Swing for the Heart

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Modus Vivendi

At three o’clock in the morning, the July Sunday of the year 1999 found David already awake. He woke up immediately, roused by sounds from behind the metal wall. He wasn’t sure what they were. David wasn’t worried, though, and felt safe where he was. At the same time, he didn’t want anyone to surprise him there.

The key was to always have good fortune on his side, David kept telling himself. He felt he’d been quite lucky all along. He was sure this was all a temporary phase with elements of adventure. He’ll keep his promise to Alice and Kačenka. He made sure to phone them frequently so he would avoid a situation where Alice tried calling the dormitory. The longer he’d been out of Superb, the harder it would be to explain to her why he’d been keeping it a secret. They simply can’t know this; the information is behind a tight seal and a lock. She wouldn’t understand that he’s not that badly off, and that sometimes it’s necessary to be more flexible and invent untraditional solutions to challenges.

Nobody knew that the shed next to the warehouse where David worked, was accessible. It was used for storage of shredded documents and was bolted with a heavy lock. But who would’ve thought that the rear wall can be moved enough to allow a person to get in? The perfect residence for a student. David was again preparing for his medical exam; he wasn’t going to give up just because the first time it didn’t work out. He’ll write it in September and, until then, surviving the summer in this shed isn’t the worst thing. Especially because he didn’t pass the exam the first time and was forced to pay to take the exam again, David didn’t feel he could afford the luxury of paid accommodations.

He wasn’t disturbing anyone, the bags with papers were deposited every two weeks or so, and if he recalls correctly, they’d be picked up and removed on the first Thursday in August. That’s how it had been in July, June, and in May. Perfect.

Nobody disturbed him, either, except for that sound outside on that Sunday morning. He didn’t wish to have a new roommate. Bills, including his cell-phone, had been coming to Mrs. James’ address, that was no problem. Alice was receiving his paychecks, so she was able to pay them and didn’t suspect anything. Inside the warehouse, where he worked during the day, David was even able to charge his cell phone. He had his system, which remained invisible even to those who occasionally threw a bag of shredded documents inside his shelter. Nobody would find the suitcase or his books. There was lots of room underneath the wooden floor planks. David sat up, waiting to detect motion through a small gap in the roof. The sounds continued and now he also heard fast breathing. David moved to look closely through the opening at the exact moment when a wet muzzle approached from the other side. A coyote! One of the city’s coyotes. Relieved, David laid back down and watched the metal ceiling. It was light out by now, and so he figured it was time to get up. Today they’ll take a trip out to the mountains. To enjoy the large spaces above, Alice had said. David had to smile when he thought of that.

David banged on the wall and heard a startled bark followed by a quick flight.

And it was quiet again. David sat up, grabbed his towel stowed behind him; from the wooden crate used for shelving hooks he took his shaving supplies, his jeans hanging above, and finally his t-shirt folded on bags of shredded paper next to him. The warehouse fence, safely containing Říha’s palace, afforded him sufficient privacy. Nobody knew about the hole in the fence or the shed. And David had no reason to report the ‘defect’.

Softly pushing out the rear wall, David snuck out. For a moment he remained motionless in the shed’s shadow, and then quickly and quietly made the usual eight steps to the warehouse door to which he had a key. Not that illegally. His own supervisor had lent it to him when he’d asked David to take out some debris. He simply didn’t give it back yet. Nobody asked for it, there were three more copies hanging. In the end, David didn’t feel he was doing anything wrong.

Quietly unlocking the door, David crossed the silent hall all the way to the washroom with two showers and calmly turned on the water, same as he did early every morning. He waited a bit for the warm water to come, and soon he was enjoying the benefits of a refreshing morning shower. He realized this was even more comfortable than when he used to go camping as a student. Every day a shower and a roof over his head. Still, he knew that Alice would not be on-board with such an adventure. But, without it, they wouldn’t be able to put together their first down-payment for a house. The water running, David closed his eyes and let himself be washed from head to toe in the lavishly lathered body-wash. In the small steamed up mirror hanging over the run-down sink, he noticed more of his hair had turned grey. He wasn’t the youngest anymore. He was pushing fifty now.

David shut off the shower, moved to the mirror, lathered his face with shaving cream and began to shave.

