I am not sure, but I think I am being followed. I am driving through red lights and stop signs swerving left and right like a madman. I have to calm down and think. Breathe. Breathe. Okay, Marcel. Think! I can’t go home. If I am being followed, the last thing I want to do is lead him to my home address. Oh, man! What is going on? Who could that be? A robber? A Russian robber? No! That would be too much of a coincidence. And why would a robber be following me? A man speaking Russian, in the Russian brother’s apartment. Could it be a Russian friend? But what was he doing with a gun? Unless. Could it be possible? No! I am being paranoid. There must be a better explanation. What about Jacob? Oh! Jacob? I have to call Rachel.
“No! Stupid phone. Call Rachel, not Hazel! Call Ra-chel.”
“Hi, you’ve reached the mobile phone of ‘Rachel Adams’. Please, leave a message after the tone.” The machine’s answer comes through the car’s speakers.
“Rachel! It’s me, Marcel. I missed your call. Have you been able to contact Jacob yet? Please, call me back as soon as you get this.”
Please, God. Let Jacob be fine. First, Jacob disappears. And now, some Russian man with a gun breaking into Sergey’s apartment? I hope these two things are not connected. And what if they are? But how? No. It’s crazy. It’s not possible. I have to call June.
“Yes. You better.”
“Hey, babe. Where are you?” June answers.
“You are not going to believe when I tell you what happened.”
“What happened? Are you okay?”
“Yes. I am fine. I will tell you everything as soon as I get home, okay?”
“I am not at home. I am at Rachel’s.”
“Oh, good. Any news from Jacob?”
“Yes, he is here.”
“Really?” Thank you, thank you. “Is he okay?”
“Yes. He is fine.”
“Can I speak to him?”
“Are you sure you are okay? You sound…agitated,” June asks. Indeed my voice is trembling, and my hands are still shaking.
“I am fine. We’ll talk when I get there, okay? I just need to talk to Jacob.”
“Okay. Give me a sec.”
It feels like an eternity before I finally hear: “Hey, son.” Jacob picks up the phone.
“Oh, Thank God you are fine! I was worried about you.”
“I know, I know. Sorry about that. I don’t know how it happened. I completely lost track of time, and when I tried to call home, I found out that I had a dead battery.”
“I have to talk to you. Maybe it is nothing. Don’t tell the girls yet, but I think you might be in danger.”
“Yes. Maybe best not to talk over the phone. They could be listening.”
“They? Who are ‘they‘? You are making no sense, son. What is going on? Are you all right?”
“No. I am not all right. I am coming over.”
“Okay. We will be waiting.”
I arrive at Jacob’s address, but I keep driving. Two blocks down, I park the car and look around, checking all directions to ensure I have not been followed. Maybe I lost him back there. I get out of the car and walk back toward Jacob’s building. The rain has stopped, but I am still soaking wet when I buzz Jacob’s number.
“Hello?” Rachel’s voice answers through the intercom.
“It’s me, Marcel.”
Rachel buzzes me in. I look at both sides of the street before I enter the building. I get the stairs. Not the elevator. Right now, I am in full-mode paranoia. Five flights of stairs later, I am in front of the door and knock.
“What took you so long?” June asks, welcoming me with a warm kiss.
“I took the stairs,” I reply.
“Where is Jacob?”
“Hey, son! You sounded strange earlier. What is the matter?” Jacob says, meeting us in the hallway.
“You guys are not going to believe this.”
“What happened?” June asks.
“I went to Sergey’s apartment looking for you, Jacob. Once I got there, I couldn’t get into the building, so I used the emergency stairs to check if Sergey was at home and may you were with him. When I got to his window, I saw a man speaking Russian over the phone with a gun in his hand. The guy with the gun saw me and came after me. I ran as fast as I could, but he kept chasing me down. I got in my car, and I saw someone in another car following me, and…”
“What? An armed man in my apartment?” Sergey says, coming out of the living room after overhearing me.
“Sergey?” I say in shock. “You are here?”
“Yes,” Jacob answers. “He has been with me the whole evening.”
“The whole evening?”
“Yes. We decided to go to the city. We had dinner together and arrived home just a few minutes before you called earlier. He was about to leave when you arrived.”
“Marcel, are you saying someone broke into Sergey’s apartment?” June asks.
“I definitely saw someone inside his apartment, yes. Of that, I am sure.”
“Speaking Russian, you say?” Sergey asks.
“Yes. I think so,” I answer.
“Sorry. I must go,” Sergey says.
“Are you sure, Sergey?” Rachel asks, joining him in the hallway. “If Marcel is right, it might not be safe for you to go home now.”
“I know what I saw,” I say.
“Calm down, son,” Jacob says. “Rachel, help Marcel with some dry clothes. I will call the police, and we will check the place.”
“No! Wait! I will go with you,” I say.
“Sorry, son. Please, stay here,” Jacob says. “You have been through a lot already. You are clearly in no condition to go back there right now.”
“That is out of the question. I am not losing you out of my sight,” I say to Jacob, but looking at Sergey.
