Watching Out For Reggie

By Cote Smith

The Movement started with Wendell.  He was the one who carved Tyrannosaurus Reg into the teacher’s desk, when all the other kids were kicking things around at recess.  I was the one who watched, then ran back to the blacktop and told the first teacher I saw.

It was a cold grey day and I had forgotten my coat at home.  My teacher made me go inside to get a loaner from our room’s Lost-and-Found.  I froze in the doorway when I saw Wendell sitting in the teacher’s chair.  His face was red with concentration and he had a math compass gripped with both hands, like he was staking a monster.  I didn’t make any noise to let him know I was there or try to stop him from what he was doing.  This was a week after Reggie got Wendell’s mother.

Wendell looked up after he etched the last letter and saw me standing there without a good reason why.  “It’s a reminder,” he said.  “I’m giving the victims a voice.”

I stepped closer to get a better look at what he had done.  I traced the letters with my fingers, then looked at Wendell.  I could see where the snot he cried had dried on his nose and cheeks.  “You’ll get in trouble,” I said.

Wendell spun in the teacher’s chair.  “Only if you rat me out,” he said, and looked at me hard.  He knew the kind of kid I was, the kind of kids we were.  Wendell, the daring center of attention.  Me, his envious shadow. 

He turned to his work.  “Go ahead, tell.  It won’t matter.”  He blew the wood shavings off the desk, fiddled with the compass.  He was bluffing.  This was back when the Reggie threat first began, but no one wanted to talk about it.  Our school alone had lost seven to Reggie, and it was the belief of people like our principal that if word got out, the population would panic.

“You know there are rules,” I said, trying to sound powerful, cool, but coming off more like a parent.  “Still, I’m sorry about your mom.  The teachers shouldn’t ignore you.  You should be getting more attention.”  

Wendell took my hand and squeezed it in a way I wasn’t comfortable with.  “Last month,” he said, “I told my mother I didn’t believe.  One of the neighbors disappeared on a long walk and the rumor was that it was Reggie.  When I said that was stupid, my mother pinched my arm and told me to watch it.  She said just because Reggie isn’t exactly human doesn’t mean Reggie isn’t real.  She said, ‘Wendell, whatever Reggie is, it is something you must watch out for.’”

She was right, I thought.  You should listen to her.  It’s a shame she didn’t listen to herself.  I didn’t say this to Wendell because I knew now wasn’t the time. 

“Would you like a root beer?” Wendell said.  He had stolen a can from our teacher’s off-limit mini-fridge.  “They’re my favorite.”

I told him no thank you, that I better get back outside.  “But don’t worry about the desk,” I said.  “I’ll cover your tracks.”  I was already picturing my teacher praising me in front of the class.  Maybe she would call a special assembly. 

Wendell squeezed my hand a final time.  “Thank you,” he said.  “Watch out for Reggie.”

I don’t know why, but I said the same back to him.

*   *   *

Twenty-five years later I woke from a Reggie nightmare with my wife beside me.  It was the middle of the night.  I listened to my wife snore a bit before sneaking down to the computer to check the Movement’s website.  She no longer let me keep the site as our home page and didn’t give me the best of looks whenever she saw me on it.  She had explained that it wasn’t that she didn’t believe in the Reggie threat anymore, she was just like some who handled things their own way.  When the kids’ dog got cancer, for example, she skipped the vet she worked at and the two hit the beach.

I clicked.  The page popped up.

No One Is Out to Destroy Us Some.  This was the Movement’s motto, dead center at the top of the screen.  Below was the last good picture of Wendell, before he became another Reggiecide.  The photo showed him at his thirty-fifth birthday party, half-smiling above a cake with every candle blown out but one.  Not pictured was his family. 

