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Matthew Benedict Fiction Writing 8/31/09 The Missing Man of Mystery Kyle first saw the fliers when he was walking to the train station after school. They were plain white pieces of computer paper taped to telephone poles along the sidewalk. The first one he came upon proclaimed in a bold black font: WANTED Return of Crucifix Approximately 1½ Inches Long Sterling Silver Blue Green Paste Gem In Center Please Call 512-736-1070 or 512-721-8906 Kyle checked the ground around him. There were no sterling silver crosses. Too bad for whoever it is, he thought. Then he moved on. When he came to the next telephone pole, there was another flier that was identical except for the words. It said: WANTED Information of Whereabouts of Bobbie Evans Description: Approximately 5’ 8” Tall Approximately 170 lbs Black Man, Light Complexion Age Approximately 55 Years Please Call 512-736-1076 or 512-721-8906 He stopped and reread the flier. It looked exactly like the other flier…he repeated the phone numbers several times in his head and then walked back to the first telephone pole. The numbers were indeed the same, except…he walked back to the second telephone pole. Yes, the last digit of the first number was different on the two fliers. Strange. Still puzzling over the signs, Kyle started walked toward the train station again.
The November days were shortening and it was already starting to turn to dusk. The fliers both sounded equally desperate. Who would lose a cross and a person in the same day and put up signs for both? Unless they were connected. He passed two more crucifix fliers on the next two telephone poles. Yes, they had to be connected somehow. Maybe this Bobbie Evans man had stolen the crucifix. The next flier was a Bobbie Evans, but the wind had flipped up the corner. There was writing on the other side. Closer inspection revealed it to be the crucifix message. So each flier was doublesided. Maybe this was some kind of disguised message. After all, who would be stupid enough to mess up their own phone number on their own “Wanted” poster? It could be a gang code, like the graffiti symbols along the street. Maybe this Bobbie Evans owed somebody money. Maybe the typo was intentional, signifying that a meeting would go down at 6:00. Maybe the crucifix description was a coded warning that if Bobbie Evans didn’t bring $1,500 in a briefcase to whatever street corner was signified by “Blue Green Paste Gem,” they were going to blow his brains out. Kyle looked up and realized he was at the train station. He ran up the clanging metal stairs to catch the train that was already rumbling toward the platform. After flashing his pass at the driver, he breathlessly collapsed into the first empty seat he could find, which he immediately regretted because a sinister-looking man was seated directly across from him. Kyle tried to look at the man furtively by moving only his eyes and not his head, but the man was scowling at him from under his dirty Sox hat and Kyle had to look quickly away. For the rest of the train ride, which was only about fifteen blocks, he sat with his creased copy of The Silmarillion in his lap, self-consciously trying not to look up at the man and wishing he could fix the boxers which were sticking to his butt. When he finally got to his brownstone apartment, his parents were not home. His mom was doing a shift at Perfect Ten Tans, and his dad would not get home from Findley Quality Monitoring until about eight o’clock. He disarmed the alarm and went to his room to tinker with his Warhammer army for a while; it was still not quite ready for the battle with Sean on Saturday. When he got hungry, he went to the kitchen to make some Easy-Mac. It would hold him over until his dad came home with some Chinese takeout or maybe Boston Market. The fliers drifted out of his mind. The next morning, in addition to his thick gloves and stocking cap, Kyle wrapped a scarf tightly around his neck to ward off the biting winds that funneled between the tall buildings. He took the train to his usual stop two blocks from Robert Fullerton High School. It was a charter school and the lottery to get in was pretty competitive; his parents had put in an application for him because they thought it would be a better environment than the local public school. He had been one of the lucky ones, and now he had to wear a scratchy uniform every day. He was secretly kind of glad about the uniform because he had never really seemed able to dress cool; now he didn’t have to worry about it. But somehow the other kids managed to look cooler than him even in their uniforms. Whenever the teachers weren’t around they untucked their shirts and sagged their pants down; some of them even took out hats or do-rags. They talked about titty-fucking and licking pussy and other things that gave Kyle a queasy feeling in his stomach. He usually just kept his mouth closed in these situations. In fact, he usually just kept his mouth closed in most situations, unless the teacher called on him or he was with his friends. After buying his lunch that day, Kyle stood for a few tense seconds in the noisy
