Short Story conclusion
SOCK MONSTER - part 2
All the way home and all through his dinner Tobey considered as rationally as he could. While he still didn’t know exactly what it was they were up to, he had identified at least one of the people against him. But they had the advantage of time, he thought; the wheels of their plot had been likely turning since well before last Tuesday when his shorts were taken. After all, 414 couldn’t have just moved in, exactly two floors above Tobey, Tuesday afternoon in time to rendezvous with his laundry. That would be crazy.
The most important thing he’d done, he thought, was not tip his hand. He may not know much about 414, or her possible connection with Elizabeth, or any of the rest of it, but he was reasonably sure they didn’t know he knew something bad was happening, something wrong.
At seven forty five, slowly and deliberately, he collected all of tonight’s laundry in his ancient wicker basket. He didn’t know what else to do but forge ahead with his routine. He didn’t want to tip them off and he certainly didn’t want to play sitting duck all alone in his apartment just waiting for god knows what to happen. He put his plastic bottle of detergent on the top, along with his fabric softener, and at five minutes to eight left his apartment.
Sometimes he took the stairs down to the first floor, but not usually. Not wanting to possibly find himself alone in the elevator with one of his opponents, at least not on laundry night, he decided to risk the walk. It wasn’t such a big break in his routine.
Once Tobey made the laundry room without incident, he nodded to a woman he knew as a Mrs. McAdams who had just finished loading the complex’s two dryers. She said good evening and squeezed out the door, her plastic basket squished against her side.
This was okay, thought Tobey. Mrs. McAdams had lived there longer than he had so it was unlikely she was part of the plot. Since the dryer cycles ran longer than the washers’, though, his own clothes were going to have to wait their turn again. Just like last Tuesday.
With a trickle of sweat working its way down the back of Tobey’s neck, he fed his clothes into the two waiting washers. One for dark, the other for whites. Now that he’d committed to maintaining his normal routine, he couldn’t shake the feeling that he was somehow becoming more of a spectator than a participant.
When the sweating grew worse and he began to shake, he checked his watch and went back to his apartment. He’d be back in eighteen minutes, the same as always. Nothing unusual going on here.
* * *
Except for a dedicated and manic pacing in Frederick Tobey’s living room, nothing out of the ordinary happened. At the appropriate time, he returned to the laundry room and calmly and efficiently transferred his damp clothing from the spent washers to the tops of the two front loading dryers.
This was just the way he did it last Tuesday, the way he always did it. He managed an enforced sort of calm by screaming a melody from some long dead composer, Mahler, he thought, in his mind. He projected the same snippet over and over and over, his movements unconsciously falling into time.
And then it was back upstairs for another twelve minutes. But now he had the dryers reserved. And, he wondered, if a new move was underway, if a new die had been cast. The music crescendoed in his head.
* * *
Precisely twelve minutes later, Tobey was back. Mrs. McAdams had just completed the transfer of her own laundry back to her basket for the trip back to her apartment, number 109, to be folded in front of the television set.
Tobey said goodnight, loaded the dryers, and with a deep sense of dread trudged back upstairs. He had another forty minutes to wait and by now the music in his head had finally stopped playing. It no longer helped.
* * *
Inside fifty minutes Tobey was back inside his apartment, no problems, no woman from 414, nothing unusual. As he shot the dead bolt on the door he dropped to his knees and began gulping air like a giant beached fish, his laundry basket clutched to his side in a two-handed death grip.
When he felt his body wouldn’t betray him if he moved, he crawled over to the center of his living room, dragging the basket behind him.
Folding time. Then he could relax, he thought, perhaps mix himself a cocktail. He had survived something, he thought, even if he didn’t quite know what it was.
The droning of the television and the calming of his euphoria almost made him miss it. Tobey sat bolt upright and went through the neatly folded piles again. And then again.
They had made their move after all.
How could he have been so stupid? What chance did he have, trying his best to behave normally, performing well at his job, being a good person, and all the while thinking he could resist the people doing this? They held all the cards, they knew what this was all about. What was he to that?
He was a fool, he thought, but he wouldn’t be any more. He may not be smart enough to figure out what was going on, but he could damn well play the one card he held without them being able to do anything about it. He could see to that.
Tobey flew from his apartment as fast as he could, down the hall and up two flights of stairs until he stood in front of
The door opened a foot and she was there alright, holding back the shock she must have felt.
“Hello?” she said, merely curious.
She wasn’t even trying to lie, thought Tobey as he rushed the door, driving the edge of it into the woman’s forehead and knocking her to the floor. She turned away from Tobey on her hands and knees and tried to stand up.
“Where are they?” Tobey bellowed. “Where are my shorts and t-shirt?”
The woman stumbled forward and Tobey could see her object, a telephone on a small table neatly positioned on a small rug at the entrance to the bedroom hallway. Without a thought he pushed her square in the back with both hands. Her feet caught on the edge of the rug as she flew forward, knocking the table over and sending the phone spinning further down the hall.
Tobey jumped on her back, driving the air from her lungs as she clawed at the floor in front of her. He wrapped his fingers in the curls of her long blonde hair and jerked her head back and then drove her face into the floor many times.
“Where are my clothes?” he yelled again, in time with his pounding. If he could just get them back, where would they be? They’d have nothing, nothing at all, and of course they wouldn’t try anything again, not once they realized how he’s been on to them for so long.
The woman wasn’t making any more sounds. She had landed across the small area rug and the telephone cable it had been covering was under her chin. Tobey grabbed it and pulled it towards him, around the woman’s neck, pulling and pulling with all the strength he had left.
Eventually he pushed himself off her back and stood up behind her, an expression of sublime triumph on his face. He could see a wetness spread through the seat of her denim jeans. “Hah!” he said to the figure on the floor. “How do you like it?”
His sense of liberation, of having been set free, was intoxicating. He staggered back toward the front door, strangely uncoordinated, when he saw the thing on her kitchen counter.
The laundry basket.
If laundry had been so important to their plan, he could think of one other way to throw them off. They have a couple of his things, but he’d have their whole basket.
He snatched it from the counter and ran.
* * *
Not long after, when the knock came at the door, Tobey opened it to see two men in sport coats standing in the hall.
“Yes?” he asked, still feeling wonderful.
“Frederick Tobey?” the taller one asked.
“Of course,” Tobey said. “What’s this about?”
“Police, Mr. Tobey. May we come in?”
Tobey stepped back as the two detectives introduced themselves and followed him inside. “Do you know a woman named Amanda Peters in
A wide grin grew across Tobey’s face as he realized what this meant. This Peters woman, his ex-wife Elizabeth, they didn’t get him. Their plan had fallen to pieces and he had won. All by himself, without anyone else’s help, he had beaten them.
The taller of the two detectives gestured at the neat piles of bras, panties, and other bits of women’s clothing arranged about the carpet. “Is this your laundry, sir?” he asked.
“I did good, didn’t I?” said Tobey.
“Real good,” the shorter one told him. “Turn around, please, and clasp your fingers behind your head.”
“She should have been more clever, I think, but she let me see her on Tuesday.”
The two cops looked at each other as they attached a pair of handcuffs to Tobey’s wrists. They read him his rights as they walked him out of his apartment and into the elevator but he wasn’t really listening. From deep down inside, he felt too damned good for silly distractions.
Riding in the back seat of their car, halfway to wherever it was they were taking him, a sudden thought hit him like an electric shock delivered at the end of a giant sledge hammer. His euphoria evaporated with an icy chill and his stomach knotted as he fought to control his breathing and his bladder.
The boxers, he thought, and the t-shirt: where were they?
He hadn’t found them.
This thing wasn’t over.