Started 1997, Initially finished December 9, 2002
There is something terribly comforting about the culture of a subway station; Like anywhere else, there are people from all walks of life, different ages, and with varied life experiences. At any given day, you can find musicians and peddlers rubbing elbows with businessmen and lawyers.
In many large gatherings you find commonalties that bring people together; An event in a convention hall, or a game at a stadium or arena lure people not only physically but provide common mental direction as well. In a subway, however, you have an entirely different phenomena. Here, within the dank tiled walls of the tunnel, you find, with the exception of a few panhandlers and musicians, a gathering of people completely immersed in their own lives. Perhaps it is the excessive noise, or the sleep-filled minds of the morning and the frayed nerves of the evening commutes, but the subway experience is generally a solitary one. And as with all times of solitude, there is much time to wander or reflect.
While Mr. Robert Grey waits for the 10:15 to pull in, someone in the crowd gives a heartfelt sigh that seems to suffuse itself into Mr. Grey’s consciousness. I don’t know how he hears it, but I am sure he does. Above the music of the classical guitar and the through the rumbling of the opposite train, the sigh penetrates Mr. Grey’s experience and pulls away the subway-culture-blinders. I know, I have a photograph of that exact moment. I think the fact that his eyes were suddenly burst open to his surroundings startled him because he seems to falter for just a moment — sensory overload I suppose.
In that moment, he can see as I can see, hear as I can hear, sense as I can sense. It makes me smile. The woman to his rear, worrying about her unborn child’s future; The man against the wall, wondering how to slip in a drink before going home; The child, angry with her nanny for bringing her to such a smelly place. With trepidation, he turns and looks into the eyes of the aged woman next to him. In those eyes he sees the days of pain and the days of happiness left to her that would make up her life. Turning again he sees the accident that will take the school boy’s dreams of a basketball scholarship and dash it across the hood of a car. In that instant he looks into everyone’s fate and sees in them, the frailty of human life. In his moment of epiphany, his eyes make their way to my corner and, though he sees the horrific truth in everyone else, in me he sees nothing. And in seeing nothing, he begins to scream.
* * *
I met Mr. Grey days earlier while looking in the soul of an acquaintance of his at the airport. Like subways, there was a lot of time to ponder and reflect when waiting in an airport.. I had been bored and arbitrarily picked Mr. David Page out of the crowd. He had been standing in line with a crowd of sullen working stiffs waiting for a hit of caffeine and a doughnut so I looked into his soul to amuse myself. Unlike all the sorry shriveled excuses for souls around him, Mr. Page had a genuinely interesting sense of being, as if he were too obtuse to realize that his life had become less than fulfilling.
Here was a man whose entire life and family fortune lay on the say-so of our Robert Grey. His trip to New York was to ask to Mr. Grey for help with a large sum of money to keep his business afloat. In my line of work you don’t have the luxury of omniscience, the job wouldn’t be fun if you had, so I closed my eyes and let my consciousness drift with Mr. Page. After finishing his coffee and doughnut Mr. Page made a trip to the restroom. I’m not above watching a man do his business as long as it is entertaining, so I followed along.
The urinals were on automatic flushing in sequence. Rushing flow and choked gurgling. How pleasant.
Footfalls of expensive shoes click-clacked away followed by the squeak-whine of the door. David Page, sat in his crowded stall, a temporary ownership divined by the distinct call of nature and sighed in relief at the departure of his unwitting companion. He had never been comfortable in public bathrooms. He noted with distaste, that the man did not wash his hands. In his rather vulnerable position, he grasped the legs of his suit trousers around his ankles and tried to keep the cuffs from dipping into the suspicious puddle of liquid around his seat. He noticed wrinkles setting into the wool, and he sighed again.
The luggage with which shared accommodation, crowded his movements as he clumsily tried to fold the toilet paper. In addition to his customary catalog case, computer, and garment bag, stood a large obtrusive object swaddled in a pink child’s sleeping bag and mummified in endless yards of duct tape.
