“What are you doing here?” I demanded.
“Daniel! Is that how we talk to guests?” Mother admonished me.
“Hehe… listen to your mother, kid. We’re just here to discuss your new repayment plan.”
“New repayment plan? What do you mean?”
“Well, your mother just called me yesterday asking for an extension on her payment this month. Since she’s struggling so much, as a concerned lender, I decided to come out here myself and see if we can rectify that debt.” He chuckled.
“What are you saying?”
“A television. A phone. A car. There are many ways to square away debts.” He turned and leered at Hazel, who instinctively drew away. “All kinds of ways.”
I clenched fist which shook at my side, but I walked over to mom to keep anyone from noticing. “I see, well, that won’t be necessary. I’ll get you your $300 this month.”
“What?” I spun around, glaring at him. “We agreed on 10%.”
“We did, and 10% of $6000 is $600.”
“What are you talking about? We only took a $3000 loan 4 months ago. We’ve made a $300 payment every month. We should only owe $1800 left!”
“You’re forgetting interest. It’s the compound interest that gets you.” He laughed, causing the other four men to laugh as well. “You owe 25% interest on your initial loan, monthly. Let’s see, 25% 4 times minus $300, what do you know? $5,894.56. In short, $600 a month.”
“At this rate, we’ll only end up more in debt!”
“Should have thought of that before you took a loan.” He snorted.
“Woah. Woah… I’m not threatening anybody.” He held up his hands. “I’ve even come out here to help you all alleviate some of your debt. Now, I can be very amendable.”
“How can we do that?” Hazel asked tears in her eyes. “I-I have art, it might be worth something.”
“Haha… Mrs. Miller. Your daughter is very cute.” The man chuckled, and then leaned forward, his hand touching Hazel’s leg. “How about we go to your room and you show me some art. I might take some off your hands for an extension.”
Hazel looked down at her knee, shaking slightly, a tear falling from her cheek. “I-I… will…”
“I’ll do it,” Mom spoke up. “I’ll show you the art.”
His eyes flashed with disappointment for a second, but after looking at mom’s chest his lewd expression returned. “Very well, come on boys… let’s all go see whether this art is worth the cost.”
“All of you?” Mom shivered.
“N-no, mom!” Hazel cried.
Mom bit her lip and then stood up. “Then… please…”
“Here’s you damn $600!” I slapped the bundle of cash on the table, causing everyone to jump. “Now, get the hell out of our apartment.”
The man only glanced at the cash once, his expression turned a bit angry. “You’ll only slip back into debt. Just some advice, kid. You’re better off letting your mother and daughter pay what they can before it becomes too much for you.”
“You’ll have your money,” I responded through clenched teeth. “You’ll get it all back, and your damned interest.”
“Daniel…” Mother had avoided crying as she stood up to assuredly give her body to these men, but she cried now.
“Hmph… I’ll hold you to that!” He grabbed the money off the table. “I want every dime paid for or it’ll be $700 next month!”
“Boss, we can’t?” One of the men gestured at my mother and sister.
“Patience. This kid is just trash, like his father.”
“What do you know of my father?” I stepped forward, but Hazel grabbed my shirt and stopped me.
“Hehe… I knew him.” The man laughed. “He owed a lot of people money too. Before my time, but he was a trash that couldn’t take care of his woman. You look just like him.”
My sister’s hand tightened on me, but I didn’t move. My mind was reeling, and my hand was in my coat pocket, stroking the phase knife that Katarina had handed me. It’d be too easy to kill these men. I had killed before. How was this any different? No one alive would miss them. I could probably send them through the mirror. We could dump them in the street and let them get dragged away by mutants in the night. No one would ever find out what happened to them.
“Daniel…” Mother looked at me with wet eyes, and I lost all my strength, my hand finally loosening on the knife in my grip.
The man approached me with an ugly grin on his face. “You don’t have it in you, kid. It takes a real man to change your fate like this. You got to have that killer instinct, that ruthless business attitude. It’s a kill or be killed world out there. To make real money, you have to do whatever it takes.
“I’ll keep that in mind,” I said, trying to keep myself from just cutting his throat.
He held up his hand, the grin growing. “Real men shake on it.”
I held up my hand and he grabbed it. Ten seconds later, his grin slipped slightly. I didn’t realize what was wrong until I saw his arm shaking. He was squeezing my hand as hard as he could. Curiously, I squeezed back, and I immediately heard popping sounds.
