by David Johnson
are you here?” I had been a gangly teenaged boy the last time
I had heard her ask me that question; that was also the last time I
had seen her, now nearly thirty-five years ago. Still, I knew it would
be the way Miss Alphie Hamilton would greet me this evening. It was
our ritual. Whenever she saw me, her first words would be “Why
are you here?” My responsibility in the ritual was to come up
with a different answer each time – a sufficient answer, she would
say. Sufficiently sassy to delight her, sufficiently clever to intrigue
her, or sufficiently veiled to invite her mind to probe mine. I had
spent the last five hours wondering how I would answer that question.
As I stepped into the concourse at Princepoint Regional Airport –
known affectionately to the locals as “Hooterville International”
– I spotted one reason that I was here. Standing just past security,
sporting a charcoal Armani suit and Gucci loafers, was Stuart Whitaker.
He was one of only two people who could have convinced me, on three
hours notice, to leave my family behind in Connecticut and get on a
plane to my hometown. The other was my mom, now retired with my dad
I hadn’t seen Stuart since he had been best man at my first wedding.
He was thirty years older now, but the years draped him gently. Our
friendship had not ended badly, but it hadn’t exactly ended well,
either. Still, we had a shared history that included my longstanding
inability to refuse almost any request he would make. All those years
hadn’t diluted my loyalty, but they had bred a mild sense of resentment
that Stuart had disrupted my life on Miss Alphie’s behalf.
Walking up the concourse, I wondered what would be the appropriate greeting.
I offered him my hand, but he grabbed me in a bear hug. I knew Stuart
was a lawyer, and that he was married with two grown children. I had
run into his parents the last time I was here, and they had brought
me up to date on him. I also knew something no one else knew about him.
And he knew that I knew it, too.
“Glad to see you, Daniel,” he whispered just before releasing
“Are you?” I asked. “I’d have thought I’d
be the last person on earth you’d ever want to lay eyes on again.”
A brooding look crossed his face. It was a look I knew well.
“That’s ancient history. Let sleeping dogs lie, man.”
“So lying dogs can sleep?” I asked with a mild sarcasm that
I didn’t really feel. Then I grinned and said, “I’m
happy to see you, too, Squirt,” recalling the nickname he hated.
“Don’t worry. I won’t let the cat out of your bag.”
His countenance lifting, he grabbed my carry on and said, “Let’s
get going. Miss Alphie will kill me if we are a minute past nine getting
you to her.”
“Is she dying?” I asked as we stepped into his black Lincoln
“You know how she’d answer that,” he retorted.
“None of us is getting out of this thing alive, boys,” I
mocked in her screechy voice. We shared a chuckle.
I knew there would be nothing gained by asking anything further about
Miss Alphie. Stuart was her lawyer. If he knew why she had summoned
me, he wasn’t going to say. That would come from her.
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