This story was first published in The Feathertale Review No.12
The house was like a senior citizen trying to get back into shape: weight hanging from moulded joints, wheezing through radiator lungs, constantly teetering on the precipice of collapse.
When the landlord showed Brin and me the house on Vancouver’s Eastside, he walked us through the upstairs first. “So are you two a couple?”
“No,” we replied in unison.
“We’re quite different,” Brin said. “For instance, I love reality TV, he doesn’t love anything.”
“I need a woman in control,” I added, “and the only control she has in her life is of the birth variety.”
Brin, for some reason offended, disclosed the fact that I have a fear of ghosts, jumping from heights, and dying alone.
“Well, sir,” I countered, “would you believe me if I told you she has restless leg synd––”
“Alrighty,” the landlord interrupted, “so here’s the master bedroom and the spare bedroom. The spare has a really large walk-in closet.” We poked our heads into each room; the closet was spacious. “And here’s one of the two bathrooms. I’ll show you the downstairs.”
As Brin and the landlord went downstairs I stayed behind and pulled out a piece of paper Brin had given me earlier. Rooms to Rent 4 CA$H was written in purple gel-pen across the top. I wrote master, spare and walk-in closet and went downstairs.
“Back that way is an office and, right through its door there, is the washer and dryer. Here’s the kitchen, that door there leads to the second bathroom, and,” he opened a closet door, “your pantry.” The room was massive, as long as a hallway.
“If you don’t eat a lot of canned stuff it could be, like, your panic room,” said the landlord.
The thought terrified me but comforted Brin.
I jotted laundry room and office. I almost wrote pantry; the room was incredibly long, but too narrow to fit a bed.
Though the house was over an hour’s commute from the university, and the neighbourhood seemed locked in a re-enactment of 1930s Poland, the rent was undeniably good. While the landlord may have been a slumlord, he was a slumlord disconnected with the city’s realty market and was thus extorting a couple years behind the trends. Brin and I signed the lease, shook hands with the landlord, and high-fived. We filled the panic room with flour, potatoes, non-perishables, and a King James Bible. (“In case we’re ever trapped in here and need to make a last-minute deal,” Brin explained. She was unsure if she believed in God but was absolute in her belief that everyone, mortal or otherwise, loved a sale.)
We quickly found occupants for each room. We were, in order of importance, Brin and me (the original lease holders), Hannah (our good friend), Mikko (a Finnish exchange student), and Kyle (an aspiring male model).
Brin took the master bedroom. She thought she belonged in the American South and constantly reminded people that she was a lady. But it was a South without the inconvenient violence against blacks. Brin’s was a South where people baked muffins and started conversations with statements like, “It’s nice to own land.”
I took the laundry room. I had met Brin through a mutual friend. While our friend had been inhaled into Vancouver’s hipster scene like a hand-rolled cigarette, Brin and I continued our friendship. I like to describe myself as politically aware. Though it might appear that my acts of civil disobedience (downloading movies or stealing jam from the grocery chain) were motivated by financial desperation, I assure you, they were actually militant acts of anti-capitalism. I was on a one-man crusade to end our society’s reliance on a ca$h-addicted culture. Viva la revolution.
Hannah lived in the office beside me. We met in high school back in Calgary and she contacted me when she moved out to Vancouver. Hannah, as her name implies, was palindromic in the sense that she lived her life both forwards and backwards simultaneously. She was the recipient of ever-increasing academic accolades but also interrupted conversations to ask whether anyone needed a clarification of her use of “Cleveland steamer” as a literary term referencing the Freudian uncanny. With Hannah one felt trapped inside an unpublished Dr. Seuss book, unsure if it was an honour or terror.
