And the minute you realize that we are all pretenders is the minute everything stops intimidating you: punishment, and failure, and death. Even people. There is nothing so ingenious about another human who has pretended well. They are, in fact, just another soul, perhaps more clever, better at failing than you are. But not worth a second of intimidation.
Seattle is my city. Washington is my state. It’s mine, because I say it is. And I take lives, because I want to. And I fear nothing, because there is nothing left to fear.
I’m reading on a bench one day when I see Doyle walking down 2nd Street, a wiry young man with glasses trailing behind him. Doyle’s latest target. He looks limp, like a kite that can’t quite catch the wind. He glances constantly at his phone, then back up at Doyle who is chatting and pointing to things along the way. Same as he did with me. He pointed out breakfast bars and corner stores, telling me the best places to buy bread and fresh fruit. All meant to make you feel comfortable, get you used to the idea of living in his building and impaling yourself on this neighborhood. I watch them from behind my novel, clucking my tongue at Doyle.
When they have passed me by, I set my book down, forgotten, and follow them. “I told you I’d find you,” I say under my breath, as I duck around a corner. I am their shadow as they move down 2nd and onto Madison. And they don’t look my way, even though I am wearing a bright orange shirt and leather pants. They are headed for the building. I wonder if Doyle is taking him to the same unit he showed me. I wonder what he used my money for. Drugs? Rent? A car? Who cares? A thief is a thief no matter what he does with the money.
Doyle uses his card to open the main door to the building. The man looks once over his shoulder before he follows him in. I dart from my hiding spot, and grab the door before it can close. Doyle won’t recognize me; I look different now. But I lurk in the shadows, listening for their voices in the hollowness of the building. They take the elevator. I take the stairs. I think about what I’m going to say to Doyle ol’ Boyle as I trot upward, climbing the stairs two at a time, remembering when I couldn’t walk up the stairs of the eating house without getting winded. Doyle takes the young man to a different unit on the same floor as the one he took me to. I linger outside the door, listening to their exchange. He wants first month, last month, and a two thousand dollar deposit. He’s cutting this guy a break. A scam at a fifty percent discount. The man, who Doyle calls George, sounds unsure. He wants to speak to his girlfriend. He needs to ask his parents for help with the deposit. Doyle says he needs to hurry. There are other people interested. I push open the door.
“Like me,” I say.
They both turn to look at me at the same time.
“Hey,” I say to George. “This guy is actually a scam artist. You probably don’t want to give him your money.”
George laughs at first, like I’ve told a really good joke. But, when I don’t laugh with him, his too-thin eyebrows make sharp triangles over his glasses.
“Go, go,” I say. “Unless you want to be out twelve thousand dollars like me.”
He gives red-faced Doyle one last look before scurrying for the door.
“Hey George,” I call. “The best place to buy bread is on Union and Fourth. Don’t listen to this joker.”
As soon as I hear the ting of the elevator, I close the door and smile expectantly at Doyle.
“Oh hey! Remember me?”
His eyes are darty, like a cornered rat. He looks dumb. I can’t believe I ever bought into this guy’s sales pitch. Doyle the Dope. He looks at the door while I look around the apartment. It’s nice. Really nice. Better than the one I was scammed out of. The kitchen is small, but there are granite countertops, and the cabinetry looks new. I breathe in the scent of fresh paint and newly laid carpets.
“Who owns this place, Doyle?”
He walks for the door, a shit don’t care look on his face. But, I pull out my part-time gun. I don’t like to use it; it’s such an ungraceful weapon: loud noise, silver bullets, pretentious. I carry it with me on the nights I work late, stick it in my purse, which I keep in the manager’s office, then transfer it to the back of my jeans in the bathroom for the walk home … just in case. You can never be too careful with all these psychos walking around.
Doyle sees the piece of black metal in my hand and stops short. Amazing what a little gun can do to people. I’ve burned a woman alive, but no one gets all watery-eyed over a pink Zippo.
“Doyle,” I say. “Is something wrong? You look a little green.”
He shakes his head. I can see a thin line of sweat brewing on his forehead. I hate forehead sweaters. So gross.
“I definitely asked you a question, Doyle. I am the girl holding the gun, so you might want to answer me.”
Doyle’s Adam’s apple bobs in his throat before he says, “Yeah, it’s mine.”
I nod, pleased. This will make things easier.
“How many do you own in this building?”
“And in between tenants—your real tenants, that is—you scam people into believing you’ll rent to them?”
“Well, my dad owns them,” he says. “Look lady, I’m just trying to make an extra buck. My old man rents them out, and I don’t get shit. But he has me do all the work for him.”
“Oh boo! Doyle. Did you really just tell me that story and hope I’d feel sorry for you?”
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