Armed with my flashlight and protected under the cover of darkness, I made my way uptown. As soon as I had the clock in sight, out of nowhere it seemed, a police car was slowly driving by.
The officers shined their “perpetrator light” on me as if I was a burglar who was casing a store. I wasn’t sure what I was going to say if they asked me what I was doing. Should I lie and say “I’m walking through a dark, deserted town, looking for my lost dog or should I be honest and say “I’m looking for the greeter?”
They must have decided that I had no ill intentions, so they drove away. Temporarily blinded by the light, it took a few seconds to regain my vision and when I did, I could see that the greeter was not there.
The next day, I decided to walk back uptown and revisit the shop owners. This time I was going to ask if they knew where the greeter went at night. I was a little concerned that I might start to annoy them but this is the kind of place where everybody knows everybody and it almost seems to be illegal for anybody to be rude.
I was met with a smile and kind words when they all answered “I really don’t know, dear.” I didn’t accept that so I asked if they didn’t wonder where “somebody who has always been there” slept at night. In every store, with perfect timing, as soon as I asked that question, a customer would walk in and the owners would “excuse themselves.”
The fire department was just a block away and feeling that I was an honorary part of the “brotherhood” by default, I walked into the station. There were four firefighters on duty. They welcomed me and offered me a cup of coffee. They introduced themselves as Chip the probie, Danny the engineer, Edward the lieutenant and Bob the paramedic, also known as “the elder.” Bob was a seasoned firefighter, just months away from retirement. I smiled as I thought “my grandpa was named Bob.”
I told them that I was interested in information about the greeter. It was like a broken record. Almost in unison, they said “he’s been here for as long as anybody can remember.” I told them I understood that but I was interested in where he slept at night.
Bob locked eyes with me and I felt a strange, almost mystical connection. He seemed to want to talk to me but as if being “saved by the bell,” the tones sounded. I called to him as he got on the truck and asked if I could come by tomorrow. He gave me a nod and looked at me with almost the same kind of sadness you see from somebody you know you are never going to see again.
I’ve seen that look before, especially from older firefighters. Their job is dangerous and fear is part of that job but when you’re “short” that fear intensifies, I think.
Literally a minute later, a second tone sounded and I could hear another station being dispatched.
In this little town at best, you might hear a fire truck or a lone police siren once a month. Suddenly, all I could hear were sirens. I knew something big was happening. Knowing the EMS system, I also knew that trying to follow them was not the thing to do, although I was tempted.
I left, excited about meeting with Bob again. I knew that I was going to get answers, enjoyed a moment of near exhilaration and came just shy of patting myself on the back.
I don’t think I realized that this seemingly ordinary, yet mysterious man known only as “the greeter,” was going to become an obsession.
I went back into the heart of town, sat down on a park bench and just watched. I was being smug when I thought “Ha. I’m going to know your story tomorrow.” As soon as I had that thought, a wave of regret suddenly gripped me, as if I had just unintentionally imposed a death sentence on him. I have to say that it chilled me to the bone. I got up and walked back to the safety of my house, periodically glancing back, worried that maybe the greeter was following me.
The sirens were still blaring and whatever catastrophe had happened, was close. I selfishly thought that I hoped all would be silent when it was time to go to bed.
A soon as I got home, the worry eased and maybe as sort of an unspoken apology, I decided I would sketch the greeter. With charcoal in hand, he was going to come to life on my paper, standing on the mound in his “field of dreams.” I had always been a pretty fair artist and had sketched everybody from my children to my neighbors so I had no doubt about my abilities.
I had memorized every facet of him so my portrayal was going to be as accurate as any photo I could have taken. He wore a nondescript baseball cap that shielded his dark and weathered face. His long-sleeved, green flannel shirt hung loosely over a plain, black t-shirt. He wore what looked like work pants and his boots were always untied. When the weather was chilly, he wore a long, brown trench coat with an upturned collar but it was never buttoned. I wanted every detail to be perfect.
After about an hour, I was ready to admire my work but as I gazed at the paper, I was horrified to see that it was blank.
To be continued………..