tagNon-EroticNext Time

Next Time

bytrigudis©

Many of us go through life with at least one antagonist either out to get us or to make our lives less than comfortable. About a decade before the technology of social media changed our lives, one such antagonist entered the life of probation agent Harry Foreman while he was sitting in Judge Alexander Mitchell's outer chambers.

As a probation agent, Harry had frequent contact with circuit and district court judges, the people who determined if a defendant received probation or went to jail. So this morning found Harry waiting to see Judge Mitchell about one of his cases. Also sitting there was an attorney whom he had never seen before. Both of them waited patiently for His Honor to receive them in chambers. Meanwhile, Harry's parking meter was running, and waiting much longer would have earned him a ticket. He told the secretary he needed to feed his meter or move his car and return some other time. When she advised him that the judge would be available in another five to ten minutes, Harry said, "Okay, I'll hit my meter."

Right before he exited the office, this attorney said, "Don't hurt your hand." Harry smiled, thinking he meant it as a joke, only to be disabused of that notion when he gleaned the attorney's hostile look of contempt. When he returned, the attorney was gone. He saw the judge and that was that.

On occasion, he'd think about what happened that morning, struggling to figure out what he did or said that had offended the attorney. Then he'd shrug it off and move on. Weeks later, he saw the attorney again. They were moving at a snail's pace through a crowded hallway toward a courtroom, when the attorney, a one Stephen Carp, Harry learned later, turned to a guard in the hall. Then, looking at Harry, Carp said, "You see this one here..."

The foot traffic shuffling toward the courtroom then picked up, so Harry heard nothing further. Mr. Carp, however, wasn't through. Sitting on opposite sides of the courtroom from Harry, he glared at him while talking to the same guard, a big black man who looked amused. Harry couldn't hear what was said, but it was obvious that he, Harry, was the subject of Carp's conversation. Once the judge took the bench, Carp turned his attention elsewhere.

Harry debated the merits of confronting Carp after court was over. He decided not to, at least not this time. If Carp "eye fucked" him again, then maybe he would, which prompted Harry to imagine what might happen if things got physical. If it came to that, could he take him? He wasn't sure.

Standing just under six feet, Carp cut an imposing figure. He sported a thick mane of black, wavy hair that came to a widow's peak. His features, sharp and angular, included a slightly jutting jaw and beak nose. The dark stubble on his face hinted that he didn't shave every day. Harry hadn't seen Carp in anything but a suit, though he could tell that the man was in good shape. He had that hard, raw-boned look, one sign that he had invested hours of sweat equity in some gym. Harry saw solid muscle under those pinstripes.

Harry was no weakling. He stood five-foot-eight, weighed about one-ninety-five and could bench around three-hundred. However, save for some wrestling in middle school, a fighter he wasn't. An article in a local legal daily featuring Carp told Harry that his presumed nemesis was some twelve years older than himself. So here was this attorney in his late thirties that apparently had some sort of beef against him, a guy he never spoke a word to, much less had committed some wrong against. What had Harry done or said that day in Judge Mitchell's outer chambers that triggered this ongoing contempt from Stephen Carp?

Harry thought that confronting him would play right into his hands. So he bided his time, waiting for Carp's next move. It came just weeks later when Carp walked into the lobby of the probation office, located just across the street from the stately, Edwardian era courthouse, and handed the receptionist some papers that pertained to a defendant he had just represented in court. Harry saw him because his office was just off the lobby, and he had his door open, with an offender sitting at his desk. While still at the receptionist's desk, Carp turned to his right and fixed his gaze on Harry, who continued speaking with the offender, doing his best to ignore Carp, hoping he'd go away. But he didn't. Much to Harry's chagrin, he continued to stare while Harry struggled to keep his attention on his work. Finally, he could take no more and looked up. "Can I help you?" He said this not in a hostile way but in a tone that mimicked a helpful sales person waiting on customers.

Carp didn't answer. Instead, he glared and sneered. In that instant, Harry imagined taking his fist and bashing in the guy's beak of a nose, splattering blood all over his dark blue suit. Even if he had been the type of man to do it, he didn't get the chance, because Carp turned and left.

