First the phone lines, then the power cable. I repeat the mantra as I slip over the back fence onto his property. It's not as easy as the video made it look. And I practiced. But this fence is a lot taller, over five feet, and I end up having to pry a couple of boards loose to squeeze through. It's OK because he doesn't have a clue I'm coming. The three bags of equipment are waiting for me where I shoved them over, though one is caught on a nail. Who leaves rusty things like that in a fence where somebody could get hurt?
My God, his back yard is overgrown. They ought to have a law against this sort of thing. You'd think he never heard of a lawn service. Partly because I don't want to step on something hidden in the grass, it takes a while to get everything set up. I hook the battery to a cell scrambler, so he can't get a call out. Pretty smart, right? Then I use epoxy to hang a heavy blanket outside his bedroom window, to muffle the sounds. Finally, still repeating the mantra, I cut the landline, then flip the switches on his power box. I didn't even need the big insulated clipper doodad. All electricity off and nobody the wiser.
Now comes the tricky part because I'm working off of an instruction manual. And it's hard copy. I mean, these guys should seriously get into the twenty-first century. I use a small blowtorch to melt a hole in the sliding glass window, right where the security circuit is located. Then I put a pair of these cute little leads onto the ends, so it thinks the wires are still attached. I mean, as much as a machine actually thinks. But I fool it. Probably. Now I have to open the door, which is easier than I expected because, while I'm working the lockpick, it just jiggles the latch free. I dunno, must be the foundation. My dad used to complain about his door doing the very same thing.
I am a natural at this. I take the rest of the bags inside, because sooner or later, I'll be in control and he'll know what it's like to be powerless. I close the door, just to keep it looking normal. Nobody will look over the fence in the middle of the night. Hopefully.
I am strong. I am in charge. I spent a lot of money on therapy to make this happen. The infrared scanner shows he's alone in the house. The outer walls might be too well insulated for this model to get a good read, but he posted online about his family taking a vacation to Martha's Vineyard while he finished some work at home. Probably just drinking and smoking and doesn't want his wife to know. Maybe an affair, but he's sort of old.
I take three battery units to just outside his bedroom door, to power the spotlight. I intend to make him sweat before I kill him. What? You thought I was doing all this to short-sheet his bed? No. He deserves to die for what he did. For how powerless he made me feel. And all those others too, I'm sure. What sort of man stops at just one, when he knows he can get away with it?
And once he's dead, he'll never hurt anyone again. I guarantee it. Unless vampires are real, which my friend Steve swears is true, but he smokes a lot of meth, so he's not really a reliable source. And it ruined his teeth too. I mean, blech. No, double blech. Would that be blech blech? I need to take notes, so I can write the book afterward.
Quiet as a vole, which is a fancy type of mouse, I slide his door open. He's sound asleep. I carry the light in, make sure its switch is off, then plug it into the wall. No wait, there's no power. I run out and plug it into the three batteries, which I then have to set up in series. Or is that parallel? I hope I have it right.
Then a light shines at me. His voice, the one I recall with so much terror, calls out, "What the devil is going on?"
I run over and flip the light on, then aim it at him. He holds up his hand to shield his eyes. Thank goodness he's wearing pajamas, I don't want to see an old guy naked or anything. He's trying to act tough. "I don't know who gave you a key, but the joke is done. Go back to your dorm."
He starts to get up, but I pull the pistol out of my pocket, then slide the sound suppressor on it. He laughs. "You can't silence a revolver. Even if you could, it's not anything like silent, so someone will hear. See the window?"
He probably got that part about the revolver from some mystery novel he reviewed. I laugh back. I have the gun. "See the drapes? I used epoxy to hang some more outside. It's all about layers. Oh, and this is a fancy Russian revolver-"
"A Nagant?" He's not scared. He thinks this is a joke. And of course he knows the name. Probably got that from some other career he ruined.
"I'm going to shoot you."
He stands up and starts walking for the door. "Where do you think you're going?"
"The bathroom. Go out to the kitchen and start some coffee. This will probably take all night and I'm older. I have to pee."
"I have a gun!" My voice rises.
"If you intended to use it, you would have shot me already." He turns, disinterested. "Besides, you're the third aggrieved student this Christmas break. Probably get another before you're done."
