Phisherman: Part Two

Previous Chapter


Less than a week after I found Pete I found these keys. To be clear, I’m not always looking for trouble… but I will acknowledge it anytime it comes to me on its own. I’m just finishing up with my run, twelve laps around the local park, when I see something glinting at me from one of the benches. It’s keys: a ring with about three on them. House. Car. Something else, too.

I ignore them, continuing my jog as I turn this fact over in my mind. On the surface nothing immediate presents itself, but there’s no denying that there is a power here. What can be done with that, though? It’s just a set of random keys. Finding anything that they unlocked would be like looking for a needle in a haystack.

Even as I’m thinking that thought another part of my mind is pointing out that this is a small and local park. Pretty much no one ever drives here, they walk. Whoever left these is almost definitely local. Sure, there’s a couple hundred homes in the surrounding neighborhood, but already the haystack is getting smaller.

And while that thought is finishing its course my eyes are already roving. How many people are here right now? A young couple there…man and his dog there…that’s it. Doubtful the keys belong to any of them, if so they would have kept them pocketed while out on the lawn, not laying out on a bench. The sun is setting and all of them will be leaving soon. The place will be vacant.

Oh right, the sun is setting… so people will be going to sleep. That means the owner is probably already back home. They somehow got back in their house without realizing they had lost the keys? Could be. If a couple had come together, each with their own set of keys, then they might not notice if only one set disappeared. People get distracted by all sorts of things. Or maybe the went back into the house through the garage instead of the front door. Or maybe they have noticed the missing keys and are searching for them, but they visited too many places today and aren’t sure exactly where they left them. In any case, after a certain hour no one will be looking for these…

But again, what would I do with them? A hundred homes is still a lot. The car key will probably have a logo on it. If I know that I’m looking for a Honda or a Toyota I can start reducing candidates. Unless the car is in its garage…

Wait a second. Was it just a key, or a fob? I decide to run one more lap, all to once more jog past the keys. I come up to them and surreptitiously glance at them out of the corner of my eye. Fob! That’s definitely a key fob! And that means it has a lock button, and that means pressing it within a certain radius of its matching car results in it giving a little toot.

If my mind was racing before it’s full-on sprinting now.

What on earth are you going on about? I ask myself. You can’t break into a house!

Of course not, this is just a thought experiment, I protest. I just want to know what would be possible.

What would be possible?

Find the house, setup a camera watching the front door and garage, learn their comings and goings, enter when the house is vacant.

Stop! You’d be caught. You’d get arrested.

This is all just theory, remember? But you’re right, in this theory I would need some latex gloves, a hoodie and a mask. Also you would need to check for a doorbell camera.

The voice of reason insists that we’re going to too dangerous of places and need to leave. I peel away from the park and head for home. It doesn’t matter where I go physically, though, because my mind is still firmly back there. From my apartment I happen to have a great view of that park and I find myself constantly returning to my window, checking to see if anyone is going to retrieve the keys. No one ever comes.

During my restless pacing the sun completely sets. It’s night. People will be going to bed before long. I open my laptop and try to do some work, but after rereading the same email six times without paying it any attention I open a few new tabs on my browser.

I mean, are there even any cameras that could run all day on battery and remain inconspicuous?

bestbuy.com
gopro.com
bhphotovideo.com

In case you were wondering, turns out it is feasible, and there’s even a some options just waiting for me at a few of the local stores.

I get up, grab my keys, and head out into the night. I wouldn’t say that I have made a decision, more so I just stopped resisting the inevitable.

I’m in no particular rush, though, I’ve still got a few hours until the absolute dead of night and I’m sure not going to check on the keys until then. I get a cheap, greasy dinner from Taco Bell and then start my shopping. I take my time, comparing options and searching for DIY enhancements on my phone.

I end up deciding to get a common dash cam. They’re small, subtle, and can be rigged to run off a battery pack pretty easily. I select an RSC Nano. This model will take an SD card for storage, up to 64 gigs, which should hold as much as 8 hours of footage if it records at 17Mbps. Most importantly it can connect to my phone through an app and allow me to download the footage from my car while parked on the street. I don’t want to risk being seen tampering with this camera each day. That download is sure to take a while, but hopefully I’ll be able to scope out a subtle area once I see the place.