The police were at Sergey’s place, and it looked like nothing was taken or was out of place. No sign of forced entry. The apartment appeared to have been untouched. Everything was just like Jacob and Sergey had left earlier before going on a tour through downtown New York. The police had asked around if the neighbors had seen or heard anything. Nobody but the old lady on the second floor had seen or heard a thing. She said that a young black man tried to get in the building and that he looked a little suspicious. He had asked her to let him in, but she refused. A few minutes later, she heard a noise coming from the backstreet. She went to the window, and the trash container had been moved, and she saw someone getting out of it and run toward the main street.
“Was she able to describe him?” Jacob asks the policeman.
“Yes,” he answers. “Tall, dark skin, short hair, big eyes, wearing a blue jacket, blue tie, white shirt, and khaki pants.”
“It sounds a little like you, Marcel,” Jacob says.
“Yes, that was me. She didn’t let me in, so I took the emergency stairs, and I promise you, there was someone in here.”
“But nothing is out of place. And Sergey said that nothing is missing. No forced entry. Nothing. I don’t see how that would be possible, son.”
“I know what I saw, all right?” I say, getting upset. I hate it when no one believes me.
“Okay, okay,” Jacob replies. “Sergey, you can stay with us if you want.”
“Thank you, Jacob. But I don’t think it is necessary. I will be all right.”
“Okay, then. If you hear anything strange, just call me.”
“Yes. I will,” Sergey replies.
“Let’s go home, son,” Jacob says to me. “June is worried about you.”
We drive back to Jacob’s place. June meets us at the door as soon as we step inside the apartment. My poor wife. She looks worried and scared.
“Babe, How was it? Did the police find anything?” she asks.
“No,” Jacob vocalize what can only nod. “There was no sign of a break-in or anything. The place was exactly the way we left it this afternoon.”
“What about the man Marcel saw?” June asks.
We move from the hallway to the living room. Rachel comes out from the kitchen to join us.
“I don’t know, babe,” I say. “I am one hundred percent sure there was someone there. He pointed a gun at me, chased me down the stairs, and almost got to me in my car, banging at the window when I drove off like a maniac to get away from him.”
“No! Really?” June says.
“He banged on your window?” Rachel asks. “Did you see his face?”
“No. I didn’t look at him. I just drove away with my head down, not even looking where I was going.”
“How come nothing was found out of place in the apartment? What kind of burglar is this?” June asks.
“I don’t know,” I reply. “Maybe it was not a burglar.”
“What then?” Rachel asks.
“Tell them what you told me in the car, Marcel. About your theory,” Jacob says.
“What theory?” June asks.
“Look,” I say. “I am just trying to make sense of it, okay?”
“What is it?” June demands.
“What if?” I continue. “What if the man I saw was actually Sergey?”
“What?’ June says.
“I mean, it would explain why the police didn’t find any signs of forced entry, the fact that nothing was missing, and also why I heard the man speak in Russian.”
“No. Surely not!” June says.
“Who else?” I ask.
“Marcel, do you really believe that?” Rachel asks. “That can’t be.”
“Babe, Sergey was with Jacob through the whole evening, remember?” June says.
“Unfortunately, not through the whole evening,” Jacob says. “That is why Marcel thinks his theory makes sense.”
“What do you mean?” Rachel asks.
“They finished eating, and Sergey insisted on paying the bill. He fights Jacob over it and does not accept ‘no’ for an answer, even though he has no money. So, he leaves for about fifteen minutes or so to get money,” I say.
“Yes. So?” June asks.
“We had dinner at Joe’s. Just here downstairs across the street. The next ATM would be at the mall. To go there and back, it would take him about ten to twenty minutes at the least,” Jacob says.
“Yes, but Sergey’s apartment is just a few blocks from here,” I say. “It would be much faster for him if he went home to get his money. And the time of his absence coincided with the time I was at his apartment.”
“Nonsense,” June says. “Sergey would have said something, wouldn’t he?”
“Not if he has something to hide. I mean. Do we truly know who Sergey really is?”
“What are you insinuating, Marcel? That Sergey is some kind of criminal.”
“Maybe? I don’t know!”
“Babe! Listen to yourself,” June pleas.
“My son. Please, tell me,” Jacob says. “Are you really okay? How are your sessions going?”
“No!” I exclaim. “I am not having a psychotic episode if that is what you are asking, Jacob. Therapy is going well; thank you very much.”
“That is fine, son. Sorry,” Jacob says apologetically. “Why you guys don’t sleep here tonight? June said the girls are with her parents tonight, right?”
“Yes,” June confirms.
“So, you stay with us tonight, and we talk more about this mystery tomorrow, okay?” Jacob continues.
“Okay,” I say.
“Come, my son,” Rachel says, putting her arms around my waist and walking with me. “I will show you to your room. You went through a lot today. You need to rest now.”
I feel terrible that June can’t believe what I say. But I can’t really blame her. Even I am starting to doubt myself. Could I have imagined the whole thing? It has happened before.