The apartment squatted on the west side, next to an abandoned pharmaceutical plant. Daniel paid next to nothing in rent, which was good, because he hadn’t kept a steady job since he was fifteen. The super could barely work up the energy to care whether he paid on time, or at all. Though he did and could knock incessantly at the door for a little sniff. The superintendent would keep the overdue rent a privatized agreement for just a little bit. When he had the powder, Daniel actually enjoyed seeing Gerard the super knocking lightly on the door frame looking for a hit. Sometimes, it was not even his door, but one to the vacant apartment down the hall.
Walking up to the apartment building now, the sun shone through the holes of the empty plant across the street. Daniel paused and looked out over the plains of the old building. The thick locks glinted and intertwined with the open mesh of chain link fences. In several places the fence bent inward, rolled up and inviting further exploration. Yellowed weeds like urine stains splashed here and there across the broken asphalt once used as parking lot and loading dock. Still there was a certain mystery to the flashes of light caught on glass windows not yet broken and machinery once useful. The dilapidated Kubli Khan of medicinal products was wistful in its emptiness, as if waiting for a fix.
Daniel hopped up the stoop and pushed open the heavy metal door to the apartment hallway. He liked the crashing bang-click of the door announcing his entrance and exit giving him a sense of authority. Jangling his keys, he hoped Vicky, his girlfriend might be waiting for him inside, ideally sprawled on the bed, but he’d settle for her being there at all. It seemed they kept missing each other in their coming and going lately.
The door joints creaked their sore elbows as he walked in. Vicky was there, sitting at the table, reading and having a smoke. That was a warning sign. For Vicky to be reading was rare, but on the occasions she did, she tended to bring up random passages, sniff as his response and then continue to read, ignoring him. Smoking was even worse. Though he didn’t mind the habit in the least and also smoked, Vicky’s smoking meant she was upset.
As if on cue Vicky looked up from her book, bent the spine back and flipped it over with pages splayed across the table top. The broken middle looked well-worn with this treatment. Daniels arms slumped to his sides, while his shoulders hitched up to his ears with discomfort.
Vicky pulled the cigarette from her mouth and set her wrist down on the edge of the table as if bracing herself then sighed, heavily.
“Why you always gotta do that whenever you walk in and see me waiten for yeh?” She mumbled.
“What?” Daniel asked.
“You always hike up yeh shoulders, like your hiding something under yeh coat,” Vicky complained.
Daniel frowned and refused to answer. She stuck her tongue out between her front teeth and used her free hand to pick a fleck of tobacco from its tip, flicking the piece across his path as he walked past her.
“Come on!” he yelled, “Don’t we got enough dirt on the floor?”
“Don’t seem like you care much what’s on yeh floor,” Vicky grumbled.
Flopping dramatically across the foot the bed, Daniel ignored her snarking. The bed was really just the mattress, no box spring, resting against the peeled linoleum. Blankets and sheets flowed in grey puddles. Eddies in the sheets contained unknown crumbs accompanied by dust motes. Daniels index finger swirled around in them.
While Vicky had been in his life for over a year now, he never really divulged his various means of income. Meaning that while Vicky knew he dealt, she wasn’t let in on the specifics. He preferred instead to continue fucking and just put up with the rest. There were moments of sweetness, though. Vicky sitting next him on the bed sometimes read aloud while running her fingers through his hair. Most of the time they snipped at each other like two lions in a pride, neither comfortable while the other was standing atop the rock, but in calm moments he felt her claws worth the trouble.
Daniel sat up slowly and took a look around the single room. He needed a hiding spot for his stash. It was still sitting at the bottom of his backpack and he could imagine it as if he had x-ray vision. A blob of circular white packets, he saw glowing like tiny universes ready to implode at any moment.
Unfortunately the entire apartment was in varying states of openness. The cabinets along the kitchenette wall hung lifeless and gape mouthed while the faded red curtain over the sink, now brownish-red, was threadbare. The trash can had no lid and the bathroom tiles were spotted with grout gaps and chipped. The vinyl linoleum, shades of grey and deeper uglier grey, peeled and curled even in the middle of the room to expose the concrete base. Even the walls had wrinkles like eyelids squinting, small crevices opening up to see the dilapidated inner world of Daniel’s apartment. There was little other furniture except the mattress, the wobbly kitchen table (really a folding card table) and for some reason a bookcase, where Daniel kept a Ball brand jam jar full of coins and a spare pair of sneakers, even dirtier than the ones he wore now.
