Manhattan. Seven-thirty in the evening. Indian summer. No way it should be this warm in late September, but I’m sweating in my T-shirt as I run through the gloaming and feel the cold prickle on the back of my neck. Someone is watching me. Now. Here. Close by.
Had enough sentence fragments yet? My English teacher said they were a weakness of mine. But that was more than a year ago, when I was a senior at Hadley High School, leading a relatively normal life.
I’m not in Hadley anymore, and I can never go back. Too much has happened to me since then. Firestorm adventure to save the oceans, over. Whirlwind trip to the Amazon, completed. I’m a year older. I hope a bit wiser. But I still like sentence fragments. They generate pace. If you want speed, stick around, my friend. If you enjoy weird, don’t budge from that chair.
I feel that prickle again. Glance around quickly. Gangly guy in spandex checking his fancy stopwatch for lap time. Cute chick with red hair bopping along the wrong way, listening to her music, making all the other runners veer around her. Family of four jogging in pairs, mother-son, father-daughter. Everyone looks a bit strange.
This is Manhattan, after all. Hundreds of people in the park on a warm autumn evening doing their funky big-city things and surreptitiously checking each other out.
That’s why I’m here. I came to the Big Apple because it seemed like a good place to lose myself and start over. Shed a skin. Jump into the bubbling stew. Melting pot supreme.
Got a job working construction. See a lot of P.J. who’s a freshman at Barnard College. There are days when I work .fteen hours and no one gives me a second look, and I almost believe that it’s possible for me to live a relatively normal life.
And then there are the moments like this when I know I’m kidding myself.
I do a three-sixty, looking for telltale signs. No tall cyborgs. No bat creatures. No one dodges my gaze.
Could be a false alarm. Maybe I’m paranoid. Except that deep down I know it’s real. Can’t spitball who’s watching me, but I’m positive they’re out there.
I have only two choices, neither of them particularly appealing. I can wait for them to make their move. Or I can try to run away.
I pick up the pace as darkness settles over the reservoir. Outside the park, the lights of Central Park West and Fifth Avenue blink on. An urban constellation frames an oasis of dark, rippling water. I’ve seen the world a bit. Swum deep under the oceans to a virgin sea mount. Found the hidden valley of the Amazon. A beautiful evening in Manhattan is still a pretty spectacular thing.
I’m running fast now. Passing people. Arms pumping. No one can keep up with me. But they don’t have to.
Whoever’s watching me may be stationary, following my laps from a bench. Or maybe they’re ensconced high up in an apartment overlooking the park, like the Gorm who lured me to her penthouse lair, watching me through a window with nightscopes. Or it could be a kid, or a mechanical bird, or even a shape-shifting squirrel.
I .rst felt the prickle one week ago, at P.J.’s dinner party. I admit I was nervous anyway.
Nice of her to invite me, but I didn’t .t in. P.J.’s new friends. The college set. A dozen Columbia and Barnard freshmen. Giggling about a charming anthropology professor with endless eccentric anecdotes and complaining about an arduous chem lab. Comparing reading lists and writing assignments. Trying out new words, new hairstyles, and post–high school personas on each other.
One goofy guy not in college. Didn’t even .nish high school. Nice to meet you, Jack. What do you do? Oh, really, you work construction? How do you know P.J.? High school friend? Well, nice talking to you.
We’re eating in the garden of a Greek restaurant downtown. I’m trying to pretend that I don’t mind being completely ignored. Go ahead and converse. Posture. Ponti.cate. I’ll just concentrate on this plate of kabobs.
I listen politely as I unskewer lamb chunks with my hands, calloused from heavy work. The physics phenom sitting next to me keeps stealing glances at my missing pinky. Want to know how I lost that one, Einstein? A .end named Dargon cut it off on a trawler, while his thugs held me down. But don’t mind me. Go on making fun of your linear algebra teaching assistant’s stutter. I’m riveted.
