The Mysterious Man

Allison R.

 

A man pulls his enormous black trench coat closer to his body as the crisp, winter wind blows across his face. Snow turns into murky, brown slush beneath his feet as he wanders. The street lamps outline his slender figure, glowing yellow in the dark winter night.

His cheeks are rosy and pink, kissed by ice, wind, and snow. His hands are pale and white, clenching the seam of his coat. His hair is matted and wet, speckled with tiny snowflakes as he runs through the blizzard. His eyes are hidden by his sunglasses, shadows of gray and black. His face is tan and wrinkled, eyebrows furrowing in concentration.

He walks faster, nervously glancing behind him as he breaks into a run. The man sprints around the corner, his chest heaving as he looks down to see his vibrant, scarlet sneakers soaked with snow. He flattens his body against the nearby glass store window, ignoring the life-like mannequins adorned with fur coats and stunning jewelry behind him.

A dark figure sprints past, his shoes slapping against the wet pavement. The figure stops at the glass building, violently whipping his head around to search for something on the sidewalk.

The footsteps grow louder, echoing on the sidewalk and crunching on the hardened ice. The man’s heart skips a beat, frozen with fear, as he watches the figure’s shadow advance.

The man breathes a sigh of relief as he sees the figure turn around the corner of the block. He slumps down onto the pavement, his heart beating against his ribcage. He holds his head in his hands, trying to clear his head so he can think.

He sits up, steps forward, and hails a cab from the sidewalk, rubbing his frozen hands together under his coat.

Tires screech as a cab stops in front of him, a pale yellow in comparison to the glistening golden light of the city. As the cab screeches to a halt, the driver rolls his window down.

“What are you doing out in cold?” he asks, his fur cap pulled over his head.

The man slowly opens the door of the cab, nervously looking around him. His body tenses as he sees movement behind a pillar.

“What are you waiting for? Get in already!” the driver yells, wiping sweat off of his forehead with the back of his hand. A bead of sweat drops from his face, landing on the vinyl gray seats.

The man jumps into the cab, then pulls the door closed behind him. He pulls his sunglasses off and wipes them on the inside of his trench coat. He nervously runs his fingers through his chocolate hair, furrowing his brow as he searches for the figure through the glass of the buildings.

“Where to?” the driver asks.

The man doesn’t hear him as he leans over and shakes the snow out of his shoes.

“You in a hurry? You late for something, kid?”

His head snaps up. “Sorry?”

“You seem nervous. Need to get somewhere?”

“Yeah. I’ve got to get to New York City.”

“New York City! What’s waitin’ for you there?”

“Work,” The man frowns. “Work’s waitin’ for me.”

“In New York City? Kid, that’s two hours away. My shift ends in forty-five minutes!”

“Oh,” the man says.

“Sorry.”

“I’m sorry for wasting your time,” the man snaps, opening the door of the cab. He swings his legs out of the cab and steps out onto the snow-laden sidewalk. He slams the door behind him, kicking some snow off of the sidewalk in frustration.

“Sorry, kid,” the driver says, rolling the window up and driving away.

Snowflakes fall on the man’s face, melting as they touch his warm flesh. He pulls his coat closer to his body and stuffs his hands into his pockets, pulling a pocket watch out and rubbing the water off with the edge of his sleeve.

“Ten after seven.” He sighs, staring up at the vast, dark sky, obscured by the street lamps and city lights.

He shoves his sunglasses back on his face and sprints around the corner of the glass building. His feet slap on the pavement, splashing water onto the street. He slows down to a stop when he notices a shadow opposite him. His heart thumps louder in his chest. Thump, thump. Thump, thump.

He slowly turns around, not making any sudden movements. The figure pokes his head out from behind the building across the street.

“You!” the figure yells, springing out from behind the building. “Halt!

The man doesn’t move, paralyzed with fear.

“Stay where you are! This is the RCPD!” the figure yells. “I’ve found the suspect on Mayfield Avenue!” he yells into his communication device.

The man takes off running as he hears the sirens.

“Stop! Put your hands up!” the police officer shouts, chasing after him.

The man doesn’t stop.

“I need backup! The suspect is getting away!” the police officer shouts.

The man runs down the street, turning onto Central Boulevard. He spots a yellow taxi slowly rolling down the street. He hails another cab, using his free arm to wave it down. As it pulls to a stop, he throws the door open.

“Drive!” he yells.

“Excuse me? Drive where?” the cab driver asks with a thick Russian accent, turning around as the man slams the door shut. “Why you in hurry?”

“New York City! Quickly!”

“There no need to shout,” the driver says. “I get you there in two hours tops, but -”

The sound of sirens moves closer. The man looks nervously out of the window, chewing on his nail.

“I see,” the driver smirks. “You run from law. You pay me double fee, I get you to place you want to go.”

“Alright, just DRIVE!” the man shouts, shoving a wad of cash through the opening in the seat.

The driver snatches the cash out of the man’s hands and stuffs it into his pocket, smiling as he starts the cab. “Thank you for riding New York City Express. All aboard!”

