Just Hal. Today, a Short Story: The Night Desk

Just Hal. Today, a Short Story: The Night Desk

Friends of Just Hal, as a relief from my pontificating, I thought it might be refreshing to include a short, short story in the column as follows:

Just Hal. Today, a Short Story The Night Desk

Chinese editing desk of the 12th century (Metropolitan Museum of Art).. Photo credit: wikipedia

The Night Desk

It was just another night on the desk, one call after another with the usual number DUIs, DIPs and DVs, but this time when I picked up the phone my first thought it was an   EDP, (Emotionally Disturbed Person) because of the gasping.

“Desk Sergeant Majors, , ,Hello. . .Helloo. . .Are you trying to reach the police?”

“Hello. . . You have reached the police. What can I do for you?”

“I need help.” Came the almost inaudible voice from the other end, and then some rapid mumbling.

“Slow down,” I said, “and speak up. Now what’s your name?”

“Mark Wayne, I’m a novelist.” came the reply.

I thought for a moment and said, “Oh yeah, I’ve heard of ya.”. . . but then I realized that, one was dead. Right? “Now what can I do for you?”

“I’m being stalked and I fear I am about to be murdered. I’m sure I saw someone at my window.” he said, now in a quiet whisper that suggested genuine fright.

“You’re sure you saw someone?” I asked cautiously aroused by a bit of fear myself.

“It was just a shadow.” Came his somewhat doubtful reply.

“All right now, where do you live?

“37 Lowery Terrace. I’ve locked all the doors and turned the lights out.” He said in a firmer voice.

“What makes you think you’re about to be murdered?”

“Well,” he began. “As I said, I’m a novelist and I’ve written a book about a stranger that has moved into an up-scale neighborhood similar to ours.”

Impatiently, I asked, “I’m sure it’s an interesting book, but what does it have to do with your fear of being murdered?”

Becoming slightly annoyed, he said, Don’t you see, as in my book, there has been just such a stranger with even the identical name as the stranger in my book, move in two doors from me.”

‘So?” I questioned. “Couldn’t that be just a coincidence? Stranger things have happened.”

“But, it’s in the book. Don’t you see?. I’ve watched this stranger closely and he’s behaving just like the stranger in my book. He even looks like the character I imagined.”

“Imagined. . .yeah!” I ventured, “But what has all of this to do with murder?

“I’m trying to tell you. . .In my book this unwelcome stranger murders one of the members of this community.  He murders this person because in the past this person had slandered him, ruining his reputation. Don’t you see that it could be some weirdo who happens to have the same name as my character and incensed by the fact that I have used his name for my character who is a  murderer, he considers himself slandered and decides to take his  revenge in the very same manner.?

“It’s a wonderful story, but I’m afraid you might be letting your great imagination run amok when it comes to turning something like a novel into a reality.”

With mounting anger now, he fired back, “This is no joke. I’m trying to tell you that it’s happening here on Lowery Terrace. Everything that I’ve written in my novel is taking place here and now. I’ve no reason to doubt or risk the possibility that the end here, as in my book, could be a murder,  with myself as the victim. If I weren’t so sure of my sanity, I would think I might be hallucinating.”

“Look, Mr. Twain, . .er Wayne” I began, condescendingly. “With all the random and senseless shootings taking place all over the country, it’s not outside the realm of possibility that many of us could become the victim of hallucination. I feel reasonably sure that after a good night’s sleep, your shadow may well have disappeared with the morning light.”

That was not the wisest thing I might have said, for with it came a scathing tirade that equated me and the entire police force to an exclusive band of misfits who had nothing but contempt for the citizens they had sworn to serve and protect. This of course only added to my suspicion that he might indeed have been hallucinating, or perhaps just a few too many martinis. Calls like this, were not frequent, but they did occur from time to time, and they often presented a challenge. On the one hand, while a call from the projects might be dismissed as a drunken prank, a call from Lowery Terrace could not.

I was left with two possibilities. The first possibility was that the caller was indeed sane and sincere in the belief that his life was in danger in which case an immediate dispatch to the address would be in order. This had to be weighed against the other possibility of an EDP, with a greater number of possibilities. One of them may have been that the subject was drunk or he could be suffering from any number of mental conditions including extreme paranoia. This seemed to be the more plausible, particularly since he himself had dreamed up and had written out the whole scenario. Other than the shadow he thought he saw there was no evidence to offset what could have been nothing more than a stranger-than-fiction (no pun intended) coincidence. I was about to suggest that his call might have been better placed to a Psychiatrist when he began his final and desperate plea for police protection. In an attempt to put his troubled mind at rest, and with the beginnings of a suppressed smile on my part, I interrupted and assured him that we would have a car there within the hour.

As I was about to hang up, I suddenly heard from the phone the unmistakable sound of  glass crashing followed by several gunshots fired in rapid succession. I screamed into the telephone,

What in the hell was that?”

There was no answer from the other end.

“Holy shit.”

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Hal O’Leary is an eighty-seven-year-old Secular Humanist who believes that it is only through the arts that one is afforded an occasional glimpse into the otherwise incomprehensible. He has been awarded an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree from West Liberty University.

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