By Jeffrey Todd
My name is Glenn Chambers and I am thirty four years old. I also happen to be the C.E.O. of Norcom Services,
one of the top accounting firms in Chicago. Despite precarious circumstances of the past, I got my degree eight
years ago, climbing my way to the top of this company slowly, but surely. It finally seems as if everything is
going all right these days; I love providing for my wife and our thirteen year old daughter, Cara. There have
been a few arguments lately, but I don’t believe this has anything to do with my behavior. I’ve always been
faithful and supportive towards my wife.
On most weekdays come five o’ clock, I’m usually ready for a visit to Hardy’s Sports Bar, where I can unwind
with a few of my associates over a martini or two before going home. This has never caused any hassles,
really; just an occasional scolding from Alex, my wife if I’m running a few minutes late. Recently though, there
have been a few instances when gaps of time are completely missing from my memory, somehow—I suppose it’s
just the effect of stress in the corporate world. It troubles me when I think about them—being unable to
account for pieces of my life—because I’m the kind of man who likes to be in control.
Tonight especially, once seated behind the counter, the first sips of my extra-dry martini are especially
refreshing. I sit there comfortably perched on the stool and gaze at the football game in progress on the
widescreen television. A few people, sleeves rolled up and neckties loosened, are playing billiards and darts
across the room. I take all this in with an attitude of gratefulness—that I’m actually able to sit here like this and
reap the fruits of my successful labor. Once the alcohol takes effect, it feels like there could be no greater
sense of both security and peace.
I can’t help but notice this younger lady as she walks in. Her red, curly hair is thick and fluffy and the smell of
her perfume is delightfully intoxicating. I notice, as she sits a few stools down and smiles at me that I become
lost in the plush curves of her figure and suddenly wonder just why it is that I feel obligated to return home so
soon. What awaits me there that I haven’t already seen?
She smiles at me and I smile right back, becoming self-conscious of my wedding band. About twenty minutes
pass in this same, flirtatious manner when out of nowhere she slinks over to my seat and drops a business card
in front of me.
“Call me,” she half-whispers, half-pleads.
She then makes her exit and I sit there stunned, caught in the wake of her fragrant seduction. I can’t believe
my luck. Did that really just happen to me?
I flip the card over and it reads:
(604) 352- 1411
Barbara Mackay, Personal Stylist
315 W. Main Chicago, IL 644521
It bears the scent of the perfume she was wearing and I begin to smile despite that inner voice of moral
suggestion in the back of my head. Maybe this is just what I need—no one would ever know. I prolong my
celebration, rationalizing this new-found turn of events as a means of justification. Alex won’t care, anyway. By
the time I decide to go it’s well past dark outside. The Lexus hums to life immediately—once I’m able to get the
damn key into the ignition.
I can’t say that I remember a whole lot once I got home, except for the fact that Alex and I had another fight.
So I forgot I’d promised to take her out that evening. What was the deal with her these days, anyway? She
accused me of being an alcoholic and threatened to leave with Cara—go stay at her mother’s—unless I
straightened up. How many times had I heard that before? It’s like I’m not even permitted freedom anymore,
despite the fact that I’m out there all day doing what I can to keep a roof over our heads. She has nothing to
complain about, either. We have a three car garage, two SUV’s and a spacious four bedroom house with all the
amenities. Most women would give anything to live in a place like this. It always ends with me sleeping on the
couch and both of us feeling bitter and angry. Why did it always come down to this? Over my final drink of the
evening, I become numbed to the psychological pain of all this bullshit. The familiar black coma beckons me
onto its depths one more time and the last thing I recall are random and erotic images of Barbara behind my
I wake up the next morning to the sound of traffic as I feel a mosquito’s stinging bite on my neck. As my eyes
open, I can’t help but wonder where the hell I am and how I got here. My clothes are crumpled and my head is
ringing with pain—otherwise I guess I’d be somewhat more alarmed at this situation. Then it occurs to me it’s
Friday and my spirits lift a little. This is the one night of the week when I can get hammered. Alex has movie
night with her friends and I have the whole place to myself. I suppose most other days I’m not really getting
drunk, just unwinding a little. My shirt is torn, looking as if a bottle of ketchup has been dumped on the sleeve.
I hold it to my nostrils and that unmistakable, coppery odor gets me thinking…blood. Maybe I stumbled into
something and cut myself. It wouldn’t be the first time something like that’s happened.
