Another cigarette caught the flame from his lighter as he took a long drag. The fire in his lungs was a sharp contrast to the coolness in his eyes, steel gray that they were, which coincidentally matched the overcast clouds above. The silver skies reflected off the large pond ahead of him and created a mirror of sunless gloom over the park.
He puffed smoke out of the window of the car. A father walked right into it as he led his young daughter by the hand. The bread bag she carried for duck food swung wildly as her little legs tried to run ahead of her father, but she was pulled back by the restraint of his grip. The father waved his other hand through the smoke vapor and muttered some expletives under his breath at the car. Then he shushed himself when he saw his daughter had heard the cuss word. He pressed her onward to get past the moment. Smart move, thought the smoker. You don’t want me to get out of this car. But lucky for you, I’m busy.
He turned to his companion in the passenger seat. Her red curls jiggled as she bobbed her leg impatiently while her arms stayed crossed. He held out the lit cigarette. Her sideways glance declined it.
“I get enough of that with you blowing it constantly. How much longer are you gonna make us wait here? Couldn’t we have gotten some food first?”
“Take another puff, it’ll burn the hunger right outta ya.”
She turned her head to look out her open window. He casually pulled the cigarette back and took another puff. As he held it in, he imagined running out to that dad and blowing it in his face. A smirk curled under those stormy eyes.
“How much longer do we gotta wait anyway?”
“Shouldn’t be long. Apparently he appears like clockwork. Just gotta confirm and go from there.”
“What are we looking for again?”
“Didn’t you read the note?”
“Yeah, but you burned it.”
“Of course. Can’t have that sitting around for someone to find. You’re supposed to memorize it. Don’t worry, you’ll pick this up as you go.”
“Like I’m supposed to pick up smoking, too?”
He scoffed, then blew a puff of smoke toward her open window in front of her face. She coughed and waved it out.
“Bench under the tree,” he instructed. “Near that picnic gazebo thing. Always goes and sits with a sandwich. On his way before work or something.”
“That’s it? Anybody could sit there and eat a sandwich.”
“Yeah, but not many people wear a yellow denim jacket.”
“What’s he look like?”
“Don’t know. We only need to know the jacket. It’ll stand out.”
“Does he walk like Charlie Brown?”
“Why would that matter?”
“Cause that stupid-looking dude with the bright yellow jacket over there walks like Charlie Brown,” she snickered.
The man took notice. Some lanky fella with a funny walk made his way over to the bench by the pond and unwrapped his sandwich. Must be him, alright.
“Now what? Do we get him now? In broad daylight?”
“Of course we don’t,” he sighed. “We wait. Now we’ve seen who he is. So we watch.”
“At least he was smart enough to get a sandwich before working,” she taunted.
The man exhaled a long puff of smoke out her window.
They trailed the fellow back to a warehouse on the docks overlooking the expansive bay of the city. The smoking man parked where they could watch from a distance. The vantage point was dark and few working street lamps lit these dark alleys.
The woman with red curls was mad that yet again this stakeout didn’t involve a food stop beforehand.
The man eyed the long brick building next to them. For the past ten minutes they had watched a number of cars leave. One vehicle remained, parked near an exit door on the corner of the building.
A clunking sound of metal. A rusty creaking followed. The door opened, lit by a lone security light from above. The fellow in the yellow jacket appeared from inside, fiddled with the door to lock it, then closed it behind him. He descended a few stairs down to his waiting vehicle.
“You see that briefcase he’s got?” said the man.
“Looks like a bag to me.”
“Whatever! It doesn’t matter! That’s all you, got it? All you do is grab it. I don’t want you doing nothing else.”
The fellow in yellow started his car. The headlights and taillights illuminated more of the dark alley. He reversed from his parking spot, then pulled forward on his way toward the street exit, coasting in the direction where his watchers waited.
The man flicked on his lights and accelerated his car forward in a swerve blocking the fellow’s way. He threw it into park and leapt out of his vehicle, then marched directly to the fellow’s driver side. The woman, with less grace and intention, also exited the car and trotted around to the fellow’s passenger side.
