[Time frame: Between The Hanged Man and Two-Faced Woman.]
This story is about Gabriel trying to discover why someone is sending him lyrics to songs with obsessive themes. If you’re not familiar with the songs, look them up—they’re all pretty good. Look up the lyrics as well–they aren’t in the story because of respecting copyrights. This story is told partly in current time and partly in flashback—granted, a flashback of a few days, but a flashback.
Thursday, October 21
We leave the subway station and join the rest of the commuters wandering around, annoyed and curious at having their trip interrupted. Luckily no one notices I’m bleeding heavily. Outside I start walking over to Sarah Roosevelt Park, just to sit down. Veronica follows me and looks up at the sunlight and around at the peaceful trees. “I forgot how nice this place is.”
It’s a beautiful little park, with a memorial to an African American graveyard that used to be on Chrystie Street. If it’s nonsmoking, then I’m break the rules. Joel whispers in her ear, and sits next to me on a bench. He has his hat off and pressed against my arm. I feel a little dizzy and sort of not functioning, going into myself. Veronica looks at me closely, then heads off to a Duane Reade drugstore.
Joel is watching me closely, his arm around me, his hand still on my arm where it’s cut. Before I’m finished with the cigarette, Veronica has come back out. They both get me up and over to the street to hail a cab. In a matter of minutes we’re back to my apartment.
Although we’re back in my home, I keep seeing Breck jumping for the platform. I try to shut it out. My cat, Archie, is trying to get my attention as I just sit on my ottoman. I hold my hand out for him. Joel takes off my jacket and my shirt—which is covered in blood; my chest has a large cut. I see it but I can’t react right.
They both look carefully at the wounds on my body, pressing cloths and paper towels on me. Somehow we seem to have silently agreed to not contact the police. So they argue over my going to a hospital. The hospital would have to report the knife wounds to the police if life-threatening. What if the doctor or nurse wanted to be overzealous? Then we would have too much explaining and trouble.
Monday, October 11 (Ten days previous)
On Monday, someone emails me the first verse of lyrics from Sarah MacLachan’s song Possession. Since I’m a big fan of Sarah, I recognize the lyrics immediately. The song is about obsessive attraction, even dangerous attraction. The email handle is HydraOne. Not recognizable spam, or a virus that I can detect. The subject line is Request for Inquiry. I’m a private investigator, and I have a form to submit an inquiry on my website. However, this was sent to my personal email.
I consider it might be a joke—one of my friends with a bad sense of humor, or an unbalanced member of the public who has seen me in the news or on YouTube. No signature, name or other contact info. The headers in the email tell me that the person’s computer is in Manhattan. That narrows it down
I decide to ignore it. I can’t control who decides to send me random messages.
On Wednesday the second verse is sent, along with the chorus. I do some more checking online to ensure this isn’t a new version of a virus or Trojan horse being sent around. Nothing. So I can now rest assured that someone is sending me a message. I’m still not convinced it isn’t a joke, although my friends know I do not like practical jokes, and any played on me incur my severest wrath.
Friday brings the remaining verse. I print out these emails and show them to my best friend, Danny Martinez. He’s come over for dinner and a NCAA game on my new, bigger television—52 inches I invested in, and would be enjoying more if I wasn’t wondering what these emails were about. Danny frowns as he reads the printout.
“This is serious.” He looks at me with a grave expression. “This person is clearly violating copyright laws. That will bring a strongly-worded letter from the RIAA.”
“Jackass.” I snatch the pages back as he laughs, and end the conversation on that topic.
My good friend and lawyer Jim Pollan also isn’t interested when I call him about it on Saturday. “You interrupted my day for this? I’m not getting paid to tell you cranks exist in the world. Try not to do something that goes viral for a while, you’ll get less cranks.”
Jim is still mad that he’s defending me in a lawsuit due to an incident in New Jersey that’s made the rounds of You Tube. Although the case has been thrown out of the trial court for improper pleading, the preacher I punched out—for protesting my friend’s funeral–is taking it appellate for the publicity. Luckily Jim is angrier at the preacher than me. Still, I like giving him a hard time since he’s not being helpful right now.
“Fewer cranks, Jim, not less. You need to brush up on your grammar.”
He hangs up on me. I try to forget about the emails over the weekend hanging out with my cat and my boyfriend, Alex.
The following Monday, the same party texts me the first verse to a Police song. Every Breath You Take.
