They watch you. They wait for you to leave your home and they watch you and follow you wherever you go. They all resemble James Cagney, and they all smoke cigars with those stylish grey suits and feathered fedoras keeping both eyes on you and making sure you don’t leave town. It’s been like this for 3 weeks now in our little town, and every time I so much as go out for some eggs to fill up the icebox they silently follow me walking behind me at a steady pace. They don’t follow me inside the grocers as the agreement the town made with them prohibits them from internal surveillance, but anytime we go outside, one of them is always ready and waiting to follow us. Anyone who dares to protest or heaven forbid run – well, they end up disappearing, probably smoked. That’s the way it is here in Connorsville, and who knows how long it’ll last.
All of us have our own families to protect so there’s little chance of anyone stepping out of line. No, the key is to wait it out. That’s what Sheriff Henderson told us. “Wait it out, and one day they’ll just leave. In the meantime, just go about your business, send your kids to school, and don’t change your routine.” I suppose when faced with something this disturbing human instinct is to crave normalcy. The various routines that define our lives during whatever phase of life we happen to be in traditionally offer us some comfort. No one likes to admit it but routines are indeed comforting. Whatever inconveniences or distractions that occur in our lives only serve to help us appreciate whatever routines we have previously defined as “normal.” The weekdays I’m used to getting Samantha ready for school while Susan makes us breakfast. Then I read the paper while eating my scrambled eggs, finish getting dressed, walk Sammy to school with Susan, then head on over to my office at Smithson’s on Canton Avenue for a typical day of number crunching for the various businesses in town. It’s mindless work, but it pays well and it’s given us a good home in this quiet little town. We settled down here 5 years ago right after Sammy was born and figured this small town would be a nice place to raise her. I liked the idea of a quaint little community where the neighbors all knew each other and everyone looked after everyone. Sure, there was more than the usual round of gossip, but Susan had always been smart enough to keep enough distance from the uglier gossiping circles that tend to form in small towns like these.
The truth is that after spending our whole lives living in a big city, we craved something different. Susan’s father had been a banker, and she grew to resent the hustle and bustle of the city with its loud boisterous noises every minute of the day and people always in a hurry. She had always wanted her dad to slow down and finally he did, only it was because his heart gave out. She didn’t want me to suffer her father’s fate. A job in finance could be stressful, especially when working for people whose every action in life is motivated by greed. A cousin of hers told her about an accounting job opening in Connorsville far from the big city, a town with a population of only 300 people on the other side of the country. It would be a huge lifestyle change for each of us, but after all the stress of my big city job, I had been determined to make the arrangement work. We would be able to afford a house twice the size of the one we had in the city, and the arrangement became ideal. Sammy loved living in a big house with large backyard where she could play and run and do what kids do as they grow up.
I was playing catch with her in our backyard when Harry Summers drove by and told me there was this big town hall meeting that everyone had to go to. Something had happened and there were important decisions to be made. He offered to drive me and I left Sammy home with Susan who had been preparing dinner for that evening. Harry had left his 2 year old son home with his wife as had most of the men who attended the meeting.
After some initial rumbling and waiting, a clearly panicked Sheriff Henderson got up at the podium to speak. The sweat on his brow had been clearly visible as were the armpit stains in his uniform shirt. He shuffled back and forth nervously hesitating before Carl Smolder prompted him to speak. After all, Carl had his customers to get back to at his bar and this had taken up precious time for him already.
“Well listen up,” began Sheriff Henderson,” Everybody listen up!” The town hall quieted down as we all listened. “There are some gentlemen here from the city and the bottom line is that Connorsville is now under their control, but if we all cooperate they will be gone before we know it.”
“What is this some kind of joke?” asked Stanley Ruthman.
“Not a joke. These gentlemen . . . well all they want is for us all to stay put and not leave town. Connorsville has become a . . . location of strategic importance to them . . . but I’ve been assured that it’s only temporary.”
We were explained the rules. We were all to adhere our regular routines only there would be one of these gentleman following each and every one of us wherever we go. We were not to leave town and to make it easier on these gentleman, any irregular outing should be coordinated by house numbers. So on even numbered days, even numbered households could have one unplanned outing to say take a stroll or go into town spontaneously. The same would apply to odd numbered households on odd numbered days. Each household would get a sum of $600 a week for every week that these gentlemen remained. The payments would start immediately, and if anyone objected or protested in any way . . . well, that would be dealt with by rather discouraging means.
Most of us were clearly unhappy about this, but none of us had the courage to do anything. Why stick your neck out when you know it’ll just be cut off? We all had families to protect and so we all agreed to go along with it. Besides, it was made clear that these men would never actually enter our homes or follow us inside any building or structure so long as we were deemed in compliance. Our routines were not to change and so work could get done and this extra cash would be some decent pocket money. Clark Gasling had always wanted a pool in his backyard and Stephen Fowler had wanted to redesign his kitchen. I always thought it would be nice to own a 2nd television set even though having just one set was considered a luxury. We each had our own ideas of what to do with the money.
The first few days came and went without incident. I had to explain to Sammy that there were men that would follow us while I took her to school every morning but that when the time was right, these men would go away. She had even tried to say hi and wave to the pair that tailed us the next morning, but they ignored her and simply followed with their eyes on us each step of the way. After Sammy had gone into school, I approached one of them and told them it wouldn’t hurt to have manners. That’s when I was greeted by a snub nosed pistol in my face and told to “Stop making trouble or I’ll smoke yah.”
From then on, I had to content myself with following along. I could sense the frustration growing in the town, but no one dared to speak up. No one dared upset the new “normalcy” that had been established. We became prisoners in our own town vigorously following our normal routines under constant watch of these gentlemen.
I saw the strained look on Harry Summers face as he drove past my house today. The gentlemen followed him in their Bentley. He had been likely planning to go to the grocers but when he saw me, something inside him stirred. His face turned red and a defiant look crept across his face. He looked upset as he slowed down in front of my house. I had been watering my lawn with Sammy as he approached. As soon as I noticed something amiss, I sent Sammy inside. The gentleman watching me nodded in approval. Then, I looked back just in time to see Harry’s truck speed off wildly down the road toward Bricket’s Underpass. What was he thinking? I wondered. The Bentley behind him sped up to follow. They rammed him from behind then sped up alongside and ran him off the road. Before I knew it, pistols were pulled out and Harry Summer’s brains had been spilt across the grass leading to Gaitlin’s townhouse. The gentleman assigned to watching me water my lawn nodded in approval and smiled. I must have looked horrified, but as long as I didn’t do anything out of line I knew I’d be safe. I went back to watering my lawn although I made sure Sammy stayed inside.
I don’t know what the destiny of Connorsville will be. If the gentlemen ever leave, I imagine it’ll become a ghost town because I can’t imagine anyone would feel safe here ever again. Tomorrow happens to be a big day at work for me. I look forward to getting up, eating my scrambled eggs, taking Sammy to school, and heading over to my office at Smithson’s on Canton Avenue. There’s news of a new account being opened and that might mean a big promotion for me along with a raise of course. I’ll try my best not to dream of poor Harry tonight, but if I do I’ll be sure to dream about the good times I had with him as my neighbor. I imagine that whatever mess his blood and brains might have made up the road will soon be cleaned up. These are gentlemen we’re dealing with after all.