confusion of the cafeteria, looking for his friends, Sean and Adrian. He found them and carried his Styrofoam tray over. Although the lunchroom was crowded, their table was empty except for the three of them. They chatted a little about new Xbox games while they ate, and then they took out some cards and played Magic until the end of the period. Walking back to the train station, Kyle spied the fliers again. This time he stopped in front of the first one and looked at it for a while. Then he took off his gloves and detached the Scotch tape from the wood of the telephone pole, carefully so as not to rip the paper. As he held the liberated flier in his numb fingers, he heard a scrape behind him and looked up with a start. A few kids he had seen before in school were coming his way. Two of them were smoking, although they were definitely not old enough to buy cigarettes. They swaggered up in their baggy uniforms while Kyle busied himself with looking intently at something across the street and slipping the flier discreetly behind his leg. But it was too late. When they drew level with him, one of the boys snatched the flier from Kyle’s hand. “Watch’yoo lookin’ at?” he demanded. He glanced at the sheet, shrugged his shoulders, and then grabbed the front of Kyle’s white polo, stuffing the flier down his shirt while Kyle tried to squirm away. “Faggot,” the boy muttered as the other two giggled. Then one of them grabbed Kyle’s backpack and flipped it up over his head. By the time Kyle got it out of his face, the three boys had already dashed away, laughing. Kyle took the flier out of his shirt, folded it twice, and put it into his pocket. At home, he went straight to his room as usual and closed the door. His mom was home today, but she was chatting with a girl friend on the phone in her room. Kyle took out his cell phone, his dad’s old one, and considered his options. If it really was a gang sign and the job hadn’t gone down yet, then the police should be notified. He looked at his Warhammer set sitting on the side of the room. It would have to wait, he thought. Someone’s life could be at stake right now. He had to investigate this. What would James Bond do? Kyle decided to just try calling one of the numbers on the fliers to see if he could glean any information from the person who answered. Because the first phone number listed didn’t match up on the two fliers, he called the second number. A woman answered. “Hello?” Kyle’s heart was pumping fast. He stayed quiet. “Hello? Who is this?” asked the woman. Kyle hung up. That was a stupid plan, he thought. What was he expecting? Someone to ask him what the secret password was? There was no way it was a gang’s sign, anyway. He was just being paranoid. He went over to his Warhammer table and fiddle with some trolls for ten minutes. But his hands, for some reason, wouldn’t keep steady enough to affix their little spears. He gave up and sat on his bed. Finally he picked up the phone again and redialed the number. “Hello?” It was the same woman’s voice. “Hi…I saw your “Wanted” poster, and I might have some information about your crucifix.” Kyle tried to make his voice sound deeper, like a man. “My crucifix?” The woman sounded black. “Do you have it?” “Well, no…but I think I may have seen it.” “Where did you see it? Who is this, anyway?” “This is—Bob Jones. I…can’t tell you where I saw it, at least not over the phone.” “Why can’t you tell me?” The woman sounded suspicious. “Well, I…can’t really describe the place where it was. I would have to show it to you. What’s your name?” “You can’t describe it? Lord…” she paused. “Well, how would you show it to
me?” “We could meet somewhere. Like by the fliers you put up, on Tenth Street.” “And you can show me where my crucifix is if I meet you there?” “Yes, ma’am.” “Well what time would you wanna meet?” “Um…how about 4:15 tomorrow?” “4:15…okay, I can be there. But you better be able to show me my crucifix, mister.” “Oh, I will. Don’t worry. I’ll see you then. Oh, and who should I look for?” “Look for a skinny young beauty in a bright green jacket.” She gave a cackle. “Just kidding about the skinny young part. And whom shall I look for?” she asked in a fakely sweet voice. “Oh, don’t worry about that. I’ll find you.” She cackled again. “Man of mystery, huh? Well, Mr. Jones, I’ll see you there.” She hung up. Kyle had no idea why he had called the lady, much less what he was going to do when he saw her. All day at school he fretted about his false appointment. He had never tried such a big lie before; he didn’t know how far he could get away with it. He doubted the lady would even show. He