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The wintry-mix thermostat dropped to below freezing according to the insurance agency’s neon sign when I stopped at the grocery store to pick-up a few things on the way home from Father Joe’s class. This was not my usual place to scan my debit card but it was better than driving five-miles out of the way on icy-slick roads to oblige tradition. The unyielding white snow veiled the earth. The sledge trucks were scheduled to violate Mother Nature’s forecast later on in the evening.
Entering through the automated doors, the store resembled Walt Disney’s theme parks on a summer day, wall-to-wall people. I knew there would be a herd of consumers to purchase milk and bread at the drop of a flake but I didn’t think it would be a rerun of Black Friday.
Racing down the aisles, relishing the thoughts of my toasty-warm bed, I choose the necessary staples to get me through the storm. Mother Hubbard’s cupboards were bare. Approaching the registers - do they really contain bills and coin - I was greeted by more demographics. Honing in on the Express Lane, the ten items or less line, optimistically I believed I would get out quicker. Most of the patrons were holding a few items not a cartful of meat, produce, dairy, frozen, boxed, bakery, and canned selections. The regulars were patiently waiting, looped down the cereal corridor.
Bored out of my gourd, I entertained myself by critiquing the boxes of puffs, circles, and squares. Moving on, I began to scrutinize the grocery shoppers. The guy standing ahead of me was indubitably homeless. I think he bathed in a six-pack of beer, forgot to shave for two weeks, and he’s wearing the same jeans from high school. Probably the same underwear, if he’s wearing underwear. I would venture to say he was in his late thirties and athletically fit. He touted good looks. Subtracting the vagabond persona, it dropped his physical appearance rating to a nine, ten being the highest on my scorecard.
Our eyes flirted for a second and then clashed. Apparently, he enjoyed the same sport, people watching. I gave a compliant head nod coupled with an impromptu smirk trying to discourage conversation. I’m not a fan of chatty Cathy or dialogue Dan. Don’t you dare intrude on my personal space, unless I give you written or verbal permission. I displayed numerous do not enter signals and positioned my yellow-blinking caution lights.
My mind left the current GPS, took a left onto Should’ve Done This Drive and with Christmas approaching, I was back on Secret Santa Way. Hearing a voice and a gentle tap on my left shoulder, I glared at the character standing in front of me. His articulation alienated his roots from the Deep South relocating him to a more northern climate.
“Sorry to bother you, but you dropped this on the floor.”
The disheveled man took the box of decaffeinated tea; the homeopathic remedy prescribed for insomniacs, and tossed it into my red-plastic bucket.
Inquiring, while staring into my face, “Do you really like decaffeinated tea? Me, I like the leaded kind and coffee, the darker the better. Did you know Earl Grey is a black tea that is flavored by citrus, originally from the bergamot oranges from Calabria, Italy? They extract oil from the orange rind to give the tea flavor and aroma. Earl Grey was a Prime Minister in England around the 1830s. There’s a story about a drowning son of a Chinese Mandarin who was saved by one of Grey’s men. Earl got a delivery of this special tea.”
See why I don’t like to talk to people. Although, he was quite pleasant for a down-and-out bystander, my sonar detector was bleeping. Why is he conversing with me? I surrounded myself with no trespassing signs, again. The guy did have passionate brown eyes. His teeth were very white. Where does a vagrant floss and how does he routinely visit a dentist? No one has teeth that white, unless he or she gets their teeth cleaned twice a year.
Replying to his manifesto about the Earl Grey tea, “I prefer caffeinated but the doctor said no caffeine after dinner. The caffeine keeps me awake.”
The gatecrasher kept jabbering. “What did the doc say about the wine?” The man pointed to the vino. “Is that to make you happy - bad day at work?”
“No, the GP said four ounces would cure my bad dreams. Not to be argumentative - why do you even care? Are you writing a comic book?”
“Hey, I was just trying to be nice and make conversation with you. You looked bored.”
“I am and you aren’t making it any better. There are a million things I should be doing. Standing on line at Groceries R Us, talking to you is not my cup of Earl Grey tea. Do you mind?” Hopefully, he got my punch line. He didn’t.
“Me too - I’m heading back to work. This is friggin’ annoying. So, you’re having bad dreams?”
“Are you really asking me this? Didn’t you get my memo? Nice language.”
The jack-arse deliberately tilted his head, looking left and right. “Do you have a better choice? If you talk to the old lady behind you, she’ll tell you about her cats and ailments. She probably has pictures in her purse. You’re stuck with me. So, you’re having bad dreams?”
