This story is by Craig S. Hartley and was part of our 2018 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Sarah frowned as she scanned the form in front of her. The writer had no class. No client in the City would care about the woman’s sob story – and she seemed to think her need was her qualification. Husband left her with a baby. No family or friends to rely on for child care while she worked. Wanted something she could do at home. Get real!
Tossing the document aside she glanced at the monitor on her desk. A quick scan of the group waiting in her anteroom revealed a gangly young man perched awkwardly on the chair opposite the door to her office. Zooming in on him she almost laughed aloud. He could have walked out of a road company of Oklahoma! – in costume. Did he really not have anything to wear to a placement interview except frayed Levis framed by work boots and a checked shirt topped by a shock of unruly blond hair? Who is this?
The folder with application forms of interviewees lay on her desk in front of her. A quick riffle through them gave her the answer. He could only be Woodrow Hawkins, currently residing at the Y on 63rd. She had to meet this guy.
Removing his application from the folder and brushing the rest aside, she rose and crossed to the door, opening it to ten expectant stares.
The young man from the monitor stood up and self-consciously brushed back a dangling forelock.
“C’mon, I was here before him.” All faces turned to look at the dumpy woman dressed in what had to be her finest. “I’m sittin’ here almost two hours and he just came in.”
“Please come in, Mr. Hawkins.”
“Hey, did you hear me? I should be aheada him!”
“I have to work on placement requests in the order I receive them. Right now I’m dealing with one that requires a man. Please be patient. I’ll get to you as soon as I can.
“Get a life, lady,” chortled the elderly man sitting next to the complainant. “There’s some things we just don’t qualify for.”
Closing the door on the mutterings in the waiting room, Sarah indicated the chair facing her desk.
“Have a seat, Mr. Hawkins.” Resuming her seat behind the desk, she continued. “I’m Sarah Davies. Please call me Sarah. How would you prefer to be addressed?”
“Uh . . . addressed?”
“What should I call you?”
“Oh, sorry. Back home folks call me Woody.”
“Back home at the MidTown Y?”
“No, no. That’s just until I get a job here. I come from Richmond Corners, Ohio.” He flashed a quick smile that made her suddenly damp. “It’s not as big as New York.”
“I’m sure it’s big enough. I come from a small town upstate, so I know how you must feel.” Smiling at his puzzled look, she continued. “Upstate New York. There are lots of small towns there. And farms.”
“How did you know I worked on a farm?”
Sarah indicated the application on the desk in front of her.
“Oh, yeah. Of course.”
“Are you blushing, or did you just get a sunburn?”
“I’m not really that dumb. I just forgot. I’ve been looking for a job here for almost a month. I’ve only got a couple more weeks before my money runs out. If I can’t find something by then, I’ll have to go back.”
Sarah surveyed her restive subject during a long pause before she spoke again.
“Look, I see that this is a bit stressful for you, and that’s not the best way for me to do my job.” Woody sat transfixed by her gaze as she continued. “Would you be willing to meet in a different environment later today to continue our conversation? I finish here at about four this afternoon.”
“I could do that. Where?”
“There’s a Starbucks on this street. Just turn left when you leave the building. It’s on the corner. Meet me there about four thirty.”
* * * * *
When they met that afternoon Sarah took charge of the conversation from the beginning. Immediately she began plying her unique skill – extracting information as a vampire bat draws blood.
“I left home and moved to the City because my best childhood friend died.” Avoiding his gaze Sarah looked over his shoulder into the distance. “After her accident, I just couldn’t face the place.”
“Were you close?”
“Yes. We grew up together. She lived near a stream where we used to swim when it got hot enough in the summer. There was a waterfall that fed a pool surrounded by large, flat rocks that we’d lie on to sunbathe.”
“Sounds like a place near our farm at home. Did you have a rope swing over the pool?”
“How did you know!”
“That’s what we have. You just swing out over the water and let go. Has to be deep enough, though.”
“I loved to do that! What a rush to plunge into an icy pool on a hot summer day! It was the only way I would get into the water. I couldn’t bear to ease into the cold. Caitlin didn’t like it though.”
“Yes. She was always afraid of letting go of the rope at the wrong time and landing on a rock. We teased each other so much that we finally drew straws to see who would try the other’s way of getting wet. She lost. But Caitlin was right — she let go of the rope too soon and landed head first on a rock. I haven’t been able to go back to that place since.”
Actually, Sarah returns to the spot whenever she visits her parents. She loves standing by the tree overlooking the pool. Caitlin had refused, even after losing the draw. But Sarah wouldn’t let her get away with that. They struggled as Sarah maneuvered her friend toward the high bank overhanging the rocks. When they were close enough, Sarah pushed Caitlin away from her. Her friend stumbled and, losing her balance, fell over the edge. On reaching the rocks Sarah found her body crumpled on the rocks, head awry on a broken neck.
“I hope you’re satisfied,” Sarah thought. “You were right after all.”
“With me it’s bees.”
Woody explained that six months ago he was working in his family’s cornfield, near the boundary of a small woods. Out of nowhere, a swarm attacked him. Never happened before. He barely managed to call 911 on his cell phone before he lost consciousness. His family doctor advised him to move away from any possible contact with bees. He showed her the med-alert bracelet that he wore — just in case.
“I figured that the City wouldn’t have any bees.”
“You’re probably right. Too many people.”
In less than an hour, she had all she needed. Not for finding him a job. For setting him up as her next victim.
She had found his key. Woodrow Hawkins was allergic to bees.
* * * * *
Sarah kept him for another week, promising that she was searching for a suitable job. Since he was staying at the Y, they met at her studio apartment in midtown for sessions of inventive sex. But he was nearing the end of the time he had booked and there were no openings for an extension. Despite all the fun she was having, she didn’t plan to invite him to move in when he had to leave the Y.
It was time.
As foreplay, she had introduced Woody to several running trails in Central Park, saving a particular one for their last run. Recently, a public campaign had resulted in the installation of a cluster of bee houses in Central Park. On a trial basis they were located near the Lilac Walk, not far from the Lower Loop trail. Woody had gotten out of the habit of carrying his Epipen while running in the Park.
The late summer evening was cool and almost dark as they started out. As they were dressing, she had given him a surreptitious spritz of lilac spray laced with sugar. About half a mile into the run, just before the bee houses, Sarah came to a sudden halt. Pretending to have forgotten to return a client’s call, she borrowed Woody’s cell phone. ‘Keep going,’ she told him. ‘I’ll catch up when I’m finished.’
He encountered the first bee while rounding a curve about a quarter mile later. More bees arrived as they discovered the heady scent of the lilac and sugar. Sarah waited until his faint calls for help stopped, then continued along the trail.
About a quarter mile ahead he lay sprawled unconscious by the trailside. Welts from bee stings dotted his upper body. He had stopped breathing. Removing his med-alert bracelet, she put it in her fanny pack with his phone. Turning back, she headed towards the lake. No one would find them there.
It would be a while before anyone missed him.