“He came into my room again last night.”
“Who did, dad?”
“You know who damn well who. The man who’s been after me for months. I woke up and he had his hands over my mouth. He leaned down next to me and whispered, ‘I know what you did, and I’m going to kill you for it.’ He even threatened you, Sherri, and my grandkids too! Little Tommy and Ayla, he’s going to kill them! God, Robert, why don’t you ever believe me?”
Robert looked into his father’s eyes. He felt the tears pounding from behind his eyes, but he blinked them away. Be strong. This stranger “with the black hat” had been sneaking into Thomas’ room for the last three months, and the entire time none of the nurses or caregivers at Pleasant Trees Assisted Living have been able to catch him. Security cameras and reason, the mysterious stranger evaded them all. My guess is that he had a history working as a CIA Operations Officer, gathering foreign intelligence with regard to our national security.
“It’s not that I don’t believe you, dad. There’s just nothing I can do. Everyone I’ve spoken to here has assured me that the proper precautions and security procedures have been in place to ensure the safety of Pleasant Trees resident. If they could—“ Robert sighed and stopped himself from saying anything more. He decided play into the delusions a little more. “Dad, if he wanted to kill you, why hasn’t he done so? It’s been three months.”
“It’s obvious, Robert. Don’t you see? He’s biding his time, waiting for just the right moment to strike. He’s trying to wear me down, to make me lower my guard. I need to leave this place. I’m a sitting duck here. Don’t you understand? Please tell me you understand?”
“I understand, dad.
“I have to be somewhere else. My family has to be protected at all costs.”
“We’re fine! Sherri, Ayla, Tommy, and I are all fine. No one has been sneaking around our house. No one has threatened our lives.”
“I already explained this to you. He’s biding his time.” Thomas looked off, feeling defeated yet again. Robert knew that at this meant the conversation was over. A shadow of the man he used to be, Thomas was a family man. He married his high school sweetheart, Cynthia, right out of college. They had four boys, Robert was the youngest. Little Tommy was named after his grandfather. Senior Thomas fought late in World War II in the Battle of Leyte Gulf in 1944. His captivating war stories were a source of endless fascination for his son and his grandson. Little Tommy would always climb up on his grandfather’s lap to hear the latest adventure of Sergeant Thomas of the US 3rd Fleet. While the boys bonded, Cynthia had a special relationship with her granddaughter, Ayla, and daughter-in-law. Cynthia’s death two years ago hit Thomas hard, but he still did everything he could to honor her memory while still being the “World’s Best Grandpa.”
Following the war, Thomas went back to college and got his degree in accounting and went on to become the bookkeeper for a large engineering company. Cynthia was a real estate agent, but became a stay-at-home when their first child was born. The lived simply and saved up a large retirement fund so they could travel. When their four boys were old enough to live on their own, they took the money and travelled around the world, visiting many sites in Europe and Australia.
A young nurse who proudly displayed the name Katie on her badge walked into the room. “I’m sorry to interrupt,” she sang, “but it is time for Mr. Thomas’ medicine.” Her bright white smiled comforted Robert. He nodded and allowed to administer another dose of Risperidone and a sedative. Thomas took the medicine without a complaint or a hesitation. Katie left the room soon after that. Ten minutes later, Thomas was fast asleep.
Thomas awoke to a dark room. He glanced at the clock on the nightstand next to his bed. 12:01am. Rolling onto his back, he got himself comfortable again and closed his eyes again. A slight rapping at the door prevented his return to sleep. Without opening his eyes, Thomas softly called out, “Come on in.”
He could sense someone walking toward him. “Who is it?” Thomas opened his eyes and couldn’t see anyone in the room. He rubbed his eyes and looked again.
A gloved hand trust out of the darkness and grabbed Thomas’ mouth. Thomas tried to scream but the sound wouldn’t escape his throat. He tried to pry the hand off his face, but he wasn’t strong enough. A man’s face slowly materialized and looked Thomas straight in the eye. Thomas could see that the man was wearing a black hat.
“Thomas,” the man hissed. “You need to stop telling your family about my visits. It makes me want to kill them sooner.” The stranger smiled, which sent chills up Thomas’ spine. “You can’t run from me. You know what you did. You know that you have to pay for that.”
Once again Thomas tried to scream for help, but it was as if he lost the ability to speak.
