Suspicious Character

Based on a true story...

Shaking his head, Elad Nottis clicked off the television in the bedroom. A murder? Here in Riverview? He pulled a white handkerchief from his shirt pocket and wiped his face, as if that would somehow erase the incident, then he tucked it back in place and padded into the living room in his stocking feet, searching for his wife.

“Martha?”  

No one was there. Wandering down the hall, he peeked into the guest bedroom, then the den, but his wife wasn’t anywhere. Just as panic started setting in, he followed a splashing sound into the kitchen, where she washed vegetables.    

“Martha! I thought you’d vanished.”

“What? Why on earth would I do that?”

He rubbed his chin, hesitating. “I guess I’m a little on edge because of the distressing news I just heard.”

“What news?” Drying her hands on a dishtowel, she turned from the sink, furrowed brows on her round face. “What happened, Elad?”

“I hate to tell you this, but a murder has been committed in our town, and the suspect is still at large.”

The woman shuddered, loose brown curls bouncing about her shoulders.  “Oh, I heard—it’s so terrible! Harriet McCall just told me about it at the market. It’s all anyone is talking about.”

Elad moved closer. “I hope our little community’s not panicking.”

“I’m afraid it is. I heard some people say they won’t even go outside againuntil the murderer is caught, and I’m beginning to feel the same way.”

“I hate to think about what’s happening to our society. We’ll have to be extra careful right now, and let’s pay close attention to anyone who’s unfamiliar.”              

“We certainly will.” Martha picked up the sprayer and continued working.

Elad watched for a few moments. “Are those fresh vegetables?”

“Yes. Aren’t they beautiful? I just bought them. Do you want to take some to the Mercks?”

He gave his wife a blank stare. “Who are the Mercks?”

“They’re new in town. They live four blocks over in the Wilsons’ old house. You know, on Sycamore Street.”

“Ah, yes. I remember when they moved in. They seem like a nice couple.”

Martha shook moisture from a squash. “Everyone seems to think so.”

“I’ll be glad to carry some vegetables over. That’ll be a good way to greet them. And it’s such a nice afternoon, I’ll walk instead of driving.”

The woman whirled around to face him, water dripping from her hands. “No—please don’t, Elad! It’s too dangerous!”

“Don’t worry. It’s only four blocks. I don’t think anything’s going to happen between here and there. Besides, it’s a safe neighborhood.”

“It was a safe neighborhood—and a safe town. But not right now.”

Elad patted his pants pocket to be sure his wallet was there. “All right, Martha. If it worries you that much, I’ll drive.”

She let out a long breath. “Good. I’ll put some cucumbers and squash in a bag for you. But please be careful. A murderer’s out there, somewhere.”

“Of course.” Elad wandered into the den and slid on his brown loafers before reaching up to retrieve keys from a wooden plaque, but they weren’t there. Going to the hall closet, he checked the pockets of the last jacket he’d worn. Nothing. Returning to the kitchen, he found a bulging brown paper bag on the counter. He started to ask his wife if she knew where his keys were, but the roar of the vacuum cleaner reached his ears.

“I don’t want to bother her,” Elad decided. “I’ll be back before she misses me.” He grabbed the bag and started out the door, smiling at the warm, spring sunshine and the clear sky. “A perfect Saturday for a stroll,” he said to himself, noting the faint scent of honeysuckle and the sweet music several birds produced nearby. Sauntering along in his usual black pants and white shirt, he wondered why so many people thought he looked like a cross between Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble.

Unable to figure it out, the short, stocky man pushed dark hair away from his forehead, glancing from side to side as he remembered the murderer. He—or she—could be just around the corner. Just as Elad managed to vanquish his negative thoughts, a beaten-up, gray sedan seemed to come out of nowhere,

cruising alongside him. He moved a little faster but, as his pace increased, so did the car’s. He slowed down, but the driver stayed with him. Elad sped up again, and the car did the same. On impulse, he turned on his heel and headed in the opposite direction, as fast as his stubby legs would allow. How far he went, he wasn’t sure, but when he stopped, the car was nowhere in sight.

Elad’s pulse beat in his ears and his palms were so clammy, he could barely grip the sack of vegetables. He no longer heard the birds, and a cloud appeared on the horizon. Shaky after the frightening experience, he looked around for a place to sit down, eventually spotting a stone bench under an oak tree. Assuming it was for weary hikers, Elad set the bag on one end and practically collapsed onto the other, placing his face in his hands. He’d had a terrible scare. Was the driver the murderer? Was he trying to kill him?

