Karen, the girl tossed her auburn hair behind her shoulders and something flashed in the sunlight. Karen nearly fell off the swing. She had to squeeze her fists hard to stay upright.

No…fucking…way, she thought.

Karen’s dismount from the swing was anything but graceful, but her panther-like qualities kicked into gear as soon as she hit the pavement and began following the young girl down the street.

 *** 

Cotton balls. Thousands of them stuffed into his mouth, fighting for space, sucking up all moisture possible, channeling Death Valley in their efforts. Jake genuinely thought he’d been stuffed like a teddy bear when he awoke on the tattered couch. It took him a good deal of effort to swallow and then an equal amount of effort to prop himself onto his elbows. His eyes flicked open and took in the dingy wallpaper, the stained carpeting, the tears in the couch, and he suddenly remembered where he was.

Jake inhaled sharply and then coughed and coughed, feeling like his lungs were being wrung out by strong hands. When he was able to harness his coughing, Jake silenced himself and listened for any sounds of movement about the apartment. Crickets.

Jake slowly made his way to his feet, his right knee cracking under the weight of his body, something it only did when he’d been sedentary for a long period of time. He almost glanced at his watch to determine the amount of time he’d spent on the couch, but he resisted the urge. It was probably later than he wanted it to be. He’d deal with that. Right now, rehydration.

Though he was pretty sure he was alone in the apartment, Jake inched his way to the adjoining room, taking care to step softly and listening for any indication that he had company. When he reached the door frame between rooms, he poked his head through first. He’d been right, it was a kitchen. Empty food containers littered the counters and a pair of shoes sat on the stovetop, which was caked in dust and looked like it hadn’t been used in years. In the corner, a refrigerator hummed discreetly.

Jake traversed the small kitchen in three steps and opened the refrigerator. An odor of sour mayonnaise and overripe fruit greeted him. Jake quickly plugged his nose and started moving containers and bottles around the fridge, searching for water or fruit juice, anything but energy drinks and beer, items that monopolized the top shelf.

In the very back, Jake spotted a Capri Sun and his mouth watered. A few moments later, fruit punch coursed down his throat and Jake couldn’t think of anything in the world that had ever been more satisfying. When he’d drained the silver pouch, Jake crumpled it in his fist and belched. He thought of the young doorkeeper who had let him into the apartment earlier and a vision of the kid with a Capri Sun in one hand and a gun in the other floated through his brain. She shuddered, shook his head, and refocused. He was still thirsty.

Jake took a few steps to the kitchen sink and turned on the tap. To his surprise, clear water gushed out of the faucet and he ducked his head to drink it. When his belly was full, Jake stood, turned off the water, and fetched an energy drink out of the fridge. He was starting to feel human again.

He looked at his watch. 4:17 pm. It had been roughly three hours since he’d knocked on the door of doom. Jake wondered where the inhabitants had gone–and more importantly, when they’d return. He had to get the hell out of here.

Jake returned to the living room, checked his back pocket to ensure his wallet was still there (it was), and then he remembered his purpose for being in the apartment in the first place. Jake knew before patting his jacket pocket that the heroin would be gone, just as he knew that the thugs hadn’t left him their payment on the counter or tucked neatly into the folds of his wallet. Jake rubbed his palms together nervously and then ran his hands through his hair. He was in deep shit. Gio would skin him alive, thinking he’d stolen the product, like Briggs and Marco had. Even if Gio gave him a break, he didn’t have the cash to pay back the debt in a reasonable amount of time. This was bad, really bad.

Jake stumbled into the hallway and made his way toward the staircase. Though his stomach felt like an anvil from the Looney Tunes cartoons of his youth, Jake kept telling himself that he would have a plan by the time he made it to the first floor.

To be continued…

Photo licensing info –
ggavan OrtSproutingWingsRishabh Mishra (possible 248)

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2 thoughts on “Smoke and Mirrors – Part 2

  1. Pingback: Smoke and Mirrors – Part 3 | tiffanymichellebrown

  2. Pingback: Smoke and Mirrors – Part 4 | tiffanymichellebrown

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