Note: If you haven't read from the beginning, start here!
It’s stunning which of life’s details burrow themselves into memory then latch on and root. And which ones don’t make the cut. I don’t remember what I said to Jackie or even calling out to her after seeing Nikki held captive. I know that I dropped the phone as if it was a sizzling pan off the stove. I must’ve grabbed keys and the phone off the floor, and I apparently stormed out in a silent, seething daze, leaving the door wide open.
The fastest way to the leasing office was to walk through the west parking lot, then enter the complex with my key fob, walk by the pool, pass the BBQ Lounge, turn left, and voila. Front door of the leasing office. Here’s the first of several weird things that I actually remember from the night my Nikki was taken. I’d gotten to know which cars belonged to tenants in the complex versus which were those of frequent visitors. In some cases, I even knew a few of the car’s owners. Despite my erratic, hammering heart and laboring breath, I saw that Mrs. Jaffee’s boat of a Lincoln Continental was back in its usual handicap space after several weeks away. Maybe a month. The Continental’s unique rust and faded sky blue exterior filled my view as I rounded the corner. And I paused at the sight of the monstrosity, to make sure my eyes weren’t playing tricks.
That briefest of pauses, that stutter step and glance actually saved my life. The bullet that whistled in front of me was a foot away, maybe less. Had I ignored Mrs. Jaffee’s Lincoln, I firmly believe I’d be dead. As it was, I hit the ground fast and hard behind the right rear passenger door, as if back in Friend or Foe mode. I hoped the shooter would think he had a hit, despite my delay in collapsing to the oil-stained asphalt. A second short rang out and flew harmlessly overhead, and I couldn’t tell if the killer had fired out of reflex or if he saw me going down.
Then there was nothing. Just crisp night air and the distant sound of another train heading to or coming from The City. I was breathing hard, trying to make sense of what was going on when I heard footsteps approaching. They were light and careful. I pressed my back against car and made sure my feet were planted firmly on the ground. I don’t think I’ll ever forget that anticipation. It was so much like Friend or Foe but this time my daughter’s life was the prize. And the cameras weren’t rolling. The shooter took another step, and I would’ve sworn he was right on top of me. I propelled myself upward like a point guard going up for a dunk. As I headed up, I pivoted on my right heel, covered my face with right forearm, and shot my left arm out for a jab.
The movement was excellent. Fluid and strong. Things were good, except for the distance. I made contact but not enough to crush his larynx because that fucker Bergman was about a foot from where I needed him to be. So I had to extend the jab over the Lincoln’s trunk to even make contact. Which put me slightly off balance as I connected with his chin. He only stumbled back slightly and as he fell back he raised to fire. Three of the five shots flew harmlessly into the night sky. But two made impact. One was a wild, one-of-a-kind shot that shattered a bedroom window directly above me. The other thumped into my left shoulder, driving me backward and down to the ground again.
The Complex came to life, angry and confused. I remember shouts and then a haunting scream piercing the night as I struggled to my feet and stumbled away from the car. I saw Bergman ahead of me on the path, and I watched him turn the corner toward the leasing office. Just as I gathered myself enough to head that way, his arm shot through the metal gate, and for the second time in ten minutes, I threw myself onto the ground to avoid getting shot. Again these shots flew high, and despite the new agony in my shoulder, I was thrilled he didn’t have better aim.
After this flurry of activity, there’s a gap in memory. I was on the path gong toward the leasing office, and then POOF, there I was in the office, left arm now basically a dead appendage, blood soaking that side of my shirt. To this day, I don’t know how I got inside but I’m quite clear what happened next. To Bergman. To Me. And to Nikki.
Biff was standing by Nikki who was seated, still bound and gagged, and clearly terrified. He kept tapping her forehead with the nose of a ridiculously old gun. It was like one of those six-shooters a cowboy would use back in the day. And of course it was - because Frenemies current competition was some ridiculous Best of the Wild, Wild West. He’d used a damn prop from my old show to shoot at me and threaten my daughter.
Oddly this final insult propelled me into action. What Bergie could not possibly know is that, due to Friend or Foe’s tremendous success and expansion, we were storing lots of props here. In the leasing room closet to be exact. Which, as I stopped walking and stared at him, was to my right. Even better, thanks to Jackie’s ultra-sleek design aesthetic, the door didn’t have a traditional knob or latch. It was just popped open with a push, thanks to steel springs and sleek Swedish laminate.
“How are we doing Biffie baby?” I asked. “You know it’s one thing to go after me. It’s quite another to go after family. I gotta say, I knew early on you were a piece of shit. But this,” I said motioning to Nikki for the first time. “This is more than I would’ve expected.”
“Waaaa, waaaaa,” Bergman spat. “All you had to do is agree to have me on board for another run. So this is YOUR fault.” And he actually cocked the hammer and began to aim at Nikki.
I didn’t think about it, just acted. I glanced over Bergman’s shoulder to the front door, and shouted, “HEY, don’t come in!”
Bergman paused and, purely from reflex, turned slightly to his left and started to look before realizing the ruse. But the pause was all I needed. I elbowed the closet open, knowing exactly what props were stored where. I snatched the Beretta, thumbed off the safety, and fired. Then again and again.
For better or worse the Beretta only fired pellets. But at this distance, they smacked like hell and stung like angry yellow jackets. And to make sure I was stopping Biff for the night at least, I had fired at his groin, neck, and face. As it goes, I only hit him twice but they were enough knock him back on his ass, the revolver discharging harmlessly into the ceiling. I took three long strides over and whacked him unconscious with a strike across his temple with the butt of my gun.
Nikki later told me I then grabbed scissors from the Friend or Foe coffee mug on Jackie’s desk and set them on her lap before collapsing in shock, the blood loss from the shoulder shot finally taking its toll.
And that’s how it all went down. My storybook first marriage ending in an affair and accidental homicide. My second one beginning after new life as a Global Competition star which led to my former business partner kidnapping my daughter and attempting to kill me.
That’s life in The Complex. That's life near The City.
Jackie and I moved a month later, and we haven't looked back since.
Ben's Note - After being a homeowner, a landlord, and a single-family detached home tenant, I became a resident in a luxury apartment complex. My complex was just minutes away from the subway and several miles south of Oakland. In the year plus of living there, I was surrounded by a host of stories. The Complex is the first result from several inspirations.