EXCERPTS

Chet raised the collar of his windbreaker around his neck to block out the cool night wind, his steps quick and determined as he walked through the parking lot toward the distant lights. Entering the building through the ornate doors, he brushed past people hurrying out as he hurried in.

He moved through the mass of people, an undulating human wave surging past him, impatience etched on their faces without so much as a glance in his direction, as if he were invisible. In a lot of ways he felt invisible. He had been invisible in prison, just another guy with a number on his back, he thought bitterly.

As the days of his incarceration had turned into years, Chet yearned for the freedom of the outside world where he could reclaim his identity and once again be his own man, accountable to no one. But being the invisible man also had its advantages. In his new line of work he needed to blend into his surroundings; the fewer people who could remember his face, the better.

People rushed around him, each on his or her own mission, giving no thought to anyone else in the crowd. That’s what is wrong with the world today, he philosophized. Everybody is out for number one, nobody thinks of anybody else.

He crossed the floor and sat down on a bench where he had been instructed to wait. He stuffed his hands into the pockets of his windbreaker. He lowered his eyes to the floor and shuffled his feet from side to side. He tried to block out the activity around him and concentrate on why he was here.

He had been released from prison a week ago after fifteen long years. He hitchhiked to Los Angeles where his cousin had a job waiting for him. Jake offered him a lot of money to work for him, “if you’re not squeamish about what you have to do.”

“I can do it,” Chet had assured Jake. Tonight was his first assignment and Jake had sent him to meet a very important man with a very important job to be done and he dare not make a mistake. Jake told him that if he could do this job, there would be more work coming his way. “I would do it myself, but I have to fly out to Houston on another job,” Jake told him over the phone. “This is a new client, do don’t mess it up. Keep the client happy, that’s my motto.”

So here he was, sitting in a busy train station waiting for his very important client. He was dressed in a black tee shirt covered with a black windbreaker and black jeans with black shoes on his feet just the way his cousin told him he should dress.

“I told the client that you would be wearing all black. He doesn’t want you to stand out in a crowd. Meet him at Union Station at 6:00. Don’t be late.”
Well, fat chance of him standing out in a crowd, nobody even noticed he was standing here. He was invisible. He took his hands out of his pockets and looked at his watch.

It was 5:55.

He sat back on the bench, folded his arms, and linked his fingers across his chest. He watched the crowd, each one with someplace to go, someplace they had to be and trying to get there just as fast as they could, the fear that they would be late clouding their faces.

His eyes were turned around the people around him, but he was not really seeing them. He was lost in his own thoughts, thoughts about prison and the years he had lost because of one girl, one stupid slipup.

He had met a girl in a shopping mall and turned on the old Chet charm. A camera dangled from a strap around his neck and after her told her she was perfect for a photo shoot that he was doing for a major magazine, she willingly went with him. My studio is just a short distance from here, he told her. And she believed him.

But as he drove away from the city and into an open rural area, she had become suspicious. She tried to leave the car and run away. He grabbed her hair and she screamed, and she kept on screaming. She fought back and had managed to get away. He drove around for hours looking for her, but somehow she had eluded him.

The next day she fingered him as her attacker out of a lineup of mug shots and then out of a live police lineup two days later after he was arrested. After hearing her testimony at his trial, the jury had not been sympathetic. They sent him to prison for fifteen years for kidnapping and assault.

They had no right to do that. What happened to that girl wasn’t his fault, if she just hadn’t screamed…it made him angry every time he thought about it. Maybe after this job was done, he would find her again and then he would…

“Jake?”