Alice came to. She didn’t recognize where she was, she sat with a start and immediately regretted it. Her head hurt like the morning after a three day bender. Her ribs were bruised or cracked, and her arms were stiff and prickly with sleep. She let her head fall back down onto the cushion. Early dawn light was coming in through the window. She reached up to shield her eyes, but was stopped short by the handcuff chaining her wrist to the radiator.
She forced herself up to sitting, causing pain to shoot through her ribs and neck. The world dimmed and lurched sideways, and she squeezed her eyes shut and leaned back into the couch she was sitting on until the feeling passed.
“You’re awake.” The statement came from across the room. Alice looked up in the direction of the voice, and as her eyes focused, saw an older black man with graying hair standing at a countertop. She could see what he was doing from where she was sitting, and given her body’s reaction to her trying to sit, she thought she should give standing up a pass for the moment. The black film cannister sat at the end of the counter, prominently where she could see it.
He held up a gun, Alice recognized it as her .45, and continued. “Is this registered? I didn’t see a firearm ID card anywhere here. He sniffed the gun for show. “It smells like it’s been fired recently. “ He looked at her. “Your hands smell like you were the one that fired it.” He set the gun down again, and then picked up her infrared goggles. “I don’t even know what this is for.”
Alice shifted uncomfortably and looked down at her legs,loosely covered by an afghan. Her pants were gone and her left thigh was wrapped in bandaging. Her leg was stiff. She looked around again. She was in a loft that looked like some kind of hybrid between an apartment and an office. The couch was pressed up against the windows. The radiator was hissing steam, and with the heat rolling off it, the windows behind her were fogged over.
To her right was an office of sorts. A large dividing wall stood in the middle of the room, and a desk was planted directly in front of it. There were openings on either side of the wall that looked like they led into a bedroom space, but she couldn’t see much from where she was. The man in front of her was standing in something of a kitchenette, still talking. She looked back at him and interrupted. “I have to pee.”
He stopped talking and set the holster he was handling down. “You know, some people might say thank you.”
Alice frowned. She raised her arm and let the clink of the handcuff metal against the radiator speak for her.
“Well, can’t say I’m too sorry about that. You show up on my doorstep covered in blood, not all of it yours, mind you, and with the cops not too far behind, I figure there’s other places you could be locked up. And they mostly don’t make you coffee.” He walked around the countertop toward her and offered her a mug. Alice took it with her left hand and took a sip. It was lukewarm and black, but it still tasted good. She glowered at him.
“You’re welcome,” he said dryly. “Now, if you don’t mind my saying so, I think you’ve got a rough few days ahead of you. You’ll have to forgive me for being cautious, since it looks like you know how to handle yourself, and you sure as shit didn’t come to me just to get some racy photos developed.”
Alice sighed and sipped her coffee again. He waited in silence, and after swallowing, she finally spoke. “Thanks.”
“That wasn’t so hard, was it?” He dangled the keys to the cuffs as he stood straight. “Now, if I uncuff you, are you going to do anything I’ll regret?” He looked around. “I live here, and I’m already sticking my neck out not turning you over when the cops came knocking. So, if I take the cuffs off, you’re not going to freak out on me.”
Alice nodded. “Okay. Thanks. Really.”
“Alright then. I’m Charlie Ellison, by the way. Call me Chip,” said Chip, nodding. He leaned forward and traded Alice the keys for her coffee and then set the mug down on the countertop.
Alice undid the cuffs and rubbed her wrist, and tried getting to her feet. Her leg burned, and her head swam again, but despite that, she mostly felt exposed. She wrapped the afghan around her waist to ward off the feeling. “Uh… Nice to meet you, Chip. Where are my pants?”
Chip nodded toward a pair of sweatpants with big white letters spelling out UMASS up one of the legs. “In the wash. You’re going to have to do with those for now.” He then politely turned around as she pulled them on and hobbled over to the counter.
Chip turned back to face her and pushed the coffee mug back in her direction. Alice took a long pull on the mug and tried to subtly look for a clock. It couldn’t be nine am yet. The sun was just rising. That’s when the police would be letting Esther out of the holding cell. She still had some time, but she didn’t know how much. Alice’s .45 lay on the counter between them. The clip had been removed, and she couldn’t see it anywhere in her immediate vicinity.
Chip broke the silence. “I don’t, by the way.”
Alice looked at him, an eyebrow rising. “What?”
“I don’t owe your brother a favor. I know him. But I don’t owe him one.” Chip looked down at the gun on the counter. “I don’t expect this is the sort of favor he’d want to hear from me about, either.”
“No, probably not,” said Alice. “I think he would be better off not knowing about this. Look, I should probably just go. I’ve got to be somewhere at nine. And I don’t want to cause Travis or you any more trouble than I already have.”
It was Chip’s turn to look puzzled. “You just dropped by to bleed on my couch and head off to your next appointment? You want to start explaining what’s going on?”
Alice scowled at him, then she said, “It’s like I said on the phone. I just need some film developed. And I’m on a tight schedule.”
“Well, I don’t believe that’s all you need for a second, and it’s only seven. Whatever you’ve got going on can wait until your pants get out of the dryer. You can tell me what you need. And you can start with your real name. Nobody who goes around with no ID and the kind of gear you’re carrying gives their real name over the phone.”
Alice swore under her breath. “Fine. Alice. Alice Levy. I’m in town for some bodyguard work.”
Chip nodded. “And that’s how you wound up on my couch? Taking a knife for your client?”
Alice waited a moment before nodding. “Something like that. I need to meet back up with… my client. Meeting’s at nine.” It wasn’t entirely true, but it wasn’t entirely a lie either.
Chip shook his head. “Well, sorry to give you the bad news. There’s a blizzard out there like you’ve never seen. The roads are shut down. Wherever you had to be today is closed.”