The Man Who Never Intends - A Short Story
Gary was tired from a long day on an old bus. He was the only one on the bus, as the folks in the town he just left weren't too interested in taking the bus to Little Port, Texas. The town was named after something it didn't have, thought Gary as he peered out through the bus's dingy windows. This town was landlocked.
Gary thought about his life and how'd it'd come to this, going to towns with no ports on old buses looking out dingy windows. On cue, the bus driver honked his horn long and steady, bringing Gary back to reality and away from his thoughts about his life. He looked up to see the bus driver wearing a smug, cranky expression. He looked like one of those dogs with the jowls all floppy. His eyes were slits in fleshy mounds situated atop a squashed nose which sat lazy guard over the sloppy cheeks.
Another honk. He wanted Gary to leave the bus. And Gary wanted to leave the bus, just at his own pace. Apparently his pace and the bus driver's pace weren't the same pace.
OK, thought Gary, have it your way. Gary told himself that he'd think more about his life later on that night.
Gary stood up, stretched, and grabbed his backpack, which had a change of shirt and a notebook stuffed inside. The shirt inside his pack was grey, just like the one he currently wore. Gary only wore grey shirts. He once tried another color. It was the worst day of his life. He decided then and there that the mid-grey, the heather grey, was the hue for him.
The other item in his backpack, the notebook, was unopened. It was new, see, and Gary bought it a few towns back in order to record some of his daily activities. His missions, if you will. Gary would write in it later, he decided. He was surprised at how his night was filling up. He should make mention of that inside his new notebook.
Gary walked to the front of the bus and stopped.
'Thank you for the ride,' Gary said with a firm resolve and a very Gary-like chin tilt.
'Humph,' said the driver.
So much jowl, thought Gary. It's probably the best he can muster with all that flap.
Gary stepped down onto the loose soil and sighed. The sun was purple and gold and warm and setting on the tiny town of Little Port, Texas, the town with No Port at all. Cute town, though, thought Gary. Smells a little, but other than that, it's cute. Maybe it was Big Grey that smelled. Gary had nicknames for his t-shirts. There was Big Grey and then there was Special Grey. Gary got bored a lot in life.
As the bus went off, Gary thought to himself about how he should remember to think about his life again later. He'd do it over dinner, he decided, at the quaint little cafe he spied across the street. The 'E' in the Cafe sign was out so it just read 'Caf.'
This town is kind of a dump, thought Gary, who only a few moments earlier thought that it was cute.
Just then Gary heard a scream.
As far as screams go, this one was up there. The shrillness stung Gary's ears like a jellyfish stinging Gary's ears. He didn't know if he'd heard anything so shrill before in his whole entire life. This was even shriller than ol' Shrill Shirley, his 5th grade crush that would scream when he tried to grope her.
Gary wheeled around on his heels to find the source of the startle. He scanned the long street and didn't see anyone. Just a few small stores, a couple two story buildings and a park.
Ah, the park. Gary decided hat if the scream came from the park, that's exactly the place he ought not go. He was tired and had a lot of thinking to do at dinner, after all. Plus, the scream only happened once. If it was an ongoing affair there'd probably be quite a few more, right.
But nothing else, just the one. And Gary told himself that it wasn't that shrill. Probably a woman just being afraid of the oncoming dark or something. Nightfall scream. Hmmm, thought Gary, sounds like a title to a novel. Nightfall Scream.
Gary decided it wasn't that great a title, shrugged his shoulders and continued towards the cafe, which sat alone between two taller buildings, shaded from the sunset like a homeless man under a box.
A small breeze gently wafted against Gary's face and the fragrance of pancakes entered his nostrils. He loved pancakes more than life itself. If life and pancakes asked for his hand in marriage, he'd go with pancakes, because in hypothetical situations Gary always went with the silliest option, because it didn't matter anyway.
A shrill scream cut through Gary's train of pancake thoughts.
Dammit, thought Gary as he looked to the park again. Dammit dammit dammit.
He looked into the cafe and saw a heavy man at the counter and an old woman sitting by the window. She stared at Gary and pointed to the park with her eyebrows all raised up and anxious looking.
'Yeah yeah, old lady, I heard it, too.'
He nodded politely to the old woman because that's what you do to old woman. Gary nodded and he knew it was time. He should do something.