was extremely close to calling her up again and canceling the meeting, but something pushed him into it. Perhaps he was just hoping he could discover who Bobbie Evans was. When he came to the stretch of Tenth Street where the fliers had been posted, sure enough there was a heavyset black lady wearing a bright green windbreaker and standing like she was waiting for someone. Walking toward her, Kyle tried to keep his normal pace and look at her no more than a normal passerby would. She stared directly at him as he approached and then passed by. He could feel her eyes on him from behind the whole way to the train platform. While he was up there waiting for the train, he chanced one more look down at the street and saw the woman check her watch, look around one more time, and then shuffle away down the sidewalk. Over the next several days, Kyle’s mind kept returning to the lady in the green windbreaker. He kept seeing the sad, drooping look on her face as she turned to walk home from the abandoned meeting. Then he remembered that he had been about fifty yards away, and there was no possible way that he could have seen her facial expression from that distance. But he couldn’t help imagining it. On Saturday he was packing up his Warhammer army when Sean’s mother called and told his mother that Sean wasn’t feeling well. He unpacked the army and set them back on their table. After watching M*A*S*H* reruns with his dad for almost two hours, he finally couldn’t take it anymore and went back to his room. He found the folded flier and dialed the number. “Mr. Jones?” the lady said incredulously after he introduced himself. “Why didn’t you show up at our meeting time?” “I’m so sorry about that, ma’am,” Kyle answered in his fake deep voice. “Something came up—a business meeting called at the last meeting. I couldn’t get out of it. But listen—would you like to try meeting again on Monday?” “Why? You still have information on my crucifix?” “Better than information, ma’am—I actually have it.” “You have my crucifix.”
“Yes, I have it. I went back and got it. So do you want to meet on Monday so I can give it to you?” “I don’t know…I don’t want to get stood up again.” “I promise this time, Miss—” “Cheryl. You can call me Cheryl.” “Okay. I promise this time, Cheryl, I’ll be there.” “Fine…you better be there. 4:15 on Monday; don’t be late. I’ll be waiting.” She hung up. The next day, Sunday, Kyle walked down the block to the dollar store. He found a plastic princess crown with some gemstones glued onto it. He wasn’t really sure what a “paste gem” was, but he figured it was probably a fake gem that was pasted onto something. He bought the crown and took it home, where he pried off a small green rhinestone. (There weren’t any truly blue-green gems on the crown.) Then he opened his drawer and found his cross necklace. His family wasn’t very religious, but one of his aunts had given him the cross for his Confirmation. It was a little shorter than one and a half inches, but it was silver; it would have to do, anyway. He took it off its chain and glued the little green gem to the middle of it with some Krazy Glue. When he was done, he looked at it, screwing up his nose. The lady, Cheryl, would never actually believe that the cross was her own, but that wasn’t the point, anyway. On Monday, Kyle went through the usual paces, but he kept sticking his hand into his pocket and feeling the makeshift cross there. Finally the last bell rang, and Kyle lingered at his locker to let the other kids disperse. He didn’t want anybody walking by when he presented the cross to Cheryl. He left the school at 4:10 and soon came to Tenth Street. There was Cheryl, exactly as before, in her bright green windbreaker. Kyle started toward her. What do I say to her? he wondered. A train shuddered by overhead. Then he thought, She’s going to be mad. I got her hopes up to get her crucifix back, and now I’m going to let her down with this stupid arts and crafts project. All because I was nosy and wanted to know who Bobbie Evans was. Maybe I should just bag the whole thing. I was wearing a scarf over my face last time; she probably won’t recognize me… He sidled past her with his head down, again feeling her eyes boring into him. Then—“Hey! Hey you!” she yelled, arresting him in his tracks. He turned around to face her. “Are you the one who has my crucifix?” she demanded. “Me? Uh—n-no…” “Yes you are! Don’t give me that! I saw you before—I recognize you from the last time we was here! So—are you Mistah Jones?” The game was up. “Y-yes,” Kyle stammered. “You don’t look like a Mistah Jones.” Kyle said nothing. “So where’s my crucifix?” “I…” Kyle thought furiously. “I can’t give it to you unless you prove you’re its rightful owner.” “Well how am I supposed to do that?” Kyle covered up the phone number on the telephone pole next to them. “Tell me what your phone number is.” “512-736-1070.”
