As Socrates said, "The unexamined life is not worth living," especially those areas that thwart answers.
"The note was on a sticky...a fuckin' sticky" Barnett mumbled, downed another shot, and raised his finger for another.
The bartender nodded, and grabbed the bottle with his sausage-sized fingers, poured, and put out his hand.
Barney laid another five in his palm, and turned back to Aaron. "A sticky."
Aaron took a sip of his beer and wiped his mouth, folding the napkin perfectly square. "Jesus, Barney. A sticky. Such a note deserves more than that."
"What?" queried Barnett.
"The note. Could have least put it on some decent paper and..."
Barnett slammed the sticky down on the bar. "Do you think I give a fuck what kind... oh, forget it." He threw down the shot and raised his finger again.
The bartender stepped up to him with the Jack, looked him in the eye, and poured. "Last one fella," he said in a heavy Russian accent. You don't look so good."
Barnett smiled. "You should see me when I'm drunk."
Aaron leaned in. "Barney...it's none of my business, but..."
"Whatta ya mean, none of your business. I've made it your business. You're my best friend. I've told you everything, haven't I?" He grabbed the sticky and laid it down in front of him. "Fucker could be waiting for me anywhere."
"But..." Aaron cleared his throat, took another sip of his beer, wiped his mouth, and folded the napkin again. "It just says he or she knows..."
"Well...it could be a prank, and..."
Barnett grabbed Aaron's beer. "You're never gonna finish that," and gulped it down. He turned to the bartender. "For my friend. Another one of these yellow things."
Aaron leaned in, more stealth, shifting his eyes up and down the bar, and whispered, "Maybe it's one of your old girl friends. You know...you've left a couple kinda out in the cold."
Barnett loosened his tie and leaned toward Aaron, curling his index finger for Aaron to lean in too. Mocking his whisper, he said "What the fuck you whisperin' for? There's nobody in this hole, ‘cept you me and Igor pourin' drinks."
Aaron sat up straight, as the bartender slid a glass of beer to him. Aaron pulled out his worn wallet, fingered three one dollar bills, and laid them on the counter. He leaned back to Barnett and whispered again. "It's just not the kind of thing you shout, you know? It's a psychological thing. When you're talking private stuff, you..."
Barnett grabbed the sticky, shoved in his pocket, nodded to Aaron's glass. "Drink that Monsignor and let's get out of here."
The air was crisp with an early east coast autumn. Climbing into the black Porsche, Barnett glanced at the windshield, then strapped in and sat.
Aaron, like a good soldier, followed protocol and did likewise. After a few moments, "You pissed at me?"
Another few moments passed.
"Are you going to start the car?"
"Why?" said Barnett, his gaze lingering through the windshield at nothing in particular.
Barnett turned to him. "Why should I start the car?"
Aaron looked at the safety belt snuggly fastened across his chest and glanced out the windshield. "Because usually we strap in and you start the car."
Aaron shook his head. "And then we usually drive...somewhere."
Barnett turned back to the windshield, muttering to himself. "I'm thinkin' what if someone thinks it doesn't belong to me."
"I don't know what ‘it' is, Barney. You mean..."
"It, Aaron, is none of your business."
"But you said..."
"That I was making it your business. I know. But as needed is all I meant. This part's not ‘needed' right now. Certain things aren't talked about between guys."
Aaron nodded, feigning an understanding. "Oh..." said Aaron, a slight snicker in his voice.
"What's that supposed to mean?" said Barnett as he turned over the engine.
Aaron shrugged. "I get it. It's okay. Private is...private. Understood."
Barnett pulled out of the parking lot and headed toward the Brooklyn Bridge and Manhattan.
Pulling up to the underground parking station, Barnett powered down his window, gave the pedal a little ‘vroom vroom' and looked up at the man in Kelly parking green manning the gate. Squinting at his name tag, he said, "Charles. You weren't here when I left."
"No, sir. I got the crappy shift this week."
"That other guy... haven't seen him around."
"He's new. Anything the matter, Mr. Levin?"
