WATCHING THAT HOUSE Andrew James Paterson
After his client had finished the transaction and left the building, he counted the money and then smiled to himself.
Things were going not so badly at all, he thought. He could contribute to the apartment for the month and he didn’t have to talk to anybody who wasn’t a client.
Aside from Teresa, he preferred not to talk to anybody else unless it was a matter of financial convenience. And, even with regards to his relationship withy Teresa, which was also the basic situation.
For sure she wished that he’d get a job or perhaps expend his micro-business, but then she didn’t know how difficult it would be for him to get a job. All the undesirable paperwork and so on.
Now it was time to kill more time on Social Media, as long as he was careful about liking something or responding to anybody.
He thought of pouring a drink, and then decided not to. Best not to.
What he really enjoyed about having an Internet account for a fictitious person was that he could befriend acquaintances from his former life without them knowing about it.
Why, here was Derek Kennedy… still in a relationship with Bruce Donegan... their lives seemed to go on and on. Neither if them ever posted anything startling... neither Derek nor Bruce ever posted anything that he, Roger Greenaway, felt inclined to disagree with. But that certainly didn’t prevent him from “liking” any of the couple’s diaristic entries, as long as numerous other anonymous strangers “liked” these entries.
And here was Anna Wenneker. He remembered her from his brief university days, and now she seemed to be some sort of tenured English professor. Anna’s postings were almost too erudite for Face Book, but that didn’t make her jump out awkwardly or anything like that.
He could recognize all these people by their profile pictures. He was careful not to use any kind of profile picture, except for an abstract drawing.
Yes, he as Roger Greenaway simply described himself as “working as ‘artist’”. That was all that was necessary. He communicated visually. He had attended Simon Fraser University in BC, which was a convenient enough lie.
Now he scrawled down and there was a pronouncement from Samantha Crowston. He remembered her from Grade Nine in Don Mills. She was now some sort of political activist, except she seemed to be at home all the time.
Was she an invalid? He would pay greater attention to the hints in between the lines of Samantha Crowston’s postings.
He wondered if Teresa had an on-line identity that he was not meant to know about. How could he find out yes or no, except by parsing every stranger’s entries?
Maybe she used a male name? Or maybe even a trans identity. He reminded himself to watch out for gender-neutral names. Ashley… that was usually a woman’s name, but not always. Leslie or Lesley, Dana, even Beverley. He remembered a male Beverley from grade eleven.
He cautioned himself against pushing his luck. He had this anonymous moniker on Social Media and best to stay as anonymous as possible. Nobody knew what he looked like. He didn’t see any of his customers, and that was all for the better.
Jim Flint observed the activities at 487 Manning until his subject’s wife finally came home. This didn’t happen until almost midnight on this cooler than average Wednesday in late May.
She always seemed to be working late, long after her employers had shut down at five o’clock. Did Teresa Landon really need to stay behind to catch up on her daily workload, or did she have other reasons to not come home to her husband until bedtime?
For the husband’s part, he didn’t seem to do much. He did deal drugs, but only weed. Flint’s superiors were wrong, he had concluded. Teresa’s husband only dealt weed, nothing harder. The man wasn’t big time enough to arrest.
Still, their relationship did seem like an odd one. No kids and a husband who didn’t work while the wife worked ridiculous hours. But what did he, Detective James Louis Flint, know about relationships anyway?
He’d been married for less than a month when his bride decided she needed to take a solo holiday. Except that it wasn’t solo. Lisa had met up with a former lover whom she had never quite gotten over and that had been the end of his own marriage.
That had been it for relationships as far as he was concerned. Maybe they worked for other people, but not for him.
He wondered if the man he was watching had some sort of trust fund that he could live on without having to work. But then why would Teresa need to work such ridiculous hours if she weren’t supporting him?
And he didn’t seem to have any income except for his small-time weed-dealing. Very strange indeed.
Flint had seen them arguing late one night, but he hadn’t been able to make out the dialogue. Was it about money or something else?
Flint had never seen Teresa and her husband or partner or whatever he is having sex. Maybe they played in them morning, that might be worth checking out, except that he had other people to spy on during the day.
“Ha ha. I made a decision not to live with other people and now I have a job spying on other people”, Flint muttered to himself as he started the car without making too much noise in the process.
The doorbell rang, and the visitor was the one he had been expecting.
