Ollie is a stalker. I say this to define him not delimit him; his receding brow, poached-egg eyes, and sunken chin inspire to no nobler assessment—nor does his voyeuristic stare imply that he is anything other than a seeker of second-hand spoils. I do not know him from Adam—I do not even know that his name is Ollie—but I have to call him something if I am to purge myself of a rather loathsome series of events: a sequence that started six weeks ago when I first saw him sitting at my kitchen table. “Already?” I said when I spotted him in my kitchen; I had at first mistaken him for a tradesman, the gardener who came monthly to my bungalow home, but when he looked in my direction I realized that he hadn’t been invited. His gaze was too humble, too unintelligent, and conveyed little more than impotent longing—as though he would have liked to engage in conversation but lacked the facility of response. Were it not for his clothing, a neatly-pressed woolen suit, I would have considered him to be a tramp who had wandered into my house. I sat across from him at the table and curiously returned his stare.
He would have to leave, of course, but I saw no good reason to call the police. In spite of the intrusion, he seemed too chubby—too soft in body and soul—to survive very long in a jail. Anyway, I did not want the help of the police: as a retired probation officer, a veteran with thirty years street experience, I was not intimidated by this short creature and could easily have cuffed him up myself. I wondered if I had done so at some point in my career—if he was among the many miscreants who had threatened me in open court after I had put them in jail. But he aroused no affinity: his face was that of a total stranger and his presence in my kitchen conveyed not a hint of Karma. It seemed, in fact, that it was he who expected retribution: he was trembling as he watched me as though he were expecting me to punch his face.
I decided to fix breakfast—not because I was particularly hungry but because I did not want to give him credit for interrupting my daily ritual. I prepared toast, coffee, and scrambled eggs for two, watching him from the corner of my eye as I worked. He did not stir in the chair, not even after the breakfast was ready and I had placed a small helping in front of him. Ignoring the plate, he watched me as I ate, his face so solemn that it became inhibiting for me to chew. Finally, as though doing me a favor, he picked up a single piece of toast, took a few bites from the center, and discarded the crusts onto his plate. The timeliness of the gesture suggested that he did have a modicum of intelligence—enough to realize that he had overstayed his welcome and it was time for him to go. I rose from the table, took him by the elbow, and gently walked him to my front door.
Opening the front door, I hesitated: a heavy cloudscape blanketed much of the city, so obscuring the view from my Russian Hill home that I could barely see the bay. Even Alcatraz, that formidable rock, seemed irrelevant in the fog—a landmark less than a floating companion to the garbage scows that were heading out to sea. “Do you want an umbrella?” I asked him. He did not reply—nor did I expect him to. It did not console me that he was probably a mute; a month of retirement had made me too nostalgic for clamor: the din of the streets, the clanging of jail cells, even the occasional pop-pop-popping of a Glock seemed preferable to the sacrament of silence. I had almost considered returning to work, but a bullet still lodged in my hip, a souvenir of a gun battle I’d been in a month ago, had given me an overdue hint of my mortality. I had almost become grateful for my post traumatic stress: my exaggerated reflexes and hyper vigilance were useful in the tennis matches I now played daily at the club.
“Do you want an umbrella?” I asked him again. He smiled faintly but made no reply, and so I escorted him to my front gate. Frowning and shaking my head, I unlatched the gate and pushed him out onto the sidewalk. “Now you can go,” I said; he smiled once again. He then straightened his tie and walked in the direction of Polk Street.
He was sitting at my kitchen table the following morning. His eyes were still hungry, like those of an orphan, and he was still wearing his neat, woolen suit. A bump on his forehead, larger than an egg, suggested that he had fared poorly on the street, and I wondered if I should have given him money for safe lodging in a hotel room. But he did not really strike me as destitute; probably he had enough cash for a room and his plush but humble appearance had contributed to his getting mugged.
