Monday, July 19, 2010

Tom and the Waiter

I'm sitting at my desk, making notes from the recording of Carol's interview.  It's unusual that I didn't get more information out of her, and that's gnawing at me a little.  It's not that she's really anything special herself, more that she has friends in the right places, hears all the gossip.  It's also usually not that she doesn't want to tell me, but it's a game for us.  We love to hate each other, and that's the game we've played for fifteen years.

My desk phone rings, and I put it on speaker so I can keep writing.

"Yeah?"

"Detective Wright, there's someone here to see you."  Becky drops her voice to a whisper.  "He's cute, too."  I roll my eyes.

"I'll be straight out."  She chuckles at the unintended pun and hangs up.  I finish my notes and head out to the front desk.  Becky is many things, and while subtle is not usually among them, she somehow manages this time.

"Over there, detective."  He stands.  Not tall, pale, dark-haired.  Cute.  Becky was telling the truth about that, at least, but there's something oddly familiar about him.

"You're Detective Wright?"

"And you are?"

"Hi.  I'm Kevin."  And in my mind, I hear, "and I'll be taking care of you this evening.  Can I start you gentlemen off with something to drink?"

"You were my waiter at Sole."  He shifts from one foot to the other.  "Come on back."  I lead him down the hallway to my office, offer him a cup of coffee, and we sit.  He's younger, probably twenty-two or so at most.  His eyes are dark brown.  He's looking at me, earnest, not expectant, and apparently waiting for me to talk.

"So, what brings you in, Kevin?"  He sips his coffee, tilts his head to the side as though he's not sure what the answer is.  "Do you know something about what happened?"

"Not really.  It's weird, you know?  I've never been around a gun, not once in my life."  He glances in the direction of my shoulder.  My jacket is on, but he knows there's a gun there.  "I'm glad no one was hurt."

"Me too."  I'm still not sure where this is going.  He's staring into his coffee, not drinking it, and I catch myself paying too much attention to how the steam is curling around his face.  I'd never have been paying attention to it if Becky hadn't said anything.

"How did you know?" he says.  He's still staring at the cup.  I raise an eyebrow.

"I'm sorry?"

"How did you know it was going to happen?  I was coming over to refill your drinks, and I saw you grab your...um...the guy who was eating with you, and then the windows just sort of blew in like a tornado or something."  I think back.  I haven't really considered those moments before now.  It hits me.  How did I know?

"There are a number of things about that night that we're still trying to figure out, actually."  I'm reaching back for my notebook, but my hand misses and I knock something off the file cabinet instead.  He's watching me, in sort of the same way that Carol always does, though that's an insult to Kevin.  He hasn't said anything nasty yet.

"Yeah, I heard you're still looking for whoever did it."

"And why they only shot the wall."  I'm reaching to pick up the thing I knocked over and I realize it's the picture of me with Alan.  Why that catches me off guard, I don't know.  The picture has always been here, just like I have.  I put it back and grab my notes, turning back to face Kevin again.

"You still haven't actually answered."

"Sorry, I'm usually the one asking questions, not answering them."  I smile, attempting to look sheepish instead of shaken.  What do I tell him?  Did the wrong sort of car go by the window too many times?  People slow down as if they saw something strange going on?  Patrons of the restaurant suddenly trying to get away from the windows?

He's still watching me.  I decide to go with the honest answer, as it's simplest, and most complicated, all at once.

"I don't know.  I suddenly just had the feeling that something bad was going to happen, and I reacted."  I shrug.  "Cop's instincts, I suppose."

"Yeah?  How long have you been a cop?"  I give him the same watching look he's been giving me.

"I'm not sure how that's relevant."

"It's not, I'm just curious."

"Sixteen years next month.  How long have you been a waiter?"

"Six months."  God, he's probably not even twenty-two.  "I had a little trouble passing my bar exam, so I've been trying to make money while I figure out what I'm actually going to do with my life."  Then again...  I realize we've left any semblance of business behind us, but now I'm curious.

"What trouble?"

"I keep answering the question about selling your soul wrong."  I laugh in spite of myself.  "Listen, I'm sorry for bothering you, it was silly of me to come in here when what you need is information.  I won't take up any more of your time."  I'm on my feet, holding out my card to him before he can move.

"If you think of anything, day or night, call me.  I need as much information as I can get, and my usual sources are starting to run dry."  He stands and takes the card with one hand, slugs the rest of his coffee down and sets the cup on my desk.

"I'll be in touch, then."  I let him show himself out, and start making notes to myself, still pondering his question.  How did I know?  Why don't I know?

My desk phone rings, and I put it on speaker, like usual.

"Yeah?"

"So he was cute, right?"  I set my forehead against the heel of my hand and sigh.

"Yes, Becky, he was cute.  Is that all?"

She laughs triumphantly and hangs up.

I need a vacation.