"Oi, bloody hell. You really blew it this time," he said in his Cockney accent, as though he were the son of the last chimney sweep in London. With what worry and cigarettes had done to him, he looked like he belonged in the prior century. The tip of his cigarette trembled on his lips. "She's gonna send us to hell for this, she is, bloody hell."
Ben rubbed his eyes. "Shut up about hell. Hell is a place where you're a midget stuck in an elevator packed with fat guys after lunch, and egg salad sandwiches were on the menu."
"You're so bloody funny," said Howard, starting a slow clap. "You want we should make that what goes on your tombstone?"
"You got any ideas?" Ben roared. "Because your self-pity isn't helping." He loosened his tie and unbuttoned his shirt collar. "She's going to be here within the hour. We've got an hour to make the rent money -- that's plenty of time."
Eyes narrowed, Howard squeezed his lips around his cigarette and took a long drag. "Wishful thinking, mate."
Ben's eyes grew wide. He straightened up, and after a beat did a fist pump.
"What is it?" Howard asked.
"We'll write her a check," said Ben on a rush of inspiration.
"We don't have the money," said Howard flatly.
"What, you've never kited a check?"
"She'll know." Howard snuffed his cigarette and dug the pack out of his shirt pocket. "Damn," he said, peering into the empty box. He crumpled it in his fist and tossed it aside.
"She won't know," Ben said. "At least not for a few days. And that'll give us plenty of time to..."
A hard scratching sound snagged his attention. At his feet was a folded-over sheet of paper torn out of a yellow legal pad.
Howard's eyes fell onto the sheet like a piano from a rampart.
Ben jabbed an index finger at the paper and hunched his shoulders.
"It's her," Howard mouthed silently.
"She's here!" whispered Ben, then clasped his hands over his mouth for having said that out loud.
Howard's eyes bobbed over to Ben and back to the paper, as though to say that he should read it. Ben stooped and picked it up.
"What's it say?" Howard mouthed.
Ben sidled up to Howard and straightened the note.
PASS THE RENT UNDER THE DOOR.
The two glanced at each other.
"Do you think she heard that part about kiting a check?" Ben whispered.
No sooner had he finished speaking than another note scraped in beneath the door. Ben snapped it up.
NO CHECKS. CASH.
"Oi, bloody bugger!" Howard said, and hid his face in his palms.
"Damn it, Howie!" Ben rasped so Jin-Hee wouldn't hear through the door. "What do we do now?" He shook him by the shoulders. "Focus!"
Another note. Ben slinked away from Howard and picked it up.
I KNOW YOU'RE IN THERE.
"Maybe," said Howard, "if we just spoke to her, like normal human beings, she might cut us some slack?"
Ben wound up as if to backhand Howard. "What are you, crazy? We're lucky if she doesn't cut something out of us! This is Jin-Hee, man. Jin-Hee!"
A note slipped in with the text facing up.
I HEAR MY NAME.
Howard ran his fingers into his scalp and clenched his hands. "We're cooked, mate." He brought his knees up and curled into a tight ball.
A fifth note came in.
Ben pressed his lips into a tight line. His eyes set hard into his face. "Maybe you are," he said, wagging his finger at Howard. "But I'm not." He went for the door.
"No, don't!" said Howard, but too late.
The door swung open onto an empty hallway. Stunned, Ben poked his head into the hall to look one way, then the other.
"She's gone," said Ben.
"Like 'up the hall' gone?" Howard asked.
"No, I mean, as in the 'vanished' type of gone."
Howard stood. "That's not possible. What do you mean..."
"I mean she's gone!" Ben got Howard by the arm and hauled him into the corridor. "There. Do you see her anywhere? No."
"But," Howard stammered, "that's not possible." He glanced both ways up the hall, then again to be sure.
"Well, it just happened," said Ben.
The two walked back to their apartment and shut the door. They hadn't gone two paces before the flutter of paper at the hall door caught their attention.
"How the hell?" Howard asked.
Ben unfolded the rest of the note.
PMS -- PAY ME, SUCKER!