Watching him closely, I put on the coffee and opened the refrigerator door. He showed no interest as I fixed breakfast—another indication that he did not lack for funds—nor did he move a muscle when I placed his helping in front of him. He just sat as I ate, his eyes roaming the room in the manner of a stockroom clerk taking inventory. Eventually—I’m sure it was out of courtesy—he picked up a single piece of toast, nibbled at the center, and dropped the crusts onto his plate.
“Are you ready?” I asked him. I had decided to deposit him at a shelter in the Tenderloin District—an imposing chore since I would have to forgo the doubles match I was scheduled to play in an hour. This was not an easy sacrifice; I had honed my approach shot to the point that I was now assured of a quick put-away at the net—a feat that distracted me from the seductions of memory and the constant throbbing in my hip. Still, I did need to get rid of him—an accomplishment that did not seem likely if I allowed him to hang around my neighborhood. And a shelter in the Tenderloin would not endanger him quite as much as jail; he did not seem totally without resources—not if his intrusions into my home were any indication. At the very least, he was adept at picking locks.
When I had finished my breakfast, I rose from the table and took him by the elbow once again. He hung his head as I led him to my front door, his manner so passive that I felt the urge to bully him. Instead, I guided him through the gate and out onto the street where my car, a newly-purchased Ford Hybrid, was parked. After fastening him into the passenger seat, I slipped behind the steering wheel, turned on the motor, and began the downhill descent towards the Tenderloin.
He lifted his head as we turned onto Van Ness Avenue and then looked intently through the passenger window. The shops, civic centers, and city parks seemed like novelties to him—sights so compelling and rare that I began to feel like a tour guide. But the city had grown unconvincing to me, as though it were an estranged girlfriend whom I no longer wanted to take to bed. And so, as I turned onto Ellis Street and headed towards Glide Memorial Church, I began to pity him.
As I pulled into the church parking lot, I hesitated: the church, a magnificent relic, did not seem a promising sanctuary but an edifice that was itself in need of charity. Still, a large group of homeless people were queued up outside it, waiting to be let in for the noon meal. Later in the day, when the doors again opened, many of them would be back in the hope of acquiring a cot for the night. But the sight of the church did not dampen my sense of mission; instead, I felt a perverse thrill of accomplishment. Since Ollie was an intruder in my home, he did not deserve a comfortable deliverance. He was in fact lucky that I hadn’t taken him to the police.
I pulled into a parking space, turned off the engine, and looked at him sternly. “Are you ready?” I asked him again. His lack of response seemed appropriate; the deteriorating church with its marginal bounties was not at all conducive to anticipation.
Shrugging, he unfastened his seat belt and opened the car door. He then stepped from the car to the parking lot where he stood stock still as though tied to a stake. I watched him for a second or two, afraid that he would change his mind, but his face was so impassive that he reminded me of a statue. I hit the accelerator, backed up the car, and eased back into the city traffic.
He was back in my kitchen the following morning. The sight of him again sitting at my kitchen table was practically a relief since it spared me the irritation of further suspense. He had already made himself toast, perhaps to save me the trouble of feeding him, and the crusts were deposited neatly on a saucer in front of him.
He looked at me and smiled, and his smile bore a hint on condescension as though he were convinced that he had done me a favor. I shook my head sternly, not letting on that his presence now challenged me. Getting rid of him was going to be a bigger task than I had anticipated—a project rather than a chore, and I was somewhat in need of a project. I studied him carefully and began formulating my plan.
I decided on Vegas. I usually went there once or twice a year, so the trip would not be an inconvenience for me. I did not go there for the shows or the gambling but for the sensual vacuum it provided me: a sense of unreality not dissimilar to the sight of Ollie in my kitchen. And so Vegas seemed a good place to unload him; given his doggedness, his obvious talent for obsession, it would be easy enough to hypnotize him with a slot machine while I made my escape. With any luck, he would then wander into a hotel room, startle a tourist, and get himself thrown in jail on a trespassing charge.
This time I handcuffed him. He stood obediently as I placed his hands behind his back, slipped the bracelets over his wrists, and set the safety locks. He even turned his palms outward, an indication that he had been handcuffed before. “We’re taking a holiday,” I said. He smiled—an expression of irony rather than gratitude; his obvious contempt for boundaries suggested that his entire life had been a holiday of sorts. “Vegas,” I added and he nodded pleasantly.
