July 2018 Fiction Feature: Jacob Dalfen-Brown
A Deer in the Headlights
Content Warning: Contains some language and adult content
I always fall in love in the winter.
That’s because your body’s searching for warmth.
Jean walked through the sliding doors and into a large room, like a warehouse or a box-store. The room was painted white, the ceiling was a white stucco and the floor was white tile. All of this was given a shine by the L.E.D. lights that lined the ceiling. In front of Jean there were several aisles with shelves on either side that reached nearly to the roof. He picked one of the aisles and started to walk through. .
Each shelf was stacked with teddy-bears. The bears were organized neatly, each placed next to the other in a sitting position. Jean scanned the bears as he walked through the aisle. The bears were all different. He walked up the aisle looking at the left side and then walked back looking at the right. A white bear with a large snout and black beady eyes that were covered by white fur stood out to him. He took the bear off the shelf and pushed the fur back so he could look into its eyes. He squeezed the snout and poked its round stomach. He tucked it under his arm and walked up the aisle away from the door he came in through. At the end of the aisle he turned right and walked to the farthest corner of the room.
In the corner, a man sat at a desk. He wore a simple, but well tailored, black suit. He sat up in his chair looking straight ahead. The desk was clear except for a framed photograph of a woman with brown hair, sitting in a swing, smiling. Jean reached the man and placed the teddy-bear on the desk. The man picked up the bear and studied it. He took out a pad of paper and a black pen from his desk. He looked at the bear’s paw and wrote down an eight-digit number on the piece of paper. “Good choice,” the man said to Jean.
“How’s the wife?” Jean asked.
“Still dead. Yours?”
“Still fucking bartenders,” Jean said. They nodded at each other. “Been busy today?
“Too much snow,” he said.
“Do you ever get to choose a bear?” Jean asked. The man shook his head. “I can take a turn at the desk if you ever want to.”
“You wouldn’t want that,” He said. “I’m happy here. Maybe not happy, but satisfied.”
“What do you do with all the bears, when they’re done with them?” Jean asked.
“I can’t tell you that,” he said.
“Would you ever want to get a beer sometime?” Jean asked.
“I don’t drink.”
A buzzer sounded on the wall behind the man’s desk. “You can go in now. You’re in number six.” He handed Jean the bear. Jean tucked the bear under his arm and walked past the desk and through a red windowless door.
Behind the door there were two rows of cubicles, with ten in each row. The openings of the cubicles were covered by black curtains with a white block number detailed on each. Through the curtains Jean could make out the outlines of furniture and people. He walked between the rows of cubicles until he came to one with the number six written on the curtain. He pushed the curtain aside and walked in.
Inside there was a bed, with a shelf over it and a rocking chair. A woman was sitting on the bed. She was wearing white sweatpants and a white hoody. She had dark hair and a soft comfortable face, with wrinkles around the corners of her mouth. He walked towards her and handed her the bear. She took it from him, looked at the number on the foot and nodded. She stood up and placed the bear on the shelf above the bed. There were two others bears next to it. “Do you want to be big or little?” she asked.
“Little,” he said.
She stretched her arm out to the bed. He took off his shoes, placed them next to each other and lay down. He curled his knees up to his stomach. “Okay,” he said. She lay down behind him and stretched her arm over his shoulder. He took her hand in his. They lay in silence for several minutes. He put his hand in his pocket and pulled out a folded piece of paper. He handed it to her. “Can you just repeat what’s on there to me.” She read the paper and nodded. Jean closed his eyes.
“You are a good father. Your children love you and will be there for you when you are old and sick. Things will be okay. There is love in the world for you.”
She stopped. Jean squeezed her hand.
“You are a good father. Your children love you and will be there for you when you are old and sick. Things will be okay. There is love in the world for you.”
“Just keep going until my times up.” She repeated it again.
“You are a good father. Your children…” She continued to read. His breathing slowed and he fell asleep.
He looked through his side mirror as he drove away from the building. It looked like any other warehouse from the outside. The car’s radio was tuned to a top-forty pop station. He had stopped trying to keep up with new music after he had turned fifty and now just used the radio to help him stay awake while he drove. He knew the family dinner had started by now and by the time he got home they would all already be out or asleep. He turned off the highway and onto the dirt road that led to his house.
It was snowing. The road curved into a forest of tall elm trees. Jean’s headlights illuminated only the ten feet in front of his car, the rest was dark. He drove slow down the winding road. On the side of the road there was a dead deer. He’d never hit a deer with his car, but it wasn’t uncommon to see carcasses shoved to the side of the road. Their bodies dented by trucks driving too fast to stop. Ford and Toyota logos imprinted into their hides announcing which of Jean’s neighbors had been unlucky that day. This one had a FORD logo dented into its bloody side.
The road neared a clearing in the trees and Jean saw the front of his house. It was three stories with an exterior of stained maple. He didn’t consider it his house. His wife had designed it and paid for it. He hadn’t even been there to sign any of the paperwork. He just lived there. He turned into the driveway, but kept the car running. He sat in silence with the headlights off. The lights in his daughter’s bedrooms were the only lights on. He assumed his wife had gone out. He turned off the car, grabbed a briefcase from the back seat and walked to the front door.
Jean didn’t call out when he stepped inside. Instead he took off his shoes, placed his jacket on a hook in the closet and walked into the kitchen. He took a carton of eggs out of the fridge and a package of white bread out of the cupboard. He fried two eggs and toasted a slice of bread for himself. He listened for any sounds coming from upstairs, but it was quiet. He sat down on the couch and turned on the T.V. It showed the highlights of a news conference from earlier that day. A judge was announcing his resignation due to an unspecified illness. The man looked dead-eyed, but not sad. Jean poured himself a glass of gin, with two ice cubes.
