The Night Audit
“Well here we go again,” Richard thought to himself as he reached out for the cold knob on his apartment door. A sense of déjà vu washed through him as he turned the knob and quickly pulled open the door.
“God I gotta find a new job before I go insane,” he mumbled as he turned around and fumbled for the keys to his apartment door. Finding them in his left coat pocket he pulled them out quickly and tried several times in the dim light to find the right key. Ah success! With a satisfying click the key turned in the knob and his apartment was secure. Dropping the keys back into his pocket he began his nightly trek down the three flights of stairs that led to the building entrance. The stairwell was dimly lit and Richard made a mental note to himself to complain about that to the building superintendent the next time he saw the fat old lazy bastard. Richard had often wondered to himself if Mr. Travelli actually had anything in his wardrobe other than that stained, formerly white T-shirt that always seemed to be attached to his body like a tattoo. He smiled to himself as a sudden feeling of pity for that poor old stained shirt washed over him.
As he hopped down the few last steps of the stairwell and stepped off into the entrance of the building, he paused to look outside through the windows alongside the doorway. It was nearly eleven o’clock at night, and in the darkness beyond the doorway he watched as the rain came down hard, driven on even harder by occasional gusts of severe wind. How many days had it been raining now? He had lost count. It seemed as though the rain would never end.
Pulling his collar up around his neck, he reached for the door and pulled it open. A warm evening wind blew over his face as he stepped out through the open doorway. Screwing up his courage, he stepped out into the darkness and the rain and pulled the door closed behind him. “Shit, shit, shit,” he said as he walked quickly down the few steps to the sidewalk. “God I hate this rain.”
The bus stop was right in front of his building, so fortunately he didn’t have to walk too awfully far in this miserable weather. Looking down at his watch, he began to mumble softly to himself about the poor quality of the busing service in this city, when suddenly a quiet sound from behind grabbed his attention. He turned around quickly and saw a dirty old man sitting there on the sidewalk next to the steps with his back against the building. He had his knees pulled up to his chest with his arms wrapped around them. He was shivering a bit and looked completely miserable and alone. Richard pulled a twenty-dollar bill out of his wallet and walked over to the man.
Kneeling down, he put his hand on the old man’s shoulder and gave it a gentle squeeze. The man’s head shot up and he made a few whimpering noises as he stared into Richard’s eyes, completely terrified. He had the look, and sound of a man who had been mugged and abused many times in the past.
The man had a dirty white beard and the weathered skin on his face looked as though it hadn’t been washed in years. His eyes were very light in color and almost looked bright, as though they were desperately trying to escape from this filthy prison in which they were forever confined.
Richard held up his hands and said in a quiet gentle voice, “Whoa there buddy, just calm down now. Look here,” he held up the twenty-dollar bill for the man to see. The old bum just stared at him with those eyes, a scared and unbelieving look painted on his face as though his features had frozen permanently in that frightened look.
“Here man, take this. Really, it’s ok. Go get yourself some hot coffee and something hot to eat.”
The bum reached out a trembling hand and took the money pulling his arm back quickly as though he had just snatched the bill from the mouth of a snake. He stuffed it in the chest pocket of his old, worn out jacket and then just sat there staring as though he expected at any minute to discover that this was some kind of a cruel joke. Hearing the bus coming, Richard smiled at the old man and stood up. “Go on now, it’s all right. Go on and get yourself warmed up.”
Turning to walk to the waiting bus he heard the man spring to his feet. Richard spun around just in time to catch a big wet kiss from the old man right on the lips. “YIPEEEEEEE!" the old man screamed as he spun around in the rain with his arms spread out wide and then skipped off happily down the street. Richard wiped his mouth off with his sleeve and though to himself. “If that guy hasn’t showered in years, it’s got to be at least twice as long since he brushed his teeth last. Yuck! Oh well at least I did my good deed for the day.”
With that Richard turned around and stepped up into the bus. Yep, good ol’ bus #7. He had been riding this bus practically since he moved here a year ago. It had become almost like an old familiar friend. He took his usual seat about halfway down the aisle and sat down next to the window. With a loud release of air the pneumatic doors of the bus closed. Richard leaned his head up against the window and stared out into the night.
