Keeping Watch

Keeping Watch

A Story by M. Elizabeth Archer
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Crime story

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            Roger Hampton took a deep breath in an attempt to calm himself as he approached the dark wooden door of the small shop.  He glanced up at the hand-painted sign: Henry Donahue, Clock Sales and Repairs.  His eyes lingered on the name for a long moment as he considered the business he had with the owner of the shop, and as he tore his gaze away to walk inside he felt as though the rest of the people walking along the crowded main street knew the secret he shared with Henry Donahue.  With the familiar feeling of paranoia filling his mind, Hampton walked as casually as he could manage into the store.

            He was not greeted by the owner as he had expected to be, and at first Hampton was concerned that he had forgotten the meeting they had planned.  A scan of the shop, however, revealed the most likely reason for this: a customer was standing at the side of the shop, carefully examining a large, rather noisy clock.  Hampton retreated to the corner of the room to wait for the man he had come to see.  “Will this do, Mr. Riley?” Donahue’s voice said.  The man walked into the room a moment later carrying what appeared to be a rather expensive wristwatch and held it out to the customer.

            “Yes, that should be sufficient,” the man called Riley replied, carefully removing the watch from the vendor’s hand.  “Before I pay, I think I will look into a clock for our dining room, as well.”

                “Very well then, tell me when you are done,” Donahue said with a smile Hampton knew was false.  “Ah, good afternoon, Mr. Hampton.  You have come to discuss the repairs on your mother’s watch, I presume?”

            “Yes, I have,” Hampton replied, comfortable resorting to the casual façade they always used in the company of others.  “I may need it any day now.”

                “You want it as a wedding gift for your daughter, I believe?” Donahue said, smiling in an eerie manner that gave Hampton the impression that he knew something he had not shared.

                “Yes, I do.  I expect Jonathan to propose within the month, and you know how soon couples are married these days.”

            “Naturally.  Jonathan is that young man from the grocer, correct?”

            “He is.  In fact, I know him because he delivers supper to one of the managers at the bank on Saturdays.”  Hampton tried to conceal an involuntary shudder as he mentioned the bank where he worked.

                “Yes.  He is a fine young man, and your Elaina will be fortunate to have him.”  Donahue glanced briefly at the customer, who had moved on to examine another clock.  “I only hope we can finish the arrangements for that watch in time for the wedding.”

            Riley turned around abruptly looking rather perturbed, fished in his pocket for several dollars that he quickly handed to the shopkeeper and snatched up his watch, murmuring something about returning the next day as he trudged toward the door.  Donahue carefully watched him leave, and as he disappeared from sight the man went to the door and switched out the ‘open’ sign for a more appropriate ‘closed’ one.  Hampton gritted his teeth as the man turned to face him.

                “Well, Mr. Hampton,” Donahue said, his conversational manner growing suddenly more professional, “I suppose this means we can get to our real business.”  Hampton nodded.  His head was pounding out the seconds along with the clocks lining the wall of the room as he grew more and more nervous.  “Come to my office, then.”  The shopkeeper walked behind the counter and into a small room behind.  “Come on,” he added impatiently, staring at Donahue in a most unnerving way.  He rapidly headed toward the room as he realized that he had not been moving.

            Once inside the small office, the two men sat down in chairs on either side of a rough wooden writing desk, Donahue quite comfortably and Hampton wishing he was anywhere but there.  “Alright, Mr. Hampton,” Donahue said after a moment.  “I apologize for taking so long, but your predicament required a fair bit of thought.  I believe, however, that I have found a solution for your problem.”

                Hampton breathed a sigh of relief, though the man’s words were hardly enough to calm him.  “What, may I ask, do you plan to do?”

                “Plan to do?” the shopkeeper repeated.  “I do not plan to do anything.  It has, you see, already been done.”

                “What, then, did you do?”

                “I put the blame on someone else.”  There was a moment of uncomfortable silence in which Hampton played and replayed the words in his head, hoping to find a meaning other than the most obvious one.  “Surely, Mr. Hampton, you did not expect to rob a bank, leave solid evidence, and be acquitted by any other means?”