But he really wanted to at least get one pancake before he started on another mission, there were only two screams and nothing for a minute now, that surely meant that all was well, he couldn't wait to eat that pancake, their aroma was simply too much to bare.
Gary changed his mind about waking to the park and turned back to the diner. The old woman in the window raised her hands like 'whoa, don't come in here, you've got work to do' but Gary shot her a 'it's all good I'm just gonna get one pancake then go' look.
She seemed to understand and made an 'I understand' nod with her head.
Gary stepped into the warm cafe right at the exact same damn second that another damn scream pierced the damn twilight sky.
Gary stopped and sighed. So far, Little Port was being a real bitch.
He turned away from the cafe once again, gray shirt, empty unused notepad in the backpack, change for a dollar, and his thoughts, always his thoughts, returning him to a calmer time, a time from earlier today when he was on a bus to this city and not actually in this city.
It was time to start his first mission.
But not before that first pancake. Luckily, the cook was quick and made it to go and Gary looked at the old woman by the window as he left and they exchanged nods of approval and well wishes.
Gary ate the pancake as he walked to the park and the screaming. When he was in a hurry, he had a certain way of eating his pancake, a way that involved folding the pancake in half like a soft taco, therefore making it easier and quicker to eat when he was about to embark on a mission.
A fourth scream rang out into the now nighttime sky. The street lights that lined the street were slowly shining to life, unfortunately none of those street lights were in the park. The park had no park lights. Gary was behind a tree now, surveying the open grounds of the town's park. He scanned with squinted eyes and steely reserve.
Gary couldn't make out anything in the park. It used to be that he couldn't make out with anything in the park, but now it's different. He chuckled to himself about the play on words he just came up with. He was proud and the pancake was good, so he was quite pleased with the last 30 seconds of his life.
And then a fifth scream interrupted his back-patting session. It was immediately followed by a gross-sounding gurgle. And then footsteps. Hard and quick. Gary listened to the footsteps and flicked his head to the right. He saw a shadowy figure emerge from the brush on the other side of the park's lawn. The figure turned to Gary and paused. In that moment, a car whooshed and screeched to a skid behind Gary, scaring the absolute hell out of him. The car's headlights shone through the park and onto the figure, a small sliver of the light making its way through the trees and reflecting brightly off of something shiny on the man's face, and more precisely, his eye.
As quickly as the man stood up, he was off, jumping off and sprinting like he was running the Olympic 400. If that's the race where they sprint really fast and not jog for long distances. If it's another number, like the 800 or 1200, then it was like this man was running that numbered race.
Gary knew the man was too far away to start after him, besides, Gary's pancake belly wouldn't agree with that course of action. Also, this person driving the car that just zoomed up might be able to help. Maybe even help give him a ride back to the bus station so he could leave this town on the double.
'Did you get a good look at him?' asked a voice behind Gary.
He turned around to gaze upon the leggiest set of legs and torsiest torso that he'd ever seen. This woman was a full-bodied wine aged to perfection. Even in the street light lit street, this woman had it all. He couldn't see her face all that clearly, but he didn't care. No case of the snaggle could overshadow that hourglass physique. Gary was speechless. He suddenly wished he'd have brought an extra pancake taco to offer this pillar of sex standing before him.
'You dumb?' asked the woman, her mouth making beautiful word shapes as Gary was drowning in her everything. Her pant-suit pants clung to her muscular legs, her blouse tucked into its high waist and her jacket hung loose. The top few buttons of her blouse were undone to reveal a real nice set underneath.
Gary could sense another mission coming on.
'ARE YOU DUMB?' the lovely creature asked Gary again and this time Gary answered.
'No ma'm. I'm Gary. Gary Hughes.' He extended his hand and awaited her response. She flipped back her hair, exposing her missions, and breathed out deep. Her hand slid into his and Gary shook it firmly. He hoped his sticky syrup-hand would go unnoticed.
'Nice to meet you. I'm Private Investigator Vanessa Munroe. I'm going to need to question you about why you were in the park after sundown tonight.'
'Ok, go ahead.'
'Why were you in the park after sundown tonight?'
'Well, Vanessa, I heard a scream and decided to do a bit of my own private investigating.' Gary knew he had her right where he wanted her. Well, one of the places he wanted her. One of the many. But this was as good of a starting place as any.
'You're not cute and I've got a victim to find.'
Victim? Oh, right! Gary forgot about the screamer! Vanessa bounded away easily over the row of bushes that lined the park's edge and then galloped across the lawn. She moved like a gazelle. A sexy private investigating gazelle, the rarest of all gazelles.
