The day seemed different somehow, like the feeling in the air before a storm. Or maybe it was just what you felt before falling off of a tall building to your death.
Shaking his head at the thought, the man wiped his wet hands on the dirty white apron, his greasy dark hair falling into his face as he moved. Reaching down to grasp the rubber tub of dirty dishes, he saw the paper stuffed into the corner of the booth’s grimy cushion.
“Bastards,” he mumbled as he reached across the table to retrieve the wadded napkin. As he was about to add it to the pile in his tub, he noticed the writing.
It was a phone number,Montana area code.
He wasn’t sure why he knew that of course, but he assumed he had run across that tidbit of information at sometime in his hazy past. People had described him as having an eidetic memory, at least they used to, before…
Something about the napkin kept him from tossing it into the swill of his tub however, so he hastily shoved it into the pocket of his apron and went on about his work. Bussing tables and doing dishes at the diner wasn’t hard enough work, but it kept his body busy, and the income kept him in rent money for the room at the flop house.
What the job didn’t do however was keep his mind occupied sufficiently.
The demons that had ruled his life for the previous twelve years were still there constantly, back in the recesses of his mind, knocking at the thin door of his determination. If he let his mind relax, they would once again come flooding back into the control center of his life.
He couldn’t afford that.
He was a junky. Drugs and alcohol had ruled his life since he was fifteen, more to the point they had ruined his life.
Waking up in a jail cell six months before had finally forced him to evaluate what was left of his life. At 27, his body had wasted away to a jaundiced sack covering a slightly built skeleton.
The potential he had shown in high school had been wasted chasing down his next fix or drink. He couldn’t pinpoint exactly when the need for a buzz had turned into the obsession that had ended up ruling his life, but it really didn’t matter.
To keep his mind busy, he would observe the customers that flowed through the diner, making mental observations and even trying to imagine where they were headed next. It was a fairly easy thing to do, since none of them paid him any notice at all. To them, he was invisible.
Actually, he was ok with that part.
Having a minute, his mind went back to the napkin in his pocket. Sitting on one of the stools at the counter, he pulled out the crumbled paper and stared at the numbers. Rubbing his hand through the ruff of a scraggly beard as he stared down at the scribbled message, he didn’t know whether to dismiss it or not. He couldn’t put it into words, but this seemed important.
“Pedro! I’m taking a break.”
The dark-skinned cook visible through the order window looked up from his newspaper, the cigarette dangling from his mouth dropping ash on the floor as he waved him away with disinterest.
Jumping up from his seat, he went out the door and made his way the three blocks to Union Station. Picking up a phone at the long bank of payphones, he placed a collect call to the number on the napkin. When the operator asked his name for the notification, he stated simply, “Bill.”
The lady on the other end of the call was initially reluctant, but finally accepted the charges. When the operator left the line, both ends of the call were silent.
“Is this about the money,” the lady asked with what sounded like a Canadian accent.
“Money?” the man repeated, then, “My name is Bill.”
“How did you get my private cell number?”
Explaining how he had found the number on a napkin at a diner, the lady on the phone burst into sobbing.
“Did you see the man that left it? Was he ok?”
Bill looked into his memory at the two men that had sat at the booth before he had cleaned it. The one that had sat on the side that the napkin was on had to be the one she was asking about.
“Short red hair, three day’s growth of beard, I’d say about 5’8”, slight of build.”
Closing his eyes, he looked closely at the memory in his head, the man appearing as a picture in his mind.
“Also,” he added as another detail came to the fore, “He had a small blue birthmark on his left cheekbone.”