"He who learns to run away may live to fight another day,"
- a coward
It felt as if a cosmic black hole had sprung into existence inside his belly; a feeling that his innards were tugged and pulled by a formless vacuum. He would have backed off if his legs had not frozen in place simultaneously when the two massive men in dark coats slammed the car doors behind them and started down the driveway toward him. They were much bigger than him, the one on the left wider and the other much taller.
“Hey,” he managed, failing to sound casual as his voice vibrated through his throat and exited his mouth weakly. “Anything I can do for you?”
“Is there?” the wider one asked as they made it to the iced concrete in front of him.
These were definately the two Richard had warned him of. The accent sounded just like Ivan’s. “Play dumb,” he told himself and lied: “I don’t know. I just visiting my buddy here today.”
The man looked to the taller one. “Oh really?” he asked.
“Yeah,” Marty replied with a nod, consciously raising his voice. The black hole inside him expanded, pulling up his lower intestines while sucking down his lungs.
“Your friend, does he live here?” the tall balding man asked. His voice wasn’t as deep as the other, but his tone still sharp. They both held their hands deep in their coat-pockets. “We have a friend here too. We were coming to see him.”
“Oh okay,” said Marty, noticing the balding one looked somewhat like Vladmir Putin. “Sounds good.”
The bigger one smiled and they both started moving past Marty in the direction of the backyard. “Have you seen our friend?” he called back. “He owns this house, you know?”
Marty shook his head. “No, no, I just visit here.”
The black hole jumped drastically in size again, but somehow Marty managed to move his feet. He turned away from them, starting down the driveway to the street.
“Come back here,” the man called, his voice suddenly booming over Marty's head.
Marty stopped.. “What is it?” he asked, placing his own hands in his pant pockets, trying to hide that he was shaking.
The tall man opened the gate as the wider man backed through, giving Marty a quick hand motion. Marty sighed, his eyes darting about the alley as he moved toward them. “Don’t show fear. Don’t show fear. Nothing is wrong. Nothing is wrong.” he started repeating to himself. “They can’t know anything. Ivan is gone. I don’t know where he is. No one here does.”
“Do you know the landlord here?” the big man asked as Marty stepped into the yard's entrance, his face forward, unable to even look at the two. The thought of him sprawled out on the snow, a thin streak of blood decorating the ground like red ink on a sheet of paper came to mind.
Marty shook his head, turning to the corner of the house, hearing the creaky gate shut behind him. “My friend knows him. I think he told me he's gone back to his country for a while now.”
“Oh really?” came the slightly higher tone of the taller man.
Marty nodded, turning around the side of the house, right outside of Ivan’s old bedroom window.
“We need to see our friend,” the other man said as they turned around the back of the house after him. Marty avoided even turning his head in the direction of the boarded up window well.
He spun about and faced his two visitors instead. “Well,” he said, already regretting his choice of word. “I don’t know. I’d ask my friend but he’s out today. He just left. Come back in a few days maybe?”
“February the first,” the portly man replied, crossing his arms, smiling slightly. Marty wasn't sure if one of his front teeth were jewelled or just shiny, but he caught a quick glint of something. “First day of the month he is always here. It’s the rent day. He’s never gone on rent day. We’ll be here then. That is three days from now.”
“Three days,” said the man who looked like Putin, straining his neck back a little to look at the windows of the upper floors. Marty backed up a step to see where he was looking, but he could only see the green ceiling of the game room. Some deep bass music was heard and after a few seconds he could make out Spades and Jimmy talking.
“What’s that smell?” the bigger man asked.
“Hm?” Marty asked, snapping his attention back to the two uninvited invitees. “What smell?” Despite his weak nose he managed to pick it up just then. It was a foul, pungent scent that reached into his nostrils and drove down into the back of his throat. It smelled like a mix between week-old garbage and decomposed fish.
“Something’s rotten,” the tall man said, looking about the yard.
“Compost maybe,” Marty said, thinking quickly. “We had a garden here and it was destroyed. I guess it’s just been frozen all winter and is rotting now that it’s thawed a little bit the past few weeks.” He smiled weakly to hide his apprehension. He knew what the smell really was. He knew what was really frozen all winter and was thawing now.
The two men looked at him a moment, giving Marty a chance to better take them in. They were older, probably in their late forties, maybe early fifties, the taller one’s entire face a flushed red tone, while the other was only red on his wide cheeks.
“We’ll be seeing you all then,” the dark-haired man said, glancing about the yard slowly. Marty noticed his eyes were two different colours, one brown, the other green. That look always unsettled him. “See you on rent day.”
As soon as they left Marty vomited.
He saw the two men get into their vehicle from his bedroom window. The big black car tore down the road towards Maria Avenue. Richard shivered, grabbed his steaming mug of tea and headed out to find Marty. As he made his way through the kitchen the image of Marty lying in red snow, face swollen and pink flashed in his head. Instead he found him leaning over a puddle of brownish-green snow.
“Well, then you’ve met them,” he moaned. “Better get inside.”
“Wait—wait,” Marty started spitting on the ground. “Wait.” He struggled to his feet.
Richard moved forward, taking his left arm with his free hand. “Here, let’s get you some tea.”
“Do you think they might be cops?” Marty asked him once they were inside the kitchen.
