here's one from my friend, jared, one of the most smiling-est people i know...and i had no idea such twisted things were running through his head...
There was very little to cheer for that evening.
For Charles Bradley Morgan III, there was very little to cheer for in general. He had watched in horror mere weeks ago as the Chicago Cubs, a ball club he had sworn allegiance to and stood by for every baseball season of his life, which constituted half of their 100 straight seasons without a World Series win, fell in the first three games of the first round in the playoffs. Crashing and burning in a fiery end to what had been their most promising season in decades.
He had watched in even greater horror, over an even greater expanse of weeks, as his chosen candidate, the first he had truly believed in, truly been excited about since Reagan, was losing to the worst nightmare of a candidate he had seen since registering as a Republican over thirty years ago in the fall of ‘76.
And now, by the very cruelest twist of fate, the bartender flicked back and forth between the two stations that reminded him of both harsh realities. The Dodgers game was on Fox, the very team that had crushed the Cubs, and they were now about to lose to the Phillies. The third and final presidential debate was on CNN. It might as well have been the first or the second as far as Charles was concerned. It would change nothing.
But even the combined weight of these two was nothing compared to what truly plagued his thoughts.
“You keepin’ this tab goin’ guy?” the bartender asked without turning, eyes on the television. He had held up Charles’ Mastercard and was bending it between his thumb and pointer finger.
“Another pint then?” The bartender was moving down to the taps.
“And a shot,” Charles grimaced.
“Whatever you’re drinking when you get home.”
The bartender nodded steadily to himself, back still to Charles as he reached into a cupboard out of sight for a bottle Charles didn’t recognize. He shifted on his bar stool, glancing down first at the deserted bar and then over his shoulder at the busy bustling restaurant. Every table was occupied. Every waiter was hurrying this way and that. The last thing he wanted was to stand out.
He had no reason to be there in Middletown. He had a reason of course, but not one he could explain to anyone, least of all his wife. He had met Laurie about a month ago at an apple orchard south of Woodstock. He had gone there to get a bushel or two for Diane, his wife. She loved apples in the fall. She loved all the things she would make with them and she knew that Charles loved them too. January would mark their thirtieth anniversary. By now he knew what brought her joy, all the simple gestures it took to make her smile. Apples were a guarantee and he loved to make her smile.
He lived in Woodstock and the Stone Ridge Orchards were the closest apple orchards his side of the Hudson. That was the only reason he had chosen that one. He had never been there before and the location really was the only reason. If he had chosen any other one, things would have been easier. If he had chosen any other one he wouldn’t have met Laurie.
The moment they began to talk he knew that things would be different. He had only just begun to notice Diane’s lacking interest in the bedroom. It hadn’t even been going on long enough yet for it to have noticeably diminished his ego. He had only just noticed it, but already he felt himself responding to the advances of this other woman. This strange wide eyed woman with the black shoulder length hair, fair skin, and immense bosom she had tried to suppress with a blouse that was too tight.
They talked about the orchard, they talked about the economy, they talked about the election, they talked about themselves.
Then they talked about her cottage down on Glenmere Lake.
He could’ve thought up an excuse. Any excuse would’ve been fine. He could’ve been ill. He could’ve been busy. He could’ve been gay.
He could’ve been married.
And yet there he sat, three weeks later, five drinks deep, musing simultaneously about the overwhelming guilt he felt at that moment and the unbelievable sex he had just had with Laurie at the cottage. In the midst of a futile attempt to wash away the first thought while preserving the second, he realized the first was taking a toll.
His EZ Pass, however, was not. He never took the thruway on his trips to see Laurie in Florida. Not Florida the state of course, but Florida, New York. The trip was only about an hour and a half by the thruway, but it was far too risky to take that route as his work was west in Stamford. If Laurie were to see the bill, there would be no excuse. No, he would drive south to Florida after leaving the firm in Stamford around 4:30, make it there around 6 and then take the winding back roads north to Woodstock. The fact that the firm was working on their biggest case in a decade was excuse enough to give Diane for why he would return home so late some nights. Laurie nights.
