It was 2 a.m. when he received his first telephone call.
“Hello,” a suave mail voice said. “Mr. Jenson?”
“Yes,” he said, too confused to be rude to the speaker who, in such a nasty manner, interrupted the sweet dream in which he was reliving the gorgeous palms and the glorious sunshine of his recent vacation.
“I have an obligation to tell you that you may be in serious danger. In fact, you may quite soon,” the voice broke off, releasing a little sigh, “be dead.”
The sentence at first didn’t really scare, he rather felt surprise. The whole comfortable surrounding of his cozy bedroom with its plush curtains, elegant night table and brownish sheets with a funny pattern of little clumsy bears simply made the idea of death look absurd. Then he remembered some movies, threats coming from anonymous calls, and with some animal gut feeling began to feel a threat to his existence.
“Who are you? Why are you calling me? Who asked you?” he spurted out the questions, trying to catch his interlocutor on a thin cord, not to let him hang up before he received his answers.
“All this is not important,” the delicate voice said. “My debt was to warn you.” That was the end of the conversation, and the line was at once full of wailing, dreary sounds.
The night was only in its middle point, and Charles had already lost sleep. He glanced at his pretty wife, quietly purring beside him. She was a sound sleeper, blissfully smiling in her sleep. At 30, he was a prosperous young lawyer, with an excellent outlook for the future, a neat house, well beyond what most of his peers could afford, and a stunning wife. He never experienced a sense of fear because his life had always flown along the same clear-cut lines set from birth for good boys from good families: prestigious high school, top university, two years of nerve-racking law school, and a place with one of the local law firms. All the way he did what was expected of him, every time surpassing expectations. He was hurt and scared that something had gone wrong, grasping for clues as to what it might have been.
Sifting through his life, to the minutest details, Charles remembered that one case had seemed dubious this week. He pointed out to the boss that they were on slippery ground defending a client and that he could have turned out to be hiding more than they thought. Charles even suggested digging deeper to get more information about who the client: his real background, his business and so on. The boss seemed to agree at first, but the next day he called Charles and told him to relax a little. He has been right, they were giving up this client. They did not want to catch fish in dirty water. Or had he come up with something new? No, then ok, they will just drop this matter.
Charles’ imagination immediately painted a picture derived from paperback crime novels written in Grisham’s style. The enigmatic client really was indeed a criminal tycoon, engaged in some dirty stuff. Now they are waiting to see him dead because they are afraid he had learned something that will incriminate the bad guys. It was just an accident he happened to learn about these things. Do people die for that little? He was smashed, devastated. Lying down on the bed, he braced himself for an exhausting sleepless night full of nightmares without dreams. Only after three hours he plunged into a grim slumber, only to wake up feeling as if he had a major hangover.
The next day he went to work, with a pounding heart, full of apprehensions and worries. His colleagues were considerate after seeing that he having a bad day, but after they began to suspect he was worried by more than ordinary family problems. Charles, in his turn, shied away from colleagues. They, too, seemed to carry a deadly threat to his life, his existence, his happiness and future. It was this future he had always been working for, and it was what he had dreamt of building, a glorious future with his lovely wife and their three blond-haired kids, of which they as yet had none.
On coming home from work, Charles had a new surprise waiting for him: a small mourning wreath in the hall. Feeling his legs bending under him, he called to his wife:
“Monica, are we going to someone’s funeral?”
“No, whose?” She seemed genuinely surprised.
“Oh!” a stifled cry broke from his lips, and Charles gasped for air, close to fainting. Going up to their bedroom, he tore off his tie and slumped on the bed, stretching his legs and about to cry with the bitter tears of a hurt child. Now this was simply not fair – why was it all happening to him? He had never done anything wrong to anybody, never done a really bad thing, life just could not let him down like that. He still didn’t believe anybody wanted to kill him, it was just stupid warning him after all, unless they wanted to scare him to death and force him into doing something awful. But nobody was demanding anything from him. Even at his job – what could they want? If his suspicions were right, and the threats were coming from the client he wished they had never had, what else could they want? Stop him from revealing something undesirable? But the investigation was closed some days ago. He was done with this thing, since he wanted to live a quiet and satisfying life, not one filled with anxiety and stress.
Monica fluttered into the room in her usual airy manner:
“Darling, you look so awfully tired? Bad day in the office? You are early today…” she purred, rubbing her nose against his ear like a cat trying to win the master’s attention in the hope for a nice dinner.
“No,” he shot back. “Just had a bad night.”
“Why? We can have a better one tonight…” she amorously embraced his body with her exquisite long legs.