Gary fell as he attempted to bound the same bush Vanessa had. He landed awkwardly on his backpack, and more specifically, the empty note pad. It's spine jabbed Gary in the spleen. He let out a small chortle and got to his feet slowly. As he was straightening himself he saw Vanessa help a young, muddy woman off of the ground. Her sweat shirt was torn at the neck, her pants ripped at the knees. Wait, that wasn't from the skirmish, Gary realized. She was stylish. Vanessa exchanged a few words with the woman that Gary couldn't hear and then they both headed his way.
'It was nice meeting you, Gary. Be careful around here,' said Vanessa. As they passed him, Gary noticed the woman's arms were reddened at the forearm, as if strong hands gripped them strongly. Her hands were muddy and so was her face. She didn't look at Gary as she passed, avoiding all eye contact as she stared at the ground.
'Wait, don't you need some help?' asked Gary honestly.
'Sure do. If you know of anybody worthwhile, send them my way.'
And with that, Vanessa tucked the muddy girl into the back seat of her car and got into the front. The sleek sedan lurched forward through the street lights lighting the street and sped off into the bowels of Little Port.
'Oh, I know of somebody worthwhile, alright. His name is Gary Hughes, me...because it's me. Gary Hughes.'
His little fake-fall over the bush worked perfectly, thought Gary. Vanessa thinks he's useless, a moron, incapable of aiding in any investigations. Perfect for him to start working leads to find out who the man with the reflective eye-dealie was, what he wanted with that muddy girl, and if finding all that out might help Gary get to see Vanessa without the pant-suit pants and the pant-suit jacket on.
It's worth a try.
Here goes Gary.
Gary found a room for the night at a nearby bed and breakfast. The room reminded him of one he stayed at in Prague once. Yes, it was on a mission, and no, it wasn't by himself. He was married then, his high school sweetheart, if he'd gone to high school, but he didn't, so it wasn't. It was a cover for his operation. She was a fellow undercover agent and she took her job seriously.
Shame, really, because Gary tried everything he could to get into her pants and also panties. But this room in Little Port, with its single window overlooking main street and the park and the bus station, this room had the same feel, the same aura. Cozy and creaky, bathroom-less and overpriced.
Gary slung his backpack onto an old stuffy chair next to the bed and went to the tall window. Some view, he thought. Gary wondered if there was any other street in town. It felt like one of those Hollywood sets.
He left the window, went over by the dresser and looked at himself in the mirror hanging there. He looked like he needed a shower, so he knew what he needed to do next.
Gary grabbed a towel from the closet and headed down the hall to the communal bathroom. This reminded him of gym class and how much he hated gym class.
The bathroom was at the end of the short hallway at the top of the stairs. Two other bed rooms shared the bathroom, so there was a small chance Gary would be walking in on someone. This was a chance Gary was willing to take.
The wood floor groaned beneath Gary's every step as he made his way to the shower.
It's all fun and games until someone screams at the top of their lungs at dusk, thought Gary. He chuckled at this and then felt bad about chuckling. That poor girl. That poor muddy girl.
The shower was cold and hot all at the same time. The knobs were confusing. Twist one this way, it's frigid, pull that one that way, it's scalding. Nothing made sense. He fidgeted until he found a nice medium area and began soaking.
Gary decided now was as good a time as any to think about his life. What he was doing with himself. What people thought of him. If anyone at all in this big ol' world gave a flip about Gare. This much was certain, Gare was feeling sorry for himself something fierce.
He told himself to grow up. He said it out loud, quietly, but he knew that he meant it.
He was a grown man and grown men don't ponder other people's opinions of them in the shower of an overpriced bed and breakfast in Little Port, Texas. They do it in the room, maybe, or on a hike or after a long phone call with the credit card company. But not in the shower and not now.
Gary turned his thoughts towards the events that unfolded this evening. Vanessa. The screaming muddy girl. The man with the shiny eye. This town was already proving quite the mystery shrouded in secrecy and covered with a blanket of sexual intrigue. A warm blanket, a thick one, one of those ones you sleep with on the ground under the stars. It was so comfortable.
He bet sleeping with Vanessa would be equally as comfortable. She had a figure, boy, one for to write home to Mama about. Oh, that's weird. Gary started thinking about his Mama right after he was thinking about Vanessa's hot body. He decided he'd had enough shower time.
