NIGHT THIEF

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
With the economy on the mend, stock trader Gladden Iverson and his wife, Patty, plan to see a movie. As Gladden returns to his office to make sure he closed a sensitive financial file, he is surprised by a thief.

Submitted: September 29, 2012

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Submitted: September 29, 2012

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Gladden Iverson returned to his office for fear that he had left opened a sensitive financial file on his computer. It had been a crazy week at the office, so much on his mind. He joked with his wife, Patty, that he was losing his mind. She agreed, and her face lit up with a delightful, jokingly smirk, as if agreeing with her husband wasn’t as counter-intuitive as it seemed. He loved the way she squinted at him, and the age lines on her face suggested a woman who was aging well after decades of life’s peaks and dips. They decided on the movie, one Patty had mentioned on the way to Gladden’s office: “No, it’s not a chick flick, Hon. Yes, it has Kate Hudson in it, but it’s a thriller. You like thrillers.”

He leaned in and gave her a kiss on the cheek as he parked in front, along the curb.

“Be back in a minute. Just need to close the file on my computer.”

“Cool,” she said, trying to sound like a kid again. “I’ll just wait here and crank up your Axel Rose mix CD. You know how I love G&R. And hurry! We’re going to miss seeing the movie trailers.”

Gladden laughed at her sarcasm. He felt at peace, at the moment, realizing how lucky he was to have had Patty. Everything in his life seemed to be leveling off, like an airplane angling toward its decent and it smoothly glides down onto the runway. Their children, David and Maryanne were grown, living north of them. No grandchildren yet, but that can wait. The deep recession had taken a toll on everyone: Patty’s teaching position had not been cut, but she realized it was not a secure job as it once was, and she had to accept the pay cut last winter. The Dow bounced over 12,000 points after such a disastrous year. Even the unemployment numbers showed signs of recovery. Still, the economy remained like a wounded deer, mending its bones, limping to trot ahead, never regaining its quickness and pep that it had. Gladden was happy at his new position at Trent Investments. Despite having a degree in finance, the last eighteen years he ran a small house painting business.

As he began to swipe his security badge to unlock the door, he noticed it was propped open. Cleaning crew, he thought. He sure hoped nobody had messed with his computer or seen the file. He took a whiff of the fresh paint smell in the building, as the remodeling projects had started. It juggled a little nostalgia in him, something that he hardly dwelled on.

For the past happened. Mistakes were made. Time to live in the moment.

When his cell phone rang he thought it was Patty and didn’t even think about looking down at his phone screen.

“Yeah, Honey? We’re not going to be late to see the trailers, I promise.”

“Mr. Iverson, sir? Sorry, it’s Travis.”

“Oh … Travis? I thought you were my wife. “What’s up?”

The pause seemed longer than it was, enough time for Gladden to get into the office and maneuver around the wall of cubicles, leaving the door open just in case someone from the cleaning or paint crew was working.

“I was wondering … if there are any positions at your company?”

Gladden clinched his throat. He didn’t know what to tell his former employee Travis Steerson, and odd fellow who wasn’t the best of employees who worked for Gladden, a worker who always seemed to have excuses to call in or be sick. He even owed Gladden money. It was just one hundred dollars, but a promise was a promise. Travis was in his early thirties, single and no children. His icy voice trundled over the phone in desperation.

“I don’t think there are any positions right now, Travis. But I’ll sure let you know if something comes up.”

“Oh, I didn’t forget. I’ll pay you the hundred dollars. It’s just tough right now. Very tough.”

“No problem, Travis. I understand. Stay strong. Keep your head up. Everything will work out.”

Gladden didn’t expect to see the hundred bucks. And he snickered at these things: money, movies with Patty, memories that floated and went. At fifty-one, he had taken on the philosophy that it was the basis of life: float and go. Don’t worry about the insignificance of not always being in control. The recession had cornered him to make a hard decision to sell his company that enabled him to pay off those debts and payroll monies owed. After what money had dried up from the extended loan from First Federal, who had warned him that with the current economic conditions, that they could not lend him any more money. He only had $17,000 on the books, and after expenses and what little new painting jobs were coming in, that money was depleted. How he was fortunate to sell Iverson Painting to pay back those loans. He had enough money to live but needed a job. Gladden had ran into his old college buddy, Mason Trent, who headed Trent Investments, and he offered Gladden a job as a day trader. “Salary is only forty grand and no commissions or benefits for the first six months,” said Mason. “Welcome aboard, buddy!”

#

Gladden couldn’t believe how his buddy had changed. Just a year or two older than Gladden, but Mason Trent looked elderly, with a blonde sheen of cheap hair dye around his temples and a receding hairline. And his stoop, what was with that? The other day, Gladden almost said, “Where’s your cane, A.M? Ha!”  

