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The Death of a Debt Collector
Careful not to disturb a sleeping tabby, the Russian rolled out of bed. He tip-toed across the room and bent his massive frame just a little to get through the doorway. Dmitri (for that was his name) walked over to his tiny kitchen, and started preparing macaroni and cheese when a mew behind him diverted his attention.
“Dusty,” Dmitri rumbled, “Good morning, friend!”
Dusty mewed back at him, swishing his tan tail twice before coming to a stop.
“What’s that, Dusty? Want to eat?” Dmitri put the pot of water on the stovetop, added some salt, and turned it to a boil as he reached into a nearby cupboard with his other hand. He retrieved a big bag of Whiskas and poured Dusty a bowl full of the small pellets. Dmitri then reached into a drawer, pulling out a syringe (sans needle), with a clear fluid inside. Grabbing Dusty, he squirted the solution down Dusty’s throat. He put Dusty back down, allowing the tabby to nibble away at the mound of cat food.
Dusty had only been with Dmitri for two years. Rescued from an animal shelter, Dmitri had adopted the FIV-infected cat for twenty dollars, and had doted upon him ever since.
Behind Dmitri, a Blackberry buzzed. Dmitri slowly stood up, almost reluctant to see the message on his phone.
-4th+21, coffe look 4 mr singh
Dmitri sighed, and walked over to his bedroom to change as his pot of pasta began to boil over.
“Dusty,” Dmitri muttered, “Take care of house while I am gone.” He stooped beneath the doorway, walked out into the hallway, and locked the door.
Dmitri got off of the number nine bus, and stepped out onto 18th avenue. He took in a massive lungful of the city smog of exhaust fumes and the smell of greasy hotdogs, and started his walk to 21st avenue. He was walking to a nearby coffee shop, which was owned by a Pratap Singh. Pratap had borrowed some money from Dmitri’s uncle a few months ago. In fact, lots of people borrow money from Dmitri’s uncle. Sometimes his uncle makes Dmitri go out and collect the money. Dmitri doesn’t mind too much, but as his uncle pays his bills, Dmitri cannot go against his wishes. After all, Dusty depends on Dmitri, and the work is easy.
Dmitri came up to the corner of 4th street and 18th avenue, lost in thought. And then, a loud cry came, shattering Dmitri’s world of thought like a rock through a still body of water.
It was Edward’s day off. He left his badge at home, as he just planned on going for a quick run for the week’s groceries. As he stepped outside his apartment complex, he looked at the scene before him – a bustling street filled with minimum-wage workers, immigrants, and cigarette butts.
Edward curled his lip into a look of disgust for a single moment, and then relaxed his face as he started to walk to Cooper’s Market. If he could, Edward would have never moved into this… lower class neighborhood. If only I had the money, Edward thought, as he walked to the intersection. He pressed the crosswalk button, and waited for the lights to switch.
Edward sighed. I just need that goddamn promotion. Being a traffic officer, he didn’t earn much money. His days were usually filled with penalizing speeding vehicles, if he was lucky. Generally he just gave people tickets for parking violations to fill his quota for the month. Boring work, for sure, but he was cozying up to the police commissioner, and a promotion was soon within reach.
Edward had wanted to be a police officer from an early age, wanting to make a difference in the world around him. Now where was he? He definitely wasn’t making a difference. Giving people parking tickets for staying in their stall 15 minutes after their ticket expired while drug dealers walk the streets- the foolishness of our police force.
He crossed the street, now in a sullen mood. What was high school good for? He had played on the football team, but they lost all of their qualifying rounds to the championship. He had done countless 10K runs, to prepare for the police academy, and studied criminal law like a possessed man. And now-
Edward looked up ahead of him. He saw a tall head stand out from the crowd, a mass of dirty blonde hair. Edward smiled, recognizing the man. He ran a few steps ahead, yelling, “Hey, Russia!” with a coarse voice. The head turned after Edward’s greeting, broke into a smile, and headed towards him.
“Edward!” yelled Dmitri, grabbing the man in a massive bear hug. “How are you doing, old friend?”
“Not too bad,” Edward said, grinning from ear to ear. “Yourself?”
“I am doing alright. What are you doing with yourself? Policeman like you said?”
Edward’s grin faded by the slimmest of margins, faint enough that one would question if it faded at all, but noticeably different. “Yeah, I’m a cop now. I only work traffic though.”
“Who cares,” Dmitri said, oblivious. “Cop is cop.”
“Yeah. Say, where you walking? Mind if I come with? I have nothing else to do.”
“Sure. I’m going to coffee shop on 21st.”
