A Decorous Age

by Michael Saad
I’ve had it, Emil leaned forward, his forehead resting in his hands.  My life ends tonight.

The TV offered the only background noise in the living room.  Typical afternoon talk show about people and their pathetic lives.  The airwaves carried him into another evening of boredom.

His life sucked.  High school had been a disaster.  He’d lasted a year in college, then dropped out.  The prospect of having a girlfriend was absurd.  The only chance he had was with a college girl named Cynthia.  At first she appeared genuine, going out of her way to say hello, inviting him to parties.  She had given him all sorts of signs, but when he tried pursuing the opportunity, she turned him away like a glass of dirty water.  

“I’m sorry, I’m not into you that way,” she rebuffed him with that irritating mix of politeness and sympathy, “I really like you, but just as a friend.”

In the end she wound up with an older, burly athlete who went into business, and impregnated her with two children before Emil’s head could spin.  

The evening news came on, as it always did after the talk shows.  It was the same, third-rate newscasters reporting on the usual, boring stories.  God, working at the gravel pit was the most exciting part of his day.  Shoveling 300 lbs of rock into the back of the truck was the only time he felt alive, and that was because his back hurt, or his supervisor hollered at him for working too slow.  

There was nothing he could do, he felt like he was writhing in a cesspool of agitation.  He wasn’t tough, admired, or respected.  His parents didn’t give a rats-ass about him.  The only people in his life were the ‘toxic’ ones he heard about on the talk shows – the coworkers who made fun of him, and the gamers who needed people to pulverize in the grandiose tournaments they held.  

What the hell am I waiting for?  He asked himself.  Why haven’t I done myself in already?

The newscaster with the slick, black comb-over caught his attention.  “In national news with a possible local connection, a nationwide manhunt continues tonight for 45 year old Charles Mark Klodden, wanted in connection for a vicious, quadruple homicide in Eastern Canada three weeks ago.  Klodden, described by police as a gangland assassin, has connections to the drug trade and organized crime.  City police and local RCMP are on alert, as Klodden is believed to be traveling west.  Klodden is described as six foot one, Caucasian, with a large frame. He has brown eyes, wears glasses, and may be sporting a black goatee.  He also has a tattoo of a red angel with fiery wings on his right wrist.  Klodden is considered armed and dangerous, and is not to be approached.  Anyone spotting him should call 911 immediately.”    

Emil remembered this news story from a few weeks earlier.  The psycho killed an entire family – a husband, wife, their two teenaged sons - apparently over a bad drug deal.   The story disturbed Emil, haunted him.  The photo they showed of Klodden on the news was that of a monster - a wild-eyed, scruffy-haired drifter whose somber, stone-faced expression kept people on edge, knowing this evil hombre was on the loose.

Emil shut off the TV.  The damn news never had anything good to report.    

That’s  it.  He decided with a convicting finality.  He would kill himself tonight.  

He reclined back on his couch.  For the first time in months, he felt at ease.

***

Mixing ammonia and bleach seemed the easiest, most straightforward method.  He had read on the Internet about some kids in Japan who used detergent and bath salts to do themselves in.  He stood in the confectionary on East 23rd, and decided to buy all four products.  Money was no longer any use to him, he wanted to get this done.  God, the last thing he wanted to do was screw this up and wind up in the hospital, and have everyone he hadn’t seen in months swarm around him.  That would be worse than one more flipping day at the gravel pit.  Far worse.

He had a small basket, and started loading up the cleaning materials in it.  He had a little bit of bleach at home, but needed more.  He would make enough chlorine gas to overwhelm him, and knock him stupid.  Apparently chlorine gas was painful.  He decided he would check on the Internet when he got home to find the exact concentrations he needed so that he would simply pass out and die, rather than cough up his lungs or burn a hole in his stomach.  If he had all the chemicals he possibly needed with him at home, then there was less chance of him chickening out.  

I won’t chicken out, he wiped his brow.  He had gone this far.  He was starving but even food was irrelevant – he would buy the chemicals, go home, spend the last hour of his life looking at porn, then wither away in his bathroom.  All the windows and doors in his rental would be closed – he decided he would put a warning sign on his front door that read “Do NOT Enter.  Poison gas in complex.”  The sign would be up for day or two before anyone would notice he was gone, and actually check up on him.  

