The Watchers

by Stephen Mabe

The Watchers

I.

Every day I sat and watched the hustle and bustle of the busy city life. I sat comfortably upon my usual bench that overlooked a corner park and a lively intersection. Each person I noticed had a different walk and each car made a different racket. The squirrels seemed to have about the same chewing method of the chipmonk, and I never once saw a dog that wouldn't chase a frisbee. I watched all of the bratty children run from their parents, and I watched every parent follow close behind screaming all the while. Each and every individual had something a little more intruiging or disturbing about the way they carried themself.

That's why I did it. That's why I sat there day in and day out. It was like reading a book, and all the people, all the animals, all the vehicles were the never-ending pages. I had nothing better to do. I was never married and all of the rest of my family had passed away except for my lawyer-nephew; and do you honestly think he was going to take out time for an old loner like me? I was a disabled war-vet who had never fell in love and had never been loved. It's not that I didn't want to, I was just never able to find that one that would appeal to my exact liking. Maybe that's what it was; maybe I was too picky. But one can't really afford to not be when it comes to something as special and amazing as love. Well...if it truly is special and amazing. I'm sure most people think it is. At least most of the people I watch, anyway.

After a while of sitting on the same bench in the same park I began to learn everyone's habits and tendencies. There were the certain usuals and then there were the ones that I only saw once, and was most of the time was glad of that. Even most of the usuals seemed to perterve me in some way. Except for Miss Emily.

True, I said earlier that I had never fell in love for the simple fact that I was just too picky, but if ever there was a woman to win my heart, it would have been her. There wasn't a solitary attribute about that little lady that bothered me. She was the spotlight of my day. She owned a little coffee shop on the corner and every morning at about six thirty she would pull around to the side alley and prepare her store. During the cold seasons she would bring me a cup of steaming cocoa (for I never had much of a taste for coffee)and a cream cheese danish; my favorite. While handing me the little morning snack she would give a beautiful smile and we would have a short chat. That's all she could manage when it was cold because that's when she received the most business. Despite all of the freezing and wanting customers waiting outside her door, she would never open until I had gotten my snack and we had said "How do." In the warmer months she wasn't quite as busy so she would come out and sit with me until she saw someone headed for her doorway. On those warm days it was hard to keep an eye on everyone, but I didn't mind. I thoroughly enjoyed the company.

Well, one hot summer day, the two of us were sitting, talking, doing the normal routine, when someone caught my eye. I wasn't able to focus on the conversation for my certain interest in this one person. I never figured out why my full attention was placed upon him, but there was just something that wasn't right. I had always gotten feelings about people who were up to no good, but nothing as strong as this sort. As soon as Miss Emily noticed where my thoughts were she quickly hushed and began to watch also. My guess was she was trying to figure out what I was thinking.

Just as I had started to join in the talk again, he did something a bit perculiar, and yet again had my attention. From the first moment I saw him he had been looking around rather nervously. It was as if he was scoping out the area to make sure no one was watching. Then, as soon as he thought the coast was clear he began to reach for a woman's pocketbook. Evidently some gut instinct told him to take one more glance, for he looked me directly in the eye. We both stared for about five seconds and then he drew back his arm and brushed past the lady. I never saw him again that summer or the following fall.

Then, on a cold winter morning that theif came calling again, and I remembered his face. I never forgot a face. It was still a little dark, but the sun had begun to shine through, and Miss Emily hadn't pulled around to her alley yet. He took a seat on another of the park benches for a few minutes and then he got up and left. I lost sight of him when a pick-up truck rear-ended another car, causing that car to hit two other vehicles.

Oh it was such a commotion. Traffic was backed up for at least a good mile in both directions. A policeman was doing the best he could to direct traffic while the able-bodied crew cleaned up the mess. An hour passed and the crew was about finished, but Miss Emily hadn't came out to give me my snack. I knew she was there because I saw her pull in within that hectic hour. Then I noticed that the sign on her door still said closed. I began to worry. And after a while I couldn't take it anymore, I had to check on her.

I knocked on the door and then looked inside, but there was no indication that anyone had been there. So I walked around to the side door and her car was gone. I didn't remember seeing her leave, but so much went on that morning it was hard for me to watch everyone. I just assumed that I had missed her and turned to walk away. As I turned around something beside the dumpster caught my eye. Something shiny. I walked over to see what it was and my heart dropped. It was Miss Emily. She laid there motionless. What I saw was the glare from her watch. I quickly ran to her side and made sure she was still alive. Oh thank God she was. I ran out onto the sidewalk and cried for the officer to come assist me.

