All my life I have been lucky enough to pay attention to small things. Moods, memories, feelings. I have been trained and worked as a scientist and an engineer, but unexplainable whisperings I also pay attention to.
The first part of my story happened about 21 years ago here in Missoula. I had a wife and a baby boy then, and we lived in a tiny rented house on Charis lane in the rattlesnake. I would ride my bicycle back and forth from st. pats, the hospital, where I was a working as a computer programmer. Sometimes I would stay and work way past midnight. On those nights I would often stop at the 24 hour 4b restaurant that was on east Broadway. It’s not there anymore. It was closed right after what happened. I was there the last night it was open.
When I write software I often forget to eat and only stop working when I get really hungry. Back then, 21 years ago, if I came home really hungry after midnight I would make too much noise, rooting about in the fridge, eating chips, moving dishes, and that could wake everybody. So, I would stop at the 4B’s, which was usually quiet and peaceful. A good place to unwind. I’d sit at the counter and order. Eat, and the then ride my bicycle home.
So I’m coming home one night about 2am, and I stop and lock my bike up at the rack at the 4B’s and I go inside. There are a few people sitting in booths. I sat down at the counter in the closest seat to the door, and then the one other person sitting at the counter, way down at the other end of the restaurant, he turned and stared at me. I looked at the wall in front of me. I wait for the waitress so I could order. But there’s the guy at the other end of the counter. I look down there again. And he is still staring at me. And our eyes meet. I thought he was going to get up then and come over and talk to me. I didn’t want to talk to anyone. I just wanted to eat, unwind, and then go home.
And this is the weird part. I remember it perfectly. We are looking at each other from our ends of the counter and I shivered.
I never shiver.
It was like a whisper right behind you when you think you are alone in a big house.
I looked away from him. I looked towards the whisper, but there was no one behind me. Just the door. And then, without looking back at him, I got up and left. Unlocked my bicycle. Peddled home where I found something to eat that didn’t involve much noise.
Next morning I wake up to coffee and the radio playing, my little boy, my wife,and it was perfect and peaceful. Then on the radio, there’s this big story. Night before, sometime just after I had left, a man — and it turned out to be the man who had been staring at me — had pulled out a gun and for no known reason started shooting. This happened. Right down the road. Some ran out. A cook hid behind a sink and called police from a land line. But the guy killed one person, and badly wounded another, before the police came. And then he came out side and kept shooting, or wouldn’t put the gun down, and then they killed him. And no one ever figured out why he did what he did. And the 4B’s there never reopened. And I started not working so late at night. And my life kept on going.
The next part of my story happened about ten years ago, also here in Missoula. I was living in a house on Lolo street with my two kids and a girl friend, and all four of us are sleeping when one night, after midnight, I hear someone rooting about in the fridge. I wondered which one of my kids was awake, so I get up in my underwear and walk into the kitchen and freak out a bit because there is this really large man — I’m six foot two, and he was a lot bigger than me — and he’s got the fridge door open and is standing there looking inside.
My first impulse was to run back to the bedroom and call 911. But I remember a sweet, simple story, or maybe it was a joke, that someone who was once a friend of mine, Abe Abramson, used to repeat. Abe would tell me about how one late night in the Oxford Cafe, a really big, very drunk man sat down and when the cook asks the man what he wants, he answers,”Eggs,” and when the cook asks him,”how do you like your eggs?” the big guy gets a big smile, looks wistful and happy, and says,”Oh, I like my eggs a lot.”
So looking at this guy standing in front of my open fridge — and this guy seems really drunk too — makes me think of Abe’s story, which always makes me smile. And smiling is something that takes the edge off a freak out, so instead of rushing to dial 911, I say, “Hello!” and then ask, “Whats going on?”
The man in my kitchen, he looked like he was Blackfeet, he turns to me, and says, “I’m just looking for something to eat.” And he smiles.
And I smile back and say, “This isn’t your house.” I also say, even though my kids and girl friend are in the other rooms, “You want some eggs or something?”
He looks at me for a moment. Then looks around, and very slowly closes the fridge and says with this voice that is both powerful and gentle, “I’m sorry. I thought this was someplace else.” And he walks out. He leaves. And I start to get back into bed, but all of a sudden I hear his voice saying to me, like a whisper, “Hey. You might want to keep your doors locked at night.” I never saw him again. But a few months after his visit, it was winter, and one night, when I was alone, kids at their mom’s, girl friend away, about two in the morning there is a pounding on the door and someone yelling loud, “Police! Come to the door.” Over and over: “Police! Come to the door!”
I wake up, get up, and I’m more than a little freaked. My door has a small glass window, and I see a cop there, shinning his flashlight at me. He yells at me, almost screams, “Open the door!” It makes no sense.
I yell back, “Why?”
He yells at me, “Do you live here? Are you alone?” And again he tells me again to open the door.
I’ve been taught by watching tv shows and reading the newspaper how it is never a good idea to invite police inside unless you know what they want first. So I yell again, “Why?!?”
I’m really wide awake now. In my underwear. In the hallway.Flashlight from a cop on me. 2 in the morning. But I wont open the door. Then there is another cop there, and he says something I can’t hear which calms the first one down. The first cop is abruptly polite and yells a bit softer,”Sir, we thought someone was in there with you. There’s been a wreck.”
I go to door window then and look out, and see their flashing cruiser lights and I see a pickup truck on its side in the snow next to my house with a telephone pole laying on top of it.
I open the door. The police tell me they were chasing a stolen truck, and it had been ahead of them and it turned onto my street, where it careened off the road and hit the pole and then they found bloody tracks leading from the wreck up to my door. They showed me the blood on the door handle. So the first cop had assumed that the person they were chasing had gotten into my house. And that is why he was demanding to be let in, thinking, logically, that whom ever was inside might be held hostage, or worse. Then the second cop had found tracks in the snow where the person who had ran away from my door after finding it locked had gone through my back yard and away. The person who had stolen the truck, been chased by police, careened off the road, hit a telephone pole, gotten hurt, tried with a bloody hand to get in my house, had been turned away by the locked door.
Before my late night kitchen visitor I normally had left all my doors unlocked.
They never found or figured out who the person who stole the truck was, and the truck lay there in the snow of my front yard for a few days before a wrecker took it away. I kept looking at that truck, and thinking of how there might be angels who sometimes whisper, sometimes remind. Or sometimes just look for breakfast.
So how do you like your eggs?
“Oh, I like my eggs a lot.”
(c)2013 Steve S. Saroff
May 8th, 2014 update: I just received email from someone with a link to an archived newspaper article about the murder which I narrowly avoided being part of in 1990. The article confirms what I remember, and what I wrote, but I remembered that I had a little boy then — remembering, and writing about being with him and his mother in the mornings — but from the date of the shooting, which the article confirmed for me — my first child wasn’t yet born. He would be born about nine months later… How close I came to a very different, or no, life.
Here is the link to the archived news article: http://www.apnewsarchive.com/1990/Police-Find-No-Explanation-for-Fatal-Shooting-Spree/id-ae944ef10abe9800b9b861237c222ea5