If Hannah had the personality of a nebula, Mikko had the personality (as well as the complexion) of a milk jug that is so commonly found in the Finns. But he was hardly ever home and I enjoyed telling women at the bar that I was “a bit distraught because Mikko hadn’t come home for a couple days now.” This made me seem like a responsible cat owner, sensible and sensitive. This had a five per cent sex-success rate. It went down to two per cent if the woman, pre-coitus, found out Mikko was a human; 0.5 per cent if she found out he was Finnish. Mikko resided in the spare bedroom. Not having a firm grasp on Canadian currency, he was being charged double the rent, and Brin, in a morality nobody understood, thought it “only proper” Mikko be entitled to an actual room.
Kyle, in the walk-in closet, was an aspiring male model.
The five of us lived in relative harmony with the odd squabble about dishes, laundry, and “who took the cookie from the cookie jar” arguments. That is, until the bottom fell out. (Figuratively. Though any semi-conscious contractor would have told you that the floor was one fat-girl dance party away from definite collapse. I, for this reason, put up a No Fat Chicks sign on the front door. Hannah graffitied it to No Rat Dicks. We both accused each other of not understanding true comedy.)
Three months into our tenancy, the landlord left a note in the mailbox: starting next month, our rent was to double to three thousand dollars. We could pay the increase or move out within three weeks. Everyone, save Mikko, who wasn’t home, assembled in the kitchen to discuss our options.
“You have got to be kidding,” I said.
“Don’t we have a lease?” said Hannah.
A silence bloomed in the kitchen. Brin and I stared at the yellow linoleum.
“Well,” I said, “we may have been busted by the landlord —”
“Slumlord,” corrected Brin.
“By the slumlord,” I continued, “for having more people living here than the lease allows.”
Hannah asked the obvious question. “How many are we supposed to have?”
“Two? We have five!”
“Well,” said Brin, “it just made the rent a lot more manageable.”
“Why can we only have two?”
I said, with just a hint of attitude, “That probably has something to do with the fact that there are only two real rooms here. I think the fire marshal frowns upon people living in spaces that don’t have fire escapes.”
“My room has a window I could escape through,” said Hannah.
Hannah’s window was about twenty centimetres away from the neighbour’s wall.
“Hannah, you couldn’t drop a dime through the space outside that window. You could never fit through it.”
“And what is that supposed to mean?”
“You are a chauvinist and a sexist and a colonialist and a —”
“Oh, for fuck sakes, I took the sign down!”
“I’ll take you down in a —”
Brin waved the notice in the air. “Guys! We still have this to deal with. Hannah, we violated the lease. I’m sorry.”
It was an absolute nightmare to move in Vancouver, especially when the school year had already started. It would interrupt our studies and, more importantly, our finances. (The last time I had moved was a drunken blur but I remember, at one point, holding a roll of packing tape, like it was Yorick’s skull, orating long-winded laments about the rising cost of adhesives.) Even with the rent increase, anywhere else in the city would still charge more for the luxury of living.
We stood in silence as the notice, with the taciturn arrogance of a South Asian dictator, sat on the counter.
“I have an idea,” I said. “What if we were to use one of our rooms for a sort of entrepreneurial venture?”
Hannah replied, “Like a grow-op?”
“No, no, no,” I said. “Every other day the news has a story about another grow-op being busted. I can’t go back to prison.” (I’ve never been to prison.) “We need something more discreet yet still marketable.”
“Like what?” Brin asked.
“Well,” I said, “Vancouver is notorious for being a cold city. Not cold in climate but cold in human warmth. Right?”
We nodded our heads. Who amongst us, drenched in Pacific winter rains, has not felt the blissful sting of Cupid’s arrow, only to find that the careless god missed its partner’s heart yet again?
I continued, “What if we were to lease one of our rooms to an individual who could provide a service to make the men of this city feel more loved?”
Another bout of wide-eyed silence took hold of the kitchen. Finally Brin asked, “Do greeting-card companies usually rent from average people?”
“A brothel, Brin,” said Hannah. “He’s suggesting we become a single-room brothel.”
I didn’t correct her.
Kyle said, “What if we —”
“Jesus fucking Christ!” I jumped. “Kyle, I thought you were a piece of furniture there. Don’t startle us like that!”
Kyle went back to being an aspiring male model.
