The Hobbyist

by Grainne Rhuad

My back hurt. For three days and nights now I’d been watching out the back alley window. I was hoping I would catch a glimpse of Him again. Stewart Malvo. I’m pretty sure that’s who it was. Sacha said he thought he had seen him entering the building three days ago. Sacha is a postman and also a very good source of information. With what I do, it pays to spend time with service people. Making friends with them takes little effort as they are largely unnoticed and the payoff is well worth a couple of hours listening to tirades about their wives or “The Man”.

Finding out what room he was in was more difficult. I had to ply the doorman with twenties and even then I only got, “I think there’s a guy fits that description on the ninth floor. It took me another couple of days of scanning to figure what room he was most likely in. I thought I had it narrowed down to the one with the drapes closed all the time. All the other windows played out like a view master look into daily life.
In one window I found a young woman living with her young mother who screamed at one another every evening before retreating to bed. In the same way that some people drank warm milk and brushed their teeth, this was their nighttime wind-down ritual.

In another I observed a 10 year old who had a penchant for his parent’s liquor cabinet. Naughty boy. Lucky for him it was none of my business. Equally lucky for him, his parents didn’t drink much or they would have noticed the massive quantities of water poured into their Gin and Vodka bottles. Hate to be in that apartment at the Christmas Party when they crack those crystal bottles open and find…well, water.
A couple of windows down an old woman stared out her apartment window in my direction a lot of the day which was truly unfortunate as I had to be more circumspect. Had it been an old man I wouldn’t have worried as much. When they stare they are generally looking inward, remembering, or trying to. But the old ladies, they were keen observers.

There of course was a newlywed or nearly newlywed couple whose desperate attempts to meld two lives played out in the bedroom. I could have done without that.
But there was one apartment where the drapes were closed all the time. I was fairly sure that was him.
At this point you’re probably wondering what’s going on. Cops? Private Investigator? CIA? Scorned housewife? The answer to your question would be none of the above. Stewart is my hobby. At least he is right now.

My hobby you see is finding and following people. I don’t really remember how it started. I know as a child I used to like to walk behind people to see if I could tail them home without being detected. Lots of kids do that right? Like playing. When I found that I got pretty good at it, I tried more. How much could I find out about a person? For how long? What kind of people will notice you and which ones won’t?
One of the things I found which is surprising is the most unexpected people, at least to me at first, where the ones to catch on quickest. Like the aforementioned old lady. Women in general seemed more keen. People alone or nearly so caught me faster, after all there wasn’t exactly a crowd following them. But people in the spotlight, you know, the ones all concerned for their privacy with guards and all. They were by far the easiest. It’s easy to get lost in a crowd. Especially if it is your most favorite hobby.
Now take Stewart, he is mid-management Mafia. He had been an easy pick up for me, surrounded as he was with his “business associates” and their whores. It’s not terribly hard to hide amongst a bunch of whores. As a bonus, all kept women, even Mafia ones need to talk, so that was an easy shaft to mine, so to speak.

Anyway, my back hurt. Stewie has gone to ground and I wasn’t sure yet whether it’s because of me or something else. If it was something else, all the better, this game would continue. If it was me, well….game over. I’m not interested in dying for my hobby.

Since by back was giving me pain I decided to stretch it out by taking a jog over to the Stewie’s place, jimmying open the alley door and seeing what I could find. I didn’t like close encounters with my targets but Stewie really was leaving no choice. Now what to wear….I decided to be the Super, which would also necessitate a stop off at the Super’s nap-spot followed by a nasty bump on the head for the poor lamb. It would be a minimal risk as the Super was well known to hasten his nap with needles.

An hour later, outside Apt. 9C, I was listening at the door and hearing nothing, which was odd. Stewie liked to watch TV, or be on the phone, run appliances, games, whatever. He would do anything to make himself feel not alone. Funny how scared guys like him get when it’s quiet.

I took a chance and knocked on the door as the Super. No Answer. So I quietly slid my key into the lock. This was the trickiest part. It was also pretty exciting, not knowing what I was going to find when I opened the door. Old Stew, could very well be sitting behind the door with a Beretta waiting to finish my game for me. After all he was laying low. But somehow I got the sense he wasn’t. At least that was what I hoped.

Sliding the door open as silently as possible, but not so quietly as to alert anyone I wasn’t the Super, I found myself face to face with……exactly nothing.

There was absolutely nothing in this front living space. No chairs, no pictures, no sideboards, nothing.
I made my way down the hall on the other side of the room past the kitchen which did seem to have had some use. It looked like water had been run in the last week and not drained all the way, the refrigerator was running, a pot was on the stove. I had to stifle an urge to open the fridge and see what was in it. I love stuff like that, but today I just wanted to see if my game was still on or if someone else had gotten to Stewie under my radar.

