By Daniel Vanvick
About the author
WAS PERSPIRING HEAVILY, the stifling heat of the bedroom
only partially to blame. His shirt was wet, the sheet of the bed
he had just slipped out of was damp, and sweat trickled through the
black hair of his beefily muscled arm down to the snub-nosed
pistol in his hand. He stood motionless at the side of his apartment
window, waiting for movement outside to account for the sound that had
roused him. No movement, no sound.
Not convinced, Tony closed and locked the window, pulled the yellowed shade and turned on the bare-bulbed overhead light with a tug on the chain. Nothing but dead air now in the small, high-ceilinged apartment, as he moved to the bathroom to take a tepid shower and dress. It was 9:00 P.M. and he had to leave soon.
"Why don't they just do it?" he thought as he uncocked the pistol, laid it to the side of the sink and locked the bathroom door with the hook. He listened at the door for a moment and then looked in the mirror, always hoping to see what he once was. The reflection's honesty was disappointing.
The stress of recent months showed in the pallid, waxy look of his face as he reached, fumbling, under the sink for medical help. He shook two green pills from the bottle and threw them to the back of his mouth, leaning over to swallow them with water from the tap.
By the end of his shower his breathing had slowed to normal and the slight trembling of the hands had stilled as he unhooked the bathroom door and cautiously reentered the bedroom. He dressed quickly, grabbed his keys and wallet and placed the gun, with the pills, in a small leather folder with an easy to open, no-latch top. He was ready to leave, but listened at the door of the apartment before opening it and slipping out, locking the door behind. Moving quickly, he crossed the foyer, turned out the light, and peered out on the street.
A small figure huddled in the darkened doorway on the other side, obviously watching his apartment building entrance.
Tony moved to the back of the hallway, exited into the alleyway behind the building, jogged heavily to the end of the block, and crossed the street. Breathing heavily and walking more slowly now, he pulled the gun from the folder as he spun into the doorway, gun raised and cocked, pointing at a small Mexican woman. Startled, she immediately raised her hands, dropping a shopping bag on the stairs.
“Who the hell are you?” Tony snarled.
“My name is Marta Ocampo,” she answered in a heavy accent.
“You’re from Panama, right?”
“No, I’m Mexican,” she said, noticing his dull and hooded eyes.
“What’s in the bag?” He waved the gun at the shopping bag.
“Leftover food. I work at Vescio’s, in the kitchen,” her voice was tremulous, now.
“What you doin’ here?” He was starting to believe her; Vescio’s was just a block away.
“Waiting for the bus, to go home.”
“You’re Panamamian?” he growled.
“No, I’m Mexican,” she pleaded.
“The other night, you were picked up by a car that had a shaky headlight,” he tried to trick her. He believed she was Mexican, but maybe she was working with the Panamamians -- the car with the blinking headlight.
“I always take the bus. I don’t even know what a shaky headlight is.” She was starting to cry.
“A shaky headlight is a bad headlight, you know, like blinking, a bad
connection.” Tony noticed her sniffling. “Shit, forget it.”
He turned around and walked out of the doorway, placing the gun back in the folder, and headed down the street towards his car. A small dog followed, barking. A half a block later, Tony turned into an alleyway, the dog in frenzied pursuit, then turned again, grabbing the dog by the collar and in the same motion slamming its head into the brick of the wall, until it fell quiet. He threw the dog into a dumpster and reentered the sidewalk, continuing towards his car.
As he closed the car door, he reached for the pills and took two, without benefit of water. Pulling away from the curb, he fumbled in the glove compartment for a joint, lighting it with the car lighter.
A light rain had begun and he switched on the wipers. Even though the rain had an immediate cooling effect, Tony cursed the federal government for seeding the clouds and the technology that made it possible. He clicked on the car radio and located the station where he sometimes received his encrypted messages – where he learned about the shaky headlight. No hidden musical instructions tonight. Twenty minutes later he arrived at work, ready to begin his shift; seemingly normal to his peers.
David Adams, accountant, had worked until ten o'clock, had a late dinner, and now was on his way home, driving in a rain that had become a downpour, shortcutting through an unfamiliar neighborhood. A police car passed him and slowed, weaving slightly.
“Looks like he's watching me,” David thought. “Maybe he's noticed my headlight. Should’ve listened to Judy. She said I'd get stopped. Well, all I'll get is a warning. That can't take too long. Should be home in time to tuck in the kids.”
Officer Tony Culpa caught the glimpse of the familiar winking headlight in his rear view mirror. He slowed and weaved slightly, ready to block the car when it tried to pass. He pulled the gun out of the holster. This time he was positive.......