2.23 The Lighthouse: Lars the Security Guard
The usual route to work takes me through The Lighthouse Shopping Centre and Condominium Complex. The subway connects to The Lighthouse and is located in a newly gentrified downtown neighbourhood. There is every store you can imagine, library, condo building, restaurant, movie theatre, bar, gym and food court. There is no need to go outside – everything is accessible through an interconnected series of tunnels. The Lighthouse Series showcases the various inhabitants, employees and idiosyncratic characters I have met by spending way too much time in this complex. “Here’s what you’re going to do,” the small one whispered into Lars’s ear. “You’re going to walk very slowly around the corner. Slow. Saunter. Lightly swing your arms, keep them out of your pockets. In view. I want to see them. Eyes down on the tiled floor. Halfway to the door, pull the string on your retractable key ring. No funny business. Hold the key out towards the door. When you reach the door, smile. Wide. Make eye contact. Nothing’s wrong. You have to convince the person on the other side of the door that there’s nothing out of the ordinary. Unlatch the lock. Open the door a crack, enough to immediately stick your head in. Block any opportunity for this idiot to come in and make himself at home. You tell him you’re on your rounds. Right in the middle. Tell him to come back tomorrow. Tell him to come back when the shopping centre’s open, whatever. I don’t care. No signals, no signs, no nothing. Get rid of him. Lock the door. Walk slowly back here. Slow. Like nothing’s wrong. You step outside of these instructions, you won’t be walking anywhere.”
The small one tapped the barrel of his pistol against Lars’s temple. His warm breath smelled like raw hamburger meat. The breath irritated his eardrum, and not only because of the threats to Lars’s life. When Lars prepared for work earlier in the day, he was cleaning his ear with a Q-Tip. As it often does, his mind drifted. He jabbed the Q-Tip too far into his ear. Immediate pain brought his thoughts back from abstraction. Lars dropped the Q-Tip to the floor of the employee’s change room, grabbed his hurt right ear in a superfluous attempt at diminishing the pain. But what could you do? It was inside his head.
Lars closed his eyes. Slowed his breathing. Eventually the sharp pain diminished to a dull throb. Lars buttoned up his security guard shirt. Fastened his utility belt. Checked his watch. He had enough time to grab a coffee.
The small one grabbed Lars by the chin, pulled his head into an unnatural angle. Face to face. His pistol in full view. “Look into my eyes,” the small one said. “Look close. I will do it. If it’s between me going back to jail and your paltry life. No choice.”
“What about me?” The large one said.
“I meant us,” the small one rolled his eyes. “Us. If it’s between us going back to jail, blah blah blah. Okay? Yeesh.”
Lars did see something in the small one’s eyes. Doubt.
The Lighthouse dimmed at night. The stores started closing up. Lars exited the employee’s change room slightly shaking his head. The dull pain in his ear turned to an echo. Vibration. He felt the hum of the building in his head. There were two parts to The Lighthouse: above and below. Above was all for show. All for customers to consume. Below lay a labyrinth of tunnels connecting up the various facilities. The tunnels were designed so you could get anywhere in ten minutes. Below was not as aesthetically appealing as above. They weren’t selling anything down here.
Lars knew every tunnel. He could navigate blindfolded. As he walked along the southeast passageway, Lars massaged his right ear and watched the multi-coloured pipes zigzag on the ceiling. He came around the corner and almost plowed right into Doug’s pushcart. Doug Sole was a janitor. His hair was thinning, more salt than pepper. He wore a navy blue jump suit with his name embroidered on the left side of his chest. Right over his heart. Lars apologized.
“Something wrong?” Doug asked. Lars explained the Q-Tip situation. “Your sub-conscious mind at work,” he continued. “Something’s up, buried deep. Stored in your body and it reacted. It’s a warning.”
Doug hung his head as though catching himself - he rarely spoke. “You working the nightshift?” I nodded. “See you later then.”
He continued on down the hallway.