I clicked past Wendell.  It had been a year since his death and the Movement was in a rut.  There were no new updates on the page, only one Reggie sighting we could call recent.  I browsed around and didn’t find much buzz on the forum either.  Just the weekly reminder for the meeting at the Mayor’s house.  I hadn’t missed a meeting since Wendell helped the Mayor form the Movement fifteen years ago, after Wendell returned from college.  Wendell had studied abroad, become wiser, more sure of himself, it was said, and came home ready to wipe out Reggie.  I settled for a small school in state, where I met my wife.  But I would be at tonight’s meeting, whereas Wendell would not.  I would be sitting in the corner, hoping for something to happen, for someone to say something to get us going.  Though really, that was the Mayor’s place, not mine.  They told me to keep the minutes and stay quiet.   

On the way back to bed I checked on the kids, sleeping in their bunk beds.  We had made two boys.  Each rested with his most-loved stuffed animal hugged tight in a headlock.  I sat in a beanbag and listened to them breathe.  I liked it when their breathing lined up, when they inhaled and exhaled at the same time.  It was nice to fall asleep like this, to be close in case the room’s Reggie monitor gave a blip.  Tonight it did not.  The thermostat held at 72.

Part Two

The Mayor’s wife made the Mayor move the meeting out to the garage.  (The whispers were the two were having a tough time.)  There weren’t enough chairs so I had to sit on the floor.  We drank our room-warm root beers and waited for the Mayor to start.  A couple of the vets were restless.

“Hey, Mayor, what’s the idea sticking us in this sauna?” one guy said.  “I feel like an expired sausage.”

“Yes, this temperature is very ripe for Reggie,” said another.  “C’mon, Mayor.”

“I’ve told you to death,” the Mayor said, “don’t call me that.  My life as mayor is over.  I have a name now.”

“You tell him, Mayor,” said a voice by the lawnmower.  It was true: the Mayor was no longer the town’s official mayor.  Six months ago, in the last election, the people had spoken.  What they said was stop worrying about Reggie and start reducing the deficit.

Everyone settled with their sodas and the Mayor ran through each item on the agreed agenda.  He asked if anyone had bothered to check out the recent sighting.  No one had.  One guy said it was probably just another Reggie wannabe.  There had been a few copycats over the years — a Reginald, a Regina — but they were always human.  They weren’t what Reggie was.  They couldn’t match Reggie’s wrath.

“Fine,” the Mayor said.  “Guess I’ll go down there.  It’ll get me out of the house, which my wife will appreciate.” 

We let him roll through the rest of what was on the list.  He paused for feedback after each item, but no one spoke up.  When he finished, the Mayor asked if there were any questions.  No hands were raised.  “Well if you don’t have any questions, do you have any answers?” he joked, and paused for a laugh that never came.  “Alright, that’s it.  Listen up, people.  I’ve got something to say,” the Mayor said. 

I leaned forward with my pen and paper. 

The Mayor waited until he had everyone’s eyes.  “Stop depressing me,” he said.  “Just cut it out.  Wendell would not want you bringing me down.  He would want you keeping me in high spirits, so that I might inspire you to remain diligent with your Reggie regimen.  Stay sharp.  Stay sober.  No beer unless it’s root beer.  We might not be able to stop Reggie, but we can watch out.  If you’ve got a family, think of your family.  If you don’t have a family, think of your dog.  That’s who we do it for.  And remember: keep your mobile monitors on you at all times. You never know when the temperature is going to rise.”

The Mayor sat down.  There was a long response of dead air, the men staring blankly like they expected a second act.   I started to clap, but it didn’t catch on.  Slowly the others stood up, grumbling to themselves, and made their way to the refreshments — a half-full bowl of miniature pretzels.  Unsalted.  Most didn’t finish their snack before ducking under the garage door.   

I stayed behind to go over my notes.  I wanted to make sure they were right before I left for the night.  By the time I closed my pad, I was the only one left there with the Mayor.  He was still sitting in his lawn chair, with a sad, thinking face on.  He hadn’t shaved in weeks, it appeared, and his beard was not coming in nicely.  I dragged a chair next to his.

“Mayor,” I said, before realizing I hadn’t thought of any follow-up words.  I flipped through my notepad.