Past the kitchen there were two doors facing each other. On the left the door was open and looked into a bedroom. I took a chance and called out, “Hello? It’s the Super, I got a work order for the kitchen sink.” No answer.

The Bedroom contained a cot, a lamp a TV. hooked up to cable, and cell phone. Underneath the bed was a large suitcase, which since it didn’t reek I assumed held guns and other useful tools of Stewie’s trade. Had it reeked, or been wet, I would of assumed he was held up here waiting to make a dump for his Boss.
Turning toward the closed bathroom door, I had a cause to curse myself. I hadn’t found out what name the apartment had been rented under. If he should be in there it would look mighty strange that I wouldn’t know what his name was.

In any case it didn’t matter. Upon opening the door I found my target and it was Game over. There he sat like the cockroach of the underworld he was on a toilet bowl seat. Poor Sot. He hadn’t even needed to go to ground. His days had ended on the crapper. I took a quick look around, no drugs in sight, no evidence of a suicide. Stewie wasn’t the healthiest guy but it was hard to tell if he had died on his own or someone had hastened his exit. I had not yet added that investigation skill to my hobby arsenal. If somebody had hastened his demise I had to tip my imaginary cap to them. They got in under my radar.

I thought about going through things to learn more, but in a case like Stewie Malvo’s I figured it was in my best interest to not. I didn’t want to become the target of a bigger hunter, nor a patsy. So I backed out closing the door, locking the front up, thank God, there’s no camera’s in this crappy building. As I walked down to check on the napping Super, I thoroughly wiped all the keys, running through my mind what I had to do to wrap up my own little hideout. Packing, cleaning, leaving un-noticed.

This had been a good Game but it had been long. At least now I could see to my back. Now, to make up a story for my Chiropractor about an extended vacation or something.

Some great perversity of nature decided to give me a tune completely out of keeping with the general symphony; possibly from the moment of conception. I learned to read and speak almost simultaneously. The blurred and muffled world I heard through my first five years of random nerve loss deafness suddenly came alive with the clarity of how those words sounded on paper. I had been liberated for communications. I decided there was nothing more wonderful than writing. It was easier to write than carefully modulate my speech for correct pronunciation, and it was easier to read than patiently follow the movements of people’s lips to learn what they were saying. It was during that dawning time period, while I slowly made the connection that there weren’t that many other people who heard the way I did, halfway between sound and music, half in deafness, that I began to understand that the tune I was following wasn’t quite the same as that of my classmates. I was just a little different. General education taught me not only was I just a little isolated from my classmates, my home was just a little isolated from the outside world. I was born in Alaska, making me part of one of the smallest, quietest minorities on earth. I decided I could live with this. What I couldn’t live with was discovering a few years later, in the opening up of the pipeline, which coincided with my first year of junior college, that there were entire communities of people; more than I could possibly imagine; living impossibly one on top of another in vast cities. It wasn’t even the magnitude of this vision that inspired me so much as the visitors who came from these populous regions and seemed to possess a knowledge so great and secretive I could never learn it in any book. I became at once, very conscious of how rural I was and how little I knew beyond the scope of my environment. I decided it was time to travel. The rest is history; or at least, the content of my stories. I traveled... often to college campuses, dropping in and out of school until one fine day by chance I’d fashioned a bachelor of arts degree in psychology. I’ve worked a couple of newspapers, had a few poems and stories tossed around in various small presses, never receiving a great deal of money, which I’m assured is the norm for a writer. I spent ten years in Mexico, watching the peso crash. There is some obscure reason why I did this, tightening up my belt and facing hunger, but I believe at the time I said it was for love. Here I am, back home, in my beloved Alaska. I’ve learned somewhat of a worldly viewpoint; at least I like to flatter myself that way. I’ve also learned my rural roots aren’t so bad after all. I work in a small, country store. Every day I greet the same group of local customers, but make no mistake. My store isn’t a scene out of Andy Griffith. The people who enter the establishment, which also includes showers, laundry and movie rentals, are miners, oil workers, truck drivers, construction engineers, dog sled racers and carpenters. Sometimes, on the liquor side, the conversations became adult only in vocabulary. It’s a good thing, on the opposite side of the store is a candy aisle filled with the most astonishing collection, it will keep a kid occupied with just wishing for hours. If you tell your kids they can have just one, you have an instant baby sitter; better than television; as they agonize over their choice while you catch up on the gossip with your neighbor. We also receive a lot of tourists, a lot of foreign visitors. They are usually amazed at this first sign of Alaskan rural life style beyond the insulating hub of the Anchorage bowl. Many of them like to hang around and chat. They gawk at our thieves wanted posters. They laugh at our jokes and camaraderie with our customers. I’ve learned another lesson while working there. You don’t have to go out and find the world. If you wait long enough, it comes to you.

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