“That’s so cool, Daddy!” she had exclaimed when he had told her of his intended trip to the City. “I want you to meet my boyfriend, you’re going to love it out here!”
He doubted it. Man was never intended to live in any climate that required more than three layers of clothing. Give me palm trees and tofu any day, he had thought. “Yes, dear.” he said obediently. Ever since his wife had left them, he found it hard to refuse his daughter anything.
“Is there anything I can bring you?” he had asked. “Some fruit? Clothes?”
“No dad, that’s okay.”
“Are you sure, honey?”
“Yeah…Oh wait, do we still have that old vacuum in the attic?”
“The Hoover? I guess so.”
“Does it still work?”
“I don’t know.”
“If it still works, could you bring that? My room is a mess and the dorm vacuum is always checked out or broken, you know?”
“Sure honey, I’ll bring it.”
“Thanks Dad, you’re the greatest!”
In retrospect, it may not have been the greatest of ideas. At the very least, he could have bought her a lighter one there. New York must have vacuum stores somewhere. Money was tight though, and so far, a new vacuum wasn’t something he could readily afford at the moment.
That was the reason for the trip in the first place. Robert Grey, crazy old Bob from his own dorm days had an “in” over at Merrill and was pretty sure he could help Dave secure that contract he needed to stay afloat. The opportunity to visit his daughter was just icing on the cake.
Icing and a twenty-five pound pink albatross.
Mr. Page finished his business and gingerly pulled his pants back over his knees careful of avoiding contact with the yellowing liquid below. He began to stand, when the contents of his right pocket went clattering into the offending puddle.
David Page looked up in exasperated helplessness and silently cursed to himself. If the mildewed fixtures could have responded, they would have smirked resoundingly. The $1.72 in change was a lost cause. Taking care not to touch the puddle, Mr. Page gingerly extracted his keys from the murky water, but the ring slipped and fell back with a splash. Mr. Page reached further and grasped the keys more firmly, unable to avoid contact with the water; unaware that his tie had dipped into the toilet bowl. With a wad of toilet paper, he began to blot the keys one by one, when he noticed that the end of his tie was making an accident through his shirt. He looked down at the discolored flap of wet silk and the discoloration spreading on his shirt, and kicked the toilet once with great emotion.
Encumbered by his excess of luggage and a bruised toe, Mr. Page crashed his way out of the stall to the sinks. A thin built man in a pale suit entered and made his own offering to the urinals. After checking the damage in the mirror, the rumpled suit, stained shirt, and the ruined tie, Mr. Page yanked off his tie and debated whether or not it was worth saving. He considered his dubious financial future, he decided that even a public toilet dipped tie was worth the salvage, and began to wash it in the sink. After all, money was tight. The man in the pale suit straightened his own tie in the mirror next to him and looked over in bemusement. Mr. Page kept his eyes down and wrung out the silk as best as he could.
The man in the pale suit placed an unwanted hand on his shoulder.
“Hey guy, what’s the pink thing, a big foot?” He laughed heartily and slapped Mr. Page on the back. Jostling him one last time conspiratorially, he chuckled and left the restroom also without washing his hands. Mr. Page carefully wrung out the tie and rolled it up before putting the wad into his suit pocket. Then with soap and water, he vigorously scrubbed his hands before juggling his luggage and leaving the restroom.
Knocking and banging his way along the concourse, he made his way to the gate and checked in his luggage. The middle-aged airline agent with the great loaf of hair stared at him disapprovingly looking alternatingly at his discolored shirt and disheveled state to the unwieldy bundle of pink that he was trying to pass off as baggage.
Free, at least temporarily, of the vacuum and luggage, Mr. Page found his way to the newsstand and picked up a copy of the New York Times and a Zagnut bar. He went back to the gate and settled himself into one of the less than comfortable waiting room seats and turned to the comics section. He has read through the sports and the finance pages and was perusing the headlines when the plane was finally called.
