Paul pulled his yellow rain jacket tight as the heavy deluge poured down onto the narrow street. He tucked himself tight under the eave of the outdoor café, hunched over the counter, and kept himself warm over a bowl of savoury pork noodles.
“This seat taken?” someone asked, but Paul pretended not to hear them through his earbuds.
The person sat down beside him anyway, their body bumping into him as they settled. A tap on his shoulder.
Begrudgingly, he turned to find a man in his forties sitting beside him in a business suit. “Can you hand me a menu?”
Paul grabbed one from the rack beside him and passed it over. He pulled his hood down lower, hoping the man would leave him alone.
Unfortunately, it didn’t work. “Do you know what’s good here?”
Paul considered leaving, but the rain was coming down harder, the gutters struggling to rush the water away.
The man persisted. “What would you suggest? What did you order?”
Reluctantly, Paul poked at the noodle and pork bowl and the man waved the cook over and pointed his selection.
“Thanks.” Again, the man tapped. “I said thanks.”
Paul pulled out an earbud. “Sorry, man. I just want to listen to my music, eat my food, and be left alone.”
“Sure, sure. But can I bother you with one last thing?” The man’s voice was smooth, like the seller on 144th Street that was always pawning off weird shit he’d download from the internet.
The man pulled a dark blue envelope from the inside pocket of his suit jacket and laid it before Paul.
Of course, it was. This guy was just another huckster trying to peddle something. He pushed it back towards the man. “Not interested.”
“Oh, you misunderstood me. I’m not selling it. I’m giving it to you.”
Paul smirked. “Yeah? What is it?”
The man in the suit shrugged.
Paul looked at the envelope and then studied the man. His suit didn’t fit him quite right. A little too loose around the waist and a little too tight on the shoulders. Something about the man’s proportions seemed all wrong.
“Is it money? Drugs? Are you trying to frame me?”
“Nothing of the sort. It’s a gift.”
“Man, I don’t have time for your weirdness.” He went to put the earbud back in, but the man blocked his hand.
“You only have to take it. That’s all I ask.”
Paul squinted, annoyed, his eyes shifting between the man and the envelope, “I only have to take it? You don’t even care if I open it?”
The man nodded.
Paul shrugged and slid it in front of himself. “Now, can I go back to my music?”
“Indeed,” the man said.
Paul slipped his earbud back in and pulled his hood forward. He was being a dick, but he wanted to be left alone. But maybe he didn’t need to be this much of a dick.
“Thank you…,“ he went to say, but the man was no longer beside him. Paul leaned back to glance down the rain-soaked narrow street, but there was no trace of him.
He frowned and tore the paper seal of the envelope and cautiously tipped it over.
A tattered 3 × 5 photo fell out.
It was this café across the street, but a delivery van had skipped the curb and smashed into the building. The counter was destroyed and the cook stood in the rainy street on a call. But crushed under the front tire was someone wearing a yellow rain coat.
Paul struggled to breathe, his hands becoming clammy, his lips trembling. This was not now, but soon. He needed to run to get out of here.
But it was too late because the heavy sound of an engine roaring towards him and the squelch of brakes was the last thing he heard.
Thank you so much for reading.
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