1. Down and out
It was just past midnight by the time I got home.
The store had been empty for hours before we finally shut. Even though we rarely had customers past 9, the manager insisted that we stay open till 11:30 for the people that need any emergency goods - a bottle of milk, a few loaves of bread. One guy once bought four ice cream cakes, and I didn't even question why. There was no way we made any profit from the late hours, but hey, I didn't mind. I got an extra 35c an hour, and like hell I needed it.
That night, I was looking forward to walking through the door and going straight into bed, to sleep for eternity.
That plan was shattered when I climbed the steps to my apartment to find a burly man leaning against the wall beside my door.
He was unruly, looking like a big threatening lumberjack, and he gave me a dopey grin when he saw me. Unfortunately, I knew him.
"You're not an easy person to track down, Red. If I didn't know any better, I'd think you were avoiding me."
I scowled. "Probably because I am."
I ignored him and unlocked my door, then went inside and tried to slam the door shut behind me. He was too quick, though, and stuck his foot in, then pushed inside.
"Tsk tsk tsk, Red. That's no way to treat an old friend." He said.
"You aren't my friend," I muttered, "and I'm not giving you any more money."
He laughed bitterly. "Wow, see that's funny. Last I checked, you didn't have a choice."
I pursed my lips. "I'm not that person anymore. I can't keep paying you for the rest of my life, Jack."
He nodded. "Of course, of course. I get it. Besides, I don't want to come all the way across the country every month to track you down."
He paused, and moved around me through the doorway to the living room, where he flopped onto the couch. Then, he gave me a grin.
"So I'm giving you a way out, baby."
I frowned, stepping towards him and putting my bags down on the coffee table. "What do you mean, a way out?"
He let out a sigh. "A final lump-sum payment to pay off your debts, baby girl. Once you pay this, I'll get off your back. If you don't... well, we'll have to find some other way to pay it back, huh Red?"
My stomach churned at the implications. I managed to swallow the lump in my throat and asked, "How much?"
He paused for a second as though thinking. Then he smirked at me. "A hundred thousand, baby girl."
My heart dropped into my chest. "Are you joking? I don't have that kind of money."
He shrugged, standing up from of the couch. "Then we'll have to figure something else out, but that's your debt to me if you want out. You should know I don't let my girls go easily."
He stepped towards me, grinning, and reached up to gently hold my chin. My breath caught in my throat and I wanted nothing but to hit him and run, but I knew that would be a death wish. So I just turned my head away and bit my lip.
He chuckled, moving away and past me to the door. I turned and watched him go. In the doorway, he paused, grinning back at me.
"I'll be back in two months, Robin. That gives you more than enough time to figure something out. And if you don't..."
He let the pause hang in the air, smiling at me. Then he gave me a wave and left, leaving the door hanging open behind him.
Feeling numb, I walked over and shut it, then leant against it for a second. Standing there, my head caught up with what had just happened, and a heavy feeling settled over my chest.
I knew one thing for sure: it would have been impossible to make $100k in two months legally. Which meant I had to get crafty. Because there was no way in hell I was going back to the seedy depths I had crawled from.