Connie checked her phone. Five o’clock. Still time for a few confidence jobs. At midnight she’d pack up the kids and the dog and get in the car. Start again, at another place.
There was a knock at the door. Good, she was expecting it. The third one today. It was a slow response to her rental ad, though. Sometimes when people said they’d come look at the place, they didn’t show up. Three bites was a bad cull for a day. But there was still time.
She made her way past bags packed with kids clothes and down the hall to where a gap under the front door leaked light onto the freshly swept lino. Through the peephole she saw a thin woman, 30s maybe, in a grey shirt.
“Hi, looking for an apartment to rent?” She swept the door open and faced the woman. “I’m Connie.”
“Alice,” said the woman. “I’ll take off my shoes.”
Connie leaned toward her with a smile and put an arm on her shoulder. “You can leave those shoes on, hun. I’ll show you around.”
The light filtering under the door cast shadows that accentuated Alice’s height and slim build. Connie had to look up to see her eyes. “There’s a lot of interest in this place,” she said. I hope you brought a cash deposit, like the ad said”
The midnight dashes, those were easy. Wasn’t nothing a landlord could do about a bounced cheque for a month or two. Just complain. Then she’d get out. Middle of the night. Kids knew the routine, they barely woke when she moved them from bed to car and belted them in. Timing was important. But these final shakedowns. These were her specialty. A quick ad online: Apartment for Rent. Good Price. Nice Location. Cash Deposit. On a good dash with some well-played shakedowns, she’d get out with $1,000 in her purse. She had $400 now, already stashed.
“It is a good apartment,” said Alice as they moved into the kitchen, both of them stepping over the dog and then the trash he’d pulled over. “Why are you renting it?”
Connie looked around. At the tiles peeling up and the drip from the tap that was staining the floor. It was safe, though, better than some. Okay neighbours. Not too dangerous. She wanted a drink. It was in the cupboard over the sink and she’d get herself one when this Alice was gone.
“I have to move so I’m renting it out,” said Connie. “Think you’ll take it?”
“Why don’t you stay?” Alice asked.
She doesn’t want it, Connie thought. She won’t make a deposit. Why would she? Look at her. Leather shoes with a shine. Silver blouse and a sweater buttoned under her breasts. She looks like she should be living at the Hilton, swishing those pink lacquered pinkies and ordering margaritas. Connie glanced down at her own breasts. Used up, slouched under a sweatshirt. Her thick waist held up leggings. Socks had a hole.
“Honey,” said Connie, smiling sweetly. “If I was staying you wouldn’t have this nice place you could be moving into next week.”
“I’m not interested in this neighbourhood,” Alice said.
Connie wasn’t surprised. It was old. Dangerous at night. She wanted that drink now. She could hear the kids starting a fight in the bedroom which meant they’d be running in soon, then they’d want dinner and there wasn’t much of that.
“Then why did you come here?” Connie asked.
“I’m looking for people who don’t mind knocks on their door late at night.”
Connie wanted to sit down. She wished she could reach up and open the cupboard and get out the vodka.
Alice smiled and sat at the table. “I’m looking for someone to handle financial transactions.” She crossed her legs and looked up at Connie. “Do you need money?”
Connie’s eyes were getting heavy. She heard the littlest one cry. She wanted that drink. It was three months they’d been living here. The first month paid with the deposit from the last dash. The next two spent fighting off the landlord from wanting his rent. She’d only made two quick heists this afternoon, from people who were going to show up tomorrow wondering why the place wasn’t theirs since they’d handed over cash. And now another midnight ditch ahead. It was getting old. She was getting old. Running out of time for this kind of life.
“I’ve got drugs I want you to sell for me dear,” Alice said.
Connie joined her at the table. Leaned on her elbow and pushed a plastic cup through a pool of spilled juice.
“There’s good money in it,” said Alice. “You could feed the kids. Stay put.”
Connie thought about the night ahead. How she’d have to park until morning. Shush the kids in the back of the car while she tried to sleep curled up in the front. Crossing a leg at the ankle she picked at the hole in her sock. Could she return those people’s money? Say she changed her mind?
She looked at the cup she was pushing and thought about vodka. Then thought about drugs. “What kind?” she asked. “What does it pay?”
Olyn Ozbick’s stories have been published in Splinterswerve and are scheduled to appear in Fourthirtythree. She was a finalist in the CBC Literary Prize, and is also an award-winning, non-fiction editor and publisher. Her essays, journalism, reviews and creative non-ficiton have been published in Chatelaine, Harrowsmith, Equinox, Avenue Magazine, Bloom, Banff Life and other fine places.