The Third Shift

This is your normal schedule, Mr. Devon? The female said that stood before him. She was casually dressed but business-like. Gray slacks, cream-colored blouse a navy blue blazer and a full-length dress coat draped over one arm for the chill of the late December weather. Alex Devon was gazing at the woman, mouth open, as she waited for a response. Mid-thirties, clean complexion and sharp, angled features of her face held Alex spellbound for a moment not being able to speak. “Your schedule, Mr. Devon?” She asked again, pulling back from the table where she had rested her hand facing him closely. “Umm, yeah,” Alex said, hearing the words he spoke as if they were raising from some other location. “Eleven to Seven, Thursday through Monday,” he stated, trying to be pleasant to the woman even though the question and the way she stated it was in a frank, grating tone. What was more to Alex was her approach that simply came out of the blue, plopped herself in front of him and began firing away with the third degree bombardment. It was a few minutes after seven o’clock in the morning, the end of his shift on a Friday and the last thing he expected, or welcomed, was such questioning. He had never seen the woman before but she introduced herself as Shirley Moss, student-housing administrator and got straight to the details of what she wanted with no hemming or hawing, no putzing around. It wasn’t a surprise, really, to Alex Devon that he has not seen the woman before. Traveling dignitaries often didn’t stop down where he worked and the plain truth was Alex was at the low end of the totem pole. Security guard for six weeks at the University. The new guy in town with the lowest seniority. The awful truth was that he was a peon and if some higher-up, muckety-muck asked him to jump, it was his duty to ask how high. Third shift came with its perks. Peace and quiet-of that he could never get at home with his now ex-wife-and being his own boss, more or less. Freedom to do his job while the rest of the world slept until morning when the new shift arrived and the University opened for business once again along with its administration. It was a menial job, but the solitude made up for it. An assistant that had accompanied Miss Shirley Moss was placing posters around the entryway of the dormitory where Alex worked. There was a photocopy of a persons face on the poster, a female it seemed and some words on it giving detail information, but he was more spellbound gazing at the woman who stood steadfastly in front of him jotting down some notes from the conversation in a yellow, legal pad. Miss Moss handed Alex the legal pad to sign his name on a separate sheet that was attached to the pad with a paperclip. It had a list of all the security guards on it with his name near the bottom. He signed the sheet in his awkward scrawl: wrist bent at an irregular angle as he pressed hard and signed his almost legible signature. Very good Mr. Devon, she said not meeting his eyes as she finished the scribbling on the note-pad, thank you for your time. Alex Devon watched Miss Shirley Moss turn and call to her assistant, a young man that-by his looks-was old enough to be a student but did not dress the part; lacking the haphazard attire that plagued many a student these days. Alex’s eyes followed Miss Moss out the door where she and her assistant went on to the next guard post in another dormitory across the parking lot. He saw with interest her shoulder length hair, blond, shine as the sun hit it when she exited the double glass doors out of the lobby. Nice looks, he thought. Although she was in her prime, that smooth skin and lovely hair wouldn’t last for much longer. Age plays its tricks on many women. It was just a matter of time. Alex gathered up his things; empty food container, yesterdays news paper that was still news when he went to work, and moved from behind the metal desk that made up the guard post in the lobby. He greeted the seven a.m. guy that was already moving into the chair without regard if Alex was still sitting in it or not and walked out into the brisk, morning air to his car. Alex saw the reflection of his frame in the side window as he approached his car. Five foot eight, stocky build, a lumberjack type beard that was neither densely grown nor groomed with much care but hid well his facial features. His round face and even rounder belly were things that needled about his appearance. Potbelly by age twenty-eight and, sorry to say ole pal, it was here to stay. He carried himself stiffly and when he walked, he jammed both hands partly into his front pocked out of habit and security. The car seat was cold as his clumsy body slid into the driver’s side and started the Oldsmobile with only a few gasps and flutters from the engine today. Five minutes from the university and its quaint town brought the familiar scenery of farmhouses and long, endless fields that had been robbed of all they offered just months before. Stocks that once held corn were sorely bent and torn, leaving only twisted sprigs remaining above the soil, in vanquished row upon row that blended with the horizon. The unremarkable scenery, the flatness of the land gave time for Alex’s mind to drift. Something about that woman, the one in the navy blue blazer reminded him of his ex-wife, Katherine. Always too many questions. The kind that always led to more questions and Alex could never guess what might be on her mind when she asked them. Questions within questions. And, that look! He remembers the look she always gave him. Something condescending and contemptuous about it. The last few years of their marriage there had been many questions and half glances at each other. It had not always been that way. The gray landscape passed without Alex taking notice by this time in the drive. An undefined image of something was bothering him. Possibly, he forgot something he wondered-an errand he was to take care of on his way from work. Some pressing detail maybe? No matter. If it were important, it would come to him. A flash of the woman, Miss Shirley Moss, and her assistant pinning up the homemade flyers in the lobby of the dorm breezed through his mind once more. Nope, no pressing detail Alex thought, attempting to reassure himself. He drove on. Six months had passed since he separated from his wife, even though it was Katherine that did