The incident left Harry angry and shaken. Back in his apartment, he striped to the waist and did a Travis Bickle in front of his bathroom mirror: "You talkin' to me? You talkin' to me, Stephen Carp, you fucking prick." He whipped out a gun, a stainless .357 magnum revolver. "You talkin' to me? Talkin' to me? I'm the only one here. Who the fuck you think you're talkin' to?"

Harry thought about getting even. Don't get mad, get even, as the saying went. Being a passive-aggressive type, he didn't want a confrontation. Yet he couldn't ignore the harassment any longer. This arrogant lawyer in his finely cut suits deserved payback. But what kind? One that wouldn't reveal the payer, Harry knew. Subterfuge would be the name of the game. As someone who worked in law enforcement, he hated the thought of doing something illegal. From the people he supervised, he knew the consequences of breaking the law, of being driven by emotion to do bad things.

To get even—that was his mission—and he started by locating Carp's addresses, both home and office. A couple phone directories made that a cinch. Now what? What in his metaphorical bag of dirty tricks might be appropriate? It should be something that would give the guy a dose of his own medicine, something weird that would throw him off balance, something that would, like Harry, leave Carp scratching his head.

He'd start by sending him a goofy letter. Pulling out his portable Smith Corona, he started to type. He pretended to be an enraged motorist who had traced Carp's license plate number after Carp had cut him off in traffic. He ended it with this: "Do it again, you rude, arrogant A-hole, and I'll report you to the proper authorities." Then, after typing a bogus name and address on the upper left-hand corner of the envelope, he dropped it in the mail. Harry's only regret was that he wouldn't be there to see Carp's reaction. He pictured it, though, pictured the man opening his mail at home, squinting in disbelief and shaking his head: 'What the fuck?!'

Harry felt gratified. He didn't plan on further action so long as his antagonist left him alone. But he didn't. A couple months later, Harry again found himself in court with Carp. Being a private attorney, Carp got to have his case called first (violation of probation cases were always the last to be called). Harry sat in the last row back, thinking about his letter and how Carp might have reacted to it. Whatever Carp's problem with him had been, Harry could only hope that he had put it to rest. Yet apparently not, because after his case was settled, Carp left the trial table and walked toward Harry, his face contorted into the same obnoxious sneer. Then, just before exiting the courtroom, he leaned over and, in a low voice said, "You're meter's running, agent. Better hit it."

Seconds passed as Harry sat there in angry disbelief. Then he bolted up from his seat and stepped into the hall. Now he was ready to confront him. However, Carp was already on his way out the door to the street. Harry stopped, dropped his shoulders and took a deep breath. He then returned to the courtroom.

"What was that all about?" a female coworker asked. The agency provided parking passes to agents on a rotating basis, and she knew it was Harry's turn this month to receive a pass.

Harry shrugged. "I'm not sure myself. But one of these days I plan to find out."

If that little courtroom drama was any indication, Harry realized that Carp didn't plan to leave him alone any time soon. Well, two could play at this game. Another letter was in the offing.

This time, Harry pretended to be the manager of a collection agency threatening legal action if the deadbeat didn't pay up. He addressed the envelope with the name and address of a real collection agency. Then he signed it with a phony name, with the actual phone number of the agency typed beneath his signature. Harry chuckled when he dropped it in the mail. The harassed had become the harasser.

After that, Harry drew up a formal game plan. He would never confront Carp. If the man had something to say to him, besides opaque references to hitting parking meters, let him say it to his face. Then they'd talk. Meanwhile, Harry would continue to counterattack in anonymity. Maybe he'd even escalate, up the ante.

Weeks later, Harry was on his lunch hour, munching on a pastrami on rye at Tyson's, a local deli, when he saw Carp come in. He was dressed in a tan three-piece suit and carried a black leather briefcase. Even though the room was crowded, Carp spotted Harry right away and then went into his sneer routine before turning toward the counter to place his order. Periodically, while waiting, Carp shot Harry a look of sarcasm mixed with contempt. Harry did his best to avert the man's gaze, while violent scenarios played in his mind. One had Harry breaking a chair over his head. Another involved stuffing his pastrami down the man's throat; then, using the heel of his hand, smashing that hook nose into his brain. Of course, Harry did none of those things. Carp received his carryout order, then left, but not before flashing Harry another one of his trademark dirty looks.

