Company Man

Tristan’s work day was coming to a close. It was nearly seven p.m.. The fourth floor office was filled with the chatter of keyboards, soft conversations and the occasional mechanical sounds of a copy machine. Many of his colleagues were biding their last few minutes by searching through their emails or organizing their brief case, but Tristan was manic to complete the final touches of his summary while it was fresh, or risk having to come in early to re-read the entire thing before the morning brief. Two hours had passed since his computer screen went white to force him to take a scheduled ‘stretch-break,’ but he’d hardly noticed. ‘Enjoyed’ would not be the way to describe how Tristan felt about his work, but he would lose himself in the facts of the studies, absorbing the data, comparing, cross referencing and summarizing for the following morning’s report. He felt he had a knack for recognizing relevant patterns, and because of this he derived a measure of self-worth from throwing his entire being into these tasks. To Tristan, it was a matter of civic duty to do this job well.

Tristan had been with The Institute, at the same position, for a little over five years now, not including the year long internship he began as a senior at George Washington where he double majored in political philosophy and Mandarin. The Institute was very influential; the studies he analyzed were often quoted by politicians and lobbyists on both sides of the aisle, so he felt fortunate to even be awarded the internship, let alone get hired on full time after he’d graduated. He hadn’t once considered applying for a promotion. He felt this position was where he could be most valuable to The Institute.

Washington D.C.’s metro system was one of the cleanest and most modern in the U.S. — all white’s and chrome and glitter. The lights were bright fluorescents, making everyone seem pale and thin skinned. Tristan was standing, holding the stainless steel handle lining the ceiling. He could see his reflection in the train windows. His slightly oversized blazer made him look more tired than he felt. A black leather messenger bag hung on his shoulder. His coif, which had been slicked back and neatly parted in the morning, was now a little disheveled from the wind, and the hours at his desk he spent subconsciously running his fingers through it. The people around him didn’t seem to notice. Tristan pulled his tablet out of his bag and followed his ritual of perusing world news and clever Facebook posts to decompress: The Pope denounces sex-slave trafficking through Moldova; Iran concedes and then denies U.N. inspectors access to their nuclear facilities; Baby pictures that look like Rob Ford; Tensions increase in South China Sea as PRA warships drift north into Taiwanese contested waters.

Tristan’s phone vibrated in his pocket.

It was his girl-friend, Emily: “10 mins from your place. Pizza and salad or chinese?”

It’s Thursday, Tristan thought, the answer should be obvious, but Emily wasn’t as attached to schedules as Tristan. Part of him loved her for it. They were a good balance, but he couldn’t help feel a twinge of annoyance when she still, after all their time together, couldn’t (or wouldn’t) remember. Every minor reminder of this difference between their personalities brought back more emotionally loaded memories: when she would make them late and act like it was her right as an individual; or when she would change plans on a whim and turn him into the bad guy for not being more accepting and spontaneous; the worst part was that she would get upset when he needed to change plans for a legitimate reason that was out of his control; she was a complete hypocrite in that way! He needed to take a breath. He didn’t like that he felt this way, but it was, nonetheless, how he felt. He tried not to dwell on it. It would be three years next month since they met at 51st State bar on the eve of President Obama’s inauguration. CNN personality Bridgette Ainsley was hosting a hundred of her dearest friends and colleagues on the second floor. Emily was a news room reporter for Ainsley’s show, Banks without Borders. Tristan knew it was a hangout for politicians and news types, so he and a friend of his from out of town just showed up hoping to catch a glimpse of some celebrities. They met in the line to the restroom. It was a dark narrow corridor lined with dark stained tongue-and-groove planks. Tristan made a comment about her stilettos; how one benefit is that they didn’t have as much surface area to get stuck on the nasty beer and who-knows-what-else soaked floor. She looked at him like he was trying to describe M theory at a rock concert before burying her gaze into her phone. She would later say she had been intrigued ever since that moment, but he had a feeling that she probably didn’t even remember the story until he told her. His pursuit had lasted several fortnights before he eventually won her over, or as he told it: wore her down.