Lars grabbed his coffee from the food court establishment. There were four other coffee places, but he liked this one the best. The coffee was terrible, but the barista was attractive. Lars always felt more confident flirting when wearing his uniform. He brought his coffee up to the second floor of The Lighthouse. Walking up the escalator, Lars could hear the piano music reverbing and bouncing against the mirrored walls. The Piano Man played every Thursday and the security guard was stationed to keep watch over the audience. Since the audience was made up of mostly elderly residents of the attached condo building, Lars and the other security guard Hugo usually joked about watching over a geriatric mosh pit.
The Piano Man wrapped up his set. The CEO of The Lighthouse, Germaine Stout IV, clapped lightly. He attended every piano Thursday. Lars caught his eye, nodded.
The small one backed away. The large one grabbed Lars by the shirt and tossed him around the corner. Walk slow, Lars thought, lightly swing arms. Lars took a few steps and almost immediately put his right hand against his stinging ear.
“Pssssst,” the small one hissed. “Lightly swing arms. No, don't look back. Keep going. They’ve seen you already.”
Lars walked slowly towards the door. It was an inside door, one that connected the condo building to the shopping centre. They were on the second floor. The door was all glass and Lars saw a silhouette on the other side. A light from the hallway shone like a spotlight on the person. They tapped on the glass. Tap-tap-tap.
Beep-beep-beep. The electronic device Lars used at the various checkpoints recorded his information. Proved that he had been there. The device resembled an electric shaver. Small metal platforms were placed on door jams and beside lighting fixtures at checkpoints around the entire perimeter of the shopping centre. Each checkpoint had to be beeped three times during a shift. The concept behind the design was for security purposes, but also, to ensure the guards didn’t get lazy.
Lars walked between the mirrored walls on the third floor. Beeped the checkpoint beside Germaine Stout IV’s office. Stout was an odd fellow. Lars applied for the security guard position as a joke. He was skinny, lanky, his 6'5" frame usually a hindrance. Stout hired him on the spot, told Lars he matched the image of the individual he wanted exactly.
Lars beeped the checkpoint near the coffee shop. Thought about the barista. At 23 years old, Lars had no direction. The barista deserved someone with direction. Someone that had a lucrative job. A stockbroker, perhaps? The main reason Lars took the security guard position was to allow himself time to think. He was guarding space. Besides the checkpoints, there would be nothing to do. He could let his mind drift and perhaps it would figure itself out.
Up on the third floor, near the store that only sold different assortments of bottled water, as Lars finished up the last checkpoint, he walked around a mirrored wall and was smashed on the base of his neck with the butt of a gun. He crumpled to the ground.
He woke tied to a chair. Two men - a small one and a larger one - appeared. The larger one leaned against the wall, the smaller one paced back and forth muttering to himself. The smaller one stopped, spoke to the larger one in a hushed tone. The Q-Tip puncture combined with the hit on the back of his neck made his head feel like it was a balloon ready to pop.
The two men stopped talking, looked at Lars. Lars found his voice, explained that it was Doug the janitor. Every night he cleaned the lobby of the attached condo building and completed general maintenance of the shopping centre. In that order. For security reasons, Doug does not have access into the shopping centre. He tap-tap-taps on the glass and Lars lets him in.
Walk slow, Lars thought. Lightly swing arms. Doug came into view on the other side of the glass. Lars stopped, they met eyes. Lars didn’t have to give a sign or signal. Doug knew something was wrong.
Lars turned around, faced the two men hiding. The throbbing pain in his head became excruciating. He slowly bent down, rested on his knees. The small one and the larger one came running. Put the gun to Lars’s head. Lars cannot doubt the doubt he saw earlier in the small one’s eyes. He closed his eyes. A darkness as he looked deep inside himself. Three-dimensional darkness.
And the pain stopped. And his thoughts cleared.
And a loud crash - SMASH! - Lars braced for the bullet.
When it didn’t come, he opened his eyes. The attention of the two men had drifted towards the door. Doug had smashed his pushcart through the glass door. Charged at them with a crazed face. Crazy enough to freeze both the small one and the larger one in place. He tackled them with the pushcart, ran right over them. The smash through the front door tripped the alarm. Lars felt and heard the building crying out for help.
Doug pulled the pushcart back, pushed and pinned both men up against the wall. Guns were dropped. Lars picked one up, pointed.
Lars stood beside Doug. “You were right,” Lars said. “Something was wrong.”
They heard sirens echoing in the night.