He sat in the center of the love seat, in the darkened bedroom, settled against the soft pillows behind him. His hands, clad in thin cotton gloves, were folded in his lap; his feet, wrapped in blue surgical booties, stretched out beneath the neatened coffee table before him. High above, dangling from the post-and-beam cathedral ceiling, an ornate Hunter fan barely stirred the air, setting the mood for the sleeping house.
The man was in his realm; the king of his castle.
The standard audible vital signs of any home added to the tranquility—the furnace’s occasional rumbling two floors below, the rhythmic heartbeat of the grandfather clock on the first floor, the deep and regular breathing from the two people in the big bed across the room. In a place this vast and expensive, he half wondered if he couldn’t hear the very walls chiming in, carrying within them the wiring and fiber optics of Internet connections, TV cable, high-tech security, fancy phone systems, dimmer switches for mood lighting, a camera hookup to all the building’s entrances—a veritable nervous system.
The house was a palace, certainly by Vermont standards. Standards that were escalating with the steady influx of wealthy outsiders—dreaded “flatlanders” to the locals—especially following 9/11. But he wasn’t among the complainers. The newcomers offered him that much more to explore.
He rose without a sound, drifted across the carpeted floor to the bedside, and gazed down upon its occupants. A man and woman, he in his sixties, she younger, beginning their struggle with the aging process, he less successfully than she. Her outline under the sheet showed an athletic body, with enough of her bare back revealed to confirm it—along with the added detail that she either slept in the nude or at least wore no top. Her husband was the more traditional lump—too much alcohol and snack food. An earlier tour of the workout room had revealed her presence to the exclusion of his.
They slept far apart on the king-size mattress, their respective night tables cluttered with telltale belongings—glasses to replace contacts; nasal strips to control snoring; ointment for sun spots; under-eye cream to stem bags and blotching. On her side there was a small bottle of K-Y lubricant, to ease her through those rare amorous moments when her husband journeyed across the bed’s extended acreage.
The lump was named Lloyd, which their uninvited guest found amusing. Her name was Lisbeth, shortened to Liz only in the notes from husband to wife that he’d perused earlier in her office nook off the kitchen. Everyone else appeared to call her by her full name. Lloyd, of course, had an office to himself—large and pretentious. That had been worth exploring, from the easily defeated computer password to the contents of a small cardboard box attached to the back of a foreshortened desk drawer. The man wondered if Lisbeth knew anything about that—separate bank accounts and financial records, all in Lloyd’s name only, not to mention a few letters from, as the quainter novels used to put it, “a woman not his wife,” named Susan Rainier. He’d been unable to resist doing a little tampering there, to guarantee that Lloyd would know without doubt that he’d had a visitor. Pure ego, of course. He knew that. A little male-to-male competition. Childish, in fact, and thus all the more irresistible. He’d stolen one of the letters, a whole packet of incomprehensible financial papers—at least to him—and generally rearranged the rest of it, just to drive Lloyd crazy.
He did sympathize on one level, if only one. It had to be hard to set such high expectations and then struggle to meet them daily, even if the aim was selfish, artificial, duplicitous, and—for all he knew—illegal.
The man moved to the bedroom door and stood looking out. An interior balcony extended to both sides of him, overlooking a gargantuan living room. Far opposite, a wall of windows surveyed immaculately groomed fields, now glowing like dull silver in the warm, early-summer moonlight.
He considered the conclusions he’d reached about these two. Huge overhead, staggering bills, social expectations from all corners, embarrassing secrets. An impressive burden of toil, cost, supply, and demand based on nothing more important than the choice between cashmere and lamb’s wool. But he wasn’t condemning. After all, he spent considerable time researching how and when to break into places like this—without leaving any trace of his methods. Wasn’t what drove him as important to him as Lisbeth’s eye cream was to her, or Lloyd’s secret stash to him?
Each of us just struggles to keep in balance, he thought blandly, as banal and unsatisfying as that seemed. In his case, he saw himself as a night stalker, a collector of information useful either as a means of support or as pure intelligence about his fellow human beings. He had homework to do, and this was how he did it. To others, he’d be a slightly eccentric burglar.
He leaned forward and placed his hands on the railing, absorbing the feeling of superiority and control. They wouldn’t understand how heenjoyedthe knowledge such moments provided. That washisneed. He left these clandestine encounters richer for the perceptions he gained.
He and his daughter, Sally, had once chatted about which super power they’d most enjoy having. She’d said flight, not surprisingly; he’d chosen the ability to transmigrate walls. Like a ghost. All-seeing but invisible. The closest she might get to reality was through a pilot’s license and a plane, many years and much cash later. He was all squared away.
He heard a rustling behind him and quickly stepped out of sight, then glanced around the corner to confirm it was only a little tossing and turning.
Still, he’d been here for a few hours, wandering throughout the house, poking into closets, drawers, and, of course, the fridge. No point overstaying his purloined welcome.
He reentered the bedroom and returned to the sleeping couple, standing on the woman’s side, close enough that if he bent over, he could kiss her naked shoulder blade. Yielding to temptation, he did at least bow, not to kiss but to feel the heat of her in his nostrils. She smelled good.
Finally conceding that the time had come, he extracted a one-inch square piece of yellow paper and stuck it carefully to the woman’s small bottle of lubricant.
TAG! it said in bold letters, inscribed with a broad felt pen. Maybe he didn’t want to reveal his method of entry, but he liked their knowing he’d been here.
He gave them a last smile before fading away toward the bedroom door and the world beyond.
Copyright © 2011 by Archer Mayor