Read by David Mildon
When I first started chasing bail-skippers for George he used to put me with this guy named Fred sometimes. I think he did it partly because he thought we looked funny together. I was nineteen and five-five in my bare feet and weighed maybe one-forty the day after Thanksgiving. Fred was pushing sixty, probably stood six-four or -five and weighed an easy four hundred pounds. I remember when George introduced us he said, “He’s not quick, but he’s steady.” I never knew if he was talking to me or Fred.
We drove most of the night and got there in the morning and spent three or four hours watching his place, a little house, flat roof, painted siding, little lawn all mowed and everything. We were in this old white van Fred had that he kept stocked with doughnuts and whatnot like a 7-Eleven. While we were waiting we ate and he told me about how he’d wanted to be a cop but was always too fat. “That and I got a record,” he said. I asked what for, but he just shrugged. I said I had one too, and told him how I got nailed boosting cars and was working for George to pay off the money he’d fronted me for the fine. He thought that was funny and let out a big fat-man laugh.
When we finished the donuts he tossed the box in the back and said, “Well, I guess he’s either dead or he ain’t there. Let’s go see which.” We put on these UPS jackets we used for cover and took a big empty box we carried and got out. I had this little three-eighty pistol I carried back then, and it was in my jacket pocket. Fred didn’t carry anything. I asked him why, and he said, “I’m counting on you to rescue me.” And I could tell by how he said it he thought I was acting kind of John Wayne, and probably he was right. Nineteen, you do that kind of thing.
Anyway, we carried the box up to the door and knocked and waited and then knocked again. But nobody came, so we went around the side, through a gate into the back yard, and he tested windows till he found one and held his hands down to boost me, and I climbed in. The house was quiet. I let him in the back door, and then did a quick pass through the rest of the place. It was empty. Other than the bed not being made, it was like somebody’s mother’s house.
I said. “You sure he lives alone?”
He said, “Yeah. Pretty sure,” and went to the refrigerator and looked in and got a diet coke and asked if I wanted anything.
I said, “You sure this is the place?”
And he looked though some mail that was lying on the counter and found a gas bill with the guy’s new name on it.
I said, “Okay. So what now?”
And he said, “We wait.” He drained the coke and crushed the can and put it in the trash like he was a guest.
After looking around he decided on the bedroom. It was at the front, and we could see the porch from there. “We wait in the living room, he sees us when he opens the door, tries to run. Back here’s easier.” He stretched out on the bed with his hands behind his head and his feet on the floor so as not to dirty the sheets.
I said I was going to take another look around. I was surprised because the house was nicer than my place. I always mean to clean up but I don’t do it very often. This guy had regular magazines on the coffee table. Not porn. Even some books. There was beer in the refrigerator. I asked if I could have one, and Fred said, “Go ahead. He won’t need them.” There were carrots and whatnot too. Seemed like the place had everything. Only thing missing was those snapshots people always have stuck on their walls or their refrigerator doors or whatever.
I finished the beer and drug a chair back to the bedroom and put it behind the door and sat down. “You sure he lives alone?”
Fred said, “Yeah,” without opening his eyes.
I said, “It seems strange.”
He said, “What’s strange? You live alone?”
He opened one eye and looked at me. “So people live alone. Go look. One towel. One toothbrush. Can’t get more alone than that.”
I said, “You see those books and magazines? There’s carrots and broccoli in the refrigerator.”
He says, “A healthy mind in a healthy body.”
I said, “I wonder what he’s pulled that we don’t know about. I mean, three years.”
“Probably nothing,” he said. “Would of been in his jacket, even if they didn’t have enough to charge him.”
“So what’s he been doing all this time? He does all this stuff, and then just stops? I don’t get it.”
He said, “Probably got a job, like most people.”
I said, “Because he’s hiding?”
He said, “Partly maybe. But maybe not. It happens sometimes: people turn into their opposites. Like they turn into their shadows. Who they would have been if things were different. There was this guy I went after once, he’d been knocking over banks. You know, the pistol, the note, that way. Finally they caught him and charged him, but somehow he got bail and he skipped. Was in the wind a long time. Four or five years. And you know what he was doing when I found him? Working in a bank. Probably have ended up manager if I hadn’t turned up.”
“So you saying instead of B&E and statutory rape, now this guy reads books and eats vegetables? That’s his shadow?”
“Something like that.”
“Man, that’s creepy.”
It was hot but we couldn’t turn on the AC or he’d know when he opened the door, so I took off my jacket and hung it on the chair. I thought Fred was asleep, but when the postman came he opened his eyes and listened till he figured out what it was. Later when there was kids coming home from school, he didn’t even open his eyes.
Funny how your mind does when you’re waiting. Sitting there in this guy’s bedroom I got to thinking about the first time I broke into anybody’s house. It was our neighbors’. I was twelve. Ended up in their daughter’s bedroom. Must have sat there for an hour or so. It was almost like I wanted them to catch me. There was all this girl stuff, posters and teddy bears. Only thing I took from the whole house was a pair of her underpants. After that every time I’d see her I’d think about that room. She was older than me. Maybe fifteen. Wore glasses. Was that my shadow, or was this? And how do you tell?
About six o’clock I heard a car coming down the street, and a little shit-can Toyota rolls up in the drive. The guy’s whistling as he comes up on the porch. Keys jingling. Fred’s on his feet like a big cat, not a sound. Moves over by the closet, out of sight. We listen while the guy opens the front door, comes inside, locks it behind him, goes to the kitchen, opens the refrigerator, pops a tab, goes to the bathroom, starts pissing….
Then me and Fred step out in the hall, and he sees us and says, “Who the hell are you?”
And Fred says, “We’re from George.”
He says, “What?”
And Fred says, “George. The bail bondsman.”
I see it on his face. The penny drops and he says, “But what about all my stuff?”
Fred says, “Call somebody. When we get back.”
The guy’s face changes, and all of a sudden he looks like his mugshot. It’s like his shadow slips away. And I remember my pistol’s in the jacket, on the back of the chair, all the way across the room. And I’m thinking what if he runs? But then Fred squares up, and closes off the hall like a cork closing a bottle, and he’s not the jolly old fatman any more. This is his shadow. If the guy fucks with him he’ll end up riding back in an ambulance.
Fred tells me, “Get your phone and call Janeese. Tell her we got this shitbag and we’re heading back.”
I get it out of my jacket, but there’s no signal, so I head to the kitchen to use the phone there. And the guy hears me dialing and he yells, “Hey, you can’t be running up long distance charges on my phone!”
And Fred tells him, “It’s all long distance now, asshole. Get used to it.”
(c) Kurt Tidmore, 2012
Kurt Tidmore has been a construction worker, printer, tortilla manufacturer, illustrator, photographer, ice-plant worker, paid scientific guinea pig, salesman, dish washer, national magazine editor, jazz musician, dark-room technician, truck driver, published novelist, and radio disc-jockey. He was born in Texas and now lives in Ireland.