My latest work in progress is an anthology of stories dedicated to the bravery of men and woman worldwide. ALL those that silently and without fanfare hold down the Front Lines. ALL the front lines. On the streets of any town, anywhere, you’ll find them, The Policeman, Paramedics, Firefighters, Nurses and Doctors and all their support personnel. Those on the battle-fronts in foreign lands, and those on the battle-fronts of streets peopled with others that have slipped through the cracks and crevices of the world we now live in. The many brave souls that endure the lasting, life changing flashbacks, and battle each and every day with the nightmare that is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
These are their stories.
Alexis in Blue
I have always been one of those people that should never be around bleeping car alarms, or crying babies. There is just something about the urgency of those sounds that creates a twitch in my brain and a frown on my face.
The restaurant was crowded. The food was good. My date was not, he had pulled the old left my wallet at home number on me again, and I was pissed as hell about it.
He left. I stayed. The phone rang. The booth was just off to my right. It rang and rang and my twitch and frown deepened. I got up and walked over and into a nightmare.
“Yes” I said.
“There’s one born every minute.” It was a male voice, flat, and cold. It continued, “Well now, I expected a woman to pick up. I figured it would be a woman, women always stick their noses in where they’re not wanted.”
“Fuck you, whoever you are.” I said about to slam the phone down.
“NO! Not a smart thing to do, lady.” The voice screamed.
“I’ll play. Why not?”
“Because, you stupid bitch, you activated the timing device on a bomb when you picked up the phone.”
I remained silent. The words unscrambling themselves in my alcohol-infused brain. “Bull shit, creep. Ha ha, I’m not buying it.”
“Too bad, bitch. That pretty blue dress is gonna get all covered with blood and brains. Such a pity.”
My brain kicked into overdrive. This bastard could see me. He was watching me. I looked around me fast, trying to see who it might be. Whoever it was, they had to be on a cell phone.
“Well,” he said, what do you think? Which one of us is it, bitch? Huh? C’mon bitch, figure it out; which one of us are you talkin’ to. Which one is gonna blow you and all these other assholes to hell? Talk to me, bitch. Don’t make me push my little button too soon. Where would the fun be in that? I like to have fun.”
I couldn’t afford not to play the sicko’s game. If this was a game.
“What do you want?”
“Ah, see now, that’s better. Play nice. It can be fun; you just have to find a way. Can you find a way, bitch?”
Sweet Jesus, what the hell do I do? What if it’s real? What if there is a bomb? “What do you want? Please, tell me what you want?”
“Oh, you disappoint me, you already asked me that. Shouldn’t disappoint me, I don’t like it when women disappoint me.”
I swallowed the bile that came up in my throat, I had to think, think. My stupid brain wouldn’t respond. What could I say?
“Um—my name, is Alexis.”
“So, what’s your name?”
“Boring and stupid. Is that all you can come up with? My name is Alexis. I can tell you my name, but I won’t. How ‘bout you guess my name. Yes, that will keep me amused, for a while. Alexis has to guess my name.”
“Why are you doing this?”
“Please, why are you doing this?”
My knees were shaking and the nausea was threatening to overwhelm me. Why didn’t anyone come near? Why couldn’t they see? I looked frantically around again trying to make eye contact with someone, anyone. Please, please why can’t you see?
“Um … Robert.” I said, trying to keep my voice from breaking.
“Do I sound like a Robert?”
“I don’t know. I don’t know. Can you give me a hint? Please. Will this stop if I guess your name? Why would you do this, do I know you?”
“Oh—poor little bitch. Poor little bitch in a blue dress. Poor bitch wants a hint. Will I give you a hint? Lemme think ‘bout it.”
What can I do? Think … dammit … think. Keep him talking, keep him talking. This place has to close. Someone will get suspicious; surely, someone will wonder why I’m on the phone so long. Keep him talking.
“If not, Robert. Then give me a hint. Play fair. Or don’t you know how?”