Hannah looked at me and asked, “How would it work?”
“We would rent out one of our rooms to a whore —”
“Lady of the night,” Brin corrected.
“We would rent out one of our rooms to a lady of the night in exchange for our discretion, shelter and general protection. She would work in the time frame we allow and . . . yeah. What do you think?”
Brin and Hannah looked at each other.
“And we get to pick the hooker?” said Hannah.
“Lady of the night,” corrected Brin.
“Of course,” I said.
The three of us exchanged glances. Kyle was being an aspiring male model. Mikko wasn’t home.
“I’m in,” said Brin.
Brin and I looked at Hannah.
“Fuck. Me too.”
“Perfect!” I said. “I’ll put up an ad online!”
I wrote the ad:
Wanted: An adult entertainer. Experienced at performing “tricks.” Must be able to work with various group sizes and coordinate a (hopefully) full calendar. You will be paid in CA$H.
The ad was up for a week with over seventy-five replies, everyone one of them from a birthday party magician.
“I feel like I’m organizing a John Wayne Gacy fan club,” I told Brin on the ad’s seventh day.
“Wouldn’t they be responses for Wild West cowboys?”
“Christ in heaven, Brin.”
Hannah wrote the second ad:
Wanted: Lady of the night. What we provide: a room and security. What you provide: your body and a team-oriented attitude.
There was one reply, from email@example.com: I’m interested. When r u free? -V
“What the hell is a babby?” asked Hannah.
“Do you think she’s a real princess?” asked Brin.
“Do you think babbyprincess one through sixty-eight were taken?” I asked.
Babbyprincess_69@hotmail.com agreed to show up at 1:00 p.m. the following day.
At 12:57 p.m. the doorbell rang. Hannah had baked cookies. I had vacuumed. Brin had put on a ball gown. Kyle, the aspiring male model, was upstairs in his closet since everyone forgot to let him know what was happening. Mikko was out somewhere.
Opening the door was anticlimactic. We expected fishnet stockings, purple eyeshadow, tits jumping out like whack-a-moles. Instead, she wore a green plaid shirt, jeans and sneakers. She was brunette, roughly five-foot-six, slender build. I was in love.
“Babbyprincess_69@hotmail.com?” asked Hannah.
“That’s just my work email,” said the woman. “I’m Veronica. I’m here for the prostitute position.”
“Lady of the night,” Brin corrected.
“Come in,” I said. “Sit down.”
Veronica came into the kitchen and sat down on a chair that faced three other chairs Hannah had set up.
“Let’s do introductions,” Brin said. “I’m Brin. I’m the madam here.”
Brin’s position had never been discussed with the group.
“I’m Malcolm.” Known in some circles as the man who would propose to any woman on the bus after 9:00 p.m., I was now deeply in love. And, since I didn’t want to look like I was without a title, added, “I’m the security.”
Veronica nodded and everyone turned their eyes to Hannah.
“I’m Hannah. And I am the . . . the producer.”
“Of what?” asked Veronica.
“Of . . . the sex.”
“You’re a prostitute too?”
Someone whispered, “Lady of the night.”
“No, I’m just the woman who produces, like — you know, ‘the sex.’” Hannah air-quoted “the sex.”
“I don’t understand.”
I interrupted, “Well, let’s move on. Veronica, why are you interested in this?”
“Well, I’m a dancer downtown but I only ever make good money Thursday, Friday and Saturday. A friend of mine does something like this to fill in the rest of her week. I saw your ad and thought I could do it too.”
“So,” I continued. “I assume you’re in medical school?”
“No. Why would you assume that?”
“It’s just that every stripper I’ve met says she’s doing it to put herself through med school. It’s actually quite surprising that we still have a doctor shortage in this country.”
“Can we get on with this?”
“Of course, Veronica,” said Hannah. “Let’s move on. Here’s how this works: You schedule, you vet, you do whatever with them. We provide the room, clean it every morning, and provide security.”
“What does security look like?”
Brin answered, “Calling the cops.”