In print, the lyrics are far less benign than the love song people think it is; in fact it isn’t a love song, but about an unhealthy obsession.
Now I show the text to Alex. Alex Shenoy Barclay is British, of Indian descent on his mother’s side, a crime reporter at a respected paper in the city, and an abject realist. To my emails and text message he shows his skeptic side.
“It’s your friend, of course.”
He raises his eyebrow as he hands back the emails. By ‘your friend’ he means Joel. Joel is my ex-boyfriend who is recently back in my life as a friend and sometime assistant, and complicating matters by trying to revive our former relationship. They’ve never met—yet—but are very aware of each other’s existence as a rival of sorts. Naturally, they aren’t each other’s biggest fans.
“He’d never do this.”
Alex looks at me coolly. “So he’d have you think, right? Get you unsettled and use that against you.”
I decide discussing this further with Alex is not going to be helpful. He thinks everything that happens to me, from a head cold to a parking ticket, is Joel’s fault.
Return to the current Thursday.
Veronica makes the final decision about handling my cuts. “I can take care of him if you have that stuff.” She gets paper towels and peroxide. Joel disappears in my second bedroom. He keeps some things in my closet in there, old sketch pads and some other stuff. He comes back with a small box.
“Something like this has happened to other friends of mine. I kept these things just in case.”
The box has some surgical needles and thread. I look up at Joel. “What the Hell did your friends get into?”
He doesn’t answer. Veronica has a can of spray anesthetic and coats my arm and torso. Archie runs away from the smell and watches from a safe distance.
Then my phone rings. It’s sitting on the coffee table next to us. Joel picks it up while handing Veronica plastic gloves from his box. She’s trying to hold the wound on my arm closed.“Stay still, for God’s sake.”
Joel answers the phone. “Hello?”
I watch him listening to whoever is on the line. I should be curious who’s calling, but I kind of feel myself fading again. I don’t know if it’s loss of blood, mental shock, or both.
Joel’s speaking carefully. “No, this is Joel.” His voice is flat, measured, like he’s trying to avoid a confrontation.
I don’t like the tenseness in his face. “Who’s that?”
Joel glances at me but doesn’t answer. He continues speaking to whomever is on the phone. “He’s fine. He just can’t talk right now.”
I feel the needle going in my arm, but it doesn’t bother me. I lean forward a little to try to hear Joel better. Veronica puts her hand on me and squeezes. “Don’t move.”
Joel’s voice gets tense and he frowns. “I said he’s fine…I’ll have him call you…excuse me, I’d appreciate you not talking to me like that.”
Veronica looks at him and shakes her head, mouths something to him. He agrees to whatever she’s signaling and gets up, taking the phone with him.
“Who is that?”
Veronica puts on a soothing tone. “Don’t worry about it. Relax and let me work on your arm. The cut is kind of long, so it will take awhile.”
Monday, October 18
Since Alex, Jim and Danny were no help, I then showed the emails to Joel and my other best friend, Veronica Gianni. She’s close to my age, 36, and also a private investigator. She’s a strong, tall, attractive woman with blue eyes and a new streaky ash color on a stacked bob cut. Joel is a few years younger than I, close to my size, short blond hair and a goatee. He’s also attractive, but I try not to think about that. He helps me on cases more frequently these days. He’s also an artist, and I think he’s doing something about getting his work more publicity. But he’s very circumspect about it with me. He was close with Veronica when he and I were together for two years, and when he came back to NYC they got close again. I wondered if they were getting involved, and I almost felt a rivalry for her. But they aren’t. Nonetheless, the various tensions between us always make life interesting.
We’re at a new pastry shop on the West Side, Dushtata Sinhir. By now I’ve received the second verse of EBYT. Veronica and Joel at least take it seriously. Both have had extensive experience with being threatened.
Veronica shakes her head at the email print-out. “It’s creepy. It’s taking too much thought and time to do this. I don’t like it.”
Joel nods in agreement, then smiles. “What did your parents say?” He means Danny and Jim, who he thinks, not without justification, mother-hen me. “We know they didn’t make you feel better, which is why you’re checking with us.”
They look at each other. Joel whispers in Veronica’s ear, making her laugh.
“Do tell. Glad I could amuse you.”
Joel smiles. “I told her one of them probably blamed me…Yeah, nailed it. You don’t have a good poker face, sweetheart.”
Veronica nods. “He really doesn’t. Why I always beat his ass.”
I frown. That is so not true. “If we could get back to the subject at hand, maybe?”