Georgie, the confectionary clerk and owner, stood behind his register watching game shows and sitcoms.  Emil was glad this would be his last night in this dingy, little store.  Usually he was in late buying frozen pizzas or corn dogs for supper, or renting a dirty movie.  Georgie wouldn’t even think twice about the crap Emil was buying today, even though Emil was one of his best customers, who never bought cleaning supplies.  

God, there’s so many freaking cleaners, Emil cussed as he knelt down on the aisle floor, sifting through the various bottles.  He wanted the one with the highest concentration of ammonia.  

It was when he settled on a generic brand and put it in his basket, that he noticed the man walk past him, holding a submarine and a bottle of pop.  It wasn’t the man himself that caught his attention, but the angel tattoo on his right wrist, which Emil spotted only because he was kneeling down and caught the outer edge of the orange flames that shot out of the angel’s body.  The tattoo sat just under the cuff of the man’s jacket, partially hidden by his wristwatch.  

The man sauntered to the cash register.  His bulky frame put him on an even level with Georgie, who usually towered over his customers as his cash register sat on an elevated platform that sat a foot off the ground.  The man placed his items on the counter and asked for a pack of cigarettes.  Georgie seemed oblivious to the man, just another customer on another routine night, but Emil watched him closely.  He had a pock-marked face readily noticeable from a few feet away, covered slightly by his salt-and-pepper goatee.  He was in disguise – a black leather hat, longer hair and sideburns made him look different than his picture, but when the man turned to look at the television beside the cash register, Emil could see the brown, beady eyes that stood out like bullets on the man’s face.  

He was staring at Charles Klodden.  

Thankfully, the killer didn’t notice Emil, who turned away immediately.  Klodden appeared shifty, but out of the corner of his eye, Emil saw that the man was squinting.  

He doesn’t have his glasses.  Emil realized.  He took them off.  Part of his disguise.  Emil’s heart raced, wondering what he should do.  Georgie either didn’t recognize the man, or didn’t know a thing about the guy, which was more likely.  That was probably a good thing, Emil thought, because they were the only three men in the store, and if Klodden suspected his cover was blown, he might kill them both.  

Emil scurried up the aisle, away from the cash register, his basket filled with cleaners and bath salts.  Klodden paid cash for his merchandise then left the store.  The instant the door shut, Emil raced down the aisle to Georgie, whose attention was drawn back to his TV set.  

“Georgie,” Emil set his basket on the counter, his words frantic, “did you recognize that guy?  He’s the guy who killed that family in Eastern Canada a month back.  It was on TV.”

“What?” Georgie had a blank expression on his face.

“That guy,” Emil repeated, flabbergasted, “you just served him.  The cops have been after him for a month.  He killed a drug dealer and his whole family.  We gotta call the cops.”

“I no phoning cops,” Georgie shook his head.  “I don’t know who that guy is.  He’s just a customer to me.  How do I know he’s that guy?”

Emil grabbed a paper from the newsstand to show him, but couldn’t find the article.  He realized he had no time, Klodden was already down the street.  He had no time to argue with Georgie.  He pulled out his cell phone and ran out of the store.  He slowed instantly the second he stepped on the sidewalk.  Klodden was half a block away, waiting at a flashing red traffic hand to cross 23rd street.  

Emil put his cell phone back into his pocket, and swallowed.  His heart vibrated inside his chest.  Forcing himself forward, he began to follow the killer down the street.      

***

The evening air dropped three degrees as the sky turned dark.  Emil had only followed Klodden for about ten minutes but it felt like ten hours.  He kept a fair distance behind the man, who appeared to struggle without his glasses.  Klodden looked around every so often, and appeared uncomfortable whenever cars passed by him, but he didn’t appear to notice Emil, who kept his head down, and acted nonchalantly, one time pretending to wait at a bus stop while the next instant pretending to plug money into a newspaper stand to buy a paper.  

