The Man in the Rain
By David Christopher Johnston
‘I’m telling you, that bloke’s dodgy,’ Nathan said, taking a mammoth bite of his burger. Ketchup dripped from the bun and landed on his jeans; he wiped it off with his finger and popped it into his mouth.
‘You’re gross,’ Cassie said, shaking her head.
‘Why? They’re my jeans, it’s not like I licked it off the floor.’
‘I wouldn’t put it past you.’
‘True,’ Nathan replied with a drunken smile. ‘Wouldn’t want to waste good ketchup.’ He nudged Cassie playfully and they giggled in the dark.
They sat in the tiny bus shelter, hoods up, huddled together to ward off the bitter wind. The whole structure shuddered and creaked like it could collapse at any moment. Nathan tore through his burger like a starved coyote devouring a fresh kill. Cassie ate hers slowly, taking small bites and savouring the taste, enjoying the warmth in her stomach. She watched Nathan shovelling the food into his mouth and laughed.
‘Are you going to chew that?’ she said.
‘Nah,’ Nathan replied, stuffing the last chunk of the burger into his mouth and swallowing it whole.
He balled up the paper wrapper and aimed for the drain on the pavement. It bounced across the wet tarmac, slipped through the metal grate and disappeared. He punched the air in silent celebration, then took a box of fries out of the paper bag by his feet. The smell of potato cooked in oil filled the shelter.
‘I’m telling you Cass, that bloke’s up to something,’ he said, motioning across the road to a man in a black jacket standing outside of the post office. The peak of a cap stuck out from beneath the man’s hood; raindrops fell from its edges onto his shoes. His face was shadow.
‘What makes you think that?’ Cassie asked.
‘He’s been stood by that cash machine for the last ten minutes,’ Nathan replied, stuffing fries into his mouth.
‘So? Maybe he’s waiting for someone.’
‘In the pouring rain?’
‘Maybe he’s homeless, then,’ Cassie countered for the defendant.
‘Nah, that’s a new jacket. He’s up to something,’ Chief Inspector Nathan fired back.
‘You always think the worst of people. He’s probably just some guy waiting for a ride home.’
The bus shelter whistled in the wind. Rain beat on its roof with the monotonous rhythm of a marching band; it poured in a broken curtain over the shelter entrance and hit the floor with splats and thwacks. Two women in high heels and sodden dresses scurried up to the post office. One held a tiny umbrella above their heads while the other used the cash machine.
‘Here we go,’ Nathan said, leaning forward on the bench. ‘Let’s see what Mr Innocent does now.’
The man stared at the two women. The one with the umbrella saw him and returned a hard, threatening stare, and the man turned to face the road. A few moments later the women hurried away, glancing furtively behind them.
When they were gone, the man walked over to the cash machine, pressed a few buttons and examined the keypad, then wandered back to his original position.
‘Told you,’ Nathan said triumphantly.
‘I guess that was a bit strange,’ Cassie said. ‘Although it’s hardly proof he’s a criminal.’
Judge Nathan addressed the invisible jury: ‘It’s all the evidence I need. Guilty!’ he shouted. The storm swallowed the sound whole.
The man took a cigarette from his pocket and lit it on the third attempt; the orange glow revealed tired facial features.
‘Give us a fag, Nay,’ Cassie said.
Nathan popped a cigarette between his lips and passed one to Cassie. She lit them with a bright pink lighter and the smell of tobacco filled the shelter. Smoke clouds mingled together and formed misty patterns above their heads.
They watched as the man walked over to the post office door. Crouching, he opened the letter box and peered inside.
‘Now that’s weird,’ Cassie said. ‘Maybe you’re right, Nay.’
The man stood up suddenly and answered his phone. He paced back and forth, deep in conversation. Nathan and Cassie watched him with a mixture of intrigue and fear. They were only thirty feet away and the street was empty; if this man intended to commit a crime, they had no desire to be heroes.
‘You think he’s going to rob the post office,’ Nathan said.
‘Maybe,’ Cassie replied. ‘Should we call the Police?’
‘There’s no point unless he does something.’
The man finished his call, stopped pacing and faced the ground, braced against the ferocious gale. Rain bounced off his jacket in a mesmerising display.
‘Maybe he’s an assassin,’ Cassie said, putting her hands to her face with a feigned look of horror.
‘Don’t get many assassins round here,’ Nathan said, laughing.
‘Or a spy?’
‘I think James Bond’s busy tonight.’
As they debated the mystery man’s origins, a police car pulled up in front of the post office. The man walked towards the vehicle, pointed at the cash machine, then got in the passenger side. Flashing lights pierced the darkness and the bus shelter danced in blue and red. The police car sped away, its siren slicing through the storm like an axe. Wind and rain quickly filled the space where the man had stood and erased him from the night.
‘See, I told you he was waiting for someone,’ Nathan said, giving Cassie a playful nudge. ‘You always think the worst of people.’
‘Piss off, you idiot,’ Cassie replied. There was a brief pause and then they burst into laughter.
Nathan threw the remains of his cigarette onto the pavement. ‘When’s the last bus due?’
‘An hour ago,’ Cassie replied.
‘Typical,’ Nathan said.
As Mother Nature continued her assault on the early hours, the first signs of daylight appeared over the horizon. Cassie put her arm around Nathan and lay her head on his shoulder. He hugged her close and they sat waiting for the storm to end, so they could go home.
Copyright © 2020 David Christopher Johnston.
David Christopher Johnston hereby asserts and gives notice of his right under s.77 and s.78 of the Copyright, Designs & Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this work of fiction. All moral rights are asserted.
All rights reserved. No part of this work of fiction may be reproduced or transmitted by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying or otherwise, without the prior permission of the author. This story is a work of fiction and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.