“Definitely a stalker.”
They are both very confident. As a P.I. I’ve helped people who have been stalked; gathering evidence to take to the police, setting up security systems, finding out who anonymous tormentors are. “You really think so?”
I get matching derisive looks in return. Veronica pats my hand gently. “You’re flipped out from being on the receiving end. If this was me coming to you with these messages, what would you say?”
I review the emails in front of me. Then my work phone beeps with a new text message–from the stalker. “The person has upped the ante.”
I show them the text. “The lyrics seem in line with the rest, but I don’t recognize it.”
They take turns reading. Veronica taps the phone. “Death Cab for Cutie. I Will Possess Your Heart.”
Joel laughs. “How many more songs are there with this kind of theme? I never thought about it.”
I shake my head “I don’t really want to know.”
I think about my options. I have no idea who this is, or really what the person wants from me. This could be bullshit, or it could be serious. One thing I know about stalkers—ignoring them is dangerous. That doesn’t mean encouraging them—generally it’s better avoid contact when possible. I mean ignoring the potential of what they might do. If this was happening to a client, I’d try to figure out who in the client’s life might be doing this. In my case…I’m not as careful. I could have attracted attention in any number of ways, but I need to know who it is to stop him or her. I look up the number with the text messages, but it has no identifying features. All kinds of throw away phones can be bought just for such purpose in being anonymous.
Joel gently kicks me under the table. “What’s going through your mind right now?”
Veronica frowns. “You look like you’re going to do something rash.”
“Think carefully, you always tell me.”
I look at them. “I’ll probably need your help. I’m going to draw this person out.”
“Oh, that’s a real good idea. Just draw some nut out.” From Veronica.
“You don’t have enough trouble on your hands?” From Joel.
I look at him. The main trouble in my life outside of my work is being caught between him and Alex. “I’d rather know who it is than wait around. That puts me under his or her control.”
Veronica is skeptical. “And how are you going to do this?”
“Text back. Ask to meet.” Might as well start now.
—I’m very intrigued by what you’re sending. I like these songs and I want to know more about the message you’re sending me. Can we talk?
Joel and Veronica just look at me with the same expression of disapproval. Too late.
Nothing happens the rest of the day. In fact, another day goes by before I get a response by text.
What message do you see?
I respond. — Your interest.
What do you feel about that?
–I want to know more. I appreciate initiative. People aren’t usually interested in meeting stalkers. I’m curious to see how this works out.
I’ll meet you.
I’ll be around.
–I hope soon?
The next text arrives 45 minutes later. I guess even stalkers have errands to run.
Who is the other man with you?
My guard goes up. I don’t want this person to be jealous of someone, which can be even more dangerous.
—Who do you mean?
The blond one.
That’s Joel. This shows the person has been watching me, which is even more disturbing than the Internet stalking. I need to proceed with extra caution.
—A sometime employee. No matter.
Is he going to be around?
–He’s actually on vacation now. Not true, but to throw the texter off.
No response for several minutes.
—So I’ll see you?
–When do you think?
That’s it for the day.
Luckily, this week does not involve a lot of travel related to my job. Fewer, not less, opportunities for this person to spy on me. Very soon to me implies a week or less, hopefully less. I call Alex to tell him I need to lay low a couple days due to a project. Naturally he’s infuriated, and I don’t tell him why I’m doing this—he wouldn’t stand for not being involved. But he doesn’t have the same instincts I do about people–the kind who I tend to think of as those who hide in the darkness. The predators. He says he does, but he doesn’t. Joel and Veronica do, like me. Alex gives me a hard time. We’re starting to have real tension over my job, and he doesn’t believe me entirely. He makes dark illusions to this being related to my “friend.” I ignore those remarks and swear to make it up to him later.
Next I call Joel to have him come over, but tell him to get in the building by the utility door in the back of the building so the stalker can’t see him if my building in Alphabet City is under observation. Twenty minutes later I’m letting him in and we go upstairs.
“You’ve been following me lately, by any chance?”
He starts to take out a cigarette, but since I’m trying to quit he switches to gum from the many packs I have lying around. “I thought you didn’t like me to do that.”
“You didn’t answer the question.”
He just smiles. Joel’s been in the habit of following me from time to time, ever since we met. I know it sounds strange, but it’s why he knows the people in the darkness. He was a throwaway kid who survived on the streets by being very cautious of everyone and everything—even me when we were together. It’s his way of making sure the world is safe. He still sometimes follows me to make sure I’m safe. I took it as part of who he is, and he’s not the same as the stalker, who is not doing it to be protective.