Veronica laughed. Hannah joined in to pretend that Brin was joking. Brin, always enjoying it when people were happy, began to laugh too without understanding why. I sulked as I began to doubt whether Veronica returned my love.
After the laughter died down Veronica said, “I’ll give my boss notice right away to only put me on Thursday through Saturday, so starting next week, I can be here Monday through Wednesday.”
“What do you do Sunday?” asked Brin.
“With . . . ?”
Veronica stared at her. “My choices.” Veronica looked back at Hannah. “I can start next Monday. How much does this cost me?”
Seeing my last chance for true love evaporate, I answered (in a voice three octaves deeper), “We charge fifteen hundred for the room a month. We’d also need that up front.”
Hannah quickly added, “We also take fifteen per cent of what you make.”
This had not been planned.
Veronica replied, “Five.”
I, who had never been this turned on, jumped up and shouted, “Deal!”
Silence. I sat down.
Hannah cleared her throat. “Deal.”
“I assume you want that in cash,” Veronica said.
“Only if you’re pronouncing the dollar sign,” I said, and followed it with a wink.
“Cash works fine,” Hannah said.
Veronica nodded and extended her hand.
“Just a second,” Brin chimed in, pulling out a notebook and purple gel-pen. “I prepared some questions.”
Veronica took her hand back. Brin continued, “Veronica, what would you say your biggest weakness is?”
Veronica, who up until this point thought Brin was joking, looked at Hannah and me for help. I had buried my face in my palm. Hannah looked genuinely interested.
“Um. My left wrist, I guess. I broke it when I was a kid.”
“Brin, I’m just going to interrupt you for a second,” said Hannah. “Veronica, does that impede your ability to give what’s known in the business as a ‘rub and tug?’” It was the second time that afternoon Hannah had air-quoted.
Hannah pressed further. “Have you ever considered using your feet?”
“Because it’s called a handjob.”
“Point taken, but in Titus Andronicus, Lavinia, who has no tongue or hands, uses her feet to hold a stick and write the names of her rapists in the sand. I’m just saying that some parts of our bodies can be used for strange and exciting new things.”
“Like giving the names of our rapists?”
“Yes. And handjobs.”
Veronica thought about it for a second, shrugged, and said, “I’ll work on my ankle rotation.”
Brin nodded, wrote something down, and said, “Just a tip, Veronica, and by that I mean a piece of advice, not . . . Anyway, something that I like to say in interviews is that my biggest weakness is that I care too much. You see what I did there? I turned my weakness into a strength. In your position here you could say something like, ‘I don’t have a gag reflex,’ or ‘I’m infertile,’ or —”
I moaned through my palm. “Is there another question?”
Brin looked at her notebook. “Veronica, tell us about a time you worked with a team to overcome a challenge.”
Veronica laughed, showing her frustration. “When I’ve had a threesome.”
Brin whispered to Hannah, “I like her.”
Hannah stood up, extended her hand. “Welcome to the team.”
“And just so you know,” Brin said. “This is a smoke-free environment. That goes for you and your daves.”
I groaned again. “They’re called johns, Brin.”
The next morning Hannah called a house meeting. Hannah, Brin, Kyle (the aspiring male model) and I assembled in the kitchen. Mikko wasn’t home.
“First thing,” Hannah said. “Kyle, we’ve chosen a woman to work with us: Veronica.”
Kyle showed no expression.
Hannah continued, “Secondly, we need to choose which room Veronica will do the sex in.”
“I hadn’t thought of that,” I said.
“That’s why I’m the producer.”
“It cannot be my room,” said Brin. Brin, who stood on the toilet seat in every public washroom and squatted over it like a hen laying an egg, was not a fan of germs.
I suggested the spare room. “It’s perfect,” I said. “It’s spacious, there’s a window, plus none of us are in there right now.”
“Mikko is,” corrected Brin.
“Oh, right. Has anyone told him about this yet?”
Nobody said anything.
