“Lymon?” I said to the big man in front of my table.
Repeating the name was a delaying ruse on my part. I’d immediately connected Lymon to the kid I’d talked to a few minutes ago. This “connection” was running side by side with my own condemnation of myself for saying anything at all to the kid. The ‘kid!’ Hell he was probably 25 at least, had been sweeping the floor of the makeshift bus station/cafe.
Our exchange had happened just minutes ago and now I was face to face with the subject of my query. A truly stupid query by the way. “Yeah” the man said, repeating his original words; “Lymon told me you thought I looked familar.”
As he towered over me, his resemblance to Sheriff Wayoner was even more pronounced. He looked just like I remembered him.
At least a half foot over six feet, dark brown suit that belonged somewhere in he past, and a small brim hat without a feather or even a band around it. He had big, saggy jowls befitting a man of his size and age. I had him easily in his sixties, and hauling close to 300 pounds on his big frame, he’d surely stand out in any crowd, just like the old Sheriff.
They say that people who have near-death experiences often see their lives flash by, and although I was not feeling in danger of dying, I was witnessing my life rewind backwards to 1967. Back to Elm City the place of my birth and where I’d spent the first 19 years of my life. I could see the High School, the football stadium and the ugly old water tower that always hovered at its North end.
During this rewind, I sat amazed, watching in comedic horror at the tricks of fate that had been instrumental in shoving me into this corner. Three days ago an urgent request by my Uncle’s lawyer to present myself in person, for the reading of his will had started the whole mess. Actually, in retrospect it was Uncle Matt’s dying that started it or maybe his birth if you want to go back that far.
My flight out of San Francisco had been smooth until somewhere around Amarillo, when a window in the cabin section had suddenly blown out causing the young woman sitting next to it to follow the shattered glass into an atmosphere that nobody could survive. A truly horrifying experience that left all of us in the plane in shock, and it was only after the plane safely landed in Amarillo that we could breathe easy about our own safety.
In the airport I was informed that a connecting flight to Oklahoma City would depart the next morning, but a bus ticket was being offered to those wanting to leave sooner. Accepting the bus ride seemed prudent since I was somewhat freaked out about the plane incident, plus, I was tired and a 6 hour bus ride seemed like a good way to get some rest.
But my rest was interrupted by a stopover (as they like to say in Greyhound circles) in Elm City. And yeah I know, fate can’t take all the blame because I’d known it was between Amarillo and Oklahoma City. But never did I suspect we would be taking a piss break there.
Until now I’d been slowly sipping my coffee allowing thoughts of Elm City to harmlessly drift through my mind. Memories of the past were just that; memories. Memories of good times and bad times; of many things, and of Sandra.
Of Sandra and the water tower.
“Have we met?” His voice brought me back to present tense, and as he seated himself, uninvited, across from me at the table, his coat parted and I saw the glimmer of a metallic badge pinned to his vest.
“No.” I said in a off-hand way which I thought neatly hid my nervousness.
“Most older people like you think I look like my Gramps.”
During the silence after his words, I thought of the marijuana joints in my shirt pocket. I was thinking I’d really like one when that thought bumped right up next to the one telling me that Oklahoma was not California, and Elm City was certainly not San Francisco.
“He was Sheriff around here for years.”
Trying to remain calm I said the wrong thing. “Like you?”
“Good guess.” He said. Then added, “but you weren’t guessing were you? Did you know Gramps?”
“No, I’m from California, just passing through.”
“On the bus?” He grunted, looking out the window at the dirty old bus.
“You California people travel in style, eh?” The smile on his face was tight but I could see evidence of it easily turning into something else.
“Dan Close.” He said, sticking out a hand, the top of which was covered in black hair, just like I remembered about his Gramps. “Most people around here just call me Sheriff like they did my dad, and my gramps.”
I shook his hand while frantically trying to think. “John Jones.” I said to him, stupidly lying while even more stupidly, lumping two handy names together.
“So is your gramps still around?” I asked, not knowing why I’d asked such a stupid question.
“Nah, he said, as he shifted something, probably snuff, around in his mouth. He died a couple of years ago.”
When I said nothing, he continued. “Went to his grave never solving the one case he couldn’t get over.”
“Oh yeah.” I said, trying to figure out how to get away from him; a bathroom break, something to eat, anything.
“Yeah, the girl who died on that water tower over there.” He said, while pointing out what I’d failed to see; the water tower was barely visible in the distance.
The same one that had always been on the North end of the football field.
“Got a smoke?” He asked, causing me to wonder why.”
“Yeah.” I truthfully told him, in place of lying as I should have. Pulling my leather cigarette case from my pocket I pushed the lever to open it. I wasn’t worried, I knew all I had to do was pick out a Marlboro from the midst of the joints and then put the case back in my pocket.
Except that I dropped the case, and as it clattered to the floor I knew fate was not through with me yet.
As he picked up the case, I watched as his eyes went over the contents.