Consequences Part 14

November 25th, 2011 by Wordsman

Peter walked up the stairs slowly, one at a time, but not because he realized just how dangerous his earlier descent had been.  With every step, he worried that his mind would once again be assaulted by that hateful tune, but it never came.  The preposterousness of the woman’s explanation was gradually being outweighed by the fact that the behavior of the earworm was completely consistent with what she said.

Perhaps the strangest thing about it was that he couldn’t remember what the song sounded like.  His usual experience with music stuck in his head was that any related thought would trigger a relapse.  Even when he worried about it returning, something that would usually guarantee that it did, it didn’t come.  He had heard it hundreds of times that very day, but now when he tried to hum it, he couldn’t figure out the notes.

Peter did not find this reassuring.

What he did find reassuring was the sunlight, and being outside again, and the fact that Simon Park was pleasantly quiet.  It was as hot as you’d expect of an afternoon in late June, and he was still wearing his suit, but a little sweat was nothing compared to what he’d been through.  For a moment it was just another Friday, and he was simply going home early from work.

But, like most moments in the sun, it didn’t last.  This was no ordinary Friday, for so many reasons.  For one thing, he was going home because he had a job to do.  For another, the home he was going to was not the usual one.

As he crossed Simon Park—which did not take long, because it was really more like a glorified courtyard—he thought about the woman.  He asked questions that many people had asked before: Who was she?  What was she doing there?  He was, however, only the third person to give serious consideration to the answers.

She was a suspicious character, and not just for the obvious reasons.  He may not have been having his best day, but Peter still did his best to size up his opponent (or co-conspirator, or boss, or whatever she was); he had been trained by a father whose work constantly reminded him that surface explanations are not always (or even often) the most accurate.

First, her description of the magical “Song of Mastery” was surprisingly undetailed; one would ordinarily expect a magician or other con artist to have a more elaborate tale to support her tricks.  What did she have to gain by feigning ignorance?  Or was it feigned?  Second, the little “mission” she had assigned for him was tossing him right in the deep end.  Everyone knows that if you’re trying to gain someone’s confidence, you start with little things and then work your way up until the mark is so tightly bound to you that he can’t escape.  You don’t throw the cub off the cliff right off the bat and expect him to crawl back to you.  Third, she wasn’t a great actor.  Although she was famous as . . . that is, famous on the internet as . . . well, she was once mentioned on a blog with more than a hundred followers as “The Old Woman in Simon Park Station,” but it didn’t feel right.  She looked old, but she didn’t act old.

After weighing the information, Peter laid out the possibilities: she was a very bad confidence trickster (50% chance), she was an advanced confidence trickster who knew the usual methods won’t always work (35% chance), or she was on the level (15% chance).

All skepticism aside, though, she seemed to be in genuine distress.  He figured it would take serious commitment to handcuff oneself to a garbage can in a subway station, and he didn’t see what she could possibly gain that would make it worth it.  Maybe her aim was to use him to distract the police, but he doubted that he could occupy enough officers for long enough for someone to accomplish much of anything.  And if she thought he might actually succeed, then she was less intelligent than he had given her credit for.

His assessment was put on hold when he reached the other end of the park and had to cross the street.  One more block of brisk walking in the summer heat brought him to the entrance to the Carmine Street Station.  As a matter of fact, Peter had been riding the subway about once a week since the beginning of the summer.  Simon Park was the closest station to his apartment, but he had never been in it before that day; it was on the Green Line, which could only take him downtown or out east.  If he wanted to go out to the western suburbs, he needed the Red Line.

As he walked down the treacherous, poorly-lit stairs, Peter wondered if any of this would have happened to him if his family lived in, say, Forest Heights instead of Park Prairie.  If he was a regular Green Line rider, then he might have met the woman before.  Maybe he would have learned to avoid her.  Maybe he would have a car and not need to ride the subway, since everyone knew that all the kids from Forest Heights were cake eaters whose parents bought them anything they wanted.

He strolled through the station—keeping a careful eye out for any mystery women who might be lurking around the pillars—and got on a westbound train.  Since there wasn’t much else to do on the seventeen-minute ride, he spent the time wondering what it would have been like to go through middle school never being taunted by the kids from other suburbs for living in “PP.”

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