I float just outside his consciousness as we board the plane. My seat was in first class, his in coach, but I stayed with him in his mind.
“Good ole Bob.” he thought. “Bob saves the day, comes through in the pinch. Good ole Bob.”
Poor ole Dave, if he only knew.
Dave settled into his seat; I took the opportunity to poke around a memory or two.
Ex-Mrs. Page, ex-wife, nothing there, boring, seen it before.
Rachel Page, Daughter, nice kid, good attitude, she’ll do well.
Bob, good ole Bob. Old college roomie. What a card. What a character. Always scheming, always lucky, never gets caught. What a guy. There was that time he wanted to charge a Lexus on his credit card and claim buyer’s protection instead of insurance. Talked him out of that one. Or how about the intellectual games he likes to play? How to commit terrorist acts without hurting anybody: Blow out key structural supports in the subbasement of the World Trade Center. give it a couple of months and it would start leaning. They’d have to evacuate it and demolish it or let it come crashing down on other buildings. No one was laughing when terrorists really did blow up the World Trade center. How did he come up with that one? Oh yeah, when you told him that destroying a parking lot would kill some people even if it wasn’t very many. Wonder what he thought years later?
Where was the one I’m looking for? A-ha. The Perfect Murder. Planned a doozy that one. Took it as a challenge to be able to get away with killing somebody. Good plan too: Get to know your victim’s habits, see what time he crosses the street every day. Time a cab with a right handed cabbie to take that street. Make it a routine: Get to know the cabbie and start riding in the front seat. Talk to the guy. Have coffee on every trip. Do it for a month or so, so that no one will suspect. Then, on the day, at the right moment, just as your victim gets to his curb, accidentally spill coffee in your cabbie’s lap. Right-handed driver, he’ll yank the car to the right. Run the victim right down. An accident. You’re the witness, and no one’s the wiser. Of course you only get one shot at it, but if you time it right…
Time for Dave to read the police blotter and obituaries. I sit back for this one.
Mr. Page opened the paper and folds back the excess. He looked at the horoscope then turned to the blotter and obituaries. Woman dies in her sleep, 84 survived by husband; Fire destroys apartment, no deaths, arson suspected. Botched robbery in the Bronx store, owner wounded, stable condition. Pedestrian struck and killed by taxi, passenger and driver unharmed.
Dave is a little obtuse and doesn’t get it. He put the paper into the seat pocket and settled in for a little shut eye. I decide to get some rest myself. He’d figure it out soon enough.
Dave’s stab of anxiety woke me with a start, and I drifted back to the rear of the plane to find Dave tearing open the paper to the police blotter. He looked pale. Shirt was damp too, probably a cold sweat judging from the look on his face. Mr. Page made a furitive glance around the cabin as if those around him knew what he knew. I checked my watch. Took him two hours to figure it out, better than I would have thought.
“Could it be?” he thought furiously. “It couldn’t, could it?”
The horror was evident in his thoughts, I closed my eyes again and drifted back to hang out with Mr. Porter. Dave wondered if Mr. Grey would be capable of killing someone. He reached for his phone, but remembered that it is not possible to use cell phones on the plane. He reached for the Airfone and contemplated the three-dollar a minute fee; it’s too expensive and he put the phone away. A cold sweat broke over Mr. Porter and four hours of worrying and stress began.
Time moves really slowly when you are that worried and Mr. Porter’s time moved like molasses. His brain, which had been slow to react now ran at a million miles an hour.
“Accidents always happen in New York, right?” He thought furiously. “This must be a coincidence, there is no possible way.
He opened the paper again and re-read the blotter. It didn’t say much:
“Pedestrian struck and killed by taxi, passenger and driver unharmed.”
No names, no ages, no descriptions, no clues.