But Gladden caught himself before uttering such a remark that, even though joking, would be inappropriate, especially toward a friend who just got him a job without an interview. And he dared not to refer to Mason as “A.M.,” a nickname from college. Gladden used to be envious of Mason, who seemed to have no problems getting women. One particular young lady stood out, even her name was still engrained in Gladden’s brain: Tiffany Barson, a brunette who could have been a magazine model. She referred to Mason Trent as “Aruba Man,” after they both went there on spring break, money that Mason had come into after a wealthy uncle had died and left Mason with the financial means to impress his college girlfriends. 

Things you remember, things that fade away. How strange this life really is.

It had all faded now for Mason, physically, but a successful businessman he remained.

#

A light glared on in Mason’s office, and Gladden reckoned that he had popped in for some weekend catch up, though he was supposed to be going out of town with his family. Lake Tippecanoe. Mason had inherited his father’s boathouse up there, and nearing the end of summer it was a beautiful time to go and get out in the boat before the weather turned cold.

“We probably won’t be able to do it this year, being close to October,” said Mason, “but you and Patty are more than welcome to stay with us on our boat. We have plenty of room. Plenty of food. Lots of liquor and wine. Good times, you know. We won’t have too many of those left, right?”

Sure enough, Gladden had left open his Excel file, and he bit his lower lip in angst, knowing that someone from the cleaning crew could have bumped his desk or the mouse and the screen would have come on, exposing the file.

“Hello?” said Gladden. “Mason, you here?”

No answer.

Someone had been in the office. Gladden noticed coffee in the pot, but it was turned off. The cleaning crew would have emptied it. It had to be Mason, he thought. As he closed his file and put his computer in sleep mode, Gladden walked into Mason’s office. The door was open; the bronze-yellow lamp beside the credenza was on. It was obvious that Mason Trent liked boats and the water. His aquarium in his office bubbled against the backdrop of a Norman Rockwell painting, or the replica of a Rockwell that showed a man and a boy fishing in an open sea, waves crashing against the boat. Above the tank, a taxidermy swordfish hung on the wall, where dusky blue and gray dorsal fins caught the light from the tank. Pictures of Mason and his family covered a bookshelf. He had two daughters: Emily and Ashley, both in their early twenties. Gladden wasn’t sure, but he thought Emily was at Purdue, studying to be a veterinarian. And Ashley was a senior at a women’s college in Southern Indiana. The two young women looked identical to their mother, Carol, who had short light brown hair and was athletically built. Gladden remembered Mason telling him that everyone’s a runner in the Trent family, except him.

“My ankles and knees can’t take the pounding like they used to. So I try to walk every evening, if I can get away from all this work.”

Gladden was sure that his boss was at Lake Tippecanoe and not in the office. Rain bounced off the windowpane, and Gladden saw a flicker of lightning behind the maple trees that lined the small road on the west end of the building, shading Mason’s office from any intense sunlight. He sat down in Mason’s leather chair, kicked his feet up, and pretended to be smoking a cigar. Gladden laughed. He hated cigars, and he didn’t care for fishing, stuffed swordfish, hunting, even eye-catching aquariums. Waste of time and money, he thought. He would rather be in a library, reading up on stocks or business magazines, or writing down futures earnings from business ideas. “Doodle-daddling,” Patty called it. “Just no money for those doodle-daddles right now.”

The rain let up, and out of instinct, Gladden reached over and turned out the lamp light. “Hello?” he said, just in case if Old Man Mason, A.M., was really around. Gladden decided to call Patty to let her know he was on his way down. He knocked Mason’s desk phone off the hook but placed the receiver back. They were not best friends as they had been, but there was still that interaction and playfulness that abided between he and Mason, who flirted with his obscene jokes, which made Gladden uncomfortable, especially in front of the women in the office, an office which seemed like a tomb of glass and plastic cubical walls everywhere, beyond a dense area with plants and a neon glow of computer screens, copiers and television monitors that displayed stock market activity; it was a place that Gladden had been exempt while on paint jobs over the years, doing the accounting on the go on his laptop, making calls at home or at breakfast, leaving his paint crew to finish up as he left early to take Patty out to dinner, to a movie. There was so much half-joking hijinks from Mason Trent, that in the back of Gladden’s mind, wondered if his boss was pushing the envelope on potential harassment. He told his friend last month, “Doesn’t that kind of scare you to say stuff like that? In a work environment?"

“Awe, they all know I’m playing,” remarked Mason.

 

#

“I did leave the spreadsheet open,” said Gladden to Patty, his phone angled over his ear. He could hear the music in the car as she waited for him.

“You need to go to the doctor.”

“For what?” he said.