Tristan thought, it seems like now, they are two completely different people.


He usually enjoyed his fifteen minute walk home from the New York Avenue Metro Station. It gave him a chance to complete his unwind, to transition from work-life to domestic-life. Emily wanted him to move closer to the train. She had an aversion to taking buses, and the taxi system in D.C. was beyond convoluted. Tristan liked his little basement pad; He had lived there since college; He had a good relationship with the landlord; Plus, the rent was cheap by city standards, and somebody had to pay off his enormous college loans.

This night he wished he lived closer. An ominous sensation crept across Tristan’s pate as he ascended the metro stairs. His heart rate was slightly elevated. He pushed through the turnstile and exited onto 2nd street. The premonitions were probably just misdirected anxiety about seeing Emily after brooding himself into a bad head space, he thought. The tall glass and cement Courtyard Marriott building buffeted the unusually biting autumn winds swirling down 2nd street, drawing tears from the corners of Tristan’s eyes. He tucked his arms close to his body, his chin to his chest, and made a quick shuffle toward the Florida Ave corner. Turning the corner the air eased around him. The field across the street absorbed the erratic gusts. A bright moon peaked from behind some clouds just above the horizon. Tristan relaxed to a stroll, his worries easing with the air.

The unfolding character of Florida Ave. was perfect for Tristan’s transition to home. Through the narrow passageway of the I-50 overpass it opened up to a six lane business district complete with a Burger King, hardware store, old abandoned industrial buildings, a big cube of a building employing an abstract theory for window placement, a Chinese restaurant, and other various storefronts and gas stations. After five blocks the street became more residential. On the left side sat the Gallaudet University campus, tastefully enclosed by a low brick wall,  a wrought iron fence, and a procession of oak and fur. The right side of the street was a line of old Federalist style two story row houses, some brick, some wood panel and vinyl, in a hodgepodge of browns, whites, reds and greens. Each time Tristan proceeded from the wide noisy business streets into this seemingly (though not actually) narrower zone, he could feel his breath coming easier. His thoughts progressed more evenly and completely, communicating openly between his heart and mind without the fracturing and fragmenting sometimes induced by commotion.

The moonlight was lost now. The dim street lights on every other corner barely cast light for half a block. Instead of bringing certainty, as was their purpose, all they did was cast doubt in the form of chimeric shadows caught in Tristan’s peripheral vision. There was very little traffic, which Tristan thought strange. He checked his watch. It was only seven thirty six. There was no one on the street either. The air was completely still now, almost warm in its stillness. He realized he had probably just warmed up from his eager pace. He loosened the collar of his blazer, allowing some fresh air to cool his neck. He could hear the muffled vibrations of traffic somewhere, perhaps on another street a couple blocks over. The disembodied garble of  conversations or televisions in houses only emphasized the eerie emptiness outside.

As he passed the University campus entrance he began to make out a figure seated on a bench across the street. He was barely illuminated by the traffic light, now green, now yellow, now red. In the low contrast red light Tristan couldn’t make out any details of the person, only that the eyes seemed to follow him as he passed. He averted his gaze self-consciously. He felt ashamed for his own part in the staring. He quickened his pace and glanced back to find the figure still on the bench. Tristan thought, why are you afraid? You’re almost home. Emily’s waiting. Let’s just pick up the pace a bit. A car passed. He glanced back thoughtlessly before yanking his gaze forward, like his mother would yank him forward after repeated failed attempts to subtly prompt him to stop staring and come on. But the glimpse he’d caught was stuck in his mind. He stopped, turned, and squinted. It was as he had thought. His unwitting tormentor was gone.


Ah, forget it, he told himself, doing his best to conjure some unfamiliar form of bravado. But he couldn’t forget. Something was telling him not to forget. To move quickly, but not too quickly. Walk with confidence, but show no fear. It was five more blocks before he’d turn onto 10th street, and three blocks from there to his home.