He was humming as I led him to my car—a jaunty tune belonging to an old truck commercial (“You asked for it, you got it—Toyota.”). I doubt that he meant anything by it—probably it was the last thing he remembered seeing on television—but I felt somewhat vindicated as I fastened him once more into the front seat of my car. Under the circumstances, a Hybrid would have to do him.
We drove all day and half way through the night, hitting the Vegas strip a few minutes after midnight. But although it was late, the strip was jammed with tourists: a transient sight that justified my contempt for excess baggage. I parked in front of the Sands Hotel then carefully removed the handcuffs. When his hands were free, he patted me on my shoulder, a gesture that alleviated my sense of discord—the vague but uncomfortable notion that I could be reported for kidnapping him. He rubbed his wrists as I led him into the hotel restaurant, and he straightened his tie while we waited for a booth. We snacked on hamburgers (he again ate very little) then I led him into the casino where I bought him a stack of silver dollars. “Go for broke,” I said, a statement that struck me as somehow redundant.
I sat him in front of a dollar-slot machine and ordered him to insert a coin. He complied gingerly, probably because his wrists were still sore, and I pulled the lever for him. The tumblers, as though wise to my plan, produced three lemons as they pop-pop-popped to a halt. A landslide of coins tumbled into his lap. “Go for broke,” I repeated. He glanced at me, startled by his luck, but picked up another dollar and slipped it into the slot. This time, he pulled the lever himself: the tumblers again whiled, stuttered to a halt, and three more lemons fell into a row. Again, a flood of coins poured into his lap, a flow so abundant that it looked as though the machine was trying to bury him. He clapped his hands eagerly and began feeding coins back into the machine. He was humming as he worked—that same stale commercial—but his attention was so fixed upon the tumblers that I was able to stroll lazily from the casino and return to my car.
I drove for several hours before stopping to rest at a motel near Fresno. I slept until noon then got back into my car and finished the remainder of the drive to San Francisco. The street lights were on when I arrived at my home, but the house looked rather dark, and so, I checked the windows and locks before entering. In my eagerness to validate my deed—a neat but unsavory triumph—it rather disappointed me that there were no signs of entry.
Once inside the house, I continued my inspection, walking from room to room and opening the closets and cabinets. The search was unnecessary but engaging, a reminder of the many houses I had searched for weapons and drugs, so it did not bother me that my efforts now seemed lame—a triumph of compulsion over practicality.
When I had finished my inspection, I locked the front door and turned on the TV. Since retiring, I had resumed my addiction to television—news and sports mostly although I was not immune to the reality shows. I did not watch the reality shows out of interest so much as a sense of obligation, the ethical notion that a foray, once begun, had to be seen through to its conclusion.
I sat in my recliner, still stiff from the drive, and grimaced as the screen came alive. I was immediately irritated by the fruity glow of the Tivo screen: its extensive display of unwatched programs hung before me like a list of chores. I picked up the remote from the side table, warily lowered the volume, and watched Survivor.
The following morning, he was back. He was sitting at my kitchen table and stroking a towering stack of coins. Perhaps he intended to pay me for our short vacation—a notion I did not dismiss as excessive. He had profited from our excursion, after all, while I was still stuck with the task of getting rid of him.
I decided to take a small break from him. Retrieving the Chronicle from the front porch, I sat on the opposite side of the table and began reading the news. I read only the crime reports—another habit I had fallen into since leaving the probation department. The muggings and drug busts seemed surreal to me now, and I could enjoy them as though watching a sport. After all, I was no longer responsible for controlling the behavior of criminals.
When Ollie started humming again, I put down the paper. He was humming the theme tune of Leave It to Beaver—that iconic classic from the sixties about a kid who always fucked up. Since I had repeatedly failed in my attempts to dispose of him, the implications of the ditty seemed timely and wholly deserved.
