Authors: Mackenzie Morgan
“You didn’t have a car in New York?”
“No. I’ve never owned a car before. It costs too much to park it in the city, and since I almost never left the city, I couldn’t see any reason to bother with one. I’d driven before, I even got a license when I turned eighteen, but I never bothered to renew it. I had to go get another one last week so that I could drive out here.”
Pallor laughed and said, “You’re going to need a mechanic then. Mine’s good and his rates are pretty reasonable. I’ll get you one of his cards next time I see him.”
“Thanks,” Chris said. “And thanks for helping me unload.”
“I enjoyed it.” Pallor took out his wallet and fished around in the back for a moment. He kept a well-stocked pack of business cards, listing a wide variety of occupations. He pulled one out that identified him as the proprietor of a modeling agency. “Here’s my card. If you need anything, give me a call. I know how it is to move to a strange city and not know where anything is.”
Chris smiled and put the card in his pocket. “Thanks. I may take you up on that.”
~ ~ ~ ~
Over the weekend, Pallor searched through the newspaper to see if he could spot anything that might give him a lead on someone else, but he couldn’t find a thing. He felt good about Joan, her husband, and Chris. Darrell Simmons, the football player, was another possibility, depending on what the doctors had to say on Tuesday. But that was only four. He’d like to have six or seven companions to send with Kevin and time was running out.
Monday morning, he ate breakfast at the little diner, but he got there during what must have been the diner’s busiest time, so he didn’t get to say much more than hello to Joan. He thought about hanging around until most of the customers were gone, but he was afraid he’d make her suspicious, so he left with the crowd.
After he scanned the morning paper, he started going around to the small restaurants on his list. About 1:00, while he was on his fifth light lunch, he spotted a man sitting off by himself near the back of the restaurant. Most of the waitresses stopped by his table to speak to him and a couple even sat down with him for a few minutes while he was lingering over his coffee.
Pallor guessed that he was probably in his fifties. His brown hair was speckled with gray and longer than most men his age wore their hair, almost as if he had forgotten to get it cut. Pallor watched as the man stood up and made his way to the front of the restaurant. He was not quite six feet tall and a little stocky, but overall he appeared to be in relatively good shape.
A couple of minutes later, while Pallor’s waitress was making out his ticket, he asked, “Do you know that man’s name? The one who was sitting near the back? I feel like I know him, but I can’t quite place him.”
“That’s Steve Patterson,” she said.
Pallor shook his head as if he was trying to remember, but just couldn’t quite get hold of it. “I can’t place the name, but I’m sure I know him from somewhere. Do you know where he works?”
“He’s a retired teacher. He taught at the high school around the corner for thirty years. Maybe you know him from there. Almost everyone in this section of town was either in his class or had kids in his class,” the waitress said. Then, after a moment, she added, “It’s really sad about his wife, Cathy. Did you know her? She was so sweet. They used to come in here for dinner every Friday. She held his retirement party here.” The waitress shook her head and gathered up his dishes.
“What happened?” Pallor prompted.
“What? Oh, you mean to Cathy? Well, about six months after he retired, she died. Poor thing had cancer. They found out about the cancer right before he left teaching. Such a shame. They had such wonderful plans for his retirement,” she shook her head again and wiped off the table. “Now he just sort of drifts. He comes in here everyday for lunch. You never see him with anyone, always by himself. Really sad.”
“How long has it been?” Pallor asked.
“Let’s see. He’s been retired for about three years now, so I guess she’s been gone for a little over two years.”
“Maybe he just needs a new interest, a distraction of some kind,” Pallor said, thinking that he might be a good candidate for Terah.
The waitress giggled and said, “We think so too, and every one of us has tried to be that distraction, but mister, I just don’t think he’s interested in being distracted right now.”
Pallor laughed and handed her a nice tip.
