Jason became aware of the strange character following him. For a while he assumed it was a coincidence. Then he chalked it up to idle paranoia. With every move, his lurking shadow also adjusted course. The whole thing was bizarre. He wasn’t famous or wealthy. He didn’t owe any substantial debts. In no perceptible way was he important in any real-world sense. There was no obvious metric that could justify the unwarranted attention of being tailed, and yet he was.
A range of emotions went through him. Excitement, annoyance, fear, anger, and then burning curiosity. He really was being followed by a stealthy private eye-looking character. Should he try to ditch the creep? Should he do an about face and confront him? In the flight-or-flight paradigm, the flight choice was still the safest course of action. Confrontation could be and often was, very dangerous. Better leave well enough alone, he decided.
The swarthy man continued to trail him though the crowded streets and sidewalks. At times, the surveillance wasn’t even discrete. That changed the whole dynamic for Jason. It was one thing to be subtly pursued from a distance. They could both pretend it wasn’t happening but as soon as they were forced to acknowledge each other, it seemed silly to ignore it.
“Sir, I know you’ve been trailing me throughout the city. I’ve changed directions a half dozen times. After each of those, you always alter your trajectory and follow my lead. Please don’t try to convince me otherwise. Why are you following me?”
“Yes. Yes. I have been following you. Allow me to explain. I represent a very elite social club. We’ve been observing you for quite a while and feel that you would make an exemplary member of our organization. Further validation of our faith in your character is that you adapted to my pursuit. Then you elected to confront me. We are always seeking brave individuals who think on their feet. It’s good to witness that our belief in you wasn’t unfounded.”
“Social club? That’s what this is all about? I didn’t know if you were a bill collector or a god-danged serial killer! Isn’t there more efficient ways to vet people for your club membership? The whole thing borders on harassment.”
“I suppose it seems unorthodox to observe potential members from afar but you can really learn a lot from how people act (when they think they are alone). We tend to scope candidates for a while before admitting them.”
Jason was amused at their audacity to assume he’d even be interested in joining. “What exactly makes your organization think I’d want to be a member? You’ve surely ran my credit, right? You have to realize I have a modest income and high debt ratio. I probably couldn’t even afford it.”
“There is never a fee to join and eventually everyone accepts our invitation to be a member.”; The investigator reassured him. “We have famous actors, captains of industry, military geniuses, beauty queens, intellectuals, famous poets, world leaders, billionaires and acclaimed artists. The people in our club come to us from every walk of life. Every faith, nationality and religion are part of our social organization.”
Jason tried to listen politely to the club recruiter’s spiel. It sounded well rehearsed and delivered to emphasize their supposed level of social diversity. After a few minutes he felt he had to interrupt. “No fee to join? What about afterward? Are there monthly dues? Why would movie stars, politicians, and billionaires want me in the club? What could I bring to an audience like that? To paraphrase the old saying by Groucho Marx; “It couldn’t be that exclusive of a club if they want me as a member.”
“He would love that you are quoting him. He’s a real barrel of monkeys to have at parties if you don’t mind him stealing all the ladies.”; The Recruiter laughed at his own anecdote and then offered his business card.
“He? You mean Groucho Marx? I’m sure he was all of those things when he was alive but it’s a moot point now.” Jason took the card without looking at it, and then shoved it into his pocket.
“Oh, he’s still that way! I ran into him in our celebrity ballroom last week. He’s still smoking those smelly cigars and slinging one-liners.”
“Huh? He’s been dead for years, mister.” Jason was confused by the sharp turn toward nonsense-ville that their conversation suddenly took. Up until that point, he had seemed lucid. Glancing over his left shoulder, he happened to catch his solitary reflection in the storefront glass window. Even as the words left his mouth to argue, he could see that he was alone. The recruiter was nowhere to be seen.
A couple young ladies stood at the crosswalk, waiting for the light to change. They had a horrified look on their faces as their attention was focused on his apparent, one-sided conversation.
Jason reached instinctively into his pocket to verify if the recent exchange with the club investigator was real or hallucinatory. His fingers grasped the card-stock paper reassuringly. Once out of his pocket, he held it up to read it aloud.
The card only contained one word: ‘Death’. After a long moment, it made sense. It was the universal club that we all eventually join and never leave. Jason was determined to delay his membership into that elite ‘club’ for a while longer. He was very careful to pay attention to the crosswalk signs. He’d be smoking cigars with Groucho soon enough.