It was Sunday, September 10, 2017. I was working the closing shift when I greeted my next customer. “How are you tonight?” I asked cheerfully.
“Not too well,” he replied. He went on to explain that he was having relationship problems. I responded sympathetically. I hate when my customers are having a rough time so I try to comfort them the best that I’m able.
“It doesn’t matter,” he responded to my overtures. “It’ll all be over tomorrow anyway.”
His expression and tone of voice rendered me speechless. He sounded like one of those nutters who prophesy the end of the world from a street corner.
“Well, tomorrow is 9/11,” I replied when I recovered from my surprise.
The man’s head whipped around and he caught my gaze with widened eyes. “Yes, it is 9/11 tomorrow, isn’t it?” His voice was thoughtful as he gave me a considering look. I nodded.
I handed him his change and told him to have a nice night.
“You be careful tomorrow,” he told me as he put the money away.
“You too, sir,” I replied. “There’s a lot of crazy things going on in the world, so stay safe, okay?”
He gave me the slow smile of a man with a secret. “I will,” he promised.
I shook off the encounter and went on with my shift. He wasn’t the first odd duck I had dealt with over the years.
The next afternoon the customers arrived with news. The schools were all on lockdown. A shooter was on the loose. He had shot down a helicopter and tried to kill the police who arrived on the scene.
I was a nervous wreck. My daughter was at school and I wouldn’t be able to check on her until I took my break.
My daughter and I spent the rest of my shift playing phone tag. I called on my break to check on her while she called the store number to check on me and relay updates. They eventually allowed the kids to go home as police continued the search for the shooter.
School was cancelled the next day. The man was armed, dangerous, and still on the loose. No one wanted to take a chance, so people living in that area of the county were advised to stay home and lock their doors. Eventually they caught him.
During the frightening event I recalled the strange encounter I had the night before. Remembered the confidence in his voice when he declared that “everything would end” on Monday. I wondered if it was the same man. Surely not?
And if it was, did I give him any ideas when I reminded him that Monday was 9/11?
I eagerly awaited video footage once the man was captured. I wanted to see this man, hear his voice, to determine whether or not it was him.
I watched him carefully in the video the news agencies eventually released. I see so many people during the course of a day; while he looked familiar, I couldn’t be absolutely certain.
I played that video repeatedly in search of clues. His voice finally clicked.
I’m still not sure what to think about that.
Regardless of whether I waited on him the night before or not, the legal system will dole out their version of justice and life will go on. Still, it’s an amazing thing when you work with the public in a small town.
You’re liable to meet anybody.