Short Story: The Watchman

Author Warnings: dark themes, language, violence

He stands at the door as they all walk by, most never even glancing his way. The doors slide open, admit another person too rich and important to acknowledge the help, slide closed again. Slide open, slide closed. Open, closed.

Peter looks at them all, examining every face. He knows every tenant of this building and their teams of managers and publicists and personal assistants besides. He knows when someone doesn’t belong. He stops a nervous looking young woman with her cellphone out and her neck craning. He turns away a boy with a $100 haircut and a polo with a popped collar. He melts into the shadows, and when the sun dips below the skyscrapers, he slides his overcoat on and heads home.

The neat two storey blazes with light as he drives up. Josephine gives him a hurried kiss and a haggard smile as she darts around the kitchen, stirring the soup, feeding the baby, writing a sentence or two for her thesis that’s been five years in the making. Footsteps bellow overhead and Jaden and Sarah crash into view, fighting, exaggerated. Peter yells, “Hey, hey!” and they barely glance up as they careen into the living room, smacking each other and shouting.

With a sigh, Peter heaves himself up the staircase they just vacated, pulling at his tie. He notices the “S” in SECURITY is coming loose from his jacket as he hangs it in the closet. He leans over the sink, peers at his face in the mirror. At the lines criss-crossing his features like geographical faults, the deep parentheses around his mouth. The sag in his jowls, and, worst of all, the haunted, empty look in his eyes.

A muscle twitches; he turns away. He cannot bear to look anymore at the wreak of a man he has become.

Some days it does not weigh as heavily. Others, he feels bowed beneath the weight of who he is and the thing that he has done.

They eat dinner together, a loud cacophony of familial closeness, and he wonders how they do not see him, how they do not see through to the very heart of him. Josephine pulses with vitality, and his kids seem larger than life. Next to them, he feels like a cardboard cutout. A fake.

His hands tremble so that he drops his knife on the floor. Jo flashes him an admonitory look and he is flooded by a disproportionate wave of shame. He has no right to be here.

Not anymore.

Without a word, he leaves the table.

The drive back into the city is dark and tense. He jumps every time a car passes him, headlights sweeping through the dark interior. His fumbling fingers drop the contraband cigarette before he can get it lit.

“Fuck,” he mutters.

To avoid the night watchman, he goes around the back of the building, takes the service elevator to the 31st floor. His feet walk the route automatically. She opens the door on the third knock, regards him with suspicion.

“Why are you here?” Her voice is low and smooth, like brandy. She would have been at home in 1940s Hollywood.

“We can’t anymore,” he says, looking out the window at the sweeping twinkle of lights laid out below. “We can’t anymore.”

Her throat laugh makes him want to claw his ears off. “Cold feet, Peter?”

He spins on her, pulsing with emotion. He grabs her hands, pulls her forcefully towards him. Her eyes are wide, startled in her pale face. He can feel her along the length of him. “This can’t go on, Delilah. No more.”

A slow smile spreads across her face. “There is no getting out, Peter. You’re in it now. They know who you are. There’s no just taking the drugs back to the nice men and saying, ‘So sorry, I don’t feel like selling these anymore.’ ” A narrow-eyed stare. “You do realize they would kill us both?”

His mind is racing. His fingers clench tighter, so she gasps a little. “You sell it.”

“What, all of it? You’ll lose all your money.”

“I don’t fucking care, Delilah. I never should have started this in the first place. I’m done. I want out. You take it all. Keep the fucking money, I don’t care.”

The look on her face is calling him an idiot. “They will never leave you alone, Peter. You’re in now.You walk out of here, and you might as well drive your car off a bridge. There is no out.”

There is nothing left to say. He drives back the way he came, his heart thundering in his ears the whole way.

*

In the end, he heard them just before he saw them, just before he saw no more. Jo found his body a few hours later, blood staining the pretty kitchen tile, the baby’s cries mixing with her screams.

A message scrawled on the cupboard in her husband’s blood:

Nobody gets out alive.

***

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Short Story: The Watchman

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