“The answer’s not in there, Minute Man,” the Mayor said.  “I wish it were.  Honestly, I don’t know what to do anymore.”  He glanced at my pad.  “This is off the record, right?”

I said yes.  Then, “I think you did OK.”   

“We need way more than OK.  OK is not OK anymore.”

“It’s a start,” I said.

“A start to what?  Did you see those guys’ faces?”  The Mayor took a big gulp from his root beer.   “We’ll never get over Wendell.  Poor Wendell.” 

I saw the Mayor’s thoughts drift, his face shift to sadness.  Wendell had been his right-hand man, both in the Movement and as Mayor.  Before that the two grew up together, neighbors, confidantes.  Best of friends.  Now that Wendell was gone, the wake of his death slowly revealed how much Wendell meant to the Mayor.  How he needed Wendell — much more, it seemed, than Wendell needed him.

“You know, I always told Wendell he should be the one in charge,” the Mayor said.  “Sure, I was the pretty face, but all the tough calls went through him.”  He looked down at his naked feet.  A black cricket lay twitching on its back.  “But Wendell never wanted the attention.  He was good like that.”

I thumbed through my pad some more, looking for old meeting minutes that mentioned Wendell.  “Yes, poor Wendell,” I finally said. “Poor Wendell’s wife, kids.  But isn’t that what keeps us going?  That Reggie keeps taking what we can’t recover?”

“True enough,” the Mayor said.

“And I think you were right.  Wendell would want us watching out.  He was always saying that.” 

“Yes, he was, wasn’t he,” the Mayor said.  He laughed to himself, probably remembering some secret moment he shared with Wendell.  When the memory was over, the Mayor looked up and smiled at me.  “We should let you talk more, Minute Man.  I like your moxie.  You remind me of a young me.”  I liked the way he saw me then, so I didn’t tell him we were the same age.  “I could have used you when I was mayor, to keep me on message.  Let’s chat more later.”  He walked me to the garage door.  “Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a list of honey-dos to take care of before the wife throws me out for good.”   He kept a semi-straight face and I couldn’t tell if he was serious.  He shook my hand.   “Watch out for Reggie,” he said.

“Watch out for Reggie,” I said.

Part Three

Minutes of Last Movement Meeting Before Death of Wendell

Members Present: Mayor, XXXXXX, XXXX, XXXXX, XXXXX, XXXXX, XXXXXX, XXX, XX, XXXXX (Names withheld for security.)

7 p.m. – Mayor calls meeting to order in Mayor’s living room.

7:03 p.m. – Mayoral welcome. 

7:05 p.m. – Last week’s meeting minutes revisited.

7:13 p.m. – Moment of silence for latest Reggiecide. 

7:14 p.m. – Root beer cooler wheeled around by Mayor’s wife.  Victims toasted.

7:20 p.m. – Discussion of latest Reggie sightings.  Cites pinned on map.  Plausible patterns proposed.

7:30 p.m. – XXXXX proposes Watching Out 101 course to be taught at the Y.  Mock syllabus passed out and discussed.  Discussion tabled.

7:45 p.m. – Mayor fields questions and answers.

7:50 p.m. – Reminder of who’s up for Reggie Watch this weekend (Wendell).

7:57 p.m. – Mayor’s “Temperature Rise” farewell.  Meeting adjourned.

*   *   *

I typed up the new minutes the next morning at work.  I was an office assistant to the head of a small company.  I had studied graphic design for five years, which at this job meant my boss buzzed me when she wanted something printed in color.  Most days I killed time surfing Reggie sites.  There were a lot of support groups, but only one active Movement.  I browsed around to see what we were missing. 

A few hours passed like this before I realized my boss had yet to show today.  Sue, another assistant two desks down, stopped by with a smile.  “Who wants to play while the cat is away?” she said.  Sue was a Reggie widow.  They had their own meetings, Sundays after spinning sessions. 

I followed Sue back to the break room, a small gray demoralizer designed to help you hate breaks.  Sue sat in the room’s only chair, which one of the inventory guys donated from a dumpster.  She crossed her legs at me.

