Tires crunched loudly against gravel and ice in the crisp cold of February, as the Kwon family’s station wagon pulled up to the Embasssy Apartments on Elm Street. One of the larger apartment buildings in Bark Bay, the Embassy had three floors, loud radiator filters, no central air, and a strict 11 pm curfew enforced by the owner, a red-faced former state trooper with a temper as short as his hair.
Rex opened the passenger door, getting out of the car shortly before Danny emerged from the driver’s side. They walked up to the entry, saw in the small half-circle windows of the front door a man in a baseball cap waiting inside. As they got closer, Rex was able to confirm his initial impression that this man was Lefty — George Monroe, owner of Lefty’s Auto Repair. As Danny reached for the front door handle, Rex detected the mixed odor of grease, motor oil, and gasoline, and saw through the window that Lefty was now looking at them, smiling with yellowed teeth and a face covered with dirt, black grease marks, and three days worth of beard stubble.
Definitely Lefty, Rex thought.
“How you boys doing?” Lefty said as Danny opened the door. Lefty was standing in front of a second glass door, the security door leading to the apartments. The smell of onion mixed into the already present melange of garage odors. “You must be that Danny boy Rex told me about?”
Danny nodded. Rex saw his friend’s body stiffen. Lefty extended his arm. “My name’s George, but everybody calls me Lefty so you might as well do the same.” They shook hands. “Sorry about all the dirt — didn’t have time to go home and take a shower.”
“No problem,” Danny said. “Nice to meet you.”
“Same here,” Lefty said. He looked down at Danny’s feet, then raised his head deliberately, eyes scanning the teen’s body then stopping suddenly at his face. “Not from ’round here, ain’t cha?” Lefty said with a laugh.
Danny seemed too surprised to speak. Rex interjected, “His father’s Ben Kwon, the tailor on High Street. They’re from Korea — moved here before Danny was born, right?”
“Uh . . . yes. Before sister born, actually.”
“Well that’s all right,” Lefty replied. “We all comes from someplace or other. Might as well be Korea, or Ja-Pan for all I care.”
Rex began to feel light headed, the smell in the entry room making him naseous. “What room is Double-J in?” he asked, pointing to the column of white rectangular buttons on the wall to his left. Among the crudely fashioned paper labels next to the buttons, Rex saw JOHNSON.
“This’un,” Lefty said, pushing the button next to JOHNSON. A moment later, a sharp cracking sound came from a small speaker on the wall above the column of buttons, a noise followed by a curt Yeah?
“Hey,” Rex said. “I’m here, with Lefty and Danny.”
The speaker cracked on again, and this time the voice that followed was welcoming. Hey! Guys! Come on up!
A second later, a loud buzz sounded from the interior security door. Lefty opened the door, turned and smiled as he motioned for Danny and Rex to walk in. “Second floor, third door on right,” Lefty said as the two teens bounded up the stairs.