the separating. He had stayed in the empty house for a time, wallowing about, just existing. The large, hollow shell seemed not to care if he were there or not most of the time-it was doing just fine without him also. A month or so passed and Alex Devon decided to move to a new town. The house-it was agreed upon during the separation-would be his so he sold quickly and cheaply and moved out near the University, bought a small ranch or what some would consider a bungalow-typical small Midwest home-and started his life anew. With no job or family to speak of, it was easy to start fresh. His now ex-wife, Katherine, the late Katherine Devon as he thought of her, due to the fact that she, along with her fourteen year old daughter, had changed both their last names with such quickness and fervor, it would create a sense of awe for any brilliant legal mind, started a new life in an unnamed location. She may have well been deceased as far as Alex could tell. The sun was beginning to peak above the clouds on the horizon, the heavy dew looked as frost across the empty fields, shimmering with light as Alex turned off the main highway and onto a two-lane road towards his home. Katherine occupied his thoughts now. The last few months of there marriage were unsettling months. Everyone walked on eggshells, afraid to engage in conversation or to look at the other person, as if the house were a deck of cards, and would topple at any moment from the shrill of emotional turmoil from simply saying, can we talk? But, as Alex looked back on his relationships from the past, they all took on a tone of misery at the end. He had gotten used to it and wondered why he would attempt marriage. Thinking it would be different, he proposed. Katherine seemed to understand him and it went well for about sixteen years. In retrospect, it was of no great surprise that their marriage ended the way it did. He didn’t seem to have a clue as why, but it followed the logical pattern of all his encounters with the opposite sex. Although, there was one exception. “Fucking Miss Shirley Moss,” he said aloud, tapping at the dashboard as he drove along to his destination. He felt his face flush as he thought of the intrusion that greeted him this morning as he was going off shift. Some woman have enough balls, Alex thought, more than enough that she could get from any man, so…she should fuck herself! The angle of the rising sun drew a long shadow from the car that spread across the blacktop that was the road just outside his window. He eyed it every now and then, watching it stay step by step with his every move. He had been staring at a field-he knew he had-moments before; long unending patches of land covered with yellowing reams of grass that blurred into fields miles away. Trees were on either side of him now. Picketed rows, tunnel like, ran on either side of the car as Alex peered around in slight acknowledgement. Not my fault, he thought to himself. Although it seemed like his doctor, friend and his own wife had been against him near the end of his marriage; it was out of his control. Blackouts-plain and simple. Every relationship he had ended as a direct or indirect cause of them. Regardless of how harmless they were-oh, yes, they were-it seemed a sticking point, an issue that needed rectified. Katherine had noticed it becoming and issue early on in the marriage, but let it sit, as it seemed a mere irritation she found she could live with. Blanking out, as she called it, was part of her husband quirks and at first, it was an oddity, one that was almost cute. As years passed, cute was the last thing Alex had become to her. It progressed to a point that she never knew who she was talking to or in the house with her at any one time. Alex, never a soul to give up on anything no matter what the state of affaires went along with Katherine’s suggestion to talk with his doctor on the matter of him blanking out, and see what could be done. After a barrage of mind numbing questions from his doctor over a period of months, endless tests and visits to specialists, it was concluded that Alex Devon was a drinker and in such denial he couldn’t see it himself. He was prodded by family, friends and physicians to get treatment. He wanted to save his marriage with Katherine, no matter that he never drank more than two glasses of anything in his life in one sitting or that a girl scout could drink him under the table, Alex wanted to prove once and for all that this issue be laid to rest. Fully completing an outpatient program for substance abuse, Alex was off to nightly meetings, proclaiming, for what reason he never could figure out, that he was a sick puppy and needed help. The meetings went well. Alex maintained a presence in the groups and as far as specific information about his problem drinking; he simply kept that information to his self. Although he couldn’t understand the peoples issues when it came to the subject, he certainly enjoyed the camaraderie and the friendly faces which was a far cry from the welcoming he had been getting at home lately from his wife and daughter. Nevertheless, in the end, he had begun to loose interest in the meeting as he his wife’s disposition became more venomous: My god, how could you do this to her, Alex? How could you do this to us? A narrow stretch of road before him with little more that a few road signs and small shops told him he was close to home, yet there was some nervousness about the arrival he could not place. What have I forgotten? Just last night as I left the house. And the woman this morning. Very odd that she just appeared. Pretty, but most women older were in their own way. The car rolled around a wide bend that displayed empty lots on either side with tall winter grass, frosted white and glistening in the mornings faint, angled sun. Alex’s house laid at the end of a small road that held four other houses all had been built in the early 1950’s. Small units erected after the war with no more than two bedrooms to allow for the changing family size of that era. Alex pulled the car into the overhang and looked about the front yard that was more weeds than grass and the faded, peeling paint on the weathered wood exterior. With the car pleasantly warm, it seemed almost abrasive to expose himself to the cold blast he would feel when the car door opened. It was just a few steps to the front door but