“Shhh. Struggling won’t help you either. You know what you need to do.” At this the stranger leaned down closed and put his lips to Thomas’ ear and whispered, “I promise you. I will kill your family. But if you keep the secret hidden, I will kill them more brutally.” He smiled again and chuckled underneath his breath, “And…I will make you watch.”
With that the man left the room.
Feeling the voice come back to him, Thomas cried out,” Help! Help! The son of a bitch is back. Help!”
“Dad, dad, what’s going on? I’m here.” Robert flipped on the lights and rushed to his father’s side.”
“Robert, it was horrible. He came back again. He threatened you and your family again. He says I need to tell you the truth.”
“Robert, you have to believe me.”
“Dad, I believe you. What’s going on?”
“He knows, son…he knows.” The fear in Thomas’ face was genuine, real. Robert painfully looked at his father. He had unintentionally stayed the night. There was a couch in the room, and Robert decided to spend a few minutes with his father after the nurse named Katie left the room. Sherri had texted him around 9:30pm, asking him where he was, and he realized he had fallen asleep. He texted back and responded that he would spend the night, just in case.
“I haven’t always been the most faithful person.” He looked at Robert to say something, but Robert didn’t respond. Thomas took a moment to gather his thoughts and continued speaking.
“There was a time, many years ago, when I spent a few nights with another woman. It was after you were born. Your brothers were six, four, and one. Things became a little stressful at home. Your mother was upset that I was leaving for a company retreat. I left anyway. I loved your mother, and I love you, but at the time I saw this retreat as an escape from all that, and nothing was going to keep me away from it. I was running away from my responsibilities.”
Robert looked at his dad, trying to process what was being said to him in that moment. Part of him was wondering if this was another one of Thomas’ delusions or if this time there was some truth to it. Right now the emotions were too raw to process anything adequately. But now matter what, he knew that he would always love his father and would forgive him.
“A few of my buddies went out to a bar late one night. I met this beautiful young woman named Camille. She and I started chatting. As my drunkenness took hold of me, I began flirting with her. And let me tell you she was eating it up. One thing led to another and she was up in my hotel room—and you know the rest.”
Thomas looked at Robert, the hurt clearly visible in his eyes. Robert looked back at dad with a mixture of disgust and concern. “Dad, how could you do that to mom?”
“I told her right when I got back, son. I felt terrible. Understandably, your mom and I grew apart during that time. I was worried she would leave me, but she stuck beside me. We rekindled our marriage over time. I found a different job so that I could spend more time at home. But, yes, your old man was unfaithful to the best woman a guy could have ever asked for. That’s why this man in the black wants to kill me.”
“Dad, what you did was terrible, but I don’t think it’s worth killing someone over, especially something that happened at least fifty years ago.”
“People do the strangest things anymore, Robert. Haven’t you noticed that?”
“I know, dad, but not like this.”
“Yes, son, just like this. You see, Camille was gone when I woke up. The money in my wallet was taken too.”
“Robert, I don’t remember sleeping with her, but I am sure I did.”
“But you don’t remember that! You said you woke up and she was gone and she stole your money.”
“I doubt she stole it, Robert. Someone else broke into my apartment after she left and took it.”
“Dad, are you sure about what you’re telling me is true?”
“Yes! It’s all true, as true as the man who keeps coming into my room and threatening to kill me. He wants me to admit to cheating on your mother. Now, my conscious is clean. I’ve done what he asked me!”
“Okay, I’m sorry to say this, but there is not a man coming into your room. I was here all night and I didn’t see anyone. You’re probably just imagining that you cheated on mother, too. You have these delusions dad. They mess with your mind. I’ll get the nurse. You need your medicine.”
“Listen to me, dammit! I am not insane. Quit treating me like I am deranged. I’m not about to ask to tear up the floorboards and listen to beating of some dead man’s heart. This is all real! I’m trying to protect you. You are in danger. We are all in danger.”
“DAD! You are not in danger!”
“I’m afraid he’s right.” The chill in the voice made the room temperature drop twenty degrees. No one could move. No one could speak. Robert turned his head in the direction of the voice directly behind him. “You are in great danger. Your old man, here, killed my mother.”
“What on earth on are you—“ but Robert’s voice was cut off early. The knife glistened in the stranger with the black hat’s hands. And, without warning, the stranger lunged at Robert.