Next I go to a grocery store for matches, a can of beans, and a pair of scissors sharp enough to cut metal. Thanks to my friends at YouTube I’ve learned this is all I need to make a copy of a key.

I go home and watch some television to while away the last hour. I’m not paying any attention to it, though, and I might as well just switch it off and stare at the clock. At last it reads 1 AM, the time I’ve decided it’s safe to go out.

A few long, steadying breaths, then I leave into the night.

My heart is racing faster than it did during my entire run this afternoon. My hands are clammy and I keep switching them from swinging at my sides to shoved into my pockets. Down the street, to the park, up to the bench. I reach down, grab the keys in one smooth motion, and hurriedly duck back out of the light cast by the streetlamp above.

In the darkness I peer at the key fob and can just make out the white little logos on the buttons. I place my thumb over the one to lock the car and make for the nearest row of houses. I walk down the sidewalk on one side of the street, pressing the fob button as I pass each house. Then I cross over to the other side and do the same coming back the other way. Then I move on to the next street.

To help me pass the time I start doing the math in my head. It’s taking about six minutes to do both sides of a street. Ten streets an hour. I could keep this up until four, that would cover thirty streets. Seven-and-a-half blocks. Obviously at some point I’ve got to call it quits, but at that rate I’d say two, maybe three nights at most and I could cover the entire surrounding neighborhood.

Unless they really were from out-of-town. They might have been visiting family around here, they could have been geocaching, they could have…

Boop! Boop!

My heart skips a full three beats at the unmistakable chime of a car sounding from the garage nearest me. I start to walk away, then wonder if it might have been a coincidence. I push the lock button again.

Boop! Boop!

My ears are buzzing from all the blood pounding through my head as I resume my walking. Still I have the presence of mind to read the number off of the mailbox: 17462. I walk faster, straining to hear any noises coming from the house. The bedrooms would have been decently removed from the garage, further than a car beep would have been heard from… Right?

To my great relief nothing stirs from the home all the while as I come to the intersection of the next street and make a sharp turn, noting the name of the road I’ve just left: Oak Lane. I resist the urge to run. Though no one else is out at this time I don’t want to risk drawing attention to myself. I do power-walk, though, winding through one turn after another as if I’m being followed. In fact I do look over my shoulder a few times, but all that’s there is my shadow.

Every extra second out here is just that much more risk, and I won’t be able to breathe fully until I am done with this night.

I glide across an intersection to my apartment building and now I allow myself a sprint up the steps to my flat. I bolt the door, lock the knob, and slide the chain. I punch 17462 Oak Lane into a text editor my phone and then pull the keys out of my pocket. Car key, house key, gym key. I grip the house key as I move over to the kitchen table where the matches, scissors, tape, and metal ends of the can of beans are already waiting.

I light a match and heat up the key, then press it into the tape, transferring a perfect image of it onto it the clear plastic. That gets laid flat against the metal from the can, and using my scissors I carefully cut out the exact same shape. I do this a second time, stacking the two copy-keys on top of each other so that they are a similar thickness to the original. I press them down on the original house key, pressing firmly with my fingers until the groove that runs down its side is transferred over as well.

There. All that’s left is to return everything back to the way it was before, to remove any cause for suspicion or fear. I pocket the keys and grab a handkerchief, then stride back out into the night. Again I power-walk the whole way to the park, and as I go I vigorously rub the keys down with the handkerchief, obliterating any trace of fingerprints on them. It’s probably an unnecessary precaution, but I intend to reduce the risk as far as I possibly can…aside, you know, from actually not following through with this plan.

I reach that fateful park bench and deposit the keys silently in the same spot where I found them. One last time I go back to the apartment complex, up the steps, through the door, lock all of the locks, and at long last I lean against the wall and let out the breath I’ve been holding all night long.

Suddenly I feel tired, exhausted even, and I leave for bed. Everything else can wait until tomorrow.

*

The next day I return to the park under the guise of another run. I’m excited when I see that the keys have been removed from the park bench. It could be that someone else stole them or tried to find the owners, but I like to hope that the people at 17462 Oak Lane woke up the next day, discovered they were missing, retrieved them, and believe the whole incident was brief enough that it isn’t worth changing the locks on their door. Everything depends on that, and I’d say there’s a decent chance of it being true.