"Tell me Charles. Does the garage get patrolled often?"
"Why yes, Mr. Levin. Gotta couple of guys checkin' things out. About every hour, one of them does his own ‘vroom vroom' in a golf cart." He grinned. "Simple shits think they're..."
"And how often does this patrol get reported?"
"Like I said. Every hour or so. Billy's actually on a run now." He leaned out his window and asked, "You look kinda upset, Mr. Levin. Anything we did?"
Barnett waved him politely off, smiled and pulled into the garage, moving down two levels to his double-space parking slot. As he pulled in at an angle, Aaron took notice.
"Geez Barney, you pay for two slots?"
The car came to a stop and Barney turned off the engine. "Haven't you noticed Aaron? You are my accountant. Two places obviously runs more money. Even you must do a double take on a parking invoice for five hundred bucks each month."
"Well, yeah, of course I..."
As they climbed out of the Porsche, Aaron gave the diagonally parked car another glance. He smiled and nodded.
"You get it now, eh?" said Barnett with a grin.
"Keepin' the door nicks to a minimum."
"Sprain your brain on that one? Enough to make a man thirsty again, ain't it?"
Aaron looked at his watch. It's only five. I think some coffee would be in order as the sun comes up."
"Wuss," Barnett muttered with a smile as they made their way to the elevator.
Barnett walked the thirty-five feet across the concrete floor of his duplex penthouse-photo-studio and opened his wall safe. Removing two 8 X 10 color photos, he turned back toward the two-story floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the Lower Hudson and walked to his matching sail-cloth and down-feathered couches and plopped down opposite Aaron. He nodded toward the silver tray with decanter and cups. "Coffee okay?"
"Bullshit," replied Barney with a laugh. "Don't you ever lie to me about the books that way. "Fancy foo shit, compliments of the Hudson House. Every morning, same ol', same ol' left hot in Tiffany knock-off server outside the door, etc., etc." He sighed and fingered the photos. "You believe in fate, Aaron?"
With a shrug, Aaron answered, "Maybe. But, never with accounting. No room for supernatural stuff."
"Uh huh." Barnett placed one of the photos down on the glass coffee table and asked, "See anything peculiar in this shot?"
Aaron leaned forward, gave the picture a cursory look and shook his head. "No. Should I?"
"What do you see?"
"Freaky picture. Where is this?"
"My bathroom. I stood up to the medicine cabinet, rearranged the mirrors on their hinges and...reflections of reflections."
"Not new, Barney. Lots of naked people take pictures of themselves. Ever check the internet?"
"I know that."
"Why did you waste time..."
"That's not the point. Look closer at the picture. See it reflecting my window there?" He placed his finger on the reflection. ‘"Windowed exhibitionism,' I called it when the realtor made it such a big deal during the sale."
"Yeah," Aaron responded. "So?"
Barney placed the second picture on the table. "This is a blow up of that reflection. See the window across the street...this guy with the fucking binoculars? See that?"
"Yeah...so. This is New York. Everybody's a freakin' peepin' tom.
Barney sat down opposite Aaron and stared into space. "The sticky...that's the guy who wrote it."
Aaron looked again at the picture, then at Barney. "Huh? How do you know that?"
"Who else?" Aaron shook his head. "Barney...you don't even know if the sticky is even referring to this. It could be pointing a finger at anything."
"Anything? You think I'm hiding a bunch of secrets, or..."
Aaron raised his hand as if in a push-away. "Jesus, Barney. Not saying anything but ‘how do you know?' Damn you're really strung out with this."
"When I stumbled on the binoculars thing...I was just fuckin' around that day. You know, messin' with the mirrors. Playin' around with perspectives, photographer shit. And when I saw those binoculars, I ran over there."
"The guy's apartment?" Aaron asked, obviously taken aback.
"Yeah. Except, no guy. No binoculars. No apartment, really. Vacant. Not rented. Super said it hadn't been shown for weeks. So why? Why...what the fuck was a guy with spy glasses doin' in there lookin' at me? Huh?"
