“Sorry, buddy,” said a gray-haired man in a suit, bumping me as he tried to reach the bar. “Fridays are always crowded here. Everybody ducks out of work early for a pint before they head home.” He noticed that he’d spilled my beer. “Let me get you another. Mind if I pull up here? Stools at the bar are about the only seats left. My name’s Bob.” He put out his hand.
I glanced around. He was right; it had filled up while I waited. “Rick. Sure, have a seat,” I said as I shook his hand.
“Whoa, look at those knuckles. You must not work around here. We’re all office drones downtown. Well, or the big-shots who boss us. Not many guys in the financial district get their hands beaten up like that. You a boxer or something? I’m in accounting, myself.”
“I used to have an office job, but I’m doing something else now,” I replied. “I’m just here waiting for somebody.”
“Ah, your girl works down here, does she?”
I stiffened but forced myself to relax. He had no way to know. “No, nothing like that. I was engaged once, but we never got to the wedding part.”
“Sorry, Rick, didn’t mean to pry. But maybe it’s for the best, you know? Things happen for a reason. Look there.” He pointed to the TV above the bar. It showed a man walking out of court with his lawyer. “He used to work around here. Got caught for insider trading. I mean, he only got a year in a country club jail, but he did get caught. You reap what you sow.”
I looked at him, curious. “Do you really believe that? The wheel turns, and what goes around comes around? Like, bad karma?”
Bob looked back at me. “Well, sure. See the booth in the corner? That guy with the red tie is a big-shot in my office. Real nasty piece of work; makes life hell for everybody. He makes six figures, easy, but he’s always pocketing the petty cash. When he gets caught, he’ll lose that big job, maybe end up in jail, and for what? A few hundred bucks here and there.”
“What if he never gets caught?”
“You’ve got to have faith, Rick,” he replied. “If you do bad stuff, it catches up with you eventually.”
“I used to believe that. But I don’t anymore.”
“Why? What changed your mind?” asked Bob.
I looked over, considering whether to tell him. “I said I was engaged once. The reason we didn’t make it to the wedding wasn’t that we split up. Remember that drunk driver who hit those people out at the university around a year ago? One of them was my fiancé. She was killed.”
“God, Rick, I’m sorry. That’s awful.”
“Her name was Carolyn. We’d just gotten our first new car. We were going to buy a house. Get a puppy. All the usual stuff. That’s when I had the office job. Then she died, and if you remember, the punk who killed her had a rich family. They got a high-priced lawyer, and he got probation and a few weekends picking garbage along the highway.”
I leaned in close so I could speak more quietly. “When you mentioned reaping what you sow, it reminded me of the trial. One of the victim impact statements said something like that. How even if the judge let the guy off, his karma would catch up with him. When I thought about that, I realized that I’ve never seen any evidence of it. Stories like mine are in the papers every day. If there’s a wheel, it doesn’t turn on its own. Somebody’s got to crank it.”
“What do you mean? Vigilante justice?” asked Bob.
“The justice part is more important than the vigilante, don’t you think? You asked about what I do. I crank the wheel.”
Bob started to laugh, but when he looked into my eyes, it trailed off. “My God, you’re serious. So, what, you go around beating people up? That’s why your hands are like that.” His eyes widened. “Jesus. Do you kill people?”
“No. Haven’t yet, anyway,” I answered. “I just try to get some fairness into the world. Make people reap what they sow, like you said.”
“Christ, Rick, I was just talking! Everybody says that stuff, but we don’t mean it that way. You can’t just…”
I interrupted. “Yes, you can. I have been for months. I walked away from my old life, and now I drift around, looking and listening. I find something wrong, and I act. I live off the spoils I take from the scumbags. And I’m not actually Rick. He was the high-powered lawyer who got that drunk kid off the hook. After my chat with him, I thought I’d use his name for a while. Now that you know the story, there’s no point to the charade. You could just look up my real name.”
He was white as a sheet. “I won’t, I swear. And I won’t say anything to anybody.”
“Bob, I see that I’ve upset you. Besides Carolyn, being able to talk with somebody is the only thing I miss from before. I guess that’s why I told you all this. I’m sorry. I’ve got to go, anyway. Your boss with the red tie is leaving, and I’ve just got time to fit him in before my other appointment.”
“What? No, you can’t…” He made one last try. “Don’t you see, even if you get some bad guys, you’re digging your own grave too?”
I smiled. “That’s why I’m perfect for this. I died with Carolyn. I’m already in my grave. But if that frees me to do some good, maybe she won’t be in hers for nothing.”
Bob looked horrified.
“Try not to let it worry you too much, Bob. Think of it this way: If I’m wrong, karma will take care of it, right?”
Rex Caleval lives in Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada, where he spent twenty years as an air-traffic controller.