He waited until his daughter’s rooms were dark before going upstairs. He walked into his wife’s room first. It was empty and dark. He undressed and hung up his suit jacket and black pants in the closet. His pajamas were folded on the chair next to the bed where he had left them. He pulled them on and left the room. His room was on the third floor. A small room meant for guests. He slept there most nights. He walked up the seven steps to his room and opened the door. The bed was unmade. He lay down and pulled the covers up to his chest. He plugged his phone in next to the bed and soon fell asleep.
He woke up to the buzz of his phone. The screen lit up blue. It was 9:30. He picked it up. There was a text from a private number. Good job yesterday. It’s been delivered. We’ll be in contact soon. He put the phone down and leaned back against the headboard. Normally he would go back to sleep, but he could feel sweat clinging to his legs under the covers. He reached for the glass next to his bed and took a sip. He realized too late that it was gin, not water, but finished the glass anyway.
Downstairs it was quiet. His daughters were both teenagers and had already left for school and he assumed his wife either hadn’t gotten home yet or was still sleeping from a late night. He made a pot of coffee and took a cup with him to the back door. He put on a jacket, a pair of boots and then stepped into a pair of snowshoes.
Outside the snow from the night before had stopped, but had left a deep layer of untouched powder. Jean stepped off his back porch and walked across his backyard. The trees behind his house looked thick and daunting, but he knew a path existed. He walked between two large elm trees and into the dark forest. Turning first left and then right he found the path he had created that was just big enough for one person. The path curved through the trees. He followed it until he got to a clearing with a small fire pit and a pile of dry logs.
There was a hole cut into the tree across from Jean. In the hole there was a mailbox. The mailbox had a red flag sticking up from it announcing it was full. Jean walked to the mailbox, careful to step over the fire pit. He opened the mailbox and took out a glittery gift-bag. In the gift-bag was an envelope and a cell phone. He sat down by the fire pit on a log. He opened the envelope. There was twenty-five-thousand dollars in cash and a letter. The letter had a phone number and the message: you know what to do with the old phone. He took the cash and the phone out of the envelope and put them in his pocket.
There was a gas canister next to the fire pit. Jean poured gasoline over the logs and dropped a match on top of it. It lit. He took the old phone out of his pocket and placed it on one of the stones surrounding the pit. He picked up another rock and smashed the phone until it was in several pieces. He brushed the pieces into the fire and turned away. He walked back down the path the way he’d come. A few yards away he cut off from the path and into a thick part of the forest. He walked far enough that he could no longer make out the path and then stopped. He looked around him until he saw a stone that was a perfect sphere.
Under the stone there was a gardening shovel. Jean started to dig into the snow and earth. Thirty minutes later he hit a hard material with his shovel. Jean wiped sweat off his forehead and looked into the hole. He reached down and pulled out a wooden container. It had a horse ingrained into the top of the lid. He opened the container and placed the cash into it. There were four other similar rolls of cash already in the box. He held the box up to his nose and breathed in. He exhaled slowly. He looked around and saw no movement. He reached into his pants and started masturbating until he came into his underwear.
Jean placed the box back into the hole and filled it up with dirt and snow. He put the rock back on top of the shovel and walked back to the fire pit. He sat down next to the fire and breathed in the smell of melting plastic. The phone took an hour to disappear. Jean sat and watched the fire until it was all gone, then got up and put the flame out with the surrounding snow. He walked back along the path to his backyard. His wife’s car pulled out of the driveway and sped down the road. He went inside.
Inside, Jean listened to the silence of his empty house. He went upstairs to shower. He crumpled up the stained underwear and threw them into his laundry basket. He turned on the hot water and sat down in the bathtub, letting the water run over his head. After he finished washing himself he dried off and put on a pair of black sweat pants and a white t-shirt. Downstairs, Jean made himself a fried egg sandwich and poured another cup of coffee.
The T.V. had been left on. Jean sat on the couch and watched children’s cartoons while he ate the runny egg sandwich. He finished the sandwich and looked at the clock. It was 2:30. His kids would be home soon. Jean washed his dishes and walked back upstairs. He changed out of the sweatpants and into a pair of grey dress-pants. The white t-shirt stayed on, but he wore a suit jacket over it. He brushed his teeth and left the house.
What do you tell them?
The new phone buzzed a week later. Jean was picking a bear when he felt the vibration in his pants. He walked out of the building and locked himself in his car. He turned the volume up on the car radio and took a deep breath. 27 S. Liberty St. 4:30, 22/1. Jean smiled into the rear-view mirror. He started the car and drove home. As he turned onto the forest road he saw movement out of the side of his eye. He stopped the car. A deer stared at him from across the street. He got out of the car, but left it running. The deer watched him. They stayed like this for a while, staring at each other, motionless. Jean looked into the deer’s eyes. It grunted at him.
Jean stayed quiet. He heard a car coming from the down the road. The deer startled and ran into the forest. Jean looked up at the sky and breathed out, creating a cloud of steam. The truck drove by slowly. Jean nodded at the neighbor in the driver’s seat and the man smiled at him. Jean got back into his car and drove home.
Jean pulled into the driveway next to his wife’s car. The lights were on in the kitchen and living room. It had been a couple weeks since he had actually talked to anyone in his family. He took a bottle of Beefeater out from under his seat and took a swig. He gritted his teeth and put the flask back under the seat. The blinds were closed, but Jean could make out the shadow of his daughters sitting in the living room.
