Target, Part Four
"You're really into older men, aren't you?" I said.
"Yeah," she said. "You got Tom Selleck's phone number?"
We were back in her office in downtown Charlotte, N. C. It was late afternoon and Dr. Janson wore Capri pants and sandals. I missed the yellow dress, legs and high heels but tried to hide my disappointment.
"If that guy hadn't dropped the golf club, would you have shot him?" I asked.
"I honestly don't know, Bob." She walked over to the window, looked down at the traffic on College Street then turned and smiled.
"If that security guard hadn't intervened, would you?" She asked.
"Only as a last resort, but I know I'm capable of it," I said. "You know that too, don't you?"
"Is that 'yes' you know or 'yes' you're capable of it?"
"Both" she said.
"Here's the reason I called," I said. I handed her a copy of the Charlotte Observer folded to a story in the People and Places section:
"Mary Whitmore doesn't call it divine intervention, she doesn't consider herself any kind of hero. Don't try to convince, Amber Cunningham, the mother of tiny Keisha that.
Mary is credited with saving the life of Keisha after noticing her locked in a car last week at her apartment complex with early May temperatures headed for an unseasonable and deadly one hundred degrees. Keisha' father has been charged in the incident after being discovered asleep in the family apartment by local police.
Readers might remember that Mary herself was saved from her estranged husband's violent attack at the Starbucks inside the Rea Road Target store six weeks ago. Her husband was shot and killed..."
"That is a strange coincidence." Dr. Janson handed the paper back.
"You think?" I said.
"Oh please," she said. "You think this baby is going to grow up and discover a cure for cancer?"
"Good, I was afraid you were developing some sort of complex."
"I think she might grow up and invent warp drive," I said and watched her fight to keep the frown on her face. "Look, I have no idea what any of this means. I'm just a simple cop, well not even that anymore..."
"You want something, don't you?" She said. "That's the same look you had on your face when you asked me to meet you at the Mall last week."
"Will you monitor Sam from the Sears store and see if anything unusual happens..."
"Why can't you?"
"Road trip." I said.
From Charlotte to Memphis is 619 miles one way and a huge part of me felt that was way too far for a man my age to ride. On the other hand I had a playlist on my iPad mini that included "Born To Be Wild" and several versions of "Promised Land". It was the iPad that had shown me the pulp wood truck plowing into the little roadside cafe and killing the old man who was sitting at the window eating a heaping plate of pancakes.
If you're going to embrace your destiny, sometimes you just have to go for it. Besides, I always wanted to visit Graceland on August 16. You never know.
It was August 12 and I was about three quarters of the way there. I was beginning to doubt my own sanity. My bad knee was giving me a fit, the weather had been awful, and the playlist had gotten old. Fast.
I had slept at a Motel Six outside of Nashville where they had left the light on so the cockroaches could see to invade the Danish I thought I was saving for my breakfast. Back on I-40, the sign for the "Only" Pancake House in Only, Tennessee got my attention. At the next exit, I downshifted and took a left onto Highway 50. I parked the bike away from the road, behind a tree and well away from the path of the huge truck that was due in about twenty-five minutes.
The inside of the roadside diner was standard: booths around the walls, tables set up in the middle from the door to the front counter. Red checkered vinyl table cloths adorned all the tables. The man I'd seen on my iPad sat at a table in front of the big window facing the counter. I nodded to him as I walked by and grabbed a stool.
Without asking, the waitress poured steaming coffee in a white mug and set it down in front of me. I asked for the "ONLY" special- three pancakes, bacon and two scrambled eggs. She delivered the plate and then spun on her heels to the huge TV mounted over to the side.
"There's that video," the woman behind the counter said grabbing a remote and jacking the audio up. "It's the cutest thing."
I checked my cell for the correct time as the video wound down and turned to look at the man sitting in front of the window. He wiped a single tear from his left eye, stood and headed to the rest room. I followed him in.
I pretended to use the urinal and heard him blowing his nose in the stall next door. When he flushed I went to the single sink and took my time washing my hands. He waited behind me and I wondered if I could simply delay his return by making him wait. Then I sensed him start around me toward the door.
"Sorry, here you can have it," I said. I stepped away from the sink and into his path.
"Thank you, mister." He was at least a decade older than me, a little heavier and he was one of those older guys whose hair had never abandoned them. It was solid silver, brushed back on the top and on the sides. He splashed water on his face, then patted it with a handful of paper towels. There was something oddly familiar about the way he blotted his face instead of wiping.
"Sir, you're blocking my way," he said.
"I need a couple of minutes," I said looking at my phone again.
"You looking for trouble?" The man's voice rumbled, he took a half step back and raised both hands.
"Whoa, now," I said quickly. "Don't go all Kung Fu on me. I just have to tell you something."
I'm not sure honesty is always the best policy, but when you're stalling for time and have the kind of story to tell that I had... I began with the Target story and by the time I got to why I was keeping him it was almost that time.
"You believe a pulp wood truck is fixing to run through this building and kill me?" he asked when I wound down. "Son, that's the craziest thing I ever heard."
He stepped around me and as he began to open the door I grabbed his jacket and pulled him back. For an old man, he was quick. He pivoted to his left, freeing his jacket from my grasp and hit me twice in the chest. it happened so fast the two strikes almost felt like one. Shocked and breathless, blackness began to surround me and I felt him grab my shoulders and guide my fall to the floor.
"You okay mister?" he asked as my vision cleared. His eyes widened as we heard the truck hit the building. He shook his head, then turned and hurried out the door.
"After that, the man disappeared and you just came home." Dr. Janson said. "You didn't ride on to Memphis."
We were having lunch at a sidewalk cafe. It was August 16 and she was finally back in the yellow dress she'd worn one day in her office months ago. Probably thought I’d forgotten it. Right.
"Didn't seem to be any point in it, really." I said.
"I found this on the seat of my bike when I got ready to leave the Only Pancake House." I handed her a small white envelope and she opened it and let the contents slide onto the table.
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- Target, A Short Story
An improbable revelation challenges a nameless retired police officer