The Strange Man in the Diner.
Read the episode:
Here I am at Becky’s coffee shop, and I have to admit, a bit shocked since Constable Randy has just announced the Organist at the New Moon Church has been found dead.
My gut feeling is this situation won’t be good for me, because I might be the last person to have seen him alive after I went in the church while on the hunt for the Rolex thief.
And to make things worse, I left that part out of the story I’d told to Bill and Constable Randy after I’d returned to the coffee shop with the watch. It kind of makes me feel under suspicion, now that he’s dead.
Bill and I are at the window side table, both our faces frozen in awe as Constable Randy pulls out his notepad and pen. He states in a shrewd voice, that if there is anything I’ve forgotten to mention about the organist, I better tell it now in case his death is more complicated than the paramedics say.
It might be suspicious? I blurt out.
Well, Constable Randy says it’s all but confirmed the organist had a heart attack.
That’s doesn’t sound so bad, well, it does sound bad for the organist. But I don’t have to worry that my story might sound bad if he died legally.
Nothing really happened between us, I say. I mean, the most I remember he said, was that he doubted the Rolex thief had entered the church.
I never had suspected he was about to die. His organ rehearsal had the energy of someone half his age. Actually, never mind his death – I was the one a bit dozy, so I had to sit down on the church bench.
Then it strikes me I’d told Bill that I passed out completely, and now I was changing my story.
So I clarify.
Actually, I passed out for a bit, probably from the exhaustion of the chase. When I woke up, the organist was sitting back at the organ, I say, though I know it’s a lie.
He wasn’t worried if you were okay? the Constable asks.
No, he thought I was drunk. He let me sleep off the booze for a while, which wasn’t long since I hadn’t actually been drinking. When I woke up, he was playing his organ, so I left the church and that’s when I found the Rolex on the front lawn.
And you didn’t remember that part of your story until now? the Constable asks.
Yeah, I guess it didn’t seem as important as Bill’s watch, I answer.
I stop right then, while Constable Randy finishes writing up my statement.
Bill grunts, disappointed that my story seems believable to him. He has a mundane life, and lusts for more intrigue than a failed theft of his watch, and no ulterior motive behind it.
Well, he also could be disappointed that I waved the watch around in the air before I gave it to him.
In his former life as a fireman, he must have been overly accustomed to being a hero, and modestly brushed off the adoration as part of his job. To him it would seem like an abuse of power for someone to thrive on their own heroic deed.
“Bill, anyone could have found your watch,” I say, out of the blue. “I’m glad to be the one, to make sure it was returned to you.”
“Yeah, sure,” he mumbles.
I sip my coffee. It’s three-quarters full and colder than my lips can handle. I guess saving the world isn’t worth a caffeine buzz, I joke to everyone.
The lady who is kitting a bowling ball bag, gives me a perturbed look, as though saving the world is worth more than a joke about lousy coffee.
In a humdrum voice, Bill offers to buy me a coffee if Denise won’t reheat mine.
Constable Randy hollers at the counter that I deserve a free cup.
Denise waves me over to get a fresh one. I go to collect my prize, though it feels a bit uncomfortable. I’d just seen a church organist before he dropped dead, and the chance someone had murdered him might come back to haunt me.
Perhaps the organist felt the same needle prick in his shoulder, and couldn’t survive whatever drug was injected into his body. And if a medical examiner found a trace of it in his system, well, I’d probably hear about it from Constable Randy. And he’d be asking himself if I had anything to do with it.
Denise hands me a free coffee, though it was a medium instead of the large I’d bought on my own. I accepted it resistantly, giving her a hum drum thank you. A free coffee might bring me bad luck for lying to Bill and Constable Randy.
Standing back besides them, the truth comes out. “I have to tell you something Constable,” I say. “I remember now exactly what happened in the church.”
Constable Randy looked a bit confused then asked if I forgot to mention something important.
“Well, I was more than dozy. I passed out on a bench at the church, and after I felt a needle prick my right shoulder.”
The constable looks bewildered, then asks if a needle could have passed so easily through my bomber jacket, which was filled with down.
I say yes, of course, so there’s probably a small hole in it.
Constable Randy searches for a hole in the shoulder of my jacket then pulls the material tight and searches again.
No hole, he says, then he adds I might have mistaken the prick for a stressed out nerve. He asks if I was absolutely sure I had passed out.
Well, I woke up after the organist splashed me with water.
So was there an altercation? Constable Randy asks.
No, not at all. He was doing me a favour.
Constable Randy writes down a few notes, then says I’ll probably have to come down to the police station to make another statement.
He wishes us good bye then heads to the front door.
Bill gets on my case, saying that I might have seen more than I mentioned.
If I saw him die, it would be the first thing I mentioned, even before I said that I’d found your watch. I say. Do you believe that I’d have left a man alone in his condition without calling an ambulance?
Bill is silent for a moment, then says he doesn’t know what to believe. I take a last sip of my coffee then leave it on the table and say good-bye.
The afternoon has warmed into an agreeable spring temperature, and I feel comfortable being outside. With the anxious situation I’d just been through, I can’t sit tight in a monster home, expecting a phone call from Constable Randy.
Instead I venture North on a side street until reaching Kingston Rd, a wide and fast moving street in another world than the Mysterious Bluffs. A world where the sights include, used car lots, cheap motels, industrial shops, low rent apartments, and discount shopping plazas.
I stroll along the sidewalk until spotting Don Juan’s Burrito shop, which is in-between a halal meat market and a markdown mattress store. It’s been hours since breakfast, and I’m in the mood for some spicy food after noticing the lit sign over their window, which has a giant burrito on it.