Suddenly he froze, and with the quick instinct of an animal he turned off the light. The chain on the main gate rattled. He was thinking fast. Somebody’s coming. The shower floor was wet and the shower full of steam. Why and who’s here? Maybe another colleague without a roof of his own? But he didn’t have time to joke. T-shirt, boxers and jeans! With the towel. They all stayed on the railing in the main hall. Shoes! He didn’t want them to get wet in the shower.

Floyd Barnes, shipping and receiving personnel, unlocked the chain lock and with a rumbling noise moved the heavy door. He switched on the light and after a few flickers the entire space flooded with bluish fluorescent light. Barnes was whistling as he made his way to the shop-section. That’s where he left the key and ratchet he’d had fixed. He grabbed it and was ready to leave. But then he stopped at the workbench, hoping to find the bag in which Barnes had brought the ratchet earlier. He didn’t see it anywhere. Maybe someone had put it away, he thought. Slowly Barnes strolled towards the exit. It was ten minutes to four in the morning, on a Sunday. Looking into the shelves, Barnes was approaching the washroom. He was almost ready to forget about the bag, turn around and leave. He was fond of it, true, but he could look for it on Monday.

Suddenly Barnes noticed steam coming from the shower-stalls. Carefully he approached and opened the washroom doors. He found the switch and slowly turned on the light. He poked his head into the first stall, nothing. He opened the second one. The floor was wet, hot water was still dripping. He couldn’t have known that just a few moments ago David had deliberately set the drip. Nobody around. Floyd immediately figured that someone had simply forgotten to turn of the hot water, and so it wasn’t surprising that since Friday so much steam had accumulated. He cursed a bit and shut off the faucet. He’ll have to report it. A lot of water must have escaped from Friday. They’ll have to look into it.

He left the showers and headed for the door. At first he wanted to call his supervisor right away, but then realized the hour and decided against it.

Something caught the corner of his eye, though. Barnes turned around and hesitatingly took the jeans, t-shirt, towel and the boxers, examined all articles, and then slowly walked away with them. In a few seconds the blue light in the hall went out, the wheels on the heavy door rattled, and the warehouse fell silent.

David waited another minute and then squeezed himself out of the locker next to the washroom. He couldn’t have stayed there any longer. Barefoot, David walked out in search of his clothes. It wasn’t on the railing! Where are his things? Did Floyd take it? For a moment Doctor Říha paced helplessly round, his bare feet smacking the concrete floor, and was glad to find his watch and glasses intact underneath the railing.

The key! In his jeans! Quarter past four. He ran towards the board with hanging keys and, as he was, protected only by his hands, rushed to his secret exit. He unlocked carefully, into the bright July day. The shed was so far away now. Eight steps, then around and sneak inside. To push the wall, he’d need both his hands.

Like a person escaped from the grave, David scampered softly and quietly all the way to the shack, ran around and quickly uncovered his entrance. Nobody saw his two bright butt-cheeks as he disappeared inside. David breathed a sigh of relief, but suspected this was only the first ‘act’ of the drama.

Four thirty. He has to return the key to its place. He’ll hang it up but won’t lock the door. Some explanation will turn up. Now properly dressed, David crossed the eight-step path and snuck into the hall. He wanted to return the key quickly, and even though it was a Sunday he didn’t want to spend more time in the warehouse than was absolutely necessary. He was worried one day they’d install cameras, like they kept talking about. He’ll need to make sure he knows ahead of time when that happens.

As David walked towards the key-board, his gaze stopped on a plastic recycling bin. His eyes lit up with an unexpected hope. David ran towards it, and there they were. T-shirt, jeans, and the boxers and his towel. Shoes! Everything carelessly thrown on top of greasy papers and empty paint containers. David lovingly retrieved his clothes. He had enough time to hang up the extra key, and was ready to leave.

The chain rattled exactly the same way as it did when David was in the shower. Floyd was coming back. He’d realized that someone had been in the warehouse after working hours, and that Floyd would need the clothes to identify the unwelcome visitor. Floyd knew he acted rashly when he disposed of them like rags. He aimed straight for the bin but found nothing. David watched him hidden behind a fork-lift and stacked palettes. Part of his job was fixing them, so he was able to move around smoothly and invisibly like a cat. Slowly and uncertainly, Floyd started towards the showers – everything was the same as before. He looked around the empty hall, returned to the garbage bin, looked inside, then again across the hall and finally he walked outside and carefully locked the large door.

Shortly after, David was locking his own. He’d experienced something he would like to share as a fascinating anecdote, but nobody was there.

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