“I’m just saying, maybe you’ve seen this person.” I explain the most recent texts.
Joel now looks genuinely concerned. “I had this feeling around you lately…like someone in the shadows. That must be it.”
“Nothing more specific?” I gesture for him to follow me to my second bedroom, which serves as my office. It has a large closet, and I have a couple more closets in the hallway. When this building was new, the closets were a luxury. In the 1970s and 1980s, they made up for living in a rough neighborhood. Now they’d just add several hundred to the rent, if it wasn’t rent-controlled. I keep some stuff that belonged to my uncle Dominic, who had the apartment before me, including some of his clothes. Joel keeps things in here too, since he sublets. Dominic was a little taller than I, but I use his clothes sometimes for disguises.
“No, just a general feeling something was around you. Maybe that’s why I was following you.”
“That could be. He’s seen you with me, but that could be in public, since we were just working.”
“No way this person saw me when I don’t want to be seen.”
I find a watch cap in the boxes. I almost never wear hats, nor does Joel. But I put it on him, tucking his hair under. He watches me intensely as I take these liberties. He knows how I feel about my uncle and acts solemnly instead of smartass. But I can’t help but smile.
He looks at himself in a nearby mirror. “You want me to shave? Be in disguise?”
He’s being a little smartass here. I hesitate. No good reason not to, to throw this person off who’s seen him. Joel looks younger and more vulnerable clean-shaven. He rarely is, though. I know that’s for my benefit. When he was an escort, he was clean-shaven most of the time—just a practice of the business. He hadn’t quite given it up when we met, and if he turned up shaved I knew what he was doing. I accepted that until I couldn’t anymore for the sake of our building a relationship. But we aren’t in one now, so I shouldn’t care what he does, nor should he care what I think. “You don’t have to. Dark glasses will take care of you.”
“I take it I’ll be watching you being watched.”
“Something like that.”
He shakes his head. “I don’t like the idea of you doing this, but since you’ll do what you want, I’ll help you so you don’t get killed. No one else involved?”
“That reminds me.” I text Veronica about her schedule. “Just Veronica. I don’t think involving anyone else is a good idea.”
“Neither do I.” His voice is emphatic. He takes off the cap.
“You know who can help you and who can’t.”
“Let’s not have that discussion.” He knows, or senses, I can’t involve Alex in this. Veronica responds back that she is mostly free the next couple of days. So I’m ready to try to lure the stalker into appearing so we can find how his or her identity.
Return to the current Thursday.
Joel’s voice in my bedroom gets loud for a moment. Veronica stops her sewing, looks worried and then follows him into the bedroom. Now I hear both their voices. I just listen for a moment. Then I suddenly wake up and realize who’s on the phone.
I’m next to go in the bedroom. Joel covers the phone and frowns at me—the needle is dangling from my arm looks rather grotesque. Joel glances at Veronica. “He shouldn’t be here.”
I hold a hand up to her as she starts towards me. “No, stop it for Christ’s sake.” I take the phone out of Joel’s hand. “Hello?”
Alex. His voice is tense. “What the hell is going on over there?”
“Nothing, seriously. If it was something you needed to worry about I’d let you know. I’m just taking care of some work.”
Now he’s angry. “Fuck that. You don’t sound right. Something’s wrong over there, and I’m coming over now.”
I suddenly feel distressed, unsure what to do. The guilt about Alex is mixed with the guilt about Breck. I try to sound placating, but it comes out unpleasantly emotional and servile because of the weirded-out feeling I have due to the whole incident earlier. “Please don’t be mad, baby. I know you think all kinds of terrible things, but this is just a business problem.”
“He wouldn’t let me speak to you. What the fuck is that?”
I lower my voice, trying to placate him. “I just wasn’t able to come to the phone. Don’t be angry at him, he’s just protective of me.”
“If that’s what you want to call it.”
Veronica has her eyes covered, either at the conversation—I know they can hear Alex speaking, or the sight of the needle dangling off my arm. Joel’s expression, staring at me, is unreadable. Veronica puts her hand on him. “Take it easy.”
Alex does not yell or even raise his voice. He just gets steely cold. “I want to see you. Make him leave before I come over.”
I feel flush with regret over the circumstances. “This isn’t—”
“I mean it; I’m not having him interfere with our relationship.”
