The Stranger
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 by Laramie Boyd
2013 Spectator Ron - The Spectator All Rights Reserved
        I barely heard the faint tapping on the front door. Three times, a pause, then one more tap. Surely that was some kind of signal, some way of letting someone on the inside know who's on the outside. Again, tap, tap, tap, a final pause, a final tap.
        The truth is, I had never made any plan with any person as to how to identify who is at the door if they were being secretive about their visit. My way of life had no need to mask who might be stopping by. So the tapper must be at the wrong address, or the wrong number on the wrong street, in the wrong town maybe. At least one of these three options seemed plausible. Maybe a boy delivering pizza copying a signal he had seen used in the movies many times. Maybe someone selling something or asking for a donation to something. Maybe some drunk who couldn't find his way home who needs someone to call for a cab.
        It wasn't long before my mind was getting hazy thinking of all the many possibilities it might be, and besides, I was alone in the house. I thought of a way to relieve some of my concern. So I snuck over to a den window, opened the blinds very slightly, and peeked outside. Would I see a "hoodie", a man, a woman, a policeman, a neighbor, or had I imagined the whole scene from tap to peek?
        No, there was someone at the door all right. But in the dark I couldn't recognize who it was. A roughly 5' 10", 180 lb, dark haired man wearing dark trousers and a Levi jacket, who was just lifting up his right arm to tap again, then stopped in mid air when I called out loudly, "Who is it?" from inside the den. No answer came. In fact the caller never flinched. Never looked around, never moved a muscle. He just kept his head turned towards the front door. Then all of a sudden he crumpled and fell on the concrete entry porch and didn't move. I couldn't imagine who this mysterious stranger was, what he wanted, or what made him collapse on my porch. I knew at this point that I was not about to open my door and try to find some answers, so I quickly called 911 so as not to take any chances. I stationed myself inside the den, closed the blinds tightly, turned the lights down low, locked the front door , and hoped that the stranger would disappear forever. The Police arrived 15minutes later.
        Finding the man gone when they arrived, the two officers who answered the 911 call searched the perimeter of the house, and finding nothing unusual, asked some predictable, seemingly routine questions. "Did you recognize the man? How did he behave? Can you describe him? Did you see anyone besides him? Would you like an officer to stick around for a while in case he shows up again?" I answered what I knew, but I said no to the offer of an armed guard. I figured the stranger had made his way elsewhere and would have no need to return, since he had probably seen the blinking lights of the patrol car in front of my house, and anyway I couldn't think of any reason the man would need to see me personally. It was, I believed, just a coincidence that he showed up on my front porch rather than the one next door. Besides, I had a revolver in my bedside desk drawer. And bullets close at hand.
         The officers filled out all the necessary forms, said they called in and issued an all points bulletin, and that they would be on the lookout for a man fitting the description I gave them. They said they felt confident the man couldn't be too far away, seeing as how he seemed to pass out on the steps and was no doubt too weak to travel far. So they left. I felt a little better knowing the authorities were aware of my situation, and so I returned to my bedroom to shower and hope to get a restful night's sleep after the disturbing events of the night. But when I walked through the bedroom door, there he was, his Levi jacket off, holding a blood soaked towel around his shoulder, sitting on the edge of my bed, a man I now knew was the man who was on my porch earlier. I froze, unable to speak or move, I felt so weak. But this man was no stranger, this was an old friend of my husband's. This was Ben. Ben looked up at me and said, "I'm not here to hurt you Jane, I just need some help."
        I was alone in my house because my husband, Richard, had been killed in a car accident a while back. I had a good job, and with no children to tend to, I was taking some time off from work to try to find some way of bearing up under the sadness and disappointment of losing the love of my life. Richard and I had been going together since we were in the 8th grade and all of our friends and relatives felt we were an ideal couple, meant for each other in every way. And I was having a hard time "moving on," as they say.
