I have a curious nature. At least, that’s how my grandma phrased it. Sometimes I get a question stuck in my head and I can’t let it go until I find out the answer. It’s like an itch in my brain.
One of my ex-boyfriends referred to it as psychotic. I think he was joking. He was still sore over losing his job. I had noticed a perfect star-shaped stain on the passenger seat of the company car when he picked me up for a date. I wondered how that could have happened. What sort of object would cause an impression like that and why would it stain? Finally, I asked his boss about it. How was I supposed to know my ex didn’t have permission to drive the company car?
Anyway, I had just started my day at Trina’s Treats. She had a contract with a couple of local offices to provide pastries every morning, and I delivered them. I’m a courier. I will deliver anything that I can lift and that will fit in my car. (No children or pets, please.) If you need a document delivered, call a bike messenger. If you need a Barbie Dream House, a dozen cigars and a plunger, call me.
I was waiting in the doorway at Trina’s while she finished boxing up some palmiers, when I noticed the man in the overcoat standing at the coffee cart across the street. He was buying a venti and a little package of shortbread cookies. I realized I had seen him the day before, too, and that he had bought the exact same thing.
I started looking for him each morning, and he was there every day at the same time. He always bought a venti and the same packet of shortbread, which he tucked in a pocket. I wondered what he did with the cookies. Did he eat them for breakfast? An afternoon snack? Maybe he gave them to his secretary. He looked like a good boss. Or maybe he snuck them to his daughter because her mom wouldn’t allow her to eat sugar. As I speculated, that familiar electric tingle started to build up behind my eyes.
That’s why I followed him the first time. The cookies.
I managed to find out pretty quickly that his name was Roger and that he was an accountant. He worked in a building with lots of small offices. They all had heavy, wooden doors instead of glass, so I couldn’t see inside. I pushed open the door and found that it was only one room with a desk and some filing cabinets. He turned around and looked at me, and I said, “Oh, sorry! Wrong office!” and beat a hasty retreat. I had to be more careful after that.
Roger didn’t go home at the same time every day, so it was only by luck that I discovered he lived in a nice building just down the street from Trina’s Treats. The doorman wouldn’t let me past the lobby. He collected my package, a dozen snowman cookies from Trina’s that Roger was going to find puzzling, and gave my ornament sweater and fuzzy reindeer antlers a look of disdain. I stomped out the door, the bells threaded into my shoelaces jingling extra loud. Guys like him are the reason I feel the need to spread holiday cheer.
As you might guess, Christmas is a busy time for me. People always forget to buy a gift for someone, or they need another case of cheap champagne delivered to the office party. I was run ragged, but I still drove by Roger’s building as often as I could.
I work pro bono for Father Tom at the Barnabas Street Mission. He had big cardboard boxes he put out at various locations to collect donations of coats for the homeless. It was easy enough to check the boxes for him, since I drive all over the city. I can always find room in my car for a few coats. I put one of the boxes in the lobby of Roger’s office building, to give me an excuse to stop by without seeming conspicuous. I don’t mean to criticize, but there were some rough characters coming and going from that place. I hoped they were visiting the ambulance chaser on the third floor instead of Roger.
Every day at noon, on the dot, Roger left his office and walked to a little park nearby to eat his lunch. Sometimes he pulled a sandwich and an apple out of his briefcase. Other times, he bought a hot dog from a vendor. He never ate the cookies at lunch time. I wondered if I could sneak into his office and look for them while he was in the park.
There was a woman in a bright red coat who also ate lunch in the park every day. She always brought a book with her, and it changed every few days. I got close enough to see that she was reading The Maltese Falcon. The next book was Tuesdays With Morrie. What sort of person reads both? The tingle behind my eyes was driving me mad.
I followed her back to her office building. In the lobby, another woman called out, “Michelle!” and the two happily chattered together as they both went into a law firm. I didn’t think Michelle looked like an attorney. Maybe she was a paralegal, or a secretary.
That evening, Michelle took the bus home to a building with tons of tiny apartments. I started keeping an eye on the place, and as far as I could tell, she lived alone. I put a flyer for my service on the bulletin board in her lobby, but she never called.
I followed her one evening when she went on a date. I could see them through the plate glass window of the Italian restaurant, and it looked like they were both drinking a lot of wine. She didn’t kiss the guy goodnight, and she was home by ten, so it must not have gone well. Roger and Michelle had never noticed each other in the park. I wondered if I could set them up. Maybe she liked shortbread, too.
A nice lady hired me to drop off a carload of donations. I took most of them to Father Tom, but I saved a bag of books and left it at Michelle’s door. The next day she was reading one of them, which made me happy.
On the Saturday night before Christmas, I had just finished delivering a five foot tall teddy bear and a full turkey dinner when I decided to stop by Roger’s office building on my way home. He was pacing back and forth on the sidewalk out front, while he talked on his cell phone. I couldn’t hear what he was saying, but he seemed upset. He had a big duffel bag, which was unusual. I had never seen him go to the gym before. I parked across the street and watched him.
After he disconnected his call, he went back into the building. Through the plate glass, I saw him drop the duffel into the collection box. He took off his overcoat, wadded it up, and dropped it on top. That was sweet of him, giving away the coat off his back.
Two serious-looking men with thick necks appeared at the corner. They went into the building and each grabbed one of Roger’s arms, marching him down the hallway in the direction of his office. They must have been unhappy about their quarterly report.
Christmas Eve was fast approaching, and I wanted to make the most of Roger’s generosity. I went into the building and collected the coat and duffel, which was surprisingly heavy. He must have cleaned out his closet. That was okay, since Father Tom accepted general clothing as well as coats. I checked the pockets of the overcoat but there were no cookies. Not even an empty wrapper.
I drove to the mission and carried in the donation. Father Tom thanked me and added the stuff to a pile of clothing he was sorting. One of the volunteers waved me over to a refreshment table and gave me a cup of hot cider. While I sipped, I wondered what book Michelle would be reading the next day. She was nearly finished with Lonesome Dove. I watched Father Tom unzip the duffel and pull out what looked like a couple of sweaters. Then he peered into the bag and his face lit up. He crossed himself, and threw a big smile in the direction of the ceiling.
I never saw Roger again. He stopped going to the coffee cart. The first morning he didn’t appear, I thought maybe he was sick. But then several mornings passed with no sign of him. When I stopped by his building, the door to his office was propped open. All the furniture was gone and a man in coveralls was cleaning the floor.
I never did find out what Roger did with those cookies.