                Hampton’s mouth ran dry.  “Who?” he stammered, unable to say anything more through his shock and swelling horror.

                Donahue crossed his hands.  “That, Mr. Hampton, I am afraid I cannot tell you.  You see, this person is someone with whom you are quite familiar, and I fear that your affections for this person may lead you to do something rash.  I know that you have a tendency to allow your feelings to get in the way of reason – that was, I believe, the reason you committed the crime that brought you to need my services – and if you were to know the identity of this person you may do something that would ruin my plan.”

            “What if I do not want you to go through with your plan?” Hampton said as he processed the full meaning of the man’s words.

                “Mr. Hampton, think rationally.  Do you want Jonathan Everett to ask for your daughter’s hand through prison bars?  Do you want to miss your daughter’s wedding to the man you stole from your own company to give a proper dowry to?  Do you want the honor and reputation of your family to wither away?  Mr. Hampton, I am offering you the opportunity to maintain a normal life after your incident last Saturday.  Will you turn that down?”

                Hampton’s mind was racing with a thousand thoughts of Donahue’s words and the accursed deed that had brought him to engage in the man’s underhand business.  With the guilt he felt, and had felt for the previous three days, he was almost ready to turn himself in.  One thought restrained him, the one that had served that purpose for the last three days and continued to do so at that moment: Elaina.  “Very well,” he said at last, avoiding Donahue’s eyes.  “What’s done is done."

            “Very good,” Donahue said with a smile.  “It is my prediction that an arrest will be made and this whole affair will be over by this time tomorrow.  I will expect my payment for this service within a week.  Good day, Mr. Hampton.”

                “Good day,” Hampton murmured, and with the last bit of strength he had not spent on his worries he rose, crossed the store, and left, leaving the door to slam behind him.

                The street was busy at three o’clock in the afternoon, a thing which made Hampton, still feeling abnormally conspicuous, all the more uncomfortable.  He attempted to clear his mind, but as he walked he could think of nothing but the unknown scapegoat who would take the blame for his crime.  He thought first of his fellow workers at the bank, but ruled them out quickly as he realized that he did not especially care for any of them.  He considered his few friends in the city, but none had any affiliation with the bank.  Hampton played through the day in his mind.  It had been uneventful, for a Friday; no one he knew came into the bank during work hours, and everyone left hurriedly when the day was done.  He had stayed later than most others, presumably to fill out a few forms, but he knew it was a lie – it was at that time that he had removed the money from the vaults while the managers were not paying attention.  He passed the memory of that particular event as quickly as he could.  He had then walked out just in time to see Jonathan Everett delivering one of the managers his dinner, and…

            Hampton stopped short as the realization hit him.  Jonathan.  He barely noticed as a woman hit him from behind.  Jonathan was there.  The man cursed his misfortune as he verified that no one else could have been the victim of Donahue’s plan.  The pressure in his head increased as he thought it through.  I just framed my future son-in-law for grand theft!  Despite the knowledge that it would be foolish to intervene, Hampton promised himself that he would warn the young man of his coming fate.  Resolutely, the man increased his walking pace and rushed home in a whirlwind of half-formed thoughts.

            ­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­

            As he walked through the doorway into his home, Hampton was greeted by an enthusiastic, “Father, you’re home!”  A wave of guilt crashed over him as he found himself gazing at the daughter he know his actions would devastate within the next twenty-four hours.  “Jonathan wants to take me to dinner, and to the Petersen’s dining hall, no less.  He said that it was a special night, but he would not tell me why.  Margaret said, and I believe she heard it from Michael Anderson, that he may be planning to propose!”

            “Calm down, Elaine,” Hampton said, putting on a smile that went no further than his skin.  “Now, what did you say?”

                His daughter brushed back her elegant brown hair, took a breath, and started over.  “Jonathan is taking me to a formal dinner, and I believe that he may plan to propose to me!”  Hampton forced himself look at the smile that broke his heart.  “What do you think?”

            He cleared his throat.  “I think,” he said, “that you ought to look your best tonight.”  He tried to push aside the thought that it could be their last evening together for a long time.

