Better Choices
Chapter 2 - Worse Choices

Shane Ellis just wanted to get ahead for once. And if that meant breaking the law for a cool ten g's, so be it. What he didn't expect was a job offer...

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Worse Choices

Shane jiggled his key in the lock twice before it turned stiffly. One of these days, the whole damned contraption would freeze up and the key would break off inside of it. It was only a matter of time. The hallway smelled of vomit again and he was feeling lightheaded, having held his breath from the top of the stairs to his door, third on the right. Cat was inside of the door, meowing indignantly.

“Sorry, Cat, got tied up.” He reached down to scratch the feline’s ears, but Cat marched past him, his tail swishing, and promptly disappeared down the stairs. Apparently Cat wasn’t any more interested in breathing in air tinged with vomit, either. Shane watched him go, nearly gagging as he breathed in one last breath there in the hallway and firmly shut his door behind him. The Yager rolled in his stomach. 

He stood there for a minute and then growled in frustration. “Goddamn Kenny.” Back out the door, trying desperately to breathe through his mouth as he marched to the door at the end of the hall. It was mostly closed, but not latched, and he walked inside. The stench hit him and no amount of breathing through his mouth helped. The form on the floor looked like a mass of tattered bags with legs.

“Fuck, Kenny,” Shane said, his stomach rolling now as he tried not to add to the mess on the floor, “lie on your side.”

There was no response. He reached down and grabbed what he hoped was a shoulder and shook it hard. The figure moaned a little. “C’mon man. On your side, before you choke to death.”

The bag with legs slowly contracted, bent, and groaned its way into laying on one side and gave a limp-fingered okay sign. At least, the fingers tried to curl in that direction. Kenny was too far gone to form words, and Shane managed to find a ratty couch cushion nearby. He wedged it behind Kenny so that he wouldn’t roll onto his back and then backed away. Kenny’s breaths were deep. He was already lost in a heroin-induced dreamland.

A large cockroach skittered away as he tried to lock the door behind him. The lock was broken, and the mechanism twirled in place, a useless piece of metal set in a doorknob that rattled and slid inside of a too-large, ragged hole in a door that was warped and filthy. Shane cursed under his breath. He lived in a shithole. 

He headed back to his apartment, catching a glance of Mrs. Langstroth. Despite the late hour, she was peering out the door from across the hallway from his apartment, her rheumy eyes suspicious. He nodded wearily, “Mrs. L.”

Her face retracted, and the door banged shut, a parade of locks engaging one by one in quick succession. He sighed. Esther Langstroth had been heading down the road to dementia for longer than he had been in the building, but she still had her moments of clarity. This evening wasn’t one of them. On clear nights, she knew who he was and foisted baked goods on him, insisting he needed fattening up. Over the past two years, those breads and cakes had become increasingly inedible as she forgot a key ingredient, or added extra baking soda, and other foibles. In her bad moments, she had insisted he was a thief, a rapist, and part of the local gang, the Asian Boyz. He didn’t have the heart to tell her he wasn’t Chinese and therefore would be unwelcome in their ranks.

“Just making sure Kenny is all right, Mrs. L.” He called to the locked door. She didn’t answer, but he could hear her breathing through the thin, hollow-core door. He shook his head and returned to his apartment, smashing a cockroach that skittered in front of him with his shoe.

 

“Die, fucker.”

Mrs. Langstroth’s shocked gasp was audible through the thin door.

“Sorry, ma’am, I wasn’t talking to you. I was killing one of the cockroaches.” There was no response, not that he expected one. He opened the door to his apartment cursing softly as he caught another cockroach heading towards his door, “Oh no, you don’t.” His boot slammed down again, grinding the body into the worn, filthy carpet. He shuddered slightly. Tiny insect or no, they creeped him out.

The apartment, now lit with a feeble, high efficiency, low-quality light, was stark and barren. A table with one chair, an armchair that had seen better days, and a futon in the corner. Near the one window, sitting on the floor in a saucer, were the mummified remains of what had been a poor excuse for a houseplant. The kitchenette in the far corner was neat and just as bare. Why he hadn’t kept some of his mom’s things, he couldn’t really say. He had left most of it in the small, cramped apartment on the far side of town, too mentally worn out to bother getting any of it. And by the time he had answered her landlord’s voicemails, it was all gone, off to landfill or donated or whatever they did in those situations. Shane had been left with memories and debt in the wake of her passing.

He shook his head in frustration as he looked around the tiny room. He’d been such a fool, borrowing money to live on. And when he flunked out of school, surprise, surprise, they wanted their money back. No degree meant no extra money coming in, no extra money meant no payments on the hefty student loan and when he went into default, there wasn’t any chance of returning to college. Everything since then had just felt like an endless slide downhill.

Whatever Dave Eggers was up to, it was as illegal as fuck. And Eggers wasn’t that bright, which meant it was a matter of time before he got caught. 

Shane stripped off his boots and placed them neatly against the wall. His jeans were next, and he folded them and set them on top of the small dresser. The t-shirt landed in his laundry basket. He snapped off the light and lay in the dark, his mind spinning.

Ten thousand dollars would go a hell of a long way towards paying off the student loans and get him closer to moving out of this shitty hole in the wall. Eggers is bad news though, and you know he is.

The shots of Yager were kicking in, and the room swam a little, a gentle spin that told him the booze had hit his cortex and was mucking up his reasoning skills. He started to reach for his cell phone. Part of him wanted to make the call and just tell Eggers to fuck off at the same time as he told him yes. Ten thousand dollars for one job. What the fuck were they trying to get into, then? Who the fuck pays that much for a straight up B and E? His mind spun down, tired after a long day and worked loose by the alcohol. As he lay there in the dark, his heartbeat slowing and sleep creeping up to meet him, a dream inserted itself.

As the clock ticked past midnight, and his breathing evened, he slipped into a dream of an enormous house, dark mostly, standing alone in the countryside, no other buildings in sight. Eggers by his side, carrying a machete, and him with a shotgun. It unraveled, as most dreams do, into a chaotic jumble of unrealistic situations. Near the end of it, he was carrying a massive pile of gold bricks and arguing with Eggers about whether they should take the donkey they found locked in the safe with them.