An ambulance came and carried her to the hospital and I was taken to the station for questioning. Unfortunatly I didn't know much and was allowed to leave. From there I went straight to the hospital. The doctor said that she was doing fine but had suffered a minor concusion. Apparently whoever it was had hit her over the head with the butt of a revolver. The doctor also said that because of her old age she would have to stay at least two or three nights, just to be on the safe side. So I decided to stay until she awoke. As I sat by her side patiently waiting, all I could do was sit and think about whether or not I had even seen her car pull off. Nothing came to mind. I suppose in my old age my memory had started to slip away. The thought of the purse thief never once entered my mind.

After about an hour of being lost in my thoughts Miss Emily came to. We talked for a moment or two and I made sure that she was nice and comfortable. Then she told me who had done it.

"The man! The man we watched that hot day! It was him! He came and told me to hand over the keys. He also told me that I better not scream or else, and then he pointed a gun at me." She explained weakly.

Then she went on further with the rest of the story. She told me that she had been stubborn and had started to walk toward the street for help. Just as she passed him he struck her with gun and tossed her beside the dumpster. That's all she was able to remember, but that was plenty to put the man behind bars. I went back to the police station and told them everything she told me. I gave them a positive description of the man and within days they had him in cuffs.

They caught him trying to break into a local liquor store during the middle of the night. He was dead drunk and obviously not satisfied. To me it seemed that he wasn't very good at his profession. Either that or he had just gotten a little sloppy. None the less, he was caught, tried for grand theft auto, assault and battery, an extra charge of breaking and entering, and shortly after was convicted. That was enough to put him away for ten to fifteen years. Oh, and how deserved it was.

Well, it didn't take not even a week for Miss Emily to be back at the coffee shop. Things were back to normal. The cops had found her car, a little banged up, but all in one piece. And the headaches from the concusion soon dismissed. Everything was sailing the way it always had until about mid-spring.

She hadn't came into work for several days, and once again, I began to worry. Then the worst possible thing happened. I read about her in the newspaper's obituaries. It read, "Miss Emily Fay Baker dies at age 59 of a massive heart attack!" I was devastated. The only woman I had ever loved, dead. Once again I was all alone.

Some people came and cleared out the cafe and left nothing but an empty memory. Six months went by and that little hole in the city stayed empty. It was finally replaced by a liquor store. Of all things. Of all the different stores in the world, my best memory was taken by something as vile as liquor. Thankfully it didn't last long; and it was soon replaced by a bookstore. Within the next two years many different busineses came and went. Then on the date of the third year of her death, I decided to buy it. Thus turning it into the only thing it was meant to be; a coffee shop. I called it Miss Emily's.

I never enjoyed a job as much as I did running that little cafe. I even had a special, a cup of cocoa and a cheese danish for little of nothing. I called it the Baker's Treat. I also never realized how much work was involved in running a coffee shop. Especially on a sixty-two-year-old man, but I managed.

When I didn't have any customers I would sit by the window and watch the busy intersection. That's all I could see from there. Someone in the high seat at City Hall had decided to build a ten-foot wall that seperated the racing street from the calm park. I guess the accident worried a few folks and shortly after the wall was in place. I missed watching all of the little children playing. I missed handing out quarters here and there. I missed giving compliments, but most of all, I missed Miss Emily. I thought that in time the wound of sadness would heal and everything would be alright, but after three years the pain still hadn't went completly away. I then realized it was never going to. It's amazing how much running the coffee shop helped though. Just knowing that I was keeping that thing she loved the most alive made my heart warm, and took away all the sadness for as long as I would think about it. I can honestly say that if it weren't for that store, I don't know how long I would have lasted.

But I did it, I continued on. Every morning I would come in at the same time Miss Emily did and start my day. Before I opened I would have the Baker's Treat and read the Times. Then on one not so special day I picked up the paper and the headline read "Ex-carthief released on good behaivior." I read on further to find that it was him. It had only been seven years and he was already being released. I was so disgusted, but thought nothing else about it. I put the paper down and continued with my day as usual.

Three weeks later I sat on a bench outside my doorway and watched as the traffic zipped by. I watched every person as they tread the sidewalks. And then, I watched a murder. I watched that same man who had stolen Miss Emily's car brutaly stab another man. I watched as the blade of the knife entered into his flesh, time and time again. I watched the blood poor upon the ground. I watched for the last time. I watched...as he sent me to my death!

II.