Inside, there was noise. His daughters were watching TV and talking in the living room and his wife was in the kitchen listening to music he didn’t recognize. They didn’t hear him when he came in the door. He took off his boots and put his jacket in the closet. He walked through the living room and his daughters looked at him. He nodded at them and moved into the kitchen. They went back to watching TV. “I’m eating dinner tonight,” Jean said to his wife. She turned to him and didn’t speak. The music was loud. “I want to eat with you guys tonight.”
“I grabbed a pizza on my home from work,” Anise said. She turned back to the counter, away from Jean. She was cutting tomatoes for a salad.
“Can I help with anything,” he said.
“It’s a pizza, there isn’t much to do.”
“What about setting the table or putting out water?”
“The girls normally do that.”
“Just let me do something, please,” Jean said.
“Fine, set the table.”
Jean took the plates out of the cupboard and the cutlery out of the drawer. He walked them into the dining room and carefully lined them up next to the plates. He took as much time in the dining room as he could. When he walked back into the kitchen to get glasses, Anise wasn’t there.
He filled up four glasses with water and brought them into the dining room. Once he’d finished setting the table he wasn’t sure what to do. He didn’t know where Anise had gone and his daughters were both engrossed in whatever they were watching. He unfolded and refolded the napkins and rearranged the cutlery. Then he sat at the table and sipped his water.
Anise walked into the dining room and put a pizza box on the table, pushing aside the cutlery and napkins to make room. She didn’t look at Jean. “Hanna, June, dinner’s ready,” she called out. The T.V. turned off and June walked into the dining room followed by Hanna.
It was a rectangular table, big enough to seat six. Hanna and June sat on one side of the table, Jean sat across from them and Anise sat at the head. Anise opened the pizza box. Half was plain cheese and the other half had artichokes, roasted red pepper and goat cheese. Anise reached and grabbed a slice from the artichoke side. She passed Hanna a slice of plain cheese and June a slice of the artichoke. Jean reached for a slice of the artichoke side and heard Anise sigh.
“What?” he asked.
“I got that half for me and June,” Anise said.
“Oh, okay,” he said and put the slice back in the box.
“You’ve already touched it,” Anise said.
“I washed my hands,” he said, “June you don’t mind, do you?”
June shrugged and looked away from the table. They sat eating their pizza. No one put on music. Jean looked across the table at his daughters staring straight at the pizza they were eating. Anise was looking at her phone under the table as she ate. “How was school today,” Jean asked. He smiled across the table. June looked up at him, Hanna kept her head down.
“It’s a Saturday dad,” she said.
“Oh, right.” The room went quiet again. He took a deep breath. June reached for another slice of pizza. “Are you guys working on anything? Any cool projects?”
“Not really,” June said.
“What about you Hanna? How’s school?” Jean asked.
“It’s okay,” she said without looking up. Jean nodded and took a bite of his pizza. The cheese was cold and glue-like. He took a sip of water to get it down.
“Mom, can I go to my room? I need to get dressed for the party tonight,” June said.
“Fine, take your dishes to the kitchen.”
“What party are you going to?” Jean asked.
“A friend’s party,” June said.
“You don’t know them,” she said.
“Do you need a ride?” he asked.
“I’m getting picked up,” she said and left the room.
“Can I go to my room too?” Hanna asked.
“Fine,” Anise said. Hanna picked up her plate. It had the crust from two slices on it. She walked out of the room and into the kitchen.
The table was silent. They heard June and Hanna’s footsteps going up the stairs. Anise finished the last bite of her pizza and got up from the table. “If you’re going to start eating with us, you could start doing the cooking,” Anise said and left the room. Jean took a slice from the artichoke side and ate it alone. He gathered the unused knives and forks from the table and put them back in the cutlery drawer. He washed the plates and left the house.
How do you want this to go?
I want it to be done.
Jean didn’t search this time. He grabbed the first bear he saw. He walked straight up to the man at the desk and handed him the bear. “It might be a few minutes today. We’ve been busy,” the man said. He wore the same suit he always wore.
“That’s fine.” Jean sat at a chair next to the desk. The man stared straight ahead not looking at anything. Jean looked at the text on his phone 27 S. Liberty St. 4:30, 22/1. One more day of waiting. He took a deep breath and closed the phone. The red light buzzed behind the man’s desk. Jean stood up and walked to the desk. He took the bear off the desk and started walking to the red windowless door.
“Room twelve,” the man said. Jean walked through the door and didn’t respond. He walked between the cubicles until he came to number twelve. He shoved the curtain aside and walked in. A woman sat in a rocking chair.
She wore a pink pastel hoody and cream colored track pants. Before the woman could say anything, Jean shoved the bear into her hands. “I want to be big,” he said, “you can lie down.” The woman placed the bear on a shelf with seven others. She lay down on the bed and looked at Jean. He curled his arm around her shoulder and his breathing sped up.
“Can I do anything?” she asked.
“Just lie still,” he said. He thought of the dinner table and tightened his grip around the woman. He felt her tense up. He tried to slow his breathing, but couldn’t.
“You’re squeezing too tight,” she said. He didn’t hear her. He thought of his daughters avoiding his eyes. He felt his muscles tensing without trying to. He could feel his arms pushing into the woman’s flesh and muscles. “Please stop,” the woman said, “you’re hurting me.”
He didn’t hear. His arm moved up towards her neck. She screamed out. A man wearing a black suit ran into the room and grabbed Jean. He didn’t let go of the woman. She bit into his hand. He saw blood starting to drip down his arm. The man pulled him away. The woman spat blood onto the white bedsheets. Jean looked at the bite marks in his hand. He was dragged out of the cubicle, through a back exit and thrown into a snowbank.