The inside of the restaurant is an off-white shoebox with a counter at the back, and pictures of typical Mexican life spread around the walls. The food has a great reputation, so all the seats are nearly taken. At the counter, I order a pulled pork burrito with extra hot sauce, a side of Nachos and a lime flavoured Perrier, then take my number and sit down in the only booth available, which is the one closest to the counter.
The meal is prepared quickly, and my number is called before my memory of the strange morning has a chance to haunt me.
In the few moments I’ve been away from my booth, a tall and stocky man has sat down on the other side of the table. He’s in his late fifties, slicked back grey hair, a bit pale for good vigour, and wearing a beige trench coat on a day without rain.
“Excuse me, sir,” I say, “I’m sitting at this booth.”
He shames me with a frown, then complains the chair at the last table available is too hard for him. And if I don’t mind, can he join me for a measly little bite and he’ll be on his way.
I’d been through plenty of unexpected situations for the day and needed to sort them out with myself. As a gentleman, I offered to sit at the last available table. The seats didn’t bother me and I could eat my meal in peace.
The man leans over, grabs my shoulder, then insists I sit with him, and promises it’ll be worth my time.
Worth my time can mean a lot of things, but in this case it probably means he has a deal on oxford shoes from Honduras, or a pack of British Cigars.
“You’re not trying to sell me anything?” I ask.
He assures me that he’s hungry, needs a comfortable place to sit.
“Fine then,” I say, sitting down in the booth.
He thanks me and goes to the counter to place his order.
Nothing is said between us until we’ve eaten a good part of our burritos, so when he wipes his mouth and speaks it comes as a surprise.
He has a personal problem, and doesn’t know who to turn to about it.
“A personal problem,” I echo, ready to hear that he’s selling his family cottage because his dog has epilepsy.
But he asks me if I don’t mind him speaking about his wife.
“What about your wife would you like to share with a stranger.” I ask.
He looks me straight in the eye, and says she thinks he’s a killer.
I lose my appetite on the spot, and drop the burrito on my plate.
“You don’t know what I’ve been through today,” I say.
He pleaded with me to hear him out, sounding like it was a life or death situation.
“Then go ahead,” I say.
Apparently, his wife believes he’s responsible for the missing singers from the Universal Harmony Choir.
The way things are going today, my burrito should come with a free copy of their CD. I say “Are you following me around?”
He looks flabbergasted, then denies ever seeing me before.
I tell him about Bill’s stolen Rolex and my trip to the New Moon Church, which happens to be where the Choir rehearses.
He assures me it’s only coincidence, but not much of one, since the story of the missing singers has been the talk of the town for ages.
I have a hunch this man might have something to do with it,
“Why,” I ask. “Why would your wife think you’re responsible for the missing singers?”
He tells me they are huge fans of choral music. A few years ago they went on a tour around the world to hear different choirs. The final destination was in Manila, where they attended the concert of the Pilipino Men’s Choir.
It was that night, sadly, that while they were enjoying the music, their hotel caught on fire, killing fifteen people. They were lucky to have only lost their luggage.
“What does that have to do with the abductions here?” I ask him.
He said first things first. During the concert, he stepped out to use the restroom for longer than usual – but had good reason to do so, because of a stomach bug that was bothering him.
Now, his wife found this strange, but never mentioned it until a few weeks later, when they were back in the Mysterious Bluffs, and the first singer went missing.
I had to ask him, what kind of wife would suspect her husband was involved in such a tragic event?
He was silent for a moment then said he offered to prove to her that he’d never stepped outside the doors of the Manila concert hall.
Now that sounds like a big stretch to me, connecting a hotel fire in the Philippines with a missing choir member in Canada. though one thing does seem strange. How were you going to prove that you stayed in the concert hall when you went to the washroom? I ask.
Well, he says if he has to, he’s going to contact the Concert Hall, and get their video footage of the lobby that night. It’ll show him walking from the hall entrance to the washroom and back, and nowhere else.
I chuckle a bit, then say, “It’s the Philippines, how do you know the concert hall has surveillance cameras?”
He says the cameras were plain as day in the foyer, so they could prove his innocence.
“And they kept the footage?” I ask.
“Yeah, why wouldn’t they on the night of the fire?” he says.
“It shouldn’t matter anyways, I say you’re here with me so the authorities didn’t blame you for starting the fire. Maybe your wife said your trip to the washroom was suspicious to spice up your love life. She might be thinking you’re an arsonist serial killer to get the blood flowing.
He laughs and says that Macy can be kinky at times, so I might be right.
“Macy, that’s your wife’s name?” I ask.
He says yeah, why?
“It sounds familiar,” I say.
He says it’s interesting, cause Macy isn’t a common name around these parts. He’d call her up and ask if we know each other somehow, but she’s busy at her fitness club.
“Fitness club?” I ask. I remember signing my divorce papers after my wife ran off with her fitness instructor, which makes me cringe. Then I think that her name, Zelda isn’t common either.
“No, I don’t need to meet her,” I say. “But perhaps we could have a coffee sometimes. Let’s exchange phone numbers.”
He disagrees with a nod, then says he’s a private man, but perhaps we will meet each other again, as we both live in the area.
“How do you know I live in the area?” I ask.
He reminds me that I told him about what happened at the New Moon church, so he assumed I lived in the area.
Fair enough, but then he stands up and leaves without finishing his burrito. It’s as abrupt as his entrance, so I don’t know whether he’s worried about something, or if it’s just part of his personality.
Anyway, I feel like eating again, so I finish my burrito, then head off to feed the neighbours cat.
His wife is the woman who had a shopping mall evacuated when I was a kid.
What was his wife’s name?
The dark ages are coming, when fire will be the only light, he said.