“How’s the group holding up?” Sue said.

“Which one, my family or the Mayor?”

“Why would I want to talk about your family?  You’re lucky enough not to know this, but in this life there are widows and there are wi-don’ts.”

I felt my face flush.  I didn’t know how to talk to Sue.  I looked around the room for something to stare at, settling for the office bulletin board.  In the upper-right corner, somewhat covered up, was the Reggie flyer I posted when I first started.  A simple black-and-white sheet with “Watch Out for Reggie” rainbowing the classic Reggie pic — a full-body shot of Reggie at the park waiting for a girl to emerge from a trip down a tornado slide.  You had to visit the Movement’s webpage, listed below, to know the picture was the before of a before-and-after.  The after was a renowned Reggie disaster.

I removed the ad covering up my flyer’s corner.

“People are stupid, they forget what’s out there,” Sue said.  “Then again, life is short.  Some say find fun while you can.”  She pointed a long leg at me.  “When’s the last time you had some real fun?”

“I don’t know.  It’s complicated,” I said. 

“It doesn’t have to be,” Sue said, her leg still hanging in the air.  There was a big run in her pantyhose.  Sue saw me see it and dropped her leg, covered it up with the other one. 

“How is the Mayor, anyway?  Rumor is his wife has had it.  Heard she came home early from work one day and caught him cheating,” Sue said, “on his taxes.”

“I don’t know anything about that.”

“Well, shit, you might try opening your eyes.  There are other things to watch out for, you know.  Good things can sneak up on you too,” she said.  She put her hair up using an office pencil, exposing her long neck.  “For example, come smell this perfume sample that magically appeared in my mailbox.”  She tapped two fingers to her naked neck.  It looked inviting, but I knew I wouldn’t get near it.  Sue said, “Hurry up, now, before it gets cold.”  

“You sound like my wife,” I said, without thinking.

Sue took the pencil out of her hair and tossed it in the trashcan.  “Jesus,” she said. 

The new temp Wendy came in before I could apologize.  She grabbed a yogurt and asked if we could believe all that about the boss.  She said the boss’s boyfriend had looked for her all weekend, but never found her.  So he filed a missing person’s report.  I turned the volume up on my mobile monitor, to make sure I would catch any beep.

“My husband had one of those monitors,” Sue said.  “He’s buried with it.”  Wendy left.  I put my head down, to show Sue I was sorry I couldn’t help the way she wanted.

“Why are you so into the Movement anyway?” Sue said.  “What do you know about loss?” 

I glanced back at my flyer.  I often worried someone like Sue would ask me a question like that.  “I haven’t lost anything,” I said to Sue,  “but I’ve seen up close those who have.” 

Sue shook her head.  “That doesn’t count.  You don’t know what it’s like.”

*   *   *

The rest of the weekend I spent with my family.  My wife and I took the boys wherever they wanted to go and I did whatever they asked to make them happy.  I kept my Reggie monitor in my pocket and tried not to check it often.

Sunday night, my wife went to sleep early to get ready for a long day of dog surgeries and dental cleanings.  I put the boys to bed and met the Mayor at a diner for a late drink.  The server brought us two bottled root beers and removed the three empties the Mayor had already gone through.  I thought the Mayor might look better after our chat at the last meeting, but he did not.  I tried to cheer him up.  “Your wife let you out of the house too?” I said.  “That’s great.”

“‘Great’ is a strong word,” the Mayor said.  “So is ‘wife.’” 

I circled my finger around the rim of the root beer.  “Any news on the Reggie front?” 

A couple the booth over glanced at me, then the Mayor.

“Careful, Minute Man, these folk are fickle.  One minute you’re in bed together, the next they’re sneaking out early to vote for the new guy.”  He killed his bottle, signaled the waitress for another.  He turned his attention back to me.  “OK, so what should we do then, to win back the others?  And maybe a loved one or two.”

“I think we have to stick with what we’re doing,” I said.  “No matter what the loss, we show Reggie we will remain.”

“That’s it?  No big plan of action?  No Reggie retaliation?”