“Monica, I really want to go to sleep. Right now. I am sorry, darling. Next time,” Charles tried to sound as nice as was humanly possible.
“Ok,” Monica rolled off the bed with a disappointed out on her lips. “Good night, Charlie.”
He heard her delicate footsteps. Monica has always been a faithful and exciting companion, so exhilarated about their marriage and everything about him. Charles simply could not let her into his plight. After all, he was a man capable of standing up for himself, ready to defend his family, which at this point meant Monica. Neither of them had other relatives, either distant or close, since their parents had died by the time they got married. This only increased their attachment to each other. No, he could not risk her happiness, her sense of security, her belief in his capacity for making her dreams come true.
He went to sleep more easily now, getting used to being in danger, or in illusory danger, relieved that his sleep was not disturbed by any menacing calls. The mysterious caller, whoever he was, was no longer bothering him, and he relished the quiet, safe inside of his bedroom.
Another day went by without anything strange happening. He was almost ready to get back to normal, when he got another call that night right when Monica was taking a shower.
“Mr. Jenson?” the same cat-like voice said. “I am sorry to bother you again.”
“Why are you calling?” Charles was no longer that passionate.
“I just wanted to tell you that there was a slight delay in your case. You will live for a few more days and then die.”
“Why would anybody want to kill me?”
“Nobody does. Maybe somebody has to. Maybe not. I didn’t mean to say that you will die through murder”.
Charles was breathless, washed in a cold sweat, but he kept silent, not knowing what to say or how to ward off this mysterious threat.
“Ok. We are just keeping you informed. I am Manson, by the way. Does the name Manson mean anything to you?”
The speaker hung up.
Charles tossed restlessly on his bed for some time, then sank into a restless sleep that was far from refreshing. He was moving back and forth in a series of strange events that evolved in his sleep as if against his will when he was modestly. He seemed to clutch at the last shred of his normal existence. In his first dream he was in his office at the law firm, moving from one desk to another, searching for some document under the surprised stares of the secretaries; the next moment, he was standing on the carpet before the boss’s desk, and the boss was for some reason standing up and waving a big scourge in front of Charles’s face, hissing in the most ominous way: “You thought you would live for many years, didn’t you?” Then he was in the huge hall with some men all dressed in red cloaks, all waving sticks at him, standing in a broad circle and moving up to him from the boundaries… And suddenly he was stuck in a giant barrel, filled with a scorching, fuming dark mass. Striving to break free from this monstrous substance, Charles noted that the barrel was in in some industrial-looking mammoth hall, totally empty, resonating with his cries for help. The ugly concrete vault of the building, obviously made for practical purposes rather than for gratification of the human eye, weighed upon him, sparking the only thought in his mind: “Is this really how I am going to die?” He thought at this point, just as logical conclusions can often arrive in one’s sleep, that he would be able to die with dignity if someone tried to shoot him in front of a large crowd. Yes, then he would preserve dignity. But within these loathsome walls? Quite alone, stuck in this filthy something?
He woke up serene, feeling quiet that the he was indeed in much better shape than his dream suggested. A horrible nightmare. Charles lay on his back, seriously beginning to ponder how exactly he was going to end his life if that was indeed his destiny. They could simply shoot him somewhere on the lonely road, such as the one that led to his workplace. They could simply take him out of the car and shoot him. Then they would have problems, police investigators, and all that. They could poison him, too. If they were smart enough to get into his house, they could poison him just by dropping a little piece of something into his soup. No, they weren’t going to drop him into a sticky mass like in his dream. People aren’t killed this way. Not regularly.
At his job he had a surprise waiting for him that was neither bad nor pleasant, but one that reminded of the whole ugly situation. The boss was eager to talk to him.
“You know, Charles, you look tired,” Mr. Watson said. “You need a vacation. I know you are doing your best, but we just feel you need a few days off.”
Charles was hurt by the idea.
“I am quite ok, I assure you. Maybe I just didn’t sleep well a couple of nights.”
He resented the idea that he, of all people in the office, had to take a vacation on the boss’s suggestion.
“Charles, I don’t mean to be harsh, but people complain.”
“I shouldn’t be telling you. They say you forget things, leave the office early and are not as helpful as you were before. I am worried about you.”
Charles drew in a deep, disappointed sigh. They complain! He forgets things! He’d see what they would do if they got the same types of calls. Or maybe just wanted to remove him? And kill him in his house?
“You can book a flight to the Caribbean through our partnership with the travel firm. They will book a hotel for you”.
“Yeah, and kill me there,” Charles thought.
Aloud, he said:
“No, thank you. I prefer a quiet rest at home.”
