Some time later I had sufficiently gathered up my thoughts. I was still reeling ever so slightly, but I was at least able to get moving. The evening had come around, and I supposed it was time to think about heading to the cockroach infested box I so laughably called my home. It was really no wonder I spent so much time out.
Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end, and so it was that I carefully loaded my books into a decidedly scraggy messenger bag, praying that today wouldn't be the day the strap gave up the ghost. It was about as close to gambling as I ever planned to come, and I'm ashamed to admit that in days gone by it had actually provided a sort of thrill. It was pathetic, but believe me, when you've experienced near death on a daily basis, a tiny risk is more than enough to satisfy that inner daredevil.
Moving swiftly on to less embarrassing things – I walked briskly through the streets of New York, a place I couldn't quite put my finger on. It was nice to be involved in the buzz of the place, whilst always maintaining the anonymity that also provided a vague sense of safety. But at the same time, it was far too much to handle at times. Small town girls find it so damn easy to get lost in these places, and I was no exception.
The journey took an average of half an hour – the last ten minutes or so usually spent rushing past potential muggers. Although I knew I could handle myself, I had no desire to end up doing so. I'd been living here for almost a year now, and not once had I employed my peculiar talents. I intended to keep that up.
Now, the building in which I lived was not what you'd call modern – or hygienic. The hallways smelled distinctly of urine and vomit, along with other bodily fluids that I didn't particularly want to think about. There was also the issue of the aggro between neighbors. I'd learned a lot of unsavory words since moving in here. But, on the plus side, I was fairly certain that none of the people here were part of a drug cartel. There were lots of users, but all in all they were the same as me. Just your average Joe trying to make it in a cruel world.
There was one other positive point. The elevator worked. It was a near miracle, given the fact that the owner wasn't exactly known for his stellar job maintaining the building. The only time anyone saw him was when the rent was due. No surprises there.
So, I used said elevator, and made it to the eleventh floor in one piece. It was merely musty up here, as it seemed the drunks emptied themselves out on the first couple of floors – lucky me. My apartment was at the end of the hall, conveniently situated next to the fire escape. I really did hope I wouldn't be needing that.
The apartment itself was comfortingly bland, free of any real personal touches or nicknacks. There was no deep psychological reason for this, it was just that I had no physical objects that had any significant sentimental value. Of course I had certain favorite books alphabetized among my collection, along with the odd CD that I'd picked up along the way, but no photos of bygone days.
My evening was the same as anyone elses. I dumped my bag unceremoniously on the rickety coffee table, and spent the evening curled up on the charity shop couch watching bad television. It was surprisingly easy to relax, despite knowing that my past had come back to haunt me. Of course I thought about it, but there was nothing I could do immediately, so I instead rolled various ideas around passively, waiting for the right one to jump out at me.
The following morning I did all the normal human things – waking up late and attempting to do three things at once in order not to be late for work. Apparently dollar alarm clocks aren't the most reliable. Luckily for the clock in question, I did make it out of the door on time.
My place of work was one of the many nondescript establishments that served all manner of greasy foods and calorie laden beverages. It was relatively clean and all above board, which made a change from the majority of places in the area. Perhaps it was down to the old woman that ran the place. She struck me as the sort to follow every law she could, be they set by the government or her God. No surprise that the son and cook followed religiously in her footsteps.
The Doyle Diner was just a few blocks down from my apartment, conveniently situated opposite a new residential development that was providing most of their business, aside from the church the Doyles frequented. It was a shame that sooner or later it was the new build that would inevitably destroy the diner.
“Morning Charlie.” I offered as I popped through the door, seeing the middle aged, podgy man in his customary spot at the end of the counter. As usual, no customers yet. I didn't understand why his mother insisted on opening so early, but hadn't the heart to broach the subject with her. It was opening bright and early that gave me this part time work, so selfishness got the best of me.
He gave me a nod from behind his paper, acting as if I wasn't there at all. He wasn't a talkative chap, he barely even communicated with his mother, so I just went about my business. I snatched a gloriously ugly mint green apron from the row of hooks, slipped a pad and pen into its pocket and sat neatly on one of the stools (also mint green), setting about waking myself up with some gravelly black coffee.
There were two customers in the next three hours up to ten am. One was the usual passing business, and the other was something unsettling. Charlie had already retreated to the kitchen when the predator walked in, and I very nearly yelled for him when I caught sight of the wily eyes that I was sure had just been trained on a very naked me.
It was only a few seconds after he'd walked straight past me to sit in a booth that I realized I hadn't heard him come in. Nor had I heard the characteristic squeaking of the plastic seat as the well dressed man sat down. And now he was just gingerly perusing the menu with what looked like a good deal of distaste. Maybe he was just an exceptionally quiet, quite probably lost man.
With the thought of Ignatius being around, I couldn't quite shake my ill feelings, but I soldiered on with my duties, refusing to be incapacitated by what could only be described as a minor oddity. I continued with the usual routine, finally getting myself in gear with a pot of fresh coffee and a mug, making my way over with only a slight stiffness in my step.
“Would you like some coffee, or anything off the menu?” I was fairly sure my smile appeared genuine, although my eyes were most likely giving away a touch of worry. In any event, he offered no hint that he had noticed my unease.
Tangled green eyes met my own, far less impressive ones, and a truly amused smirk had no trouble touching these. “I wouldn't mind some tea.”
“I'll have to check in the back, but bear with me.” I responded slightly more rapidly than was necessary, making a swift exit before I was driven mad by the intangible feeling of danger surrounding this man.
I had only been gone a few minutes, and returned triumphantly with a box of tea from the storeroom, only to find that the lone customer had disappeared. The initial relief was short lived, as I noticed the little note on the table.
Upon further inspection I was left baffled, but slightly reassured. It simply read 'For the trouble' in a neat script that was elegant, flashy but not in any way overstated. Beneath the note was a hundred dollar bill. I'd never seen one of those before. And it was this that allowed me to write the whole incident off as one eccentric man with too much money and time on his hands.