It’s not the sound of footsteps tick-tacking somewhere behind you as you make your way home that you need to worry about. Regardless of whether it’s one set playing out a solo song on the sidewalk, or an orchestra in melody.
If you can hear it, you know it’s there.
Whatever ‘it’ is.
Threat, danger, poseur, innocent in the wrong place at the wrong time.
No. It’s not the sound of footsteps you need to worry about.
It’s when you don’t hear anything.
When you’re listening for it, and you hear nothing, it means one of two things.
The first option is you’ve reached a state of perfect paranoia- there are no reasons for there to be any footsteps behind you. If you’re in that place it means you can’t do your job anymore, and you need to get away from things quickly.
That’s not always easy.
I’ve known people, I would not go so far as to say friends who have got to that point. Who honestly just wanted to leave the business but got so squirrely that our masters started to become concerned there was something going on underneath.
On some of those occasions those masters reached out to me and I became the silent footsteps behind those people that did mean they left the business.
Just not in the way they intended.
I believe the term is a self-fulfilling prophecy.
And that brings us to the second scenario.
You hear nothing because the person following you is too good.
It means they’ve done their homework.
It means they know everything about you.
Even your footsteps.
For many years I have been that person- the all-knowing, silent phantom.
Three days I did something foolish- perhaps it was pride, perhaps old age has just made me careless, but I spoke carelessly in front of my boss’s son.
I spoke when I shouldn’t have.
I spoke in a tone I shouldn’t have used.
I spoke critically of something he was doing.
And then, when he didn’t seem to be hearing me, I spoke with my fists.
My fists did not speak loudly. They didn’t shout. Even in my dotage I am not that foolish. But I stopped him doing what he was doing with a young lady who had decided she no longer wished to be there.
I believe I may have left a mark.
And most seriously, I did it in front of witnesses. Not just any witnesses either. Members of his crew.
It ended quickly, and he laughed it off. But I have heard many laughs over the years. And the humour in this one was as silent as the streets are tonight.
It has been a pleasant evening on the surface.
Nothing special, just a night at the club.
But I have been in this game long enough to know it wasn’t just another night.
It is rare for the boss to make an appearance on an ordinary night like that.
Rarer still for him to spend any length of time there at all.
He stayed the entire evening.
The public were ushered out around midnight, but the boss insisted we stay on.
The band continued playing- they even played ‘Someone to Watch Over Me’, my favourite song. Not too many people knew that, but I’m fairly sure the boss did.
The drinks continued flowing and for some reason people wanted to buy me drinks tonight. Was that unusual? Was it the norm? I hadn’t really paid attention too much before. I bought drinks for people, people bought drinks for me.
I spoke to a few people. It seemed there was a larger turn out than a usual Tuesday night, and it was nice to see some people who hadn’t been around for a while. But at times…at times it felt they were going out of their way to get a few moments with me.
Nothing of consequence was spoken – merely recollections and fond stories from years gone by. But there seemed to be a lot of them.
It was late when we finally called it a night. We all clapped hands, hugged, and made gently disparaging remarks to each other as we went our separate ways.
Were some of the hugs harder or longer than they normally were?
Were some of the remarks less derogatory than they normally would be?
Or was it just the wine?
It’s not a long walk home for me- and while I know I am no spring chicken, I’m still, at 67, at my fighting weight. It may be slightly differently distributed now, but I’m still fit.
A mile or so walk is nothing, especially when the streets are deserted at three in the morning.
My little place is just up ahead there- three blocks down.
The lights are out. Maria’s been dead ten years now. Gone too early.
There’s a short, sharp, single dog bark off to my left, then silence. Two streets across I’d estimate.
A route that would bring you around the side of my place if you travelled on a block and turned.
I crossed the road, listening to the silence hard.
And I think I hear a step.
But I could be paranoid.