A professional marathon runner has a high-speed encounter with a bike messenger, and events pedal out of his control. NYC Midnight Short Story Competition 2020 Honorable Mention.
I put on my shoes and started running in place as I locked the door to Alice’s apartment, working up the energy for the 12 miles I was about to run. This was only my third time visiting this city, and I liked it well enough.
When I got down to the sidewalk I popped my earbuds in my ears, tightened the strings on my little running bag, and started off towards downtown. It was four PM — just before rush hour, and I had to weave in and out of the early crowd.
I was headed towards the park, which would be more open than all the crosswalks I’ve been hitting so far. Standing there, jogging in place, waiting for the light to change, always makes me feel like a dingus.
I was at the fifth of the approximately twenty-thousand crosswalks that I’d been at so far, bouncing away like an idiot, when I saw the little crosswalk man appear, and started making my way across.
I woke up on the sidewalk to someone standing over me, a shooting pain down my entire right side and head.
I couldn’t really make out a face, everything was blurry. I was able to make out the words, they sounded a lot like,
“Are you okay?”
I really hoped those weren’t the last words I ever heard.
“Stay still,” the voice continued, and I heard him dialing 911.
I scratched out the only word that came to mind, “Cool.”
I rolled over to my right side, and there was a guy dressed like a bike messenger laying there with his neck in a position necks don’t normally go.
I was in slightly too much pain to freak out.
“Here you go, man, this must be yours.”
I heard my bag opening, and some shuffling. I guess he thought something fell out after I got hit. I’m not sure what world he lives in where it wouldn’t have belonged to the bike messenger, but I guess life is just full of people doing dumbass things in stressful situations.
What felt like hours later, the ambulance came, and I was off to the land of white coats and jello.
It turned out I wasn’t actually hurt that badly, just a minor concussion. I managed to get a call out to Alice while sitting around, after retrieving my phone from the tray by the bed where they had put all my stuff.
“Hey, so, I’m in the hospital.”
“Oh my god, are you okay?”, she sounded shocked. It’s nice to know someone cares.
“Well, I will be, some bike messenger nailed me while I was going across the street.”
“Oh wow, are you gonna sue?”
I hadn’t really thought about it yet, but that sounded like a lot of trouble for a quick bump on the head. I told her as much.
“Ron, you don’t really have insurance, you know.”
“Yeah, but… it seems like a lot. Plus, that guy died, am I gonna sue his corpse?”
“Oh, jeez. I mean, you could at least sue the company. He was definitely being reckless, right?”
“I guess the evidence points in that direction, what with the hitting me and all.”
“I’ll come get you”
Alice was good people, knew where all the good stuff to do in town was. We weren’t super close, but as with anyone I knew in my life, I knew I could rely on her for a couch in a strange place and a glass of water in the morning.
I was inspecting all the scuffs and holes in my clothes when the police arrived.
“Hey there, Mr. Abee.”
The cop was probably in his early 50s, wearing a ratty brown suit, given off the impression of a kindly uncle or funeral director. He flashed his badge and continued,
“I’m Detective Hornsby, do you mind if I ask you a few questions?”
“Oh, fine, sure.”
He sat down in the visitors chair and pulled out one those flippy notebooks.
It took a minute for my concussion addled brain to realize that him being here was a little strange.
“Isn’t this a little… below a detective?”
“Oh, normally, yes, sure,” he replied, “but the… deceased, was related to an ongoing investigation.”
I stared at him.
“I’m… not sure what you’re expecting from me, here. I didn’t know the guy.”
“Well, that was one of my questions. Hah! Got the jump on me already.”
He smiled, and started off,
His large eyebrow shot up at this.
“Really?” he asked.
“My wife keeps telling me to stay in shape, I didn’t know I could make a living at it.”
“It’s pretty hard,” I started my usual spiel, “it isn’t exactly the most stable job, you’re always just training for the few races a year that have a decent cash prize, and hope no one has been training harder than you.”