After the park I take a drive around the town, slowly rolling by the home in question. I scope out the area, noting a couple of bushes belonging to the neighbor across the street. A camera could be easily hidden in there with a wide enough view to track both the front door and the garage. I also take note of the cars parked along the sides of the street. There’s enough of them that it shouldn’t stand out too much when I join them to download the footage to my phone. Finally I also peer up at the front entrance and check for a doorbell camera. There is none.

Everything is working out perfectly for me. Or, when I consider how idiotic this entire scheme is, perhaps I should say working perfectly against me. Either way, I’m back on that street at 1 AM the next night, burying my camera in the bushes.

And now the routine begins. Early every morning I drive down the street, open the camera’s app, and tell it to start recording. Late in the evening I come back and download the footage, then go home to scrub through it, taking notes of everything I see.

On the very first day I become fully acquainted with the occupants of the house. Husband, wife, two daughters. Middle class, young family. The father seems to work in some office, based off of the casual-nice fare he always wears when he leaves at 7:47-ish each weekday. A little less than an hour later the wife leaves with the two daughters in tow and wearing scrubs. Presumably she drops them off at school and then goes to work at the hospital, coming back about 3:30, with the husband following a couple hours after that.

Once again: perfect.

The house is completely vacated all day long every weekday. I verify this over a few more days, of course, but there’s never any variation. I even check the weekend footage to verify that they don’t ever come out on a walk with some invalid that’s otherwise being cooped up indoors. All clear on that front. I never catch a glimpse of a dog or a cat, either.

All I have to do is pick a day.

But is that necessary? Haven’t you already consumed them enough? There’s a lot to glean about them from the video already.

Hmm, interesting question. What of these people themselves? Who are they? What makes them tick? What are their aspirations? Why do they live here? Why do they have two kids and not more or less? Why do they drive the two old Honda Civics that they do and not something else? Why do they forget their keys at parks?… I can observe a lot of things about them, but what of them?

The two daughters appear to be about six and eight. If they were the same age you would definitely think they were twins. Both with blond hair down to their shoulders and chubby cheeks. Well-fed, well-dressed, healthy. Well-liked, too, judging from all the friends that came to visit on Saturday. Comfortable, but not so fancy as to be stuck-up. They’re probably nice girls.

The mother is, in a word, tired. She’s yawning every time she rolls out in the morning, she’s rubbing her eyes when she comes home in the afternoon. No doubt she uses those few hours at the end of the day taking care of all the housework: cooking dinner, doing laundry, cleaning, etc. Physically…she’s not really my type, but I mean we’re talking a suburban mom here, what did you expect? Still… I suppose she’s pretty in her own way.

I don’t think the father likes his office job very much. When he leaves in the morning he always procrastinates, rushing back into the house for some forgotten item until eventually he has to race out in a hurry to not be late. He appears educated and capable enough to give his family a bigger home, so I can only assume it is his lack of passion at work that is holding him back. Whenever he comes home he looks so much more alive than when he leaves, and his daughters are always bounding out the door to meet him. They’re really happy when he comes home.

That still doesn’t mean he isn’t going to leave you one day, girls.

I’m going to hit their place tomorrow.

*

I acknowledged last Monday that Jake is an uncomfortable person, someone who does bad things and is entirely unrepentant about it. I suggested that perhaps there was more depth to him than met the eye, though.

In this section I tried to really sow the beginnings of this idea in the reader with how little Jake actually says about himself. He is quite talkative when it comes to critiquing other people, describing their little details, and chronicling a list of events. But he absolutely refuses to ever discuss himself. In his own words that is a lot of things being said about him, but not of him.

In the first section this absence might not have stood so much. It was fast-paced, plunging right into the hacking-action, and his quick banter was well-suited for deflecting closer inspection. But the longer you stay with him the more you find it bizarre to not have heard anything meaningful about him.

This sort of absence will hopefully suggest to most people some sort of hiding, a wound that needs to be covered. The evidence of that wound is further suggested by the selective way he critiques others. Apparently he is able to be tolerant, and even kind, to little girls and women, but we’ve now seen him unnecessarily cut down two men without reason.

This element of a narrator holding back information is, of course, not a new invention. This is the famous “unreliable narrator” where the storytelling might be as flawed and inconsistent as the voice behind it. On Monday I’d like to delve into this concept more, and then we’ll get the final act of Phisherman next Thursday.


