Author’s Note: This is an ongoing story. Click here to read previous installments. This story contains some mature content and language.
Grady woke up on a bench just outside the downtown homeless shelter. The doors were open, and the people lucky enough to win the lottery for a bed were coming out for breakfast. He wasn’t there for food. What he needed was in the back of the building. He picked up his satchel from underneath the bench and headed for the entrance.
Muscling through knots of veterans on hard times, drug addicts on their downward spiral, and teens avoiding the foster system, Grady slipped into the bathrooms. There were ten shower stalls, all in use. A small line of people waited for them to get free.
Two men got out of the furthest shower. One of them wiped his chin, pocketing a plastic bag in torn jeans. The other winked and blew everyone a kiss. Everyone in line except Grady just stood there. He pointed at the free stall and got a chorus of, “Go for it,” in reply.
Grady popped into the outer stall and closed the curtain behind him. He opened his satchel and pulled out a folded vinyl suit bag. There were some scuffed dress shoes down in the bottom, fishing them out one after the other. Grady took his clothes off and stepped into the inner stall.
A minute later Grady had cleaned himself up. He fished a towel out of his satchel and then put on the suit. There was no need to tie the necktie. His sister tied it for him once, and he never untied it. She was always better at that stuff than he was.
Finished with his costume, Grady left the stall past a longer line of people. He checked an old dial clock on the wall on his way out. It said it was almost nine. Perfect timing.
By the time Grady reached the nearest branch of Good Neighbor Bank and Loan, the doors were open. He took out an ID from his satchel and then hid the bag behind a tree about a block away. The ID went into his coat pocket, and Grady went into the bank.
There was no line. He found a teller on the end who smiled at him and went back to counting money. She looked like she was thirty and lonely. Perfect. Grady flashed his own smile and went to her window. “Hi there,” he said.
“Hello,” she replied. She closed her cash drawer. “Can I help you today, sir?”
“Sir?” Grady asked. He took out his ID and handed it to her. “No need to be so formal. You can call me Sam. And you can help me out by telling me your name.”
The teller giggled. “Trina,” she said, taking the ID. She didn’t look at it.
“Beautiful,” said Grady. “So, this is embarrassing, but I’m not a customer of your bank. I’m actually here to pick up some money my friend owes me. He said he got some kind of bank check ordered, but he said he’s at work so he can’t pick it up himself. I told him I was in the neighborhood. Is it okay if I pick it up here?”
Trina bit her lip. “Normally we have to let the customer pick up the check,” she said.
Grady smiled. He said, “I understand. You can’t be too careful these days. My friend’s a pretty good guy, so I figured I’d have to at least try. He’s always helping other people, being a paramedic and all. I’m sure he’ll be able to come by when he gets off shift.” Grady reached for his ID.
“Hold on. I’ll see what I can do,” she said. She left him and went into a file drawer. Flipping through, she pulled out an envelope with a check in it. She came back and said, “It has your ID information on it?”
“Like I said, you can’t be too careful,” said Grady.
“Well, the information matches up, so I guess you can have the check si – I mean, Sam.” Trina put his check and ID in an envelope and handed it to him.
“Thank you so much, Trina,” said Grady, taking the envelope. He made sure his finger brushed against hers. She blushed. “If I had more time, I’d open an account just to have an excuse to see you again. But there’s a charity that needs this money.”
“Aww,” Trina blurted out. “You’re such a nice guy.”
“I just do what I can,” said Grady, who stuffed the envelope in his coat and left the bank. He picked up his satchel and went down the street to a check cashing shop with bars on the windows and bulletproof glass inside. One minute and a nominal fee later, he had two grand in cash.
His next stop was in the main lobby of his sister’s hospital. At the desk was an old attendant who stared at her computer like it was in a foreign language. She didn’t greet him when he walked up and said, “I’m here to visit Darla Sprague.”
The attendant grimaced. A game of solitaire disappeared from the reflection in her glasses. She pecked keys for a minute and said, “There’s no Darla Sprague here.”
“She was here last night,” said Grady. He drummed his fingers on the granite desk. “They might have her under Darlene Sprague.”
“Should’ve said so,” said the attendant, who pecked some more. The screen changed in the attendant’s glasses. Something flashed on it, and her jaw dropped. “Uh, there’s a problem with my computer,” she said. “Wait here. I’m calling someone to fix it.” She picked up her phone and punched three buttons. Her eyes went back and forth from the screen to Grady. He couldn’t hear what she was saying on the phone.