He found that his focus kept switching back and forth between the lights of the passing buildings, and the trails of the raindrops as they hit the window and slid down in twisting, jagged motions until they eventually dissipated into nothing except a long wet trail of wetness streaming down the side of the bus. His eyes began to close slowly as the combined effects of the lights, the rain, and the low, rumbling, droning sound of the bus began to lull him into an almost hypnotic sleep. His head began to dip slowly until finally his chin touched his chest and his head hung loosely from his neck as sleep overtook him.
It wasn’t long before he was awakened by a strong hand gripping his shoulder and shaking him. His head jerked up and he found himself looking into the face of the bus driver.
“Heya buddy, we’re at your stop.”
Richard sat up in his seat and stared blurry-eyed out the window. Indeed they were at the hotel.
“Thanks man,” he said in a sleepy voice.
“No problem, us night people gotta watch out for each other. Workin’ nights is a bitch,” the driver said with a laugh.
“Hey, there’s a bulletin from the newsroom,” Richard replied with a smile.
“Have a good night man. Don’t fall asleep at the wheel.”
“Funny you should mention that. Happened to a buddy of mine once. He was driving this group of old folks on one of those one day gambling trips to Reno. Fell asleep at the wheel and drove em all right off a cliff in the mountains. No survivors.”
A grim look covered the face of the driver as he said this last part and Richard felt a sudden chill run up his spine.
“Gee, thanks for the cheerful sendoff. That’ll keep me going tonight.”
“Hey sorry there guy. Didn’t mean to be a bummer.”
“No, it’s ok. I was the one who brought it up. I think I’ll just leave it at ‘have a good night’ and that’s it.” He said with a slight smile.
“You too guy,” the driver said as he followed Richard back to the front of the bus and sat down as he watched Richard walk down the steps.
Richard turned around and looked at the driver, “Yeah?”
“I see you every night and I don’t even know your name. My name is Dave, what’s yours?”
“It’s Richard, but everyone calls me Rich.”
“OK Rich, have a good night.”
“You too man,” Richard said with a smile as he turned and walked toward the hotel’s main lobby.
* * * * *
More often than not he had he had these same thoughts as he settled in to his nightly ritual of printing reports and balancing figures. God how he hated his job but he did it every night with nary a decimal point out of place. He was good at what he did and everyone knew it including him. This knowledge didn’t make him like his job any better though. It wasn’t much consolation for all the lost sleep and the non-existent social life that seemed to have become the normal everyday existence for him. It wouldn’t even be so bad if he just had someone to work with at night to keep him company, but all he had was a small radio that he would listen to Art Bell’s radio show on every night. The guests and the topics were interesting, more often than not about paranormal activity and UFO’s and government conspiracies and the like. Listening to the radio was about the high point of his night.
Hours passed. It was now close to 2am and the Art Bell show tonight was a repeat of one he had heard a couple months ago. The reports were still printing slowly and as the droning sound of the old dot matrix printer began to send him into yet another hypnotic sleep, he has a sudden flash of frustration and jumped up out of his chair. He walked purposely to the front desk, grabbed the classified ads out of the newspaper, and spread them out wide over the counter.
“I’m going to find another job damn it. I just can’t take this one anymore. I don’t even have a life anymore because of this damn job. I’ve had it.” He grumbled to himself.
The automatic doors on the left side of the lobby suddenly opened allowing a large gust of wind to blow through the lobby. Richard looked over at the doors trying to see what had caused them to open, but saw nothing. The classified ads blew off the front desk and onto the floor before Richard had a chance to grab them, and he knelt down with a grunt to pick them up. “Either my belts are getting tighter or I’m starting to put on a little weight.” He mumbled to himself quietly as he retrieved the paper and stood back up. Laying the paper back out on the counter he began to scan through it again, carefully making sure that he skipped over the all of the night auditor positions.