He got up leaving a red patch in the snow. The man in the black suit looked at Jean and then shut the door. Jean stared at the white concrete wall and took a deep breath. He turned and walked back to his car. He turned on the engine and started driving home.
The cut on his hand was dripping blood on to the steering wheel. He grabbed some napkins from the floor and held them to his hand as he drove. The blood seeped through the napkins. He reached around on the floor for more and shoved them on top. It was snowing heavily. He pulled onto the forest road. He had to strain his eyes to see through the snow. The blood was making it through the new napkins. He couldn’t find anymore on the floor. He leaned back in his chair and tried to find something to use in the backseat. As he leaned back he saw movement in front of the car. He pushed down hard on the breaks. The car stopped.
Jean looked through the snow and saw a deer staring at him. They watched each other. Jean’s breathing slowed. He could see the deer’s breath. The deer walked back into the trees, keeping its eyes on Jean. The blood started dripping through the napkins and down Jean’s arm. He watched the deer until he could no longer see it and then drove the rest of the way home.
The house was quiet and dark when he got there. He went straight to the bathroom, leaving his boots on. He threw the napkins in the garbage and ran cold water over the cut. Blood pooled in the sink and then emptied down the drain. He took out rubbing alcohol and a roll of bandage from the drawer. He poured the rubbing alcohol over the cut and then wrapped the bandage around his hand three times. He cut the bandage with his teeth and tied it tight.
In the kitchen he poured himself some gin. He walked into the living room and turned on the TV. He sipped his gin and stared at the screen. The cut felt numb, but he knew it would hurt in the morning. He heard a bang at the front door. He walked to the front to see what it was. He brought his gin with him. The door opened. June stumbled into the house. Her red lipstick had almost all come off and there was black mascara smeared across her cheek. She looked at him, her eyes were glossy. He sipped his gin. “How much did you drink?” he asked.
“Not that much,” she said.
“Can you make it to the bathroom or should I bring you a bucket?” he asked.
“I’m fine.” She started to take off her boots and almost fell over. Jean held out his arm for her to balance on. She grabbed onto it and managed to get the boots off.
“Let’s go to the kitchen and I’ll get you some water. Okay?” Jean said. June just nodded. She tried to walk and Jean felt her weight on his arm. He led her into the kitchen and sat her down at the table. She crossed her arms on the table and leaned face down into them. Jean poured a glass of water. He put the glass down on the table next to June’s head. “Drink this,” he said, “it’ll make you feel better in the morning.”
“I can’t,” she said. She kept her head in her arms. Jean took a deep breath.
“Trust me June. Just drink it.” She closed her eyes and took short and shallow breaths. She looked at the glass like an enemy. “Come on June.” She stretched her arm out to the glass and sat half way up in her chair. She took a sip and gagged. Jean ran to the kitchen sink, opened the cabinet under it and grabbed a plastic bucket. He handed it to June. She leaned over and dry heaved. “Take another sip,” Jean said. June looked up and Jean could see that her eyes were watering and glossy. She was breathing hard. The water had barely been touched.
“I don’t want to,” she said into her arms.
“What?” Jean said.
“I don’t want anymore,” she said.
“Just another sip and I’ll bring you to bed. I promise.”
“Please don’t make me,” she said. Jean rubbed his face with his hand. He took a sip of his gin.
“I’m just trying to help,” he said. She looked at him. He thought she might cry. She looked at the glass of water and gagged. “Fine, I’ll take you to your bed. Let’s go.” He helped her stand up and she leaned onto his shoulder. He half-carried her up the stairs and into her bedroom. She fell into her bed, still fully clothed. Jean left her and walked back downstairs. He brought the bucket and the glass of water to her room. Her eyes were closed and she was breathing steadily.
He put the bucket down beside the bed and the water on her bedside table. He rolled her onto her side and left the room, closing the door on his way out. Downstairs he poured more gin into his glass, he downed it in one sip and refilled it again. He sat in front of the T.V. and fell asleep.
Jean woke up. The glass of gin had spilt and left a stain on the carpet. The sun was out, but not that bright yet. He got up feeling disoriented. He looked at his phone. It was January 22nd. The T.V. was still on. He turned it off. The cut on his hand ached. The bandage was red, but the cut hadn’t bled all the way through. He walked into the kitchen and took out a bottle of Aspirin. The bottle was close to empty. He shook two pills into his hand and swallowed them without water. Upstairs June was in the same position he had left her the night before. He put the bottle of aspirin on the bedside next to her.
Jean had a short, cold shower. He got out, dried off and put the same clothes on he had worn the night before. He cleaned the cut on his hand and re-bandaged it. It was bright and cold outside. It was snowing. It felt calm and quiet as if the snow was sucking up all the sound.
Jean got into his car and started to drive. He saw fresh deer tracks on the side of the road. The tracks followed the road until it turned onto the highway. Jean tried to see where they led, but they disappeared into the forest. He turned onto the highway and drove until he reached a storage facility. A big sign was lit up on the side of the highway, that said: Big Lou’s Storage, Safe Storage, Good Prices. He pulled into the parking lot.
The facility had a large building for smaller storage rooms and twenty fully detached large rooms that offered more privacy. Jean walked towards one of the large rooms. He pulled out a set of keys and unlocked a large steel padlock. He pushed the gate up and walked inside. The room was empty except for a single cardboard box in the back-right corner. Jean closed the gate and walked to the box. Inside there was a black-leather briefcase. He took the briefcase out of the box and left the room.