This guy doesn’t give up. “You don’t take no for an answer, do you?”
“Correct, and I could say the same about you.”
“Okay, if you really want to know, I’ve been having the same dream over and over. Now, I’m sleep deprived. I told the doctor I really didn’t want tranquilizers or sleeping pills. He gave me a sleeping pill. I figured; I’d lay-off the caffeine like he said and use the pills PRN.”
Listening, he blatantly opposed my doctor’s prescribed solutions. Shaking his head as he spoke, and using dogmatic verbs and nouns, “I can tell you this, the tea, wine, and pills won’t cure your night terrors. Your doctor is wrong. You will still have nightmares.”
This guy mashed my caustic and sarcastic buttons. “And how many years did you devote to medical school and science? Where did you hang your shingle - outside your tent?”
Holding up his hands, “You’re right, I’m not a doctor, never said I was. But did your physician tell you this; you have the sixth sense? But, you’re lacking the gift to intercede for the dead. For the most part, you discern and capiche your surroundings more than the average Joe. You see weird things. You’ve probably experienced strange things since you were a little kid.”
“I’m sorry but this topic, the supernatural, is not something I discuss with a total stranger. You need to step back and give me breathing room. Talk to someone else or keep quiet.”
“It’s just like you to think - you know it all. Yeah, the supernatural is totally unconventional but you need to hear what I have to say. The truth is we’re both gifted. I can see it in you. Your paranormal dial needs to be fine-tuned and then you will see and hear things more clearly. I guarantee you; the dead will be talking to you on the street. We all exist in the same world.”
“Mister, I don’t know who in the hell you think you are by talking to me about your satanic gibberish but I suggest you keep it to yourself. I don’t want to hear it.”
“You know I’m not talking about Satan. Be honest with yourself. Can’t we have a simple conversation? I know about your dream.”
“We had our conversation and I ended it. And, you don’t know me or my dream.”
“Yeah, I do. You like tea, wine, and candy. There are three bags of Atomic Fireballs in your basket. How do you eat them things? They’re hot as hell.”
“Fine, you said your peace. We talked, and yes, I like tea but I’m not a big fan of fermented grapes. I bought the wine, so I could sleep tonight.”
“You’ll drink wine if it’s sweet. The only reason you prefer beer, is you can get a buzz for less than a hundred calories.”
How does this deviant know this? Denying his frank and truthful comments, “You’re wrong.”
Snickering, “No, I don’t think so. You just don’t want to admit it to me. You and I, we’ve got this connection. You can’t feel our simpatico?”
“Look, I really don’t want an altercation with a drunk. I’ve had a long day and I am not in the mood to talk to you or anyone else. So, make friends with the skinny guy in front of you and leave me the hell alone.”
“Would you stop being stubborn and hear me out. I know you see ghosts. They don’t talk to you but they will. When they do, you will have to finish what they didn’t complete before they died. I’ve got the gift, too. That’s why I know you have it.
“Changing the subject, my gut feeling is telling me that something is going to happen to you. It will be soon. This dream is opening the door to your destiny.”
“Mister, you’re crazy. Do I have to make a scene? I don’t want you to say another word. One more syllable and I will complain to the manager. Actually, no - I will scream for the manager.”
“Lady, you’re being irrational. There’s a reason why you’re having nightmares. I can help you figure this out if you give me a chance. Something is going to take place and my guess; it will be tonight. Do you really think our bumping into each other at this supermarket is a coincidence?”
My voice raised an octave. “Okay, Mr. Know It All, enlighten me.”
I hate to admit it but I do feel like this scruffy jack-arse is my long-lost friend. I even have the urge to invite him home for dinner and discuss my sleep patterns. Where is this bizarre behavior coming from? He’d probably drink my entire bottle of wine. It’s a small, three-dollar bottle. My random mental exchange must be a direct result of sleep deprivation. I’m imagining this.
The man continued to divulge his intuition. “I can’t explain my years of experience in two seconds. I just know - something’s up. If you were smart, you’d tell me your dream; I can give you advice. Repeating the obvious, our meeting in this store during a snowstorm is no accident.”
My skeptical nature emerged. “I don’t know you from a sack of cats and my nightmare is a long story.”
He eyeballed the cashier and glanced back. “Looking at the lines, the computers must be down. We could be here for an hour.”
His brown eyes searched my face. “While we wait, tell me what has been going on. By the way, my name is Vinny. I know you think I’m homeless, but I’m not. I live a couple of blocks over on Mariner’s Point.”