He followed Klodden into an older residential neighborhood, one with small, two-level houses with run-down fences and unkempt lawns.  It was definitely a seedier part of town with narrow streets and poor lighting.  Emil knew he would be unable to keep up his shadowing, and was about to hide behind a car when Klodden turned and entered a small brown house with broken siding and a badly warped veranda.  With his bag of food and cigarettes, Klodden entered through a door at the side of the house.  

Emil knelt behind a van parked on the street, a block away from the brown house.  He waited half-an-hour for Klodden to resurface, but he didn’t.  It was likely Klodden was there for the night, and who knew how much longer.  The house had a backyard with an alley.  Emil skirted down the street and into the alley, wanting to peek at the backyard.  It was surrounded by a white fence with flaking paint revealing grey, weathered wood underneath.  A square garden shed was situated in the back, left corner of the yard, with all kinds of junk – a rusty bicycle, two dirty, deflated tires, and broken hockey sticks dumped behind it.  The grass of the yard was weedy and barren.  The only light came from a small basement window at the back of the house.  Parked at the back of the gravel driveway was a longer car, an old model Emil didn’t recognize.  The car’s ivory paint was peeling and dirty.  Yellow, wilted leaves from the neighbor’s hanging evergreen peppered its windshield and hood.  

Emil bit his lip and took a breath.  His insides hurt, and he knew he wasn’t going to be able to stand out here long.  What was he going to do?

Damn it, he cursed.  Make the phone call.

He dialed 911.  For some reason, it felt surreal to do so.

“Nine-one-one emergency,” the female voice answered on one ring, “Police, fire or ambulance?”  

“Police,” Emil whispered, his heart charging out of his chest.  

“Please state your emergency.”  

“I’ve followed Charles Klodden into a home at 1132, 14th Street Southeast.” Emil’s voice shook.  “He’s wanted for killing those people out East.”

“Okay, that’s Charles Mark Klodden, wanted on a nationwide warrant for triple murder.”  The operator replied.  “Is that who you mean?”

“Yes,” Emil answered.  Arrghh, what am I doing?  He cursed himself.  Hang up the phone.  You’re supposed to be killing yourself.

“Where is this person now?”  The operator asked.  

“He’s in the house.” Emil stated, the impatience evident in his voice.  “He’s in the basement – there’s no lights on upstairs.”

“And how do you know this is Charles Mark Klodden you’re following, sir?”  The operator asked, setting Emil further on edge.

He kept his cool and explained to her the gentleman’s appearance.  The selling point was the red angel tattoo, which Emil clearly saw and was willing to state for the record.  That prompted the operator into action.  He hesitated when she asked him for his name and phone number, but he gave it to her.  She immediately informed him to get out of the alley and stay well out of range of the premises.  All available squad cars and constables in the Southeast would be called to the area.  Emil was to steer clear of all police personnel.  

Emil hung up the phone, but couldn’t bear leaving the alleyway.  Curiosity compelled him to remain.  The light remained on in the basement.  In a moment of insanity, Emil scaled the fence and wedged himself between the left-hand side of the brown shed and the fence.  A dirty, oil stained canvas tarp was piled in a ball next to the shed doors.  Emil swept the leaves off of it, and used it to cover himself up.   He needed to see how this would play out – this was his phone call, his initiative.  Simple resolve was not going to let him run away.  It wasn’t even an option.  

The first squad car arrived about four minutes later.  Emil slid himself so his head stuck out just past the front edge of the shed.  He had covered himself near perfectly with the tarp, and had a clear view to the entire back yard, and everything happening, though the car blocked some of the view from that angle.  

Two constables walked slowly up the driveway.   They wore bullet proof vests underneath their long coats.  Both of their holsters were open.  One officer, an Asian female, took the lead while the other, a burly Caucasian man, followed behind her.  They quickly sized up the backyard, then approached the door at the side of the house.  Emil had 95% of his body covered under the tarp, peering out of a small hole that he held up with his fingers which could easily be pulled down if someone came too close.  Behind him, he could hear another vehicle pull up in the alley, which stopped short of the backyard.  Emil kept himself under the tarp.

The officers pounded on the door.  They stood and waited, then knocked again, hitting the doorbell.  A loud crash from the front of the house pierced the silence.  The male officer drew his gun.  A brick or some heavy object was thrown through the front window.   The officers dashed to the front, guns drawn.  The female officer edged her way along the front of the porch, while the male officer crept low, covering her.