Inside his car a pop song played loud enough that he could just make out the lyrics. My baby’s with me. I keep her close. Jean sat in the driver’s seat with the briefcase on his lap. He opened it. Inside there was a syringe and a mechanical box with three knobs and an electronic screen. He turned a switch on the box and the screen turned on. He turned it back off and closed the briefcase. She knows when I need her. My baby cares. He placed it on the passenger’s seat and began to drive. It was 11:30 and he had a long way to go.
Why do you do this?
Because I have to.
Jean made it to Boise, Idaho at 2:30pm. He pulled into a Starbucks and got out of the car. He put the briefcase underneath the seats where it couldn’t be seen from outside. Inside the coffee shop was half-full. There was an older couple sitting and talking and a group of teenagers drinking Frappuccinos in the back corner. Jean ordered a large black coffee and sat at a table by one of the windows. He didn’t like to think about his job before he had to do it. Instead he picked up a local newspaper and drank his coffee. Jean flipped to the back pages to look at the obituaries.
There was an obituary for a local businessman, Logan Robinson. The paper said he had owned several hardware stores in Boise. He made donations to many of the local high schools and hospitals and was famous in the area. Jean had never heard of him. The paper said he had died of natural causes, but Jean liked to know a more detailed description of how people died. He looked up Logan Robinson on his phone and saw three recent articles on his death. He opened the most recent one and read the article. Robinson had died from a sudden heart attack in his large home just outside of town. He had lived alone and his body wasn’t found for three days. Jean wished obituaries would include details like this. He thought they would be more entertaining if they did. Jean drank his coffee and waited for the text.
At 4:15 his phone buzzed. Meet by the Canal on N. Liberty. 20 Minutes. Jean was ten minutes from the canal. He finished his coffee and left the Starbucks. In his car he made sure that the briefcase was still there and then got into the driver’s seat.
The area around the canal was desolate. The only buildings in the area were storage facilities and trucking companies. The type of place people only came to because they had to, not because they wanted to. Jean parked on the south side of the bridge and turned off his car. He pushed the briefcase further under the seat. He sat up in his seat staring straight out of the windshield. He rubbed his bandaged hand. Jean took out a pack of nicotine lozenges from the glove compartment and popped one into his mouth. He had quit smoking years ago, but still kept a pack of the lozenges in the car.
A dark blue Toyota Corolla parked across the bridge from Jean. The car kept its engine running. Jean turned his car back on when he saw it. He put his left arm out of the car window and waved once. The Corolla drove across the bridge and stopped next to Jean. The windows were tinted. The backseat window opened a crack and a man made a thumbs-up sign out the window. Jean nodded. The car began to drive and Jean followed behind.
They pulled into the underground parking-lot of a Holiday Inn. The car drove down to the third floor of the lot and parked in a corner spot with few cars around. Jean stopped in the parking spot next to it. Jean got out with the briefcase and waited next to the trunk of the car. The driver’s door opened and a man with a suit stepped out. He was carrying a folder. The backseat doors stayed closed and the windows were all rolled up. The driver walked up to Jean and handed him the folder. “You will begin in thirty minutes. Understand?” the driver said. Jean nodded. “They will be in touch after,” the driver said. He walked back to the car and they drove out of the parking garage.
Jean sat in his car and opened the folder. It had a room key for room 437 in the Holiday Inn. On the key the name Bill Sali was written. He pocketed the key and got out of the car with the briefcase. He walked to the elevator and took it up to the lobby. He had twenty minutes. At the far end of the lobby there was a small hotel bar. Jean walked to the bar and sat on one of the stools. He was alone. The bartender walked up to him. “What would you like? Or are you just waiting for someone?” he asked.
“Gin and tonic,” Jean said.
“Do you care what type?” the bartender asked.
“Doesn’t matter.” The bartender took out a glass, added two ice cubes and measured out an ounce and a half of Beefeater gin. He opened a can of tonic water and filled the rest of the glass. He placed a slice of lime on the rim of the glass and handed Jean the drink and a napkin.
Jean squeezed the lime into the drink and stirred it in his hand. He took a sip. He had fifteen minutes. “You here for business or pleasure?” the bartender asked, smiling at Jean. Jean shook his head at the bartender and looked down into his glass. The bartender nodded to himself and walked to the other side of the bar.
Jean finished his drink in two more sips. He left a twenty on the bar and walked towards the stairs with the briefcase. Inside, the stairwell smelt like cigarettes, stale alcohol and a citrus air freshener. He listened to hear if there was anyone else there. All he could hear was the buzz of fluorescent lights. He took the first three flights two steps at a time and then stopped to catch his breath. He had three minutes. The stairwell was uncomfortably warm despite the snow and cold outside. He wiped sweat off his forehead with his bandaged hand and then walked up the last flight.
The hallway was empty except for a maid’s cart. Jean stood in front of room 412. A sign on the wall directed him left. He kept his eyes on the beige carpet as he walked. Room 437 was a corner suite. He stopped in front of room 436 and listened at the door, it was quiet. 438 was the same. He took out the room key and pushed it into the lock. The light turned green and he turned the handle.
Inside, he felt the breeze of the air conditioner. He heard a television changing channels quickly. He walked to the main area of the room. His boots left dirty footprints on the rooms wood floor. It was a large hotel room. There was a kitchen and a living room in the main room with two closed doors attached to it. It was cold in the room. The T.V. was placed in the middle of the living room. It was flipping from channel to channel without stopping.
Jean walked up to the T.V. There was a piece of tape placed over the channel button keeping it pressed down. He peeled it off and the T.V. stopped on a replay of ski jump crashes. Jean watched as a skier took off and wobbled in midair before crashing and sliding down the icy hill like a ragdoll. He turned it off. There was no noise coming from either of the closed doors. He walked to them and opened the one on the left first. It was a bathroom that looked untouched. There were no toothbrushes on the counter or stains on the mirror. He closed the door and opened the right one.