“That’s never worked before,” I said.  “I don’t know if we can risk it.” 

The Mayor curled his lip at me.  He knew what I really meant was that although I enjoyed all this new talk, this one-on-one time with the Mayor, I was no Wendell.  Not yet.  Before, we could risk anything we wanted, but now that “we” meant “me,” I wasn’t so sure. 

“A war of attrition, then?” the Mayor said.

“Yes,” I said.

“Those are the worst kind.”

I lowered my voice, tried to change the subject.  “Did you check out that sighting?”

“Yeah, I went down there.  Just an abandoned building,” the Mayor said.  Then he leaned in and waved me closer.  Conspiratorially.  “Listen,” he said, “so your family’s at home sleeping peacefully and you’re here with me?”  I nodded.  “I don’t get it,” he said. 

“You called me.”   

“Wow, that’s dedication,” the Mayor said.  I smiled.  He didn’t.  “Still, you should be at home.”

The couple in the booth got up and left their tip.  The man shook his head at me as he held the door for the woman.  “Oh, I get it,” I whispered,  “in case something happens.”

The Mayor shook his head just like the booth man did, but added a small grin.   “Sure, Minute Man.  In case something happens.” 

Part Four

My wife used to be in charge of writing up each Reggiecide for the website.  It was Wendell’s idea.  To remember, he once said.  We used to edit these pieces together, my wife and I, staying up late and drinking soda.  The last one she wrote was for Wendell, which she edited alone.

*   *   *

The Mayor called me early, before I had to be up for work.  I brought the phone into the bathroom, shut myself in and turned on the fan. 

“Mr. Minute Man,” the Mayor said.  His voice sounded like a clogged sink.

“Mayor, it’s early.”

“Not if you haven’t slept,” the Mayor said.  “I’ve been up all night celebrating my wife’s victory.  She threw me out.”

I sat in the bathtub and closed the curtain.  “That’s terrible.  Did she give you a why?”

“Of course she did.  She always had a good reason for the things she did.  I wish I could say the same about myself.”  There was a pause.  Something rustled against the mouth of the Mayor’s receiver.  A tissue maybe.

“What can I do, Mayor?  Tell me what to do.”

“Can I ask you the same thing?  Would you still respect me?”

“Of course,” I said, and tried to think of something smart to say.  But all I could think about was the Mayor alone.  I kept wondering where the Mayor was calling from, where he was if he wasn’t at home with his wife.  Where would I go if I were alone?  Finally, after the Mayor coughed to remind me he was still on the line, I said, “I guess you should keep watching out.” 

The Mayor laughed.  “Watch out.  Right.  What else is there?  OK, I’m going to check on some things.  I’ll stop by when the time is right.  Be ready.” 

He hung up.  I slunk all the way down and folded my arms like the tub was my casket.  I pretended I was dead and everyone was here to see me.

*   *   *    

My boss didn’t show the rest of the week, so on Friday I took off early, at Sue’s suggestion.  “If you really love your wife,” she had said,  “you’ll log off that computer.  You’ll go home, make a nice meal and take her to a movie you’ll both soon forget.”  We walked each other to our cars.  “And whatever happens,” Sue said, “you won’t mention Reggie.  You’ll let go of all the rumors, the web, and love what’s around you, what you can still touch.”

I sped home with Sue’s words in mind, excited to surprise my wife.  But she was still at the animal hospital, so I went out and bought two loaves of Italian bread.  When I returned home and my wife still wasn’t there, I told myself it would be all right if I checked the Movement site, while no one else was around.  There was a new post, detailing my boss’s disappearance, the last place she was spotted.  Before I could click my way through, though, I heard the front door open and the kids invade the house, clamoring for their dad.

I ran to the kitchen and presented the loaves to my wife.

“Great,” she said,  “I’ll put these in some water.”  She was still in her scrubs, stained with pet excrement.  “Honestly, bread?  What am I supposed to do with bread?”

“Help me help you make dinner,” I said, and her face immediately warmed.