As he padded slowly down the hallway, he noticed that the door to his room was open. He had shut the door, he knew that for fact. Well, he thought it for fact. Actually, come to think of it, he wasn't quite sure he even remembered there being a door to his room in the first place.
No, he had definitely shut the 'door.' Maybe. His head felt like one of those shower knobs.
Another mystery and it's only the first day, thought Gary. He grew aroused at yet another mystery.
He quickly leaned against the wall and crept alongside of it to the cracked doorway. All was quiet. Still.
He burst through the open door and into his hotel room. It was empty. Just his backpack on the bed and the drapes by the window blowing in the breeze.
Wait, both of those things were out of place. Possibly.
Gary flipped off the light inside the room and made his way to the window. He peered out to the street below and saw nothing at first. This is what you do when your room has possibly been looted. You turn off the lights and make it to a window to see if the bad guy's outside, ya know, counting their spoils.
He squinted hard through the dark and again saw lots more nothing. Lots of it, everywhere. Nothing of interest. He was about to give up when a glint caught his eye. A figure was silhouetted against a drug store window, really creepy-like.
But the drug store won't be open for hours, thought Gary. This guy was clearly an imbecile.
Just then the figure's face glinted in the same way the figure from the park had. The man with the glinty face!
The figure swirled in a flourish and was gone. Who swirls like that? Clearly, this imbecile.
Gary switched the light in his room back on and picked through his backpack, which had been moved from the chair to the bed. Inside the backpack he found a note.
The note was handwritten on a scrap of printer paper. The penmanship was precise and the message was simple. It read: Trust No One.
Gary wondered if that was in reference to the shoddy security at the bed and breakfast he was staying at? Can anyone just pop in people's rooms around here and leave cryptic messages? What's the deal.
Or maybe the note inferred that he shouldn't even trust the writer of the note? Real MC Escher style puzzles taking place before bed tonight, mused Gary.
Gary sat down on the bed and thought hard about what to do next. Tell the hotel about the break-in? Find a policeman and tell them the situation? He was starting to feel in over his head around here.
He decided to flip on the television and see if any good games were on.
There were. Gary watched the hell outta a match-up between two aggressive and sinewy collegiate women's volleyball teams. Actually, it's not a 'game' per say, noted Gary, but a 'match.' They do play 'games' inside of the 'match,' which really had Gary's mind in a pretzel.
Gary fell asleep shortly after he was done thinking.
He awoke early, earlier than he'd have liked. A hot, bright sliver of sun beamed through a crack in the curtains and began singeing Gary's eyelid. It was a direct hit, spectacular really. For Gary's left eye to be in the path of that sliver of hot white death was nothing short of astounding.
Gary didn't see it quite that way, as he's a lazy man with lazier tendencies, one of which is the sleeping-in he's so fond of and another is the not checking of his car's rear view mirrors. The latter has gotten him into plenty of deep water. Literally. He once backed his car clear off of a dock and into the raging Mississippi. He was also slightly inebriated at the time, but tell that to the Sheriff's department and Gary would come after you like a greyhound does a stuffed rabbit.
That incident is the sole reason that Gary takes the bus.
Gary gave into the laser light beam and decided it a sign to awake. He shuddered and yawned, in that order, and dressed for the day. He grabbed his backpack, glanced at the note again, made a mental note to maybe trust it, and walked down the creaky old steps that led to the first floor.
He walked by the front desk area and the old man was behind it, face stuffed in the morning's paper, cigarette burning on the lip of a coffee cup next to him. It teetered back and forth, Gary could actually see it teetering. Gary didn't say Good Morning to the old codger in fear that any disturbance might send that ciggy to the ground and them all to a fiery death. He simply walked to the door and out into Little Port to begin his private investigating and to see what he could see.
What Gary didn't see was that the second he left the bed and breakfast the old man lowered his newspaper, lifted a walkie-talkie to his ancient lips, and mumbled, 'he just left.'
The old man then swiveled in his chair and peered through the blinds in his front office window. He watched as Gary jaywalked across the street and down the block.
A smile crept onto the old man's lips.
'Like taking candy from a baby,' he cooed as he leaned back from the blinds. He grabbed his cigarette off the lip of the cup and took a long, sinister pull.
'Like taking candy from a really big, really dumb baby.'
TO BE CONTINUED...