He couldn’t stop staring out the window. Instead of drinking his coffee and reading the book he picked up from the library, tomorrow’s events had him biting his nails.
His life was boring. His hair was blond and messy. His doctor told him he was overweight, which may be true, he thought. His girlfriend never called, which he found to be suspicious. His parents never called, but they did call all of his other siblings, and his job had him traveling from town to town. Every town in the state for three years and counting. The reason for traveling, they told him, was to meet with the shoe makers in every town.
“Shoe makers?” he asked his manager three years ago.
“Yep, shoe makers.”
“But,” he paused, looking at his shoes, “does every town have a shoe maker?”
“Probably not,” his manager took a sip of his coffee and glanced at his computer monitor.
“Then why do I need to go to each town to find the shoe maker?”
“So we can update our shoe maker database.”
So that’s what he did. Traveled from town to town, looking for the shoe maker, so his company could update their database.
Someone else may have enjoyed all of the traveling, but he did not. The company car was outdated, his suitcase was too small, and the motels were never comfortable.
He was miserable. And bored. And standing in line at a post office. Which added to his boredom. The girl in-front of him was chewing what sounded like ten pieces of gum, and the guy behind him kept grunting. Bored and stuck between two annoying people.
Bored until the man in a black trench coat walked into the post office.
He was standing in line, facing the sliding glass doors that separated the boring line to the counter from the lobby. The man in the black trench coat walked into the post office lobby and turned right. He has a P.O. Box, he thought to himself. He found people who owned P.O. Boxes to be suspicious people, up to no good and all of them contract killers.
The man in the black trench coat walked past the first section of boxes, then turned left, out of sight, into the second section.
He imagined the man in the black trench coat inserting his key, pressing his thumb against the finger print scanner that appeared once the key was verified, and then swinging the locked door open to get his next mission.
He was looking for smoke to appear from the message self-destructing, when the man in the black trench coat came into view again and went straight to a high table that was set against the wall.
The man in the black trench coat was standing still now, so he was able to get a better look at him. The man in the black trench coat had black hair, a black trench coat, black dress pants, and black shoes. Even his phone was black. Definitely a contract killer.
The man in the black trench coat proceeded to tear a few letters in half without opening them (I guess even contract killers get junk mail). All but one piece of mail was thrown into a blue container. The one piece of mail that was important was slid into an inside pocket of the trench coat or maybe a black suit coat he had on underneath the trench coat. Whatever it was must have been important.
Instead of turning to leave, he went to the third section of PO Boxes. He has two PO boxes! He was out of sight for a few seconds, then returned to the same table and placed a large envelope on the top. The envelope wasn’t flat, but had a noticeable bulge running down the middle.
The man in the black trench coat opened the package. Took out the object, quickly examined it (a white tube…), and shoved it into the side pocket of his trench coat. He threw the envelope into the blue container, and turned to walk out of the PO Box area of the Post Office.
The man in the black trench coat walked into the lobby, stopped in the center, and looked directly at him. The line hadn’t moved, so he looked back. The man in the black trench coat reached into the left pocket of his trench coat, He’s got a gun!, and pulled out a packet of cigarettes. He watched as the man in the black trench coat put a cigarette into his mouth, and returned the packet to his pocket. Then, the man in the black trench coat reached into a pocket on the inside of his trench coat, now he’s got a gun!, and pulled out a gold Zippo lighter.
The man in the black trench coat tilted his head down, breaking eye contact, and lit the cigarette with his gold Zippo lighter. Bringing his head back up, the man in the black trench coat snapped the lighter shut, looked back up at him, and winked.
I wasn’t running late, but I left later than I intended to, and it was eighteen degrees out with a gusty wind up to twenty miles per hour. Not really the best of mornings, especially considering that the day before the temperatures were in the fifty’s.
I had to park on the roof of the parking garage the day before since I pulled into the city after 8:30am, and today was no different. I pulled in around 8:40am and wound my way to the top.
One thing that is “nice” about the colder temperatures is that the air seems to be clearer, as though the cold air makes things appear crisper than they actually are. It makes the city look beautiful, in a way. The lines of everything jut out against the deep blue morning sky, as though they were cut into the sky with a razor.
Stepping out of my heated car into the cold makes me quickly catch my breath. The gusts were stronger on the roof. I grab my briefcase and Thermos and trek down the stairs and make it to the bottom. As I push the door to step onto the sidewalk a man approaches from my left, coming up from the basement level of the garage.
“‘scuse me, sir?”
I stop and look over. My left hand, extended across my chest, holding the door open, is already tingling from the cold metal of the door.
“Yes?” I gasp and quickly turn around the use my back on the door as I step onto the sidewalk, the Man following me.
“Do you know where I got to go about a birth certificate?”
“Follow me,” I replied, “I’m heading to the same building.”
So, we start walking. He’s on my right, closest to the building. He’s wearing a heavy flannel coat, jeans, and brown work boots. His baseball cap is worn down so much that the deep red it once was now appears to be a mix of grey and brown. Probably from baking in the sun on hot summer days, and being drenched on cold rainy days.