            Elaina did not seem to notice.  “Do you think I should wear the red dress or the blue one?”

                “What?  Oh, are you asking your father for advice on fashion?”

            His daughter smiled.  “I suppose you’re right, I’ll ask Margaret.  By the way, Jonathan wanted to speak with you.”

                “Why?  Did he tell you?”

                “No,” Elaina replied, her smile growing, “but I can guess.”

                Hampton felt another wave of shame as he envisioned her distress when she learned of Jonathan’s fate.  “Will he be coming here?”

            “Yes, he will be arriving any time now.  He did not expect you to be late coming home from work.”

            “Well, I’ll be ready.  Until then, I suppose I will…”  He was interrupted by a series of sharp knocks on the door.  “That is him, I presume?”

                “Most likely.  Shall I answer the door?”  Elaina seemed hardly able to contain her excitement.

                “No, I can manage,” Hampton said, hoping he sounded more like his usual self.  He walked over to the door and opened it slowly.

            “Good afternoon, Mr. Hampton, Elaina.”  To his vast disappointment, it was indeed the tall young man with whom he was dreading to speak.  “How are you?”

                “Well enough, I suppose,” Hampton lied, avoiding the young man’s gaze.  “Will you come inside?”

                “Actually, Mr. Hampton,” Jonathan Everett replied, “I was hoping to speak with you somewhere… else.”   The kind smile the young man gave Elaina chilled Hampton.  “Would that be alright?”

            “Er, yes, it would.  Actually, I- I need to speak with you, as well.  Would the tavern be a good place?”

                If Jonathan had noticed his slip, Hampton noted, he had politely refrained from acknowledging it.  “Well, I was rather hoping to refrain from having anything alcoholic this afternoon.  I try to limit myself to one drink a day, and I expect we may be having some wine at dinner.”  Hampton heard Elaina giggle softly from the staircase behind him.   “If you would like to go there, however, that is quite fine with me.”

                “I would,” Hampton said, relishing the thought of a drink to soothe his nerves.  “Shall we go?”

                Though he looked rather surprised at his haste, Jonathan nodded and stepped aside for him to move through the door.  “Good-bye, Elaina,” the young man said with a smile and a slight inclination of his head, and closed the door behind Hampton.  “To the tavern, then.”

 


 

            The two walked in silence most of the way, despite Jonathan’s occasional attempts to begin a conversation.  Although he was uncomfortable talking to Jonathan, Hampton found the silence equally unnerving, as it left him alone with his myriad uneasy thoughts.  It seemed the longest walk to the tavern he had ever taken, despite the otherwise pleasant conditions.  His only hope was that Jonathan did not sense his apprehension, though he was quite certain that was not the case.

            Upon entering the tavern, the two were met by a more acute babble than they had been exposed to in the street, and it brought upon Hampton once again the feeling that he was being watched.  He instinctively chose an empty place at the bar to sit down.  There was a momentary silence as they settled into their seats.  “Jonathan,” he said eventually, somewhat glad he was the first to speak, “I know that you have something you would like to say to me, but I ask that you would allow me to go first.”

            “Of course, Mr. Hampton.”

                “Jonathan…”  He took a deep breath in an attempt to keep the words from sticking in his throat.  “Jonathan, I heard something rather disturbing on the way home from work today.”  Hampton appeased his conscience with the thought that what he said was true, from a certain point of view.  “You know of the bank robbery last Saturday, I suppose?”

            “Of course, Mr. Hampton.  It was a most unfortunate incident.”

                Hampton felt the familiar guilt sweep in at the young man’s words.  “I have reason to believe that the police may suspect that you were the criminal.”

                Jonathan bowed his head, visibly disturbed.  After a moment he looked back up and said, “Sir, do you believe that?”

            “No, Mr. Everett,” Hampton said, struggling to conceal his rushing emotions.  “I know you would never do such a thing.  However, I believe that it may be in your best interest to leave town for a time.  If you remain here, you may be arrested.”  He paused.  “You are a good man, Jonathan.  I would not so easily see your honor blighted.”