“Don’t you runner types normally start out early in the morning?”
I grimaced. “Yes, but, I was uh… a bit hungover this morning. I’m staying at a friend’s place in town, just got in yesterday, wanted to make a night of it.
“And your friend’s name?”
He asked for her information, and I gave him her number and address.
“Thanks. Now we can get started with the questions.”
I didn’t point out the irony in this statement.
“So, prior to your impact, you never had any contact with the deceased?”
“Yes, like I said, I’m just in town visiting a friend.”
I watched his pen move on his notepad as he took down this incredibly important fact.
“The name Kris Holzhauer mean anything to you?”
“Alright. Just so these next questions are a bit clearer, Kris Holzhauer was the deceased.”
At least I had a name in case I wanted to sue somebody, though I wasn’t entirely clear why he was telling me.
“You didn’t… accept delivery of anything from him?”
“You did not hand him anything to be delivered?”
“No. I’m not sure what you mean; he was some kind of courier?”
“Not important, right now. You didn’t notice him carrying anything?”
“No, I was a little busy being unconscious.”
Hornsby stood up at this point, glaring angrily at nothing. I heard him swear lightly under his breath.
“Is something wrong?”, I asked.
“No, Mr. Abee, just a lot of wasted time and effort on a case that seems to have fallen apart.”
I got the impression that this was a man who just ran, full speed, into a brick wall. I could relate.
“Sorry I couldn’t be more help.”
“Not your fault. Here, let me give you my card.”
He reached into his suit pocket and handed me one of his cards. Detective James Hornsby.
“Call me Jim”, he said.
I really felt like I had to ask, “Look, my friend Alice said that even if that guy is dead, it might be a good idea for me to take legal action against whoever he worked for. You know, he was presumably riding recklessly on company time.”
The detective seemed to be extremely amused by that, letting out a short bark of a chuckle.
“If you figure out who Holzhauer was working for, you’d have accomplished something my team and I have been trying to do for years.”
I felt vaguely bad, like I had let him down.
He shook my hand, stopped at the door and looked back to say, “I’d just forget it. But, please, if you remember anything else, or anyone contacts you, please call me directly.”
He walked out. I stared after him, not sure what to make of this.
I went back to the tray near my bed with my stuff in it, kicking myself for not asking the detective who the man was that had helped me out after I got hit.
Looking through my little running bag, I saw a small white envelope. Thinking it was a hospital bill that they didn’t want me to forget, I sighed, and stuffed it back in there.
I’m not sure if you have this impression of me yet, but I am a giant moron.
Alice came and got me about half an hour later.
“I guess that’s the end to fun nights for a while,” she joked, “if you’re going to get a concussion it should be from something fun.”
“You know like, stage-diving, getting in a fight, fun.”
“We have massively different definitions of fun.”
As we drove in the heavy downtown traffic, past more accursed crosswalks, I filled her in on the conversation with Hornsby.
Her eyes went wide, “Holy shit. He warned you off a lawsuit? That doesn’t sound right.”
“Apparently this guy was some kinda suspect in an investigation he was working on, he didn’t have any information on his boss to give me.”
“That sucks, I hope the bill wasn’t too bad. They just gave you some ibuprofen, right?”
I grunted, thinking of the white envelope. “I haven’t even looked yet.”
We pulled into a parking space under her apartment building, and got out of the car.
“The next couple days, Ron, you take it easy, hear me? If you need anything, just call.”
We walked into the lobby and she started toward the staircase, then stopped herself.
“Ah, right. Let’s take the elevator.”
The next morning was presented to me through a significant haze of pain and fatigue. I popped a couple ibuprofen and grabbed my phone, not deigning to meet the morning on its own terms by doing anything as dramatic as standing up.
I had a text from Alice telling me she had gone to work, and two voicemails. The first one was the hospital with a polite hope I was feeling better, and an even more polite threat to settle my bill through their website as soon as possible. Great.
I pressed play on the second voicemail, from a blocked number.