Inside, he saw Bill Sali. It was a bedroom, with a king-size bed and a on-suite bathroom. One of the windows on the right side of the room was open a crack, allowing a pile of snow to grow underneath. Bill was in the middle of the room. He was tied to a chair with his mouth taped shut. Jean waved at him. Bill did nothing. He was a large man, not fat, but overweight. He was dressed in a clean, pressed navy-blue suit with grey dress pants. He had no shoes on. Jean walked to a desk in the left corner of the room and placed the briefcase down on it. He took the mechanical box out of the briefcase and turned it on and off again. He held the syringe up to the light to see how sharp it was.
“It’s a bit cold in here Bill. Do you mind if I close the window?” Jean said as he walked towards the window still holding the syringe. Bill didn’t move. He pulled the window closed. “Isn’t that better Bill.” He stood behind Bill. Bill remained still. Jean wiped snow from his hand off on Bill’s suit jacket. He pressed a finger against the right side of Bill’s neck. Bill tensed.
“Bill, I’m going to need you to relax. If I miss the first time I’ll just have to do it again,” he said. Bill stayed tense. “Come on now Bill, it’ll be easier for both of us.” He placed his left hand on Bill’s shoulder and squeezed. Bill’s shoulders dropped and his muscles softened. “Thank you.”
Jean put his index finger back on Bill’s neck and pushed down on several spots. He found the area with the least resistance and put the tip of the syringe against it. The needle sunk into his skin and then Jean pulled it back out leaving behind a small clear plastic chip. He walked back to the desk and turned the machine back on.
“Okay Bill. Here’s what’s going to happen. I don’t want to hurt you too much. I just need to give you an example of what can happen to you. So, I do need to hurt you at least a little bit.” Jean turned one of the knobs and a number on the screen switched from zero to three. Bill convulsed in his chair and moaned through the tape. Jean turned the knob back to zero. He walked to Bill.
“That is about a tenth of how painful it can be. Do you need me to show you more or is that enough?” Jean asked. He pulled the tape off Bill’s mouth.
“Please, I don’t want any more.”
“Good. Now I’m going to play a tape for you and then I’ll come back in the room. I’ll leave the tape off, but I’m going to take that box with me,” he pointed at the desk. “If you start screaming I’ll make the pain much, much worse.” Bill nodded. “Good.” Jean put a tape recorder down on the desk and pressed the play button. A muffled voice came on.
Hello Congressman. I’m sorry all of this has happened to you, but it’s the only way I’ve found to actually communicate with people like you. I’ll get right to the point. I’m sure you’re not very comfortable right now. We need you to resign and it needs to look like it was your idea…
Jean took the box off the desk and left the bedroom shutting the door behind him. He put the box down on the living room table and walked into the kitchen. He opened the cupboards and found the bottle of Hendrix he had asked for. There were two glasses on the counter and he found ice in the freezer. He put two ice cubes in each cup and filled them with gin. He sat down at the bar, sipping his gin and waiting for the recording to finish.
The reason why we need you to resign is unimportant and really, should be obvious to you. We have placed an implant in your neck that will allow us to cause you great pain at anytime we like. I’m sure you’ve already had a taste of what this can feel like. If you try to remove the chip it will create a blood clot in your carotid artery and trust me, you don’t want that.
Jean finished his glass and started on the next one. The cut on his hand was beginning to throb a little bit. He looked through the kitchen cabinet for some Advil, but couldn’t find any. He heard the click of the tape finish. He filled both glasses to the top and walked into the room. “Gin okay for you?” he asked. Bill just looked at him. Jean loosened the rope to give enough slack for Bill to move one of his arms. He handed him one of the glasses and sat down at the desk. “It’s Hendrix, my employers don’t fuck around when it comes to their liquor.” Bill took a sip and didn’t say anything.
Jean sat down at the desk facing Bill. He drank some of the gin and looked at Bill. Bill looked down at his feet. “Do you get the gist of this now Bill? We don’t have anything against you, we just can’t have you working in the senate anymore. Once you resign you can still have a pleasant life full of satisfying family moments. If it’s up to us we won’t have to use that little chip in your neck ever again. We will if you make us, but we don’t want to.” Bill didn’t look up. “Bill I’m going to need you to look at me now. I need some sort of confirmation that you understand what you need to do and that you’ll do that.” Bill sipped his glass and didn’t look up. “Bill,” Jean said.
Jean got up from his seat and left the room. He returned with the machine and placed it on the desk. Bill still looked down. “Come on Bill. A nod is all I need.” He turned the machine on. “Sorry about this Bill,” Jean said. He turned one of the knobs to four. Bill convulsed in his chair and dropped his glass. Jean grimaced as he watched the gin soak into the carpet. He left the switch at four for ten seconds and then turned it off. Bill slouched back into his chair, his head resting heavily against chest. Jean picked up the dropped glass and placed a towel over the wet spot on the carpet. He finished his gin and walked into the kitchen. He placed two more ice cubes in each glass and filled them halfway with gin. Back in the bedroom, Bill was sitting straight in his chair breathing slowly and deeply. Jean handed him one of the glasses.
“I’m hoping you don’t waste that one,” Jean said. “I hate wasting good gin.” He sat back down at the desk. He stared at Bill, but didn’t say anything. Bill took a sip from his glass and looked at Jean.
“I’ll resign tonight,” Bill said. Jean smiled. He opened the desk and pulled out a file folder.