His customer was a young woman named Maria Cortez, who he realized was slightly older than his first impression had been. Maria was in her late thirties and she was a writer. She knew Teresa through visual arts connections.
Maria wanted to buy an ounce, so he offered her tea and then retrieved what he had prepared for her earlier that day.
Maria was always looking at the books. She was particularly interested in Teresa’s psychoanalytic volumes on literature and also the cinema. Helene Cixous, Julia Kristeva, Laura Mulvey, Tania Modeleski, Jane Gallop, and many others. Teresa read all these books, not that what she may or may not have learned from them had anything to do with her own career.
Maria wanted to smoke a joint but he preferred that she not do it in the apartment. He rarely smoked marijuana, only sometimes at night with Teresa. Teresa liked to smoke a joint to wind down after her working day.
He actually disliked potheads. He could already see his customers losing their memories. They were not unlike his friend Bruce, who was always asking about movies for which he could never remember the titles, starring some actress whose name he could never remember.
Maria seemed a bit put off that he didn’t want to smoke with her. She seemed like a very pleasant woman but she was too chatty. She was smart enough to take the hint that her transaction had been successfully completed and thus walk toward the apartment’s exit.
“See you again, Roger. I’ll probably call you soon, as I’m having a party this weekend. Oh….maybe you and Teresa might want to come? You know the address, right?”
He swallowed. “I’m sure Teresa has your address, Maria. I’ll tell her about your generous invitation.”
She closed the door behind her. He swallowed again. If Maria Cortez had really wanted Teresa to come to her weekend party, why didn’t she just email Teresa? But… perhaps she had. He had never given Maria his email address.
He went back to the music he had been about to play when Maria had arrived. The CD was one in a compilation of minimalist piano music. A single pianist was playing works by John Adams, Avro Part and Friedrich Nietzsche. Nietzsche’s composition was considerably more romantic than those by the other composers. Nietzsche had never shaken his Wagnerian roots.
The Adams piece was fine. He was now comfortable. He poured himself another cup of the tea had had blended for Maria, and then relaxed with his CD.
He was at home reading aimlessly through one of Teresa’s artists’ books when the phone rang.
The phone was annoying. The sound of it was annoying. So he answered the call without looking at the caller’s tag or identity.
A voice with an unidentifiable accent…..Arabic? Mexican? …was informing him that his Internet access was about to be cut off.
“Because you have been sending out (undecipherable word) messages…”
This voice did not sound like a crank caller. This sounded like it could be for real.
“What are you talking about?”
“Your Internet Access is going to be cut off immediately because you keep on sending out (undecipherable word) messages. Please contact... do you have a pen…..write this down…”
“Okay. I have my pen. What do you want me to write down?”
“Do you have a pen?”
‘Okay. 888… D as in Delta, C as in Charlie, A as in Alpha, 6 0”
Is this a phone number?
“Did you write this down?”
Now he decided to call the caller’s bluff. He hung up the receiver.
Then he checked the Internet. He was relieved to see his Internet options come up at regular speed.
He had to slip out for groceries — as usual, to the supermarket in the shopping centre two blocks south on the main street.
He made a list of what he needed. Sausages, corn, carrots… ginger ale… he couldn’t think of anything else.
As he approached the mall, he recognized Maria and Megan.
They were talking to each other and he didn’t want to be interrupting them. He didn’t know that any of his customers knew each other, but why wouldn’t they?
They both knew Teresa. He surmised that Teresa had discreetly told them that her husband was a weed dealer. He didn’t want everybody and their dog to know that.
He hoped that Maria and Megan would not see him so he walked straight ahead. He bought sausages, canned corn, canned carrots and ginger ale— they would all do for his dinner.
After paying for his groceries and walking out the supermarket, he could see Maria and Megan still talking. Except now they were looking at him.
They weren’t motioning him to come over and join them. They might as well been pointing at him.
That’s Teresa’s husband. You know, the one who doesn’t work except he sells weed.
He looked down at the pavement. He more than suspected the two women found him creepy. He’d suspected all women found him creepy.
Except Teresa. She was his friend.
He now walked north from the shopping centre and entered the apartment building. He would make dinner. He was glad he didn’t have any clients coming to visit this evening, even though he did need the money.
He checked throughout the refrigerator and realized that he had to go to the store for basic groceries.
He cursed. The weather was not promising, so he retrieved his umbrella.