But this time, I would be successful. I had thought it over, while reading the paper, and had decided to fight banality with banality: I would implement a scheme so artless, so stunningly trite, that even an aspiring haunt would be stymied by it. I would maroon him on an island.
I decided to take him to Kauai. I had visited the island several years ago and had been struck by its many anachronisms: sunken shipwrecks, prehistoric trees, and jaunty, wild roosters that strutted about like plantation lords. Since Ollie was clearly a man out-of-place, I had little doubt that he would find his element among the fossils. If not, let him rot in a tropical jail.
I turned on my computer, went on-line, and booked two airline tickets to Kauai: one of them round-trip and the other one-way. I then cuffed up Ollie and marched him out to my car. I popped the trunk out of pragmatism—not spite: the sudden realization that I had made stalking too attractive to him. When I shut him in the trunk, he bawled like a calf and began to kick furiously at the locked lid. Ignoring the racket, I dashed back into the house, stuffed some clothes into an overnight bag, and quickly returned to my car. The thumps became fainter as I drove to the airport, muffled by the heavy base from my CD player.
Arriving at the airport, I parked the car in the long-term-parking garage and let Ollie out of the trunk. His suit was torn and he was bleeding slightly from the scalp, a superficial graze that I was able to clean up with a handkerchief. “You do have a choice,” I said to him sternly. “Don’t think that you don’t have a choice.” He looked at me solemnly, his eyes wide with fear. “Don’t flatter yourself that I’m kidnapping you. You do have a choice. You can come with me now on another vacation, or you can accompany me to the city jail.” He winced at the mention of jail, his eyes now wider than doorknobs. “Now I know you’ve been to the jail,” I said. “Have you been to Kauai?” He shivered and shook his head. “Come on then.” He began to relax as we headed towards the terminal and soon he was ambling beside me like a faithful dog.
I flashed my police badge as we passed through security. The security officer nodded, intuitively aware that I had a renegade in tow, and allowed me to herd Ollie through the metal detector. I displayed my badge again as we boarded the plane—a pertinent reflex since I suspected I would have to break out my handcuffs once again. My suspicions were confirmed only half way through the flight when an ear-splitting cry from a female passenger woke me from a nap. Turning my head, I saw that the seat beside me was empty, that the beverage cart lay capsized, and that the stewardesses had cornered Ollie at the back of the airplane. When the woman screamed again, I knew that the worst had happened—that she had forgotten to lock the bathroom door and Ollie had pushed his way in. I sprang from my seat, shouldered my way past the stewardesses, and grabbed him firmly by the shirt collar. He did not struggle as I hauled him back to his seat, nor did he flinch when I pulled out my handcuffs, encircled his wrist, and then fastened his arm to my belt. He in fact looked relieved, as though it were he who needed rescue, and he spent the rest of the flight leafing through an airline magazine with his free hand.
I released him from the handcuffs when we landed in Kauai. I had hoped to lose him at the airport, but he gripped my hand tightly as I walked through the concourse and followed behind me like a child. He was clearly overwhelmed by the bustle of airports and seemed hopeful that I would protect him from these new surroundings. “Tuck in your shirt,” I said to him finally. He complied eagerly as though the gesture would convince me not to ditch him.
I rented a car, a white Ford Fiesta, and we headed towards the Na Pali Coastline: a rugged expanse of rain forests, waterfalls, and steep cliffs. I drove quickly, stopping only to visit a scuba shop where I bought him some goggles and a spear gun—not to provide him with tools of survival but to maximize the dangers to which he would be exposed. Perhaps he sensed my intentions because he hesitated before accepting the gifts and held them tentatively in his lap as we drove along.
After an hour, I turned off the highway and followed a narrow dirt road towards the coast. The rainforest embraced us like a church, caressing our eyes with a warm filtered light that appeared to sanctify my scheme. Even a wild rooster, perched cheekily by the roadside, shared in the pregnancy of the moment. Son, he seemed to say, I screwed three hens before breakfast. Top that!! Since the rascal was protected by state law, I rather hoped that Ollie would track him down and eat him—an infraction that would earn him several months in jail.