P.J. isn’t fooled. She’s watching me. I give her a nonchalant grin and she smiles back. Okay, prep school lacrosse star. Tell her about your family’s spread in the Hamptons. She’ll listen and nod, but I’m the one who will be walking her home tonight. I’m the one who will be riding up in the elevator with her, to her dorm room. I’m the one who will follow her into the common room, past her three roommates, to her tiny bedroom .lled with books.
And guess what? You may have the hip clothes and the preppy cool and the million-dollar summerhouse, but I’m the one who will put my arms around her and kiss her on her soft warm lips, and tell her I love her.
Except that she de.nitely seems interested in that place in Bridgehampton. And the lacrosse player is smart enough not to go after her too aggressively, but rather he makes it a group thing.
Somehow a party starts to get planned there, a big bash with costumes and a live band. And I don’t think I’m on the guest list.
I excuse myself and head to the bathroom. Twenty other tables in the garden. Glasses clinking. Silverware clanking. And that’s when I feel it.
On the back of my neck. The tactile equivalent of someone raking his .ngernails across a blackboard. It makes me squirm and wheel around.
All I see are couples sipping wine and spooning lemon chicken soup by candlelight. There are a few large groups digging into platters of stuffed grape leaves and devouring baby lamb chops as they banter back and forth.
I burst inside and check out the bar, the waiters, and the kitchen staff. They’re all busy with plates and trays and glasses. “The bathroom’s down there, sir,” a waiter explains, misinterpreting my distress.
Seconds later I’m in the bathroom splashing cold water on my face and trying to calm down. Because this is the nightmare I live with. That they’ll .nd me again. Hunt me down. Rip off the bandage and open the scar.
And now it’s happened.
I knew it instantly, at that dinner party, standing in the courtyard of the Greek restaurant. Sure, I tried to convince myself that it had just been a chill breeze on the back of my neck. But as I looked at myself in the bathroom mirror, I knew they had found me and it was starting all over again.
I knew it with even more certainty two days later at the construction site, hard hat on and tool belt in place, stepping out on a high girder. Couldn’t afford to shiver up there, but I felt the cold prickle again. All of Manhattan below. Dozens of of.ce buildings. Anyone could be watching me.
So now, in Central Park, it isn’t a complete surprise. But this is strike three. No use pretending anymore. I go into full sprint for the last hundred yards, and as I .y along, arms pumping, I force myself to face the bitter truth. Have to act quickly. Take time off my job. Go out of town for a while. Maybe get myself a weapon. And most dif.cult of all, I must tell P.J.
She’s so happy at Barnard, living a normal life again. She never told her parents what happened after she disappeared from Hadley. She feigned amnesia. They brought her to psychologists and specialists, and .nally they just gave up and were glad she came back to them.
Now she’s starting to enjoy life again. Making new friends. Taking classes. Excelling in art. Touring galleries. Going home on weekends to see her folks.
At the same time, I’ve noticed she’s stopped talking to me about our Amazon experiences. If I bring it up, she’ll nod and mumble a few words. But she herself never mentions it. She’s put the whole thing behind her. Wiped the slate clean.
She won’t enjoy hearing that it’s not over. That it may never be over. But I have no choice. Because the Dark Army kidnapped her once. They may try again. She’s a player in this now. If they’ve found me, they probably also know that she’s here, so she has to be on her guard.
I .nish my ten miles and leave the park, breathing hard. Normally, I would enjoy this feeling after a good run, my blood pumping, my wet shirt sticking to my chest and back as the evening wind blows. But the prospect of telling P.J. .lls me with dread. I can imagine the look in her eyes when she hears it. Don’t, Jack. Please stop now.
But there’s no choice. No delay possible. I have to tell her. Tonight. At nine o’clock, when she comes home from the library. If I don’t warn her and something happens, I’ll never forgive myself.
So instead of heading to my own tiny room, I jog to Broadway and head uptown toward Barnard.
Excerpted from Timelock by David Klass.
Copyright © 2009 by David Klass.
Published in 2009 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC.
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