As I reach into my jacket for a Benson and Hedges my hand brushes up against something cool and silky. I pull
out the lump of fabric. It’s a pair of women’s underwear—pink satin panties. A vaguely familiar scent teases my
memory before I make the connection. It looks like I did get lucky with Barbara last night after al, however, I
just can’t seem to fully remember. I sit there in the park for a moment, probing the innermost recesses of
thought for any fragment of recollection, but there is only darkness. Then I notice a few people beginning to
stare at me, so I stuff them back into my pocket and head for the bus stop—keeping an eye out for my Lexus
on the way. I’d definitely have to try and call her this evening. We could get together I just had to be careful
not to get too liquored up beforehand. What good was life if you were too buzzed to appreciate those
meaningful and passionate moments, you know?
I gather my bearings at the bus stop and within five minutes I’m on my way home. Yeah, I feel slightly
embarrassed at my appearance, but I get cleaned up as soon as I get home. I try to ignore the stares and
comments of some of the passengers. I hear ridiculing remarks just out of earshot, in tones of obvious disdain:
‘Got himself a new girlfriend now’, I thought I heard one of them say.
My hands begin to shake—out of anger, I suppose. Beads of toxic perspiration seep through the skin on my
forehead, reeking of alcohol. Perhaps my mind is playing tricks on me. How in the hell could anyone possibly
know about Barbara?
Having to use the spare key up on the back door ledge, I remove the soiled clothes I’m wearing as soon as I
get inside. Hanging my overcoat on the peg by the front door as always, I then notice Alex’s SUV isn’t in the
garage. Probably out shopping or something. I can’t wait to shave and take a shower. The steam is so soothing
and healing and all of the confusion in my mind now evaporates with the hot water as I think of Barbra’s face
and the good times we’ll have together. I feel like a new man once I emerge from the shower. Even my
headache is gone.
I go into the kitchen to brew some coffee and while I wait I try to reach Alex on her cell phone, but no one
answers. At times like this, I feel like the only reason she’s with me is for the financial security and nothing
more. She wasn’t like this when we first got married; I don’t know what happened, exactly. Speaking of
financial security, I need to call into work, there’s no way in hell I ‘m going to be able to make it in today with
the way I feel. After a few rings I reach the secretary, who tells me to hang on a second. What the hell? I give
the orders around that place!
Then Mr. Beckham, the president of the company, is on the other end of the line, “There’s no need for you to
come back, Glenn.”
Dumbstruck with silence I just stand there. Before I can even inquire as to why, there’s a click on the other
end. Disgusted, I hang up the phone and begin to wonder what the reason is behind all of this sudden turmoil.
I turn on the television while the coffee finishes brewing, only to see the face of Barbara Mackay on the screen
smiling back at me. It’s a news report, and as I turn up the volume the reporter’s voice haunts me with the
At three o’clock a.m. this morning, the body of Barbara Mackay was found behind her studio flat in the West
End. She had been beaten and raped almost beyond recognition—a neighbor helped authorities identify the
body. Police are asking anyone with any information about this to contact Crimeline at 1-800- 993…
It takes a moment before the magnitude of this tragedy really sinks in. Wasn’t this just great? For the first time
in my life, it was like I found a reason to keep living—some kind of incentive. I thought that a new life together
with Barbara would have brought me joys unimaginable and look what happens! Was this God trying to play
some kind of cruel joke on me? Why did this have to happen at a time like this? Why is it always me getting the
short end of the stick? It seems all I’ve ever gotten out of life is criticism and an ungrateful family. Whenever I
try to have a little freedom it’s like I ‘m constantly accused! Why is my life falling to pieces?
As I sit there pondering this unfairness, rage slowly begins to mount within me. Deciding I need to let off a little
stem, I pack my gym bag. A good workout always helps me think better, and this was the perfect day for it.
Besides, I still have at least seventy thousand or so I the bank I can tap into if need be. The sun comes out as
my thoughts lift—looking at the positive—and once again I find myself looking forward to tonight…Friday. Once
behind the wheel of the Lexus I feel back in control of things and on the way to the gym the sun begins to
shine even brighter. Only one thing—the memory of Barbara—seems to sit in the back of my mind like a minor
plague, cloaked in darkness. Fuck it.
Once inside the gym, all the negative feelings pertaining to the last few days disappear under layers of sweat
and rage. Rage, sometimes that’s the only emotion left. No one else is in the gym and I begin to think about
tonight as I warm up. If my wife doesn’t want to be a wife, then maybe I’ll have to explore other options. I hear
noise outdoors, noticing that there are three or four people out on the sidewalk peering through the glass and
pointing their fingers at me. The fact that they have nothing better to do but just stand there and gawk only
intensifies my rage. I increase the weight on the machine and go at it even harder until all I can see is a red-
orange blur. My head feels like it’s splitting again, but I don’t care. Once I stop, I see that they have moved on.
Breathing heavily, I try to phone Alex one more time. This is it—your last chance, lady… I’ve about had enough
of your lectures and self-righteous crap. You’d be nothing without me. I let it ring several times before getting
her voicemail. I begin to leave a message when a voice in my head advises me not to even try.
