IN ED’S PATROL car, they left the peaceful suburb onto the highway going northwest. Thirty minutes into their journey, they got off through the exit ramp and made for the inner city of Blackpool. The ride came to be bumpier from deep potholes on rutted roads dotted with wrecked cars. Drunks loitering at intersections of decrepit buildings, prostitutes wandering the streets, drug deals going down in graffitied alleys… the visual devastation of this economically ravaged region gradually took over Allison’s mind like parasites, eating away anything positive. Soon, they came to Eighteenth Street and the car halted on the side of the road.
“Here we are,” said Ed.
She looked out the window at this old, three-story structure standing erect forty feet away. Its external paint had long faded, peeling off at the edges. Some of the windows on the first floor were broken, imaginable as a result of burglaries.
“Are you sure this is it?”
“That’s what that sign said: 770 Crestwood Apartments. Besides, my computer’s navigation is never wrong.”
She looked at her watch, 11:50, and knew to get a move on.
“Are you sure you still want to do this?”
“Then, at least let me escort you.”
“Um… I don’t know.”
“How about I get you up to the floor, and then I’ll leave as you wish.”
She agreed at last.
The two got out and marched towards the entryway reeking of urine and spoiled food. A few garbage bags were left next to the overloaded trashcan, untied with flies hovering above. Finding the lock defective, they slipped through the hinged door into the tight lobby. Since there was no elevator, they went for the stairs going up.
First… second… finally, they reached the third floor.
“I can walk you to the door if you’d like.”
“It’s okay. I’ll be fine from here on.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes,” she affirmed him.
“Alright then. Give me a ring if you run into trouble.”
He gave her an assuring nod and turned to go down.
Allison followed the dingy corridor till she found unit “33” half way to her left. Standing facing the wooden door, she checked her watch one last time — it was now one minute past noon. Without further delay, she gave it a sharp knock. A minute went by unnoticed, and then another, but no one had come the door. She pressed her ear against its surface to listen for movement, meanwhile knocked a few more times. What came after was the relentless barking of an irritated dog behind the closed door that startled her. The instant it calmed down, a scruffy, old woman opened the door. Her delicate body fidgeted as she stood holding onto its rim, staring back guardedly at Allison who looked just as confused.
“Um… hi. I’m looking for —”
Before Allison could finish her sentence, she interrupted her with some shaky hand gestures.
“Excuse me, but I can’t understand you.”
The woman continued gesturing with great intention for her to eventually pick up the meaning.
“Can you speak at all?”
Her mouth opened. Rather than saying actual words however, she managed to let out a few croaking noises.
Allison shot her an awkward smile, looking off behind her into her cluttered living room occupied by boxes of all sizes. “Sorry to bother you,” she said to her after, the woman thereupon shut the door in her face.
Not knowing what to think of the whole situation as it unfolded, Allison stood feeling deeply bewildered for a minute. Suddenly, here came another canine, a ferocious pit bull, barking at her from three doors down. Its owner, a heavyweight black male, was pulling at its leash, trying to get it under control.
The two exchanged eye contact before she would turn to walk the other way.
Upon his calling, she stopped and turned around. “Are you talking to me?”
“Yeah. You don’ remember me?”
“No. Am I supposed to?”
“Yes and no I guess… How’s dat mother, sister of yours?”
“You know, my dog accidentally bit her in the arm the other day.”
“I think —”
*WOOF — WOOF —*
“SHUT THE FUCK UP ROCKY! You was sayin’?”
“I think you’ve mistaken me for someone else.”
“Nah-uh. This brain o’ mine don’ forget. She was blonde like you. Attractive like you…”
“I’m sorry, sir, but I don’t think we know each other. I’m going to go now. Good-bye.”
“Hey, don’ just rush out of here so fast like the las’ time. C’mon, I just would like a chat. Pretty girls like you don’ come round this shithole very often ya know…”
As the man rambled on, he also started to go after her. Scared, Allison picked up her pace and ran. Just about to get out of the corridor, she turned her head to get a fleeting glimpse of him. Not paying attention to where she was going, she literally ran into Ed, who, just in time, popped out from around the stairwell to her rescue. Despite their previous agreement, he had actually come back shortly after descending, and been guarding there since.
“Whoa! Easy, easy.”
“Yeah, it’s me. I’ll take over from here okay?”
Just then, the black man spoke up from a few feet away. “I don’ mean to cause no trouble, officer.”
“You. Get over here,” Ed commanded him.
He did, along with his dog that was still barking. “I don’ mean to cause any trouble,” he repeated.
“Oh yeah? This young lady here doesn’t think so.”
He looked briefly at Allison standing in the back. “I was jus’… I thought she was someone else. Sorry.”
“Don’t tell me that.”
“I’m sorry, miss. I thought you was someone else.”
Allison looked up at him timidly and said, “It’s okay.”
“There, officer, I apologized.”
“Don’t get cocky. You’d better watch your back from here on, because next time, you might not be so lucky.”
*WOOF — WOOF —*
“Shut-shh! Heh… stupid creature.”
“Also, a heads-up, put a muzzle on that dog of yours before it would ‘accidentally’ bite someone again.”
*WOOF — WOOF —*
“— shhhh… yes, sir. I totally hear you.”
Ed shook his head and then let him go, returning to Allison.
“Yeah. I’m fine.”
He smiled. “Let’s get you out of here.”