Adam felt as if he were being watched. Even in the darkness of his basement nest he could feel someone’s eyes on him. The last grocery day he’d left the house and felt as if his movements were being traced. It was a point of pride around this neighborhood, nobody watches anything anybody ever does. Nobody knows anything. So he felt eyes on him and he wondered. That was the day the new kid at the liquor store talked to him. Bad day.
The next grocery day he’d slowed down a bit, allowed himself to reach out a little and observe his surroundings. He thought he’d caught a glint of something from across the street. He walked down the street to the liquor store and picked up his groceries. This time no incidents. He thought he saw movement as he walked back home. He walked nearly the whole way to the house before leaving the cart in the sidewalk (nobody would touch it, of that he was certain) and walking back to the liquor store. He watched the young man go into the liquor store. He watched him talk to the clerk. He watched him walking out empty handed.
He went back to the house, retreated into it, drank his vodka, slept and thought. By the time he was ready for his next grocery day, he felt calmer again. More himself. He left the house for groceries.
* * *
Eddie stepped into the house and pulled the door shut behind him. He set the timer on his watch for twenty minutes. The way he figured it that gave him more than enough time to look around, take what he could, or just get the hell out if he needed to. The foyer of the tenement was a shambles. Stairs leading to upper rooms were unusable. They way Eddie figured it, that was a blessing. Fewer places to look. Carpet had been pulled up from the floorboards. It was rolled up and stacked in the corner of the foyer next to shredded carpet pads. The exposed floorboards were warped and water stained, the tack strip curling slightly away from the floor. There was a door in the hall that appeared to be a bathroom room. Eddie pulled it. The door resisted, the wood frame swollen and warped. He wrenched at it and it gave way with a shower of dust from the ceiling. Inside it was dark, and he unslung his backpack and pulled the flashlight from it.
The beam crossed the floor and illuminated an old tub. The smell of mildew was thick and Eddie could see the black blooms of mold growing on the walls and the ceiling paint sagged and blistered. In the tub was shredded wallpaper and insulation. A rat’s nest. No sign of the rat family but a few stray pellets. The sink and toilet that should have been next to the tub were missing, the pipes were exposed, hot and cold, and the wax ring lay where the toilet must have rested. Eddie shone his beam down the pipe. It stunk of urine. He backed out of the powder room and pushed the door shut. It shuddered and caught on the floor and the door frame then slammed shut.
He glanced at his watch. 18 minutes left. He saw the basement door and checked it. It swung open easily. The reek of rot wafted out the door and he fought the urge to gag. He looked down the stairs and swept them with his flashlight. They looked intact. He started slowly down the steps, testing them. The creaked only slightly and he quickened his pace.
At the bottom of the steps the smell was even worse. He fought off the nausea, breathing only through his mouth. The beam of the flashlight swept the basement. It was mostly empty. A cellar door on the far end stood slightly open. Near the stairs was an old mattress it was stained nearly black. Hundreds of empty bottles lay around it. He hurried over to the mattress, scattering bottles as he went. He peeled the corner of the mattress off the floor and looked underneath. Nothing. He dropped the mattress again and it thumped against the concrete. He looked again at his watch. 16:20 left. He swept the beam across the floor and noticed the space under the stairs. It was crowded with old boxes that said, “Karkharov Super Premium Vodka”. A red falcon graphic was printed on the side.
He walked over to the stairs and started looking through the boxes. Most of them had nothing in them. A few had empty evelopes. Eddie puzzled over this briefly. The rest of the boxes had garbage in them, empty Slim Jim, pop tart and twinkie wrappers, Dorito bags. Eddie combed these with his fingers before dumping the boxes on the floor and kicking them away from him to look in the next box. It was all garbage. He remembered the cellar door and walked over to it.
He illuminated his watch face. 13:00. He pulled open the cellar door and looked inside. Not thinking, he sniffed, and nearly threw up. The smell of rot hit him. He stood still for a minute, trying to quiet the revolt in his stomach. Inside the cellar were a dozen stain blackened duffel bags. Next to them and against the wall was a nightstand. He pulled open the drawers and looked in each. Inside were envelopes. Eddie picked one up and looked inside. Hundred dollar bills were pressed inside it and a single slip of paper. He pulled the slip out curiously. It was someone’s name and address. He stuffed the envelope in his backpack and looked in the next envelope. More money, and a new name and address. He pulled the drawer from the nightstand and upended it into his backpack before opening the next drawer. More envelopes. Out came the drawer, in went the envelopes. Eddie tossed the drawers aside. He had more than enough to pay off his debt. He turned to leave, the beam crossing one of the duffel bags. He stopped and glanced at his watch. 9:30. Plenty of time for a peek. He was still giving himself plenty of time to get up the stairs, out the door and out of this sewer.
He knelt down next to one of the bags. He pulled at the zipper. It was stuck, the teeth coated in black grime. He yanked harder and the zipper released slowly. He played the beam over the mouth of the bag and found himself staring into the eyes of bodiless human head. He shuffled backward, losing his balance and landing on his butt. The flashlight clattered to the floor and shut off. In the blackness he pushed himself away from the bag. His back was against the cellar door, still partly closed. His questing fingers found the strap of his backpack in the dark and he pulled it to him. Above him the stairs creaked.