Was it possible? Was it possible that Bob would be capable of actually doing it? Dave wondered and wondered, to be honest at that moment I didn’t know any better than Dave, but it was definitely not a boring flight anymore.
“Bob was crazy, but was he a murderer? It didn’t seem possible, did it?” Dave thought. I looked into Dave’s memory for an answer, but Dave came up with the memories himself.
“There really is no morality, Dave,” Bob said one evening after dinner in the dining hall.”Morality is relative.”
“Morality is not relative, it is absolute,” Dave said with conviction in return. “The Bible is very specific about what is moral and what is immoral.”
Bob shook his head in bemusement. “Give me an example Dave, tell me what is immoral.”
“The Ten Commandments are very specific,” Dave said, “’Thou shalt not kill,’ is an absolute morality and preserves society.”
“It is fundamental for survival to not be killed and so not killing reduces the chances you will be killed. It makes sense in biological selfishness, but it does not mean it was a divine morality.”
“It says it right in the Bible!”
“Okay, so killing is a cardinal sin right?”
“So explain to me the crusades.”
“Explain to me ‘killing in the name of God.’”
“Well its wrong…”
“But righteous right?”
“God allowed it so it is okay.”
“But then it is not absolute right?”
“It still is.”
“How is that?”
“If God determines it, it is absolute.”
“So if God kills it is moral right?”
“I don’t know.”
“Never mind, if God sanctions a death, it is okay to kill. It is absolutely moral for humanity because they are obeying God. Is that what you are saying?”
“Yes, I mean no, I mean… I don’t know what I mean.”
“You don’t think that killing in the name of God is just a rationalization for killing? Let me take your side for a moment; if there is absolute morality for humanity, then if God tells us it is okay to kill, then it is a commandment of God to go and kill. But if God did not sanction it and we kill in the name of God then it is a cardinal sin.”
“But it is then a relative morality in God’s eyes right?”
“I guess so.”
“So how do you know when it is sanctioned and when it isn’t? Do you have a vision? What if I had a vision, but you didn’t believe me? Would you turn me in? Would I get arrested and tried for murder in man’s court? Would it then be in direct contradiction of God that I get death or life in prison?”
“God would tell us.”
“You really believe that?”
“Explain Joan of Arc then.”
“Whose God was correct then?”
“There is only one God.”
“Then who defied God here? The French or the English? It depends who you ask doesn’t it?”
“I don’t know.”
“But shouldn’t it be revealed?”
“I don’t know. I don’t question these things,” said the young David Page.
“Well I for one, don’t believe it. Too many things happen that don’t make sense for there to be a God. It is too easy to hide behind ‘there are things that we just don’t understand,’ for all of this injustice to go around.”
“So you are immoral?”
“Amoral, I don’t believe we have inherent morality or immorality, and believe it or not, this has nothing to do with religion.”
“It has everything to do with religion, that is where morality comes from.”
“I just don’t believe it is a dictated thing, I believe it is a choice.”
“So you don’t have morals.”
“No, I am amoral, but choose morality. I choose to be good, I choose not to kill, but I could have as easily chosen to kill.”
“And have no regret?”
“If I had chosen to.”
“I don’t believe it, you would feel guilt.”
“Now, I don’t know if I can prove that one way or the other, but since I have chosen to be good, I would feel guilt if I killed someone.”
“Then does it matter?”
“Not really, it is the same thing whether you believe God dictated it or you chose it.”
“But its not! You can’t take God out of the equation.”
“You’re right, it’s not the same thing, but the end result is the same – for now.”
“What does that mean?”
“It means I could just as easily choose one day to be evil as good. I only chose to be good in high school right after I tried to kill myself.”
“You told me about that.”
“Yeah, I was wiped clean, and that day I happened to pick up a book that let me to choose to be good. I could have as easily chosen a book that led me to be evil. If I had read the Bible, I might be an evangalist right now – Look, its like this, when you are young you think everything is black and white, but as you grow older, you notice that it isn’t that simple, that there are shades of grey. Soon everything becomes grey, but it doesn’t have to be that way, you have to choose your blacks and whites and be absolutely moral within the confines of the relative morality.”