“Do we need to?” I asked. “He’s never here and we wouldn’t have to cut him in on the ten per cent Hannah got for us.” I shot a glance at Kyle. “For the three of us.”
“What happens if he comes home when Veronica’s sexing?” asked Brin.
“I don’t know. He’s Finnish. He’ll probably join them.”
“Good point. I’m for Mikko’s room.”
Hannah seconded. I agreed.
Kyle, always a stick in the spokes, interrupted this democratic governance. “Guys, how am I supposed to get out of the closet?”
Over the next week Brin, Hannah and I redecorated Mikko’s bedroom.
We draped beads on the inside of the door frame, put a red dish towel over the lamp in the corner, burned some incense, and hung a landscape painting. Brin got me to steal some markers so she could make a No Smoking sign on the door. We decided to use Mikko’s bed but Brin insisted on new sheets. (“For Veronica’s sake.”) Hannah cut out snowflakes from scrap paper and hung them decoratively from the ceiling. I put out a bowl of mints. Brin got another Bible from the church down the road and put it on the bedside table. (“In case anyone needs to look up the definition of sodomy,” she said.) As a final touch, on Mikko’s headboard, Hannah took one of the markers and wrote, “For the joys of Creation, God takes credit. Here, we take ca$h.”
Veronica showed up Sunday evening to check in before her first Monday. She gave us the fifteen hundred and expressed her excitement with what Hannah referred to as her “office.” Air-quotes included. On Thursday afternoon the land/slumlord would come by for the rent, increase included.
Then came the rub. And tugs.
Veronica was good at her job. She booked the full day on Monday. Every second hour, on the hour, from noon until ten, the doorbell rang. Up until this point we hadn’t known that we even had a doorbell.
Hannah, Brin and I stayed in my room, the laundry room, for most of the day, playing checkers, reading aloud, catching up on homework. I tried to get a game of spin the bottle going but didn’t have any takers. When it came time to leave for school we ventured out at the half-hour marks to be sure we wouldn’t have to make eye contact with the daves (the term had stuck). We entered through the back, which led into the laundry room. When the audible evaluations of Veronica’s expertise became too loud, we turned on the dryer. Kyle, the aspiring male model, was forced to stay in his closet. (“Just pretend you’re playing Anne Frank,” Hannah suggested.)
At 11:30 Veronica came downstairs and Brin, Hannah and I emerged to greet her.
“How’d it go, Ron?” I asked in the hopes that a nickname might remind her of why she loved me so much.
“Fine. And Veronica’s fine.”
“Oh yes, she is.”
Silence strolled into the room.
Veronica looked at Hannah and handed her nine twenties. “Here’s your cut for the day. I charge three hundred per client. Six clients. Eighteen hundred total. Hundred eighty is ten per cent.”
Hannah gave Brin and me three twenties each and Veronica said, “I’ve got a question for you.”
“Is it okay if the guys wait in the kitchen, if I run a bit over?”
Brin had been waiting for this moment all her life: the chance to be a real madam; to participate in the illegal and sensual life of whoredom without the germs.
“Good God, yes,” she said. “I will charm the daves.”
On Tuesdays Brin had class from nine until eleven. Afterwards, out of her Monday cut, she purchased a rolltop writing desk from an antique dealer, a large ledger from the university bookstore, and a quill pen from a joke shop. She came home to find the desk delivered as promised. She dressed in her finest gown, applied a heavy portion of rouge, put on Joni Mitchell’s Both Sides Now, taped a CA$H ONLY sign to the front of the rolltop, and at noon waited patiently for the doorbell. She had told Veronica that she no longer needed to answer the door. Seven minutes past noon the bell sounded.
Brin opened the door to a middle-aged, bespectacled man in a suit.
Brin cocked her eyebrow. “It’s impolite to keep a lady waiting.”
The man was taken aback.
“Well, come in. No need to keep her in suspense any longer.”
Brin took the man’s coat and guided him to the desk.
Brin nearly passed out from excitement. She scrawled Dave’s name in the ledger right beside the noon time slot.
“Have you been here before, Dave?”