After Pallor left the restaurant, he walked uptown to the library to see if he could find a newspaper article about the retirement or about the wife’s death. It took a couple of hours, but he discovered that Steve Patterson had taught history and political science to high school juniors and seniors, and that he was well-thought-of in his field. He had won several teaching awards and his students had won quite a few local competitions. As far as he could tell from the newspaper articles, Steve had never had any children. In fact, he didn’t seem to have any family left at all.
The more Pallor thought about it, the more he liked the idea of Steve as an advisor, especially if Badec didn’t recover and Kevin had to take on the role of Master Sorcerer. Now all he had to do was figure out some way to get to Steve.
~ ~ ~ ~
Tuesday morning, Pallor got up before daybreak and drove over to Chris’s apartment complex. He had decided that it would be easier to explain their “deaths” if he could get Kevin and all of his companions in one placed and have them all “killed” by the same event. He hadn’t worked out any of the details yet, but if he was going to maneuver Chris into position, he figured it was probably going to involve disabling Chris’s car and then offering him a ride. And in order to do that, he needed to know what time Chris left for work, so he parked in a dark and crowded corner of the parking lot and kept an eye on Chris’s car.
Finally, at 7:30, Chris emerged from the building with a steaming cup in his hand, got in his car, and left. Pallor nodded to himself. That was about the time he had figured Chris would leave. Chris would want to give himself plenty of time to get downtown, find a parking space, and get to his office. Just to be on the safe side though, Pallor planned to be in the parking lot by 7:00 every morning for the rest of the week, just in case Chris’s schedule changed once he settled into his new job.
When Pallor left Chris’s, he killed a little time riding around so that he wouldn’t hit rush hour at the diner again. It worked. The diner was nearly empty by the time he walked in.
While he was eating, he asked Joan where her husband worked.
“Karl works at Home Depot, in the gardening section,” she answered.
“That should be right up his alley.”
Joan nodded. “It is, but sometimes I think it depresses him. He would much rather be the one buying seed than the one selling it.”
“He’d rather be farming?”
“We both would. We hated to give it up, but it was one of those rock and a hard place choices. We finally came to the conclusion that we just couldn’t afford it anymore, so here we are.”
“Well, at least in a city the size of Omaha, if he doesn’t like his job, it should be easy enough to find another one.”
“That’s sort of what we were thinking when we moved here. Lots of options.” She topped off his coffee and then asked, “Now, do you need anything else?”
“No, that’ll do it for today,” Pallor said.
~ ~ ~ ~
When Pallor left the diner, he headed out to the hospital to see if he could find out what the verdict was for the young football player. While he was driving, he thought back over his conversations with Joan. The more he learned about Joan and Karl, the more certain he became that they would be a good fit. But once he arrived at the hospital, he put all thoughts of everyone else out of his mind and concentrated on Darrell.
It took him a while to find the orthopedic surgeon’s office and he was half afraid he might have missed Darrell, but shortly after he got there, the office door opened and the doctor escorted a young man out of the office.
The picture in the newspaper must have been taken when Darrell was quite a bit younger, before his muscles had fully developed, because the young man in front of Pallor had a lot more definition. The accompanying article had described Darrell as African-American, but this young man’s skin looked more golden than brown and his features looked Mediterranean. Even so, there was no doubt in Pallor’s mind that he was looking at Darrell.
The doctor had his hand on the young man’s shoulder and Pallor could see by the somber look in Darrell’s eyes that the news had not been good. After they spoke for a couple more minutes, the doctor shook Darrell’s hand and turned to head back to his office.
Darrell wandered aimlessly up and down the hospital corridors after he left the orthopedic wing. Pallor followed at a discrete distance. When Darrell passed the cafeteria, he went in, got a Pepsi, and headed for a table near the back of the dining area.
Pallor went through the line, ordered a cup of coffee, and sat down where he could keep Darrell in sight. An hour later, Darrell was still sitting there, so Pallor got up, got another cup of coffee, and drifted over in Darrell’s direction until he was standing next to the chair across the table from Darrell.
“Hi, my name’s Paul Stewart. I’m waiting for a friend to have a few tests done. Mind if I join you?” Pallor asked as he pulled the chair out from the table.