“It can’t be that random.”
“Why not? You have religion to help you choose, I had a near-suicide experience, the result is that we are not criminals.”
“I don’t know, you make it seem so random.”
“Its an intellectual puzzle, like thinking how to rob a bank or build a watch. Its fun to think about, but in the end it doesn’t really matter…”
* * *
The whole conversation was like that, the thoughts juvenile, rebellious and purile. It was neither that simple nor that complicated, but they could not know that. They didn’t understand. But it was an interesting insight into what was to happen.
Amorality and the perfect murder. Could it be? Its possible, but improbable. Bob was a successful businessman, certainly not capable of killing anyone. Was he?
Another incident crept its way into Dave’s mind.
“You would shoot someone if you had to.”
“No I wouldn’t.”
“Really, you would. It is not a matter of morality.”
“I tell you I wouldn’t.”
“Rationally you wouldn’t, but if you were forcrd to you would.”
“How can you know that?”
“If you were starving and there was no other option?”
“I would hope I would die before killing someone.”
“They have done experiments where people revert to their most basic instincts when basic needs are taken away from them.”
“Part of being civilized is not lowering yourself to that.”
“What if the person the person raped your wife and daughter?”
“I don’t even know if I am going to get married.”
“Hypothetically, what if someone did, you wouldn’t shoot them?”
“I can’t say, its hypothetical.”
“You can’t say? The person rapes your wife and child and you can’t say?”
“I would hope I wouldn’t, but I can’t say.”
“Dave, when you are pressed to it, you will.”
“How do you know?”
“You can’t prove it.”
“Sure I can.”
“Let me get something first,” Bob left the room and when he returned, he had a pellet gun and a squirt gun. He gave Dave the squirt gun and pointed the pellet gun at Dave’s thigh.
“Okay Dave, I am going to shoot you in the leg with a mohair dart unless you shoot me first.”
“I won’t do this.”
“You don’t have a choice.”
“Why are you doing this?”
“To prove a point.”
“This is crazy.”
“Yes it is, shoot.”
“It’s just a squirt gun.”
“I won’t, it’s the principle.”
Bob squeezed the trigger slowly. The mechanism creaked and shifted. You could hear the spring ping under the pressure. Bob did not flinch, stared in Dave’s eyes and kept squeezing ever so slowly.
Dave’s eyes widened as he realized that Bob was going to go through with it. The sound of the trigger under pressure filled the dorm room. Bob’s eyes narrowed, Dave’s grew wider and then, with a pop, Dave drenched Bob’s shirt with water.
“See you would.”
* * *
Bob was crazy enough to do it. He would have shot Dave if Dave had not shot him first. There was no doubt about it. Sweat formed on Dave’s brow and upper lip. He hit the flight attendant button repeatedly.
“Can I help you?”
“How long until we land?”
“How long until we land!”
“Not for another hour still. Can I get you something?”
“No, …yes! Get me a gin and tonic.”
“That will be four dollars sir.”
Hm, Dave was not much of a drinker. This was really affecting him. The stewardess brought him the drink. Dave gulped it and stared at the phone on the back of the seat in front of him.
He had to know, but what could he do? He could find out if Bob was part of the accident. But what if it was a coincidence? What a coincidence! But if Bob wasn’t part of the accident, it everything would be all right. He had to call, he had to, damn the expense.
Dave tried to pull the phone back out, he had trouble but finally wrenched it from the cradle. The person in the seat next to him, a nun who was incidentally worried about impure thoughts, looked at him with minor alarm and then turned away.
Dave had never used an Airfone before and had to look at the instructions in the in-flight magazine to make the call. Three dollars a minute PLUS a three dollar connection fee.