                The young man was silent for several moments, and Hampton feared he may have imposed the stress he had so feared he would upon the poor man.  “Mr. Hampton,” he replied at last, “if I were to flee the city, it would give the police all the more reason to suspect me of this crime.  Besides, I am innocent.  I have nothing to fear.  I do not know what they may have against me, but I am sure that I will not be convicted.  I believe in the people of this town, and I am as sure that a bit of accidental evidence will not sway them against me as I am that this evidence, whatever it may be, was indeed accidental.”  As he found himself looking into the young man’s sincere eyes he became troubled by the strong character and integrity he had once found so admirable.  “However, Mr. Hampton, I thank you for your concern.  It is, I suppose, better that I know of it before it happens.”

            “Yes,” Hampton said weakly, crumbling under the weight of his own heart.  “Now, what is it that you wanted?”

            “Well, in light of our previous conversation, I do not believe it is relevant any longer.”

                “What is it?” Hampton repeated firmly.

                “I wanted your permission to marry Elaina, but…”

                “You have it.”  The man was hardly aware that he had spoken, but nevertheless he did not regret his words.  “I rather supposed that you intended to ask her tonight, and I will not stop you.”               

                Hampton could see that the young man was blinking back tears.  “If you wish for me to wait until this ordeal has been settled, I will understand.”

                “No, Jonathan,” Hampton said.  “Ask her.  I do not know if she would want me to tell you this, but she wants nothing more than for you to propose to her tonight.  Do it, Jonathan.  You have my blessing.”

                The young man again bowed his head, but only for a moment.  “Thank you, Mr. Hampton,” he said.  “You will not regret it.”  With the slightest trace of a smile Jonathan left the tavern.  Hampton watched him leave, then slowly rose and followed him.

 


 

            Hampton awoke to the sound of a hard knock on the door.  Jonathan.  He leapt from the couch where he had been sleeping, brushed back his hair, and opened the door as calmly as he could manage.  Rather than the young man he had expected, the chief of police stood in the doorway.  Behind him were another officer and a short, somewhat stout figure hiding in the shadows.

            “Good evening,” Hampton said, his pulse suddenly racing.  “How can I help you?”

                “Mr. Hampton,” the chief said in an unsettling voice, “I have some news for you that may be difficult for you to accept.”

                “What is that?” he asked, trying to hide the fear that leaked into his voice.

            “I am afraid,” he said, “that we have found the person who stole from the bank last Saturday.”

                “Afraid?” Hampton said, his voice rising.

                “Yes, Mr. Hampton.  We believe that Elaina was responsible for the theft.”

                “WHAT?”  He had prepared himself for the shock of Jonathan’s arrest, but he had not so much as considered the possibility of Elaina taking the blame.  “No, sir, I do not believe that is possible.”

                “I’m afraid it is, Mr. Hampton,” a familiar voice said.  “This was found at the scene of the crime knocked behind a cabinet.  As a responsible member of this society I had no choice but to identify it as belonging to your daughter.”  Henry Donahue was standing in the shadows in front of him with Hampton’s mother’s watch lying in his palm.  “There is no way it could have gotten there unless Elaina was present, and she had no reason to be there unless she was taking the money.”

            “I am very sorry, Mr. Hampton, but your daughter is under arrest.”

                As Hampton tried to find words, another voice chimed in.  “Did I hear my name?”  The sound of soft footsteps was audible in the house, and Elaina appeared suddenly on the staircase.  She was wearing a dashing green dress and her hair was in a tight, elegant bun.  “Jonathan, is that… Oh, good evening chief, Mr. Donahue.”

                “Miss Hampton,” the chief said, stepping forward, “you are under arrest for stealing three thousand dollars from the city bank last Saturday evening.”

                Elaina was horrified.  “What?  What do you mean, I- I- Wait, let me go, I-“

                Hampton struggled to catch his breath as his daughter was swept out of the door by the chief of police.  He spoke almost without realizing it.  “Elaina did not have the watch on Saturday.  It was being repaired by- by Mr. Donahue.  The watch is broken, just look at it!”

