Floorboard creaks under a heavy foot. A pale, wrinkled hand grabs hold of a brass doorknob. The old hand struggles to turn the stubborn knob, but the knob tries harder to tear the hand from the feeble arm. Defiantly the knob rattles in its cavity, and with no other option the hand retreats, and like a startled viper, coils itself into a fist, and in similar serpentine fashion strikes at the wooden bulwark.
“THUMP THUMP THUMP.”
The sound resonates through the poorly lit hallway. The paint jumps off of the walls, up and down the corridor, doors creak open and eyes peer out and gaze at the commotion.
“Wake up! Wake up you fucken bum!”
The excited body that carries the tired hand shouts through the door. On the other side a woozy head rolls over on its pillow. A lazy arm swings at a nightstand, strikes an empty bottle of whiskey and grabs hold of a pair of eyeglasses.
“I know you hear me. Open this fucken door!”
“Who is it?”
“You know who the fuck it is. I’ll be your ex-landlord if you don’t hurry up and hand me my rent.”
“Jimmy! So nice of you to drop by.”
The tired soul inside rises up and walks to the door. He places both hands on the door and leans forward,
“I can’t open the door. All of my clothes are in the laundry. I’m naked. I’ll have your rent this afternoon. Don’t worry.”
“You lousy bum! I hope the cockroaches eat you alive.”
The aggravated man lands one last blow on the door, turns and storms down the hall. Floorboards creak, heads pull back, doors shut, and ten lives go back on stand-by. Inside of apartment 207 the resident, Jack Suerte, peers through the eyehole and curses silently as the manager walks off.
Jack’s passive attitude is a sharp contrast to his assertive appearance. He stands at a defiant six feet four inches with blonde hair habitually draping over his blue eyes. His build is slim and elegant. The only clues to his demeanor are his chewed, nervous nails and worried eyebrows.
Jack walks back from the door to a mirror hanging across the room. He stares at himself for a few seconds, pulls back his hair and ties it with a rubber band. Next to his mirror is a sign with red letters on a white background that reads, “Fortune favors the brave.”
He walks into the bathroom, vomits, pisses, and brushes his teeth. There was less blood in the toilet bowl this morning. That made him happy.
He picks up a pair of jeans from the floor, drapes a shirt over his back, grabs a pack of cigarettes, a lighter, and walks out his door. Jack knew there would be no confrontation with Jimmy. Managers never stayed long enough for tenants to start complaining. He swings round the corner and strolls down the staircase. His stride is accentuated by a spring in his step that absorbs the shock of walking. His legs are the ultimate vehicles. No gas, no insurance, no registration. All they need are a good pair of shoes. His walk has developed through twenty-three years of indifference into an efficient means of transportation.
He stops, sits at a bus bunch and twiddles his thumbs.
Thirty-five minutes later he steps out through the rear door of a large white and red bus. He strolls to the intersection of Wilshire and Beverly Glenn, darts across the street and walks into the lobby of a large apartment complex. The lobby is decked out with mirrors on every wall; a chandelier hangs from the center of the room and the smell of money lingers in the air.
Jack takes the elevator to the third floor and knocks at apartment 308. The door swings open and he walks in. As he steps through, an arm slams the door behind him.”
“Betty! Sweetheart,” yells Jack, “How you doing?”
“I’m tired. I’ve only gotten a couple of hours of sleep.”
“Well never mind that. What do you have planned for today?”
“Enough Betty. I thought we would spend some time together.”
“You know Betty, you are Jill’s best friend and I think we should spend more time together. All of us.”
“Jack, are you bored again?”
Jack walks into the kitchen and pulls a fifth of whiskey out of the freezer. He grabs a pair of tall glasses from the cupboard and pours two drinks. He walks back to the living room, sets the drinks down on a small table at the end of the couch and sits down.
“Here ya go love.”
“Jack, you have a way of making a girl sick.”
“Ah shut up and drink it. You never know, you might like it.”
“You’re right. With the night I had it wouldn’t make sense not to.”
“That’s the Betty I know and love.”
Jack raises his glass and cheers with Betty. Their glasses clang in the air and lower to their lips. They both instinctively gulp down the sour juice and leave the ice turning at the bottom. Betty leans her head back in her chair and closes her eyes. Jack turns and stares at her as she indulges in the after effect of the alcohol. Betty is a small creature, barely making it over five feet tall. Her hair is black and stretches far past her shoulders. Betty exists in two worlds. Outside of her house she is the top of the class, exuding a vivacity that is rivaled by all women she passes. Sitting in front of Jack is the other Betty, the Betty that doesn’t leave the house. Her hair is wrapped in a red bandana. Her feet are sheathed in a pair of torn cotton slippers. She has on some dingy gray sweats and a t-shirt.
“Betty, you look like shit.”
“It’s like looking in the mirror isn’t it?”
“Let’s go to bed Betty.”
“I don’t like pussy Jack.”
“You don’t know what you’re missing.”
“I have a very good idea.”
Jack grabs the two glasses and walks back into the kitchen. The freezer door opens.
“You damn alcoholic. You’re drinking all my booze.” Betty shouts.
Jack finishes pouring the drinks and starts walking back. He stops at the chair behind Betty and puts the glasses down. He grabs Betty’s shoulders and digs into them.
“Baby, I love it when you let yourself go like this,” he tells her.
Betty turns and slaps away his hands.
“You sack of shit! Is that all you’ve got.”
“Don’t tell me you don’t like it.”
“I like men Jack. I like men that know what to do with a woman.”
“You think I don’t know what to do with you? You think I won’t do what I want?”
Betty stands up, turns and faces Jack, stares straight into his eyes. She begins to tear away his flesh with her eyes. Jack is perplexed. He pulls out his arm and grabs her hand. She slaps it away. She tears at him a few more seconds then walks into her bedroom.
“No hard feelings Jack. You just don’t do it for me.”
Jack picks up both drinks and takes his seat on the couch. Inside the bedroom drawers open and shut. The bathroom sink streams water then stops. Jack finishes one drink. He picks up the T.V. remote and turns to a news channel. There’s a war going on. There’s always a war going on.
Five minutes later Betty walks out. Her hair is combed straight down. Her lips are fire red. Her eyes are immaculately adorned. She has on a white blouse that accentuates the firmness in her breasts, even magnifying their power. Her skirt is gray and ends a few inches above her knees. Jack turns and sees her legs sticking out underneath that small piece of fabric. Her thighs have a thickness and suppleness that clash with her thin form.
“I’m going out. Lock the door behind you baby.”
Betty walks out the door, swinging her hips and ass, the skirt rising with each step, conspicuously displaying each thigh, one last insult to Jack. She turns and slams the door behind her. Jack starts on the second drink.