He slams his foot onto the gas, causing the cab to lurch forward. The tires screech as the driver makes a sharp turn at the corner of Mayfield and Central Boulevard.

“Are you trying to kill me?” he shouts.

“You running from police. You be killed no matter what you did to deserve this,” the cab driver says, leaning back into the seat. “What your name, son?”

The man is silent.

“Can’t get much worse than this. You being chased by police.”

The man shakes his head. “I can’t. I – I shouldn’t.”

The driver shakes his head and laughs. “You something different. Can’t tell getaway driver name.”

The man says nothing as he turns his head and looks out the window. Snowflakes fall onto the streets, slowly adding to the pile of cold, mushy snow. Street lamps stand guard on the streets like gargoyles in the wintery night, eerily flickering as the cab whizzes past. On the side of one of the glass buildings, he catches something in the reflection. The cop car was coming.

Red and blue streaks now outlined the cab’s shadow as the sirens grew louder, increasing the man’s heartbeat. Thump, thump, thump, thump. Thump, thump, thump, thump.    

“Go! Go! They’re getting closer!” the man shouts.

“Hold your horses! I going as fast as I can on city streets!”

“Go faster!” the man screams. “You’re already breaking the law by driving me to New York City!”

“Jeez, I going!” the driver shouts back. He slams the pedal to the floor with his foot, causing the cab to quickly accelerate.

The man is thrown back into his seat. He fumbles for the seat belt and grabs it, buckling it in the side opposite of him.

“You’re nuts! A complete nutter!” the man yells.

“Not as nuts as you,” the driver retorts, scrunching up his face in disgust. “What is smell?”

The man sniffs around the cab. “I haven’t the slightest idea,” he says. “I’m more concerned about getting to New York City rather than some stupid smell!”

The driver takes a sharp turn onto the bridge. The man watches as the city disappears behind the fog as they turn onto the highway.

The cab accelerates as the speed limit increases, swerving to avoid oncoming cars.

We won’t get to New York City if you keep up act,” the driver angrily shouts, glaring at the man through the rear-view mirror.

Excuse me? I paid you double for my protection!”

Your protection?” the driver shouts. “You paying double for insurance if I injured!”

You?” the man asks, spitting his fingernail out of his mouth. “You’re worried about getting injured? I’ve been blamed for a crime I never committed, and now I’m running from the law. I’ve got two daughters at home and a beautiful wife.” He sighs loudly.              

“Esmeralda and Annika. Those are my daughter’s names,” he says. “They’re twins, both of ‘em born two minutes apart. They’re turning seven in two days, two gorgeous young ladies that I barely get to see at home because of my new job at the hospital. I’m always there, constantly missing my girls’ soccer games, band concerts, and special moments.” He smiles, tears glinting in his eyes as he reminisces.

“I’m not even home to see them lose their teeth or kiss them goodnight.” The man slams his fist onto the seat. “I just miss them so much. They need their father in their life, and I haven’t been able to see them since they were born.”

He turns his head to look out of the window, watching the endless prairies pass before his eyes.

“Sorry,” the cab driver whispers. “I not know this.”

“It’s not your fault. I just haven’t been myself in a while. It should be me apologizing for my behavior,” the man says, wiping a tear from his eye. “I’m sorry.”

The driver shakes his head. “It alright. I understand what you going through.” He pauses, looking into the rear-view mirror. “I got wife and kids. Still waitin’ for grandkids.” He laughs.

“Wife and kids? You look at least sixty years old!”

The driver glances in the side mirror, squinting at the tiny cars as they pass by. He sees the flashing lights, and yells, “They coming!”

“Step on it!” the man yells, then pinches himself. “Uh, sorry. Please?”

The driver laughs. “Gladly.”

The cab’s tires screech as they accelerate, weaving through lines of cars on the highway. The man turns his head to look behind them, seeing the blue and red flashing lights advancing on them.

“How long until we get to New York City?” the man asks.

“If we not caught by police,” the driver says, “should be hour and half.”

The man sighs in frustration. “Ugh!”

“Here is thought: why not tell police it not you?” the driver asks, cocking his head at the man. “Then they bother you no more.”

“I’ve been trying to. Someone’s framed me.”

“You have enemies?”

“None that I know of.”

The driver nods. “What crime you framed for?”

“Murder of the first degree,” he whispers, “and I’ve never killed a soul in my life.”

There is a long pause.

“You go through trial?” the driver asks.

“Yeah. Whoever’s framed me has done their research. They’ve got my fingerprints and blood.”

“If you went through trial, how come you not in holding cell?”

“I broke out. I needed to see my girls and my wife, so I stole the key and ran out. I ran and ran and ran before I reached that city. I hitchhiked a lot. I feared for my life.”

“You thought you did right thing, but breaking out federal prison not getting you out,” the driver says, scratching his balding head of ashen hair with his yellow fingernails.

“I know,” the man says.

“Police know where you live.”

“I know,” the man says softly. “I’m going to New York to get an attorney from the hospital. Everyone there knows that I wouldn’t do anything like that.”

