Author:Kristen Ashley

    I made it to the third floor, turned into the hall and stopped dead.

    Charlie, our rarely seen maintenance man, was on a stepladder switching out a light bulb.

    “Yo, Anya,” Charlie called when he spotted me.

    “Hey, Charlie,” I called back, moving toward him. “I see you’ve been activated too.”

    “Sho’ ‘nuff,” he confirmed the obvious.

    I stopped at the side of the stepladder and looked up to watch him screwing in a light bulb. “What lit a fire under Steve? Did someone call the building inspector or something?”

    Charlie climbed down and grinned at me. “No idea, doubtful though. Do know the man got roughed up. Split lip so fat it’s a wonder he can talk. Eye purple and swollen shut. Holdin’ his body funny so whoever it was took some shots at his ribs. Totally fucked up. That one plus his one of callin’ on me made two so I’m thinkin’ Gearson in apartment 2C. His woman had a baby. Does shit to a man, especially when his bitch or him has gotta drag that stroller down a flight of stairs anytime they wanna take that kid somewhere.”

    I could see this. I knew Wash Gearson. He was quick to smile, if he saw you carrying stuff into the building, he’d help you with it, he always opened the door and let you go through first and he loved his partner and new, adorable baby. They had a two bedroom on the second floor and I knew Wash got in Steve the landlord’s face regularly. And seeing as Wash was a big, somewhat soft but definitely not a guy you messed with black dude and Steve had messed with him, Wash had messed back.

    I didn’t condone violence but I wasn’t going to say no to a security system, an elevator that worked (even though I never used the latter, others did) and lighting in the halls that didn’t make the place look ripe to become a location for a slasher flick.

    “I don’t think I’d let Wash hear you call his woman a bitch,” I advised quietly but still grinning.

    “He calls her his bitch and we share the same lingo.” This was true enough. Wash’s mouth was even fouler than Charlie’s which was going to make child rearing interesting in the Gearson household. “Think he’d be cool,” Charlie went on. “Especially when I fixed his fridge last week after he called me direct ‘cause Steve didn’t do shit for three days. This could be what tipped him. Though, call Bertha, Bertha to her face.”

    Bertha, Wash’s woman, had an unfortunate name. Luckily, her parents gave her glamorous beauty and life gave her a good man who might not make a mint but he loved her so that counteracted her name. I knew this because her smile was as easy as her man’s and she laughed a lot.

    “And, get this,” Charlie went on, “monthly schedule. Even if the bulbs don’t need changin’ out, I come in first of the month and change the whole lot.”

    I stared at him and whispered, “Really?”

    “Really, sweetheart, no fuckin’ joke. Thought I was in an alternate universe when Steve came to see me today. Then again, I saw the results of the visit whoever gave him so I’m also not surprised. You fuck folks around, eventually they’ll fuck back and since no one likes to be fucked unless they wanna be, when they’re moved to do it, they fuck harder.”

    Charlie Philosophy. In the five years I’d lived there, he’d delivered it often. It was always liberally sprinkled in curse words. And it was always usually right.

    “Words to live by,” I muttered.

    “Damn straight, Anya. Fuck only when they wanna be fucked. You never know what’s gonna tip someone and you also never know who you’re fuckin’ knows.”

    “I’m not a fuck with people person,” I shared and he smiled.

    “Well, just in case you consider a turn to the dark side,” Charlie advised.

    “Right, heard, cataloged, filed. Consider your wisdom processed, Charlie,” I assured him and his smile got bigger. I moved as I said, “See you later, honey.”

    “Later, sweetheart,” he replied, grabbed his ladder and moved down the hall.

    I did the juggling bit at the door to open it, walked through and saw the paper on the floor that had been slid under the door. I closed the door, ignored the paper and walked to the kitchen to dump my totes. Then I walked back, bent to retrieve the paper and turned it to face me. On it was a badly photocopied message.

    Dear Tenant,

    The building call system has been repaired as well as the security keypad. The new code is 7849. This code will be changed monthly and you will be notified by memorandum as well as emailed with the new codes one week prior to the code changing. If we do not have your email on file, please contact us immediately.

    In the next two weeks, Charlie will be installing deadbolts and chains on all the doors. We will attempt to do this at your convenience but would prefer to do this during normal working weekday hours. Please complete and detach the slip at the bottom of this memo and return it to the management office with a time within the next two weeks that would be convenient for you.

    As this work takes place, we thank you in advance for your patience.


    I stared at the memo, the first of its kind in my tenure there and definitely more polite than I’d ever expect in a million years coming from “Management” otherwise known as “Steve”, then my eyes drifted to my door. There was one lock, it turned on the knob. I’d never thought anything of it but as I stared at the door, a tingle slid up my spine, the back of my neck and radiated over my scalp.

    Knight had stared at that door and what he saw pissed him off.

    And now, out-of-the-blue, when I’d never complained about it, though I didn’t know if anyone else did, we were getting deadbolts and chains.

    “Babe, please tell me you don’t live on the first floor.”

    He’d looked at the elevator. He’d noted the lights.

    “Pointless but it’s somethin’.”

    That tingle rushed back down and infused my entire body.

    “Oh my God,” I whispered.

    “I got this.” I heard Charlie say from outside the door.

    “I got it.” I heard another voice I recognized as my out-of-work, moron, slightly creepy, didn’t know how he managed to pay his rent, neighbor Dick whose name said it all.

    “No, I said… I got it,” Charlie returned firmly then there was banging at my door.

    I moved to it, looked out the peephole, saw Charlie and Dick standing out there and opened it because, although Dick was standing out there, so was Charlie.

    “Hey,” I greeted and Charlie stuck out a large, bubble wrap lined envelope at me.

    “This came for you. Dick accepted receipt,” Charlie announced. “Now Dick’s goin’ to his place, closing the doors, sittin’ his ass down and thinkin’ of baby bunnies.”

    I avoided Dick’s eyes, pressed my lips together, understood Charlie’s meaning but considered that if Dick’s thoughts turned to bunnies they would be thoughts of boiling them or torturing them and I took the envelope. The front had a label that was typed and said only, “Anya, 3D”

    “Thanks, uh…” my eyes slid through Dick, “guys.”

    “Later, Anya,” Charlie said meaningfully, I looked at him, his face told me to close my damned door because Dick was a dick and Charlie didn’t want him around me.

    “Right, later,” I replied and did as I wasn’t told but still was.

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