“Are you sure about that?” “Yes, an’ I know I made a mistake on one side of the fliers. Now will you give me my crucifix?” “What’s your other phone number?” “512-721-8906.” “You could have just memorized those while you were standing here.” Cheryl gave an exasperated sigh. “Look, Mistah Jones, I don’ see how you expect me to prove that I’m the owner of that crucifix.” “Fine, then—I’ll just go home.” “How are you goin’—the train?” “Yeah.” “Well, it’s gonna be at least twenty minutes before the next train comes through here. One just passed by a minute ago.” She was right. “Lissen, I was just gonna go into this little deli here an’ get some coffee. So if you’d like to join me while you wait for your train, you’re welcome to. Maybe I’ll even be able to convince you that the cross is mine. Otherwise, young man, you run along home an’ leave old ladies like me alone.” Kyle thought about it for a second. If he walked home, it would take him about half an hour. In that same amount of time, he could talk to this Cheryl, maybe find out once and for all who this Bobbie Evans was, and then take the train home. “Alright, I’ll come in,” he finally announced. They went in and Cheryl ordered a coffee at the counter. Kyle ordered some chips and a soda. Then they sat down at a little table by the window. They were both silent for a little while, Cheryl sipping her coffee, Kyle munching his chips and drinking his soda. Finally Kyle broke it. “So, if the cross is yours, you must be Christian. Where do you go to church?” “I go to First United Presbyterian,” Cheryl said without looking away from the window. “Do you go a lot?” She looked at him. “Boy, I been goin’ to that church every Sunday for my entire God-given life. I’s in the choir, I work at the food pantry, an’ I sew the preacher’s robes up for him when they old. Now does that answer your question? Am I religious enough for you?” Kyle looked down and nodded. “Yeah, I guess. I just have one more question. Who’s Bobbie Evans?” Cheryl stared at him for a minute. Then she said, more gently, “Where you from, boy?” “Just down on Maple Street,” he muttered, not looking up. “Your family live there?” “Yeah, my mom and dad.” “And how old are you?” “Fifteen.” “Boy, whatever your name is—‘cause I’m sure Bob Jones ain’t your real name— you ought to be out fooling around with your little friends and chasing after girls, not messing around with lost crucifixes and missing men. What’s it matter to you?” She sighed. “If you must know, Bobbie Evans is my husband. We got into a fight a few weeks back, and he got so mad he up and left. Just packed up his things and took off without
telling me where he was going. An’ when he left, he took this cross off my dresser, a cross he had given me as a thirtieth anniversary present a couple years back. I woke up to find his side of the bed empty, and an empty space where I had left the cross on my dresser. I ain’t heard from him since.” Kyle couldn’t meet her eyes. He just stared at the table, in shame for his own foolishness and insensitivity. Who had he thought he was, snooping around in other people’s lives like a television detective? He reached into his pocket and took out the only thing he could offer to show his remorse. “I guess that proves it,” he said lamely. “Here’s your crucifix.” He put it on the table. Cheryl Evans looked surprised for a second, then picking it up and looking at it, she actually smiled. It was the first time Kyle had seen her smile. “This looks just like it. Thank you for finding it.” She put it in her pocket, then drew out something else. “Guess I won’t be needing this one anymore,” she said, and she dropped it on the table. It was a sterling silver crucifix, approximately one and a half inches long, ornately crafted with a beautiful turquoise gem in the center. Kyle gaped at it. “Is that—is that it?” Cheryl grinned. “Yes, that’s it alright. No two like it in the world. I found it on Friday in a pawn shop a few blocks north of here.” Kyle still looked puzzled. “You mean you had it all along?” “Since Friday, yes.” “So why did you come, then?” “I could ask the same question of you.” She picked the cross off the table and pressed it into his palm. “Now you better hurry up or you’ll miss your train.”
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