It was early in the evening about six months before the Berlin wall came down when the doorbell rang. It was Melissa. She walked into the apartment and handed me a thin stack of envelopes.
“I brought your mail.”
“Thanks.” I took the stack from her and looked through it. A couple of bills, a bank statement, and a flyer for a chicken nugget meal deal at a local fast food place. Nine nuggets and a large drink for $3.49. I couldn’t remember if that was a good price or not.
Melissa took off her scarf and coat and walked over to the living room area. “You know your mailbox is busted wide open? Anybody could have taken those.”
Who would want to? I thought. “I’ll get the super to take a look at it. What brings you around?”
She dropped onto the sofa and draped her legs over the armrest. “You know how it is. Holiday season, everyone except us loners is spending time with their nearest and dearest. I got bored and knew you’d be alone too, so…” It sounded almost plausible. It also sounded a little rehearsed, the way she emphasised certain words. She looked up at the ceiling, then across at me. “You hungry?”
“Well you’ve been staring at that fast food flyer like it was on fire.”
I lowered the flyer but kept it in my hand. There was something about it that bothered me, something other than the price, but I couldn’t place it. “Why don’t I get you a drink. Black Russian?”
Melissa grinned at me. “You know me well. Don’t put too much ice in it.”
Over at the kitchenette I put the flyer down on the worksurface so I could study it. As I got the glasses out of the cupboard I saw it. The text was in white on a mostly yellow background, but some of the letters were grey. I saw D and O.
I heard movement behind me and turned around. Melissa was looking through my record collection.
I took a bag of ice cubes out of the freezer. It had been in there a while so I had to smash it on the worksurface a couple of times to break loose enough ice for the drinks.
Suddenly the silence was shattered by the guitar riff from Sunshine Of Your Love. Melissa was slowly dancing around in the spot where the television would be if I had one. “Hey, Harrison! Hurry up with those drinks!”
As I mixed the drinks I looked over at the flyer. There were only three more grey letters. H, E and R. Her.
Don’t trust her.
I picked up the flyer for closer look. There was some small text in the bottom corner, a series of letters and numbers: H4RR150N. My code number. If this was a warning, it was one I had left for myself. Or would leave, if I got the chance.
I carried the drinks over to the living room area and set them down on the coffee table. Then as Melissa picked hers up I walked over to the telephone. Melissa grinned at me as I picked up the receiver. “Don’t tell me you’re calling me a cab already.”
“I ordered a pizza an hour ago. It should be here by now.”
“You should ask them for a discount.”
I dialled the number that McCleod had given me for emergencies. It rang three times then a voice said, “go ahead.”
“Hi, I ordered a pizza an hour ago and it’s still not here yet. The name’s Harrison, address is 31 Belmont Avenue, Apartment 6. It was an extra spicy chef’s special.”
A short pause, then the voice said “10 minutes” and the line went dead.
After around ten minutes of stilted conversation and Eric Clapton music the doorbell rang. The guy at the door looked just like a real pizza delivery driver.
“How much?” I asked. He had been about to pass the box to me, but stopped when I spoke.
“How much do I owe?”
“Oh! Um, $4.15?”
“Great. Here, keep the change.” I passed him the only note I had on me- a one- and took the box. I’d forgotten about the extra weight and nearly dropped it, but managed not to. The driver walked off and I closed the door and turned back to Melissa.
She was draped over the sofa again and had just finished her drink. She rattled the remains of the ice around in her glass. “Time for another.”
“Your turn. I’ve got pizza to eat.” I opened the box, making sure to keep it turned away from her. The bottom had been reinforced with a square piece of plastic, presumably to stop the weight of the gun from tearing through the cardboard.
Melissa sat upright and put her glass on the coffee table. “You’re not going to offer me any?”
“I thought that today was one of your diet days.”
She smiled wryly and reached for her bag. “Sometimes I think you know me a little too well. Do you mind if I smoke?”
“Go ahead.” She pulled a pack of cigarettes out of her bag then started rooting around, as if searching for a lighter. After a moment she stopped, her hand still inside the bag. If she was holding something, it looked like it was pointed straight at me. “You know, I think just one slice would be okay.”
I reached into the box and slowly wrapped my hand around the gun. “I think I could spare one slice.”
What happened next must have been over in a second but it seemed like an eternity. As I placed my trigger finger in place, I saw Melissa’s eyes tightening slowly. At the same time her body tensed up an almost imperceptible amount and she raised her bag slightly.
Reacting instinctively, I pointed the pizza box at her and squeezed the trigger, hoping that whoever put the gun there had remembered to chamber a round. They had. The bullet tore through the pizza box and knocked Melissa backwards onto the sofa. Her shot went wild, tearing a chunk out of the corner of her bag before burying itself in the wall behind me.
The two shots had been fired so close together that it had sounded like just one, and the silence afterwards was more intense than the noise. I let the pizza box fall to the floor but kept hold of the gun, and walked over to the sofa. As I took the bag and the gun away from her, Melissa looked up at me. “How did you know?”
I shook my head. “I haven’t found out yet.”
She laughed weakly. “Hee-Young was right about you,” she said, then her eyes went cold before she could say anymore. I pulled the body forward a little. The bullet had gone all the way through, which meant I was going to need a new sofa. I walked over to the telephone. On the notepad next to it I wrote ‘Hee-Young?’ Then I picked up the receiver and pressed redial.