He only had one credit card that was not maxed out, he ran it through the slide and dialed Robert Grey’s number. The phone rang three times and a woman picked up.
“Robert Grey’s office.”
“Robert Grey please.”
“Just a moment please, may I ask who is calling?” Six dollars.
“Tell him David Page is calling. I am on an Airfone, please hurry.”
“Just a moment sir.”
“Mr. Grey has stepped out sir.”
“Do you know when he will be back?”
“I can check.”
“He is out until five o’clock tomorrow sir. He has an appointment at five.”
“I know, I am his five o’clock.”
“Ah, yes sir, David Page. I will confirm it and let him know you called. Would you like to leave a number or a message?”
“Uh, no, no message, just let him know I called.”
“Very good sir.”
“Thank you sir, we’ll see you at five. Good bye.”
Twenty-four dollars. Wasted.
* * *
By the time the plane landed, Dave was a wreck. Even before the plane reached the gate, Dave had turned on his cell phone. I peeked into his minutes, he had a small plan, 400 minutes, and he had already used 435 minutes with three days to go in the month. I felt sorry for Dave.
Mr. Grey was still not back, but there was a message from Dave’s daughter telling him that she would not be able to pick him up from the airport.
At the baggage claim, I retrieved my valise and case and waited while Dave collected his things. His garment bag and catalog case arrived without incident, but the vacuum failed to appear. We waited until the carousel stopped moving and the baggage handlers came to remove the remaining luggage.
Dave in distress found his way to the information counter and was directed to the oversized baggage chute. There he found his pink swaddled vacuum pressed up against a golf bag. He reached down to lift the vacuum by its handle, but as he did, the bottom of the vacuum flopped around in the comforter. Dave ripped open the duct tape and found that the vacuum had broken off at the base.
The baggage information officer informed David that the packaging was insufficient and there was nothing the airline could do.
David left the vacuum next to a garbage can and wadded up the comforter into his garment bag.
I chose this moment to find my driver and car.
* * *
The next time I think of Mr. David Page, it is because I am bored. I am walking to Lincoln Center when I happen upon a familiar mind on the street; I find Mr. Page sitting on a bench in the Mall at Central Park. I decide that Lincoln Center can wait and sit in the bench across from David near the half-shell.
Dave looks exceptionally distraught. I look into his face to see what happened since I left him. I have no particular business looking into Dave’s affairs, but after the thoughts on the airplane, it has become like picking at a scab, or watching an accident, I feel perversely drawn to how the story played itself out.
It turns out that after finding his vacuum broken at the baggage carousel, Dave went first to go visit his daughter. Uninitiated in New York City life, he was suckered into a ride in a Town Car by a gypsy cab instead of taking the Yellow Cabs that populate the city. The ride turned out to be twice as much as it was supposed to be. For a man on a budget, his inexperience cost him another fifty dollars.
His daughter was disappointed about the vacuum, but David is a good man and he took his child to the nearest store to buy a new vacuum. It is true that it is not in his budget and the two hundred dollar purchase would mean peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for the next several months, but providing for Rachel was what this trip was ultimately about.
Inside her apartment, Dave changed shirts from the soiled one to the other that he brought. He put on a new tie and checked to see if he was presentable.
Rachel was a mess. It turns out that Rachel had broken up with her boyfriend in the time it had take Dave to fly to New York. They talked until Rachel couldn’t say anything more.
“Are you okay dear?” He asked her.
“No,” she sobbed. “How will I ever go on? This was such a mistake!”
“You know honey, your mother always said that there is going to be a time in the future when you are happy again. There is going to be a time when you are going to be happy and everything that has happened to you until that point makes you who you are. Including today.”
“Mama said that?”
“Yes she did after we got divorced.”
“I believe it daddy, I do.”
“I do too dear.”
It was four o’clock.
He took his briefcase and made his way out to the street. To try to save money, he attempted to navigate the subway system. He loses himself in Queens before asking someone for directions. By the time he made it to Midtown, it was five-oh-five. Breathless and in a rush he made it up the building and to the receptionist.