“I will call again in five hours. Please answer the call.”
The timestamp on the voicemail was, helpfully, five hours ago, and I glared at my phone. I couldn’t believe the shady collection agencies were already descending on me, but I’ll play their games.
I sat around browsing Facebook until my phone rang. Blocked number, great.
I pressed accept, and said “Hello?”
“Hello, Mister Abee.”
“Look, about the bill, I haven’t even opened the envelope yet and-”
The voice cut me off, “Do NOT open the envelope.”
The voice sounded vaguely familiar, but as someone who recently underwent head trauma, I wasn’t going to bet my life on it.
“Who is this?”
“That’s not important. Remember two things: One, do not open the envelope. Two, do not call the police.”
I started to have the feeling that this was exactly the kind of contact Detective Hornsby wanted to hear about.
“It is not in your best interests. Did you speak to Mister Holzhaeur before his passing?”
“No, I didn’t. Was the envelope his? It must’ve gotten in my bag, somehow.”
“That is also unimportant. I am going to text you an address, please make sure the envelope arrives there twenty minutes after receipt. We will be waiting.”
“I’m not doing a single thing you tell me, unless you tell me what the hell is going on.”
He had already hung up, of course, which upon reflection was probably for the best. I glared at my phone again. Stupid phone, nothing good ever comes of it.
I went over to my little running bag, grabbed the detective’s card and the envelope. I entered in Hornsby’s number in my phone, then looked at the envelope.
“Ah, fuck it,” I said to myself.
I opened it, sliding the piece of paper inside out. It wasn’t sealed, which seemed odd. The piece of paper was single sided, and there were what looked to be six names on it.
My phone vibrated as it received a text. Glancing at it, it was an address just a few blocks away.
I’m not a person who generally follows the instructions of weird phone voices, and I wasn’t going to start now.
I dialed the detective, but only got his voicemail. Seriously? You think I might be in danger and don’t answer the phone?
I sighed, “Hi, Jim? This is Ron Abee. Listen, I know you told me to let you know of any ‘suspicious’ calls I received, and I just got one. Blocked number, regarding an envelope, and some instructions for delivery. I think this envelope got mixed into my stuff at the accident.”
I repeated the six names, and asked him to call me back.
My civic duty done, I sat back down on Alice’s comfy couch, staring at the names on the envelope. Staring at the names on the piece of paper, I realized one sounded familiar, from my old life. You see, I used to have an office job, before I developed a near-fatal cubicle allergy. I was a paralegal at a defense lawyer.
I Googled the familiar name, and sure enough, it was a case my firm had worked on. During the trial, the prosecution had found exciting new evidence, seemingly out of nowhere, that sealed the deal for them.
And then, after we still fought like hell, the client was killed in prison.
His name on this list was crossed off, along with two others. Searching for those, the circumstances seemed eerily similar. A superstar prosecutor, new evidence uncovered, a death in prison. And all three of them had the same Detective mentioned each time. Jim Hornsby.
The first non-crossed off name was a little harder to find, I called a buddy at my old law office.
Sure enough, they had heard of the case. It was going well, and then another prosecutorial miracle happened. I asked who from the police had testified to this new evidence.
“Detective Hornsby, I think?”
I hung up. At this point, it was long past the time I was supposed to have delivered the envelope, and my phone rang with a blocked number.
I swallowed, answered, and said, “I have to tell you, I read the Detective’s voicemail the entire list.”
“I — what?! Seriously?!”
At least he dropped the anonymous drama act.
I continued, “I recognized one of the names.”
“You’re trying to get a case together, targeting this Detective, right?”
“Yeah, yeah, listen, this is all black book shit. He’s too involved at every level of policing in this town, and now he knows you’ve read the list. Hell, he knows you’ve touched the list, and that’s probably enough for him. I can help you, we’ll figure this out, but you need to get out of there. You’re going to need to run.”
I smiled nervously, “I think I can manage that.”