Aaron looked closer at the picture. "What made you save... I mean, why the vault?"
"Shit, anybody would have saved pictures showin' some pervert starin' at them. Even a tight ass like you."
"And this was before the sticky?"
"Of course, Aaron. Hell, they were just layin' around two days ago. But after that fuckin' note...into the vault."
Aaron fixed on the photo again. "Still doesn't prove this guy..." He paused, looking closer at the photo. "Barney." He lifted the picture to Barney's eye level. "You can't even be sure he's lookin' at you. Seriously. From that distance...what is it, seventy, hundred feet across to there? From that distance, he could be focused on the floor below, or on something above this penthouse...the sky, a bird."
Barney slammed his hand down on the table. "Aaron..." He gathered control, but still maintained a frightening fix on his accountant.
Aaron held his coffee mid-sip, frozen. "I'm sorry about making a judgment. I guess a note like that would unnerve me too," his voice shaking like the fingers holding his coffee cup.
Barney took a gulp of his drink. "Put the coffee down before you spill it on my couch." He walked over to the windows and peered out. "I take photographs. I've been looking at the world with a unique lens in my head for thirty years now. Collecting some money, spending some money..."
"A lot, Barney. Sorry," muttered Aaron.
"And making a lot of my colleagues envious...maybe jealous. Some even think I'm the perfect storm waiting to happen to myself. But, make no mistake. Somebody wants what I have. And they can't have it." He turned back. "And you, Aaron. Don't you ever forget you work for me. For me. I pay for this time of yours, big time. Understand?"
Aaron swallowed hard. ‘Just tryin' to reason this out, Barney."
"Well, don't. This has nothin' to do with reasoning anything out. It is what it fucking is. Capish? It only has to do with finding spyglass/sticky note guy. Get it?"
"Got it. Got it, Barney." He nodded and attempted a casual look at his watch. "I really have to go. Earn my keep, right?"
Barney leaned back and rested his gaze on the wall of windows. "Yes. Yes, you do. But, get some rest first, Aaron. You've been working too hard lately." He rose and walked toward the kitchen. "We'll take this up in another session, okay."
"Yeah. Another session." Aaron rose and walked to the door. "Later."
Sitting in the dark, a shallow beam of light from above providing dim illumination, Barnett fingered several of the many photos and news clippings spread all around and under him. He slowly adjusted himself to a prone position, spread eagle across the display. His eyes darted from pic to clippings to pics, all showing one image or another of himself. His eyes came to rest on a headline. "Manhattan's former ‘Pulpit Saint for the poor' loses appeal and remains confined at The Central New York Psychiatric Center."
Two men in white medical coats, taking notes on their respective clip boards, stand at the small window opening in the metal door to the cell. Doctor Masser nods. "Another bad dream you think?"
"Second one today, the orderly said."
Doctor Masser continued taking notes. "What's your opinion? Think he'll ever get out?"
"Not if he has anything to do with it. It's the church that pushed the appeal. He's where he thinks he belongs."
"Mmm. Pedophilia is the mean one, eh?"
"How's his therapy coming, Aaron?"
"We doctors know that's a longer process than most patients realize, and most ‘churches' accept, don't we?"
Dr. Masser finished his notes and looked down the hall. "That it is doctor. That it is."
As they moved toward the next cell, Doctor Masser sighed then asked, "How's your four iron treating you nowadays?"
"Like your five treats you."
"Guess we both need some R and R, eh?"
"Only in your dreams, doctor."
Dr. Masser chuckled. "Who's got time for such luxuries?"
Reader Reviews for
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|Reviewed by Diana Legun (Reader)
|Spiderweb of a story. Barney seemed like the logical one for a while. I appreciate how you set Barney up to have such 'control,' in his behavior, his surroundings, his accountant....and then the conclusion. Very effective portrayal of a tragic condition. ~~ Diana|
|Reviewed by Morgan Merriweather
|a very captivating short story. I was not expecting the ending. Read this a few times. ~ Morgan|