Peeking through his fingers to make sure no one was around, Elad relaxed in the shade while catching his breath, his blood pressure finally lowering. It was several minutes before he felt better, then he reproved himself.  “What a silly person I am for letting that car spook me. It’s just an ordinary day, and I’m performing the simple task of delivering vegetables to some new neighbors. Besides, the killer might have skipped town by now…or maybe the police have caught him—or her.” This logic gave him some peace, and he again pulled out his handkerchief to wipe his brow. Standing with resolve, Elad turned in every direction. Which way had he come from? Where was he now? And how would he get to the Merck’s house?... How would he get to his house?

“Okay, don’t panic, Elad.” He surveyed the area. “I didn’t make any turns, so I must have come from the left or the right.” He studied the street for another

minute. “The right—definitely. And if I stop talking to myself, I’ll be okay.”

Feeling in control again, he grabbed the sack and ambled along, enjoying the sun on his face and the aroma of a nearby rose garden. The varying architecture of the old houses he passed had always intrigued him, and he dreamed of buying a Victorian home someday. His modest brick house had so little character.  

A police car cruised by, and Elad wondered if they were just patrolling the neighborhood or if they were looking for….No. He wouldn’t let his mind go there again. He refused to let some criminal steal this time from him. He held his head high, walked briskly, and told himself all was well in his world.

As he neared Sycamore Street, a tall man dressed in black closed the door of a garage and strutted toward him, stuffing his hands into the front pockets of his jeans. Something about him seemed suspicious to Elad, and he took deep breaths, trying to keep a steady pace as his fears returned and the man drew closer.

 When their paths met, the stranger shuffled to a stop right in front of Elad, causing him to do the same. “Afternoon,” the man said in a gravelly voice. “Nice day for a walk.”

“Y-yes,” Elad managed to say, hoping the patrol car would come back around.

“Have you seen or heard anything unusual lately?”

“No—not really. It’s just an ordinary day.” New beads of sweat formed on Elad’s forehead.

“Well, let’s just hope it stays that way.” The man pulled his right hand from his pocket, causing Elad to wince. Holding a toothpick, the stranger placed it between his shark-like teeth. “Be careful out there. It’s dangerous with a killer on the loose. We wouldn’t want anyone else to get hurt.”

He gave a short wave—almost a salute—and crossed the street before disappearing behind a green bungalow.

Elad’s mouth went dry, and his entire system switched to high gear.The killer—I just saw the killer! He could’ve killed me!

Frantic, he forced his jelly-like legs to take him in the direction of home. He couldn’t get there soon enough. Why didn’t he listen to his wife and drive?

He hadn’t gone far when he heard a car backfire—or was it gunshots?!

He turned in every direction right before a motorcycle rounded a bend and zoomed down the street. Elad blew out his breath and took control of his thoughts. A motorbike! Of course, that’s all it was. But it’s awfully fast. Wait for a second—  it’s veering toward me. It’s coming closer!

He picked up his stride, soon breaking into a run, but the motorcycle bore down on him with a deafening growl. Then, without warning, the rider drove onto the sidewalk, coming up behind Elad!

Now in an all-out sprint, Elad hurried onto the grass as the bike caught up with him. A brown leather arm reached out, and a gloved hand grabbed at the paper bag Elad still held onto. The hand missed, however, and the motorcycle sped away, finally turning down another road.

Coming upon a street sign as he slowed, Elad leaned against the pole, gasping for air. If he’d known that’s all the person wanted, he would’ve gladly given him the vegetables. Or maybe the man was trying to grab him!

Hanging onto the pole until he could breathe normally, he’d forgotten all about the Mercks until he glanced up at the sign. He was on a corner of Sycamore Street. “How did I end up here? Anyway, I might as well drop these off.”

Wandering down the road, Elad stopped in the center of the block,  staring at three houses. He couldn’t remember whether the Mercks lived in the white house or the yellow one—or was it the beige one? He stood in front of the structures until a large blue automobile pulled into the next driveway.

“Excuse me,” he called to a middle-aged woman as she disembarked.  “Do you know where the Mercks live?”

She stared at him in alarm. “No!” she snapped, grabbing her purse from the front seat and slamming the car door before dashing into the beige house.

Elad shrugged. “I guess she doesn’t know her neighbors.”

The little man studied the other two houses a few moments longer, without any clue of which belonged to the Mercks. No one appeared to be in either, anyway. He started on his way home, hoping he wouldn’t run into anyone else. After he’d gone a block or two, a police car pulled up beside him, and the window lowered. “Need a ride?” the officer called.

