I tried to leave and they pulled me back in. Damn it. Damn it all. I kick at the stack of boxes near the door, still ajar from when Manny - my super - came by to drop off my mail.
The letter didn’t come with a stamp, so it means it was hand delivered. And given the lilting, if neat, handwriting, I know it was likely Q who wrote this. That personal touch - and that he was never that savvy with technology - means it’s almost certainly him.
I’m not happy about this. Not at all. I had my apartment packed up. I only had a few boxes left. My new life was waiting for me in Manila. Or, at least, a return to see the sunset of my days. With family. With love.
But that letter. Q knew I couldn’t help myself. Not when he was in danger.
Q’s letter was something I’d avoid trying to read - I’m not usually one for sentiment, but Q was never shy about lacing his words with flowers. Still, this one was hitting me square in the chest. I guess I did love that goofy man with his obsession for tiny motorcycles.
Avoiding the words was fine, so I had to memorize the sections that might help me track down exactly what was going on here. Q’s fine, but held up. Doesn’t know where he is or who’s holding them. They’re asking me to meet in a spot in Downtown Los Angeles with cash in order to get his release and further instructions on a “Liverpool-based midfielder that you may be quite fond of.” I initially wanted to scoff at the clue for the midfielder in question because I’m quite fond of all of them but Q signed his letter like this: “⚓, Q”
Questions over how punctuation works in the age of emojis - and, I guess, under duress - aside, I knew who they meant, it was Naby Keita. The Admiral. The beating heart of my favorite midfield configuration and the owner of this obscene radial:
Naby Keita vs Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Liverpool 2019-20.— StatsBomb (@StatsBomb) March 19, 2020
Naby still on very small sample size for the PL season, but we are here to do fan service. pic.twitter.com/98k9VsMXJL
If water covers every space of a volume it is poured into, Naby Keita is water incarnate. Makes sense that he’s The Admiral. Or a water bender. Now’s not the time to sort out new nicknames, though.
The location they’ve identified is familiar to me: Grand Central Market. Empty and desolate with the social distancing guidelines in place, it’s like a horrific funhouse mirror image of one of my favorite places of all time. As I slowly pace through the building to make my way downstairs, I spy the stall for Sari Sari and make a mental note to try and come back if things become normal for some calamansi soda. Some things are worth the ride into LA.
When I reach the sub level, I pause and let my eyes adjust. Things are dark and it’s clear that the vendors left in a hurry, with boxes piled untidily in a corner. As my eyes dart around the room, a soft scrape on the floor to the corner calls my attention.
It’s Q. And he doesn’t look good
I run over to Q and untie him. He’s coming in and out of consciousness, his foot scraping across the floor slowly is what caught my attention.
“Are you ok?” I ask.
“A..A..AJ. You came. I...I’m so sorry. I tried to protect him, but they took my best cafe racer an-” Q starts to fall apart.
“It’s ok friend,” I say, grasping his hand in mine. “Can you walk?”
“Good, go across to the lobby of the Bradbury Building and hunker down. Don’t open it for anyone.”
I watch him amble off, suddenly aware of how lonely I’d been and how grateful I was for the constancy of his friendship. I know I keep saving his life, but I wonder if he knows how often he’s saved mine?
A loud slam breaks my concentration. I see light spill out of an open space and the silhouette of two men - one bound with hands tied - casting long shadows into the open space.
Squinting, I say into the distance, “It doesn’t have to be this way. Let The Admiral go and I’m sure that I can talk Edwards and Klopp into letting this one pass. No one wants to see things go like this.”
A croaky laugh emerges from the one whose hands are free. “Did you bring my money?”
“No,” I say. “But, I did bring something else you might want...”
“What could you bring me that I would want more than money?”
“An ice cream truck?” I say.
The pause. The pause is what gave it away. And that’s when I knew: Damien Comolli.
“Uh...erm...what kind of ice-. Wait. Uh. No. I...I want the money. Unless it’s the Freezemaster 4000.”
I had to think on my feet. I hadn’t called on anyone to back me up and now that I knew it was a disgruntled former football exec behind all of this, I knew they wouldn’t come even if I had called with the state of the world.
Just as I was about to inch closer, I hear someone scream: “THIS IS FOR GERALD!”
Damien slumps to the ground and the silhouette of a man behind him, holding what looks to be a motorcycle handlebar, standing. He drops the bar, unties Naby, and they both step into the light.
It’s Q. Of course. It’s always Q.
“Well done, old friend,” I say, meaning every single word.
“BFFS forever, amirite?” Q says, making me instantly regret every stupid think I thought over the past 15 minutes.