“Wrong answer, bitch. Nice try. But gettin’ me mad ain’t a good idea.”
“Then give me a hint, please.”
“I … I’m sorry, please. Don’t do this.”
“Pleadin’ won’t help, bitch. What is my name?”
I could feel the tears running down my face and turned around so people could see them. Dear God, please someone look at me. Can’t you see? That woman, that woman in the leather jacket she is looking at me. I nodded my head at her. Yes, yes. Please come see. Please. No! Don’t give me me an embarrassed smile and turn away. No, no no.
“What is my name, little bitch in blue?”
“I don’t know … I don’t know! Please why, why are you doing this? Why?”
“Ti … time … no … no …! Time for what?” I screamed into the phone, a couple of people looked up, and looked away again quickly.
“Time for all the people to pay. Alexis in the blue dress.”
“Pay for what? What did they do to you?”
“Too late—too late, it’s done. Nobody cared, Alexis in the blue dress.”
“Of course you do … you are going to die. Everyone cares when they are about to die.”
“Then–why don’t you tell all these people, why they must die? Punish them like you are punishing me.”
“Tell all the people?”
“Yes, yes. Tell all the people. You want them to be afraid, don’t you? You want them to suffer with that fear like I am before they die. Don’t you?”
“Make them afraid. All of them? Yes … NO! What is my name?”
“Look, look around you. More people are leaving. They never got to care what happened to you. They never got to be afraid.”
I said a silent prayer that he didn’t just push the damned button. My instincts told me it was suddenly more important to confuse him. He appeared to be rattled just a little.
“What did they do to you to make you hate them?”
“I don’t hate. I don’t feel anything. They have to pay.”
“Because … because you don’t feel anything?”
“Yes—Alexis in the blue dress. Because I don’t feel anything. They did that.”
“Who is they?”
“People. Just people.”
“But, why me? Why these people in particular? What did I do to you? What did the woman and that little girl in pink do to you?”
“Wrong—no more questions. Just answers, get it? What is my name.”
His voice was becoming agitated. No longer cold and flat, it was raised in protest at my questions.
“George, is it … George?”
“No. This is boring.”
“You will die too, won’t you? You are here in this restaurant, watching every little move I make. So, you will die too.”
“Yes—of course. No matter, I feel nothing.”
“You don’t feel pain?”
“I feel nothing. No more questions. I’ll give you a hint.”
“What if I don’t get it right?”
“Get it right. Alexis in the blue dress. Do you like music?”
“Yes, yes I do.”
“Do you know music?”
I thought hard before I answered. “No—not very well. I just like music, that’s all. If you give me a hint, and I get it right what will you do?”
“What will you do?” I repeated.
“You’ll stop the bomb from detonating?”
“Why should I believe you?”
“What choice do you have, Alexis in the blue dress?” He laughed.
The terror had gone. I’d replaced it a with a desperation that was tinged with acceptance. I was going to die. These people were going to die. How dare he decide so many fates.
More couples left the restaurant. The woman in the leather jacket looked at me again, I mouthed the word… Help. Again, Help. I couldn’t risk signaling her in any other way. He was in here. Watching me. Watching everything, I did.
She looked at me oddly. Then she picked up her purse and she and her male companion left the restaurant. She gave me a brief backward glance as then disappeared from sight around the screen near the entry door.
I could barely breathe.
I had wet myself and all I could do was stand there in silent unobserved humiliation. Was this how my life would end? I hated knowing that it was.
The restaurant was emptying, faster now. It was getting late. Time was running out. The waiters were going around to the occupied tables and soon after a few of the customers here and there got up and made their way slowly outside.
That was good, I was relieved it might end up with just me and some staff perhaps. The woman and the little girl got up to go.
“What are you doing?” His voice was querulous, agitated, different.
“Nothing—you can see me! What does it look like I’m doing? Nothing—right. Just waiting for the hint.”
I looked around, again. Damn who was it; there weren’t many of us left. Five males, four females and the staff. Was it one of the staff? What good would knowing do me?