He must not have had much of a home life, or maybe not even a home at all, for all the feeble, old man did was sit upon the same park bench day in and day out watching the busy city park. He watched the pigeons as they fluttered about the statues and nibbled upon the freshly thrown seed. He watched the children laugh and frolic along with their pets as their parents chased close behind. He watched every business man, every ho-bo, every couple...everyone. No matter age, gender, race, or sect, he observed their every movement. I interpreted that he was a widower who had nothing better to do than watch everyone else. Which I would say was a suitable hobby for a loner of his age.

Occasionally he would stop a child and give them a quarter, or a woman around his age and give a compliment, and sometimes even report things to police; such as purse snatchings. Well, that's where I play a role in this tale. I was also what you would call a loner. I earned my living by theft, and I earned my women in ways not seen as acceptable to the public eye. For the most part I was fairly good at what I did. I had never served any time or even had any close calls, I always seemed to find my escape. Oh, but not on this particular day.

I had never actually noticed him until one summer day. I had planned on snatching a pocketbook and thought the coast was clear. Something, I don't know what, but something told me to take one more look around. There he was, sitting on the park bench with a little old lady. His eyes pierced my body, as did hers. I quickly drew back my arm and brushed by the woman. For the remainder of the summer and the following fall, I didn't return to that intersection. I mainly stayed within more slum type areas where I knew the jobs would be easy. Jobs such as stripping cars or nabbing appliances from the backs of shipping trucks. And over that time span I actually forgot all about the little old man. So I decided to return and steal a car.

I had seen the car many times before and knew from the moment I saw it that I would one day attempt its theft. It belonged to a little old lady who owned the local coffee shop. She must have made pretty good for herself to afford as nice a car as that one. It was a sleek, red roadster. Oh, how beautiful; and what a payday. I just had to have it and I knew that she wouldn't put up much of a fuss. So I waited for my opportune moment. Not too certain of when that moment would come, I watched the area for several days. Unfortunatly I didn't watch the right area. I never thought to look toward the park for the old man, even though every morning she would walk into the park before she even opened. The place at which I was sitting blocked my view of where she would go, for there were many large bushes at my back. And I faced the street. So, I focused solely on the car, the woman, and the alley-way. With all of that aside, I learned her pattern and figured out how I would do it.

Every morning when she went inside her tiny cafe, she would hang her keys upon a tiny hook. The hook was directly under the cash-register counter. Most people, if anyone, didn't know about that little detail, but I saw it. I saw her for three straight mornings place her keys under that countertop. I also noticed that any time she had a customer she would have to go in the back and prepare their pastries and such. So my plan was to go in, order somekind of morning snack, and while she would be in the back, I would grab the keys. Ever quietly, though. For I did not want to alarm her or cause her to be at all suspiscious. I would stay to finish my treat, and then proceed out the door to take off with the car. It seemed perfect. It would be at least an hour before she even noticed that the car was gone.

I counted on everything. Everything except for a car accident. About ten minutes before her usual arrival time, a truck rearended another car, causing that car to collide with two other vehicles. All of this happened directly in front of her store. Traffic was backed up for at least a mile in each direction, in turn, causing her to be late. About an hour later she pulled into the alley. The only problem now, a clean-up crew, three police officers, and several rescue workers busily went about their jobs and could all see inside the coffee shop windows at any time. I couldn't take that chance. I was already nervous and had been pacing the sidewalks, occasionally I would sit down on one of the park benches, but for the most part, I just paced.

Being so nervous, I had already decided that I would hide by the dumpsters in the alley and wait for her to arrive. There was no one in front of the alley's entrance for a good twenty feet, and no one would think to look in ther for trouble. Espescialy when they were already busy enough. I would just take it by force. And that's what I did.

She pulled in the alley, got out of her car, and made her way to the door. That's when I stopped her and made visible my gun. I told her to hand over the keys and that she'd better not scream, or else. She wanted to be stubborn and headed for the street. As she passed by me I struck her with the butt of the revolver. She fell into my arms, still half in and half out of it, and I tossed her on the bags beside the dumpster. The keys had fallen beside the car. I picked them up and drove off without ever being noticed. Not even by the old man.

Three days passed and I still hadn't sold the car. I wanted to cruise around for a while. I wanted to show it off a bit. The victor's spoils, so to speak. So I went to a bar hoping the car would bring some luck with the opposite sex, but instead I just wound up drunk and wanting more. The bartender stopped me long before I had planned to. In my drunkenness I blurted out many stupid and profane things toward him and found myself being escorted to the door. The whole time I rambled on about how I was going to break into a liquor store and drink until my heart was content; and that's what I did. Or at least attempted to do. Next thing I knew I was in the backseat of a squad car headed to the station. From there I went to court, and then straight to prison. Not only did they indict me for breaking and entering, but that little old man had given them a lead on who stole the car. Grand theft auto and asault and battery were added to my charges and I would end up spending seven years in prison.

