I don’t remember Lloyd leaving.
For hours, he talked as I drank glass after glass of bourbon. Eventually I just shut down. I stared at the wall behind him and stopped listening. Then my eyes closed and I slept.
When I awoke in the morning, I was still in the rocking chair with my legs stretched out on the coffee table. Cooper remained on the couch. He raised his head and looked at me when I opened my eyes.
I went to the back door and let him out, then started a pot of coffee. Cooper stayed in the yard for a few minutes. When he returned, the smell of percolating coffee filled the kitchen.
I turned on my cell phone. It buzzed and vibrated in my hand, indicating voice messages and texts. I put the phone on the kitchen table without checking them, poured a cup of black coffee and walked back into the living room. The blinds were down. I pulled them up to let the sunshine in and immediately saw a flash.
I blinked and looked out at the street. A camera lens looked back.
The photographer, an overweight man with graying beard and retreating hairline, took several photos of me through my window. Maggie, looking nervous and slightly embarrassed, stood next to him. I looked beyond them across the street. News vans were parked on the sidewalk.
“You stay here, Cooper,” I said, then walked to the front door.
The moment I stepped outside, the swarm of reporters sprung to action. The old Examiner photographer aimed his camera at me and took a series of shots. Maggie bit her lip. The back doors of every news van flung open and cameramen scrambled out to get their shots before I went back inside. I ignored them all, except for Maggie.
“Step inside?” I said.
“Really?” she said. “You’ll talk?”
“Come on,” I replied, reaching down for the two newspapers on the front porch. Maggie looked at her photographer, then at me. I shook my head: No, he was not invited. She took the first step and peered quickly over her shoulder at the TV reporters running across the street. Cooper watched through the front window, growling softly. Maggie walked past me and I closed the door behind us, ignoring the self-styled investigative TV reporter who barked out my name.
I tossed the papers on the couch next to Cooper and lowered the blinds again. “You want coffee?” I said, walking towards the kitchen. She took it with sugar and milk. I motioned for her to sit on the couch, in the spot Lloyd had sat hours before. I assumed my position in the rocking chair.
“You’re a hard man to reach,” she said.
“Why should I be easy for an Examiner reporter to reach?” I asked. “I’m not newsworthy, Maggie. You know it.”
“I disagree,” she said. “As do my sources.”
“You should have waited until you spoke to me,” I said. “Now you’re no better than them outside, TV personalities reading scripts and citing unnamed sources.”
Maggie looked at the papers, still in their plastic sleeves. “Did you read my story online?” she said.
“No,” I said. “I haven’t read any of it, but I don’t have to. I know exactly what it says.”
She was confused, but she pushed on and started asking questions. “Is it true then?” she said. “What they’re all saying—are they right?”
She reached into her purse and pulled out a notebook.
“If you think any of this is on the record, you’re kidding yourself,” I said. “I’m talking to you as a friend.”
“Come on, Sam—what are we doing here?” she said. “I mean, thanks for the coffee, but this isn’t a social visit.”
“I’m not talking on the record,” I said. “If you don’t like it, you can leave.”
Maggie’s eyes narrowed. She stared at me as if trying to detect a trap. But I wasn’t deceiving her in any way. Finally, she shrugged. As I looked at her, I could see the thoughts forming in her mind: ’What the hell. Beats being in the newsroom.’
She leaned back and took a sip of coffee.
“That’s one reason I’ve always liked you,” I said. “We think alike. I mean, this truly does beat being in the newsroom, doesn’t it?”
She lowered her mug and stared at me. “What did you say?”
I ignored the question. “This will all go away,” I said. “It might be news today, but in a few days, no one will remember it. Not even you.”
Maggie did not respond. ’Is he crazy?’ she thought. ’We’re not going to let this drop. If he thinks we’re going to lose interest, he’s wrong.’
“I never said you’d lose interest,” I said, causing the blood to drain from her face. “I only said that this will go away. People will stop caring and you and your editors will forget it ever happened. The next time we see each other, if that time comes, you won’t even realize that any of this took place.”
“Sam, listen to me,” she said, recovering quickly. “I like you. I’ve always enjoyed competing with you.”
“Likewise,” I said.
“So I’ll be honest with you: This is not going away,” she said. “You must know that. I have a bunch of cops telling me that they think you were somehow involved in the attempted assassination of the mayor, and possibly even the plane crashes. Nobody is going on the record yet, but the chief acknowledged that you provided crucial information. Combine that with all the stories—I mean, come on. Explain how you can always be right there, day after day, without prior knowledge? Convince me, Sam. Because there’s no other way to explain it.”
I sipped from my coffee while Maggie waited for me to say something.
“I’m not worried,” I said. “I did nothing wrong, and this will pass far quicker than you can imagine.”
She sighed. “Fine. Play it your way. But as a friend and a colleague, I’m telling you, this is a story and it’s not going away. If you talk to me, I’ll be fair, despite what my editors will want me to write. You know I will be.”
“I do,” I said. “But there are things going on that you can’t comprehend. Until last night, I couldn’t either. Now, I’m starting to see. This sideshow outside? This is the least of my concerns.”
Maggie leaned back against the couch cushions and shook her head.
’He’s lost it,’ she thought. ’And he’s underestimating me. I’m going to find out what’s going on.’
I smiled at her. “How’s your coffee?” I asked.
After Maggie left to rejoin the others outside, I called Pacy from the land line.
“How’d you sleep?” I asked.
“Not great,” she said, stifling a yawn. “Weird dreams.”
“I’m not surprised,” I said “I’m not giving you reason to sleep peacefully.”
She laughed. Good, I thought. I haven’t lost her yet. Not completely.