When he arrived at the grocery store, he noticed a man shopping in the second aisle. He recognized the man as being Chris Fenton, who had been a drummer for an ancient punk band.
He didn’t like Chris Fenton. He didn’t want the old punk to see and recognize him.
But now Chris was addressing him.
“Nick. How the hell are you?”
He started to turn around. There was another grocery store two blocks further west.
“Hey, Nick. You remember me? Chris Fenton.”
He looked at the old punk while maintaining his distance. He wasn’t Nick, so he did not respond to that name. Let the asshole clue in that he was talking to the wrong person.
Everybody has some sort of doppelganger. So, his was some guy named Nick.
Having stared at Chris Fenton long enough, now he did turn around and decide that the grocery store two blocks further west would be a better place to shop for basic dinner supplies, although it was considerably more expensive.
One block later, he saw lightning. At least he had remembered to bring his umbrella.
He decided it was time for a break. He could only spend so much time playing Roger Greenaway on social media. He had to admit to being proud of himself for making so many unquestioning on-line friends, who never expressed a desire to meet him personally and thus saved him the trouble of having to inform them that he had no desire whatever to ever meet them.
Of course there had been a couple of inquiries, or even flirtations. There had been a couple of women who had looked at his profile and then decided to “friend” him. After a couple of posts, he could tell they wanted to physically rendezvous and thus he had de-friended them. Melanie and Deborah, those were the names.
He was convinced that most of the people on social media had no desire whatever to meet their ‘friends”. They were simply contacts, conveniences for killing time. Social media wasn’t about communication; it was about killing time.
It was about appearing to like people while actually despising them.
He’d been careful to not have an identifying photograph labeling his FACEBOOK account. Weren’t people more interesting when one had no idea what they looked like?
He’s been careful to avoid anybody who had known Nick Massey. But then, that hadn’t really been very many people when he began counting names.
He’d also been careful to avoid anybody whom Teresa knew. Not that she had much of a social life….she didn’t even go for drinks with her co-workers, most of whom were gay men who had their own watering holes.
Teresa worked long hours while he fed the cat… that was more or less the arrangement. He did wish that his dealing business would increase its volume; but he also didn’t want to risk drawing any attention to the house.
Very people ever drove on this street. He wasn’t in any sort of heaven, but purgatory was nothing to complain about.
And now he’d decided enough Social Media for the evening and time to watch television… on the computer, of course. What on earth did anybody own a TV set for?
He found a Netflix movie… a true crime story that had been “adapted” for the film industry. The film wasn’t terribly promising, but it would do. It would kill time until Teresa returned. It would fill space until she returned and then they could reinforce their arrangement. Either he would ask about her day’s work or she would describe it, and then they would go to sleep. Nothing more and nothing less.
He rolled down the Face Book page and here was a posting about famous vegetarians. There was one particular name he recognized, that of Morrissey. The once controversial singer for The Smiths and solo artist had boycotted Canada for years because of the seal hunt and probably other factors.
But what struck him as contradictory was the image of the vegetarian singer holding a cat. How can anybody be vegetarian if one ‘owns’ a cat, meaning one buys sub-human meat or fish for the cat to feed on?
Cats are carnivores. Sometimes he feed Teresa’s cat ‘Kitty Stew”, and the little beast would always eat around the miniscule peas and carrots covered in meat sauce.
“Meow meow meow. That’s not food. Give me more food.”
He recalled a friend whose cat had sat in the salad bowl on Christmas Day eating the turkey. The animal had no concept that the salad consisted of vegetables and was thus human food or whatever. The salad bowl was simply a chair next to the meat.
And of course Whiskers was beginning to whine for food. He looked at the time at the bottom of the computer page, and decided he might as well get the feeding ritual over with. The poor little beast doesn’t have much to do; except eat, sleep and play with toy mice. Good thing the cat never went outside and caught birds or real mice.
Who needs that kind of mess?
At around two in the afternoon, he realized that his solitude would have to be interrupted as Megan Turner was coming over to make a purchase.
He wasn’t even dressed yet and he was listening, if that could be the word, to Brian Eno’s On Land Volume Four. This was a wonderful record that mixed organic, found, and composed audio into one delirious whole. This is what he used to refer to as “bathtub music”. Just press play and then soak the body.