The corner was a large intersection, the convergence of three streets. Two men stood smoking outside the liquor store on the opposite side. Tristan thought how relieving it was to see people outside. He turned onto 10th street. It was a narrow one-way street lined with oak trees and parked cars. There was some light, but mostly pitch dark. He could see a person approaching from the opposite direction. Tristan thought about crossing to the other sidewalk, but he didn’t want to offend the person, in some way. It would have been natural; that was, after all, the way he was going. But this person wouldn’t know tha–

‘Excuse me, sir? Do you have the time?’

Tristan stopped, and considered more seriously making that move across the street. He still couldn’t see the person’s face, but knew now that it was a man.

‘No, sorry, I’ve got somewhere to be.’ Tristan tried to squeeze between two parked cars to get to the street, but they were too close together. He would have had to vault over the hood, but couldn’t bring himself to do something that ridiculous.

‘You don’t have the time? A phone or something?’ The man pressed. He was directly behind Tristan now.

‘Sorry. I –’ Tristan turned to face the man. He was wearing a bandana over his nose and mouth, a hood over his head, and held a flimsy kitchen knife, the type with a weak plastic handle you can buy as part of a cheap utensil set at a grocery store.

‘Then just give me your money.’ The man said this very matter-of-factly.

Tristan froze for a moment, looking at the knife, weighing his options. After a second look, this man seemed more like a kid, probably looking for some quick cash. The neighborhood wasn’t particularly poor, so he was probably just out for a thrill and some drug money. He most likely wouldn’t stab Tristan, but the knife was leveled directly at his stomach. Tristan knew how disastrous gut wounds could be; releasing gases and torn lining and all. Regardless of the boys intentions, he–

‘Give me your wallet!’ The boy growled, quietly as if to say: if you dilly-dally much longer I’m just going to stab you and take it myself.

‘All right, all right, here.’ Tristan said, retrieving his wallet. ‘But all I have is five bucks… I’m probably poorer than you.’

‘Is that a joke? I’m robbing your ass and you’re telling me you’re poor?’

‘N-No, I’m just saying… You picked the wrong guy to rob.’

The boy took to proffered bill, and snatched the wallet out of Tristan’s hand. He fingered through the folds.

Tristan said, ‘Can I ask you a favor though?’ He studied the boy’s eyes, and interpreted the lack of reply as a concession. ‘Leave my cards and phone. It’s just that the phone’s a free one, you know, the kind you get with the plan, and it’ll just be a pain to replace, and the cards, I mean, the same thing, I’ll just cancel them… So, it’ll just be a pain for me.’

‘How do I know you won’t call the cops? There’s no way I –’

‘I promise, I give you my word, if you can be reasonable about this I swear I won’t call the cops. It’s over. It’s just five bucks. Take it. Please.’ Tristan was stammering.

‘Oh, so first you’re poor, and now it’s just five bucks. Where’s the rest?’

The boy reached into Tristan’s blazer pocket. This would have been the perfect time to do something heroic like grab the kids wrist and elbow, and force him down onto the hood of the car, like cops do in the movies. The boy reached into Tristan’s pants pockets. As if getting robbed two blocks from his house wasn’t emasculating enough. He knew he’d never hear the end of it. But you don’t argue with a knife, right? Emily would act caring, and pity him for having to go through such an ordeal, but he didn’t want to be pitied by her. He wanted to impress her, to turn her on with a display of masculinity. However, that wasn’t him. He stayed still, leaning on the car as the boy went through every forgiving patch of his clothes. He took off his shoes at the boys command, and opened up his messenger bag. The boy took Tristan’s tablet out, chuckled to himself, and gave him a glance to say, I knew you had something.

The boy was finally satisfied. ‘All right you broke punk. I wont fuck you on your stuff. Y’better not call the cops…’ He started to back away, eyes locked on Tristan’s as he added ‘I know where you live.’ He spun on his heel, and took off at a trot in the direction from which Tristan had come.