I ducked inside the building and closed the door behind me as quietly as my trembling hands would allow. The darkness pressed in around me and dusty air tickled my nostrils. I stifled a sneezing jag, frightened that any noise would give my location away to Manny. His footsteps were already thundering in my direction.
I ran headlong into the darkened room, frantically searching blindly with my hands for a hiding place. Behind me, the doorknob suddenly twisted back and forth noisily. I flung myself onto the floor, crawling underneath a desk and pulling the rolling chair in behind me. Manny burst into the room and I stifled a terrified gasp.
The lights switched on. Listening to him search for me was agonizing. I was certain that at any given second, he would pull the chair out and yank me from my hiding place. It took a few moments for me to realize that his footsteps sounded strange. He was staggering around and bumping into things. All at once, I heard a thud and realized that he had fallen. After a few moments passed, without him getting to his feet, I cautiously crawled out from my hiding place and peered over the top of the desk. Manny lie a few feet away in a crumpled heap on the floor.
He wasn’t moving. I started to get to my feet and then thought that it might be a ruse to get me to come out of my hiding place. Fear pushed me back under the desk. I don’t know how long I sat there, feeling my racing heartbeat pounding in my temples.
Eventually, I crawled out and inched my way over to Manny, poised to turn and run if he made the slightest move. It seemed to take forever to get to him. I reached down and checked his neck for a pulse. It was thready but present, which was enough to convince me to get moving, lest he suddenly came to and grab me again. I pulled out his wallet and relieved him of the wad of cash inside. After the agony he had just put me through, it was the least he could do.
I turned the lights off on my way out. My rush of adrenaline had burned off and all at once, I felt every injured part of my body. Exhaustion weighed me down and slowed my limping footsteps. The way my neck was throbbing, I was certain there must be a big, angry bruise forming around it. All I could think about was finding the nearest motel and crawling into bed.
I needed to find some hole in the wall where people knew how to mind their own business. As miserable as I felt, my anxiety over someone discovering Plum’s phone and the other things I had hidden urged me onto a bus so that I could retrieve them. Otherwise, I would never be able to completely relax.
The bus was crowded but I had no trouble finding a seat, people practically jumped out of my way. I looked at them curiously, wondering why they were eyeing me so cautiously. One look at my reflection in the window at my seat and I laughed until tears streamed down my face, wincing from the pain in my sore ribs. My hair was standing up all over my head and the eyebrows which I had so artfully pencilled in that morning had rubbed off in places so that I appeared to have one perpetually arched eyebrow. The bus lurched away from the curb and it wasn’t long before its slow, steady rocking progress lulled me to sleep.
A group of boisterous teenagers woke me up, chasing one another down the aisle. I was annoyed until I realized that the bus was at my stop. I hurriedly climbed out and stood in the cool night air, blearily looking around and trying to recall which building I had stowed everything in. I walked slowly and then faster as panic began to set in. All the rundown buildings looked the same in the darkness. I must have walked past the building I sought three times without really seeing it. Once the items were safely in my purse, I asked around and got directions to the nearest motel.
Safely in my room, I ate vending machine junk food, washed it down with grape soda, stripped, took a hot shower, crawled into bed and fell into a deep, dreamless slumber. I didn’t move again, until a full bladder woke me up a few hours later. I made the mistake of thinking about the events of the day. My mind began racing a mile a minute, trying to hash out some sort of a plan. I laid back down, dug Plum’s phone out of the purse next to me on the bed and turned it on. There had to be something in it that I could use.
Scrolling through her text messages, nothing came to mind except disbelief over my blindness to her cold blooded nature. It occurred to me that were I one of her competitors or blackmail victims, I would be willing to shell out a lot of money in order to get my hands on her phone. I fished out Hiromi’s phone number and dialed on the motel phone while I read through more text messages. She sounded groggy.
“Who is this?”
“Oh hey, I was beginning to think you had changed your mind.”
“Not at all, in fact I know what I want in exchange for giving you the chit.”
“I want you to auction off Plum’s cell phone. It shouldn’t be hard to find buyers. I’m looking through her text messages and there is some really juicy stuff in here.”
“You turned it on? Turn it off now!”
“Why, what’s the big deal?”
“The big deal is that they can easily track the location of the phone when it’s on. Do you want her goons kicking your door in? Maybe you’d better go someplace else for the rest of the night.”
“I’m not going anywhere else tonight. I am exhausted and I already paid for the room.”
“At least leave for a couple of hours to be on the safe side and take the battery out of the damn thing,” suggested Hiromi.
“Will you relax? She has probably already bought a new phone. Besides, I only had it on for a hot second. If it will make you happy, I’ll turn it off. There, it’s off now. I have no clue how to get the battery out so turning it off will have to do. Are you going to set up the auction or not?”
“Fine, I’ll make the arrangements. Are you going to be staying there for a few days?”
“The way my luck has been lately, I can’t say anything for sure. Don’t worry, I’ll check in with you in a couple of days.”
I hung up and lay back, feeling a little better about my situation, now that I was doing something about it. Sleep stole over me again. The next thing I remember, is the ringing of Plum’s cell phone waking me out of a sound sleep. Without thinking, I rose up on one elbow and answered. Before I could speak, Plum’s voice was in my ear.
Instead of the threats and curses I expected, she spoke in a language that I didn’t understand. Thinking that my grogginess was making me slow witted, I listened closely for a moment. A sudden sensation of lightheadedness made my scalp tingle. My eyes went out of focus. I knew that I should do something but my thoughts were quickly grinding to a halt. I began losing consciousness. My hand went slack and the phone fell away from my ear.
All at once, my head cleared. I leapt into action, struggling back into my clothes and stuffing everything else back into my bag. I ran from the room and crossed the street, looking around wildly. I recognized the dark sedan which rounded the corner at the end of the street. I barely had time to duck into a shadowy doorway before the sedan sped up and pulled onto the motel parking lot.
Two of Plum’s men got out, went into the motel office and came back out with a key to my door. They rushed into my room and emerged a moment later, looking around. I flattened myself against the door behind me and fumbled with the phone, breaking a nail while clumsily popping the back off of the phone so that I could claw out the battery. I prayed that they would not detect me when they came back out onto the street. What the hell had just happened?