I take another shower right there at the gym, getting slicked up as best I can. The spider-webbed, broken
blood vessels around my nose and eyes detract from my appearance somewhat, but I’d still have to say that I
look all right for being my age. Even after the workout my hands still shake. I feel mellowed out now that I’ve
gotten the negative energy and anger out of my system, but I still need something. I pull the pint out of my
gym bag and take a nip. The warm, familiar sting makes all of my uneasiness subside within minutes. On my way
to the car, endorphins flowing freely and elixir-primed, I must say that I feel almost invincible. What in the world
could get me down now having been through all that I have?
Driving back, I start to get this weird feeling a couple of blocks from my house. I don’t know what you’d call
it…a premonition or something. Once I turn the corner I see several police cars parked out front along the curb,
as well as a few unmarked ones. Something inside of me begins to panic, but somehow I maintain my
composure, deciding just to drive by like any other driver might. I slip my sunglasses on and risk a look at the
front door, which is open. A detective emerges with a gallon-size Ziploc bag with a pair of pink panties in it.
Suddenly I don’t care for whatever’s going on here one damn bit; I might even be getting a little scared. Playing
it cool, I drive on by, desperately trying to show no emotion whatsoever on my face. My hands start shaking so
bad the Lexus almost scrapes the curb, buy somehow I make it out of there.
I reach downtown close to where I awoke this morning. The more I think about it maybe I should just get a
room for the night. I need to be alone for awhile, just until my world stops spinning out of control. The last
twenty-four hours have been too topsy-turvy and my headache’s now threatening to come back to add to all
this misery. My stomach growls in hunger to remind me that I’ve been neglecting it. I drive on over to the
Italian restaurant I used to visit on my lunch hour. The smell of fresh baking bread only sharpens the pain.
Once I’m seated at the table things aren’t so great. It’s like everyone in the restaurant is looking at me. Even
the waitress—who was always nice to me before—seems to have attitude.
“Oh, they’re going to throw the book at him this time,” I hear one lady say to another in the adjacent booth. I
glance over at her and the directness of her gaze implies that I am the one associated with her words.
Strangely, the waitress brings out the check and the food at the same time.
“I hope it was worth it, Mr. Chambers. They found your wedding band at the scene and are running forensic
tests on it right now before they really let you have it,” she explains.
I begin to wonder if I’m losing my mind.
“Excuse me?” I ask, but she only stares coldly at me for a second before returning to the kitchen.
I look in disgust at the sandwich on my plate, my appetite now gone entirely. Maybe I need a drink. As I take a
twenty out of my wallet to pay the bill, I’m aware of tears forming in the corners of my eyes, fuzzing out my
Out on the sidewalk I try to feel human again and light a cigarette. This is just so damn strange. If I was I
some kind of trouble, then why wouldn’t someone just say so? Well, whatever it was, it probably wouldn’t
amount to much. I had respect in this town—status, prestige. I’d made my way to the top by kissing the right
asses and saying the right things to the right people. I hadn’t come this far to have my achievements nullified
by this small-town gossip bullshit. Then again, this was not a small town, which is what made this ostracizing all
On the way to the hotel I decide to just get a fifth and stay in for the night. Maybe I could turn up the air
conditioning and just watch a little television, forgetting about the hostile, outside world for awhile. When I
insert my card into the ATM there’s no response and I wonder what the problem could possibly be. I press
frantically on the buttons, trying to get my card back, but it doesn’t work. Oh, well, no big deal; I have about
eighty dollars left and I can charge the room on my Mastercard if need be.
I make a quick detour to the ABC store on my way. I park the car and then notice a bum out front of the store.
When I get out of the car I know he’s going to ask me for money, so I retrieve the rest of the pint from my gym
bag. Maybe this would give the poor bastard some comfort. Gotta share the wealth, you know? It’s like I could
read his mind, thanking me and saying ‘God bless you, man,’ as I gave him the bottle, but speaking through his
eyes only, like telepathy. As I go inside, I realize that there’s not a whole lot of difference between him and I at
this point, although I suppose I’m a little cleaner-shaven and my clothes are a little less wrinkled. Well, at least
someone was being appreciative for a change.
The clerk behind the counter keeps smirking at me, like he’s privy to some kind of information to that I am not,
making me agitated. When I go to pay for the bottle, he’s just there behind the cash register, shaking his head.
“What’s wrong?” I ask, eager to know what the big joke is. It’s time to get to the bottom of this once and for
all. “Do you happen to know something about me which you find amusing, pal,” I press, my tone a little more
nasty than previously.
“My friend,” he begins in his accented voice, “you have gone too far this time, no? They see you all this time…
at bar, picking fight and trying to touch young girl. What wrong with you, man? You have problem remembering
or something?” A few uneasy seconds go by as I contemplate this. “ The police…they coming to get you,
buddy, that gonna be your last drink,” he finishes.
