Authors: Tad S. Torm
I wake up to check if I'm still alive.
I scan the room for any sign of trouble. I glance at the dial of the alarm clock to find out what it has to tell me about the passing of my life, and draw the first breath of the day.
They’ve been watching me ever since I arrived at my brother’s funeral; the noose has been tightening bit by bit every day. This was to be expected because the killing of my brother puts them in very grave danger.
Still, they were willing to kill him, but now nobody is ready to suffer the consequences; this is not right, but it’s understandable.
I’m left with two options. Either wait until Kant’s universal justice theory unfolds in the fullness of time, or spring into action, and prove the old philosopher right.
They plan to lock me in and eventually kill me. But like everything else in life, this is a matter of timing. If they want to finish me off, they need to build up their resources. This is going to cost them a lot of time and money. They have the money, but the time is on my side.
It’s useless and maybe they suspect it already. Nobody can build a perfect trap in only a few days. But they’ll do their best and they will try.
So today is the day. I need a change of scenery. I feel it in my bones.
It’s time to leave.
In the meanwhile, I have to make up my mind about how to start the day. I can think of only one logical solution, when Albert barges in, balancing perilously an oval food tray on his palm and forearm. We’ve both been thinking along the same lines.
I’ll start with breakfast.
Continental breakfast: freshly squeezed orange juice, black coffee, very hot, very strong, a generous portion of ham and eggs with hash browns and a snifter of Cointreau because today is a very special day.
A day when a man or a woman will decide to live or die, to kill or let live, a day like any other day of the Gregorian calendar.
Albert is your typical English butler. You've all seen him, I'm sure, have you happened to take a peek during your television activities, while switching channels, at those lavishly produced, artfully performed, tediously boring at times, but extremely chic nonetheless, Mystery Masterpiece productions of the BBC.
Half bald on top of the head, the poor guy is blind in one eye; he used to be your regular two-legged biped elder male of the genus sapiens, but can now hardly use one of his lower appendages dependently.
We'll find out which one in a few minutes when he'll take me to the airport. We thought we'd give him half-pay because he's now only half a man. He strenuously refused and asked for double or nothing. We told him it was just a bad joke; he got upset and we had to finally give him a raise to quiet him down. To which he growled unhappily, but acquiesced in the end.
The good leg better work properly 'cause I have an early job for him in a few minutes in point of fact. Albert will remove the car from the garage, and we all keep our fingers crossed that neither car nor the Albert will blow up in the process. They're both very precious components of our way of life.
Today is actually a tragic day, so I decided to fill it with humor. Many people die every day, most of natural causes, some as the result of accidents, malpractice, falling off a cliff, bad luck, or swimming in an icy mountain stream, and a minority viciously snuffed out by outrageous men and women; and therein lies the rub.
But now, I hope you don't get too annoyed with me if I permit myself to make two points. One: for me my brother is not most people and two: when it comes to his death, I have to range its cause in the latter category.
Pete died five days ago on an unremarkable until the time of his passing Tuesday, during the lazy, precious minutes between noon and afternoon, shot at the crossroad between the 12
and “N” street by a person or persons unknown. It happened on May the14th.
But there is more, you see, and you must understand, for I belong to an obscure, self-effacing guild. A guild that provides services of a terminal kind. Generally speaking, we are quiet and polite; we don't butt our noses in each other's business. We try to be the kind of guys and girls that you pass by on the street without noticing them, without hearing or thinking about them; the kind of people you forget about as soon as they round the corner, or take the next exit on the freeway. We blend into the environment, and you never hear a peep out of any of us, unless it is very specifically requested by the client.
And even then we try to do it quietly because even when we make noise, it is quiet noise, and you better forget about us as soon as we're gone… or else.
He was murdered in his car, a red Convertible Camaro, while exiting the Kindly Neighborhood Mall, after enjoying a nutritious lunch at La Bella Ventura, our neighborhood favorite spot, of whole wheat pasta marinara and a spicy, but otherwise unremarkable bowl of minestrone soup. Felled right there in the street, in the middle of the day by a volley of bullets, as he sat in his car.
At first, the nature of his death indicated to me a low-cost operation, since it had all the fingerprints of a gang or drug-related settlement of scores. But when an unusual car that nobody had seen before in our neighborhood parked on my street and forgot to leave, and people bearing an unsettling air of familiarity started peeking at my windows, I had to reconsider.
They’ll be coming after me now.
So I’ve got to extricate myself from this situation. To survive today, in order to fight back tomorrow. I know they are close. I know they sit in wait.
In wait for me.
Normally we are a quiet and very pleasant bunch in our circle. We take a lot of care not to inconvenience one another.
We try to avoid trouble.
You don't want to know what trouble is, but I know and they know.
What do they know?
They know they will be in big trouble for as long as I am in the game.
Now you will tend to suggest, "Let's forget about it. Let bygones be bygones,” but this is never the case and it never works, so I have to extricate myself from this situation if I am to remain in the game.
So they wait for me because they don't want trouble, and who in the name of heaven and sanity wants trouble?
If they don't want trouble later, they will try to take me out now. They will try their damnedest; they will try their best because, and this is something I learned during my long exposure, my expertise in this area, if you want to kill someone, I tell you, kill him today. You wish you'd killed him yesterday, but today is still a pretty good day. Don't wait until tomorrow because, for you, tomorrow may never come.