        Richard was a heavy equipment operator, tractors and bulldozers. In fact any kind of vehicle that was used in moving mountains, he could drive them. Richard had many friends. He was always optimistic. he liked his job, and he believed he had the best wife a man could ask for. And of course I felt the same way about him. And we told each other these feelings often. But Richard had one bad habit he sometimes couldn't control. He was a gambler. Horses, cards, lotteries, football pools at work, you name it, he was betting on it. He never shortchanged me on the necessities, but any money "left over" he would often "invest" in some scheme that had very poor odds of paying off. And some of the people he came into contact with also liked to spend their extra money on things that others might call risky. And that's how he met Ben.
        Ben was a truck driver. And on any job where Richard was moving dirt, Ben and his truck were used to haul it away. So the two of them became acquainted and eventually close friends. And Ben liked the ponies and cards. Richard and Ben spent many Saturdays at the race track and in poker clubs trying to seduce lady luck. Seldom, as all gamblers will attest to, did this succeed. And one night at a card game, Richard got in over his head. He bet when he should have folded, was called, and lost the hand. But he couldn't cover the bet, and the pot winner got furious, and called him out, threatening Ben and even me, and if Ben hadn't stepped in and paid the money Richard lost, Ben would have been in serious physical and financial trouble. So Richard owed a debt to Ben, and swore to him that he would repay the debt with interest. But that night, a rainy night, on the way home, Richard lost control of his car, careened over an embankment, rolled over twice, and was thrown from the car to his death.
        Finally I got my composure and was able to speak. "Ben, what happened? I didn't recognize you on the porch. Why didn't you answer me when I asked who you were? Are you okay? Don't you need medical attention? Let me call a doctor."
        "Wait a minute, Jane. There's something I have to tell you. I have a bullet wound. If I go to a hospital they'll have to report it to the Police, and I don't want that. Do you know anyone who can fix me up without calling in the police?"
        "Ben, I don't know anybody like that. You've got to get some help. Let me take you to the emergency room at the hospital. That bleeding needs tending to. Is the bullet still in you? Let's get to the emergency room before you bleed to death. You've already passed out once, twice might be too much for you."
        Ben then told me about the night at the poker club when he covered a debt for Richard. I told him Richard had never mentioned it to me. "Is there any way I can repay that debt, Ben? But I don't know any doctors who would fix your wounds under cover, so to speak. Is there anything else I can do?"
         "I need a place to hide, Jane. The same people who threatened Richard have threatened me if I don't pay them some money I owe them. They're the ones who shot me. I barely got away from them in my car as it was. I think my wound will be okay, Jane, I just need to keep pressure on it where the bullet went in. Do you have any old towels I can use? I can feel it getting wet under my hand."
        "I know a place up where Richard and I used to vacation in the summer. It's a small cabin hidden well off the road. You're welcome to stay there for a while if you want, and there's usually nobody around and I could bring up some things you'll need if you tell me what they are."
        "It would sure help if you could let the police know that the stranger at your door was an old friend and there's no need to bother looking for him anymore."
        "Ben, would you let me take care of your debt to those gamblers you've been hanging around with? Was it a lot of money?" I went on, "I'm not rich, but I have a little cash I could let you have if you don't owe too much. Do you owe more than Richard did, Ben? You paid his way out of a debt. Can I pay your way out? I know Richard would think it was the right thing to do. He'll rest easier I know, Ben. Will you let me do that?" I told Ben that that was the least I could do for him, after what he did for Richard, so I paid off his gambling debt.
        And Ben didn't have to hide anymore, in the cabin or anywhere else. And the Police didn't need to look for a 5'10", 180 lb. man in dark trousers and a Levi jacket. And I felt better in my home at night all alone. But most of all I was glad that I was able to pay a debt of Richard's, a debt to an old friend, from the wife of an old friend, a debt that enabled Ben to get over his fears of the men he owed money to, and so he could have his wound tended to, and not hold any hard feelings for Richard. I missed Richard, the love of my life, but I was able to "move on" a little better without any misgivings about the stranger at my door.