I slipped up the stairs, noting that they were slick with something as my feet slipped and slid around. Luckily my gait is erratic enough that I barely noticed it, but I could see it causing the residents here some trouble. When I reached the top I paused and looked back; no footprints, no sign that anything had disturbed the steps. So not a little Monkeybutt trap either then, but perhaps a consequence of whatever she and her men had done in Blue’s rooms. Sure enough the landing was equally greasy, and I skated across the floor to the door with the police tape nailed across it, and then sailed past having completely misjudged how long it would take me to come to a halt. I turned my skid into a turn and bodychecked the wall of another flat. It hurt, but in the litany of aches and pains that I have daily it wasn’t even worth thinking about. I aimed at Blue’s door, and pushed off again.
The police tape had been genuinely nailed in place, by a nail-gun by the looks of things, and that made me instantly suspicious. In this town the police tie the tape to whatever’s closest, and if that then gets up and walks off, meowing to itself, well tough. I peered at a nail and decided that I couldn’t see anything clearly in the dim, sodium haze from the walkway ceiling light. I have a pocket torch, a fancy little thing about as long as my hand, heavy as lead with a ring of LEDs that can be switched from white to blue to red to ultraviolet to infrared. It’s strictly not civilian issue, but Mad Frankie had a surplus and I had sticky fingers. I’ve used the infrared setting to cook food on a stakeout before now, as well as keep my hand warm in my pocket when I was caught in a walk-in freezer for a half-hour. I twisted the head to the white setting and turned it on.
The blaze of crystalline white light hurt my eyes a little at first, but my pupils gradually shrank and my vision improved and I could see through the tape now, and so see the fine wire running through it that connected each of the nails in turn, the doorhandle, the hinges, and then ran off along the floor against the wall and into the flat next door. I checked the top of the door next; Monkeybutt loves to think she’s clever than the rest of us. Sure enough, a second wire ran off that way along the ceiling and into the flat on the other side. I snorted. That woman has no imagination.
“Balcony inspector.” I glared at the young girl that had opened the door to the next-door flat. She glared back at me, an eight-year-old with attitude. She stuck her hand on her hip in a way that reminded me of a brothel-keeper in the Seychelles. “We don’t got no balcony, fool,” she said.
“You’ve lost your balcony?” I went with angry sounding, figuring that any council-worker coming out here would be either angry or scared. “How the hell do you lose a balcony?”
“We never had no fool balcony!” I could see the momentary uncertainty in her eyes though.
“You sold it for drugs, didn’t you? You only went and sold your damn balcony for drug money. How much did that get you? Was it enough to make you happy?”
“I don’t do no drugs!” There it was, the quiver of the lip, a tiny hiccough in her voice. “We ain’t never had no balcony, and that’s the godfearin’ truth.”
“You’d better show me this,” I said. “I’m gonna hafta get the guys round here to look at this. There’ll be structural damage, probably have to condemn this little crack house. You’ll have to leave too. You got kids? We can take them into social services I guess.”
“We ain’t don’t got no damn fool balcony!” She took a step back, and I stepped forwards. “You come see for yoursel’ you fool. Then you be seeing that you be being a fool.”
I followed her down a short hallway that seemed filled with doors into tiny little steamy rooms, and at the end there was a room just big enough for the three-seat sofa and tv that was in there. She walked across the sofa, I squeezed past it, trying not to knock the tv. The two kids on the sofa shouted at us both to get out of the way, and she opened a window.
“There! No balcony, no never no balcony. Fool.”
“Lemme see.” I pushed past her, and hauled myself out of the window. My desperate feet found the little ledge of brick that ran decoratively beneath the window, and I allowed myself to breathe. I edged along, pressing my aching body against the wall, listening to my knees click like the approaching death of cockroaches, and reached Blue’s window.
“You definitely sold this balcony!” I shouted back to the girl who had poked her head out of the window and was staring at me looking frightened. “I’m coming in, and then we’re talking about this!” I reached up to Blue’s window, and pulled it open with unexpected ease, nearly falling backwards and to the floor below. I struggled for a moment, then got my balance back, and hauled myself into his little studio. My heart was pounding as erratically as ever, and I could taste blood in my mouth.