The House’s Finest Hour

Previous Chapter


It’s not every day that a house sees a wedding, indeed many homes are built and unbuilt without ever seeing a single such occurrence in between. But to the home that does host such an event, what other festivity could possibly compare? Not only does the moment call up such lavish gaiety and decoration as to never be forgotten, but also there is no other event that could be a better consummation of all that the home represents. For what is a wedding but the embryo of family life? And what is a house, then, but the gestational womb of such embryo?

Indeed, man has long been in the practice of constructing stone and metal wombs around his varied facets of life, and invariably he communicates in the outward appearances that which is conducted within. Thus he builds a skyscraper for the conducting of sharp, calculated business, and he designs the building to be a sharp and calculated edifice, designed in ultimate efficiency with cold and compressed steel, lifting itself against its neighbors in competition for the skyline. The man seeks an structure to dedicate to all that is spiritual and shrouded, and so he builds a church, and he builds it after a mysterious and mystical pattern. Spires and domes everywhere, what functional purpose do those give to a worldly structure? Nothing, but so again prayer and fasting are not meant to give functional purpose to the worldly either. How can your temple know anything of the higher sphere if I can make perfect sense of it in my lower one? Man builds a University for learning, and he uses as his blueprint the structures of the ancient Grecian and Roman worlds. No other category of construction would be considered superior for being of a great age, but in the academic world every crack and fade is but the more revered. What care I for your degree in philosophy unless you obtained it in a structure that might have once housed Aristotle and Plato? I could continue, we have the unvarnished sterility of the hospital, the imposing invariableness of the courthouse, the sprawling reaching of the airport, the ugly isolation of the prison, the elaborate facade of the theater; but I have strayed too far from home already.

As I was beginning to say before, homes are made for the founding and developing of family, and as marriage is the core of the family, no home is more a home than when hosting a wedding. Nor was this singular significance lost in the minds that carried out the decorating and preparations of the home. Untold hours have been spent in such scrubbing and polishing that it is a wonder the walls themselves weren’t rubbed away. Not that you can hardly find an inch of naked wall anywhere beneath the strands of lightbulbs, the garlands, the laces, the banners, the paintings and photographs, all so tightly overlapping upon one another as to appear like a giant petticoat.

But come, let us take it room-by-room and give each form of adornment the examination it deserves. First we come in by the entryway, and here we are greeted by what can only be described as a shrine to flowers. It’s fortunate there is a receptionist to welcome us or we might have assumed we entered by the wrong door and stepped into the garden. Surely Dionysus never knew such a worthy offering: flowers here in metal vase and flowers there in a clay pot, flowers laying in glass case and flowers tucked in every spot. See how in this basket they have cleverly placed both rose-colored violets and violet-colored roses, and over in this vial we have a family reunion of the flora sisters: Daisy, Lily, and Petunia. I see they’ve been creating their own species as well, it would appear a marigold nestled like the pollen core into the center of crocus petals, and all perched on stalks of amaranth.

Yet for all the perfumes and fragrances produced by this floral bounty, the perceiving inhaler would not be able to ignore that there is a competitor to these flowers’ dominance of smell. Yes, there’s something else in the air, and it’s wafting from down this main hallway.

Ah, here we find the challenger’s corner in the kitchen. Whereas the entryway was buried in surfaces soft and thin, one can’t help but notice this room’s contrasting hard steel and granite slabs, all meticulously cleaned and sterilized. Wipe away every crumb if you can, it’s of no use, one snuff betrays all the dusty and spotted surfaces you must have held but an hour ago. On this counter I detect the scent of fresh bread, in this pot there remains a whiff of butter, in the oven I find the traces of both vanilla and chocolate, clearly someone spilled cinnamon on the floor here. And sugar? The aroma of that is to be found just everywhere. Stand back and take in all the pungence together and you might mistake the room as a factory for the manufacturing of girls, given the copious savor of sugar and spice and all that’s nice. But enough of the smelling, how about the tasting? Where could all these goodies have been ushered off to?… Let’s duck into the living room, that’s a likely candidate.