Suddenly the doors opened again, and again the wind blew through the lobby with a massive gust that blew the ads off the counter once again. Richard grumbled to himself and knelt down once again to retrieve the papers. He stood back up, still grumbling to himself about how he should leave a note for maintenance to look at those doors, when suddenly he found himself face to face with the driver from the bus he had ridden to work earlier.
Richard’s heart nearly jumped out of his chest. It was nearly a minute before he could catch his breath enough to speak.
“Jesus Christ you scared the hell out of me. What are you doing here, and what the hell are you doing sneaking up on me like that? Jeez man you almost gave me a heart attack!”
The driver just stood there looking pale.
“Hey man are you all right? What are you doing here?”
The driver spoke in almost a whisper. “I came to see you Richard.”
Richard looked into his eyes. They seemed somehow vacant. Richard had a sudden thought that maybe the driver, Dave, was on something. “Hey man, tell ya’ what. Give me just a second and I’ll come around and walk you over to the couch in front of the fire. We’ll get you warmed up and see if we cant get you through this bad trip you’re on.”
The driver continued to stare blankly at him.
Richard walked around through the back office and finally came out in front of the desk. He took the driver’s arm in his hand and nearly had to jerk it back. This guy’s arm was ice cold!
“Jesus man come on over here and sit down in front of the fire. We gotta get you warmed up here.”
He led the driver slowly over to the sofa in front of the fireplace in the lobby and sat him down.
“Now, you just sit there and relax. I got some work to do. If you need anything just let me know and I’ll get it for ya. ok?”
The driver’s lips moved slightly and he whispered “I came to see you Richard.”
“Um, right I think we already covered that. Just relax man. Try to sleep if off if you can.”
With that he walked back into the office and sat down at his desk. “God what the hell did he take?” he muttered to himself as he began to sort through the huge stack of reports in front of him., “And a better question is…where the hell can I get some? God I hate my job.”
Another hour passed, and work was progressing nicely. Something was nagging at him though that he couldn’t quite seem to shake. He couldn’t stop thinking about that driver sitting out there on the couch. That vacant stare, and the icy coldness of his skin.
“I had better go check on him.” He thought to himself. “Don’t want him dyin’ on the sofa out there. That would be bad for business.” Richard smiled to himself, amused by his own cleverness and got up to go check on the driver.
He walked out into the lobby and looked on the sofa but the driver was gone. He looked all around up and down the hallway, in the bathrooms, out in the lobby parking lot, everywhere, but there was no sign of the driver to be found. It was almost as though he had never existed at all.
“Now where the hell did he go? Christ, I hope he’s not walking around out in the street or something in his condition.”
Richard walked back into the lobby and went back into the office. The reports were almost all done printing, and he knew he should be getting things done, but he couldn’t think about anything but that driver walking around out there somewhere. Suddenly the lobby doors opened and Richard heard the desk bell ring.
“Oh please God let that be him,” Richard said to himself as he rose quickly from his chair and walked quickly to the front desk in the lobby. When he arrived he saw not the driver standing there, but instead, a man with a stocking mask over his face and a gun in his hand, which was pointed right Richard’s head.
“Ok now open the damn safe mother fucker and give me the damn money!!!! Do it now or I’ll blow your fucking head off!!!”
Richard was scared to death but managed to stammer out, “B-b-b-ut only the general manager of the hotel knows the combination. I can’t get into the safe.”
“GOD DAMN IT OK MOTHERFUCKER THEN YOU’RE GONNA DIE!!!!” the robber screamed through a crack induced insanity.
Richard winced and closed his eyes waiting for the bullet to hit him. Suddenly he heard the robber scream again.
“WHAT THE FUCK IS THIS??? WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU SUPPOSED TO BE? THIS AIN’T NO HALLOWEEN MOTHERFUCKER!!!”
Richard opened his eyes and saw the driver standing in front of him. Where the hell did he come from and why did he have to pick now to come back. Now they were both going to die.
The robber screamed and emptied his revolver into the driver, but the driver just absorbed the shots and continued standing there, saying nothing and making no movement. The robber stood there in shock, not believing how someone could take six shots and still be standing.