But he would have to get dressed to be hospitable to Megan, who he didn’t know very well at all.
Megan Turner was a perennial art student. He thought she supported herself as a teaching assistant and would eventually use that to gain a secure position in the art education system, even tenure.
He had never seen any of Megan Turner’s art. Teresa deemed rather non-committal when he’d asked for an evaluation.
He had barely dressed himself when the buzzer rang.
“Come on up.”
Megan Turner walked toward the apartment from the elevator. She was in her thirties, too old to be an art student but what the hell.
He realized he hasn’t yet prepared her purchase, so he got to work.
“Come on in, Megan.”
She came in.
“Can I get you tea or coffee?”
“Coffee, would be great, Roger”
Perhaps she had a hangover? Or was tired due to excessive course required reading or something like that.
“I must have told you this before, but I really like Teresa’s paintings. They’re situated on that wonderful border between figurative and abstract.’
“I’ll pass that on to her, Megan. Thank you very much.”
Megan almost slurped her coffee.
“Has she been painting much lately? Does she have a studio?”
“Not that I’m aware of. I mean, Teresa has two design jobs. She’s up early in the morning and home late at night.”
Megan took a large sip of coffee.
“So, the merchandise is ready. Can we sample it?’
He shook is head.
“You’ll have to trust me here, Megan”.
She started to say something, then closed her mouth and gave him the money.
“Thank you, Roger”.
He nodded and watched her exit.
He decided he’d had enough Face Book for at least a few hours.
He’d just exhausted a lengthy chain on the subject of whether a white man who shot nine black people in a South Carolina church was a terrorist or a mental case. One Martin Hislop was posing the question why are blacks or Muslins always labeled terrorists while white criminals are just criminals or people with a mental illness. People would agree that there is a racial divide in the labeling. Other people would say that petty arguments about labeling were completely inappropriate and irrelevant with respect to such a critical situation — this shooting hardly being the only example of racially-motivated white on black crime and whatever.
There was yet another picture of the gunman, who was a known enthusiast for the Ku Klux Klan and other white supremacist organizations. Why yet another picture of that man and not photos of those he killed, people were debating.
And of course the young man had opened fire with a gun. Guns are not exactly difficult to obtain in America. And none of the presidential candidates in the upcoming election would touch the gun-control issue with a ten foot pole since they needed not only the cracker redneck vote but also the angry citizen vote.
He had known a young woman who strongly believed that women should have guns for protection when their husbands of boyfriends became dangerous. He didn’t think this was an isolated opinion.
He turned the computer off. He didn’t care whether the guy was a terrorist or a mental-case or a criminal; the man could be accurately described in two words. Racist asshole. Nothing more and nothing less.
It was time for music. He scanned through the shelves and selected John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme. At this moment he preferred instrumental music, although A Love Supreme did have that chant at the end of its first movement.
Roger considered himself somewhere between atheist and agnostic; yet he loved religious music. J.S.Bach, Henryk Gorecki, and John Coltrane. Too many people categorized Coltrane as one of the cool junkie elite.
Bullshit, he almost spat. Coltrane had kicked his habit and embraced spirituality. Ascension, Om, Giant Steps, A Love Supreme, many others, the titles were surely a clue? If religion provided a belief structure for music as intensely wonderful as John Coltrane’s, then good for religion. Beliefs are fine as long as their purveyor doesn’t become a fanatical evangelist in the process.
He pressed play and up came the opening ensemble flourish, followed by the famous two-note bass motif of the first of four movements, and then Coltrane began to play.
He simultaneously concentrated and relaxed.
Scott and Colin ordered another round of draughts and then shook their heads.
“Where is Teresa, Colin?”
“Yes, where is that girl?”
Scott glanced yet again toward the front door of The Beaver.
“Well, this may not be the first time she’s told us she might meet us for after work drinks and then not shown up.”
“True, dear”, Colin assented. “And we should never take it personally.”
Scott and Colin sipped on their draughts as soon as the waiter delivered them.
“He’s new, and he’s cute”, Scott noted sagely.
“They all are, dear. So, Scottie, what do you think the story is regarding Teresa’s boyfriend?”
“Husband, you mean. They’re married.”
“Okay. I stand corrected. But what do you think the story is with what’s his name…”
“Yes, Roger. Unfortunate name being the least of his problems, I more than suspect.”