“Upstairs at the end of the hallway.”
As Dave walked up the stairs, Brin, from the kitchen, shouted, “Hey!”
Dave spun quickly to look at her.
“Treat her with respect.”
Dave nodded meekly and stumbled up the rest of the stairs.
At the end of the second day Veronica handed us our cut: ninety each. We went to tell Kyle he could come out of his closet as Brin, thumbing through her stack of bills, said, “I believe that I’ve grown accustomed to this lifestyle.”
On the third day, I, who had class all day Wednesdays, came home in the evening to Brin, in another ball gown, serving muffins to a dave. Hannah was at the rolltop finishing a book on Keats while the gentleman conversed casually with her about “what the human condition really is.” Light streamed cathedrically through the window. Who needs ca$h when you have love?
Brin greeted me. “Malcolm, this is Dave. Dave, Malcolm.”
I wasn’t sure if Brin was pejoratively calling all the daves “Dave” or not, but the gentleman didn’t complain, so I didn’t say anything.
Dave shook my hand and then glanced at the clock on the wall.
“Well, I better get going. Brin, lovely to see you again. The muffins were fantastic. Hannah, Malcolm, good to meet you.”
Brin showed him to the door and bid him adieu.
“He wasn’t waiting for Veronica?” I asked.
“No, she finished him earlier. Why?”
“He was just down here sitting? Hanging out?”
“No reason. Does she have someone up there now?”
Brin walked back to her ledger and flipped the page. “Yes, she just started her eight o’clock. She’s got another at ten and then she’s off for the week.”
I helped myself to a muffin. Hannah kept reading. Brin washed the muffin tin.
We heard a thud upstairs.
We all stopped what we were doing and looked at each other.
Another thud. Muffled yelling.
I grabbed the first thing I saw, a wooden spoon (still covered with muffin dough), and sprinted upstairs. Hannah and Brin followed.
I flung open the door to find the bedside table overturned and Brin’s Bible thrown at Veronica’s feet. Veronica was standing in the far corner of the room yelling at a corpulent, bald-headed dave.
I smacked the bald man’s fat head with the wooden spoon.
Everything became incredibly quiet. Bald Man, with his halo of uncooked muffin, slowly pivoted to face me. Like the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, he pointed a sausage finger into my face and, in a voice terrifyingly calm, said he was going kill me.
I smacked Bald Man in the face with the spoon. He covered his eye and stumbled back. Veronica dashed to Hannah and Brin, and all three ran downstairs. I was now alone with the dave. Bald Man, blinded by rage and the wooden spoon, swung wildly at me. I leapt back. Two years ago, I had joined the university fencing club (there was a woman involved) and was now desperately trying to remember everything I’d learned. Bald Man pivoted and swung again. I sidestepped the punch and rapped the spoon hard against his nose. I bolted out the door and down the stairs. Bald Man came after me but got caught in the beaded curtain like a fish in a sexy, sexy net.
I, not wanting to abandon the house in its time of crisis but also not wanting to die, ran to the panic room, opened the pantry door, leapt into the black and slammed the door behind me.
A voice whispered through the darkness, “Malcolm?”
Hannah turned on a flashlight and I saw her and Brin crouched behind the flour and potatoes. Brin was holding the pantry’s copy of the Bible in front of her like a shield, guarding herself both physically and spiritually.
“Where’s Veronica?” I hissed.
Hannah replied, “She left. Don’t worry, she said she’d cancel her ten o’clock.”
“Oh, thank God,” I whispered, “because that’s my largest concern right now. Did Veronica tell you what happened?”
“Apparently this guy thought he deserved a discount because yesterday Veronica said she loved him.”
I could see both sides of the argument.
Outside the panic room, Bald Man was charging around, yelling death threats and smashing anything he could get his hands on.
“He sounds like a bear in a campground Dumpster,” Hannah said.
We heard the fridge door bang open, and my various jars of exotic fruit preserves clinked in response.
“Not the jam!” I prayed.