“Actually, I’d be lousy company,” Darrell said without looking up. “You’d be better off sitting somewhere else.”
Pallor sat down. “Bad news about the knee?”
Darrell looked up, surprised.
“I’ve followed your career. All-state in high school, then first string at the university your freshman year. Almost unheard of. I was looking forward to great things from you in a few years,” Pallor said sympathetically.
“Yeah, me too,” Darrell sighed. “Guess that’s all over now.”
“What did the doctors say?”
“I can lead a perfectly normal life, even play most sports, but no more football.”
“Tough break. Do you have any idea where you’re going to go from here?”
Darrell shook his head. “I haven’t really thought about it. I figured the doctors would come up with a way to fix it. I knew it was a possibility, but until today …”
“I know what you mean.” Pallor sipped his coffee and waited a couple of minutes before continuing. “But you might not have to give up football completely. There are ways to stay involved with the game, even if you can’t play.”
Darrell shook his head. “I don’t think so. I don’t really want to coach.”
“Actually, I wasn’t thinking about coaching. I was thinking about broadcasting, about sports commentary.” Pallor took out a business card that he had made up especially to give to Darrell. It said that he was the manager of one of the local radio stations. “It’s not much, I know, but we broadcast a high school game every Friday night during the season, and the college games on Saturday. Think you’d like to handle the play-by-play from the booth?”
Darrell fingered the card Pallor had handed him and thought about it. “I don’t know if I’d be any good at it, but it sounds interesting.”
“Good. I’ll set up a sound test. We’ll show you a game on tape and let you do the commentary for a demo tape,” Pallor said. “It won’t hurt to give it a try.”
Darrell didn’t say anything for a minute, and then he nodded. “Okay. Let’s do it. When do you want me? And where?”
“I’m not sure yet. Let me get your phone number and I’ll call you as soon as I can get the arrangements made.”
Darrell gave Pallor his phone number, shook his hand, and left the cafeteria, walking a little taller than he had when he came in.
~ ~ ~ ~
By 10:00 Wednesday morning, Pallor was in his third coffee house. The first two had more business people than students, but the atmosphere in the third was just right. He ordered a cup of coffee and looked around for a place to sit.
A young lady sitting by herself at a small table off to the side caught his eye. The first thing he noticed was the long, dark hair cascading down her back. When he walked around to where he could see her face, he saw that her eyes were full of tears.
Pallor sat down across the table from her and said, “Hi, my name’s Paul Stewart. I couldn’t help but notice that something’s upsetting you. I’ve got some time if you’d like to talk.” He smiled and looked at her eyes.
“No, no. Everything’s fine,” she said, as she wiped her eyes with her napkin. “I’m all right, really.”
Pallor waited to see if she’d say anything else. When she didn’t, he said, “Look, this isn’t a line. I’m old enough to be your father. I’m not trying to pick you up.”
“Oh, I’m sure you’re nothing like my father,” she said with a touch of bitterness in her voice.
“So, he’s the problem. Let me guess … he doesn’t like your boyfriend, right?” Pallor said with a grin.
The girl laughed, but it was strained. “If only. No, I’m afraid I’ve got the opposite problem. I don’t like the fiancé my father found for me.”
Pallor’s mouth dropped open. He slowly shut it, and then said, “You are kidding, aren’t you?”
The girl shook her head. “Well, to be honest, I don’t know him well enough to know whether I like him or not, but the rest is true.” She took a deep breath, wiped her eyes again, and held out her hand. “Hello, I’m Theresa Maderina. It’s nice to meet you.”
After they shook hands, Pallor said, “Your father chose your fiancé? That’s archaic!”
“Finally! Someone who agrees with me!” Theresa said with mock enthusiasm.
Pallor raised his eyebrows. “What about your mother?”
Theresa shook her head. “She thinks Mr. Lopez is perfect. He’s about forty, a bank officer, completely respectable, reasonably well-off, just terrific.”
“Have you told her how you feel?”
“Several times. She always defers to my father.”