Like lightning, the man pulled open the door then threw a swift punch to the fellow’s face, who moaned and went limp in the front seat.
The woman opened the passenger side and grabbed at the bag that sat there, pulled it out, then shut the door.
The man stretched himself into the car over the weakened fellow. He thrust the gear into reverse, then pulled on the seatbelt to ensure it was tight.
“Buckle up, pal.”
He pulled himself out of the car and shut the door. As the car passed him, he leaned into the front of the car and pushed against it with a few steps before letting it glide away.
The car rolled in reverse toward the dark murky water of the bay. It sailed over the edge as if a moment of silence was observed to memorialize the fellow. The monstrous splash of metal in water rocked the night. The car sank as it bubbled beneath the water’s surface. The man grinned and turned to the woman with the bag.
“You got it?”
She scoffed and lifted to show him. “No, I always carry a stupid business bag with me.”
The man smirked and rushed the woman toward their car. They jumped in and he reversed the car, then threw it into drive and hit the gas.
She opened the bag. There was a flash of light and a concussive burst of smoke, causing the man to smash the car into the brick wall of the building. The car idled as thick, dark smoke overflowed inside the car and out every crack. They flung their doors open coughing and hacking and collapsed on the concrete as they fell out of their doors to escape.
The timing had to be perfect.
There’s a specific time in the afternoon that the sandwich shop puts out the freshest meat and toppings to prepare for the dinner rush. That’s when you’re assured to get the best cold cuts and not the stuff that’s been sitting out all day.
The fellow walked in to place his order. Since it was an intermediate time of day between typical meal rushes, there was hardly anyone there which allowed him to be served without delay. The restaurant blasted the A/C no matter what time of day it was, so he adjusted his yellow jacket a bit tighter to compensate.
He placed his memorized order, the same as every day. The workers knew it by heart, but he still insisted on laying out all the details each time. It was useful when someone new was hired. The employee gave him a slightly funny look which lacked the typical recognition of him, but regardless she put on her best customer service smile and took his order.
Sandwich bag in hand, he crossed the street to a beautiful large park. He took the same path he always had down the sidewalk then over the dedicated bike lane. A bicyclist whizzed by which forced him to take a step back to avoid collision.
He surveyed his surroundings. Kids on the playground. Ducks waddling and floating around. Skateboarders at the skatepark area. Car parked in the lot with people smoking inside. Nothing too out of the ordinary.
He checked his watch. Yep, right on time for his typical sandwich in the park before heading to work. He ambled forward with a shuffled gait. His bright yellow jacket was a beacon of sunshine on an overcast day.
This time of day was perfect because the park was quiet. People that were here during the day have gone home, and the others who might come by after work for their nightly jog or whatever else had not yet clocked out for the day.
He perched on his typical park bench seat and stared out at the peaceful lake. For a moment, he lost himself gazing at the tranquil waters. This bench really was the perfect spot. Snapped back to reality, he opened the wrapping and ate his sandwich with clean, meticulous care.
This was the calm before the storm of heading into work. Not that work was particularly stressful. He liked what he did. The importance of it could be a heavy burden for anyone, but he was the type of self-proclaimed nerdy analyst who enjoyed such things. There was excitement in keeping an eye on the books and ensuring things stayed in compliance. Only the keenest minds could point out the errors and mistakes that caused inefficiencies. It provided him a sliver of power when he told the people in charge that things weren’t adding up right, as he relished his discerning eye and wisdom to make corrections.
Except when they didn’t listen. Recently they ignored his warnings. They stopped caring about the errors. They advised him to keep it hidden. Then they directed him to falsify them. Under threat of violence. Something had changed there.
He continued following instructions but in a cold sweat each day. He made his reports and presentations in a shaky voice as he knew what he was sharing was absolutely untrue, yet it appeased the higher-ups. He feared what his complacency in all this meant for him as a potential accomplice to these distorted deals that were occurring. But this was his job. He had to do it. Who would he be without his job?
The shakes and headaches continued every day. Luckily he had his own office where he could keep himself relatively hidden. Until he decided he couldn’t take it anymore. He had to share the information. He had to report it. Not doing so would mean he was supporting levels of illegality that destroyed his peace and lost him sleep at night. He couldn’t be a part of this anymore. So he gathered the valuable information he could in order to report it.