Emil could hear another officer behind the house leap over the fence and sprint through the driveway to join the other two.  A second later, Emil’s heart stopped as he saw the back bedroom window open, and Klodden wedging his way out.  He appeared to have a small pistol in his hand.  He leapt down onto the grass, and headed for the back fence, but stopped when he saw the cop car in the alley.  He turned and charged for the driveway, right towards Emil.  The officers didn’t see him!

Emil wanted to scream but couldn’t.   He crunched into a ball but looked up when he saw Klodden attempt to climb the fence, his feet a meter away from Emil’s face.

Grab him!  Stop him!  He shouted at himself.   He’s getting away!  

Emil was frozen – he thought about bolting out from under the tarp, grabbing Klodden’s feet, and screaming for the police.  The cops would be on the killer in less than a minute.  All Emil had to do was hold off Klodden for twenty seconds.  

But he couldn’t.  Klodden had a gun, and he was dangerous.  

Emil didn’t want to get shot.  He was frightened for his life.  

“Stop!”  One of the officers shouted.  Klodden had one leg over the fence, but aimed his pistol towards the cop.  Emil turned away and buried his head into the dirt.  A dull pop, followed by a loud clacking sound, caused him to jolt.  

He heard Klodden growl, swear, then fall to the ground in front of him, causing Emil to scramble backwards.  

“Hold it right there!”  The female officer screamed, her voice startled and intense.   “Put your hands up and get out from under that tarp!”    

It took Emil a full second to realize she was yelling at him.

“Ahhh!”  He squealed, sloughing the tarp off, only to see her gun pointing directly at him.  He looked down and saw Klodden squirming on the dirt below, gasping for breath.  Both male officers had stunned expressions on their faces – one quickly drew his gun on Emil, while the other held the taser that felled Klodden to the ground.

“Whoa, please, please, I’m innocent!”  Emil pleaded, dropping to his knees, his body in complete panic and survival mode.  “Please don’t shoot!  I’m the caller, I’m the guy who called in!”  

“What are you doing under that tarp?”  She growled.  

“I was watching the house for you, guys,” Emil’s voice was high.  “I wanted to make sure he didn’t bail and run!”  

“Just put your hands on your head, and stay kneeling,” the woman’s voice calmed.  “Do you have identification on you?”

“Yes, yes,” Emil sobbed, “I have it in my wallet.  Please don’t shoot me.”  

Klodden made a soft, guttural noise on the ground.  The male officer who tasered him knelt down and cuffed the man.  

“Nobody’s going to shoot you,” the female officer insisted, “if you follow my instructions to the letter.   Reach slowly into your pocket with your right hand and show me your ID.”  

Emil did so, making sure his left hand never left his head.   He was shivering like he had just been pulled out of ice water, but managed to grab his wallet to show her his license.  The male officer verified it, then grabbed his arm to pull him up.  “Okay, buddy, come with me to my car.  We need to get a statement from you.”  

Emil realized his face was matted and sweaty from hiding under the tarp.  He looked down at Klodden, who looked stiff as a board on the ground.  The killer’s head was turned and he was breathing heavily.  His labored glare met Emil’s for the briefest of moments, then the man closed his eyes, every centimeter on his face was flushed red.  

Emil sat in the cramped, back seat of the police car, trying to deal with an uncomfortable, tingling feeling in his chest.  It was probably shock.  The officer gave him a witness statement and told him to write down everything that had happened, which allowed Emil to take a breath and think.  The officers loaded Klodden into the squad car in the back alley.  A few lights were on in the homes around the street, but otherwise the neighborhood was stone quiet.  

***

Emil had the police drop him off at Georgie’s store – he didn’t dare have them take him home.  I can’t let this Klodden thing keep me from doing this.  He barked to himself on the ride back.  I have to kill myself.  No excuses.

He made it back to Georgie’s just before midnight.  Georgie was about to close shop when Emil lumbered through the door.  

“Hey, where you go?”  Georgie spoke in broken English.  “I just about put back your stuff.”    