He began to ask me questions about how he should exit the garage when he begins the journey home. I explain that there are two exits, that he should use the 5th street exit, then make a left onto Walnut so he can make his way back to the highway. I was guessing at all of this, using any amount of power my brain could muster in the cold. I assumed that where he was from was most easily accessible by highway, not local roads. I was right.
“I’m not from around these parts,” he told me, “I’m from the country, this here’s the city.” He looks up and points all around him, as though we are in the middle of New York City, trying to catch a cab on 5th avenue, and not in humble Harrisburg Pennsylvania walking down an alley next to a parking garage instead.
“Where are you from,” I yell as we near the road. Buses from the station just a block away are speeding past, attempting to go through the intersection while the light was green.
“Lancaster, I’m from the country. I have a farm.”
We turn left and begin making our way to the corner, where we can safely use the crosswalk to go across the street.
“What do you do,” he asked.
I explain that I’m doing work for the department of transportation. “I help them manage the software that they use to manage everything they do across the state.”
“Like roads and stuff?”
“Yeah, like roads. But really anything that moves in the air, on the water, and on the roads, falls under their umbrella. It’s a lot to manage, really.”
“Oh I know. They’re working on a creek down by my home, in the country. Making it wider. Hard workers.”
We cross the street. He says that he might get lost when he needs to go back to his car. I stop him in the middle of the crosswalk and point back to my right.
“That’s the garage right there, so when you come back to this corner just make sure you are heading towards that building.”
“That’s the garage right there,” he repeated.
We walk briskly up the sidewalk. I quicken our pace, knowing that the heated office is so very close.
“Vital Records is up here on your right,” I point up at the sign, just a few steps away.
“Oh, yeah! There it is. Thank you!”
“Just go in there and you’ll be in good shape,” I stop to shake his hand, “have a great day!”
He says thank you and goes into the warm office where he was hopefully able to do the business he came into the city to do.
I walk a few more steps and enter on my right, smiling as I pass the guard (“good morning, sir”) and as I climb the stairs to my office. A man from the country came into the city, and I walked with him. That is one thing that doesn’t happen every day, and is something I certainly never expected this morning, of all mornings.
I imagine his property is extremely picturesque on a morning like this one. Frost is covering the pasture behind his two-story farm house. Perched on the window feeder he and his son built last summer is a bright red cardinal. He may even have a few horses. Who knows. He left his home in the country to come into the city, where he had a question or two about a birth certificate. I had the chance to help him, The Man from the Country.
Do you ever follow someone for no reason? No reason other than curiosity? I did this the other day. Turns out we were going to the same place, 5th street parking garage, but once we got in our separate cars we went our separate ways.
I was at the corner where people usually go straight across and then keep going straight, or turn left. I usually turn left because it gets more sun in the late afternoon. Trench Coat (his name, since we don’t know his actual name) came from my right, the direction of the Capital building and a slew of other state administration buildings. The trench coat Trench Coat was wearing caught my eye. On this day is was over 60 degrees, the first day that it actually felt really nice outside. Everyone had their coats off, carrying them awkwardly along with their work bag, lunch bag, etc. But, Trench Coat left his coat on. Why?
Was he hiding something? If so, what was it and where did he get it? Maybe he was sick, and genuinly cold? Or, maybe he was from Florida and 60 degrees is coat weather for him? All of these were real possiblities, and had me curious: where would he go?
We crossed the street at the same time, towards the same sidewalk. I was going straight across the street, he was coming from my right. We almost bumped into each other as our feet landed on the sidewalk, but we both took it in stride. He took a right, so I kept walking straight. The shaded route. Interesting.
I slowed my pace a bit and fall behind him so it obvious I was following him. Where I would turn left to go the parking garage, he turned. I follow. Where I would go in the parking garage, he entered. Turns out we both take the stairs in the far corner of the garage instead of the elevator, even though we pass the elevators right when we enter the parking garage. We both probably had the same though, “Everyone takes the elevator.”
Not only do we take the same stairs, but we get off at the same level. Level 3. It’s where you park if you arrive after 8:00am but before 8:30am. Why does he arrive then? How does he get here in the morning? Does he stop for coffee? If so, black or with cream and sugar?
We walk in the same direction and he becomes less interesting. But it was still an interesting walk, so I snapped a picture (the one above) with the thought to write about it, and here we are.
As I was driving home I couldn’t help but continue thinking about Trench Coat. He drove a fairly simple vehicle, like I do, a silver Honda Pilot. Which actually goes with the way he carried himself. If you look in the picture at the top of this post you’ll see that he walked with his head held high and off to one side. His shoulders slung back, and his arms hanging at his sides like an ape or cave man. A practical man. A Honda Pilot was the right amount of bells and whistles without spending too much, which would make him uncomfortable.
So he was probably a normal guy. Probably worked behind a desk all day like I do. He was older than I am though, maybe late 30’s, early 40’s. Where is his home? Was it a big house? Town-home? Apartment? Probably a moderately sized single family home. He probably has a garage.
I wouldn’t learn any of the answers to my questions. He pulled out of his space pretty quickly and exited the garage before I could continue my trail, but I still wonder: why was he wearing a trench coat?