Joel leaves the bedroom. I could let him go and attempt to right things with Alex. Or piss off Alex to keep Joel here. A hard situation when I can’t even process the rest of the day as yet. I close my eyes for a second, heart pounding. Then I cover the phone and speak to Veronica. “Don’t let him leave.”
Wednesday, October 20
So having made the plans to draw this person out, we all coordinate in making a couple of runs the next day, Wednesday. I make it look natural: going to the store, a Starbucks, the library pretend to do research.
Nothing happens. They didn’t see anyone during the day following me.
The next day is Thursday. A similar set of activities. This day I spend some time at a bakery up St. Marks Place. A few people are hanging out, surfing the net. I hear the text alert on my work phone.
What are you doing there in there?
While I’m reading this, I reach in my pocket to send a message on my personal phone. My jacket hides my action. I send a message to Joel with our code word. He’ll contact Veronica.
—Just getting coffee. Do you want to join me?
I’ll wait. Come outside.
The game begins. I don’t really finish the coffee but I pretend to. Like nothing’s wrong. Then I get up and walk outside, looking around casually. I don’t look for Joel. He’s not going to be visible, but will be watching the area around me. Veronica will be somewhere in the general vicinity. I trust them enough not to need to know exactly where they are.
I walk to the bookstore a couple doors down and look over what’s in the window. Message alert.
I want to meet you.
Come to Bowery.
–Aren’t you right here?
Come to Bowery.
I find this to be a red flag. If this person believes I want to meet him or her, why not just come out? Nonetheless I head up to Bowery, a block up from 2nd Avenue near Cooper Union. Before I’m even there, the alert goes off again.
Chrystie and Rivington.
I’m almost tempted to give this up. Chrystie and Rivington is ten blocks south of where I am now, in the Lower East Side. I don’t like the idea of being led somewhere. Not too long ago, I was attacked on the street, not too far from there, by three thugs sent to beat a warning into me. I survived that, but I don’t want to walk into a similar situation.
I want you to.
–I’d rather just meet here. Why the drama?
I want to make sure I can trust you.
–I can say the same.
Did you like the songs?
–I was intrigued. I’d like to talk about it.
Did you tell anyone?
–No one here but me. This is our conversation, no one else.
I really want to meet you. I’ve been an admirer of you for a long time.
–Then come over here. Let’s meet.
I want to be taken seriously. If you come down here to Chrystie, I know you’re serious and not playing with me.
–How do I know you’re serious and not playing with me?
I know all about you. I’ve watched you online. I’ve been wanting to meet you, but had to build my nerve. I thought we would be good together.
My other phone beeps. Probably Joel wanting to know what’s going on. I sigh and head downtown on foot, so they can keep up with me. I take out a cigarette—I have an excuse—and in the same act of lighting it check my other phone. A question mark from Joel. This person may still be watching me so I don’t answer. He’ll follow.
Don’t you think that could be true?
I stop. I don’t like to walk and text. –I’d like to meet you for sure.
If you don’t like me, I don’t think I could handle it.
–I already look forward to meeting you.
I’m glad that other person isn’t here today.
–Well this is private.
Don’t let me down. I wouldn’t want to hate you.
–Please don’t think that way.
The messages are getting more worrisome to me. By the time I’m at Chrystie, Joel has texted three times. No one is in earshot, so I light another cigarette and use the maneuver to call him, keeping the phone in my breast pocket on speaker.
“What’s going on?”
I casually scan the area. “Going to Chrystie Street.”
“What the fuck for?”
“We’ll have to see.”
“I think you should walk away from this.”
“I understand that, but something is bugging me about the person. He or she is accelerating in intensity, getting threatening. I’m not sure I buy it, but I need to know who it is. If I leave, then I have to look over my shoulder. Where’s V?”
“A block west of you. I’m telling her now what’s up—yeah she doesn’t like it either. Hold on.”
He hooks Veronica into the call. “What do you think, V?”
“I don’t like it. What’s on Chrystie?”
“A park. A couple clubs. I don’t know what else.”
“I still don’t like it.”
“I know. Don’t hang up. I want you on.” Narration: I turn the speaker off. At Chrystie and Bowery, a new text.
Go to the B Station.
The Bowery station, J, M, and Z trains. I just passed it. I turn around and catch a flash of someone rushing down the stairs.
“Shit. Now I have to go in the subway.”