The case. That was something he really couldn’t even bare to think about at that moment. His mind, his conscience could only take so much. He just did his job and tried not to think about it. About the girl and her father and what the settlement would do to them. Them and their land.
That is not Harry and Claudia over there, he thought. It can’t be.
Sure enough, walking in the front door was his brother in law and his wife. Charles had stopped at this bar on the way home every one of the dozen times he had driven down to Laurie’s. He had never once seen them. What were they doing here? The doorman was taking their coats. They were listening intently to whatever he was saying. They seemed to know him. Thank God for that.
He finished the pint. He downed the shot.
It was time to go.
“I think I’ll close that tab now…right now.”
“Whatever you say boss,” the bartender printed up a bill and slapped it down in front of him.
Charles signed the bill, hurriedly threw down a tip and arose, stumbling a bit up the bar and out the back door.
That last shot had really gotten on top of him. He got behind the wheel of his 2008 Toyota Celica. A car he loved. A car Diane had bought him for his birthday last year. He drove out of the parking lot, heading north on a deserted road, heading home.
His thoughts drifted back to the cottage. He thought of the little room with no television in Laurie’s house where she would just read and listen to music. Not like at home, where Diane seemed to have a nagging need to keep the television on at all hours of the day. He thought of the fire he had built for Laurie in the fireplace. The fire he had always wanted to build at home, but couldn’t because the smoke made Diane sick. He thought of the warm brown quilt Laurie had made him. The one they had wrapped themselves in by the fire before wrapping themselves in one another. Rolling and groaning on the hardwood floor, the quilt had slid off of Laurie’s arched back as her head rolled back toward the ceiling, the light of the flames dancing across her breasts.
The car had come to halt, nearly in time, but not quite. Charles was staring at the steering wheel, nearly hyperventilating. He looked up in time to see a great buck limping away into the reeds on the side of the road. The lights didn’t look right. Didn’t look even.
He unbuckled, got out and walking around to the front of the car discovered, sure enough, he had broken his left headlight on the damn deer. He kicked the front left tire, cursing and reentering the car in a fury. It was the first bit of damage the car had been dealt since he acquired it. It would have to be fixed. Just one more damn thing to take care of. He put the key in the ignition and glanced up to the rearview picking up a faint glimmer.
Odd, he thought. On every one of his trips home from Florida, and subsequently the bar in Middletown, he hadn’t seen any other cars on the back roads until he was much farther north. Provided, it wasn’t that late, couldn’t be later than 10:30, but still.
For a moment, he considered pulling over to the side and letting the car pass him, but it was still a fair distance behind. They disappeared somewhat as the road dipped down a hill quite a ways back. Maybe even a mile. He was already looking at a 1 AM return time to Woodstock and decided not to waste any more time. He started driving again.
He was still a little drunk, he was still a little horny and both aspects of his current condition needed to be fully extinguished before he made it home. Becoming Diane’s Charles after spending an evening as Laurie’s Charles was a task that had seemed impossible weeks ago but he had since mastered. All it took was focusing on a single sobering thought. The case with the farm in East Durham served as that. The father and the daughter. The God damned case that occupied too many hours of his days and even more of his thoughts. He thought of the cold, merciless killer slumbering in his glove compartment and what the firm expected him to do with it.
He saw the headlights again now, as the land leveled out behind him and the car came into view. It was only a two lane highway, so if he wasn’t going fast enough Charles knew the guy would be right up behind him soon. He despised tailgaters, more than nearly anything. He almost missed his left thinking about it, heading northwest now.
He wished he’d bought some breath mints before leaving Middletown. The liquor on his breath would help masking any scent of Laurie, but he didn’t want it to rouse Diane from her sleep. He couldn’t tell how strong it was. The night’s cold had blocked all sense of smell.
