That night, I don’t sleep well. I haven’t lied down and slept out of necessity in years, but tonight I feel like my mind needs the rest. The day has been filled with the heavy, anchor-sized weight of death, and the stress of el confrontations and intense word puzzles sitting impatiently underneath dim, florescent lights, waiting to be solved.
I want to know more about Tracy; I need to. Who is she? How is someone as influential as a special assignment practically untraceable on the Internet, even with a young son who had been killed in Chicago? Could someone who was untraceable, and maybe even barely noticed, cause a death domino effect? Apparently Franco thought so. And now it was up to me to upkeep her discretion and remove her from this Earth, naturally and away from all existence, like a botched assembly line part.
I feel a pang in my chest from thinking about her son earlier, and as I remember the picture that I saw sitting on her nightstand some hours ago, I wonder what he was like. I wonder what Tracy is like now.
I force my mind to focus on the sounds coming from outside, and for a minute, it works. I can hear the normal nighttime chorus of shouting, yelling, glass breaking outside. And then I think of running—to nowhere in particular, but somewhere to clear my mind.
I slide my feet over the side of my couch where my tennis shoes are, and slip them on. My black jogging pants just barely touch the grey tops of them. I throw on the grey University hoody that I picked up at a rummage sale a few years back and my black gloves that are so old that they’re starting to accumulate small black lint balls in between the fingers—just in case lots of people are out.
As I make my way to the door, I can hear footsteps in the hallway. I hold still and listen and see in my mind a couple walking happily down the hall, holding hands. They give me a curious glance when I walk out. The girl looks at my gloves and then back at my face before nervously rubbing her hands against her shorts. The guy pulls her closer into the folds of his bare arm. ‘Do people not have anything better to do?’ I think.
I jolt down the apartment building stairs so fast that they feel almost completely flat beneath my feet. Tracy. Death. Son. Dead.
As soon as I leave the building, the hallway smell of onions and roast is replaced by a strong burning smell. I can’t figure out what it is, but the smell is so foul that I’m almost sure that it’s something that isn’t supposed to be burning. I don’t bother trying to play detective and figure out where it comes from.
The fresh, clear breeze—although not the best smelling—feels better than the fan. It relaxes me. I run past a few more old, beaten apartment building walkups, catching my stride. My legs don’t feel awkward anymore. They have gotten used to the motion and move one right after the other almost mechanically. By the time I run by the Old First Baptist Church a few more blocks away, I have completely found my rhythm. I picture my legs slicing through the air with each stride, and this gives me even more of a high. I always enjoy going past the sign at Old First Baptist Church because the kids in this neighborhood always seem to find a way to arrange whatever message the church elders put up into something else; a makeshift anagram. Last week, the sign read: God is in everything. Tonight as I blow past it, it reads: God-Seeing Hiv Triny.
When I run past the jumbotron-looking screen next to Unity Bank and see the weather, it reads 77 degrees. I realize why I’m now getting my fourth strange stare. I haven’t done the best job of blending in tonight. I take my gloves off and slip them into the front pocket of my hoody. Maybe that will help me not draw so much attention. Plus, there aren’t a whole lot of people out tonight, so touching someone is less of a risk.
I jog a little further down the street that is normally bustling with cars playing loud music and pedestrians crossing in the middle of intersections. Today it feels much different when the bright traffic light colors are clicking back and forth among silence and stretches of empty pavement.
“Chris!” I hear my name, but I don’t want to stop running. In fact, it makes me want to run more. I have managed to keep a low profile here. There aren’t too many people who would know my name or be familiar enough with me to call it out. I am imagining it. I have to be. Yes. I’ve had a long day full of…stuff, and I am starting to hear things. The endorphins have gotten to me. I’m giddy. Imagining that people are calling my name like I am an Olympian. I look in back of me quickly and don’t see anyone. I laugh a little to myself. I keep running forward and don’t hear my name anymore.
I turn down a side street and I’m suddenly uneasy. At night, the trees turn a dark, violet color. They cast shadows on the grey sidewalks so that the concrete has a shapely black haze over it. There are only a few streetlights littered here and there, and no blinding headlights to peer through the haze. Everything is too dark to conceive being seen and too dark to see. My mind shifts to the thought of being attacked. Even if I have to defend myself, I need to act natural or my cover might be blown.
I jog through the tree shadows, past several row houses. Only a few types people are out at this time of night: drunks, partiers, and those up to no good. One of them I don’t notice until I’ve jogged close up on him, which makes me even more nervous. I think about putting my gloves back on, but I don’t want to draw attention. Not on this street.
“Chris.” This time the voice is closer. An actual voice calling me. I’m sure of it now. I feel a hand on my shoulder. Whoever it is just made a huge mistake.