She squeezed me at the elbow.  “I’m sorry,” she said.  “It was a rough one.”  She had had a long day, extra appointments, emergency surgeries, but even now still managed to give me a smile and a hug.  “Watch out, everybody,” she said, leading me to the bedroom, “world’s best husband coming through.”      

We changed into our comfortable clothes and each grabbed an apron.  We always enjoyed making food for our little family.  When we first moved into the house, its bigness frightened us.  We were used to cell-sized dorm rooms, cheap apartments.  It was strange to be downstairs, cooking or watching television, knowing that there was an entire floor above our heads, whose rooms we could not see or feel, and whose walls haunted us with their emptiness. 

But then the boys came, one after the other.  And when we are all at home and the doors were locked, the monitors on, the outside didn’t seem that bad. 

When the meal was ready, we called the kids and sat down in the dining room.  My wife had a glass of wine, and didn’t make a big deal when I said that I better not.  Instead, she held my hand under the table while the kids twirled spaghetti onto their forks.  She kept staring at me.  There was wine in her eyes, yes, but also something like pride.  She was happy here, happy with what we had, with what we had accomplished.  But part of me wanted to give her more, more happiness, give us more glory, which is partly why after patiently asking the boys about their days, I couldn’t stop myself from sharing my big news.

“I’ve got you all beat,” I said.  “My boss has disappeared.”

My wife let go of my hand.  “When?” she said.

“It’s been over a week.  I wanted to wait to tell you.” 

“Wait for what?”

“To be sure.”  I grabbed a hunk of bread and looked at my wife.  I could tell she knew where I was going with this.  She had a Sue-like look about her.  “I’m just saying.  I want everyone to be extra careful.” 

My wife frowned at me.  She took a bite and swallowed it.  Then she turned with a happier face aimed at the kids.  “You hear that, boys?  We better put on our Reggie Watchers.”  At their mother’s request, both boys made “OK” symbols with each of their hands, then flipped them upside-down on their faces to make silly masks.  This was something I remembered doing when I was a kid.  My wife made one too. 

“Hey, knock that off,” I said. 

“Oh, c’mon,” she said.  “We’re just watching out.”

I crunched the bread in my hand.  “Come on, this is serious.  Serious stuff.”  

“I know you think so.”  The three of them kept their masks on.  One of the boys stuck out his tongue.  My wife laughed.

“Fine, don’t take it seriously,” I said.  “But don’t come running to me when one of you ends up like Wendell.”  I threw down my bread and excused myself from the table.  I went into the office and sat in the dark for a while before getting on the computer.  My wife came in a little later and put the door behind her.

“You can’t talk to the kids like that,” she said. 

I kept my eyes on the screen.  I said, “I just want you to worry.  I want the boys to be safe.”

“That’s because you love us, which we like.  But using Wendell’s death as a threat isn’t the way to do it.  It’s sick.” 

“I’m sorry.  I got excited.”

“That’s because you want to do what’s right.  You just don’t know how.” 

“I do too know how.  Don’t tell me I don’t know how.”

“Oh right, the Movement.”

I wheeled my chair around.  “Do you remember what that’s like?  To do something more with your life than work, than this?”

“I don’t need more,” my wife said, and folded her arms.

The computer’s fan buzzed behind me.  I was supposed to say I didn’t either.  That I was content leading this life.  But I let the moment pass.

My wife sighed.  “You’re doing that thing again,” she said,  “where you make yourself real easy to hate.”

“Well, if I made it hard you would probably quit.” 

She walked out after that one.  I heard the garage rumble open then close.  I shut down the computer and walked around the house to see if she took the kids.  On the kitchen counter she left a message on a notepad she got as a gift from a client at work.  The pad had a black Labrador at the top and at the bottom it said ‘Lab Notes.’  Her message said, “Took kids to Mémère Rena’s.”  Mémère Rena was my wife’s mother, whose husband died a non-Reggie-related death.  Rena’s AC didn’t work and she didn’t own a Reggie monitor.  I did not like the idea of the kids at her house.  

