The old man held up a finger, looked at it curiously, licked it and held it up higher into the breeze. Turning it this way and that while letting his gaze wander aimlessly he said, “The wind is coming from the South. Which means suspiciously,” he paused, as if gathering his thoughts, “that the wind is coming from the South.” I took a slow, deep breath and sighed. The old man pointed at my face and said, “I used to do that.”
“Do what?” I asked.
“Breath. I used to breath. Don’t do it anymore. No use for it.”
Unfortunately, the man had been saying things like that since I sat down on the bench next to him an hour ago. Nonsensical things to me, but to him they seemed as natural as the bulbous nose on his lined and careworn face. He stared at me.
“What?” I asked.
“I didn’t say anything.”
“But you were thinking something,” I said.
“Maybe. Maybe not.” Again his eyes wandered without lighting on anything in particular. “Why are you here?” he asked.
“Just passing through. The last job I had didn’t last too long and I thought I’d see what was up the coast. So here I am.”
“So it seems,” he said, “but it seems as if things are not as they seem. It seems, as if the seams are coming apart at their seams.” He stood suddenly and said, “Come with me.”
I stayed on the bench and asked, “Where are you going?”
He took a few steps and said, “Come with me NOW!”
The urgency and volume of his voice caused me to jump up. I took three long steps toward him and the building behind the bench where we had been sitting exploded. The sound was deafening. Glass, wood and metal wrapped in a fire ball sprayed out into the street behind us taking the park bench with it. Black smoke poured from the massive hole that seconds earlier had been the store front. The force of the blast had knocked me to my knees but next to me the old man stood as if unaffected. I got slowly to my feet and looked back at the devastation. “Don’t look back,” he said. “You don’t want to see that.” Suddenly a man staggered from the store front. Where his face had been was now a mass of blood and gore. His clothes were on fire as he fell to the sidewalk. I started to move toward him but the old man grabbed my arm.
“Shouldn’t we help him?” I asked.
“You can’t help him,” the old man said. Something in his voice made me understand that he was right.
“What the hell just happened? How did you… how did you know?”
“Things are not as they seem,” he said.
I followed him as he turned the corner. We walked up the street and turned into the alley that led behind the store that moments before had become a smoking ruin. As we approached the back of the store the old man stopped. “Stay here a moment,” he said. “Watch carefully.” As we waited, a man came out the back door of the store. The explosion hadn’t done much damage here. The man held a satchel of some kind under his arm and as he ran for his car he looked right at me. He was about fourtyish with dark brown hair. He had a full beard and a pierced left earlobe that held a small ruby red stone. He wore jeans with black shoes and a pale yellow polo shirt. He didn’t seem to notice the old man standing right next to me. Yellow polo jumped into a late model silver Impala and drove off.
I turned to the old man who was trying to dig something out from under his fingernail. “You don’t seem too surprised by any of this,” I said. “Just what the hell is going on here? It’s like you knew this was going to happen.”
“I did,” he said, licking his finger and once again holding it up to the breeze. “Ahhh just as I thought, the wind has changed. Come with me.”
“Wait a minute! I want to know what the hell is going on here. How could you know this was going to happen? And if you did know, why didn’t you do something about it instead of sitting on that damn bench. Oh and by the way, thanks for moving me out of the way of the blast but WHAT THE HELL?!”
“Come with me,” the old man said. “There is more for you to see.” I stayed where I was as the old man walked up the alley. When he got to the street he stopped and looked back at me. “Well, are you coming?” he asked. “There is more to see after all.”