Thankfully the Lord intervened and Bald-Bear Man only went for Brin’s food. Eggs, discount tomatoes, one per cent milk and bulk applesauce all splattered across the floor. After her fat-free mayonnaise met a similar demise, Brin put down the Good Book and took out her cellphone.
“I’m calling the cops,” she said.
“What?” I rasped.
“This has always been the plan.” She dialled and put the phone to her ear.
“Hello, I need to report a domestic disturbance . . . Right now . . . Yes . . . 1832 East 8th Street, Vancouver, British Columbia, V5N 1T8 . . . All right. Thank you.” She hung up.
“I highly doubt they needed our postal code,” I mumbled.
“Well, I never knew you were a police officer,” Brin said.
“I never knew you were a total bitch.”
“Guys!” said Hannah. “Listen.”
Brin said, “I don’t hear anything.”
We listened some more. Nothing. Just as we were about to exit the panic room we heard someone enter the brothel. The person walked around slowly.
“Hello?” said the person.
It sounded like C-3PO with a mouth full of syrup. It was a Finnish accent.
“Mikko?” Brin said through the panic room door.
“Hello?” he repeated, his English still terrible.
I slid the door open a crack and the three of us peeked out. We saw Mikko in the middle of the ransacked kitchen, holding a frying pan that Bald-Bear Man had evidently thrown across the room.
Suddenly, two policemen barged through the front entrance.
“Drop the pan!” one shouted. The other readied his Taser.
Mikko, horrified, dropped the pan and put both hands in the air.
“What is happens?” cried Mikko, obviously wishing he’d paid more attention in English class.
The officers seemed to feel the authenticity of his disbelief and stood by confused.
Brin, still in her ball gown, shoved open the panic room door, with Hannah and me crouching from sight.
“Take him away, boys!” she said with all the grandiosity she could muster. “Just because I allowed you,” she pointed at Mikko, “to dine with me this evening and to light my post-meal cigarette does not mean that I have to give you my pearl. Shame on you for laying your hands on a lady! And on her own property to boot!”
She walked up to Mikko, looked him in the eye, and slapped him across the face. One of the officers restrained Brin while the other took Mikko outside.
The first officer took Brin’s statement. Hannah and I pressed our ears against the pantry door.
“. . . and after I told him I wanted to see a ring first, he proceeded to roughhouse me.”
“He hit you?”
“Call it what you will. I ran downstairs, hid in the pantry, and called the police while he rampaged around like a bear in a campground Dumpster.”
The officer surveyed the kitchen, lifted his shoe to look at the smeared applesauce on his sole. His partner came in and whispered in his ear. He wrote something down, nodded, and then looked at Brin.
“Is there anything else you’d like to tell us, ma’am?”
Hannah and I clutched each other’s hands.
“Well, there is one thing, I suppose . . .”
I let go of Hannah, grabbed the panic room’s Bible and looked up at the ceiling, ready to make a deal.
“. . . I’m not actually the property owner. I rent this place.”
The officer nodded, closed his notepad, wished Brin a good evening, and began to leave.
“Wait,” Brin said. “What’s going to happen to Mikko?”
“Deported, most likely. My partner ran his ID and found that Mikko has two prior arrests for solicitation. This is his third strike.”
“He likes hookers.”
Brin could barely whisper her correction. Hannah and I waited to hear the click of the front door’s lock. A siren flared once and pulled away.
“So Mikko was a dave,” said Hannah as we emerged from the panic room.
“I guess that’s why he was never home,” said Brin. “How are we going to make up for his six hundred in rent?”
“It’ll just have to come out of our ten per cent,” said Hannah.
I said, “Should I phone Veronica to make sure she’s coming back on Monday?”
“I asked her before she darted out. She’s still in.”
“I better call, just to make sure.”
While I phoned Veronica, Hannah went upstairs to let Kyle, the aspiring male model, out of his closet, and Brin put the rent money by the door in an envelope with CA$H written in purple gel-pen across the front.
Illustrations by Kyle Brownrigg