I put the plastic basket on the floor and spoke as we politely shook hands, “Nice to meet you, Vinny.” My new acquaintance has such a warm smile but his words are gruff.
Holding a white bag, he pointed to himself. “Like I said, this isn’t me.”
Seeing a gold-band flash, “You’re married?”
Shaking his head, confirming my statement, “I am. My wife is in Mexico visiting her family.”
“Why aren’t you with her? It’s the holidays. You should be with your wife at Christmas. How could you pass up warm weather and beaches? What I’d give to be in Mexico.”
“I’m working a case.”
“Undercover police work?”
“You could say that. Weren’t you just at church, Father Joe’s class on Job?”
“I was. Were you there? I didn’t see you.”
“I got to the church late and sat in the back. I ducked out right before Father Joe wrapped it up. The poem was good and I’m not a poetry kind of guy. I got out of there because I didn’t want to make the other parishioners uncomfortable. This get-up doesn’t look too good. I know, I don’t smell too good, either. It’s all part of what I do.”
“Are you from New York?”
“Yeah, you can tell? Gee’s I’ve been here for years. I thought I lost most of my Brooklynese. I grew-up in Queens.”
“Lost it - are you kidding me? The more you talk, it’s a dead giveaway.”
“I hate to tell you this but I can hear Long Island in your words. Am I right? You just hide it more. I bet you lived in Florida. Florida always tones down New York accents.”
I couldn’t help but smile. “I’m very impressed. I’d invite you to my house for dinner but you’re married.”
Lifting up his bag, “This is dinner. I’m getting ready to go back to work.”
“So, you are undercover.” He ignored my comment.
“You don’t got a ring on. Not married?”
“Was married but after eighteen years, he found himself.”
“Your ex-husband was gay and came out of the closet?”
“Yeah, how did you know?”
“My last partner on the force was married and he broke-up with his wife. He loved her but more like a good friend or sister. I figured your ex was gay because you’ve got the works. There would be no reason for any man to leave you. Why did you wait eighteen years?”
“Long story and I don’t want to get into it. What do you mean by the ‘works’?”
“You’re cute. Moving on, tell me about the dream.”
“Are you sure you want to hear it?”
“Give me the guy version - condense it.”
“After all the running and hiding, I end up in this big building, in a room, and I’m afraid to open the door.”
Watching his expression, the left eyebrow elevated announcing a code-red.
“I knew it; it’s a bad dream, right? It’s a really bad dream.” I could feel my blood pressure rising.
Vinny weighed his words. “Here’s the thing, you’re looking at the dream all wrong. Forget about labeling the bad or good parts. There’s an underlying message.”
“No, there is only one way to interpret my dream. I need to open the door but I know something evil is on the other side waiting to kill me.”
“Let me guess, the door doesn’t have a knob. Sorry for using that word but I didn’t know what else to use. Not that I was gawking at you but you’re built.”
My pervert alarm went off. “Now, you’re scaring me. First, you’re right about the dream; there is no doorknob. Second, why did you have to ruin it by telling me I was built? Where did that come from? Are you hitting on me? I knew it; this whole concern scheme was a scam, so you could hit on me. And, you’re married.”
“Look, I’m not hitting on you and I’m not a pervert. What can I say; you’ve got it in the upper story. And, I won’t even ask if they’re real. You had your jacket off at church, and when you stood up it’s noticeable. I didn’t mean to upset you. My guess, the twins are real. If you don’t want people to look, don’t wear tight sweaters.”
“When a stranger starts making personal-intimate innuendos like that; yeah, you are a pervert. And, my sweater is not tight.”
Disgusted with his harassment and charade, I got off the line and walked toward the restrooms leaving the scene of the crime. I can’t believe the jack-arse said that. Feeling a hand on my shoulder, I clenched my fist and moved my feet to blast the miscreant into space.
“If you don’t get out of my way, I will scream for help. Men like you make me sick. I feel sorry for your wife. No wonder she left your sorry arse.”
“Look, I didn’t mean what I said. My mouth gets away from me and I have no manners. Not to cut you down, I’m married to a model. My wife, Maria, is gorgeous. The woman stops traffic. Last year Maria finally retired from doing swimsuit layouts for you-name-it magazine. I didn’t want her to do the photo shoots but she didn’t want my opinion. Again, I’m sorry; I didn’t mean any harm. I meant it to be a compliment. I said it wrong.”
“You need to take classes on how to talk to women. Do you and your wife get along? Considering she’s in Mexico, you must be the problem.”
“Why do you think I’m going to Father Joe’s class?”
“Have you gone to marriage counseling?”