“I’m worried,” said Patty.

“Why?”

“You forgetting things.”

Gladden bit his lip, wondering why Patty would think that, or if she was being serious.

“I’m all right. Nothing to worry about. Just have a lot going on. That’s all.”

“That’s what my father used to say. Then he got the news.”

“Okay, I get it.”

“Well.”

“I’m fine.”

“It can happen. Early fifties, prime target,” said Patty.

“Look, I’m leaving. I’m on my way down. You sure this isn’t an artsy movie?”

“It’s a thriller. You’ll love it.”

“Yeah, sure.”

He ended the call. After twenty-three years of marriage, Gladden had obliged to Patty’s nuances and sudden moodiness, her little frowns and raised eyebrows when she didn’t get her own way. Her frequent tension headaches and bouts of anxiety made him think it was just menopause, her hormones, but she’d been that way for as long as they’d known each other and, for the time they had dated, compromised each other’s up and down personalities. Everyone had quirks, and Gladden knew he could be a pain, too. 

Mason had a private bathroom beyond the credenza, the aquarium, and ambled there to relieve himself. As Gladden walked past the aquarium and went into the small bathroom, the octagon-like fish, shapely pointy, stared at him at the edge of the glass. He looked at it, and then, out of nowhere, something smacked Gladden over the head.

He didn’t know if it was a flicker of lightning or someone with a flashlight. What had hit him, caught him by surprise... To take in the moment and realize that whatever struck in the corner of his eye like a brass knuckle or a heavy steel object flying, as a figure emerged from behind the bathroom door, he stumbled back, then forward, as this sudden thing struck him again and again. He felt the stream of blood go down his forehead, the side of his cheek. He saw a man or a woman standing over him -- a thief, a person robbing the office, one of the cleaning people with a hammer, maybe. Whoever it was they ran off, the thump of boots clanging past the row of cubicles and into the lobby and down the stairs. Gladden couldn’t find his cell phone. He maneuvered to Mason’s desk and dialed 911. He hit eight instead of the nine, at first, took a deep breath, felt the room spin as if he was about to faint. He stayed alert as he could and informed the dispatcher over the phone that he had been robbed.

 “Not robbed but attacked inside my office at Trent Investments. 2300 Grayson Street, Indianapolis, Indiana--”

 He tried to pull himself up, away from the chair, climbing around to get settled. He needed to call Patty; she had to be worried, they were going to be late for the movie and she’d...

 He was going to die, he thought. His life was over. His hands trembled; he wondered if whoever attacked him they would be after Patty. He could no longer hold his body up to make another call. He heard the sirens coming, like a high-pitch sound that conjured up the injured or dying, a person in need. 

He slipped off the chair, dazed, looking at his own blood on the floor, a print of his hand on the aquarium glass, smidges of red fingertips.  

“Hello!” a voice bellowed through the hall. And three medics were coming into Mason's office. Of all things on a Friday night to be involved in, it was to get attacked, he thought. Behind the EMT’s, he saw Patty’s face, flaccid white with worry.

“Good lord, Gladden, honey! I saw the police and ambulances coming up. What happened?”

“Someone broke in. They got me pretty good. He began to wonder who attacked him.

Mason? Could he have been trying to destroy illegal financial activity?

The adrenalin kept him fidgeting and alert while being placed on a gurney in-route to the hospital. Patty said she would follow them in the car, and she brushed her tiny hand over Gladden’s head, brushed back his silvery blonde hair.

“You’re going to be all right. You’re going to make it.”

#

A stranger, just a white man in his middle twenties with a reddish goatee, sideburns, and a scar on his neck -- a man who had a record of burglaries and assaults, even rape. This would be the person who had stolen the security card from a cleaning crew and would sneak inside Trent Investments. It would be on the news, days later, how a worker fought off an attacker on his way out the door while his wife waited for him on the street, in the running car with the rock music on. Mason Trent questioned why Gladden had come into the office, on that Friday evening. And Gladden replied to his boss that he left his cell phone at his cubicle.

“I’m guilty of that,” said Mason. “The important thing is you’re all right.”

Patty took a tray of food to her husband, lying on the couch, healing but getting restless. He suffered a concussion and a broken collarbone, sprained wrist. Four days later, on a cloudy Tuesday, Gladden had cracked open the window for fresh air and stared out at the hue of yellow and red leaves and the easy sway of tree limbs in the breeze.    

“Turkey stew,” said Patty. “Your favorite. Thought it would be appropriate on a fall day. Any crackers?”

“Thank you,” he said. “No crackers. But I owe you. We’re going out tonight.”

“For what?”

“Our movie we never got to see last Friday.”

“Don’t be ridiculous. I can care less about a damn movie right now.”


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