By Michael Surbrook and Alex Fauth

I am standing outside of apartment 820 trying to decide whether or not to use the master key to go in. The reason I am standing here is that the resident of apartment 820, one John Lee, hasn't been seen for two weeks. He hasn't reported to work, he hasn't answered the phone, his e-mails, or attempts to get him to come to the door. And now his neighbors have reported some odd odors as they pass by the door.

Naturally, as the manager, I've been called in to take a look. The question is now a simple one. Do I open the door or not? I'm not sure. I mean, my apartment is my personal place and what goes on in there (which isn't much, no matter what the tri-vids say) is my business and no one else's. So who am I to disturb someone else's private business?

Of course if things get really out of hand the police get called in and these questions end up moot. So, in an attempt to prevent another law-enforcement spectacle at the Mandarin Towers, I'm here, trying to decide if I should open the door or not. I've already knocked a few times and called out for Mr. John Lee, with no result.

I place my hand on the door and think for a minute. The room is quiet, which isn't surprising, as the Mandarin Towers is fairly solidly built (which is a relief considering some of my tenants). Even pressing my ear up against the door doesn't help. So much for that. So I lean close to the door and sniff. Deciding that I haven't destroyed my sense of dignity enough, I get down on the floor and sniff at the base of the door. And then sniff again.

Okay, this may look undignified, but at least I've learned something. John Lee's apartment does have a foul odor. It's not that strong, but its there. It smells like those dumpsters that you find in the back alleys of Hong Kong that obviously only get emptied about once a year. Great... another resident who can't empty his trash.

I sniff again. Eyugh... it smells like rotting meat. And then I hear something faint, like movement.

I don't scream, I don't jump up, and I don't panic. However, I do back carefully away from the door. Now I think that maybe I do want the police to be here when I open the door. Or... better yet...

A few minutes later I'm standing in front of apartment 1041 knocking on the door.

"Hello..." Sandra Blackmore states as she opens the door, looking more than a touch bleary-eyed and wearing a dressing gown. "Oh, hey there, Sarah. Come on in."

Sandra is my favorite tenant. Mainly due to the fact we think a lot alike. She also has a wonderfully cynical view of the world, and doesn't mind sharing her opinions with me. I in turn tell her about the antics of the other residents, which is always good for a few laughs, especially if we've been drinking.

I follow Sandra as she walks into the kitchen. "So how's things going? Or are you still getting all the grief you can handle from the bunch of raving morons who call themselves tenants?"

I try to figure out how to answer that—considering what I'm about to ask her—when I'm spared the trouble.

"Coffee?" Okay, that one's easy.


"I had a good, hard night at work, if you understand what I mean." Sandra states as she pours a second cup. "Nothing like being chased and shot at for a living." She hands me the cup of coffee and as I take a calming sip asks, "So, what's up?"

How'd you like to make five hundred Hong Kong?"

Sandra has the decency to look surprised by the question. "Me? Working for you?" She pauses and gives the question some thought. I give her time. I'm basically asking a pretty serious favor of her, the five hundred HK not withstanding. "I'd never thought about it before. I suppose it's problems with tenants again, right?"

"You could say that." Ahem... So to speak.

"So what's the job? Do you want to get rid of some tool and he won't budge, but he's that much bigger than you?"

"It's... not quite that. But it is related to a tenant." Great... now I can't construct a simple sentence. I'm doing real good this morning. Should have stayed in bed, it was warm and comfortable there.

"Okay, now I'm fascinated."

We're standing back in front of the door to 820. I have my master key, Sandra has a gun. I wonder if I should have brought mine, or at least the taser, but push the thought aside and take a deep breath.

The door gives an undramatic click and swings open. We're promptly greeted by an utterly foul stench, the same smell I'd detected before, but now magnified a hundredfold. I gag and put a hand over my mouth, as Sandra merely wrinkles her nose.

"Something died in here" Sandra mutters dryly. "Either that or somebody needs to clean out their garbage." She signals for me to stay back, unholsters her pistol and slowly advances into the apartment. I cautiously follow.

The place is a mess. It looks for all the world like somebody's ransacked it. Oddly enough, nothing appears to be missing, although it's hard to tell. The smell of rotten food wafts from the kitchen, making it clear to me that nobody's been here for a while. But that's not what I've been smelling. No, the main stench is coming from further in. One of the bedrooms, most likely.

Sandra cautiously advances towards the bedroom, gun at the ready. She's all professional here, acting as if this were some combat situation. It's odd in a way. This is the side of her I haven't seen yet. Underneath the strangely amusing, strangely lonely, and quite oddly accented woman I've been giving scenic tours of Hong Kong to is now a very calm, quiet and professional person. The transformation is interesting. I follow her at a reasonable distance.

She pauses before the bedroom door. The stench is at it's thickest here. It's putrid, enough to make you gag.I almost do. Sandra turns to me and whispers "I'm going in." I nod calmly, even though I'm terrified inside. Hotel managers shouldn't have to do this sort of thing. She swings open the door, and leaps in, her gun leveled, ready to attack whatever's inside. I hang back, expecting the worst.

"Tool." She says. Not what I'd expected. Apparently the word gives her some satisfaction, because she promptly repeats it over and over. "Tool tool tool tool tool."

I cautiously peer around her shoulder. There, on the bed, is a bunch of lizards, which my false memories of Australia tell me are monitors, lying on something. Cold, slitted reptile eyes look up at us for a moment. Then one of them, apparently not liking the looks of us, scurries away. Underneath it is a human foot, or, what used to be a foot. This one has been heavily chewed on.

"You had better call an ambulance," Sandra mutters. I nod in agreement, even though she can't see me, unsure of what to say at this point.

Back out in the living room I'm looking for the phone. Through another open door I can see a rack of cages, explaining where the lizards came from. I avoid anything that looks like it might have a monitor hidden in it and finally find a phone on the wall. It's right next to the standard computer interface. As I call the police I also tap into computer system and instruct a couple of cyberdroids to get their useless butts up here. There is no way I'm going to try catching those lizards, and if Sandra decides to shoot all of them, I'm not going to be picking up their corpses either.

There's some shouting from the room, followed by a few shots. I hope it's not the ceiling. About a minute later, Sandra enters, dusting plaster dust of her coat. So it was the ceiling. "Was the tenant of this room apartment an Asian male, about 30 years-old?" she asks. I nod. "Well, that's him on the bed. From what I can tell, his pet lizards just nibbled him to death in his sleep. It's a pretty funny way to go when you think about it."

I blink and then shudder slightly at that last remark. Sandra's sense of human takes some getting used to. On the other hand, it is strangely ironic. Killed by the pets he wasn't allowed to keep in here.

"What did you do with them?" My money says she shot them all.

"I rounded them up and locked them in the bathroom. I figure they're evidence or something"

"Oh..." That's a relief. Sort of.

When the police finally I arrive, I do most of the talking. Sandra just stands there in the background and nods at the right moments. The police take away Mr. Lee in a large black plastic bag, and the lizards are hauled off in their respective cages. I try not to think about how well-fed they look.

It takes a few days, but the truth comes out. Lee apparently died from an overdose of chemicals of some sort, only to become food for his stock of large monitor lizards. Several of the police officers on the scene think this is the funniest thing they've ever heard. I think they are all pretty much disgusting.

In the end, Sandra gets her $500 HK, and I get the synths and cyberdroids to clean up all the mess and fumigate the rooms. John Lee gets cremated and the lizards end up at the local zoo. All's well that ends well... I guess.

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