The first two days went quietly, although Charles was looking at the phone with grave suspicion all the time. He was wondering if more nasty calls are going to come. When the phone did ring, however, he felt such a deep resignation he had not experienced in years. Come what may. Happen what will. He is not going to cower at every buzz of this little machine. The caller proved to be his boss.
“How are you doing, Charles? Any better?” he asked politely.
“I was not so bad back then,” Charles’s tone contrasted with his boss’s amiability.
“I was about to offer a trip once again. We will cover the costs. I would not miss this opportunity. We value your brains.”
“No, thank you, Mr. Watson,” Charles was speaking in a more relaxed tone now. “I am really ok. Just will rest a few more days.”
“Ok. Take your time. Sure, we – we miss you here. But take your time, really. We need you here with fresh, rested mind.”
Charles hung up. For a moment, one brief moment, he felt like he was breathing again, healthy and lively. Then it dawned upon him. This voice… could it have been his boss? The suave, soft voice in the receiver? That’s right! So it was Mr. Watson chasing him? The powerful man who had connections in all thinkable and unthinkable public and private places? Then there is no escape, really…
The next days were a nightmare. The office work had kept him from thinking about the calls. He got none again, nothing to disprove his new discovery, which kept him only more alarmed. He didn’t leave his house, having decided to reduce the chances that he would be caught unawares in the street. He only went out to go to the supermarket to buy food so that he only ate the stuff cooked by himself, in order to exclude poisoning. Poisoning seemed especially frightening since he wasn’t sure whether it would be painful. Charles pictured himself rolling on the floor with spasms in his stomach, dying in awful agony while his last impressions of this world were marred by the wrenching pangs.
Gradually Charles came to terms with the idea that he was going to die. Why worry if he couldn’t change it? The voice on the phone seemed quite positive about it. Charles considered, of course, calling the police so that they could track down the voice, but that was disturbing a nest of ants, and fear kept him paralyzed to the extent that he became a passive onlooker of his own life. He no longer felt in control – something new and unexpected had barged in, leaving him helpless and dismayed. He sometimes wondered why he gave up so easily. Indeed his previous life left him unprepared for this sort of situation. He was weak since childhood, Granny’s boy, and his poor health had kept him at home most of the time when other boys were out there playing their rough games. Charles got used to staying at home, and after he revealed superior abilities in school, studies engulfed all his life. Lessons – that was where he excelled, and lesson had few surprises for the clever boy that he was. College, first job – all was smooth, no hitches indeed. Even his love affair with Monica was swift and painless, with little circling around, winning the girl’s heart, distinguishing himself from other guys. She just seemed to like him from the start. And money. His parents died, leaving him if not super-rich, then certainly comfortably well-off. The only grief in his life was when Granny died – but this was a problem that did not need a solution. By that time his life had been well-established, and he quickly returned to his normal routine.
Now his boss is going to kill him. The mighty Mr. Watson. The emphasis was now on how exactly he is going to die. He still saw his dreams, in which he was either flying into a dismal, endless and empty abyss, once again dying all alone, seeing dark, greyish walls for minutes and minutes… Then he bumped against the rocky bottom and lay on his bottom, seeing blood draining from his body, waiting for the moment when death comes and engulfs him like a soft envelope, removing the devastating reality of his dying. The next day he was dreaming of dying in the stormy waters of the sea, struggling up all the time, losing strength in the hopeless fight against the element. It was so scary waiting for the moment when he sinks into the vast ocean and starts choking.
Then the decision arrived, simple and logical: he should prevent all these atrocities. He has to choose his death himself. That means that he should do it before they do. Kill himself, and sure enough, they will not be able to do this on their own. This was his first important choice in his life. Hang himself? Ugly. Shoot? He does not have a gun, really. Then the answer came, a very simple one: he chose pills, a merciful way, the one that allowed one simply to slip into non-existence. He just happened to have those in his desk. Yes, Charles once suffered from insomnia, and had some left over… He was lying on the bed tasting the final moments of his earthly existence, when his retreat was interrupted by his wife’s voice:
“Yes, just as we expected. He killed himself today. Yes, of course, I am inheriting the house and everything. You did a good job”.
She laughed coquettishly.
“No, not today, today is too early. I lost a husband after all. I am a widow and have to be in sorrow. Just have to be. Tomorrow will be plenty of fun, or the day after tomorrow. You were simply wonderful with your calls.”
Charles rolled over, blissfully quiet after the action of the poison. Monica. She wanted his house. Nobody really wanted to kill him, and everything around was well. Well, it may take a few hours, otherwise he will not die. If he can get it out of his system, he will live a happy ever after… He stretched for the phone after he finally remembered how to call for ambulance.