The headlights came into view again. He had taken the left as well. Probably about a half mile back he was driving faster now and somewhat gaining. Charles looked at the yellow lines and realized they were breaking. He grinned knowingly and slowed down a bit as the driver was surely planning to pass him. He must know the area, Charles thought. He hated people who just decided to pass him whenever they wanted. He saw no good reason to not observe the rules of the road at all times.
The headlights gained on him, they were close now. Lighting up his rearview mirrors. The guy didn’t have his brights on thankfully. That really drove Charles crazy when people did that. The guy was taking a while to pass him though.
Charles didn’t understand what the guy was doing now. He slowed down a little more, but the headlights slowed with him. He was becoming increasingly irritated when, suddenly, it dawned on him.
No, he thought. A cop. It had to be. A cop must’ve seen me leave the bar and followed me from town. He’s waiting for me to give myself away. To do something drunk enough to warrant him pulling me over.
He wouldn’t get it.
Charles sped back up again, watching the headlights drift backwards into the darkness as he accelerated. He came to the realization that maybe it wasn’t a DUI the cop was looking for, but the busted headlight in the front. He soon abandoned the busted headlight idea though. If it was that, the cop would’ve pulled him over already. He soon abandoned the DUI idea too. This was no cop.
What is this guy doing?
He maintained a steady speed with the headlights a few yards behind him. For a moment, just a moment, he entertained the idea that Harry and Claudia had seen him stumble out of the bar and were pursuing him now to make sure he was alright. He abandoned that thought as well, Harry had never given a damn about him. He looked for a sign, a landmark of some kind, anything to give him an idea of how far he had to go. He knew his next turn was coming up soon. There’s no way the guy would turn with him again.
With about two miles until the turn he turned on the radio to take his mind off of the nuisance behind his car, to take his mind off of everything.
He had left it on NPR from earlier in the evening. They were surely talking about the economy. He couldn’t listen. He had lost so much already. His investments, his stocks that had been so secure a couple months ago. Now, almost nothing.
He switched it off, looking in the rearview. Headlights. Glaring at him. Maliciously, menacingly they judged him. They never broke their gaze, not as he slowed to turn right, not as they took the turn with him.
Alright, he thought. This game ends here.
He stopped short. He stopped the car completely. He didn’t slow down, he didn’t pull over, he just stopped right in the middle of that deserted back road as eleven o’clock rolled around.
Headlights rolled to a slow unnerving crawl, stopping a few feet from the bumper of Charles’ Celica.
They sat there like that. For five seconds, ten seconds, thirty seconds. Charles was motionless. He gaped into the rearview mirror, breathing heavier with each passing second. Finally accepting the terror that had been struggling to get inside him for miles. He loosened his tie, staring deeply into the rearview mirror. He couldn’t take his eyes off of those headlights. Then he heard it.
He wheeled around in his seat. The driver had gotten out of the car. Along the right side of the headlights a silhouette came into view. Faceless, mirthless it took a few steps into the light and toward Charles’ car.
He hit the gas and rocketed off from that spot. He shot like a cannonball down that deserted road, leaving the dark silhouetted figure in his wake.
The other car was out of sight now, but the light from the headlights was still somewhat visible in the distance. No need to do the speed limit now, this was no cop he was dealing with. There was no cop for miles. He had to be at least halfway home. Not much further to go. Not much farther to the farm in East Durham.
They told him to do it tonight. He told Diane he would do it night. He didn’t tell her what he’d be doing there, but he told her he had to ride out there to do something for the case. The firm thought that it would be done tonight, but he had to take a detour, south to Laurie. And now he was thinking, with this tail still somewhere behind him, that he should just go home, get a good sleep and drive up and do it in the morning before work. Even though they wanted it done tonight. But how could they know?
Unless…unless the driver was sent by the firm. Sent to follow him and make sure he did what they’d asked him to. When they’d asked him to do it.