I hear tinny voices from my pocket. “I can’t hear you. I’m pretty sure I saw him go down the station.” I pick up the phone from my pocket. Both of them are telling me not to go down, but I’m already on the stairs. “I’m not arguing. Just meet up down there. We’ll put an end to this.”
At this time of day not many people around. The Bowery is one of the more unpleasant stations. It’s half shut down in tracks, platforms, half built escalators, shut down areas. Plenty of places to hide. As I walk down, a train pulls in. Passengers get out, and then I’m alone. Another text.
I look around and don’t see anything or anybody.
I say this for Joel and Veronica’s benefit if they can hear it. I walk down to the end, behind a staircase to the closed West mezzanine.
Behind me. I feel something on my head; metal. Somehow he materialized out of nowhere.
Return to later that Thursday, in Gabriel’s Apartment.
Veronica takes my direction to follow Joel and stop him from leaving. Calm down, I tell myself. I start to feel the cuts on my body throbbing. I’m till bleeding as well; I’m dripping on my rug and I need to stop this situation.
“Alex. I swear to God I’m telling you the truth. You have to trust me for once. I can’t talk to you now, I’ll explain later. I still have this business to take care of, so coming over is not an option. Sorry, baby.” I hang up so I don’t have to argue with him. He’ll be mad enough about this not to speak to me for awhile. Then he’ll call Danny, and Danny will call to yell at me. I’ll deal with it all later. I go back in the living room.
“Don’t worry, I’m leaving.”
Joel is putting on his coat in spite of Veronica trying to hold him back. She looks at me grimaces.
“You’re bleeding all over the place. Stop it, Joel, we have to finish.”
“He’s not coming over.” I sort of sink down onto the living room rug. “I told him not to.”
They look at each other quickly then come back to me. Then Veronica begins cleaning my chest again. “Just stay still. You’re going to faint otherwise.”
“No kidding.” Joel comes back as well, getting down to look in my eyes. He’s worried, mad, whatever else. He touches my forehead.
“You’re hot and pale. I don’t want you to go into shock. Why did you tell him not to?”
Veronica snaps on another pair of gloves. “You both need to shut the hell up. Christ, I need a drink.”
I grin at her in spite of my shakiness. “After you finish, lush. I’m keeping him out because of what you did for me—I’m not throwing you out. You were right I shouldn’t have gone down there. I couldn’t think of anything else to do, and now…”
Veronica frowns as she finishes my arm.
“Yeah, I’m real sorry about that, as I’m stitching you together.”
Return to earlier that Thursday.
The option with a gun against one’s head is limited. He does not shoot, so he has a bigger plan. A hand on my shoulder.
“We’re going down.”
He pushes me further to the end.
“In the tunnel.”
I don’t know if my phone is now out of range for pick-up. I hope they heard that. I brace myself on the edge. I catch a glimpse of him—short dark hair, black coat, sunglasses, H & K automatic. I’ve slipped a business card out my pocket and leave it on the platform under my hand as I jump to the tracks.
He doesn’t notice; he jumps down as well with the gun pointed to my head.
“In the tunnel.”
I walk into the darkness on top of the general filth coating the tracks. I feel safer there, even with the gun against my head. I drop another couple cards along the way like Hansel and Gretel. I plan to move against him, but suddenly he grabs my shoulder and stops. A door is to our right. He pushes it open and me inside. He has a flashlight and turns it on, showing a hallway. I let another card drop at my feet. “What’s this?”
“Access to Chrystie.”
The old Chrystie Street Station, closed in 1992 from budget cuts. “What’s your issue?”
He laughs. “You thought you were going to meet someone to hook up, cocksucker?”
A hand shoving me at my back. He is not a stalker in the ordinary sense. “Clearly I was mistaken.”
At the end of the hall is another door, also open. We step out to the platform of the abandoned station. Much smaller than Bowery. No real light anywhere outside his flash. No trains come through here. It’s closed off to the world. A couple of rats jump off at our approach.
“Fitting.” He stops, and I step away from him and turn around.
He takes off his glasses and sets the flash on the ground, tilted up. We’re in the over-bright glow of a few square feet, surrounded otherwise by black. I strain to hear anything indicating Joel and Veronica maybe following. We’re underground in the middle of nowhere, in one of the most populated cities on the planet.
The man is calm. “You aren’t going anywhere else. Get used to it.” The rats squeak on the tracks to my left. He’s ten feet in front of the hallway door. I’m facing him, a few feet away. A faint scrape somewhere. Could be anything. But it sounds like inside the hallway. Maybe they found the cards.