*   *   *

I took a two-liter of root beer and my laptop to the garage.  I would wait for them there.  I checked the Movement page with my wireless, read through the latest post.  My boss had disappeared near the spot of the latest Reggie sighting, a remote area she liked to run by.  Mémère Rena’s house was miles away from that part of town, but still, I opened the garage door and worried. 

Neighbors walked by with their dogs and kids.  It got dark out there. 

“Are you Reggie Watch this week?” the Mayor said.  He came out of nowhere I could see.  A six-pack of soda dangled from his fingers. 

“Technically no,” I said.

“Ah, the wife wants you spending some quality time with the garage,” he said.  “Been there.”   The Mayor was wearing the same clothes he wore at the diner, which was what he wore at the last Movement meeting.  He smelled like the lake.  “Let’s take a walk,” he said.     

We headed out into the humid night.  The streets were lined with orange lights and the neighbors’ houses sat watching like patient monsters.  The Mayor snapped off two root beers and handed me one.  We didn’t say anything for a while, just walked a few blocks slurping our respective distractions.  We stopped in front of a random house.  The Mayor pet its mailbox.

“Sit,” he said.  “Stay.”

“Are you OK, Mayor?”

The Mayor finished his root beer and put the can in the mailbox.  He raised its red flag.  “Heard the news about your boss, Minute Man.”  A car drove by and shone its headlights on the Mayor for a moment.  His face looked permanently startled.  His cheeks were saggy and his greasy hair did as it pleased.  I wanted his wife to give him a warm bath.

“How come no one’s checked it out yet?” I said. 

“Because we’re spread thin as is.”

“Maybe I should say something at the next meeting.”

“You might have to,” he said. “But let’s keep walking.  There’s something I want to show you.”

Part Five

I didn’t know where we were going, but I let the Mayor take me.  The night was its quietest.  We walked blocks, miles, until I had a big sweat ring noosed around my neck.  The Mayor was down to his last root beer.

He said, “You know, the thing about Wendell was he could always tell when you were being less than yourself.  And he always called you on it.” 

I pulled my sticky shirt off my chest, checked my monitor.  I didn’t see the Mayor’s.  “Hey, where’s your mobile monitor?”

“Ran out of batteries,” the Mayor said.  “Got some new ones in the kitchen.  Now if only my wife would let me back in the house.”  He laughed and his laugh had a sickness in it, so I didn’t press him on his lie.  We both knew the monitors had back-up batteries with long lives.  The Mayor had designed the monitors himself, over a decade ago.  After he watched Reggie drop a cousin off a cliff. 

“Besides, who are you, the judge?” said the Mayor.  “Where’s your monitor?”

“Right here.”

“OK, but where’s your family?  Thought so.  No, we’re just two lonely batteries on their last bit of alkaline.”

I thought about my wife and boys sweating it out at Rena’s.  I thought of the bread getting stale on the table.  “Where are we going?” I said, looking around.  The grass grew wild here.  There weren’t any lights.  The sky ran into the earth and it was hard to tell the difference.

 “We’re going where men like us go,” the Mayor said. 

We were on the sidewalk now.  A tall chain link fence stood on our right.  I couldn’t see much.  The Mayor dragged his soda can against the fence and that’s how I knew he was still in front of me.  I followed the can’s sound for a block before we stopped. 

“We’ve run out of fence,” the Mayor said.  “Look at this.”  We were at the back gate to a large building I didn’t recognize.  The Mayor knocked on a piece of wood hanging crooked on the fence.  “Give me your monitor,” he said.  He pressed a button and the monitor’s digital face became a flashlight.  He shined it on the sign to show me the name of the building.  I remembered that name from the Movement meeting, from the website.  We were where my boss disappeared.

“Why did you bring me here, Mayor?”  I said.  “You should have warned me.”

He shone the light in my face.  “Hey, this is what you wanted, right?  The spotlight?”

I shook my head, trying not to think about the question.  “I thought you already checked this place out,” I said.

