“All right,” I said. “Tell me all about it.” Like I said, I had time and more than anything, I like a good story.
Alder Fanspree got up from the bench and turned to face me and his wife.
“I had just dug into breakfast, egg and cheese on a toasted roll, when a man sat down to share the table. This was outside. This happened often and I didn’t bother to look up. ‘Does the name Shnabullious Traffletum mean anything to you,’ he said.
“I looked at him over the top of the Post. He sported an outlandish thick moustache, curled at the ends, and his cheeks were ruddied as if by a raw winter wind.
“‘Of course it wouldn’t,’ he continued. ‘You’re just an average man caught up in a mundane life. You’re married. You have two children. The girl, the older one you have named Willow, is an athlete, a decent student who will no doubt get into a state school one day. Although, she dreams of an Ivy, it’s beyond her and she knows it. The other struggles. Maybe he’s on the spectrum. Maybe he isn’t. You think he may have difficulties in social situations that will make it harder for him as he grows up.’
“This man’s information was only partly right. I am nothing if not average. You’ve met my wife, but, we’re childless. I told him, ’You have me mistaken for someone else.’
“’So, that’s how you’re going to play it,’ he said. And he smiled and twirled the end of his moustache.
“‘Look,’ I pressed on. ‘You have confused me with someone who looks a lot like me. I get it – I have one of those faces. But I don’t have children. You’re after another man. Not me.’
“He slid a 9 & 12 envelope across the table to me. ‘Open it,’ he said.
“There was a photo of a man jogging in the early morning along the river. It was an excellent capture of a tall, strikingly handsome man in the midst of an easy run. In the background, another runner out of focus, followed.
“‘That is Shnabullious Traffletum.’”
“I flipped the photo over and in the next image Mr. Traffletum was out of focus and the trailing runner was in sharp focus. That runner looked a lot like me, but it wasn’t me. For one thing, he wore a knee brace. I didn’t know who he was, but he must live nearby. We’d seen him around. I could see how we’d get mixed up. I often run past the same place.
“This man had information about a guy who looked like me, his children, and maybe every salient detail about his life. Stuff he could use to leverage the guy.
“‘Look at him,’ I said. ‘He’s wearing a knee brace. I don’t have one. My knee’s fine. And I don’t run that early. It’s not me.’
“‘That was Saturday,’ the stranger said.
“The next image showed Mr. Traffletum again, this time from the side passing a gate that separated the running path from the river.
“‘The gate is not latched,’ he said. ‘What I’d like you to do, Mr. Grass, is nudge Mr. Traffletum as he passes the gate tomorrow morning on your run. The gate is not latched – it’s there for kayakers and they never lock it. It will be low tide and the rocks at river’s edge will be exposed and Mr. Traffletum will trip as he falls through the gate and if god is with us, he will strike his head on the rocks below, hopefully doing permanent damage. Or, render him unconscious so he can drown. If he remains conscious, he will get carried off by the swift waters, and as he cannot swim, he will likely drown anyway. Eat your sandwich before it gets cold.’
“I noticed the egg and cheese perched in my hand next to my head and took a bite. It was still warm and the cheese was gooey.
‘What do you say? Can we count on you? Do this for us, and our relationship ends and Willow grows up and, who knows, maybe Princeton takes her. Maybe Clem – is that short for Clematis? – gets a little specialized attention to help him over this rough patch he’s going through. Maybe your beautiful wife doesn’t get snatched and held and…’ He paused and fiddled with his moustache again. ’She’ll live. We’re not animals. But would she ever be the same?’”
Laurel had stood up some time ago and she was pacing back and forth.