“How could ya?” Dad asked me. “All the
jobs out there, ya take that one?”
I shifted, in those uncomfortable
pumps. My feet killed me, from walking up and down that building’s old marble
stairs. The Eden Apartments.
“Maybe,” Mr. Smith had said,
“we’ll put in an elevator.” His eyes
shone, picturing how much more rent he could charge.
My new boss. If “Smith” was
his real name. Al Pacino, from The
Devil’s Advocate, I thought of. But younger.
“Greedy bastard.” Dad poured
himself a shot. “Work hard yer whole damn
life, justa pay more rent? So that fuck can get richer?”
My face burned. “It’s just a
job,” I said. “I’ve got to start
Squeezing senior tenants till their hearts
Dad sloshed his morning coffee into one mug,
then into another.
Back and forth, he was so mad. In the pan, bacon burned, but we both ignored
“Dominique Daria,” my laminated
card read, “Property Manager.” Unreal,
after last year’s layoff. My mom’s death from one heart attack . . .
My card . . .
“Commands respect,” Mr. Smith’s
eyes blazed. “These people need to
know who’s in charge.” Again, I thought of The Devil’s Advocate.
Young Investors’ Group, they called themselves.
YIG. But my card had just my name, cell number, email address. Like a lone
gunman’s. Like all this hounding, this squeezing blood out of old stones, was
“If they had protection,” I told
Dad, “Their rents would stay low.”
I shifted back and forth, sore foot to sore foot. “Some of them . . .”
Paid less than $600. Till YIG jacked up rents.
Insane fees on top of
everything! For using the laundry room they’d always used. For pets. . . .
“Which tenants have pets?” I
asked Mr. Smith.
“Ask them,” he said. “They
may try hiding them. But you’ll know by
the smell.” He wrinkled his nose. “A dirty litter box, or wee-wee pad.”
Just cats and dogs, I figured.
“People need pets.” Dad dumped
the burnt bacon. “Especially old fucks
that live alone.”
“And they’ll pay, to keep them!”
Mr. Smith smiled.
“But is that legal?” I asked,
before I could stop myself. “I mean .
“If they’re scared,” he
said, “They won’t ask for proof.” He leaned
back in his chair. “Once the lease is signed . . . too late!”
“It’s not fair!” Old Mrs.
Cowell in 1-D had wailed from her
doorway. In her arms, a giant red tabby stared me down. “I can hardly afford
“Subtract one cat,” Mr. Smith
would say, “subtract $75.”
The old lady’s face crumpled. “Does
Mr. Brennan know?”
“I’m . . . not sure.”
“Thirty years I’ve lived here,”
she said. “Please!”
“I’m very sorry.”
The door slammed behind me.
* * *
Weeks of doors slamming. Tenants swearing.
One, Mr. Gonzalez in 2-B,
had spat so close behind me, it’d splashed my calf.
“Dan Brennan,” Mr. Gonzalez said,
“Won’t take this shit.”
That name again.
Who the hell, I thought, was Dan Brennan?
Squeaky-clean, the hallways were, now. Like
a hospital, or prison.
All the plants removed from the lobby. Less than ever, it looked like “Eden.”
Only one tenant had been nice. Ageless Ms.
Dugan in 3-C. This
strange jumpsuit, she had on: a snake print, like in a circus. And lots of
makeup. Reading glasses topped her stiff black hair.
she led me into a
combination kitchen/living room. The sink was filled with greasy dishes. Empty
wine bottles protruded from the recyclables bin.
“Have a seat,” she said.
The table was sticky. As she read the lease,
I peered around the
room. “I have to ask,” I said. “Do you have pets?”
“Dan Brennan,” she said, still
reading. “In 4-C.”
“You haven’t met with him, yet.”
Over her glasses, she smirked. “Or
I would know.”
“Brennan!” Mr. Smith snapped.
Brennan, the nutcase. Who his neighbors loved,
but feared. Their
hero, who hated change. Who refused to accept that YIG bought the Eden
Apartments. Who ignored polite requests to meet about the new lease, and . . .
“HI!” The flyers said, “WE’RE
YOUR NEW LANDLORDS!” With an
oversized smiley face, like YIG wanted to be your pal, wipe your ass. Taped to
each tenant’s door, till they met with me.
Only Dan Brennan’s was still there.
“FINAL NOTICE,” it said now.
“Good for him!” Dad said later,
“I’ll wait to sign this.”
Smiling, Ms. Dugan folded her lease.
* * *
Finally, Dan Brennan agreed to meet with
“If he doesn’t sign,” Mr.
Smith said, “He’s got to go. It’s like
“Evict him?” I said. “Doesn’t he have
“He has the right,” he said, glaring. “To
kiss . . .”
A bad feeling, I had, about meeting
with Brennan. Worse than Gonzalez, who’d spat on me. My insides felt all
That morning, Dad looked worried. Like he’d
never seen me not eat,
before. There was something about that look . . . something both familiar, and
scary. In my plate, the broken egg yolk had crept over onto the white.
“Hey, watch yourself today,”
Dad said. “OK?”
Maybe Brennan will cancel, I thought, scraping
the yolk off the
white. I lay down the fork.
Or not answer the door.
As I drove to the Eden building, I felt it
would be for the last
time. And that I’d never drive back.
I took my time getting out of the car, not
caring if I was late.
Inside, the hallways had never seemed so
quiet. Like all the
tenants had moved out, overnight.
“That,” Mr. Smith would’ve
said, “Would be awesome!”
Soulless fuck. Tearing decent people from
their homes. And pets. Lower
than anything that slithered across the ground.
Once again, my feet killed me. The stairs
seemed steeper than ever.
On the third floor landing, I imagined a maniacal laugh coming from 3-C. Like
Ms. Dugan knew where I was headed.
As I reached the fourth floor, I thought
maybe I’d quit this job. Right
after handing Dan Brennan the lease that he would never sign.
I’d turn and run back downstairs, as
fast as I could.
So why go through with this?
Something red and slimy-looking, was smeared
on Brennan’s flyer. Covering
“NOTICE” but leaving “FINAL.” Like someone had finger painted a message to me.
A coppery smell emanated from it.
Before I could turn away, the door opened.
He looked harmless. Short, husky, with shoulder-length
gray hair. Behind
glasses, he looked bug-eyed. But not from fear of me, or YIG. It was like he knew
he had nothing to fear, from anyone.
He just nodded.
“I’m Dominique Daria, from .
When he waved me inside, I hesitated. My
heart pounded so hard, I
heard it. Then I followed him.
Suddenly, I saw Dad’s face. His look
Right before Mom died, I’d seen that
I sat down. Rooms-wise, Brennan had the same
setup as Ms. Dugan. Where
her place smelled like grease and spilled wine, Brennan’s was fouler, like meat
had been left out. Or something had died in the wall.
In this “room,” no walls were
From floor to ceiling were cages.
Empty, except in the one closest to me were the remains of some creature’s
once-live dinner. Shivering, I looked away.
Behind me, I sensed something slither
across the floor.
In a choked voice, I said, “I have to ask
you . . .”
He watched whatever it was get closer.
“Do you have any . . . pets?”
“Ms. Dugan,” he said, snickering.
“She” coiled herself around my