From the kitchen table, Vicky’s eyes halted over the page. Now peering out of the corner of her eye, Vicky shifted herself a little to right with the book hiding the direction of her gaze. Daniel still lay down in the bed, rubbing the bridge of his nose with thumb and forefinger. Whenever he did this, he was trying to think of a way to get around her. He did the same thing when she’d caught him with his tongue in another girl’s mouth. Before he tried to explain, his hand had gone to the same spot and massaged his nose in that circular motion as if trying to activate his creative reasoning. It hadn’t worked that well last time and she had broken up with him then, but they got back together when he came knocking. Sweetly apologetic and promising eyes, asking her to move in with him were almost irresistible. It was the first and only time he’d ever apologized and she melted with a combination of sentiment and the eviction notice on her front door.
When he invited her to live with him, she believed he was under the impression that she would be less jealous if she could see him every day. Though once she’d moved in with her few belongings (most of which were still in a pile in a kitchen cabinet) she found that jealousy became part of her every day.
While his girlfriend’s eyes continued to skim the top of her book, Daniel tried to think. The problem was that the cocaine at the bottom of his bag was going to eventually need a better hiding spot, and while he was sure she was engrossed in whatever drivel she was currently reading, he could not find a proper place to house the drugs with her in the room. Maybe when she goes to the bathroom, he thought. Unless she was taking an enormous dump, however, he wouldn’t have that much time to explore the room for a spot both inconspicuous and large enough to hold the whole take.
He tried to picture the apartment from corner to corner, remembering the spot by the door where his foot had gone through the wall after Vicky had found him with the other girl. Too large. Behind the bookcase would work, except for the fact that it wobbled uneasily whenever the door was slammed, which happened often. The toilet would be the first spot anyone would look for illegal items. The dirtiest place seemed to be where people tried to cover up their dirt. It took Daniel a full minute of thinking over inventive ways in which to hide the drugs in the bathroom before he realized the whole point of going over hiding spaces in his head was so he could hide the coke as soon as possible and as secretly as possible while Vicky was in the bathroom. And the guys would be there any moment. He started to rub the corners of his eyes trying to picture the apartment in more detail. Beneath the sink, in the cabinets, beneath the bed all too obvious.
He heard the bottom of a kitchen chair squawking against the kitchen floor and opened his eyes. Vicky had shifted positions. Now it felt like she was blocking his existence with her book like the old game of perspective squishing someone’s head by standing back and pinching the fingers. Daniel tried the game now, pressing the book into oblivion. Vicky’s eyes and hair looked angelic from where he lay, a soft evening light sneaking in past the dust streaked windows and strips of curtain and Daniel sighed. It looked like she’d just washed her hair. The soft fuzzies of baby hair standing up in a ring like a tiara. Suddenly he very much wanted to just go over to her and hold her head in his hands so that he could smell the top of her hair, inhaling the clean cotton flower scent.
Behind her head Daniel noticed the dark outline of something on the wall. It was a crack burrowing into the plaster. Just the edges crumbling inward exposed the inside of the wall. It started about halfway up and continued vertically a few inches, but near the middle the crack had expanded like a beer belly, swollen slightly. There was still the possibility that it could be fixed. Or if left alone, it could widen and widen until it caved inward on itself and ruined the whole wall. It could go either way. Here was the solution, Daniel thought.
The slight opening would allow the bags through if dropped in one at time. Daniel estimated that if Vicky were to go to the bathroom even for a short time, he would have plenty of time to grab the bags so the whole take could be safely stowed out of sight inside the wall. He could see no way anyone could see inside. Even the head of a flashlight would not fit through the hole enough to see inside. Then he could just punch through it to get the goods later.
Just then a deep pounding on the door scattered both their thoughts. Vicky jumped and lost her place in the thick paperback novel, while Daniel’s spine startled into straightness. So they were here already, Daniel thought. At the same time, Vicky’s eyes stared him down.
Read on here.