“Listen, Pacy, there are some things I need to talk to you about.”
“Something is happening,” I said. “I’m only now beginning to understand. It’s going to be hard to explain and I can’t do it just yet. I need a little more time. Until then, you need to know something: I’m not crazy. At least, I don’t think I am. What I mean is, what’s happening is actually happening, it’s not just in my mind. I’m still me. I’m still Sam and I still love you and that won’t change.”
I closed my eyes, focused and saw her: She was sitting on TJ’s couch. Her legs were tucked up under her body. A blanket was wrapped around her shoulders. She held the phone to her ear with one hand, and pressed the other hand to her forehead.
“I believe you,” she said.
“Good,” I said. “I’ll explain everything soon, I promise. But there are some things I need to do first. Do me a favor and stay with TJ for now. I don’t want you to be alone. OK?”
“OK,” she said after a long pause.
“I’ll let you go now. Remember, Pacy, I love you. That won’t ever change.”
She did not reply. I didn’t blame her.
“All right, I’ll talk to you later,” I said.
“Wait,” Pacy said. “Sam?”
“I’m still here,” I said.
She paused. I closed my eyes and again saw her, searching for the words, tears beginning to frame her face.
“I love you, too,” she said finally. “I don’t know what’s going on or what’s going to happen, but I do still love you. I would never trade my life with you for anything, no matter how crazy it gets. You hear me?”
“I hear you, Pace,” I said. “Thank you.”
I hung up the phone.
After my second cup of coffee and a quick shower, I threw some essentials into a backpack: cell phone, notebook, pens, bottle of water and a bowl to pour water in for Cooper. I walked to the front door and Cooper followed. I looked down at him and he looked back.
“My first test,” I said. He wagged his tail in response.
Maggie and the TV news crews were still outside. I closed my eyes and saw them. Maggie was flipping through her notebook, wishing she could use quotes from our conversation for her next-day story. The overweight photographer was sitting on the curb, sweating and wishing he were old enough to retire. Across the street, the investigative reporter eyed Maggie jealously, then began crafting in his mind what his ‘sources’ might tell him before his 5 o’clock live shot. I was surprised by how easily I could see their thoughts with only minimal focus.
“Well, cross that off the list,” I said to Cooper. “This next one, though … this is going to take some luck.”
Again, I closed my eyes. I focused. I assured myself that I could do this, that I could open the door, walk outside and not be seen—that this was an ability I now possessed, even if I didn’t yet know how to use it. Just focus, I told myself. Then walk outside and don’t let them see you.
I opened the front door and stepped onto the porch. Cooper stayed close to my left side. I closed the door and paused, my back to the street. My eyes were shut as I slowly turned around, focusing every bit of energy on not being seen.
I counted to ten, then opened my eyes.
A mass of reporters stood in a huddle in front of me on the sidewalk, all of them staring at me and wondering what I was doing.
“Shit,” I said.
I opened the door and walked back inside.
“Well, that didn’t work,” I said to Cooper.
Again, I focused my thoughts. I told myself what would happen next, that I would walk outside and nobody would see me. I tried to convince myself that I could actually do this, just as Lloyd could, just as he did in front of the City/County Building that day when he handed me a hundred-dollar bill without revealing himself to Detective Santoni. Several minutes passed before I was ready to try again.
I opened the door and rushed back outside, jumping out onto the porch and focusing all of my thoughts on invisibility. Every muscle in my body was clenched as I tried to will it to happen. I can do this, I told myself. And I will.
“Sam, what the hell are you doing?”
It was Maggie’s voice. She could still see me. So could the old photographer and all of the TV news crews. I opened my eyes, and there they still were, looking up at me quizzically, wondering as Maggie did, just what in the hell I was doing.
I sighed and walked back inside. Maybe I should just sneak out the back, I thought. Maybe I’m not ready for this.
No. I had to figure it out. This was the first step of many. I had to overcome this obstacle.
I sat on the couch and waited for the reporters to disband and move back to their original posts. As I sat there, it occurred to me that I was going about this task the wrong way. I thought back to my days playing baseball. I recalled the time I hit a homerun, how I’d known it would happen in advance and how knowing made it seem effortless. That was the strange thing about baseball: The harder you try, the harder the game becomes. Only when you relax and let the game come to you is execution possible. Stop trying, I told myself, and just do it. You know you can. So start believing and execute.
For a third time, I opened the front door, this time completely relaxed. I stepped outside and waited.
I stepped carefully down the stairs until I was standing right next to the old photographer. He did not notice me. A couple more steps and I was less than two feet from Maggie. Her eyes were buried in her notebook. I was standing on a sidewalk next to a group of reporters all trying to see me and they could not.
I smiled, feeling superior and amused.
Then the old Examiner photographer turned his head and looked in my direction. I beamed at him, confident in my invisibility. But he raised his camera and started shooting. “How did you get out here?” he said loudly.
My focus, it seemed, was not yet what it should be.
But this time, I did not panic. I breathed in deeply and relaxed. The photographer took a series of photos, then stopped just as Maggie turned her head. She looked in my direction, but stared through me. The bewildered photographer lowered his camera.
“He was right there,” he said to Maggie. “I swear it, he was right there next to you with his dog.”
Maggie looked at the empty sidewalk, then at the photographer. “You feeling OK?” she said. The photographer looked down at his camera and scrolled through the photos he had taken. Images of an empty sidewalk appeared. He shook his head.
I looked down at Cooper and he grinned back up at me. We walked to the corner, then stopped and turned around. A team of professional observers stood with their backs to me, facing an empty house, waiting for something to happen. I watched them for several seconds, then turned and walked off the hill.