“No.  I was going to, but I still had the wife then.”  He scratched the back of his neck.  “Now—

The sound of glass shattering interrupted the Mayor.  It had come from the building. 

“Mayor—

The mobile monitor blipped. 

The Mayor dropped it, startled.  “Shit, did you hear that?” he said.  “This is the real deal.” 

“Mayor, let’s go.  We can come back during the day.” 

The Mayor wiped his mouth with his hand.  “No, I thought about that too.  But I bet that’s what Reggie expects.” 

The monitor blipped again.  I picked it up.  The temperature was well above 72.

“Things are getting a bit warm, eh, Minute Man?” the Mayor said.  “Not a good sign for us.”

“We should come back,” I said.

No!  Let’s make a statement!  After tonight, things can be different.  It just takes one event, one time.  Tomorrow, people will say Reggie should watch out for us.”

I looked at the Mayor, animated, but out of breath.  I think those were the words I hoped for at the last meeting.  To get us all going.  But now I couldn’t get anything to sit right.   “Let’s come back tomorrow, Mayor” I said.  “Please.  In the light.  With more of the Movement.”

“No, this is what Wendell would want.  This is what you wanted, the starring role.”  I lowered my head.  “Oh yes,” the Mayor said, “I’ve seen you at the meetings.  I saw the way you used to watch Wendell, the way you now look at me.  You want to be like me, or the next best me?  Here it is.” 

The monitor blipped twice.  I shut my eyes and saw my wife typing my tale on the website.  I saw the phone ringing and one of the boys answering it.  Sue was on the line, asking why I hadn’t been at work, and it was one of my boys who had to tell her what happened, because no one else had bothered. 

I opened my eyes and looked at the Mayor.  “I don’t want this,” I said.  “You’re the best you.”

 The Mayor gave me what was left of his smile.  “That’s nice of you to say,” he said,  “but it’s OK for you to be a coward.  You have a family.”  He turned his back to me.  “I deserve this.”

I grabbed him by the shirt to stop him, to say don’t be stupid. 

He twisted his head.   “Why the hell are you out here, Minute Man?  What did you think was going to happen?”  When he realized I didn’t have an answer, he said, “Listen, I won’t be the guy who thinks the world owes him something special, but never figures out what that something is.  Or never goes after it.  Or never truly wanted it in the first place.  Wendell hated those guys.”

The monitor blipped some more.  It picked up its blipping pace, until there were no breaks in between.

 The Mayor grabbed my wrist.  “C’mon, let’s do it.  You and me.  We’ll call it a Wendell remembrance.” 

I looked down at the Mayor’s hand.  I thought of how far I hadn’t come.  “I can’t,” I said, but the Mayor didn’t let go. 

“Not even for Wendell?”

Mayor,” I said, “Wendell’s dead.  He is dead.” 

 The Mayor yanked back his shirt.  He looked at me like my wife had, like Sue or Wendell would.  As he stepped away I reached for his shoulder, but only half-heartedly.  He started toward the building and I let him.  He picked up a few rocks and winged them at windows.  One broke through.  He started yelling things, saying he was here for his Reggie revenge, and that Reggie better watch out.  When he neared the mouth of the building, the Mayor looked back one last time.  He was already so far away.

“I can do this!” he said.  “You can’t because you can’t understand, Minute Man.  You never could.  But if you let go of me, maybe you will.”

Then, there was silence.  Or, just the steady hum of the monitor, inviting the Mayor to enter the building and disappear into the darkness.  Which he did.  He didn’t say goodbye and I didn’t run after him.  For a moment I just stood there, after all this, still unsure, until the monitor began to make noises I had never heard before, haven’t heard since. 

I started running. 

I didn’t know where I was going at first, but my mind made up its own mind.  It was miles away, but I started sprinting toward Mémère Rena’s house.  I don’t know why.  I knew my family was safe.  They were far away from here, far away from the Reggie threat.  Reggie was at the warehouse, not at Rena’s.  And like anything else, Reggie could not be in two places at once.  None of us can.  As much as that is something we want.