I pull the trigger and nothing happens. Then I remember I have to flip the safety off. Or on- I never remember which means it can shoot. By that time, he's in the bathroom and I am not going to go watch him pee. Well, I suppose some coffee can't hurt. The three gallons of kerosene will burn any trace of me drinking as well as everything else I'm leaving behind.
"The coffee maker's not working." I call after fumbling with it for a while. "I already checked. It's plugged in."
"Did you flip the circuit breakers on?" He calls. He comes out in a robe and slippers, barely visible in the light from the bedroom. He presses a button on his end table and a soft glow lights from a wall sconce. Then he reaches for the gun. "Let me see it now I have the backup light on. She looks like a real beauty. I want to hold one of these before I die."
"Please." I shoo him back. "Like I'll fall for that one. Once you have the gun, I die."
"Did you pay absolutely no attention when you illuminated me so?" Now he sounds like my professor from all those years ago. "Yellow, jaundiced skin which hangs loose on the limbs. Dark circles under the eyes. Hair even thinner than it should be. Whether you shoot me or not, I remain doomed. Less than two weeks, during the holidays. I convinced my wife to take the grand-kids on vacation so they won't recall me as the sick old man whose death ruined Christmas. If you want to put me out of my misery, then fine. The pain is horrible and the medicine worse."
"How am I supposed to get revenge for you ruining my life?"
"Me?" he chuckles. "I had nothing to do with it. You were the one who refused to learn. Came into my class with a chip on your shoulder. Thinking you were as capable a writer as Hemingway."
"Rowling. I want money."
"Whatever." He waves his hand. "It's just like now. If you walk away, it's only another frat prank and my insurance will pay for it. Pull that trigger and you'll be on the run for the rest of your life. So who destroys your life if you give me surcease of sorrow? You have all the advantages. I'm powerless to stop you."
"The exact reverse of your class." I sneer with pleasure. I finally have him where I want him. All his pretty words and he's going to die screaming. In pain. And all I have to do is waltz out of here to watch it happen. That means no police and all my plans work beautifully.
"So, want to turn on the power and talk about your work in progress? The frat boys have a pizza delivery guy who keeps showing up at odd hours. Brings a small mountain of food. Then I have the nurse take it out."
Wow. He has it soooo damn tough. A private nurse. "Must be nice. All the expensive care. I can't even get my teeth fixed."
"Not really. One payer system is why the doctors failed to catch my pancreatic cancer in time." He scowls, just like when he used to grade papers. Especially mine. I watched. "But really-"
The doorbell interrupts.
"And that will be the aforementioned mountain of pizza. Stay here, you can help eat it."
I wait, then he comes back with two police officers. He acts apologetic. "They said someone called about you sneaking around the neighborhood. Said they saw you come in."
"Do you want to say anything?" An officer asks. They have their guns out and aimed at me, and I realize my revolver is still in my hand. I slowly release it, opening my fingers without moving anything more. One of them walks over and takes the gun.
"That's just a prop. She brought it to talk about a story. Very in character, sort of like method acting but for writing."
I can't believe they could fall for such a lame story. The one holding checks the chambers. "It's loaded."
"But the gun is off," the professor says. "We checked."
"The safety is off," the policeman answers. He looks at me. "Do you have a license for this?"
"That is my gun. Billy Summers came here at my invitation," the professor tells them. "If you could just help me unload it and put the safety to will not fire, I'll put it in the safe. Then we can get back to our expected pizza, "
Could this get any more surreal? Why is he doing this? He has all the power now. No. I've tricked him. I'll get the gun back after the police leave and any fingerprints are because I was here. They'll never suspect a thing. No, wait, I get off completely free. Maybe even steal his next manuscript because he suspects nothing. As nice as everything is, he must make a mint. Even one of his books will set me up for life.
"Are you still with me Billy?" He asks. "The police are gone. They'll write it up as a mistaken call by a nosy neighbor, and we can get back to helping you get your Great American Novel written."
"I need my gun back at some point." I want to be nice. "Pity about the cancer."
