The next day when I was walking to work I was thinking about everything that Viki had said the night before. I was analyzing every word and gesture and couldn’t get over the similarities of what Bili had said. It couldn’t be a coincidence. Both of them telling me that I should be told something, a seemingly very important something, and then changing the subject.
I was looking forward to getting to work this morning, because I was going to hound Bili until the cows, and any other live stock, came home to get some answers. Once I brought up my conversation with Viki she would have to tell me something.
I arrived early to work so I could do all the prep work before Bili got in. I didn’t want her to have any excuses to make me wait.
It was past ten and Bili was still not in. I was getting aggravated to no end. The one time I wanted to sit down with her and have a conversation she decides to show up late. She hasn’t been late since I’ve known her. Ever.
I was at the store by myself until Bili finally showed up at noon. I was waiting on two customers at once when she came in. She threw her things under the counter and took over one of the customers as I was finishing a sale of a table and full set of chairs.
My customer never haggled once. The sticker was $2800 and he just told me to send it to his home and handed me his AmEx Black Card. I had heard of this card, but had never actually seen one. You only got one of those if you had serious coin. Cards like that come with a personal operator who will make and pay for reservations all over the world. You want front row tickets to a sold-out concert in Europe, no problem, just call the number.
I was making good money now and I couldn’t imagine such a luxury.
As the day went on it remained busy and I was never able to corner Bili for information.
Day turned into evening and I resigned myself to wait until we closed before I started my inquiries. That way there would be no chance of interruptions from phone calls or customers. I don’t know why, but I felt certain I would get Bili to talk. I had a new confidence after coming off one of the greatest nights of my life.
“Jack. Did you get a hold of Leslie from Classic Interior Designs? She was due to pick up a few pieces for a client, but they are still sitting in the back.” Bili said.
“I left her at least four messages in the last two days.” I said. “She may be a great interior designer, but she is a complete flake. Last week she called me three times and asked the exact same question. I gave her the same answer every time and each time it was as if she heard it for the first time.”
Bili actually laughed.
“Before you started working here she used to come into the shop more often. She was in lust with Theo and of course he was never here so I would have to listen to her endless natterings about cats. Did you know there are over one hundred different breeds of domestic cats?”
“I did not.” I said.
“I almost blew my brains out when she got into the fifties.”
I let out a belly laugh. Bili was hilarious at times. Her cynical humor was like that of New York City cop. She hated most people to begin with, but if you give her some ammunition she could be ruthless.
It was almost closing time and we started placing the most valuable of the jewelry pieces away in the safe. The store was empty of customers and I couldn’t wait any longer.
“Can I ask you something?” I said hesitantly.
“Sure, as long as it’s not a dumb. Contrary to what your Lit professor has told you, there are dumb questions.”
“The other day when we were in the truck, you were about to tell me something. What was it? And please don’t give me some lame ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about’ answer. You know what I’m talking about.”
“Why do you ask?” she said is a serious manner. I took this as a good sign.
“I was with Viki last night and we had a conversation that was a mirror image of our almost conversation. And like you, she refused to finish her thought or tell me the whole story. I know something is going on around here. I hear and see things that don’t add up and it’s painfully obvious it has something to do with me. I think I deserve to know. Don’t you?”
As I spoke I began to raise my voice just a little. I wanted answers, but more than that, I needed them.
Bili stared at me for a second, and then I saw the look in her eyes I was hoping for. Agreement.
“I do. It’s just that…”
She was just about to start talking when the front door chime rang out. Two customers walked in.
They weren’t in the store for more than a second when Bili grabbed my arm as I was about to walk out and assist the approaching customers.
“Why don’t you go home for the night? I’ll take care of these two and close up”.
“Go home? What about our conversation?”
“Tomorrow, I promise. I’ll tell you everything.” Bili was talking to me but she never took her eyes off of the two customers that had just come in. They were still moving toward the front counter where we were standing.
“Are you sure? Is everything alright? You look....weird.”
Bili turned and gave me a reassuring smile.
“I’m sure. Have a good night. Now get the hell out of here. Go out the back too.” She said giving me her usual sarcastic smile.
“Okay. Long talk tomorrow. I’m holding you to it.” I said as I turned to walk toward the back.
“No need to rush off Jack.” The customer in the black shirt said as he approached the counter.
I stopped walking and turned to look back at the approaching customers.
“Sorry, do I know you?” I said as I turned to face the two approaching men.
The man that spoke was wearing a custom fitted button up black shirt, and black pants. He had shoulder length dark straight hair that hung flat. The other one was dressed much more casual, wearing khaki shorts and a hoodie. He looked like he could be a student. An older football playing student, but not totally out of place. They were both big, but black shirt was far more menacing looking.