Still reeling from his encounters, Elad felt grateful. “You don’t know how much.” He opened the door and slid onto the front seat, wondering if the policeman would believe his story. “I know this might sound strange, officer, but I think I spoke to the murderer a little while ago…or maybe it was the person in the gray car...or the motorcyclist... ”

The man’s eyebrows lifted, and he seemed slightly amused. “You don’t say?”

They reached an intersection, and another patrol car slowed to a stop, causing Elad to ask, “Is there some kind of trouble?”

The officer signaled to the man in the other car, and it drove on. “Yeah— it’s you.”

Alarm spread through Elad’s chest. “Me?! What do you mean?”

“We received a call concerning a suspicious character wandering around the neighborhood. People are nervous, with the murder and all.”            

Elad’s heart beat faster. “No—it’s not me—I saw the murderer! He approached me and talked to me. I just knew he was going to kill me!”

The policeman smirked. “And what, exactly, does this killer look like?”

“He’s pretty scary. Tall, dressed in black, and he has a raspy voice.”

The officer nodded to the left. “Does he look anything like the guy coming up the hill?”

Elad jerked his head in that direction. “That’s him! It’s—it’s the killer!”

The man reached the vehicle and opened the back door, dropping onto the seat. Before Elad could recover enough to utter a sound, the suspect pulled a gun from his jacket!

“Hold on,” the policeman said as Elad’s faculties seemed to shut down.  “Is that really necessary?”

“You tell me, Olson. Have you questioned him yet?”

Elad’s eyes darted from one person to the other. “Wh-what’s going on?”

“Adams is an undercover cop searching the neighborhood for our murderer,  in case he comes through here.”

“In case?” The man in black trained his gun on Elad. “I’d say he’s already here.”

Elad felt faint. This couldn’t be happening.

“Hands up!” Adams ordered. He gestured his weapon toward the brown sack. “What do you have in there?”

“N-nothing. Just some vegetables.”

Adams cocked his gun. “A likely story. How do I know it’s not a bomb? Now, slowly reach down and open the bag with one hand.”

Elad obeyed, holding up the sack so both officers could see the squash and cucumbers, but Adams still wasn’t convinced. “That could be a cover-up. Why were you so nervous when I talked to you earlier?”

“When you came out of that garage, I thought you were the murderer.  I didn’t know what you might do.”

Sitting back, the man lowered his weapon. “Well, I guess I do have a menacing look today.”

“I told him he was gonna scare the residents half to death,” Olson said good-naturedly.

“You seem like an okay fellow,” Adams said to Elad. “But just to be sure, how about a license check? What’s your name, by the way?”

Elad started breathing again. “Elad Nottis.”

Olson grinned. “You seem safe enough to me. I assume you don’t have your license with you, since you’re walking?”

“Actually, I do. I was going to drive.” He pulled it from his wallet.

Olson radioed the information to headquarters while Elad clenched and unclenched his hands. “He’s clean,” a tinny voice uttered a minute later.

Elad’s body decompressed as Adams opened his door to leave. “Sorry for the inconvenience, sir. I was told to call in about anyone who seemed a little off since there was some concern in this area.”

“That’s okay.” Elad tried to smile. “I’ve always been told I’m a little off.”

Chuckling, the man in black gave another salute wave and hopped out of the car, leaving Elad feeling somewhat dejected. He said to Olson, “I know I’m odd, but I’d never thought of myself as suspicious.”

He laughed. “Don’t worry about it. If it helps, I knew you were okay the moment I spotted you, but I had to follow through with my orders.”

“That makes me feel better. I was trying to find a new family in the neighborhood, but I couldn’t locate their house.” He held up the paper bag.“Do you want these vegetables? They’re fresh—my wife just bought them.”

The policeman laughed. “I thought you were doing something innocent like that. Sure. My wife will be thrilled.”

They continued down the road, with Elad giving Olson directions to his house. When they arrived, the officer received a phone call. “Yes sir?...Thank you for letting me know.” Hanging up, he said, “Good news. The murder suspect has been apprehended in the next town.” Olson glanced at the house. “I’ve been here before—this is a parsonage. You’re not a preacher, are you?”

“Actually, I am,” Elad said before hopping out. “Thanks for the ride, andhave a nice day.”

“I will. Especially after I tell the guys at the station that our ‘suspicious character’ just happens to be the minister of the largest church in town.”

Elad climbed the steps to his front door and started inside. “Honey, you’ll never believe what happened... ”

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