Richard shook his head, coming out of his room with a fresh cup of tea. He placed it in front of the shaking younger man. “They most definitely are not cops. You know that too.”
Marty shrugged, but then he nodded right after. “No, I don’t think so either,” he said, taking a sip of the steaming drink. He swished it around in his mouth before swallowing what was left of the nasty taste, scalding the bacteria that had become trapped between his teeth. “They’re coming back in three days. We have three days to get out of here.”
Richard nodded. “Supposing that we can leave. They’re probably watching us. These guys are something. Ivan was a somebody.”
“Yeah,” Marty agreed, staring down at his cup, looking to get lost in the patterns that the steam made ascending from the surface of the liquid and then flitting about wildly upward before vanishing. “Jimmy and I sold thousands of dollars worth of antiques that Ivan was hoarding.”
“Antiques?" Richard asked, confused. Then he remembered. "Yeah, that was when I was drugged out. I remember seeing things disappear around here.”
“And then I was concocting a way to rob Franco,” Marty sighed.
“Yeah, and now you are looked for by mobsters as well as possibly cops. It’s only a matter of time until one of them comes for us.”
Marty looked up at him, looking a little confused. “Us?” he asked.
“Yes, I’m living here too. No matter who comes first I’m going to get blamed too if we don’t get the hell out of here quick.”
“Where are we going to go?” Marty asked, raising his cup.
“We take our money and go back over the neighbour’s yard. They’re probably patrolling the vicinity, but we have to take our chance. Maybe we can pass into another neighbour’s yard just west of them and keep going until we reach Runnymede. Then we can go south maybe to High Park.”
“High Park? Really?”
“Yeah, that’s our best bet. We can go deep into the bush, maybe construct a small shelter out of branches. I’ve seen homeless people down there. One time I saw a guy who was hiding off a trail with his dog.”
“Oh yeah, well, we’re in Canada and I’m Canadian so no doubt I know how to make a fucking igloo!”
“Well, where do you propose we go then? A hotel? Want to use your visa and make a paper trail for the police to find?” Richard demanded.
Marty gazed back at him and only blinked feebly in response, suddenly looking paler than usual, the stress and fear clearly leaving their mark on him. Richard sighed at the sight. He thought of the times the two of them drank together in the first weeks of living together. Marty had made him feel young again. It was hard to see him as anything but a very young man, not too unlike himself at that age. Now he looked older, like the world was restraining him like it had once done to him.
“Sorry,” he said. “But what else can we do? Where else can we go?”
“I don’t know. I guess we should leave and fast. For all we know they’ll come back and kill us any minute now. Fuck. Fuck, we need to get up now.” He stood up.
“Alright,” agreed Richard, downing the rest of his tea quickly. He prepared himself, feeling a mental charge of energy take hold of him. "We move fast then. Go get the money and I'll get one of my bags and some clothes."
“But first, I need to tell the others. They should just leave too.”
Richard got up from the table and went into his room. He reached his desk at the far end of the room near the window, placed his empty cup on it and the he grabbed the USB key out of his laptop. His novel was the only thing on it. “We go to the park, grab our money first and a few other things and then what after—skip town?”
“I guess,” Marty answered, turning to go to his room. Richard grabbed a few extra bills of money, only one hundred and forty-seven dollars in total from under his bed. He also took his wallet and grabbed a pair of extra socks, stuffing all the things into a knapsack.
“Just get a few things,” he called into Marty’s room as he re-entered the kitchen. He sat on the chair across from the sink, taking his shoes off to put on the extra socks.
“We can buy tickets to a bus maybe, that is, if the coast is clear,” Marty explained, coming back out from his room with his knapsack on. “We can do that in cash and we don’t need to show I.D. or anything.”
“Right. We really only need to hide in the park one night, just to make sure the coast is clear. There could be cops out there looking for us now or maybe in a few hours.”
“We go to the park and we listen for sirens,” replied Marty. “But look, man, I got to just talk to the others first.”
Richard wanted to tell him to leave without the others, to leave them behind to deal with the Russians alone. They knew nothing about Ivan. Maybe, with some luck, they would assume that Spades and Jimmy had killed Ivan instead. That way he and Marty would only have the police to worry about.
“Those guys,” he said as sarcastically as he could make his voice sound. “Forget them.”
“I’m serious. They’ll only get you in trouble.”
Marty looked at him for a few seconds, then laughed. “Yeah, look who the hell’s talking.”
He knew he could say nothing in response to that. Marty was right. It was not Spades or Jimmy who handed him the cinder block to crush Ivan’s skull with. The words: “You’re the one who pushed him in" came to mind, but he managed to stop himself from saying it.
“Don’t take long,” he said instead, getting up, deciding to go to his window to see if he could see the black car back outside. “I’ll watch for them. Hurry!”
“Not just Spades and Jimmy upstairs,” Marty called after him. “Tony. I got to help him too. He can’t stay here.”
“Tony?” Richard asked, immediately opposed. He wondered if Marty meant to take Tony with them. Richard couldn’t allow that. For Marty he might risk something, but not for Tony. “They won’t touch him. Obviously he couldn’t have done anything. What, are they going to think he's some blind kung fu master or something?”
The only reply he got was the sound of Marty’s footfalls on the stairs.