So now, you understand better my position.
Albert has just left for the garage. He switches on the ignition and starts the van. The wheels scrunch the gravel of the alley as he advances alongside the property’s thick external wall and reaches the exit gate. Neither the Albert nor the car will explode. That was just one of my bad jokes.
Ours is a house that believes in security and I know it was not breached. So Albert is safe until he rolls the Avocado Green Volvo van over the threshold of the armored steel gate and into the street when all hell might break loose.
It was a good thing I gave him a raise.
I hope he lives long enough to enjoy it.
But what am I saying?
I joke again.
The people I’m dealing with are still alive because they are smart. They are not going to shoot at Albert. They do their best to be efficient. They will wait and wait and wait. They will wait until
come around. Only then will they start shooting.
What they don't know is that I'll never come out. So, at some point, they will have to make a decision. They'll probably follow Albert in his car under the assumption that I'm hiding inside, or they'll wait
They'll wait for another car to come out.
I don't care. I'm rid of them either way.
In a manner of speaking.
I thought that if they came up with their little surprise, the least I can do is to reciprocate.
I hope they are smart. I hope they will wait, but with the quality of people you have to deal with nowadays in the labor market, it's hard to say what will happen.
This wavering incertitude gives me a few more minutes.
So I wait behind the window until I hear the metal bang and then the squeak of the front gate, which opens out. It stays open for a while. The car turns right into the street.
Nothing moves in front of my window. I wait, peering through the blinds. A few seconds and Albert's car has cleared out. I wait. There is a particular car I'm looking for, a metal blue Mercedes DL-297X that showed up unexpectedly, immediately after I came home to attend the funerals of my brother and it never left since. It's been parked across the street in front of the third house to the right.
It might be all an innocent coincidence, but in my genre of work, we don't believe in coincidences.
I wait. I flick a blind and take another quick peek across and around the quiet street with its luscious canopy of green leaves. Everything looks calm; there is no movement in the air or on the ground.
When I look for the blue Mercedes, all I see is an empty space
It's time for me to go.
I grab my helmet and sprint toward the back of the house. A quick cursory glance lets me find out that the rear garden is safe. I exit and don't forget to lock the back door; I cut through the grass and ease myself over the low wooden fence and into the back street outside.
My old bike is still waiting patiently for me, sandwiched between a white truck and a land mower.
And suddenly I feel all the misery of this miserable week lifting from my body and soul, dissipating into the air, going away who knows where to bother and hobble other people in their hour of pain.
I'm a free man again. This is the nature of life. We all take steps. We all go down toward the big void, except some are in a bigger rush than the others.
I sit on my bike and grip the handlebar.
I call Albert before I leave.
"How goes it, old man?"
"Peaches and cream. Peaches and cream, master Mark."
He's an unctuous fellow all right, but the master bit is only done in jest. We are a very liberal and democratic household when it comes to servants.
"Are you being followed? Any signs of our friends?"
"Our friends, what do you mean, master Mark? I didn't know them to be our friends."
He's playing with my mind, the old fart. Who am I to spoil his fun?
It's meritorious at his age. I hope I'll be as positive and life-affirming as he is when I reach his number of years, which is highly unlikely.
"The Mercedes blues?"
"Just a few shakes and jolts, nothing dramatic. I gave them the idea I was trying to evade them. I tried a few feints, speed ahead; you know, put some moves, exit the freeway and then change my mind. I didn't put too much heart into the effort," he pauses, "They still think you are in the car."
I hear the radio playing Beethoven's Seventh.
"They keep in position, three cars behind."
"I'll call you back," I say, "to get your coordinates."
"Roger," he says and hangs up.
I don't know why he says that.
I guess he likes the word.
Me and my beloved bike haven't danced together for a long, long time. The bike has been sitting in the garage, gathering dust. I pat her pillion like a girlfriend's thigh and mount it.
After a few more minutes, we are on the freeway, eating miles.
I call Albert, the hoary speed demon, and tell him to slow down because I want to catch up with him.
There is a refinement in my plan.
"The tortoise and the hare, remember that? That story was written in your time. Aesop was holding you on his lap while he was penning it. Tell me it ain't so."
"Roger," he says again, the hoary antiquated automaton from the islands of Atlantis. "I'm in the second lane, 1.5 miles from the Battle Creek exit."
There is no creek like a Battle Creek.
Unless there is no creek at all.
"So far so good, but it's still early in the day," as I religiously tell my Starbucks’ barista when I sip the first latte of the day.
I remember and feel again the exhilarating sensation of riding against the wind, a speck of dust in the Universe, running free, eating mile after mile along the unending yellow line. A strange sensation of un-corporeality takes over.
The flesh is weak
and it has been so long.
I grip the handlebar and run ahead with the wind
Murder and mayhem yell the mischievous Gods of the freeway, lusting for death and dismemberment
I accelerate and move ahead, and from the corner of the eye, I see a concerned look on somebody's face, somebody I know, I think I know, a familiar presence. I have no idea what she's doing in the back seat of the walnut brown Lincoln Continental cruising in my left lane.