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Lynelle, 307 East Lark Road
The street outside was dark, but the inside of Rivera’s, the sandwich shop, was brightly lit and cheerful. All the customers had left and the staff were wiping down counters, clearing tables and putting sandwich meat back in the freezer.
Daniel stood up straight for a moment and looked around. Rivera’s was a rustic sort of place, a real hole in the wall, in what could be called the downtown of Northney, Illinois. It was known for the fact that you could sit at a countertop and watch the staff make you a sandwich right on the spot. As a bonus, meals that cost over seven dollars come with a free pickle.
“Dan,” said Lola, “wipe down the tables please, before you leave.” Lola was his boss, a tall black woman in her thirties with thick, curly dark hair and a quiet, calm voice. She was the kind of person you knew you could trust on meeting them. She was the owner of the restaurant just like her father before her.
Daniel wiped his hands on his brown apron leaving two wet marks. He had just been washing dishes. “Sure thing,” he replied. He grabbed a spray bottle and a rag and walked over to the first table. But something caught his eye. An old tattered wallet was lying on the back table. He knew it was private, but he wanted to take a look. He took a step forward, and then another, and another. Flipping it over he saw the initials LMC stamped into the leather. He knew he shouldn’t, but something pushed him to open it. Carefully opening it as if it might bite him, he slowly pulled out a driver’s license from ten years ago. The date at the bottom was all he could see because the image and all the other information was too faded to read. A shiver ran down his back. This was personal, he thought, this belonged to someone. He should call the police, or turn it over to Lola, but something stopped him. Deciding he would search the wallet for an address he pulled out it’s contents: three hundred-dollar bills, two gum wrappers, a long-expired debit card that was also from ten years ago, and again too faded too read, and a little slip of folded paper. Heart beating, he unfolded it, careful of the crinkled edges:
Lynelle Myra Collins. 307 East Lark Road
He admired the handwriting, the gentle curves of the pen as the letters slipped from one to another. Lynelle Myra Collins, an unusual name. The house was not far from here either. Seven blocks north and two blocks east.
At that moment Lola called from the counter. “What do you have their Dan?”
“Nothing,” he stammered deciding in an instant to take the wallet back himself.
“Well then,” Lola said, still suspicious, “Keep cleaning those tables. The faster we finish, the faster we can all go home. It’s getting late.”
“Got it.” Daniel looked up at the clock. It was 10:30 at night. He sighed. His homework lay on his desk undone because his job was eating up so much of his time. But he needed the money. College was creeping up fast and he was still short on tuition; university wouldn’t wait forever.
“Dan, I need to lock up.” Lola’s voice broke him out of his reverie.
Hurriedly, Daniel finished cleaning. “Goodnight,” he called and shut the door behind him.
As he walked down the dark street, he looked around at his hometown with new eyes. What people called the downtown, wasn’t much of a downtown at all. All it consisted of was a pharmacy, a grocery store, a hair salon, and the sandwich shop he worked at. The chill October wind rustled through his hair and blew a newspaper down an alley. No one was out, although a few cars drove down the road, one about every two minutes. Daniel like to count cars when he was walking late at night. It made him feel less lonely. One red pickup truck, three sedans, a beat-up minivan.
He slipped down an alley and took out the wallet again. The three hundred dollars looked crisp and appealing in the moonlight. Fifteen hours of work right there. And three hundred dollars closer to college.
But no. He wouldn’t steal, he couldn’t steal. He could get arrested, and then he would never make it to New York City. But it was alluring.
He stuffed the money hastily back in the wallet and pulled out the slip of paper the address was written on: 307 East Lark Road. Seven blocks north and two blocks east. Not too far, but it was cold and the sooner he started walking, the sooner he would get there, and the sooner he would be home.
Daniel proceeded down the road. He walked briskly, hoping the exercise would warm him up. Soon he left the Main Street behind and entered the residential area. An owl hooted in the distance and the trees on the edge of the sidewalk rustled in the wind.
He turned onto East Lark Road. “307, 307, he repeated, wanting to get there soon so he could go home. He began to regret taking on this mission. Couldn’t it have waited until morning?
“301, 303, 305,” Daniel whispered to himself counting the numbers on the uniform mailboxes that lined the street. “307.” He looked into the wallet one last time and checked the address. Then he glanced again at the cash. He could always say there was no money in it when he found it lying on the table. Ripping his gaze away, he looked at the door, took a deep breath, and knocked.
A tall woman with dark hair and skin opened the door. She was stunning. He immediately knew it was Lynelle because she moved smoothly and gracefully, like her handwriting. But there was something unsettling about her. Something about the aura she gave off was different. Something lurked in her movements that made Daniel’s blood run cold. “Who are you,” she asked in a slow, melodic voice that drifted from one word to another.
“Daniel,” he stuttered. “Daniel. Daniel Jenkins.”
“Oh,” she said. “I was expecting someone else.” She looked down the street and frowned. “But, do come in.” Stepping back, she opened the door wider.
Daniel felt it would be rude to refuse, so on shaky legs he entered the room. Despite the strange woman’s feline grace, the house seemed perfectly normal. The right side was a kitchen. Unlike his own house there were no dirty dishes in the sink and everything was organized meticulously. A living area took up the left half of the room complete with a couch and TV. The only thing that seemed out of place was a large book lying on the coffee table. As he entered the room he saw that it was not written in English. He didn’t know what language it was in, though he spoke three.
Then he realized something. Ms. Collins looked too young to have gotten her driver’s license ten years ago, she couldn’t be more than twenty-five. But then again, maybe his suspicion was just imagined and she was older than she looked or the driver’s license and debit card belonged to someone else. Maybe he was at the wrong house.
Finally he spoke. “You, you’re Ms. Collins, right? I found your wallet at Riveria’s. I work there, you see, and I just picked it up and thought I might return it. I didn’t take anything, I swear, I just wanted to be helpful, and…” He trailed off.
“Thank you for returning it.” He jumped. Lynelle, somehow that seemed more natural than Ms. Collins, was right behind him. How had she crept up on him? The floors squeaked angrily when he walked on them.
“Thank you,” he repeated. Why was he saying thank you? He had just helped her. “I think I’ll be going home now… I have homework and I have to finish it and I have to go to work tomorrow. I’m opening at seven a.m…..”
“That’s alright. Why don’t you stay a while.”
“No. No. I can’t I have to go.” Daniel started edging back towards the door. He felt the door handle behind him but it was locked. Then the lights went off.
“I don’t think that’s a good idea.” He could feel Lynelle, or whatever she was approaching. His eyes started to adjust but could only make out her thin form.
“I should have just taken the money and ran,” Daniel thought. “Now I’ll never make it to New York City.”
Then everything went dark.