By the time I got to the apartment it was dark already. I’m sure stopping to get something to eat and then answer text messages from an on-and-off girlfriend really didn’t help, but Kalli had told me she was running behind coming to meet me there anyway, so I figured I could afford to dilly-dally around.
It was a piece of paper we were after, it’s not like it could up and run away, I told myself.
At the front of the building, a shithole of a place that didn’t even have the odd comforting familiarity of young teenagers hanging out around the stairs or the lobby, I stood around for a bit, checking my phone to see if anything came in from Kalli.
“Hey, man!” I heard a voice yell, a ways away from me, and I turned towards it.
The first rule of people trying to get your attention in New York City, especially in places that are dumps, is never respond. Especially if the person is relatively close to you and uses “man,” “buddy,” or “bro.” All they want is to get close enough to you to try to strongarm you. From further away though? Totally fine.
At least, that’s what I thought as I turned to the voice, my instincts somehow overriding common sense. The hit came from behind me, not in front of me, the second guy’s voice just a “hfff” of exhertion from punching me in the back of the head and then shoulder-checking me to make sure I stay down on the ground. His shadow made the space over me darker, blocking out the ambient nighttime light of streetlights, windows, and I heard the first voice, again from further away.
“Watch him,” it hollered, and I tried to look up, seeing someone, young, white, in snappy “business casual” trying desperately to stuff a rag into a can of gasoline, standing under one of the windows of the front of the big old building. The DUM DUM of pressure on the can was somewhat humorous, watching this guy try to get the can over his head without the soaked rag brushing against his head. Whoever Tweedledee and Tweedledum were, I’m assuming they were going for some kind of Molotov cocktail-effect on the first floor. Of course, I thought, it’d help if they lit the rag up first before throwing the non-breakable metal can into the window of the first floor apartment.
The barred window, I realized.
The guy standing over me nudged me with a knee. “Hey, eyes down asshole. Hurry up!” he yelled.
“Relax!” the other guy said, realizing his mistake. So much for that much luck in my favor. He held the can aloft with one hand, the other poking around his pants pocket for a lighter or something. Briefly, I realized that if they did manage to set the first floor of this apartment building on fire, two things could happen.
One possible outcome involved the entire building going up in flames. But, as I thought about it, on all fours on the sidewalk, the likelyhood of that happening was nil.
Why the hell would anyone want to set this old dump on fire? If the outside denizens of the street and stoop had been chased off, it’d explain where everyone was, though again, this brought me back to why the hell anyone wanted to burn this building down. Unless of course…
No. No goddamn way. No way in hell that this had anything to do with that stupid comic. I shook my head there on the sidewalk. “No fucking way,” I muttered as the guy over me kicked me in the side, though the force wasn’t really that much.
“What the fuck is going on?” I heard a familiar voice yell suddenly from down the block. The tap-tap-tap of sensible business bootlike shoes, Kalli Kiliaris’s footwear walking and then running at us. “Ben?”
“Back up, lady,” I heard the one with the gas can say as he struggled, “Just back off, nobody gets hurt.”
“You stupid piece of shit!” she said, swinging one arm suddenly. The asp snapped hard on his one arm, buckling it. Ten inches of metal and plastic hurt like hell, I remember her jokingly using it around the office when I worked for her.
I never even saw her take her hand out of her pocket.
“Holy shit!” he yelled, the gas can tumbling out of his grip, dripping and banging against his head, the smell of fuel everywhere. The thin metal container and rag smashed on the sidewalk as he turned to try to run after his friend, the arm Kalli smashed with the 10-inch collapsible baton dangling at his side. “Wait the fuck up!”
“Goddamn idiots,” she muttered. “Sorry, I drove up, finding parking was hell. What the hell was that?”
My phone buzzed as we stood there, and I read the text from Wagner, scrolling through it a few times and rolling it over in my brain. Huh.
“Never mind, maybe I do.”