Night had fallen and the last of the crews had left from this late shift. He was typically the last to leave, compiling final records and data for the day after everyone had left. And tonight was one of those nights he would take extra copies with him.
He locked up his secure office, threw on his bright yellow jacket, and headed to the door. He stepped outside into the cool night air on the docks, chilled by the large bay which reflected the twinkling cityscape across the way. The lone security light above the exit door provided the only illumination around him in this dark alley. He locked it, looked up, tightened his grip on his bag, and headed to his car.
The day had been less eventful than he expected. The feeling that something was going to happen hovered over him all day and he tried to prepare for it. But maybe this would end like any other day. Maybe he would do the same thing again tomorrow until this whole nightmare ended.
He started his car, pulled away, then cruised forward down the long dark alley that led to the street. He checked his rearview mirror. He enjoyed the view of the bay and the bridge slicing through the horizon toward the twinkling city skyscrapers. It was almost as placid as the pond in the park.
The serenity of the scene distracted him. He barely hit the brakes in time to avoid colliding with a car that seemingly swerved from nowhere to block his exit.
Was this it? Was the reckoning finally here?
It took them long enough.
As words barely escaped his mouth, his car door whipped open and his face met a closed fist. The hit knocked him sideways and he slumped over in his seat as fog filled his brain. Someone else opened the passenger door and took his bag from that seat. He waited to be pulled out and thrown from the car so they could steal it, but that didn’t happen. Instead both people seemed to walk away.
No, they weren’t walking away. He felt himself going backwards from them, floating away. That must be the hit to his head doing that. He raised his head to look up. He saw the other car and the people gliding away from him, like a camera zooming out. The rearview mirror did something similar but the opposite as it zoomed in on the bay and the city overlooking it. The city lights and the dark water that mimicked the night sky reached out to him as if to shake his hand.
And then the drop. A short moment of weightlessness. Followed by the violent punch as the car hit the water. The bubbling sound around him was drowned out by the stark coldness of the water that rushed in to smother him. He flailed his hands about reaching for some hidden thing to save him.
This was it. What a funny day. Everything had been timed so perfectly.
The man and the redhead burst out of their car doors coughing and hacking, trying to escape the smoke bomb that had been set off in the bag. As they stumbled to their feet gasping for air, they were surrounded by SUVs and police lights that screeched into the alleyway. No sooner had they stood up then they were forced back onto the concrete at gunpoint. The hard metal of handcuffs squeezed their wrists.
Someone barked out orders to check the bay immediately. As agents bolted to do so, a calm voice came from the darkness of that direction. The fellow in yellow emerged into the frenzied lights of the law enforcement vehicles. He was drenched from head to toe, his yellow jacket sagged and soaked like an old dirty dish towel. He panted as he walked, tightly gripping the miniature scuba tank in his hand.
A lanky gentleman emerged from one of the SUVs, eyes wide at the scene around him, and shuffled over to the fellow in yellow.
“Definitely my least favorite method out of all they could have attempted on you,” said the fellow with a smirk. He stood straighter and more confident than he had all day—a different person now. He shook the scuba tank. “But you thought of every contingency along the way. Just wish it didn’t end up being this one.”
The lanky man adjusted his glasses and spoke in his nasally tone. “Believe me, I wish it hadn’t been that one either.”
The fellow looked down at the sopping yellow jacket. He peeled it off and sheepishly held it out to the lanky man.
“Yeah, sorry about getting that ruined. I’d say I’d help you find another one, but this thing’s probably one of a kind,” he laughed. The lanky man grabbed and held it like a child whose favorite balloon had popped.
“But it helped immensely. One of the great details of the day that had them convinced I was you. And with what these goons pulled tonight, combined with the prior evidence you supplied, the whole thing is going down. Rest easy. You’re out.”
“Well, the timing was perfect.” The lanky man allowed a relieved, small grin in an effort to fight back a tear. “That’s good. At least I don’t have to see you pretend to be me anymore.”
“I’m happy to be done with that, too, you walk like Charlie Brown.”