Amy blinked, what in the world? She was in a small room full of clothes, around her was the background noise of running machines and the smell of laundry detergent. When had she—?
“Who are you?”
A sharp voice broke her out of her thoughts, with a start Amy turned around sharply, heart racing. Only to calm down as she noticed who had spoken. It was an old Chinese man, short anc hunched, and although there was a perfect scowl set on his face, he hardly seemed like a threat.
When she didn’t answer right away his brow furrowed behind his glasses and he shouted again.
“Well! Who are you? Why are you here? We’re about to close and I’ll have you know that last minute customers are not my favorite to deal with!”
“I’m afraid I don’t understand,” Amy stuttered out, eying the man cautiously.
“Bah! Don’t understand! Don’t understand! You in my store! I need to close! Do you have laundry or not?!” He bustled about, hands waving and although Amy stood perfectly still she couldn’t help, but feel slightly dizzy by the motions.
“No, but I—”
“Then leave! Shoo!” He brushed his hands towards her, the very depiction of annoyance.
“No, wait!” She sidestepped him, before he could push her out the door. “I’m looking for someone, a group of someone’s they told me to meet them here.”
Except had they? She seemed to think that they had, but hadn’t she been talking to a homeless man before? Hadn’t there been an alleyway? …No, that didn’t make any sense.
Amy blinked again, and for the first time realized that she couldn’t exactly explain how she had gotten here. What was going on?
“And who are you meeting, hmmm? Hoodlums I’m sure, especially at this time of night!”
Exasperated Amy launched her own question at him, “ Who are you?”
“Me? I am Mr. Lee, nobody important, but you, you’re looking for important people. You’re looking for the A-team. Why?”
“You know them!”
“Perhaps,” he spoke slowly, drawing out the word along with Amy’s patience. “Perhaps, life is tricky, life is faces, there one moment gone the next. You can’t trust them.”
“Do you know how I can find them? My friend, he’s in some real trouble and I need help getting to him.”
“Ah, I see. There’s always someone in trouble, always someone to save. The real question is do you have the money? The A-Team, criminals all of them, they want money!” He scowled at her and held out his hand expectantly. “Well do you have it?”
Amy scowled right back at this silly little man and swatted his hand away. Who was he to demand these things? “I don’t see why that’s any of your business?”
“You want to see the A-Team? Don’t you? Well I need to know if you’re willing to pay. If you’re not,” he threatened. “I won’t call them for you.”
Amy’s scowl deepened as her frustration grew, “I like to deal with my criminals face to face thank you very much.” She said, crossing her arms. She was nothing if not stubborn, her mom had told her as much. “I asked for their help, not your’s, the very least they can do is meet me in person instead of sending their…their lackies out to meet me!”
“Lackies!” Mr. Lee screeched. “Lackies! Perhaps you should go! The A-Team will want nothing to do with you! Not today!” He began to turn around, but Amy’s anger had reached its peak. How dare he! How dare he brush her off when her friend could be dying! How dare the A-Team send this small annoying little shop owner to do their dirty work!
“No!” Amy yelled, grabbing the man by the shoulders and turning him around. “If the A-team really won’t help me, if they really are willing to push me aside then I want to see them! I want them to look me in the eyes and refuse my request so that I can let them know that by doing so they are condemning an innocent man to death! Or are they too coward to face me?”
The Chinese man looked up at her, eyes bearing into hers. But Amy didn’t move, didn’t look away, didn’t even fidget. If this was a contest of wills she was going to win.
Suddenly Mr. Lee’s face broke into a large smile, “Ms. Allen, I do believe that we should continue this conversation elsewhere. Upstairs perhaps?”
Amy blinked, that had not been the expected response. She had expected him to get angry, to yell. And wait a minute. What had he called her? “How do you know my name?”
“You’ll find Ms. Allen, that in this line of work it’s hard to trust your own eyes.”
His accent, where had it gone? In place of it was a perfect string of English. And his face, was it shifting? Something about it was off, his eyes weren’t quite as angular, his nose not quite as large. And was he growing?
“Now, as I said I believe that this would be a better conversation to have upstairs,” Mr. Lee checked his watch. “Ah, perfect, we finished just in time. Now Ms. Allen, if you’ll please just remain calm, I’ll see you again in just a minute.”
Amy opened her mouth, determined to get answers, but then the world exploded, and she found herself falling into nothingness instead.