“So—come on—what is the hint?”
“I’m thinking!” He raised his voice angrily this time. I had rattled him. I don’t know how.
“C’mon, c’mon. If I’m going to guess your name, I need a hint.”
“Wait! Are you in a big hurry to die? Alexis in the blue dress. How old are you?”
“Why does that matter?” I have to stall him now. The longer I can keep him occupied the more people would get out.
“I asked how old you are?” he was angry.
“And I asked you why that’s important.”
“Tell me!” he screamed.
“I don’t think I will. You have to give me the hint. You said you would, now you will not. If you are a liar, why would I believe you about the bomb? I think I’ll just walk out of here. You have had your sick fun.”
“Tell me your age and I will give you a hint.”
“How old do I look?”
“Stop it! You must answer the questions. Don’t ask them.”
I looked around; several of the waiters appeared to be going off duty. Why had no one questioned me still being on the phone?
I saw him! It had to be him, or one of the staff.
No! It had to be him. He sat at the back of the restaurant, alone. That’s why he couldn’t guess my age. He was too far away to be sure, or even close. But, was the bomb on him, or planted? I couldn’t let him know that I had figured out who he was. I must not.
“I’m thirty.” I lied.
“That’s better. That’s young.”
“How old are you?”
“As old as time.” He sounded weary, fed up.
“What is my hint?” I pushed it.
I watched another couple of people that could only have come from the kitchen walk out the front door. One of them still wearing the white cap of a kitchen hand. There was none of the laughter and good natured ribbing you would expect to hear from people finishing work and heading elsewhere.
I realized then that they knew. Someone had tipped them off. Maybe the woman in the leather jacket. The lights were all still blazing.
“I said, Purple Haze. Alexis in the blue dress.”
He was so focused on me I don’t think he had noticed that hardly anyone remained in the restaurant. I turned around and looked in his direction. I couldn’t make out detail. He was in clear line of sight from me. Sitting behind the table. His hair was dark and long.
“Answer me.” He screamed again. “What is my name?”
“Jimi, it must be Jimi.” I screamed the name.
“How? How … did you …?”
I put the phone down on the bench. I wanted to run like hell. But I forced myself not to.
I walked outside, slowly in an sleepwalkers mist … straight into the arms of the bomb squad member ushering the other occupants to safety.
Everyone but Jimi was out. I sobbed in the arms of the big guy in the full kefla suit. I threw up, and then had to sit; I was grabbed by two more big cops and carried to the barricades down the block a piece.
Jimi exited the restaurant. There were cops and bomb squad people everywhere.
Jimi was in a wheelchair.
“I feel nothing,” he had said.
“Oh God” I screamed … “He’s gonna do it…please, please, no! … No, he’s gonna do it!”
The blast knocked a few cops off their feet.
I remember crying out, “NO!” and then I passed out cold.
I awoke in hospital, groggy from the tranquilizers. The woman that had called the cops was sitting beside the bed. So was my ex-husband.
“I … who was he?”
“Later, Alice,” said my ex. “Rest up okay. Just rest.”
“No dammit—no! I need to know?”
“His name was James Fredericks.” The woman said, flashing her badge as she spoke. “You are one brave woman. How did you know to lie about your age?”
“You’re a cop?”
“Yes, I was off duty last night, but as soon as I realized there was a problem we put a tracer on the phone line and listened in. Then, we started very slowly getting people to leave the restaurant, just one, or two at a time.”
“How did you know the answer?” she asked. “I mean it was an ambiguous hint, Purple Haze. What is that?”
“A song by Jimi Hendrix. I’m a child of the sixties. As soon as he asked me about music, and my age, I figured he was gonna try and make it something I wouldn’t know. I love music. And Purple Haze was a favorite.”
“He was a Nam Vet wasn’t he?” I asked.
“Not all of them came home.” I whispered sadly.
I cried for Jimi.
I cried for all the Jimmies.