“Who are you?”
In the weird chiaroscuro of the light, he smiles wickedly. He takes his glasses off. A White guy, older than I, not distinguished other than holding the H & K. “Doesn’t matter. You don’t need to know. I saw you online when you hit the Reverend. You had no right. People like you are scum. But people like me were watching.”
I don’t say anything. I’m afraid I’d be smartass from fear, and it’s not a good time for sarcasm. Instead I look scared. He probably wants me to look scared. Not that hard really. I’m going to duck and go for his legs. The Reverend he speaks of is Reverend Bunton. A few months ago he and his hate group/church protested my friend’s funeral, and out of rage I walked outside the cemetery to ask him to stop. He screamed in my face and I punched him in his. I suppose it was an ugly act, against ugly people. I wasn’t ashamed of it though. It probably didn’t change anything, but made me notorious for a while. I was criticized for many reasons, but few critics actually supported the Reverend’s theology. This man must be one who does take hatred to heart, taking revenge on the Reverend’s behalf. This kind of person is not going to be talked out of his plan. Thinking he seduced me with his texts in order to lure me down to this guttural Hell.
Hard to move with a gun to your head, but if he’s going to shoot, I won’t just stand and let it happen. I’ll go for his legs fast, and hope he shoots over my head.
He calls me some more names, along the lines of what he said before. I look horrified—as if I’ve never heard this before. But I’m listening beyond him. Another gentle scrape in the hall. The hall door opens a crack, or seems to in the back glow of the flash.
I interrupt his name-calling. “Are you acting on Bunton’s behalf?” I don’t want to look at the door directly, but I swear it’s opening a bit more.
“You could say that. You need to know why you’re going to die.”
He wants to draw it out. Good.
“I don’t understand.” I’m talking to cover any noise behind him. “I’ve never seen you before. What do you have against me?”
The door is definitely open. I pray it isn’t a draft. If they can see me they know they’re right behind him. They can throw the door open and jump him, or make some noise inside and startle him. I’m prepared to jump aside.
“I’m doing the world a favor getting rid of you fucking queers.”
He raises the gun up and down with his words.
“It’s time. Get on your knees.”
They do both. A sudden sharp noise in the hall, like something being thrown. His head snaps to his right, and I dive in the opposite direction. The door slams open. Veronica and Joel are out and on his back, tackling him to the floor. I scramble over, knocking the flash aside, and reach for his gun hand.
Even with three people on him, he struggles furiously, writhing with hate and desperation.
I’m breathing hard from the surge of adrenaline, and have my knee on his arm to try and pry his fingers up. He bucks from underneath me.
Joel gets up off him and in a swift and violent motion, kicks the man in the crotch. He gasps sharply and stops moving.
I get the gun from him and slip it in my pocket. “Find out who this motherfucker is.”
Veronica gets his wallet and uses the flash to look through it. “Tom Breck. From Long Island.”
“Now we have to figure out what to do with him.”
Joel is also breathing hard, but not from exertion. His eyes are dark with his own rage. “Handcuff him here. Leave him for the rats.”
I get up and touch his arm. He transfers his glare to me for a moment, then eases up. But he’s still agitated.
“You want to take him to the police? How many years does stalking get? I suppose he can join the Aryan Brotherhood while he’s in.”
“Kidnapping has to be good for something. Attempted murder?”
“If they charge him with it. He’s too dangerous to let go; he’ll plead if anything. They’ll say it’s your fault.”
I have no doubt that if I was in enough danger, Joel would make someone disappear. I don’t want him to go there. Not if other options exist. I’ve already been down that road to a certain extent. “We’ll take him in.”
Veronica sighs, looking around the dark platform. “You like to do things the hard way. How do we get him out?”
“Carry him through the tunnel, unless we can go through the opening here.” I walk up and shake the lock of the gate blocking access to the staircase. Either pick two locks here or take him back the way he forced me to go. We’d have to be careful of the trains.
Joel takes off the hat and shoves it in his pocket. “How about we leave him, and call the cops to find him? Really Gabriel, carry him out? Jesus.”
“Sorry. I’m a little stressed. Someone holding a gun to the back of my head does that to me.”
“Shouldn’t have come down here in the first place.”
“Are you really going to fucking start with me?” We’re both furious. Veronica steps between us.
“Boys, come on. Not the time. Fight later. You know Joel’s upset because we heard this guy about to kill you. He doesn’t mean it. Do you?”