A group of high school students entered the lobby, shouting like they were at a basketball game. They all had helium balloons with stupid messages on them. Grady’s attention shifted from the attendant to them for a moment. There were at least two dozen people, all laughing and shouting and jostling each other. When Grady looked back at the attendant, he caught her looking at three security guards on the other end of the lobby. The guards all locked eyes on him and headed his way. “I’ll be right back,” Grady lied.
“Wait just one minute,” said the attendant, but Grady was heading right for the high school students. He got into the middle of the pack, and was lost in a sea of balloons and noise. They headed past a public restroom, and Grady ducked inside. He found the second furthest stall, locked the door, and stood on the toilet seat. Several minutes passed. None of the security guards came in.
Grady was about to open the stall door when he heard the restroom door squeak open. A woman’s voice called out, “Excuse me? Hello?” Grady’s legs went rubbery, and he couldn’t remember if it was the attendant or not. The lady called out again, “I know this might sound strange, besides being a woman yelling into a men’s room that is. But, I feel it laid on my heart to go through with it. If there’s a young man in here by the name of Grady Sprague, I’d be much obliged if you’d respond. I have something to give you.”
Grady blinked. What the hell was going on? Was this some kind of trick? He couldn’t make up his mind. None of it made sense. If it was security, they should have just come in and searched. “One second,” said Grady, and he left the stall.
There was an old woman standing in the bathroom, holding out a smart phone in a wrinkled hand. She had a kind smile. She said, “Oh, I had thought I might have lost my last marble. Are you Grady Sprague? Is that your real name?”
“Yes,” said Grady, who didn’t take any step towards her. He was sure he’d never met her before in his life. She looked exactly like the stereotype of every grandmother he heard about as a kid. There was flour on her oversized shirt, like she was interrupted baking cookies for her grandkids.
“This will sound strange to you, young man,” said the woman. “I just can’t believe it myself. But when the Lord tells you to do something, I guess you have to do it.”
“And that is?” Grady asked. There were still security guards after him.
“Oh yes,” said the woman, waving the phone and setting it on the bathroom counter. “That’s for you. Jesus told me that I needed to pick up that phone and give it to Grady Sprague. He said exactly where to find you. Isn’t that something?”
“Yeah,” said Grady. He still hadn’t taken another step.
The woman said, “Well, I’ve done what the Lord asked me to come here to do. He said you needed the help. You’re a lucky young man. Take my advice, you listen to the Lord. He’ll steer you straight.” She laughed and turned around, leaving him alone in the restroom.
As soon as the door closed, the phone lit up. Grady took a step towards it. He saw a text message in large font. It read, “PICK UP THE PHONE NOW.”
“What the fuck,” said Grady. He picked up the phone, and it buzzed with an incoming phone call. He answered and said, “Hello?”
“The police were alerted to your theft,” said a voice on the other end. Grady felt a chill. The voice continued, “Security has been alerted to your presence. Police are on the way. They will catch you without our help.”
“Who the fuck is this?” asked Grady.
“That’s not important right now,” said the voice. “We help people in need of it. All we ask right now is your trust.”
“I don’t need your help,” said Grady. He went and opened the door to the restroom. Two security guards flanked the doors going outside. The phone beeped with a message. It was a video. Grady played it, and he saw footage from the bank he was in a few minutes ago. His face was easy to recognize.
“The police know you stole the money,” said the voice. “All the obvious exits are covered. You will need our help to escape.”
“Escape isn’t what I’m concerned about,” said Grady. He went back into the restroom and checked the other stalls. Empty. He said, “I need to get this money to my sister.”
“One moment,” said the voice. Everything went quiet for a few seconds. Then, it said, “We are prepared to help your sister. In return for covering her healthcare, we require your services.”
Grady felt weak. He slumped over the bathroom counter, barely able to stand. “I want her current bills paid off in advance,” he said. His stomach flipped. He couldn’t believe what he was saying.
“Payment completed,” said the voice.
“Let me confirm it myself,” said Grady. He pulled up the phone’s browser and went to the debt collection agency’s website. Seconds later, Grady saw his sister had no outstanding payments. Grady wept in joy. “What do you need me to do?”
“We will text you instructions on how to escape the hospital,” said the voice. “There will be a car waiting for you outside. Further instructions will follow after we get you to a safe place.” The voice paused. “Normally at this time people ask what we want from them.”
“Text me the instructions,” said Grady. “As long as my sister is taken care of, I will do everything you want. Just, what do I call you?”
“Anarki,” said the voice. Then, it hung up.