It turns out Robert Grey was late too and David was made to wait. Time to wait was just what David did not need.
All the while that he had been traveling, the issue of Bob and the perfect murder had taken a back seat to buying a vacuum and getting to the office. Now, amidst the ficus and the polished hardwood, the thoughts came back to the fore.
It was time for David to make a decision. Did he ignore the signs and his gut to insure his and his daughter’s financial future? College cost a lot of money, and his Rachel really had no idea what straits he was in. On the other hand, he had taught his daughter to do the right thing, that was what morality was about it didn’t matter if it was relative or absolute, it was about doing the right thing. The question was, ‘was Bob capable of murder?”
David remembered the first time Bob and he went into the city. It was a cold day and they did not know Chicago well. More than not knowing the city, they did not know to avoid the panhandlers, nor to steer clear of the seedier side of town.
They were walking from the Sears Tower to the Hancock building through what is now the renovated theater district. Back then, years of bird droppings encrusted the El’s tracks and homeless people kept warm right on the platform. It was danker then than it is now, and through this Dave and Bob discovered that the tallness of the buildings made the distance seem much closer.
As they walked through questionable streets, they happened upon a man and a woman arguing. Bob stopped to watch, David pulled at him and tried to pass the scene, but Bob was immovable and stared unflinchingly at the couple.
The man grabbed the woman’s arm and the woman screamed for him to let go. Bob stepped forward into the scene.
“Let go of her,” he said.
“Whaddaya talking about man, this ain’t none of your business,” said the man.
“The lady said to let go,” Bob said.
“Get outta my face,” the man said. The woman continued screaming at the man.
The man took his free hand and put it on Bob’s chest. One hand was on the woman, the other on Bob’s chest, there is no chance of a knife or a gun, but instead of pushing the hand away, or twisting the man’s wrist to immobilize him as he had often done in the gym while sparring, Bob opened up with a haymaker with all of his strength and pummels the man on the side of his head.
The man went down, as they say, like a sack of potatoes. He fell to the ground and did not move. The woman took one look at Bob’s face and ran screaming from the alley.
“What are you doing?” Dave screamed.
Bob whipped his head David’s direction.
“Defending,” he said.
“Defending,” Dave repeated aghast.
Dave pulled Bob to the far wall and they slid down to the ground. They sat there for awhile but the man did not move. Afraid, they moved to the far side of the alley to watch. They were afraid to take the man’s pulse, they were afraid to come any closer.
“Why did you hit him?” Dave asked.
“To make sure he didn’t hit me,” Bob said.
“What do you mean? Couldn’t you just disable him or knock some sense into him? You were trying to kill him!”
“If you are going to get into a fight, you have to commit,” Bob said. “If you hit someone, you better be prepared to kill them or be killed.”
“My God, Bob, do you hear yourself? That’s insane.”
“I’m not saying you should try to kill people, in fact knowing that you might have to kill someone or be killed prevents you from getting into fights.”
“It didn’t today.”
“He wasn’t letting go of the woman.”
“What if they were together? What if they were just fighting? What if they were going to make up? What if he is dead right now? He hasn’t moved! Its been ten minutes and he hasn’t moved!”
“He put his hand on my chest, I wasn’t thinking.”
“You weren’t thinking!”
“Stop yelling. Its about justice, its about doing what is right. You say they could have just been arguing, you say they could have been just fighting. It could have been a rape, or domestic abuse. That needs to be stopped.”
“So you weren’t trying to kill him?”
“I was trying to kill him. We were fighting. When you fight you have to commit.”
“I’m scared Bob.”
“So am I.”
“What are we going to do? The police are going to come. We aren’t going to graduate college. We should see if he is dead.”
“I am too scared to, Dave.”