"I have a root canal scheduled for tomorrow," He's smiling. The predator's smile he used to skewer students, particularly me. It was always me, not the others. "Can't sleep, but one payer medical means I get it done when they can fit me in. I've been waiting for months."
"Isn't that a waste when you're dying of cancer?"
"That was a story, just like those police." Then the professor has the gall to turn toward the audience. "Dear readers, what started as parody humor of a darkly sardonic tale has turned surreal with this fourth wall violation. If it was not obvious, and for full literary effect, we will now explain what actually happened. Within the scope of the tale and without any more fourth wall violation."
Does that not beat all. Here it is, my story, and he takes over like he has all the power. Just like when he taught classes in writing and wanted to tell us how to write our stories. This is my story, I get to decide how it will end. "The gun is still mine. I want it back."
"I hope you have a bill of sale." Then the lights come on. "Good. They found the fuse box."
"You are a thief. Give me my gun."
"Just holding onto it for safe keeping. By which I mean I keep it safe in my safe to keep me safe from you. And in case it gets rough, my safe word is safe. Because I like playing safe."
"Wait. What?" He always wants to twist me in his clever words.
"I never had cancer," he says. I think he's going through an elaborate explanation like in a mystery novel. "Just a bad tooth. It's kept me up for months, hence the bags under my eyes. And the pain has been stress which made my hair brittle and dry. Your lamp gives everything a yellowish tint, but my emergency lighting is worse. I said cancer and you hesitated. You never wanted to kill me, just humiliate."
"I wanted you dead. I bought the gun for just that reason."
"Which puts you in a tough spot for legal action."
"Explain how that works."
"I have two witnesses, the frat boys I summoned when you thought I was going to the bathroom." He's a menace. I'd shoot him if I still had my gun. "Then I told you the bit about the pizza and you fell for it too. Then they had prop guns pointed-"
"How did you plan all this out?" I feel my heart racing. "You did this to me. You set me up, just like all those times in class."
"I improvised," he says. "You had a pathetic gun. I have a keen mind. In the end, my weapon overpowered yours. You were helpless from the moment I woke up."
I am powerless. Just like always. I go make some coffee. When I get back, the two frat boys are there. With pizza and their, obviously fake, police uniforms. "Why didn't I see those were fakes earlier?"
"Duh! The power was out." The heavier of the frat boys.
"Boys, be nice. Miss Summers has problems."
"Yeah, she's mental." The other frat boy.
"What about you two? Just boyfriends of the prof or something?"
"Nah, he's our club sponsor. We TP'ed his house and he kept the cops off. So when he wanted a solid, we said sure."
"Returning to the subject at hand." He's always like this. "You failed tonight because you became enamored of your plot. You failed, just like in class, because you don't ever want to be told how to do anything."
"This was flawless. I got in and would have killed you except the safety was on. Then you were in the bathroom and then it was the cancer would finish you and then-"
"You never put a plot complication before your characters. So you don't expect them in life. This is why we study Shakespeare. To prepare ourselves to take arms against a sea of troubles."
"But it nearly worked," I say. "And I passed your class."
"You received a pity C," he says. "It was a pity university regulations prevented me failing most of your class."
"I got an A on the first assignment. The one you gave on the first day and forced us to hand in before class was over."
"When did this stop being funny?" heavy frat asks.
"Writing is a serious matter. Students want it to be easy. They're fed pap in school and given participation awards until they believe it's how the world works. You had all the power. Three students made an effort to improve. They received A's and an invitation to a special studies class. The rest of you received my pity. You failed to learn, and now you fail at life. Until you decide to use your power wisely, you won't go anywhere."
"I don't have any power. I never chose this!"
"You chose to come here tonight with deadly intent. You chose to ignore my pleas to improve your writing. You had such promise. Now I can only imagine what sort of dark, bitter ramblings you post online. Now go. In this, you are powerless. If you choose to resist, we will summon the actual police. Then you will spend years behind bars for a variety of state and federal crimes. I don't want to ruin your life, but I won't let you destroy mine."
As the boys start walking me away, I wonder when this comedy turned tragic. Then I understand. I was always a pawn of the sadistic writer. Nobody understands powerless until they are a character in someone's writing.
And I don't understand enough German to know why he chose his title.