I pulled off the road when I spotted a steep hiking trail leading down the mountainside. “Let’s go,” I said, getting out of the car. I immediately began my descent towards the coast, not bothering to wait for him since I knew he would follow after me. I walked for an hour before stopping to rest on a low bluff overlooking a stretch of sand: a beach so isolated that it reminded me of Fantasy Island, a popular TV show from the eighties. I rested until Ollie caught up with me and noticed with satisfaction that he looked exhausted. “Hungry?” I said. He nodded, and I handed him the spear gun and goggles. I pointed towards the ocean. “Fetch dinner,” I said. “I’ll start us up a fire.”
I suspected that Ollie was not a good swimmer, but I knew also that he would not hesitate to go into the ocean. The desperation in his face, the perpetual plea in his eyes, convinced me that he was less afraid of drowning than the thought of displeasing me. We hiked the remaining half mile to the beach, and I watched him critically as he dropped his clothes onto the sand. His body was slumped and anemically pale—so pale that he looked like an alien when he put on the goggles and walked stiffly towards the ocean. I watched him flounder among the waves and waited until I could see only the tip of his snorkel peaking above the water. I then dashed back to the forest and began my ascent towards the car.
A rooster crowed as I finished my climb: a piercing Halleluiah that seemed to trumpet my liberation. But the rascal was probably mocking me, and so, I left little to chance. After driving to the opposite side of the island, I registered at a Holiday Inn under an assumed name. I then enjoyed a modest celebration: body surfing, deep sea fishing, and touring the local gardens. I stayed on the island for almost a week, changing my hotel each day—a tactic that disenthralled me after I found myself involved in a rather cloying affair with a divorcée from Sacramento. Tiring of the woman’s incessant chatter, I found it convenient not to tell her of my whereabouts when I made one of my daily hotel switches. On the seventh day of my vacation, when I had relaxed to the point of boredom, I took an early flight back to San Francisco.
The next morning, when I entered my kitchen, he was there. He was sitting at my kitchen table, buttering a piece of toast, and he did not seem to notice me when I walked into the room. He was as brown as a berry and smelled strongly of fish, so it took me a moment to recognize him. I stood there, watching him for a minute or two, and then sat down at the opposite side of the table.
“Leave,” I said firmly.
He raised his head, smiled, and then put down the toast. Nodding pleasantly, he folded his hands in front of him and gazed compliantly in my direction. For a moment, I was afraid he would honor my request—a concession that would have only put off the problem. Since he would be certain to return, it was essential that I take full responsibility for his disappearance. And there were still many places I could dump him: the Australian Outback, the Alaskan tundra—perhaps I could even sneak him aboard the NASA shuttle.
I retrieved the newspaper from the porch, returned to the table, and began reading through the travel section. While I read, he went back to buttering the toast—an effort so prolonged that he looked like an artist touching up a painting. I was grateful for his predictability, his total simplicity of soul—these qualities assured me that his luck could not possibility endure. But his transparency in no way affected my resolve—my steely determination to get rid of him entirely.
I sighed, shaking my head while suppressing an inevitable pang of pity. This time, I knew what success would require and this time his frolic would end. I studied the paper and planned my campaign while he puttered around with the toast.
He has come to see me each day for the past month. He shows up in my kitchen every morning at 7:30 sharp and makes his departure around noon. He seems oblivious to the intricacies of my plotting—a masterful plan that will relegate him once and for all to the graveyard of unwanted guests. And he continues to eat little: half a piece of toast with an occasional pat of butter is usually enough for him. On Sundays, he takes jam.
James Hanna is a retired probation officer and a former fiction editor. Due to his background, the criminal element figures strongly in much of his writing. James’ stories have appeared in over thirty journals, including Sixfold, Crack the Spine, and The Literary Review. His books, all of which have won awards, are available on Amazon. https://www.amazon.com/-/es/James-Hanna/e/B00WNH356Y?ref_=dbs_p_ebk_r00_abau_000000
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