Harry shook his head. This was beyond absurd. This was also war. Forget more letters; it was time to bring up the heavy artillery. Harry knew where the man lived. In fact, out of curiosity, on one early Sunday morning, he had driven by his house, a suburban split-level in an upscale neighborhood. A BMW and Avalon sat in the driveway. The guy would be plenty pissed, Harry imagined, if he came outside one day and found his shiny blue Beemer with its tires flattened. He'd be late for work. That is, if he didn't take the white Avalon sedan, what Harry assumed was his wife's car.

Harry wrestled with the notion of doing the deed. Moral scruples and fear of getting caught gave him pause. But what the hell? Carp had started it. Moreover, Harry would only deflate his tires, not slash them—there'd be no destruction of property. And that's what Harry did in the wee hours of a Tuesday morning. Parking his black Chrysler 200 down the block, he crept up to the asphalt driveway, stooped down and deflated the BMW's two front tires. Then he crept back and drove off.

The next morning, while at work, Harry couldn't resist calling Carp's office and asking the secretary if he could speak with him. "He's having car trouble, he'll be in later," she said. Harry pumped his fist in the air. In his mind they were now even. Harry suspected that Carp was beginning to question whether these weird things, the letters and now the flattened tires, were linked in some way. Served him right for harassing Harry for no good reason.

Harry planned no further action. The next move was Carp's—if there was a next move. Maybe he'd be too concerned about these happenings to bother Harry anymore. Wishful thinking, it turned out, for the following week, as Harry walked to his car through the parking garage, he glanced behind to see a blue BMW creeping up on him. When the passenger window came down, Harry could see who it was. Carp leaned over and said, "What, no meter to hit today?" He sat there scowling, daring Harry to say or do something.

Harry wanted to explode, wanted to ask what the fuck Carp's problem was. Instead, shocked by the inertia of disbelief and fear, he just stood there, his mouth frozen, his tongue tied. Other than a smart-ass, gratified smirk, Carp said nothing further before driving off.

Having just blown a golden opportunity to finally confront his nemesis, Harry felt a wave of self-loathing wash over him. Anybody in his position with an ounce worth of self-respect would have let Carp have it, either verbally, physically or both. Not Harry. No, he just stood there like a dumb wus. "FUCK!!" he screamed when he got to his car, his anguished, outraged cry reverberating off the concrete walls of the parking garage, loud enough for anyone on its five levels to hear. Harry didn't care. He wasn't just pissed anymore, he was angry, perhaps more at himself than Carp.

Dark thoughts crept into his brain like shadows in late afternoon. He would not let Carp's latest insult go unpunished. If he lacked the courage for confrontation, he'd at least step up his hit-and-run, gorilla campaign.

He did just that the following week. Like last time, he drove to Carp's residence in early morning, parked his car down the block and then crept up to his driveway. This time, he flattened all four tires of Carp's Beamer. Then, for good measure, he hurled a rock through the driver side window.

"Oh what a tangled web we weave," he said to himself as he drove through the night back to his place. Serious deep shit awaited him if he ever got caught. Harry knew that if Carp had wondered about the nature of what came before, he didn't now. He had to know that those things weren't random acts, that somebody was targeting him. What Carp didn't know, at least not yet, was who and why. Harry enjoyed the thought of Carp going ballistic when he saw the damage. If he could become hostile over an innocuous comment about hitting a parking meter, Harry could imagine how he'd react now. Still, gratification mixed with worry, for Carp might connect the dots. 'Maybe I should have waited another week or so before launching another raid,' Harry thought.

Harry was surprised to see TV news coverage of his vandalism. Apparently, Stephen Carp was well known enough in legal circles for a local news crew to show up. From the comfort of his living room, Harry saw the pretty female reporter interview police, Carp and his wife. The reporter asked him who he thought might have done the damage. "We have some idea who's been invading our property," Carp said, standing in his driveway. "But that's between us and this sick individual. When we get definitive proof, there will be hell to pay." When she pressed him for details, he said, "I have no further comment at this time." He glared into the camera, his eyes on fire.

