He felt a lot older than his years tonight. A lot older and more tired than he had in a long while. It was that kind of whole-body tiredness where you almost ached from it. "Bone tired" barely even covered it.
Beer would make it better. At least he hoped it would. He decided to get up and test that theory, rubbing the sleep from his face as he pushed himself upright.
Fortunately, he had a few cold bottles of that imported German stuff in reserve. In case of personal emergency, open fridge, he smiled to himself. He reached inside, pulled out a bottle, and opened it. Each motion was completed as if he was on autopilot. It was like a sixth sense for a seasoned drinker. He drank down as he vaguely listened to the static of life floating in off the street, a constant hum of existence that never really went away. Some people would hate it, but he found it kinda comforting to know that they world was still ticking along out there, while he was ticking along inside here.
A few swallows later, he was starting to feel slightly more human, and maybe even a little bit relaxed. The sigh that came floating out of his chest moments later pretty much confirmed that for him. He was just glad that day was done, period. The whole struggle of "just getting by" was bearing down on him lately. The harder he worked, the more broke he seemed to get. Not exactly the life he'd been looking forward to. Hell, who exactly got to live the life they'd planned to? Did anyone?
His phone rang, interrupting the start of an interesting philosophical debate he was about to start with himself. He’d planned on winning that debate, too. Damn it.
He looked down at his cheap digital watch, worn on his right hand just because he was different like that.
8:30pm. Only telemarketers call you at this hour. Jason simultaneously hoped it actually was a telemarketer calling him, so he could blow off some steam by giving him hell, but he also wished the phone would just stop ringing. In the end, he decided he'd answer it, just in case he'd inherited a vast fortune from some long-forgotten rich uncle. Fat chance of that, he thought.
He slumped over to the phone, dragging his feet as he went. "Hello?"
"Yup, that's me."
"Mister Jason Armstrong?"
"Yes, yes, I'm him. Or he's me. Whatever. What are you selling?"
"The truth," a voice answered.
Right. This sounded like some kind of cult or conspiracy nut trying to sell a subscription to their "truth" magazine. He prepared himself for a barrage of bullshit.
"Sorry, buddy, I'm not interested in whatever you're selling there. Thanks for calling and Buddha be with you, or whatever it is you're into.” Jason went to hang up the phone.
"We know who they are, Jason. Remember that."
That caught him off guard. Jason was familiar with all the usual hype-filled pitches these guys made like “No money down”, “…profit in just 30 days”, and “…change your life forever”, but this was a pitch he’d never heard before. He decided to listen. This might actually be fun, and he could seriously do with a laugh today.
"Umm, okay. You know who who are?" Jason laughed quietly to himself that he now sounded like an owl.
"We know who they are. We've always known." *Click*
A dead line.
Telemarketers don't hang up on you. Weird.
He hit redial but got a dead line. Double weird. He put the phone back down on the countertop where he always left it. Probably a good idea to get that line disconnected. He never used it anyway, except to argue with telemarketers, of course.
Jason didn't waste too much time on that thought. He was already tired and that call was just more drama in a day that was long overdue to be finished. The only thing that got to him about the whole thing was the total lack of emotion in the voice he’d just heard. It was almost robotic, but definitely human. It would have bothered him more, except for the fact that he was basically asleep on his feet.
He put the beer away in two gulps, hit the lights, and dragged himself toward his bedroom. He knew he was exhausted because the floor was starting to feel soft, despite the fact that it was 2 feet of concrete.
He threw himself into bed thinking, We know who they are. Jeez, buddy, I barely know who I am!
He was asleep 30 seconds later.
He pulled the car to a swift halt outside the small apartment block. It was a wet, miserable night out there, which meant his fare was either going to take forever to get out here, or was going to be waiting on the curb. He quickly scanned the surrounding area, but couldn't see anyone who looked like they'd been waiting anxiously for a taxi while getting soaked to the skin by the current downpour. It was a pretty typical New England winter's night: dark, cold, and not very forgiving.
He sat idly drumming his fingers on the steering wheel, as if that simple act could speed time up, making the whole act of waiting around like a goon that little bit easier. The rain on the roof of the car was making that gentle drumming sound that drives some people nuts, but Jason found it calmed his mind down. Actually, rain had had that effect on him his entire life. As a kid, all he needed to hear was rain on the windows and he was so soundly asleep, it looked like he'd been tagged with a tranquilizer dart. That was one of the happier memories of him being a kid, but the rest he could take or leave, for the most part. “Life just ain't fair,” he muttered under his breath. That was something he’d learned at a very early age.
Even the next day, that robotic voice on the phone was still stuck in his head. "We know who they are. We've always known." That was one of the more random things to happen in this mundane life of his, but he knew at this stage that it wasn’t a prank because, otherwise, Fred and the other tools he worked with would have owned up by now. The idea of keeping the prank a secret would eventually get the better of one of them and they'd just blurt it out. That hadn’t happened, and that bothered him at some level. He’d never been a fan of cryptic phone calls, or cryptic anything else, for that matter
His mind was still wandering all over the issue of that weird voice when the back door of his cab opened and closed with almost military efficiency. His entire body became instantly alert while he was mentally screaming, "Jesus Christ!" He’d been mentally tuned out for far too long.
He'd never liked people sneaking up on him, and this included his passengers. Trying to sound as calm as he possibly could, he glanced into the rearview mirror and muttered, "You okay back there, buddy?", hoping in his gut that whoever actually was back there was his fare and not some random nutcase about to pull out a knife or a gun. He held his gaze on the rearview mirror a while longer, but whoever was back there had their face hidden behind the brim of an old hat - one of those old Fedoras you'd expect to see someone's grandfather wearing at a funeral. Now there's a creepy thought.
His passenger muttered, "I'm fine, thank you. Brinkley Clinic, please."
"Okay, buddy, it’s your dime. Let’s get moving."
Jason turned over the engine of his cab, gave it some gas, and pulled away into the night. A good taxi driver knows when their fare wants to shoot the breeze about anything and nothing, and they also know when their fare just doesn't want to talk. This guy didn't seem to be much of a talker, that much was certain. He was a passenger and he wanted a ride. That was fine with Jason; he just wanted to get paid, and an old guy like this was likely to leave a tip. At least he hoped he would. Every few bucks counted.