Scott snorted derisively. “The story regarding Roger Greenaway is that the man hasn’t held a job for years. He used to be a postie, then a bike courier, then something happened and he’s a stay-at-home non-father.”
“Well, at least I know what he does at home. He’s a weed dealer.”
“Yes, but that isn’t a full-time occupation. I doubt that he has any lucrative business going on.”
“Oh, I doubt he contributes very much at all to our friend Teresa’s rent.”
‘And where is Teresa?”.
Colin looked at his watch. “If she’s not here in fifteen minutes, let’s go dancing somewhere else”.
He found a pulp paperback novel in Teresa’s bookcase and realized it was a Cornell Woolrich book that he hadn’t already read.
Woolrich was one of his favourite writers. He wasn’t exactly a great writer… in fact, he was one of the all time kings of purple prose…but he could sustain suspense like nobody else. His novels had been widely and freely adapted by many vintage Hollywood producers and directors, including of course Alfred Hitchcock.
Woolrich had been a F. Scott Fitzgerald pretender, and he had been lured to Hollywood in the 1920s on the strength of his first Fitzgerald-ish novel. He married a studio boss’ daughter, but his diaries revealed that he habitually cruised the waterfront for available sailors. Then he returned to New York and spent the rest of his life living alone in lodgings underneath his mother’s lodgings, while of course becoming an alcoholic.
Woolrich basically drank himself to death in conjunction with untreated gangrene. He wasn’t at all poor and he had still avoided the medical profession.
Woolrich enjoyed the long process of being a dying person. Suicide would have been too easy.
Except... Woolrich remained sober enough to crank out numerous volumes of short stories and pulp novels. In fact, he was so prolific that he had to use pseudonyms for novels published by other than his prime publisher. William Irish, George Hopley and Cornel Woolrich were all one and the same person.
Most of this novels involved tried and true plot devices like amnesia and mistaken identity and people leading double lives. His plots rested on absurd coincidences … it was not surprising that Woolrich also ventured into horror territory.
Somebody upstairs was making everything turn out the way that it did.
Suspense and mystery are not the same, they are opposites. With suspense, the reader or viewer knows what is about to happen and that is the attraction. It is not who did it; it is how soon is he (or she) going to do it.
He began reading Night Has A Thousand Eyes, by George Hopley (Woolrich’s middle names). It began nonchalantly but then they all did. This was supposed to be one of the best Woolrich novels.
What a stroke of luck to discover this book in Teresa’s bookcase. She had quite a few other suspense and mystery books, although she never talked about these reading habits of hers. It had been a long time since he’d seem Teresa reading pulp…she did like to bury her head in serious classic literature, during which she never wished to be disturbed.
He was about two-thirds through the suspense novel when he heard the door opening.
“Hi, Roger. You’re still up.”
“Oh yes, Teresa”, Didn’t he always wait up for her?
She had come home later than usual. She smelled like she’d had a glass or two of wine. Perhaps she’d gone for late night drinks with one of her co-workers.
“I thought you would have read this Woolrich before, Roger?”
“Oh no, Somehow I’d missed this one. And this one just might be his best.”.
“Well”, Teresa smiled, “that’s relative, no?”
‘If you mean Woolrich isn’t exactly Hemingway let alone Shakespeare, well, yes I see your point. But he is the all-time master of nail-biting suspense.”
“Yes, that he is”. Teresa began preparing to go to sleep. “I take it you’re staying up to finish the book”.
“How could I not?”
She stared at him for a moment, and then kissed him before heading into the bedroom.
Suzanne Archembeault observed Teresa putting her clothes back on after their sexual encounter.
“Are you sure you don’t want to stay for another glass of wine, dear?”
“I’d love to, Suzanne. But I really shouldn’t.”
Suzanne lit a cigarette. “Why not? Would it be past Roger’s bedtime?’
Teresa laughed tensely.
“I have to go in early tomorrow. It’s not Roger… it’s my own schedule.”
It’s both, Teresa.” Suzanne exhaled. “You and Roger have a routine, even though you haven’t had sex for how exactly long is it?”
“I can’t remember. There’ve been a couple of occasions where we’ve sort of had sex.”
“What do you mean, sort of?’?
Teresa finished zipping up her jeans and then cleared her throat.
“There have been a couple of occasions when I’ve felt aroused and thus tried to arouse him. But nothing much happened.”.