They waited fifteen minutes before the man finally moved. Fifteen minutes of eternity wondering if they had killed a man. Fifteen minutes of wondering if their lives were ruined. The man wobbled out of the alley. Bob and Dave followed for a few blocks and seeing that he was all right, they rushed home.
“Its about justice Dave, it is about doing what is right.”
Robert Grey was capable of murder. David knew it.
* * *
“You told me last week you could help me. You said that you have knowledge and knowledge is power. You told me you could help me get the funding I need.”
“I didn’t know you were going to come all the way out here for that.”
“We made an appointment!”
“Sorry you came all this way Dave, I can’t help you. Maybe next year.”
“I need help right now! Rachel needs tuition, books, her apartment!”
“Its out of my hands, Dave.”
“Its not fair Bob! You promised, I’ll be ruined.”
“Live isn’t always fair Dave.”
“You said in in Chicago that it is about fairness, it is about justice, that doing the right thing was the most important thing!”
“We were kids back then.”
“You almost killed a guy for it!”
“I did didn’t I?” Bob had a quirky grin on his face.
Dave wanted to smash that grin. Bob got up and went to the executive washroom. Dave followed pleading his case as he went.
“I know what you are capable of Bob, you can help me, you just won’t!”
Bob finished his business, did not wash his hands and looked at Dave with flinty eyes.
“I choose what is best for the company Dave. It isn’t about doing the right thing, its about business.”
“And killing people…” Dave stops short. No matter that Bob was going to deny him his livelihood. No matter that Bob was going to let him rot. It wasn’t for Dave to judge Bob. It was about doing the right thing, and the right thing was to stop begging and to leave. Somehow things would work themselves out. Sometime in the future he was going to be happy again, this was just going to be part of the memories that would lead to who he would become. He would not beg, nor would he black mail. Doing what was right was the right thing.
“He got up and walked home Dave, I didn’t kill anyone.”
* * *
I followed David to his daughter’s apartment, with the spare key, he let himself in. His daughter was already asleep in her bed. Not wanting to disturb her, David found himself a space on the couch and took from his garment bag the wadded up comforter that had wrapped the vacuum. It was an old blanket, Rachel’s childhood blanket. Dave did not know what to do but to stare at the wall while tears ran down his face.
I went looking for Robert Grey.
Most of the time you just listen, most of the time you just observe. Most of the time people do normal things, live normal days that lead to extraordinary lives. Most of the time there is justice. Today, David Page lays in his daughter Rachel’s, apartment and does not know of there is justice, he does not know what is the truth other than that he did what was right. I know the truth, it is a gift, a job to know. Not everybody does well with the truth, not everybody does well knowing what I know.
Mr. Robert Grey waits for the 10:15 to pull in. Someone in the crowd gives a heartfelt sigh that to suffuses itself into Mr. Grey’s consciousness. I’m sure how he hears it, I’m the one who makes him. Above the music of the classical guitar and the through the rumbling of the opposite train, the sigh penetrates Mr. Grey’s experience and pulls away the subway-culture-blinders. I know, I have a photograph of that exact moment. I think the fact that his eyes were suddenly burst open to his surroundings startled him because he seems to falter for just a moment — sensory overload I suppose.
In that moment, he can see as I can see, hear as I can hear, sense as I can sense. It makes me smile. The woman to his rear, worrying about her unborn child’s future; The man against the wall, wondering how to slip in a drink before going home; The child, angry with her nanny for bringing her to such a smelly place. With trepidation, he turns and looks into the eyes of the aged woman next to him. In those eyes he sees the days of pain and the days of happiness left to her that would make up her life. Turning again he sees the accident that will take the school boy’s dreams of a basketball scholarship and dash it across the hood of a car. In that instant he looks into everyone’s fate and sees in them, the frailty of human life. I give him the gift of knowledge. In his moment of epiphany, his eyes make their way to my corner and, though he sees the horrific truth in everyone else, in me he sees nothing. And in seeing nothing, he begins to scream.