“We’ve been there.”
“How many times did you cheat on Maria?”
“I deserve that. She’s paying me back. Ten years ago, we renewed our vows and I’ve been faithful. We’ve been married fifteen years.”
“Good for you. I think the computers are working. The line is starting to move. We’re done, here. Have a nice life.”
“Would you cut me some slack? Getting back to your dream, you are caught in a life and death situation. The problem is this; you can’t help yourself. That is why the doorknob is on the other side where you can’t get it. Only an intercessor, someone who has the gift can save you.
“Here is another issue; good or evil can come through that door. Whoever gets there first, will determine your soul’s destiny. Your life is being weighed in the balance. I get the feeling you initiated this predicament but it is blown out of proportion when an evil spirit enters into the picture. The dream is your reality unfolding in cinemascope and Big Ben is ticking.
“Just like Job, you’re going to experience your own trial-by-fire. It will be a spiritual battle between good and evil. If you win, you’ll receive the gift to intercede for the dead, an intercessor. If you lose, your soul will be consumed by fire.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Yeah, you do. The wheels are in motion and you can’t stop this. Everything will shortly come to pass.”
Pulling a card from his pocket, “Call me if you want to talk some more. Right now, you’re leery and don’t trust me. If you call, we can discuss other details of the dream and you can tell me what you’re wearing.”
“Are you being disgusting, again?”
“Damn it, I’m talking about the friggin’ dream. It’s a legitimate question.”
“Sorry, I jumped to conclusions. Watch your language.”
“Forgiven, but you need to cut that out. No second guessing and I said friggin’.”
“I’m in a loose fitting robe and it’s still the F-word.”
“I know; it’s a hospital gown. I’ll try to be perfect like you.”
“Come to think of it, it is a hospital gown. Does that mean I’m going to get sick?”
“Worse than that; you’re waiting for judgment behind that door.”
Reading his business card, “This says you’re a licensed private investigator.”
“Yeah, I’m a private investigator who subcontracts with agencies but I also investigate strange occurrences. The bumps in the night are usually rats mating in the attic or a bad heating system.”
“I can call this number?”
“Ah yeah, that’s why I gave you my card. If you don’t get me, leave a message and I’ll call you back. Will your boyfriend be okay if I call you? Does he check your phone? If he does, tell him about me. Be proactive, so there are no arguments. And, I don’t text.”
“Why do you think I have a boyfriend?”
“A pretty woman like you couldn’t be alone. You have a boyfriend.”
“Yes, I have a boyfriend.”
“You don’t sound happy about it.”
“I’m very happy. He’s a good man; kind and caring.”
“Well, he’s lucky to have you. Call me if you have any questions. I’ll teach you Supernatural 101. You can teach me Manners 101. Is it a deal?”
“By golly Vinny, it’s a deal.” Jokingly, we shook hands, again.
“Barbara, this isn’t the store you normally shop at, is it?”
“How did you know my name?”
“Father Joe said your name in class. Seriously, call me. We need to figure out a plan.”
Vinny did a one-eighty. “The check-out line is empty.”
We cruised to the Express Lane. I let Vinny go first, and the gal rang-up his order. My friend reached for his wallet.
Leaning over the counter, “This is stupid. I think I left my wallet on the dresser. Sorry to put you through all this trouble - I can’t pay.”
The young woman had no empathy for her customer’s embarrassment. “Ya want me to put it back or do you want me to give it to you for free? You homeless people are all alike. This is a store and we’re here to make a profit. Stay here while I call for the manager.”
“Really, I forgot my wallet.”
Using the loudspeaker, “Will the manager from Deli come to Express-Check. I have a customer charge-off.”
By now, ten people were waiting on line. Curtailing the gal from exploiting Vinny’s financial deficit, “Miss, I got it.”
Swiping my card, “Vinny, you bought me lunch last week; I owe you.” The debit went through.
The cashier got back on the horn. “Cancel Deli.”
Vinny smiled. “Thanks, and call me when you get home. I’ll take you and your boyfriend to dinner next week, your choice of restaurant. Maria might be back.”
“Okay, I’ll call.”
Grabbing his bag off the counter, he swung around and gave me a peck on my cheek.
“Just a friendly kiss; don’t read anything into it.”
Addressing the clerk, Vinny scolded the shrew. “You can take lessons from that woman on how to be nice. She’s got the Christmas spirit.”
Putting his hand to his heart, “It’s all about what you do with this.”
The young girl had no idea, totally confused by Vinny’s reprimand and the foofaraw she made of his forgetfulness.