with the air holding a steady fifteen degrees, the idea was less than agreeable to him. He slid his weight from under the steering wheel and made his way to the front door with the house key. His body swayed from side to side as he stepped on the cold, cracked cement that was the walkway to his front door. Sliding the key in and giving a slight tug to the door handle to release it from the swollen frame as he entered the house. Through the morning was streaming with sunrays on the outside, the small two bedroom house was dark and solemn. The blinds on the window were drawn due to the odd work schedule that he had to endure. Working at night, Alex found he became increasingly aware of the daytime brightness and found that a dark house was the most realistic way during his off hours to get the rest he required. Wasn’t that right? He made his way past the thermostat to take the chill out of the rooms and a few more steps found him standing in the small efficiency-like kitchen. He looked about the room that had a sickening orange glow from the faded curtains that hung across the windows and studied the cupboards, sink and counter space. Alex had no idea how long he had stood in the archway between the kitchen and the small, narrow hallway. He had been rummaging for food, the last thing he’d remembered, and now he stood aimlessly half in and half out of the kitchen with a carving knife in hand that had laid on the far end of the counter the night before when he’d gone to work. It was an odd sensation but one Alex had gotten used to. Blanking out. Again. A slight sound caught his ear, very faint like an animal mewing. Living out in rural America did provide its share of stray creatures that wandered haplessly into his yard as well as his home, but this was the dead of winter with the house locked up tight and no chance of unwanted invasions from Mother Nature. Down the narrow hallway past his bedroom that was undisturbed, his attention pulled by a sound that became louder and more pronounced further at the end of the hall. The door to the spare bedroom was ajar. Alex pushed the door open with the hand that still held the carving knife and his eyes took in the surroundings. The mewing had become a willowing cry; not loud, not loud at all as the duct-tape that covered her mouth had slid slightly since he had left for work the night before. The tape slid from her mouth and now covered a portion of her chin, leaving enough room for her to breath and poke her tongue out now and again. The remaining tape, that which bound her to the old, straight-back wooden chair with several layers of paint, seemed to be holding fast although a bit stretched from several attempts at freedom. Her hair was ratty, falling haphazardly in her face that was reddened and blotched. Fastened to the chair in her underwear, her skin was pale and lifeless, bruised and dark in areas due to being held by the silver tape. When Alex entered the bedroom, her eyes, dark circles and weeping, flew open in a panic that displayed fatigue as well as anxiety and helplessness. Her eyes gazed swimmingly from his face to the knife he held loosely in his hand. She’s pretty too, Alex thought. But not as pretty as when he’d first met her. That would be ok too, because her photo in the lobby of the dormitory would be a constant reminder for Alex of her beauty. There was a faint sound behind him but he was focused on the girl, strapped into the chair, now appearing haggard and limp, struggling. He mused to himself now realizing, I knew there was something I had forgotten. A short, metallic click went off behind the back of his head as he starred into the spare bedroom. “Drop the fucking knife and put your fucking hands on your head. Now!” Without looking behind him, Alex had recognized the voice. It was far more authoritative at this moment; energized with adrenalin, but the tone and pitch were familiar. Without a hesitative pause or minute muscle jerk to give away his intension, Alex spun around wielding the knife in his left hand to see, as expected, Miss Shirley Moss, but more likely detective Shirley Moss holding a jet-black semi-automatic handgun held steadily at his head. No cream colored blouse and sporty blazer. Her hair was now different; pulled back from her face and tied at the back in a short bun and a dark blue baseball cap with lettering on the front that displayed F.B.I The motion threw the detective off balance as Alex took a large swing with the carving knife at her face. His left hand, the one that produced such an awkward scrawl, holding the knife crossed over quickly over her stance, grazing her cheek with the tip of the steel weapon and ramming the gun off center as she pulled the trigger, sending a bullet into the plaster of the wall. Detective Moss caught her balance quickly enough and dropped to the floor, regaining her balance and her aim at Alex from a sitting position. He thought this odd, that she would put herself into a defenseless position, but as he glanced up from her, he saw another figure, the assistant that had been placing the posters on the wall of the dormitory with the photo of the missing girl, four paces away at the end of the hallway. The assistance held an open stance with gun raised as Shirley Moss had done before. The uniform was the same also complete with the baseball hat with the logo. Alex made a motion, or he though he did anyway, to step over the sitting detective and charge the other. “Take him,” he had heard her say from the sitting position as his eyes were still fixed blankley at the other detective. It was another short blast and spark from the barrel of the gun that he saw. The force he felt, moving through his upper chest near his shoulder was indescribable in its pain and leveled him to the ground as he toppled onto detective Moss with a dead weight thud. The last few remaining sensation Alex got to experience was the sight of detective Moss squirmed out from underneath his body then straddling him as she pried the knife from his hand. Her cheek had been sliced perfectly through and a mixture of blood and saliva were frothing through the opening as she breathed rapidly, padding his body for other weapons. Pretty face, he thought as the last of his eyesight moved across her body and face. Age does play tricks on a woman, though. THE END

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