“MAN, WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU???” he screamed.
The driver reached up to his chest and began to pull out the bullets, dropping each to the floor as it was extracted until all six of them had finally been removed.
Slowly, he turned around and looked at Richard, and through nearly unmoving lips, Richard heard him whisper, “Us night people gotta watch out for each other.”
With that, he turned to the robber and thrust his hand into the man’s chest as though it was made of nothing more than thin air. He grabbed the man’s heart and crushed it as the man screamed in agony. Once the deed had been done, the driver pulled his hand back, leaving no sign that it had ever entered into the man’s chest at all. The robber fell to the floor dead with a look of absolute horror in his eyes as the driver turned around and looked sadly at Richard. Richard could only stand there shaking and pale, in complete shock. No words could find his lips as his usually logical mind struggled to comprehend what he had just seen.
The driver bent down and retrieved the bullets from the floor and then reached out to hand them to Richard. Richard extended a shaking hand and took them.
“Keep these, and remember me Richard. Us night people gotta stick together.”
Richard could only nod weekly as the driver turned and walked back through the office, around the front desk, and then out the lobby doors. Richard watched him as he left the lobby and suddenly came back to his senses. He jumped up over the front desk and ran to the main lobby doors, but when he got there, he saw nothing. The driver had vanished as though he had never been there at all. Richard wondered if maybe he had been hallucinating. He lifted his hand and opened it. Six bullets, no more, no less were sitting there staring him in the face…six bullets that had been meant for him. He looked back into the lobby and saw the dead man lying on the floor. No, this was no hallucination.
“Guess I’d better call the police.” he thought to himself as he turned and walked slowly back into the office. The police arrived within ten minutes of the call.
* * * * *
Morning came and after the nights events combined with the police interviews Richard was completely exhausted. He had told the police that this crackhead had come in to rob him with an empty gun and then had a heart attack in the middle of the robbery and died. The robber’s death was judged to be caused by heart failure due to excessive drug use and the police let the matter drop at that.
While Richard had been waiting for the police to arrive, he had taken the opportunity to write a short resignation letter which he had left sitting on his desk like a crown upon the huge stack of reports that he hadn’t gotten to yet this evening.
As he walked out the door of the hotel for the last time, he felt as though he had a new lease on life, and he decided right then and there that he was going to make the very best of it that he possibly could.
Joe, the newspaper guy, was just walking towards the lobby, bringing in the morning papers as he did every day. Richard stopped him and grabbed a morning paper from him.
“Charge it to the hotel,” he said with a smile, “After all it was the least they can give me for a going away present.”
“Oh are you leaving the hotel Rich?” Joe asked, rather surprised that Rich would be leaving after all this time.
“Yeah I’ve about had it, so it’s time for me to go. Take it easy Joe, maybe I’ll see ya around sometime.”
“Ok Rich, good luck.”
The two men shook hands and each went their separate ways.
Richard only had to wait a minute or two for the cab that he had called to take him home. He climbed into the back seat and pulled the door closed behind him. The newspaper seemed especially thick today for some reason, and after putting on his seat belt, he opened it up to the front page. “What horror stories do they have for us today?” he muttered quietly. Then his eyes opened wide and he suddenly became very pale. There on the front page was a picture of a demolished bus with a #7 on the back end of it. The story read that the driver of the bus, one Mr. David Miller, had fallen asleep at the wheel and crossed over into oncoming traffic, running head on into a semi truck. The driver of the bus had been killed instantly as he was thrown into the windshield and sustained a broken neck. The driver of the semi was in serious but stable condition at the county hospital. There were no other injuries in the collision.
Richard set the paper down on the seat next to him and let out a long sigh.
“I don’t know how or why you did it, but thank you David. I won’t forget you,” he whispered almost silently to himself so that the driver of the cab wouldn’t hear.
A slight breeze suddenly whisked up in the back seat of the cab and blew the newspaper over to the back page where the story continued and there was a photograph of one Mr. David Miller, standing proudly in front of his #7 bus.