At that moment I feel something very negative trying to overtake my sense of judgment and it’s very difficult to
control. I don’t say anything in response to all this, just threw a twenty on the counter, ready to be gone. Who
was this asshole, anyway? Didn’t he make a living off peddling this poison to anyone who walked in? Probably
minors, too. For a minute I didn’t even think he was going to sell it to me, but he did. Snatching my change
from his palm, I tucked the package under my arm and step out on the sidewalk. The bum is gone.
In the lobby of the hotel, I look forward to those comforts a room has to offer—privacy, climate-control,
solitude. When I gaze upon the crowd in the lobby going about their own business, it seems as if everything
about me to which all those strangers had been referring to is finally over. Thank God. I approach the counter
and hand the clerk my credit card.
“Room for one night, please,” I request.
He takes my card with a smile and begins to type on the computer I front of him. He is impersonal and
professional, and for the first time in awhile I feel like things are finally going to be okay. I begin thinking about
the first cocktail of the evening—like old times, when his voice ousts me from reverie:
“ I’m sorry, sir, but your card has expired. Do you have another one?”
Oh, no, not this again. I hand him my American Express this time, but after a moment he hands it back to me
with the same apologetic look. After buying the fifth, I can’t even pay for the room with cash. Damn!
“You need to get some help, pal,” he says, right out of the blue.
I wait a second as the anger inside of me threatens to resurface. This has gone too far.
“Excuse me?” I ask. “Do you happen to know me?”
His expression remains neutral as he looks up from the keyboard.
“No,” he answers. “But do you know yourself?”
His words cut deep into me. There is no denying this, either I’m losing my mind or someone’s playing a big trick
on me. Once again I feel the tears try to come as I stand there battling with anger and fear. I feel totally
disconnected, wanting to just die. As I head for the revolving door, the fifth slides out of my jacket pocket and
shatters on the floor. Everyone looks at me and I overcome the reflex to crouch down and drink as much of it
as possible. I finally make it to the front door, aware of my tears hot on my face.
The wind gets cooler as I pace around. Try as I might, I cannot find my car keys. Maybe they fell out in the
lobby, but I’m too embarrassed to go back in there right now. I begin to dread every face I encounter. Gazes of
accusation and judgment greet me around every corner.
After several blocks I come to a park, it looks similar to the one I woke up in, but this one is on the lake. I’m
glad, I’ll just go sit on a bench and maybe obtain some sense of sanctuary for awhile. I can get a pint or
something later on, if need be.
I sit down on the first bench I reach and pull my collar up against the wind, just looking at the ripples on the
lake in the pre-twilight. I’d been there about twenty minutes, simply enjoying being alive and sober despite my
headache, when I noticed three police cars across the lake. One of the officers was pointing in my direction.
The bum from outside the ABC store walks up to me and tosses the pint on the bench. He smiles and then just
paces away without a word. This time he almost looks superior in appearance, like he was living the life I had
just recently lost. He gives me a knowing, smug look as he walks off in the direction of the police cruisers. I
gaze at the pint and the reality of it all seems so very real all of a sudden. Maybe this was going to be my last
drink, after all. I empty the contents and feel the cold air magnified against my face as I lean back, trying to
relax. That black cloud once again takes me under within a minute or two and I’m grateful for the deliverance it
When I wake up this time, it’s to the sterile hues of fluorescent lighting. There is a hole in the floor with bars
over it. I’m in a room, about twelve by twelve and the walls appear to be made of foam or hard rubber. I try to
scratch my nose and rub my aching head, but I can’t. I notice a brass buckle just above my waist and my shirt
has a heavy, canvas-like texture to it. I struggle like a wild animal trying to free myself before I realize I’m
wearing a straightjacket. I scream at the top of my lungs, demanding to know why the hell I’m in there. A slot
near the bottom of the door opens and a tray of food is slid inside and I writhe over on the floor to peer
through the opening.
“Hey! What’s going on? Who put me here?” I demand angrily.
Peering upward, I’m able to make out the face of Mr. Beckham, garbed in the starched white of an orderly.
When he looks down at me he smiles and his teeth are bloodstained.
“You did,” he answers. “But I don’t remember,” he adds.
Then, he pulls Barbara’s pink panties out of his pocket and holds them to his nose as if enjoying the fragrance,
tormenting me. The slot slams shut and I hear him laughing over the squeaking wheel on the meal cart as he
goes down the hallway. The fluorescent light in my cell suddenly goes out, leaving me in total darkness. I don’t
know how much time has elapsed by now. Anytime I try to talk to someone beyond the door, or whenever I
hear a fragment of human conversation, all I can hear is, “I don’t remember.”