The Guides


This is from an early draft of a work in progress.

Billy Joseph has given up. A year past his high school graduation, he finds himself without a job, with no prospects for further education, and hopelessly addicted to alcohol and pain killers. His parents had tolerated him staying at the house so long as he made an attempt at gaining employment, but once it became obvious he wasn’t really trying, they gave up on him as well. Which is why he now finds himself wandering the streets, occasionally begging, and suffering acute withdrawal symptoms. He has nowhere to turn, no place to sleep and he fears where he may end up if he continues on the streets much longer.

At length, he finds himself at the Parkway bridge, which goes over the river. Every now and then, Billy has seen a news report about some desperate soul who used it as a final answer to his or her problems and now, Billy hopes it will provide him with the peace he needs. He checks to be sure there’s no traffic, no meddling driver who’ll stop to try to convince him not to proceed, then he makes his way to the middle of the bridge and climbs over the railing. He pauses to say a quick prayer, then closes his eyes as he starts to let go.

Suddenly a pair of arms wrap around his waist and he feels himself being violently dragged back over the railing. Whoever has him carries him to a grassy spot just off the bridge and dumps him onto the ground. Before he can process any of this, the person rolls him over and leans into his face. Billy looks to see a bearded, dirty, disheveled, and angry face hovering just above his.

“Now you listen to me, Billy,” the man says, barely containing his emotions. “Normally, I’d just let you fall and end your ridiculous existence, but you have too much to accomplish, so you’re not checking out on my watch.”

Billy sees the man raise his fist and the next thing he remembers is waking up in a hospital, apparently the victim of a violent assault. No one knows who brought him in but he’s surprised to see family is there to support him. He knows he has a long recovery ahead of him, but thanks to his mysterious benefactor, he’s finally getting the help he needs. 

***

The guard in the monitoring station glances at the bank of screens in front of him and adjusts a remote camera until his colleague at the event appears on the monitor. He keys a microphone in front of him and says, “All quiet on the grounds, Jasper?”

The event is an exclusive art opening at the top gallery in town catering to only the highest of high rollers, and security is tight.

Jasper looks into the camera so he appears to be facing his distant compatriot and raises a thumb. He replies, “Yep. Nothing but the sound of money being rustled down here, Wally.”

“Looks like the crowd’s thinning out. How many you got down there?”

Jasper takes a quick head count. “I’ve got sixteen.”

Wally surveys his monitors. “You sure about that? I’m only seeing fifteen.”

Jasper counts again. “Nope. Definitely sixteen.”

Wally checks again. “Okay, I’m seeing six at the bar; four at a table and another five scattered around looking at the artwork.”

“Are you counting the guy in the corner?”

“What guy in the corner?” Wally says. 

“Tweed jacket, jeans, long, dark hair with a glass of wine.”

Wally readjusts cameras but can’t bring the man up on any of them. 

“I got nothing here.”

“I thought you had a full 360 degree view from there.”

“Apparently not. Check him out.”

Jasper walks over to the man. “Afternoon, sir. Mind if I ask your name?”

“Not at all,” the man says. “The name’s Nash.”

Jasper gets on his radio. “Wally, do we have a Mr. Nash?”

“Not that I can see,” Wally replies.

“Sir, would you mind coming with me? We just need to verify your credentials.”

“Oh, sure.  I understand. Listen—” the man suddenly looks Jasper in the eye and says with firmness, “I have an invitation.”

Jasper gives him a blank stare.

“You have an invitation.”

The man checks his pockets. 

“Yeah, it’s right— Oh, I guess I must have left it in the car.”

Jasper still displays no reaction.

“You left it in the car.”

“Yeah, maybe I should just go get it.”

“You should just go get it.”

“That’s a great idea,” the man says as he moves toward the exit. “I’ll be right back.”

“You’ll be right back.”

The man exits. Jasper moves away from the place he was standing. Wally watches him on the monitor then radios him. “Jasper, where’s the guy?”

Jasper looks around, confused. “What guy?”

“The one you were supposed to be checking out.”

Jasper looks around the room. 

“It’s weird,” he says. “I remember approaching him and speaking to him, then he was just gone.”

“People don’t just vanish.”

“This guy did.”

“Yeah, I think you’re going to need to fill out a report on this one.”

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