“Well, then”., Suzanne took a drag on her smoke. “Do you want him to fuck you? I thought you and Roger were sexually finished?’
‘We are, Suzanne. We are.”
Suzanne poured herself a glass of wine. She looked at Teresa who shook her head.
“ So… you’ll go home to him after being with me. And he’ll think you were out with your co-workers Scott and Colin and all will be fine. But it isn’t fine, Teresa.”
Teresa nodded silently.
‘This can’t go on like this forever, Teresa. It has to change. You have to change.”
Suzanne took a long drag from her cigarette and then grounded it out.
“I know that, Suzanne. Can you please give me more time to figure out how to break it to him?”.
“Break what to him? That your relationship is finally over?”.
Teresa didn’t respond, except by putting on her jacket and walking toward the front door.
There was definitely rain in the air, but this didn’t mean that Flint could be calling it a night any time soon. He was obliged to wait outside in his sedan, knowing that Roger Greenaway was doing nothing but tooling around on his computer and maybe or maybe not having a drink.
Greenaway didn’t seem to be much of a drinker. Flint never saw wine or liquor bottles in the recycling bin on the front porch.
The ones he did occasionally see might well have belonged to the downstairs neighbour. He also seemed to lead a quiet life. The neighbour’s name was Donald Swarbrick and he was constantly working on a light table … always drawing things. Flint more than suspected that Swarbrick was an architect, although his lodgings weren’t upscale enough for an architect. Perhaps a freelance graphic artist who wanted to be an architect? Or maybe someone who Teresa knew?
Yes, that might well have been the connection, although Flint had never notice any interaction between Greenaway and Swarbrick. Never any meeting for drink or smoke breaks, although Swarbrick smoked and Greenaway didn’t seem to.
Perhaps these two men did not like each other very much, so they agreed to give each other side berths?
Flint looked up as he heard a mewling sound. His suspicions were confirmed… he had heard and now he was seeing a cat. The animal was mostly orange with white around the face and eyes. This was a very ordinary cat, at least in its appearance.
Flint disliked cats. Lisa had owned one, and the animal was always demanding attention. Cats didn’t know their place... they always thought they owned the apartment or the house or wherever they lived. Cats were stupid… they didn’t obey commands because they were too stupid to understand them. At least dogs had a smidgen of intelligence, but not cats.
But now Roger Greenaway was calling after this cat.
“Whiskers. Come inside, please. Here.”
And now Roger was shaking some sort of food snack, so that the cat would return inside. Flint scowled and shook his head. Cats were manipulative and ungrateful little beasts. The damn cat could stand to lose weight…why didn’t Roger let it spend the night chasing birds or whatever?
Were there mice in the house, where Roger and Teresa lived on the main floor and Donald Swarbrick lived in the basement? And what about the attic? Did Roger and Teresa ever do anything with their attic, or was it strictly for storage? Storage of what?
Was the cat Teresa’s? Was Roger expected to look after the animal since Teresa worked such extended hours?
After the cat was safely inside, Flint could see Roger returning to his computer. What did the man do with his machine. Was he into pornography? Was he into conspiracy theory websites? Flint really needed to know, and he wasn’t authorized to investigate further.
He almost dozed off until he hears an approaching car. It was a cab and he knew the passenger was Teresa Landon, who didn’t drive. He wondered if Teresa paid any attention to his sedan, or just dismissed it as belonging to some neighbour without a driveway or garage.
He waited for Teresa to let herself into the building. Roger never came to the door and greeted her. Definitely a strange relationship, Flint noted yet again.
He started the car just as rain was beginning to fall… at first softly, then considerably harder.
He really appreciated rarely having to use public transit. He did not go to clients’ homes; they came to his. None of them were dangerous or psychotic enough to pose any risk.
It had now been years since he had come to loather public transit, particularly buses. And it wasn’t the tardiness or the crowds. It was the fact that public space had eroded.
One could not take a bus ride with other people respecting public space by being silent or quietly talking to their friends and neighbours. One now had to hear everybody and their dead cat talking on their cell phones and most of the conversations were about sit that just shouldn’t be aired in the public realm.
But, even when the conversations seemed benign enough, they were too goddamned loud. The offending passengers assumed that the other passengers either didn’t mind or were themselves on the phone, or checking their messages or whatever.
He didn’t have a cell phone, he enjoyed being difficult to contact.