“Ah… ahhh…” His grin slipped and his eyes widened in shock.
I let go immediately, and he pulled his hand back. His expression was no longer a patronizing grin. He shook his hand a few times.
“Quite a grip you have.” He said icily before turning away. “Let’s go, boys.”
The other four grumbled as they left. They seemed unhappy they didn’t get to leave with anything. They were probably coming here hoping to ransack the entire house. Only after seeing my family, did they hope to ransack something else. Just thinking about it still filled me with rage. I was still standing there, staring at the door long after they left. Two arms wrapped around me, and too large things pressed against my neck.
“Eh? Daniel… have you gotten a little taller?” My sister said in surprise.
“Never let those men in the house again.” I turned to mom and declared.
She frowned. “It’s not like I have much of a choice. I tried to keep them at the door, but they pushed their way in.”
“Then, act like you’re not home. Keep the door locked.”
“Honey…” Mom sighed. “There is not much we can do. When I die… the life insurance should be able to pay them off. That’s where the $300 went this month.”
“And that means they can just play with you?” I turned around angrily, causing Hazel to gasp and step back.
Mom bit her lip. “To keep you both safe… yes. That wasn’t your debt to pay. I don’t know how or when you saved up that money…”
“Don’t worry about me, mom. Worry about yourself.” I said angrily.
“I will always worry about you first.” Mom said, her resigned expression filled with guilt and shame.
I turned to walk away, heading toward my bedroom.
“Brother!” Hazel reached out, calling for me.
“I will fix this,” I said, putting my back to her. “I will fix all of this.”
I turned on the computer and began price checking diamonds. I quickly realized that I just didn’t know enough to even make an accurate listing. The next day, I couldn’t avoid going to school, so all of my business was done after. My mother, sister, and I made up over some order out Chinese the next night. It wasn’t much, and it was the last of the money mother had. Unfortunately, I couldn’t give her what I had left, as I had other plans.
I stopped at a diamond shop on the way home from school and asked them to check my diamonds and help teach me how to do it as well. I had noticed the last time I stopped by that they had a free appraisal for diamonds. This time, I got a different woman than the person before, and they were much more pleasant.
She went through one diamond after another, looking in her microscope. She wrote down things after examining each diamond, making sure to sort them carefully. She even placed them in individual baggies and taped them next to their information. When she was done, she looked at me with wide eyes.
“Where did you say you got these from?”
“Uh… dead relative. Safety deposit box.” I lied.
“These are a variety of diamonds and gemstones. You’re right, they have a great deal of value. If I had to guess, I’d say they would all go for about $5,000.
“$5,000… not enough.” I spoke bitterly to myself.
“Nothing… where can I sell the diamonds? It’s sort of an emergency. Online?”
“Online auctions are the quickest, but I guarantee you they aren’t the best. How about I get you in touch with an auction house. How about I pick out the diamonds that they’d be interested in, and then the rest you can sell online. The only lots that have value to them would be the bigger ones.”
“Alright, I’d appreciate that.”
I felt relief at the first genuine good person. I tried to tip her with my last $50, but she insisted that it was just part of her job. I soon had the person’s name and an appointment. I put everything else up in lots online. They’d be a week before they sold, so I wouldn’t know how much I made until that next week. As for the auction house person, next Monday was the soonest they could pencil me in. For just some kid in high school, being able to meet with an auction house representative could already be considered good luck.
After that, I went out to several shops, looking for the best items to sell. I picked up more water, but also tuna, canned salmon which was more expensive, mushrooms which sounded like they could come from caves, and the other vegetables I had already sold to him before. Since I had the $50 left, I was able to buy tons of food. In fact, after filling two duffle bags, I felt like I might have overdone it. One bag was for Katarina. It was more than I had promised, but I wanted to leave her with a chance when I left. There was also a special item I had in a small box with holes in it. This was just an experiment.
Of course, on the other side, I’d also be looking for anything else I could sell. If we could hit up another jeweler, then all of my problems would be solved in a few weeks. I still aimed for this to be my last trip to that dangerous world. Come that Friday, I told my mother I was leaving for the weekend once again. I reminded her to avoid opening the door for debt collectors. I kept my sister at bay by also using the last of my money to buy her a canvas and some paints. She was excitedly drawing when I finished packing.
After making sure I had everything I could think of, I touched the mirror again, and with a flash, I was back into it.