“Good choice Bill.” He placed the folder in Bill’s lap. “That has the speech you’re going to memorize in it. That’s how nice we are Bill. We don’t even make you write a good resignation. We do it for you. I’m sure it’s very tasteful.” Jean got up and walked around the room to the windows. He looked outside, it was still snowing. He turned to look at the back of Bill’s head.
“That’s pretty much it for me Bill. Tonight at nine you’ll have a news conference and announce your resignation. It’ll be televised and I’ll be watching at home with the machine turned on. If you go off-script… well just don’t off-script.” Jean walked back to the desk and put the machine and the syringe back into the briefcase. He closed the case and walked out of the bedroom. “Two men will be here to collect you soon. It was nice getting to know you Bill. I’m excited to see your performance tonight.” He put his glass in the kitchen sink and put the bottle of Hendrix in his coat jacket. He turned the T.V. back on and left the hotel room.
What satisfies you?
The look in their eyes when they know I’m right.
Jean didn’t look at the building until he’d already pulled into the parking lot. He looked into the reflection of his rear-view mirror expecting to see the usual nondescript brick walls, but instead he saw a large Walmart sign. He got out of the car and walked towards the building. The sliding doors were the same. He entered the building and the interior still looked the same, but the shelves now had shaving equipment and breakfast cereal instead of teddy bears. Jean walked up and down the aisles unsure of what to do. The store wasn’t busy, but there were a few people wandering the aisles grabbing packages off the shelves.
Jean reached the back of the store and walked along the wall looking for the red door. At the far-right corner of the store he found it. It was no longer painted red. Instead it was white with the words Employees Only stenciled on to it. He looked to see if anyone was watching him and pushed through.
Inside, the cubicles were gone and replaced with stacks of products. He walked around the room. He was sure this was the same place he had been coming for the past year and a half. Even though he was surrounded by neatly stacked toilet paper and shampoo he still recognized the walls. He lifted a container of deodorant off one of the piles and looked at it. There was nothing special about it. It was a brand he’d used before, but he didn’t remember whether he had liked the smell or not. He threw the package against one of the walls. A loud bang reverberated through the room.
He heard the door open and saw a man wearing a Walmart security uniform. The man walked towards him. “You can’t be in here sir,” the man said. “Did you take something?”
Jean stared at the man’s uniform. He picked up another package of deodorant and threw it at the man hitting him the chest. The man fell to the ground and Jean ran back through the door into the store. He ran through the aisles and out the sliding doors. He got into his car and drove off. In his rear-view mirror he saw the security guard walk out of the store rubbing his chest. He drove for ten minutes and then stopped at the side of the road. No one had driven after him.
Jean turned the car off and took a breath. He took the package of nicotine lozenges out of the glove compartment and put one in his mouth. He pushed the lozenge around his mouth with his tongue trying to calm down. It began to snow. The lozenge dissolved in his mouth. He took out the bottle of Beefeater from under his chair and drank. He popped another lozenge into his mouth. He reclined his chair back and leaned back. His hand was sore. He enjoyed the pain. He sat in his car until the street lights turned on.
He turned onto the forested road that led to his house. The news conference would be on soon and he needed to get home to watch it. Outside his window he saw deer tracks that looked fresh. He turned his high beams on to try to see the animal, but saw no movement. He turned the high beams off and drove slower. The snow had started falling heavier. He drove following the tracks. The tracks passed his house and he continued. He took the bottle of Beefeater out and finished the last few ounces in one drink.
Jean saw movement in front of the car and he began to speed up. He kept his eyes focused on the tracks in front of the car until they began to blur. He pushed down on the gas. The snow fell fast and heavily, but Jean didn’t turn on the windshield wipers. The car sped over the snow powerful and quiet. Jean looked up and saw the outline of the deer in front of him. It was turned to the side facing the trees. It didn’t hear the car’s engine. It didn’t turn its head. The car slammed into its hide. It hit and cracked the windshield. Jean continued to drive with the deer stuck on top of the hood of the car for a few meters. He stopped hard and the deer fell to the ground in front of the car.
Snow began to gather over the deer. Jean watched through his windshield as it turned red from the deer’s wounds. He sat watching unable to leave the car. The deer showed no movement. He rolled down his window to try to hear any noises coming from the injured animal. There was only silence, enhanced by the falling snow. He took a deep breath and opened the door. He stepped out and walked toward the deer. The reddened snow was stretching further from the deer’s carcass. He stood over the animal and looked at the damage his car had done. The deer’s ribs looked dented and its legs lay at different angles.
Jean leaned over and put his hand in front of the deer’s nose. There was no warm air. He grabbed one of its legs and began pulling it to the side of the road. It was heavy, but he managed to slowly slide the carcass along the snow. It left a trail of dark red snow behind it. He pulled it into the ditch on the right side of the road. His hands were covered in the animal’s blood. He wiped them in the snow, but a red stain remained. He looked down at the dead animal. Its fur was muddy and bloody and wet from the snow. Its face was pointed up and its tongue was hanging out of its mouth. Jean pushed its face to the side with his foot so it was staring into the forest. He wiped his hands in the snow once more and then walked back to his car.
Jean had left his door open and the driver’s seat had a pile of snow on it. He brushed it off and got into the car. He closed the door and it was quiet and still. He turned up the hot air and warmed his hands in front of the vents. Moving the deer hand ripped the bandage off his hand. The cut was dark red and ugly. He held his hand up to his eyes and studied it. He rubbed it with his other hand. It stung, but he kept rubbing it. He took a deep breath and looked at the empty bottle of gin. He started driving home.