“I said I’ll handle these two, now leave.” Bili said.
“I’m afraid you’re not going anywhere. Neither is this whore.” Black shirt said.
As the two got closer I could see they both had the same color eyes. A very familiar color, which made them all the more glaring.
It was more than obvious that they were not friendly and this was not a good situation. I was hoping they were just a couple of assholes that would eventually leave, but I couldn’t have been more wrong.
“I better call the police. These guys look like trouble.” I said as I took out my phone.
The two customers were almost at the counter when Bili turned toward me and in a split second her face transformed into a combination of fear and anger as she stared directly into my eyes.
“Jack, use the back door and run like hell.” Bili said with a stern and deliberate voice.
Before I had time to protest Bili shoved me with both of her hands to my chest area. The force of it felt like I was hit by a car. I went airborne, flying backward through the swinging doors, and into the back room. The phone in my hand flew from my grasp and I assume it landed directly where I had previously stood. I, however, landed a mere five feet from the rear exit. I must have traveled at least thirty or forty feet.
I was on my back desperately trying to catch my breath as I had every bit of air knocked out of me, not to mention it felt like both of my lungs had collapsed.
My mind raced as I tried to make sense of something that was beyond unbelievable. I struggled to pick myself up off the floor, still gasping for air, and trying to regain my wits.
I could hear a commotion from the front area that sounded like multiple bulls in a multiple china shops. It was not conceivable that people were making these noises, even in the worst of fights, let alone two guys against one small girl. The noises did not add up.
I was scared almost to the point of being unable to move, like in a nightmare you can’t wake up from. I could not get over what was happening. I ran to the door, grabbed the handle, but froze before I pushed it open. I desperately wanted to run as I was instructed, but I couldn’t go.
So many things ran through my mind simultaneously in those few seconds. Something told me there was probably not much I could do to help physically, but just maybe there was something. What if someone could have helped my mom, but left because they were afraid. I had to go back. I couldn’t leave Bili to die alone at the hands of those two maniacs.
I desperately searched for anything I could use as a weapon. An art store is not rife with weaponry as you could imagine, but I saw an old golf club Theo had on his shelf. The plaque below it said: Ben Hogan 1951 Masters Champion, but I didn’t give a shit. It was the only weapon I could find and I grabbed it.
I gathered myself, took a deep breath, and walked back into the front portion of the store. What I saw defied all logic.
Black shirt was bleeding from his nose and the other guy had a piece of a glass vase stuck in his head that he was pulling out as I entered. It appeared that they had just got Bili under control. She had blood running down her face from several areas, but I didn’t see any cuts. I had no idea what I was going to do, but I tried to look as fierce as I could.
“I don’t know what you guys want, but take it and get the hell of here!” I said as I held the club in a baseball stance.
I could see the look on Bili’s face and it wasn’t fear, as I might have expected. It was more of a look of disappointment and failure.
The look on the intruders faces were just the opposite. Pure delight.
“Jack. Why didn’t you leave? That was your chance.” Bili said in a low somber voice as she hung her head in defeat.
The hulking man in the shorts dropped the shard of glass he just pulled from his head. Before it hit the floor he was on me and holding me by the neck. I barely saw him move. It was incredibly fast. The club hit the ground before I could even attempt a swing.
It was as if a steel vice was being clamped on each side of my neck as he squeezed. I could feel myself getting light headed from the slowing flow of blood in my carotid arteries. There was no fighting this monster. His strength was astounding. I felt like a child being led around by steroid infused parent.
“There is something he can do for us Jack.” Black shirt said. “I think you can help us get a few questions answered.”
“He doesn’t know anything meat head. He’s human if you hadn’t noticed.” Bili said with defiance.
“He doesn’t smell human, but let’s see. Franklin?”
The monster holding me punched me in the face, shattering my nose, then he squeezed my right forearm just below the elbow and I heard it snap instantly. It was such a surprise that I didn’t even feel the pain immediately. It didn’t take long though, as I let out a yell in anguish.
“She’s right. He’s human.” Franklin said sarcastically as he smiled a wide toothy grin.
Blood poured from my nose like a faucet for a few seconds before it slowed to a drip.
“This pathetic human, or whatever he is, is now in your hands bitch. Tell me what I want to know and you may live through this.”
What does that mean? What does any of this mean?
“It’s okay Jack. It’s gonna be alright.” Bili said, trying to be reassuring. I’m sure fear was written all over my face as I hung pathetically from Franklin’s hand.
Black Shirt smiled wide, also showing an impressive set of teeth.
“I hate to be the downer here Jack.” Black shirt said with a mocking frown face. “But I assure you, it’s not okay and it sure as hell is not going to be alright.”