Jonas, his gaze fixed on his phone, took a step forward when the line moved. He couldn’t shake the heaviness in his head, as if he’d been up all night drinking. He hadn’t. It was something worse than that. He had the dream again, waking up to soaked bedsheets, and his chest and back covered in sweat. By the time he cooled off and changed the bed, he was wide awake. That was at two thirty. Then he couldn’t get back to sleep. He drifted off at some point, and the next thing he heard was his alarm, The Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir singing, ‘Hallelujah Anyhow.’ He hit ‘Stop’ and closed his eyes. When he looked at his phone again, it was eight minutes to seven. His heart racing, he shot out of the bed and into the bathroom.
“Next!” a croaky voice called out.
Jonas raised his head and returned the smile of the sleepy-eyed redhead. “Morning, Seth. Late night?”
“Can’t really say it ended.” Seth laughed, which turned into a hacking cough. “Medium Americano?”
“Make it a large this morning.”
“Were we at the same party?” Seth winked.
“I don’t think so,” Jonas said, punching his PIN code into the keypad of the card reader. Once the transaction was approved, he yanked out his bank card and slipped it back into his wallet. “Have a good day.”
“You, too, Mr. Martin.”
Jonas moved towards the far end of the bar-counter to wait for his drink. He checked the time. It was almost eight and he was way behind schedule. Well, not really. It was more that his routine had been upended. Oversleeping, he hadn’t had time to write, and that was worse than if he’d had to go without coffee. He’d be irritable until he got in some writing time, which now probably wouldn’t be until lunchtime. His attention was back on his phone as he scrolled through his work e-mail, deleting messages he wasn’t going to respond to and flagging those he’d tackle once he was at his desk.
The chatter was on the rise, easily breaking Jonas’s focus. Now, whenever he looked up from his phone he cased the area. He heard that adenoidal voice and zeroed in on the woman wearing a vibrant, floral hoodie and who always ordered an extra hot vanilla bean latte. A few feet to his left he saw the tall brunette leaning down to kiss the petite blonde. They were married, just not to each other. He’d heard the man say, “My wife might get suspicious,” as they tried to plan a weekend getaway. Then Jonas focused on Seth, who tried to remain calm as the woman, elegantly dressed in a navy pants suit, complained that her cappuccino was too hot. Yesterday it was too cold. And, like every day, she held up the line as the barista made her a new drink.
“Large Americano for Mr. Martin,” the black-haired guy grunted from behind the counter.
Jonas ducked in quickly to pick up his drink. He didn’t like how the café staff called him Mr. Martin when they referred to the other customers by their first names. It felt like they were making a big deal about him, like he was a ‘celebrity.’ Maybe he was kind of famous, but he didn’t like to draw attention to himself. He went to the condiments table and stirred cream and a brown sugar sachet into his beverage. Then, as he started towards the exit, he froze. “What the…?” He stared curiously at the man seated at the table near the door.
“Good morning, Jonas,” Brent said. “Running a little late this morning?”
Jonas took a step forward. “What are you doing here?”
“Straight to the point.” Brent sipped his coffee. “I like that.”
“You’re right,” Jonas said, giving free reign to the frustration building inside of him. “I’m running late and don’t have time for this.”
Brent stood when Jonas went to leave. “I’d like to continue our conversation from yesterday.”
“I wasn’t interested then and I’m not interested now.” Jonas looked critically at Brent a moment longer before bolting out of the café. He’d made it to the first intersection where, waiting for the light to change, he felt a hand on his shoulder. “This isn’t funny,” he growled when Brent came into view.
“It’s not meant to be,” Brent said, removing his hand.
“It’s kind of creepy, actually.”
“You leave your condo almost every morning at six,” Brent said. “You’re at the café by quarter after and write for about an hour.”
Jonas, his eyes wide open, staggered backwards. “Are you stalking me?”
“You’re in your office by seven forty-five but don’t open the door until eight.” Brent spoke quickly so Jonas couldn’t interrupt. “You take your lunch from twelve thirty to one thirty, no exceptions. Most days, you leave the office at five thirty, and only stay later when it’s necessary. Outside of work, you spend a lot of time alone … writing. How many books have you published? Six, I believe. Thursday nights you have drinks with Jeff Baldwin, your best friend who still longs to be more than that. And at least twice a month you get together with Jeff, Cameron and a few others from university.” He paused. “You miss Ethan. You haven’t let anyone else into your life since his death and —”
“Who the fuck are you?” Jonas asked, his voice cracking.
“Like I’ve said before … someone who wants to talk to you about a job. I’d like you to hear me out.”
Jonas checked the time. “Look, I … I’ve got to go.”
“You’ve already called in sick today,” Brent said. “Check your phone.”
Jonas pulled out his phone and on the screen was a text message from his boss. Take all the time you need. Hope you’re feeling better soon. He levelled his gaze at Brent. “What the fuck is going on?”
“You’re not one to use so many expletives,” Brent said. “It’s one of the things we like about you. You’re always calm under pressure. That’s a great quality.”
“Come with me. I’ll explain everything.” Brent started to move when the ‘Walk’ indicator appeared.
Jonas didn’t move. His head was spinning and he felt nauseous. What’s happening? What’s going on? It wasn’t until the ‘Don’t Walk’ signal flashed that he stepped into the street. There was a will far greater than his own that had him following Brent. Curiosity? Fear? Jonas didn’t know. But he couldn’t stop himself.
Ten minutes later, he and Brent entered the lobby of the World Exchange Plaza. They rode the elevator of Tower II to the seventh floor. They entered the suite of offices belonging to Atlas World Corp., greeted by a muscular brunette who signed him in as a ‘Visitor.’ When Jonas saw the gun holstered on the guy’s waist, he almost threw up his last mouthful of coffee.
“This way,” Brent said as he punched a code into the keypad next to the door behind the reception desk. At the clicking sound, Brent pushed it open.
Jonas could feel himself trembling as he walked towards Brent. He didn’t know what was on the other side of the door or if he really wanted to find out. All he knew was that walking through that door meant one thing.
His life would never be the same.