It was a lot, what they were asking him to do. A whole lot. As if they hadn’t ruined the lives of the father and his daughter enough. But if they were going to put as much money on the line as they already had to take this land, they wanted some guarantees. The cold merciless killer slumbering in Charles’ glove compartment was recovered from a shootout at a nearby meth lab less than a mile from the farm. Planting it on their premises that evening was to be their security if the case started getting away from them.
So not only will we rob them, but send them to prison as well, Charles thought, gripping the steering wheel, clenching his teeth. Finally facing the great hulking monster he had committed himself to serving, the one his entire life had become. He had entered his profession to fight men like the one he had become. His marriage to Diane was to become the man he wanted to be.
He was done telling himself it was dark. He was done telling himself it was late. He was done telling himself that he was just drunk, just paranoid and just alone. Finally, he was surrendering to the foreboding.
And the headlights were behind him again.
He was really breathing hard now. Hyperventilating even. A different kind of excited breathing now. Not like the breathing that had come from Laurie, as she walked naked out of the chilly lake to meet him. Not like how her chest had pushed against his, elevating her body as she laid upon him, catching her breath and nuzzling his neck…
It had been three weeks now.
The coming home late, the phone calls at the pay phone in town, drinking out in the open at a bar Harry and Claudia are regulars in, the very smell of another woman on his skin.
Diane had to know something.
And she was getting the jump on Charles. She always was just one step ahead of him. And this was no exception. It all finally made sense. Conclusively. Horrifically. The headlights trailing him, their unrelenting pursuit. The fact that someone would be following him all the way down here for as long as this.
Diane had hired a divorce lawyer. This was the guy they sent to follow him.
What could he have? Laurie’s name? Address? Pictures? Pictures of us, on the floor, in her bedroom, by the lake? He could have everything she needs. Everything she needs to build a case that would cost him everything. Forget the stocks and bonds, she would take the house, the cars, the savings account for the timeshare in the Poconos. And he would be out on his own, starting over from square one, stripped of all he had worked and fought so hard for.
And he couldn’t live with Laurie. He couldn’t stand to live with Laurie. He couldn’t stand to have anything more than what they had right now. That’s all he wanted. No more, no less than what he’d earned. Was that so much?
Headlights, they were there again. They were burning into the back of his brain. Burning as they always had been. Since the first time he cheated on Diane. Since Carol, all those years ago. Carol, what was I thinking letting you leave? Headlights, burning with all the sobs of the lives he’d ruined in the courtroom, looking to him for mercy, for some sign of sympathy as he buckled his briefcase and quickly made for the door.
No more. He couldn’t run from them now. He couldn’t run from any of it anymore. Their light would always be behind him.
Acting fully on its own accord, his right hand popped open the glove compartment. Like clockwork he steadied the wheel with his left hand, arming the 9mm with his teeth, raising it to his brain. It was all happening so fast. The only way he’d insure he’d go through with it.
He thought of Laurie, walking out of the lake. Body dripping and cold, awash in the moonlight. Beaming at him, arms out to welcome him into her. It was a vision he had fantasized on a hundred times. It made him feel nothing this time. Her face, no more comforting than a demon’s now.
Enjoy the Poconos Diane.
A half hour later, after the car ahead of him had spun out of control, stopping only from the impact with the trees passed the guardrail, the police cars and the ambulance pulled up with their lights going. The young man, parked a few yards behind the accident, ran over, waving them down as they pulled up.
It didn’t take them a long look at the body to realize that the car crash hadn’t been the cause of death. His right hand was still clutching the gun. His left hand was still holding the wheel.
The young man who had phoned it in seemed trustworthy enough. But of course the police would follow him back to the restaurant he said he worked at in Middletown. Just to verify his story. There they would check the register to see that the suicide, Charles Bradley Morgan III, the man who laid dead and bleeding against his steering wheel, had indeed used his credit card there, earlier that evening.
The same Mastercard the young man from the restaurant had run over to show them as they pulled up.
The same one he had tried to return to the Charles Bradley Morgan III as he pursued him down those dark back roads that evening.
smell ya later!