“Alright, lead the way.”
Dmitri was a friend from all the way back in high school football. He was a new student, but being 6 foot 10 and built like a tank, people often got intimidated by the guy. Throughout high school, he had trouble making any friends at all, and was virtually alone all the time. But in his junior year, the coach pressured him into joining football. However, even in the football team, people were frightened of him, and generally avoided him as often as they could.
What’s he talking about now? His cat? Whatever, I’ll pretend like I’m interested. Edward thought, his face the very image of camaraderie.
Edward had taken pity on the Russian, and was decent towards him. He made conversation, told him jokes, and even hung out with the guy after practice once or twice. Besides that, well, Edward had his own life.
“Here we are!” Dmitri boomed, startling Edward. “It is good place, run by my uncle’s friend!”
They had come to a hovel of a store. Obscured in the street between a pawn shop with barred windows and an adult video store, it was a tiny coffee shop, but it stank the whole street up with the strong smell of dark gourmet coffee. The shop was tiny, with a dirty counter separating two tables for customers to drink and chat, and the many varieties of beans on the wall. They walked up to the counter, where an Indian man with 5 o’clock shadow and a dirty apron stood.
“Hey, Mr. Singh, do you have my uncle’s money?” Dmitri rumbled, startling a few inattentive patrons.
A swift motion- an explosion- and Mr. Singh held a revolvcr loosely in his hand, barrel smoking, uncertain of what came next. Dmitri slowly tipped forward, slumbered onto the counter, and spilled onto the ground, making the ground shake just once as he collided with the ground. His shirt, once white and pristine, now became invaded with red. Time stood still.
And then, without any real thought in his mind, Edward knelt towards the big man, training taking a back seat, and checked the man’s pulse. And couldn’t find it.
He looked up at the man, no, murderer in front of him, yelled unintelligibly, and stood up, unsure of what he could do to the man in front of him. But as the Indian man jumped the counter, he found himself jumping that dirty coffee-stained counter and taking chase anyway.
Ohmygodohmygodohmygod. Pratap’s head was running at a mile a minute. He ran down the alleyway behind his store, heart beating like an entire orchestra of bass drummers. He hadn’t meant to kill the gangster. He just panicked when the man came in. That big thug was Niko’s debt collector. He had a lot of frightening rumours swirling around him, and Pratap couldn’t risk his life, nor his families by having a relaxed attitude around those Russians.
And now he ran. He was aware of the footsteps behind him, like a pointed finger, screaming, Murderer! Murderer! And he ran up the steps to his apartment complex, green mottled carpet being trampled as he sprinted to the finish. He pushed aside some Asian lady ahead of him, and burst into a stairwell.
Down the alley- steps pounding, bounding, propelling his feet toward the man, the murderer, the devil. Edward burst into the apartment complex, seconds behind the dark-skinned man. Why, Edward thought, did he have to shoot Dmitri? As his prey bounded up the concrete stairwell, Edward followed suit, jumping two, three steps at a time. Finally, the man was only just out of arms reach, when-
Pratap, without warning, broke into a door at his right, and locked it right away. He checked his revolver- 5 bullets left. His children gathered from the hallway, clamoring to see what the hassle was, as his wife just stared in cold terror.
What’s happening! She shrieked in hindi.
Nothing, Pratap replied with a smile, as he raised the cold black steel.
The gunshot echoed in the small apartment, as blood spattered the white drywall.
Why Dmitri? thought Edward. He dashed up the steps to the landing, and burst out onto the fourth floor. He had heard a door slam somewhere here, and he just needed to figure out where Mr... who? Dmitri had said the shop owner’s name before, why couldn’t he remember?
Edward whipped around to his right. He heard a bunch of shrieks in Hindi, frightful and sorrowful. He stared at the door: room number 403. It was a shabby door, so Edward decided it wouldn’t take much more than a kick to get the door open. But why? He wasn’t on-duty, he didn’t have his gun. What could he do?
With movements that were not entirely his own, he stepped back from the door, and then in one swift and fluid motion, kicked the door right under the brass doorknob, making the door explode open. His eyes refocused to the dim apartment, looking at the family before him. A boy, a girl, a woman, a shrieking baby. All screaming in Hindi. And the eyes- the eyes that stared at him then were in hate, in loathing. And as Edward’s eyes focused further, he saw that they were all crouching around something- someone.
Spread-eagled, the man who killed Dmitri lay slumped against the wall, with a large hole in the top of his head. With gun still in hand, his dead eyes stared at Edward.
And Edward vomited.
Miles away, Dusty slumbered on the doormat in Dmitri’s apartment.