“Sorry,” Emil muttered, forcing himself to move forward with the plan.  “Let me just buy my things so you can close for the night.”    

“You find that guy?”  Georgie asked.  “Is he that guy you thought he was?”

“Yeah,” Emil responded, himself in disbelief, and not wanting to say any more.  

He quickly paid for his things and left the shop.  His head was still spinning from the evening’s events, but he had come to Georgie’s store for a purpose, and he finally carried it out.  It was around 12:45 when he finally made it home.  The thought of having to get up at 6:00 to go to work at the gravel pit was as repulsive to him as ever.  He couldn’t do it, not after the events of tonight.  He wouldn’t do it.

He charged into his bathroom and shut the door.  He pulled out the bleach from his bag and dumped half the bottle into his toilet.  He took out the ammonia and knelt in front of the bowl.  He placed the ammonia next to him on the toilet seat.  

All I have to do is pour it in and breathe, Emil told himself.  

I mean, it’s easy right?  You want to do this.  He struck conversation with himself.  After all, there won’t be any praise about what you did during the Klodden thing.   The guy was arrested by the police.  I was no hero.  I hid under a dirty, disgusting tarp while the cops tasered him as he was about to jump a fence.  

He realized he did have a story to tell.  He was the one, after all, who recognized Klodden and made the phone call.  Without him, Klodden wouldn’t have been arrested and would have stayed in that run-down hovel for God knows how long.  

Who the hell would believe me anyways?   No one would take him seriously.   The boys at work would just laugh, accuse him of exaggerating the tale, and probably find some way to turn it into yet another way to tease him.  

No, he had to end this charade, this joke of a life.

He would kill himself.  Right now.

He unscrewed the cap from the ammonia and tilted the bottle over the toilet mouth.  He could see the liquid edge toward the lip of the bottle.  His chest crawled up his throat.

A small drop trickled down the edge of the bottle and plopped into the water of the bowl.

“Oh God!” He yelled and dropped the bottle onto the floor.  He shot up like a spring and flushed the toilet in one fell swoop, spinning the bleach and ammonia drop into the sewer.    

He needed to get out of the bathroom – there might have been a trace of nitrous oxide in the room.  He needed to air it out.  He turned on the bathroom fan as he left.  

He burst into the kitchen, his hands over his head.  He tried to take a breath then realized he wasn’t breathing.  He had held it in.  

He was a coward.

Or maybe I don’t want to die he thought.  The notion sent pins and needles down his sternum.  

He plopped onto his couch in the darkness of the living room, trying to calm himself, and contemplate the evening’s events.   After a few minutes he turned on the television.  He wanted the news, but knew that nothing would be reported about Klodden’s arrest until noon tomorrow.  Still, he left the TV on and found himself drifting back to the incessant drone of talk shows and reruns.  He sat for twenty minutes, watching as the usual, late-night drivel danced on the screen in front of him.  He caught himself getting bored, to the point where his tingling feeling had finally dissipated.    

“Omigod, what the hell am I doing?!”  He cussed, picking up the remote and shutting the TV off, feeling as good about that as anything else that day.  And it was in that moment, Emil realized what the biggest obstacle in his life was – not his job, his parents, or his lack of friends.  It was the routine he was wallowing in.

Monotony.

Once again, he had fallen into it, like a giant alligator pit, on what was easily the most exciting night of his life.  

I’ve had it.   He cursed, hurling his remote control across the room.  No way.  No more TV.  No more sitting on my arse.   I got Charles Klodden arrested tonight.  I made a difference, a contribution, and it feels good, damn it.  

That’s what I feel
, he suddenly understood.  I feel good about something I did.  

He shot up from the couch, and turned on the lights.  He stormed into the bathroom, poured the ammonia down the sink, and the remaining bleach down the toilet.        

That’s it, he swore to himself under his breath, my life changes tonight.
Michael Saad is a full-time teacher who, whenever he is not lesson planning, marking, or campaigning for more funding to public education, tries to squeeze in time for writing.  Mike is happily married to his wife Jodi, and they have two children.  Mike is active in fund-raising for cancer research and Ronald McDonald House Children’s Charities.

© 2009, Michael Saad