The driver looks through rear-view mirror at the man. “You have name?”

“Oliver Kingsley,” he replies. “What’s yours?”

“Jeremiah Wood.”

“Well, Jeremiah, thank you for helping me.”

“What you talkin’ about? I drive felons around United States every day!” the driver says with a wink.

The man laughs. “Ain’t no way you’re a felon trafficker!”

“You, son, have much to learn about me,” the driver says.

“Seeing as we still have an hour and a half left to New York City, why don’t you tell me something about yourself?”

“I married to wonderful woman named Monika. Mind you, she bit cranky, but she can cook.” He licks his lips. “I got two children. Oldest is Angel. Youngest is Tom. They six years apart, but they get along just fine.

“I been married forty years. We had Angel when we was thirty-something. Angel’s twenty-four now. She in college. Smart girl,” he continues. “Tommy is eighteen.” Jeremiah laughs.

“He so different from me. He went to school and hated it, and he going to work at McDonald’s like rest of generation.” He sighs. “None of kids want to go to college anymore.”

“I grew up on farm in Minnesota,” he explains. “I never go to school, just had someone tutor me when I was young. I loved it. I wanted to go to college just to do something and get out of farm. Me dad told me not to get off farm. He told me to settle down with pretty farmer girl, so I did. I found Monika at local farming convention. I told her I wanted to go to school.”

“She was smart lady. She went to private school because her parents had money. I had her teach me stuff she learned. She not Russian, like me. She is Swedish. She not know why I speak like this,” Jeremiah says.

Oliver stares at Jeremiah for a while before answering.

“How old are you?” he asks.

“Gee, I do not got a clue!” he says. “Fifty?”

“You don’t know your age?” Oliver asks.

“I got more important things to worry about rather than age,” Jeremiah retorts. “If you so smart, how old are you?”

“Thirty-one,” he replies. “My wife is thirty. My kids are almost seven.”

“Thirty-one?” Jeremiah says. “Son, you baby compared to me. I be twenty years older than you!”

Oliver smiles, glancing out of the window. A large, green sign comes into view as the sun disappears into the horizon.

“This sign says that there’s about fifteen miles left to New York City!”

“Got time?” Jeremiah asks.

Oliver pulls his pocket watch out. “Nine-fifteen.”

Jeremiah sighs. “I think we lost police,” he says, looking in both directions before turning onto the exit. “You should be there soon.”

“Thank you so much,” Oliver says.

“You may keep half money you gave me,” he says. “You going to need for lawsuit.”

“I thought that you were going to give it to me for free,” Oliver says, laughing as he takes the money.

“For free?” Jeremiah chuckles. “I not that generous.”

Oliver laughs. “Thank you for everything, Jeremiah. I honestly do appreciate everything that you’ve risked to help me.”

“It no problem, Oliver,” Jeremiah says.

“Were you born in Russia?”

“Yes, Oliver. My parents brought me to farm in Minnesota when I was baby,” he says. “Why you ask?”

“I heard your accent, that’s all.”

 

Ten minutes later, Jeremiah stops at the front door of the hospital. “I wish you well, Mister Oliver.”

“Thank you so much, Jeremiah,” he says as he pushes the door open with his foot. He cocks his head, listens, and jumps back into the cab. He whispers something inaudible into the man’s ear. Jeremiah nods.

As Oliver gets out of the cab, Jeremiah looks at him.

“Oliver, I must go home. I talk to you later,” he says, driving away.

 

Oliver watches as the cab drives away, leaving a trail of snowflakes in its wake. He sighs and brushes the little shapes off of his trenchcoat.

He walks up the steps of the hospital, then stops. He picks up the sound of sirens. He shakes his head as if it was all in his head.

His hands grip the railing tight as he slips on the patch of ice by the third step. He smiles to himself.

The sirens become closer and closer as he walks up the steps. His heart begins to beat faster in his chest. Thump, thump. Thump, thump.

He sees the flashing lights behind him just as he reaches the top of the steps.

“Oliver Kingsley, step away from the hospital!” the officer shouts.

He stands still, waiting for them to shoot or cuff him.

“Turn around slowly with your hands up!” they yell.

He turns around, putting his hands up. “I don’t have any weapons! I work here, officers!”

“You have broken four laws, Mr. Kingsley. You have the right to remain silent!” the officers shout, dashing over to him to cuff him.

As the officers push his hands behind his back and slip the cold, silvery handcuffs onto his wrists, he hangs his head down, staring at his feet. The police officers push him into the open door of their police car. He watches the lights flash blue and red and white outside of the window.

“We’re taking you back to the RCPD headquarters for questioning,” the head officer explains as he starts the car.

“I’ve got evidence that it wasn’t me. I’d like another trial.”

The officer smirks. “You don’t got no evidence! Trial proved everythin’!”

“Not everything. I’ve got witnesses. I’ve got someone who’s willing to help me,” Oliver says.

“Who would help a guilty man who’s been convicted?”

“Jeremiah Wood,” the man answered. “Jeremiah Wood, the kind Russian immigrant who would do anything for a stranger.”

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