Yes, here they are. I don’t believe these tables were intended to support such a weight of food, they’re already starting to buckle at the center and by the end of the night may well be better shaped for use as chairs. Whichever source of sugar prefer most, I’m sure you’ll find it somewhere in this confectioner’s mountain. Have some strawberries dipped in chocolate, then chocolate éclairs topped with a vanilla sauce drizzle, and then vanilla pudding with strawberries stuck on top. One wonders that there isn’t a Neapolitan cake. Oh wait, there it is, I didn’t see it behind the pound cake and ice cream cake. After you have enough bites of cake be sure to get some cake bites, and so segue to the smaller offerings of tarts, cookies, taffies, and fruits and cheeses for fondue. If you favor a little savor and salt with your sweet we have caramelized bacon roses and sea-salted caramels and a bag of something called bacon-salt that I guess is meant to be applied judiciously to whatever you please. Come now, I believe I’ve already gained 10 pounds and I haven’t even had a bite.

Thus far we’ve dwelt on the preparations of the home, but what on the people housed within? As a general rule, weddings seem to be the events to which ill feelings and long faces are most forbidden. It truly speaks to the magnanimity of the occasion that an event which only truly benefits two individuals can still ripple goodwill and positive cheer to all attendees, though they number more than a hundred. And indeed, there is not a one of the guests to be found here today that is not succumbing to this epidemic of genuine mirth, you can see its symptoms in all the cheerful talk and warm laughter. Perhaps this phenomenon is explained in the fact that weddings afford us one of the rare opportunities to examine how the threads of our disparate lives all come together in unexpected ways, and each attendee is the embodiment of one of those individual threads that makes up the tapestry of the new couple. Thus they are permitted, nay, even expected, to show off that little bit of themselves that the whole of the honored duo might be understood:

“Yes, I knew him well, I was his football coach. There was this one time, we were down by 5 and I entrusted him with the last play of the game…”

“That’s right, she’s my sister… oh yes, of course I have all sorts of embarrassing stories to share…”

“I know he may seem so strong and solemn now, but when he was but a child in my class he betrayed a very tender heart. There was one time when the class pet was ill…”

“Ah, well, if you think she looks lovely now you should have seen how she radiated when our debate team won the nationals…”

“I should hope he’ll be able to provide, he’s got an excellent employer: me! I knew I wanted him on my team right away when in his interview he…”

“Yes, the family doctor. One time, as I was concluding a routine house call, she came to me with her decapitated doll…”

Can we express pride and admiration for the beauty of the weaving, without also admitting a pride in our own fibers that lay within it? The more the newlyweds glow brightly the more we all shine with them. And a truly radiant pairing it is this day. See the groom, tall and straight, broad shoulders that are prepared to bear much and undoubtedly soon will. His darling whispers something in his ear and his face becomes sharp and attentive, then, as he understands the joke it breaks into a handsome grin and deep, healthy laughter. He speaks back to her and it is a voice steady and purposeful, a voice that has confidence in that which it speaks. And as he speaks she pushes back a curl of her auburn hair to better lend her sympathetic ear. Her expression is one of cheerful anticipation. His comment to her does not elicit laughter, but tenderness, as evidenced by how she palms his chin and leans up to affectionately kiss his cheek. That done she bobs back down to her heels and ever so slightly leans backwards, a pose that communicates utmost comfort and calm, a stance that invites others to lean forward and bask in her smiling warmth.

Yes, this truly is the day that best epitomizes all the house represents. It is the day that it truly realizes its full purpose, the very apex of its existence. But there is a bitter-sweetness in finding a summit, for it means no following days will compare. In every symphony there is a solitary loudest note, and everything that follows seems but the duller reverberations of that one greatest moment. Then, even after all the instruments have sounded their last the air still seems to pulsate with the tone. So it was for the halls of this home, ever seeming to ring with the sounds of mirth and laughter of that one grandest day. As the place was eventually left desolate and dust collected thick on every surface it still at times seemed to be stirred by the echoes, now so low they are but the haunting of days beyond memory.

***

Well, there it is. That’s the result of taking my idea that needed to be cut from last Thursday’s post, and trying to flesh it out into a thing of its own. And as I discussed in my Monday blog entry, I think this was a far better solution than if I had just trashed my idea. The Caterpillars story is properly trimmed and this idea can live forever as its own thing.

Obviously this piece is entirely focused on describing the setting without any of the characters getting to speak for themselves, and I find myself curious as to what it was the newly married couple was whispering to each other at the end. We’ll start examining that on Monday as we discuss the methods for creating characters and then representing them to the reader. Have a good weekend and I’ll see you then.


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