Even though seven was all I served of my thirteen year sentence, it felt like an eternity through hell. Of all the prisons in the United States, I had to be sentenced to one where they didn't care how you were treated by other inmates, or how the guards treated you. I thought those fascilities only existed in the movies and in books, but I was dead wrong. In most cases, one would say that the first few years were the worst, but in my case, every year grew that much more torturous.

The day of my week anniversary(along with the others who had came in with me) I was taken to the middle of the courtyard where the basketball goals were. In the dead center of the payevment slab were five wooden poles reaching a good ten feet into the sky. There were five of us in all. One by one they asked us which sex we preferred, and all chose the opposite. Which is exactely what they wanted.

Our clothes were stripped from our bodies and we were told to face the poles. With our arms tied round the pole we could see nothing but what our peripheral sight allowed; and from that point on I never once worried about the other four. My future was bad enough. I'd rather not explain in detail what happened, so I'll just say that the "Gals" had their way with us.

The Gals were a group of six homosexuals who enjoyed their prison time entirely too much. Every new set of inmates, if didn't kill themselves on the first few nights, were their "Break-time Snack." That's what everyone called the week anniversary. Not only did they have their sick fun with you, but they did it in front of the entire prison, warden and all. And let me say that he made a special trip just to watch. Leaving me to wonder whether he was sexually disturbed or not.

After that first week, the Gals wern't allowed to touch you again, but that was almost too much to bear. It messed with my mind, made me have crazy thoughts, and there were several times that following year that I even attepted to take my own life. Somehow someone would always catch me in the act, and I would be beaten within an inch of my life. They said that death wasn't allowed to come by my hand, and as far as they were concerned, they didn't really care, they just wanted to beat someone.

Not only did I receive the week anniversary, but every year I was thrown in the rat hole for two months. Solitary confinement with nothing but spiders and wolfrats would drive any man mad. And most it did. Some men were found eating the rats raw and still alive, others were found snuggeling them as they gnawed on their flesh. I handled it much better than most. The only thing that kept me focused on my sanity was my ever-growing taste for vengeance. I wanted that man to rot. I wanted him to feel the sting of a bullet or the blade of a knife entering his body, over and over again. But the time slowly went on, and my revenge would not come soon enough.

No matter what, I always kept a level head about everything. I belive that's what bought me my freedom. Good behaivior. Every six months my profile was reviewed and the committee would decide whether or not I should be allowed to enter into society once again. So many rejections finally lead to my releasing review in the middle of my seventh year. I was released five and a half years earlier than expected. I knew what I had to do, but I didn't know if I could stomach being sent to prison again. My revenge pushed past that thought.

I was given a grimmy apartment and a traveling limit. Everything I did they watched, and waited for a chance to take me back. I was asigned a job at a local service station pumping gas. I didn't make enough to buy a television set or even a radio. I didn't have a vehicle, any friends, or any family. I had absolutly nothing better to do then bask in my own thoughts.

So the days went on, as did the nightmares. Every night I would wake up in terrible fear. Fear that someone was going to come in and throw boiling water on me. Fear that my toenails would be ripped off as I slept. Fear that I would be forcefully taken to the rooftop in the dead of winter, stark naked; and left until I was a shoo-in to catch the fever. Those nights were horrible. I tried to drown them with whiskey, but the glass remained empty. And finally I put the bottle down, swearing to myself that I would drown the nightmares with something thicker than whiskey. Blood!

So many questions raced my mind as I watched the old-timer. The well-known watcher was unkowingly being watched. I sat on the same park bench he used to sit on. So much had changed while I was locked away. He no longer sat there scoping out everyone, but instead watched from the little coffee shop. During those horrible years that I was imprisoned, that little old lady had passed on and he had bought the deed to the cafe. The name had changed and so had he. He still sat outside, but he didn't pay attention to everyone as he had before. He actually read the paper a bit and occasionally I saw him with a book.

Three weeks after my release he stepped outside his doorway, sat on his bench, and watched the intersection. He watched as a man commited a murder. He watched as a knife pierced his body over and over again. He watched his own blood spill onto the ground. He watched...as I sent him to his death!

The End

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