            The chief, though not letting go of Elaina, grabbed the watch out Donahue’s hand.  After a brief examination, he turned back to Hampton.  “Is there anyone else who can testify to that?”

                “Jonathan, Jonathan Everett!” Hampton babbled.  “He knew it was being repaired.”

                “I did what?”  The entire company turned to see Jonathan Everett walking up the steps to the door.  The chief rapidly swung Elaina into the shadows.  “Oh, did he finish repairing that, Mr. Hampton?” he asked, indicating the small timepiece in the chief’s hand.  “I did not think you were expecting it until next week.”

                The chief of police turned to face Donahue, spinning Elaina into Jonathan’s arms.  “How did an item in your possession appear on the crime scene?  You said yourself that there was no reason that it should be there unless its owner was present.”

                “Sir, I- someone must have- I will find an explanation-“

                He was cut off by the chief, who began again with, “Mr. Donahue, you are under arrest for stealing three thousand dollars from the city bank last Saturday.”

            “Wait, no, I...”  Donahue continued protesting loudly as he was escorted away.

                “Father,” Elaina said softly, seeming to have trouble catching her breath, “what was that?”

            “No matter, my dear,” Hampton said with a smile, successfully pushing aside his storm of thoughts for the first time that day.  “Go and enjoy your evening.”

                Elaina looked inquisitively at Jonathan.  “Do you still want to go?”

                She smiled.  “Of course I do.”

                With a small grin, Hampton watched his daughter walk away, hand in hand with Jonathan Everett.  He had thoughts to sort out, but for a moment he was content to enjoy a moment free of familiar complications.

 

© 2009 M. Elizabeth Archer


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M. Elizabeth Archer
I have a title! Still open to reviews.

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Ah, I remember reading this in study hall....

Nice flow, and I love the plot twists it goes through - especially pinning the blame on the guy who framed his daughter. Can't wait to see you write more!

Posted 11 Years Ago


Hello Archer! Ghosts, ghosts, did you say ghosts? Ha, oh but this is a really good story, you were writing it in advisory weren't you? Well, either way it seems to flow pretty well, and I feel like you managed to really develop the characters. Yay.

Posted 11 Years Ago


Now that there is an actual story, here are some recommendations. The flow is disrupted by the 'and as' in "...as he considered the business he had with the owner of the shop, and as he tore his..." and if you removed it, it would be...smoother. "...you did not expect to rob a bank, leave solid evidence, and be acquitted by any other means..." would read better if you added trail after 'solid evidence' and any COULD be replaced by 'some', but it's not a major thing. "...more through his shock and swelling..." would make more sense if you moved the 'swelling' to after 'his' and before 'shock' and add feelings between the moved 'swelling' and 'shock'. "...meaning of the man�s words." I believe man's is kinda redundant. "Mr. Hampton, I am offering you the opportunity to maintain a normal life after your incident last Saturday. Will you turn that down?� just doesn't seem....real. Maybe add 'little' before incident and replace 'will you' with 'Are you really going to'. "Hampton�s mind was racing with a thousand thoughts of Donahue�s words..." would sound a little better if 'with a thousand of thought's became 'with thousands of thoughts' or 'through thousands of thoughts'. "that an arrest will be made" could be improved by the addition of 'soon be' after 'will'. "He tried to push aside the thought that it could be their last evening together for a long time." maybe could should be would, it would seem to fit his state of mind. These are all just constructive criticism, no need to change anything if you don't feel it fits.
Overall, it's a great story and I really like it! The beginning's a tad choppy, but it flows relatively well in the middle and end. The end is really great! I'm normally one of those people who hates the 'good guy turns bad, but still gets a happy ending' stories, but you managed to do it in a way that left off with the REAL criminal in trouble.

Posted 12 Years Ago


0 of 1 people found this review constructive.


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Added on November 20, 2008
Last Updated on March 23, 2009

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M. Elizabeth Archer
M. Elizabeth Archer

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I have always had an interest in the fine arts, and I am hoping to refine my abilities by means of this website. I write short stories and poetry, and I am working on a novel, as well. I am also inv.. more..

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