The house was silent. The lights were still on in his daughter’s rooms, but his wife’s bedroom was dark. Jean walked into the kitchen and poured a glass of gin. He took a sip and noticed he had left a trail of mud and snow behind. He took his boots off and brought them back to the front door. His socks were damp from snow getting into his boots. He took them off as well and walked back to the kitchen. There was a little bit of blood dripping from his cut. He decided to bandage the cut and then deal with the wet, muddy floor.
The cut was raw and covered in dirt. He washed it off in the bathroom, put a layer of Polysporin over it and rebandaged it. Back in the kitchen he finished the gin and poured another glass. It was nearly eight o’clock. He turned the T.V. on and turned the volume up. There was no mention of Bill’s news conference, but Jean knew it would be coming up. He sat down in front of the T.V. and watched the last few minutes of the local news. There was a story about a high school’s hockey team winning the state championship and a dog being rescued from a freezing lake. Nothing interested him, but it was something to stare at other than his glass.
Jean got up and got another glass of gin. He finished one bottle and took another bottle out from the cupboard. Back in the living room the T.V. channel had switched to live footage of a podium with a blue wall behind it. The conference was starting. Jean reclined in his chair and rested the glass on his chest. On the screen Bill was introduced by a tall brunette woman. Bill stepped onto the platform. He was wearing a grey suit and navy-blue tie. He put a sheet of paper down on the podium and moved the microphone closer to his mouth. He cleared his throat and then began to speak.
Hello. I’d like to start by thanking everyone who has been a part of my team for the past several years. I truly think we’ve done great work and I couldn’t have done any of it without your help. Today will be my last day in office. I’ve thought about this decision for months and this is the only fair option for both me and my family. At this time, I won’t be going into personal details and I would appreciate it if you would all respect me and my family’s privacy in the coming months. I apologize to all the wonderful people of Idaho who believed in me and trusted me. Everything I did in office was to help make Idaho a better place for you.
Bill looked down at the sheet of paper and covered his face with his hand. He took a deep breath. He looked to his left at something or someone off camera. Then he looked up and stared directly into the camera. Jean straightened in his chair and focused on the screen.
I can’t do this. I’m sorry to my wife and my family, but I can’t. This is my life. I change my mind. I will not resign.
Jean stood up. This had never happened before.
I won’t give in just because I’m told I should. This morning I was kidnapped.
Jean looked around for the briefcase and realized he had left it in the car. He turned and started to run to the front door. As he got to the kitchen his foot hit the melted snow he had tracked into the house and he slipped. His half full glass smashed against a wall and his head hit the floor with a thud. He lay still for a minute. He was disoriented, but not unconscious. The floor was cool and wet on his cheek. Jean hadn’t lay on a floor like this since he was in college. He took a breath. He tried to get up and his left hand dug into a piece of broken glass. He looked at his hand. There was a small piece of glass sticking out of it. He pulled it out and blood began to drip out.
Shards of broken glass surrounded him. He tried to get up again, but the pressure he put on his hands hurt the cuts on both hands. He used his sleeves to brush the glass out of the way and flipped onto his back. He could hear Bill continuing to talk on the T.V. The turning ceiling fan made a shadow on the cedar ceiling. Jean followed the spinning shadow with his eyes. His shirt was wet from the spilled gin and melted snow. His hand was still bleeding. He wiped it on his shirt. He heard footsteps coming down the staircase. He didn’t move.
June walked into the kitchen and saw him lying on his back, wet and bloody. She walked over to him and knelt in front of him. “Can I help you up?” she asked.
“I’m just going to stay like this for a little longer,” Jean said.
“Do I need to call an ambulance?”
“No, I’m fine. I just need a second.” June walked out of the kitchen and returned with a broom. She swept up the glass around Jean. He stayed motionless.
“Should I get you a bucket?” she asked.
Jean laughed. “I haven’t thrown up in over twenty years.” June threw the glass into the garbage and left the kitchen again. She came back in and filled up two glasses with water. She put the glasses down on the kitchen table.
“Are you ready to get up now, Dad?” she asked.
“Can you just sit down here with me for a second.” June looked at the clock. It was almost ten. She had class in the morning. She looked down at Jean. His eyes were glossy and his face was shiny from dried sweat.
“Sure, Dad.” She put a towel down on the floor and sat down on top of it. She crossed her legs and leaned her head against her hand.
“Are you enjoying school?” Jean asked.
“Yeah it’s fine.”
“You’re almost done, right?”
“Just a few more months.”
“Wow. Remind me where you’re going after.”
“U of Washington.”
“All the way to Seattle. I forgot.” Jean watched the ceiling fan. “I’m sorry June.” June didn’t look at him. “June.”
“Things have been hard, June.”
“I know Dad.”
“It hasn’t been fair for you and Hanna.” June still didn’t look at Jean. “I want to be better. I don’t want to just be that guy that you see around the house. I want to be your Dad.” June watched him. She took a deep breath. She took his bandaged hand in hers.
“You are my Dad. Things are going to be okay.” Jean looked up at her. His eyes were glossy and red. “I love you Dad.”
“Thank you, June.”
“Let’s get up now, Dad.”
“Okay.” June stood up and helped Jean get up to his knees. He stood up on his own. June handed him one of the glasses of water and he drank it all.
“I’m going to go to bed now. Are you okay to get upstairs yourself?” she asked.
“I’ll be fine.”
“You should clean that cut before you go to bed,” June said. Jean nodded. “Goodnight, Dad.”
“Goodnight June.” He watched her until she reached the top step and then walked into the living room. He turned off the T.V., sat down in the armchair and fell asleep.
This isn’t what you wanted.