When he finally made the phone call, Chase had trouble sounding as though he weren’t out of breath. He could hear the phone ringing on the other end and that only made it worse, so when his friend, Nathan Kennedy, picked up the line all Chase could say was “wait a minute” while he covered the phone and tried to calm down.
“Chase. You okay? Is this Chase?”
“It’s me. Just give me a second.”
“You been working out?” Nathan asked.
“No. Just. Listen. I need you to do me a favor.”
“What is it? What’s up? You okay?”
“I can’t tell you the details. I mean I could, but just — because, this is strange. I can’t explain it. Just do what I say.”
They lived in the same condominium complex, on the extreme ends of a south facing side that looked out on a golf course. Towering pines sheltered the 15th green, just beyond a split rail fence.
“Turn off the lights in your place and look out your kitchen window, towards the golf course.”
“Julie’s got a catering gig tomorrow. She’s not going to want the lights out.”
“Call me back then. When she goes to bed.”
“What’s going on, Chase?”
“Look, I can’t explain it. Just call me back.”
Things were disappearing, first of all. Chase Bagnell wasn’t particularly organized, but he had a few key spots in every place he ever lived, a few routine cubby holes and desk organizers that more or less held the week’s vital tools. The toe nail clipper, for example, was always with the marking pens in the second slot of his upper desk drawer. He made a point of putting it back in exactly the same place. “Because,” he could hear himself explaining to no one, “my toenails are just strange. They grow up, not out, and they catch my on my socks if they get too long and I always — I mean ALWAYS — put it back with the marking pens. And it’s just gone.”
Chase lived alone. There was no cleaning lady. No roommate. No girlfriend. The condominium manager had a key, for emergencies. Nathan and Julie had been over for drinks the other day, along with a few other co-workers — but Chase actually locked his study on those occasions. A few years before, at a similar party, he had driven to town for beer and he found his co-workers gathered around his desktop computer upon his return. They were looking at his tax return. “You left it on the screen,” one of them said. “And a few other things,” one of them giggled.
“You invite scrutiny,” Nathan told him. “You’re not confessional enough. People want to see what you’re hiding.”
“It still sucks,” Chase protested. “Royally. I would never do that. Walk into someone’s bedroom office? Tap the space key, look at peoples’ crap? I just wouldn’t even think to do that.”
“People are bottom-feeding trash fish,” Nathan said. “The sooner you understand that — ”
“The sooner I start locking my doors and putting all my crap away.”
There was some professional jealousy at play. Chase didn’t really do much but work and work out. As a result, he kept getting promoted. He kept meeting deadlines. He kept making a butt load of money for the company, and after about five years, he had fifty people answering to him, not counting the sub-contractors.
He never claimed to be a genius — just a grind, just a guy who knew crappy code when he saw it. But, as his friend Nathan observed, he never really got drunk, never complained or belly-ached, never made public confessions, and people mistook it all for arrogance. Some managers, when faced with courteous, beguiling excuses, respond with a smile, and patience. Chase wasn’t one of those. It could be absolutely unnerving to see the passive, cold way he processed the request for a pass.
But now he was looking out his window and what he saw on the 15th green, on a moonless night, made him shake uncontrollably.
[to be continued…]