Once I was fairly sure that Abner would be handle the massive cleaning operation ahead of him, I grabbed the last of my things for work. Being the only member of the household that could actually have a job without eliciting screams from the general public meant that it fell squarely on my shoulders to have a cover for the rest. Besides, even if Brax could land a job, he’d be fired in no time with his demands of fealty from anyone in the vicinity.
Brax was, unsurprisingly, flipping through the channels with ninja speed. It was a sort of daily routine that would have put my father’s channel surfing to shame. I really had no clue how he could even tell what programs he was skimming through at the rate he was going.
Seated next to Brax was the last of my roommates. He was wearing a frumpy overcoat that hung past his feet, and the sleeves hung well past his hands. On top of his head was an aviator’s cap, with goggles and everything. His face was the darkest black that the mind could imagine, and his long, pointed ears sprouted out from him like a pair of batwings. His eyes were huge and oval, and glowed like lanterns. He regarded me with a meaningful stare.
“Po, don’t let this little spider monkey corrupt you, understand?” I laughed. Brax gave me a suspicious look but returned his gaze to the television. Po, meanwhile, only stared at me. In all the time that I had known the little shadow creature, it had never uttered a word. I wasn’t sure if he was capable or not. For that matter, I wasn’t even sure that he was even a he. His only reaction to anything was a long, meaningful stare. It made conversing with him a little awkward. I cleared my throat and nodded at Po. He paused a moment, and then returned the nod.
I smacked Brax on the side of his head as I walked toward the door. “Help Abner clean up, you understand?”
“Eez heez chob!” he spat. “Und don’t heet me onless you weesh to see the wrung zide of me.” His bulbous eyes narrowed, and his four hands flexed into little fists. I wasn’t sure if I could take him or not, but his bravado was enough to make me roll my eyes.
I walked out the door and closed it behind me, and felt a wave of nausea as the smell of cheap perfume, bourbon, and bitterness hit me like a ton of bricks. Oh, crap,I thought, but it was too late: I was in her crosshairs.
“Mr. Garland!” she screeched, gesticulating in my direction from the end of the hall. A squat, overly pink and denim thing started waddling in my direction, and I fought the urge to retch. Ms. Flannery, my landlady, was a nightmare. She was a heavy smoker, a heavy drinker, and heavily deluded that men were interested in her. As she approached, her perfume grew stronger, and I noticed the piled layers of makeup that had begun to dust the top of her shirt. Platitudes involving pigs and lipstick, as well as turds and polishing, invaded my thoughts.
“I’m on my way to work, Ms. Flannery, can we talk about this maybe later?” I said quickly, trying to walk past her.
She flung her considerable girth into my path and gave me her most threatening stare. I took a deep breath. She was an ugly woman, no matter how much makeup, but ugly didn’t mean intimidating. I knew this woman well enough to understand that I wouldn’t be going anywhere until her business with me was done. I gave her my attention, and didn’t hide that it was irritating me.
“I think your job can wait, Mr. Garland, when your safety and security is on the line,” she said, arching a thickly painted eyebrow. “Tenants keep losing valuables, and when that happens it gives the appearance that I am not doing my job. I can’t have that.”
“No, I suppose you can’t,” I agreed. I glanced at my watch.
“Ms. Beakman in 212. Are you acquainted with her?”
I sighed. “She’s the one with the kid that could be mistaken for a manatee, right?”
Ms. Flannery pursed her lips. “Henry is his name. Yes, that Ms. Beakman. It seems that someone took her personal computer, as well as three of little Henry’s video game systems. Isn’t that just awful news, that someone would steal from an innocent little boy?”
I considered mentioning that there was nothing particularly little about Henry. I also recalled that I was far from innocent when I was a preteen. Of course I knew that none of this would be of help in this particular conversation so I kept it to myself. “Yes. Awful.” I contributed.
“It won’t do, having all of these thefts under my nose. It just won’t do.” She spoke in clipped tones, as if sending a vague threat in my direction. She was studying my expression, and I blinked neutrally. Despite the fact that I didn’t care for even having this conversation, the topic was news to me. I didn’t know that Ms. Beakman and her little butterball had a break-in, and from what Flannery was saying, other tenants had been victimized as well. I thought about a masked burglar intruding my apartment, searching for treasures, and finding…Abner. Irritated and threatened Abner. Irritated and threatened Abner and his huge arms and sharp fangs. I fought to hide a smile.
“Tell me, Mr. Garland,” she said, her voice skeptical. “Have you lost anything of value?”
“No ma’am,” I replied. “Just my time. I have to go.”
She muttered something bitter under her breath. “The police will be here today, Mr. Garland,” she called after me. “I’m sure you might want to let them know how you’ve managed to stay so fortunate amidst this crime wave!”