The escalator down to the platform seemed never-ending. People shifted to the left whenever they heard someone behind them try to pass. The train station was twice as full Christmas Eve. Everyone came from their last shopping in the city and wanted to return home for dinner. Except for Harlan.
Harlan reached the platform with a sigh and stared at the tracks below. Everyone around him held either shopping bags or hands. Christmas brought people together, it was Holiday season but he returned from an exhausting day at work. His family stayed in Ohio, while he was all the way in New York. Harlan tried to live his dream in the big city but ever since he stepped foot in this place it’d been hard. His parents offered to pay for his ticket home but he refused. As much as he missed them, he wanted to be independent. He didn’t want to run home and ask for money.
Harlan pressed down on his beanie when he heard the train howl in the tunnel. He stepped back, behind the rusty yellow faded line, and waited. A man appeared beside him with a phone pressed to his ear and briefcase in the other. People neared the platform as the sound of the train grew closer. Harlan shuffled closer to the man where he finally heard his conversation on the phone.
“No, I can’t do this anymore!” the man yelled and set his eyes on the first person he saw. Harlan tried to look away but the man wouldn’t. His face pale with sweat running down his temples. His eyes bloodshot as they darted from the phone to Harlan. The alteration happened so quickly that Harlan didn’t have time to process. One second he’s looking at the man and the next, the phone’s been shoved in his palm. He heard a click and something tighten around his wrist.
“What the hell?” Harlan reached down for the handle of the briefcase before it dragged him. He looked at the two items in his hands in confusion. A deafening scream followed and Harlan glanced up just in time to see what the man had done.
Parents clawed at their children so that they wouldn’t witness a man taking his own life. Women screamed with their palms over their mouths as they backed away. Some tried to peer over but the train was as quick as a lightning bolt. When it came to a complete stop, everyone fell silent. No one stepped into the train while the people inside casually walked out.
Harlan backed away as soon as everyone snapped back to their senses. Some tried to get help while people with children went back up the escalators, not wanting to be there a second more.
Once he was far away from the crowd and against the wall, he looked down at the items again. Only then he realized the phone was on a call. Harlan looked at the people in front of him. The security guards arrived and told everyone to back away. The conductor walked out the train with round eyes. He must’ve seen the man before he jumped but couldn’t stop at the pace of the train even if it slowed.
Harlan looked down at the phone again and his hands trembled as he slowly raised it to his ear.
“Harlan Bennet, age twenty-four, born in Cleveland, Ohio.” A flat voice spoke on the other end of the phone. Harlan’s eyes widened and he opened his mouth to speak but couldn’t think of anything. He looked up at the scene in front of him and shivered at the mention of trying to get the body. The person on the other side of the phone cleared their throat and Harlan assumed it was a man.
“H-How do you know my name?” Harlan’s grip on the phone tightened.
“That’s not important right now, Harlan. What is important…is that briefcase you’re holding.”
“Why what’s in it?” Harlan raised the briefcase to get a better look at it. The case had a combination below the handle and Harlan moved the numbers up and down to get it loose. With no luck, he focused his gaze on the handcuffs. There was blood on it. He wanted to believe it might’ve been ketchup and some other red liquid besides blood but he knew it wasn’t. The case itself wasn’t in good shape either, the ends were chipped and there was a dent on one side. Harlan almost forgot the man on the phone but he returned his gaze to the ever-growing crowd in front of him and asked, “What happened to him? Why did he give me this? What did he tell you on the phone before he…”
“You’re very skeptical aren’t you Harlan?” the man chuckled softly and added, “That was his choice…all I simply asked from him was to deliver that briefcase. Since it’s in your hands now, I expect you to finish the job.”
“What? No! I didn’t ask for this!” Harlan claimed which caused a few people to look at him. He turned away from them and leaned next to a vending machine. The man laughed again but Harlan didn’t find it very humorous.
“It’s your responsibility now, Harlan. Don’t blame me…blame the gentleman that forced this upon you.” The man spoke with such causality as if he addressed the weather. Harlan turned back to the train where reporters already made their way down. Paramedics and NYPD surrounded the area.
Security guards were clearing the platform and directing people to an alternative route. Harlan saw a security guard from the corner of his eye and walked closer to the stairs. He wasn’t sure who saw the interaction. They’d see on the cameras sooner or later.
“You can’t run, Harlan. I’m watching you.” As the man spoke, Harlan froze in his steps and looked around. Everyone’s attention was either on the body or police. Before he thought the man was joking he locked eyes with someone. Then another. Two men dressed in black from head to toe. If they didn’t want to be seen, they’d turn away but they continued to stare at Harlan until he finally looked away.
“They work for me and they’ll follow the briefcase wherever it goes. Follow my orders and you’ll get it to its destination.”
“And what if I don’t want to?”
“Then you’re more than welcome to ask one of my men for a key and they’ll unlock the handcuffs.”
Harlan thought for a moment. Why hadn’t the guy done that since it sounded so easy? He looked back at the two men again. Their appearances looked frightening. One was tall and slender but held a look of satisfaction. The other guy stood opposite him and he was dark-skinned with dreadlocks and a structured jaw. One looked manipulative while the other held no emotion.
“If you do that, however, then you’re missing out on a good opportunity.” The man brought him back to reality which made Harlan raise his brow. The man laughed at the long silence and said, “Each order you fulfill, I’ll deposit $10,000 into your bank account.”
“How many orders is that?”
“Curious, aren’t you? Let’s just say it’s enough for you to quit your job and maybe even see your family. You haven’t seen them in a while, have you?”
“How do you know all of this?”
“As I said, it isn’t important right now. What’s important is that briefcase and it being delivered. Can you do that Harlan?”
Harlan needed the money. He couldn’t take another year alone and not being able to see his loved ones. He hated his job and the cold atmosphere from everyone. Harlan didn’t have anything planned for tonight. He was going to get take outs from a place near his apartment then watch a Christmas movie to hopefully get into the mood. That sounded boring compared to getting ten grand for following an order. How long would it take? If the briefcase was so important it had to be delivered as soon as possible. Harlan wondered how much money the guy earned from all of this and what caused him to take his own life.
“Yes…I can do that.”
“Excellent. My men will take you to your first destination, Harlan…seasonal greetings.”
“What?” Harlan asked as his eyes darted across the platform where a man started to approach him. Harlan lowered the phone and looked down to see that the man ended the call. When he looked up again, both men stood and watched.
Before Harlan even had a chance to speak, one of them nodded then walked off to the stairs. The other didn’t move so Harlan took it as a sign to follow. He glanced over his shoulder, only to see the other man close behind. The man with dreadlocks led the way. Only then Harlan realized how enormous he was. Harlan couldn’t even see over him to where they’d be going.
Somehow the skinny one behind Harlan, made him more anxious. He felt those cold dark eyes glare into the back of his head. On instinct, Harlan shrugged his shoulders as if that would lose the guy’s intense gaze.