Harry paced the floor, nervous with concern. Did Carp have someone in mind or was he simply bluffing? There were no witnesses, at least that he knew of. His DNA was safe, too, because he had worn latex gloves. Was the house equipped with video surveillance? And if so, could Carp identify who was in his driveway those nights? Maybe not, for the resolution of security video was often cloudy—assuming that Carp even had the equipment. If not, then at the very least, Carp must be racking his brain for potential enemies, people he thought might harbor a grudge, people he had wronged or offended in some way. Harry thought that someone like Carp might have a long list. Lawyers made enemies, especially arrogant lawyers who seem to get offended for no good reason. If Carp's comment to the reporter was a bluff, then Harry figured he was safe. Why would Carp suspect him? After all, he wasn't even a footnote in Carp's life, someone who was barely on his radar—and then only when he saw him.

Harry was both relieved and horrified less than a week later when police made an arrest based on the Carp's video surveillance. Local TV news flashed the guy's mug shot. His name was Jonathan Alan Burrell, a disgruntled, former client of Carp's who bore a remarkable resemblance to Harry. Burrell, it turned out, had been writing Carp nasty letters over the way Carp had handled his case. Carp had stopped answering those letters, and that's when Burrell, police alleged, got destructive. Harry thought it ironic that Carp, a criminal defense attorney, defended people who destroyed property and such. The supreme irony would be if Harry was charged and then defended by Carp, his victim.

The media reported that Burrell made bail. Then coverage stopped. Meanwhile, Harry wrestled with his conscience. An innocent man was being accused of something he didn't do, caught up in some Kafkaesque drama for which Harry was to blame. A courageous, stand-up guy would go to police and confess. Then again, a guy with those qualities wouldn't have done what Harry did in the first place. That kind of guy would have confronted his antagonist a long time ago. At night, Harry was doing lots of tossing and turning, losing sleep. His credibility as a probation agent would be shot if he confessed. Not that it would matter—he'd be fired. Of course, Burrell's charges might be thrown out. Or, he might be found not guilty. But maybe not and Harry would have to live with a guilty conscience.

He felt guilty enough as is. Then there was the self-loathing, eating him up alive. His situation gave new meaning to stuck between a rock and a hard place. His parents had always taught him to do the right thing. So far, he had done everything wrong when it came to Stephen Carp. He knew it was time to be a man and fess up. Yet he couldn't bring himself to do it. He'd taken to standing in front of his full-length mirror, hurling insults at himself, as if to expunge the guilt, as if to punish himself. "You're nothing more than a fucking cowardly wus, a pussy who can't stand up to other men, who would let an innocent man stand trial for something YOU did."

Coincidentally, one of Harry's offenders was scheduled for a violation of probation hearing the same day as Burrell's trial. Same day, approximately the same time, in front of the same judge. As usual, Harry sat toward the rear of the courtroom. Minutes later, he saw Burrell walk in with his attorney, white-haired, fifty-something Roger McAdoo. Harry knew him because McAdoo had represented a few of Harry's offenders. Then Carp walked in, witness, Harry assumed, for the prosecution. Carp saw Harry, too, shot him his usual sneer and then dangled his hand a few feet in front of him. "How's your hand?" he said, a sarcastic smile plastered across his swarthy face, now showing the faint beginnings of a goatee. He then took a seat toward the front of the room.

Harry clenched his fists until his knuckles went white. Even with a trial pending, even with his alleged perpetrator just feet away, Carp couldn't resist antagonizing Harry. Not that Harry was going to do anything about it. After all, he was a wus, and wuses let people walk all over them.

Kenneth Watts, an aging black judge nearing retirement, came out, banged his gavel and called the Burrell case first. After a not guilty plea, the prosecution went forward. Thirty-something Allyson Sanders, assistant state's attorney, made her case using the video and Burrell's anger as evidence and motive. She presented copies of his letters to the court. Then Carp took the stand, telling the court that he had every reason to believe that Burrell was guilty. In addition, he expressed the pain and suffering that he and his wife had suffered as the result of Burrell's crimes. Harry grinned in satisfaction, for it was pain and suffering that he had meant to inflict on Stephen Carp. He felt bad about the collateral damage done to Mrs. Carp.

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bytrigudis© 4 comments/ 2832 views/ 1 favorites

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