She digs into his arm. “Ow. Okay. I’ll tie him to something.”
“Let’s make sure he doesn’t have any other weapons.” Joel starts to pat him down again, and suddenly Breck’s hand comes up with a knife. Desperate with rage, he rolls away, slashing. The flashlight tips over, making it even harder to tell what he’s doing. In the rolling light, I see him jumping off the platform and running down the tunnel, back towards the Bowery. Without thinking, I follow him.
Joel yells after me. “What are you doing?”
They come after me, Veronica holding the light and trying to keep it on Breck. He makes a sudden left and we can then see more light—it’s a short passageway to the Bowery tracks.
“Wait!” My hand grabs at his jacket. “A train’s coming. Don’t run out there.” He turns to flash an angry look at me, and struggle away. I meet Joel’s eyes, and reluctantly he joins in trying to drag Breck back from the entrance to the tunnel. Veronica gets a hold of him from the other side. Breck twists in our hands.
“I don’t want you people touching me! Fucking scum!”
He kicks, starting to drag us with him on the tracks. He digs out the knife he had hidden and slashes the air. Joel backs off. “Let him go, before he cuts you.”
I don’t listen and hold on to Breck. The knife goes across my arm and chest. I feel the slice. He tries to drive the knife at my neck and I grab his hand, getting cut again. Then Joel and Veronica both shove him away and out of my hands. Breck hurtles down the tunnel again. I glare at them. “I didn’t want to let him go.”
Joel meets my eyes just as furiously. “We took the choice from you. He would have cut your throat.” He touches where I’m bleeding through the jacket. I ignore that and go after Breck.
He’s on the far track. The train is seconds away; I can see the light getting brighter. He’s trying to jump across the tracks. Joel grabs me around the neck and chest and hauls me back from my instinct to follow Breck. He and Veronica hold me against the tunnel wall. Breck makes a leap for the platform as the train pulls in. For a second he hangs on the edge, then loses his grip and falls back on the track.
I jerk my head away from seeing this. If Breck screams when the train hits him, we don’t hear it.
The train screeches to a halt. The doors open. I turn back to look. The driver is speaking frantically on his radio.
Joel stares at the train. “Let’s go.” He takes my arm and helps me out. Veronica follows, her hand on my back. We make our way to the far side of the train. We don’t look at the tracks. Whatever is left of Breck is under the first few cars. We slip between the third and fourth cars, and get up on the coupler, and open the door to the fourth car like typical riders going through the cars. Then we follow the other passengers out. A train attendant is already waving people off the train.
Back in the Apartment.
Joel now looks contrite. “I never should have said that. I was so angry at how close we were to losing you.”
“But it didn’t happen.”
“I always back you up, and they always tell you not to go off half-cocked. And this time you could have been killed. If you didn’t leave those cards…”
I take a moment to breathe carefully. Relaxation measure. “Let’s not go there. We’re not processing the fact this man got killed; I don’t like it no matter what, but it was his fault. Also, I make my choices—I don’t ask permission or take a survey. I still feel that it was the right thing to do. He would have gotten to me anyway, if I had just ignored him. I just didn’t expect him to get dangerous so fast. Now we’ve learned something.”
Veronica interrupts with a stern voice. “Don’t talk, it makes your chest move. Joel, don’t just stand there sucking your thumb and pouting, get some bandages.”
“Jesus.” He smiles and retrieves the Duane Reade bag. “Nice work you do. I have some pants I need tailored.”
“If you don’t hurry up, I’ll make them tight enough to make you sing soprano.”
He puts more disinfectant on my arm and bandages it, while watching her sew my chest. “That stuff has worn off by now. Must hurt.”
“No worse than the tattoos.”
Veronica finally gets the last stitch in. “You’re shaking. You need a tranquilizer. Don’t try to think, okay? And Joel, if you know where to score some penicillin just in case…”
“We can talk about it, what happened. I wouldn’t tell my therapist, but we can talk about it.”
“Sure.” Joel begins patching my chest Veronica gets up and heads for the bathroom. “You talk, we’ll listen.”
“Doesn’t bother you.”
His look is steady. “No. I got over that a long time ago.”
“I guess you think I’m soft-hearted.”
“I don’t think, I know it.” He holds my gaze. “Why do think I love you? Because you have what I can’t give. Don’t change that. Just don’t suffer over it. He’s not worth it.”
At this point I just stop and watch him finish his work. The reason why I care for him is his ability to get me through this.