The Sweater

A short story by Mila Oaks.

I was annoyed. Why do I always keep making bad life choices? The woollen sweater my mother had made me was making each and every small space of skin that it touched itch as if I sat in an ant hill. The sweater didn’t even look great but it had occupied the top of my clothes pile this morning and I guess I particularly felt like torturing myself today.

I was sitting in the middle of a café surrounded by loudly chattering people, their noise level encouraged by the amount of caffeine they were consuming. I couldn’t think clearly. Loud people, itchy sweater, I was annoyed.

In front of me, a book lay open on my desk and I pretended to read it, hoping that no one noticed how slowly I was turning the pages. My eyes swooped ever so often from under the brim of my hat through the room, taking in every detail of every person around me.

Some people were uninteresting, like NPCs in a video game, gossiping or complaining loudly, slurping their coffees with no attention to their environment. But in the corner of the café that was furthest away from the entrance and the bar, a meeting was taking place that I was extremely curious about. So, I had taken the time this morning to dress myself in this self-torturing sweater and had made my way to this café at the exact time that my informant had told me to be there. Not a second later, I am not an amateur, as you might have thought until now.

The smoke of a cigar was clouding the table at which the meeting was taking place. A large man in a suit, with slick hair and a vicious look on his face observed my target with criminal intent. I could only see the person from the back, a black coat, brown hair and a straight posture, as if ready to jump up. Would my target run away if provoked or reach for hidden weapons? Well, I would need to find out eventually.

Half an hour went by, I observed the minutes passing on my wristwatch. Its leather band was faded and scratched in places, but the golden clock face was as shiny as the day I received it from my grandfather. There are certain things in life you guard like a treasure, and this was mine. If ever one would so much as touch it they would certainly find out where I was hiding my weapons.

Excitement rushed through my veins as my target finally got up in a swift motion and turned towards the exit. The large man had slumped back in his chair and had closed his eyes for a moment. Strange location for a nap. It was still difficult to make out the features of my target, brown curls of hair were falling over a mysterious face.

I grabbed my book and pulled my hat lower once the person I was following had left the café. As you now know, I am not an amateur, so I knew how to time the exact moment of departure for a chase without my target getting suspicious.

A few dark streets and crowded squares later I saw the dark coat vanishing into a street that would lead us to the beach, an inappropriate choice if you think about the clothes of my target. But to whom can I complain? God? He had given up on me a long time ago.

I checked if there was enough distance between us before I rounded the street corner myself. Now I could hear the waves rushing unto the shore. This was the part of the beach that was closest to the industrial part of the harbour and not many people had chosen this location for a swim. The sun shone bright and for the second time today, I regretted my choice of clothes.

For a moment heat overwhelmed me as I stepped into the sun and I felt dizzy. I closed my eyes and it took only that second for my target to turn the tables against me. From the shadows of a shipping container that marked the beginning of the industrial harbour, I caught a last glimpse of the black coat I was following. When I reached the corner of the container a hand closed over my mouth and a strong body dragged me into the shadows.

“Why are you following me?” someone hissed into my ear. The voice sounded strange and it was impossible to make out if it was a man or a woman.

“Wouldn’t you like to know?” I mumbled but it was barely audible with the hand covering my mouth. The other arm of my capturer was slung across my upper arms and chest like a vise clamping down on my ribcage. How could this person be so strong? It was almost impossible to breathe. My chances of escape ran through my head. I scanned my environment, hearing the waves, some harbour workers talking and some kids riding their skateboards just behind the next container. A usable escape vehicle? Possibly.

“I give you ten seconds to tell me, sheep.” I just hoped that my target was not referring to my sweater.

At that moment the last few months passed before my eyes. How I had lost my job and all my ambitions, how I spent weeks filling my apartment with pizza boxes and called it a workout to step over them, how I had met a shady man in a bar who had offered me a job and how I had hunted and tailed people since then, how that had led me to this mysterious coat with brown curls and a ghostly voice.

Throughout all these experiences anyone would have become hopeless and struck by despair. But I was still standing, as Elton John would have described it. Before all this I would have called myself a perfectionist, always striving to achieve the best. But now a pizza carton workout was just good enough. So I knew I could escape, not in the most elegant way possible, but surviving was good enough, wasn’t it?

I listened to the breath of my capturer who was so sure I was under control. The ghostly voice started counting down the numbers. Was it out loud or did I hear the numbers in my head?

At number 6 with a quick movement impossible to stop I reached under my sheep sweater and pulled out a gun that I was hiding there. My only option was to use my moment of surprise to my advantage. The shot rang in my ears as I pulled the trigger and drowned out my surroundings. The vice-like grip around me loosened for just a moment and I used it to my advantage. Stepping back I twisted out of the grip and slammed my elbow into the ribcage of my capturer. When I heard a sharp exhale, a feeling of triumph overcame me. Sheep he had called me, more like a wolf in sheep’s clothing, I thought with a smirk as I stepped away and pointed the gun directly at my target. For the first time, I could see the mysterious face of a man with a thin nose and dark eyes. He was bent forward, as if recovering from the pain and blood was seeping through his right shoe. His eyes seemed to glow darkly in his anger as he straightened and looked at me.

“You will regret that.” The man said in his hissing voice.

“I doubt it,” I replied.

“I will warn you this and only this time. If you ever follow me again it will not only be me that will be after you. Your death will be sealed.” When I think back to that moment now I wonder what my boss had gotten me into, and if that man in the café had really been sleeping. But at that moment when the man with his coat and his curls vanished behind the corner of the container I was just happy I got away, it was good enough for today. For what he didn’t know was that a tracking device was placed in his pocket.

I was not an amateur, I told you. Were you doubting me there for a second?


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