This is a dark one that has been rattling around for a while.
Be warned, it's way darker than most of the stuff I write and it does not end well.
This also has the distinction of being a mostly true story. I've changed names and locations and obvious embellished some of the background, and the ending is mine (since I don't know what the real ending is). While it seems unreal, this is reality.
It was a guy I met while at a conference in the great North West a few years back. We got drunk – or at least I did -, traded bullshit and then, when I asked why he was single, he told me this incredible story. I'm in two minds about whether it's all true and whether I should actually document it, but as many have said, there is nothing stranger than the truth.
I've never seen him again, even though I've been to that conference a few times now.
In sickness and in Health.
John Stamper sat in his usual place in the diner. It was lunchtime on a Friday, his day for the diner. The waitresses – Betty and Veronica (he'd had a quiet smile about that; these two were as far from the Betty and Veronica of the comic books as it was possible to get. Betty was three hundred pounds and a brunette with scraggly hair that was slowly coming out and Veronica was a red head, with bad teeth, chronic halitosis and a tendency to swear at the littlest thing.) – smiled at him, like they always did. He just looked back and said nothing, as he always did.
He knew he was an enigma to the locals, and he was fine with that. He was part of the local scene without actually being involved in it. John had long ago come to the conclusion that should they know his full story, he'd not be welcome here. Ignorance and fear would see to that. So he limited his involvement to having lunch at the diner when he was in town and very occasionally a nice dinner at the local Outback. He was still puzzled that Heron Falls was large enough to support an Outback. He hadn't worried about it too much though, instead preferring to just enjoy the steak and lobster they carried. He didn't do it too often though – too many memories of meals there in the past.
He'd been around for almost three years – longer than he'd stayed anywhere in the last eight years. It would be time to move on some time soon, he could feel it. But he quite liked his solitude. If you had to remove yourself from humanity, northern Oregon was the place to do it. Quiet, views that took the breath away, and his nearest neighbor was almost thirty miles away.
John came to town once every couple of weeks – to stock up on groceries, send out any packages he needed to, which wasn't often and to get his physical mail; FedEx wasn't going to deliver to him where he was. His little cabin wouldn't show up on their GPS for a start, and knowing the trails to get to it required local experience.
The one thing John did have was a satellite Internet connection. It was required for his profession, that of contract software developer. He worked mostly in mobile development, for Ipad's and Android phones and tablets. His small company had had some success a few years back and he'd earned enough to live simply and not worry unduly about money, although he was by no means wealthy. He drove an old Ford F250 pick up – a fact that made him smile. His old friends would have been astonished to see him pull up in the old, beat up pickup, given the kinds of cars he used to drive. He and his Lexus were inseparable. But the Ford was serviceable, reliable and he could attach the snowplow to it if need be. It serviced his needs, and they were simple these days.
The small two bedroomed wooden cabin he lived in had been built for hunters in the early nineteen sixties. He'd rented it from the owners – a family from Canada – and in exchange for a lower rental rate, he'd spent some money upgrading it and ensuring it was habitable – a new roof, a drainage system so when the snow melted, it didn't inundate the cabin, a new sewage filtration system and had the satellite system installed. He'd even got the generator in the outside shed upgraded. He knew he wouldn't be there more than two or three years, but it was worth it for that time period.
He rarely left the area – only when he had to, for a specific contract that required him on site, or for his yearly check up back in San Diego, where his blood was tested and his medication adjusted if need be. Going back to San Diego was hard. He had to resist temptations to visit old stomping grounds and so far, for the past eight years, he'd managed. But it was hard.
He knew he was a figure of some myth in Heron Falls. He didn't socialize, didn't respond much when involved in conversation. He was civil but never volunteered much about who he was, his history or what he did for a living. He knew some people might have some ideas – you couldn't have the boxes delivered to you that he did without some people picking up on it – but he was surprised to come to understand that for the most part, he just didn't care any more.
He had no possibility of a deeper or closer relationship with anyone, and in the past, he would have enjoyed being a figure of mystery, playing up to it. Now, knowing there was no chance of a successful relationship, his whole outlook had changed. He was human, but not part of humanity in general any more. The small things that consumed people's lives he just didn't bother with. He had no idea who was in the top forty of the music charts, or who were the successful actors and actresses and he just didn't care.
There were only two things he cared about, and they'd made it clear they didn't want him to.
It was a clear March day when it happened. He was sitting in the diner, ignoring Betty and Veronica who fussed around and yelled weird lunch orders to the short order cook.
He almost always sat in the window area, so he could see out. And he saw her pull up. A big red shiny mustang convertible. His experienced eye saw that it was a 2015 model, GT and from the sound of it, it had some exhaust work done.
He watched her climb out – her long black shiny hair tied up with a scarf to keep it out of her face while she drove.
Internally he debated what to do. He could be out the back if he moved fast enough, before she walked in. But if he did, it would be obvious that he was avoiding her, and the locals would have one more thing to talk about. And if she spoke to them, to ask about him, or revealed any of what she thought she knew...
Either way, he concluded, his time here was done. Might as well stick around and see what she had to say, even if he didn't much care to hear it.
So he sat, spooning his chicken soup, and waited. And in she came. Same face – just more grown up. No acne now, he noted. Same hair, same smile as she looked around, taking in the room. Smiling at no one and everyone, as he remembered, with a tightening in her chest.
He saw her eyes alight on him, and their eyes met. He held it for a second, then looked down at his soup and carried on eating.
He could feel her standing over his table.
He glanced up at her with dead eyes. He wasn't her Dad. Not any more. She'd made that clear.
"I'm not your Dad," he hissed.
'Yes, you are, " she said, pulling out the chair opposite his small table and delicately placing herself into it. He couldn't help noticing how she checked the chair for crumbs first though. Her mother, through and through.
His eyes flicked at her and he said, quietly, and with no emotion, "No, I'm not."
"Whatever Dad. Whatever makes you sleep at night. We both know it's not true."
John took a deep breath, and glanced around. He could see Betty and Veronica at the short order hatch, looking over and murmuring to each other. He knew this would provide fodder for months for them. Old Joe had a girl at his table, and a Chinese one, at that.
"What do you want, Grace?" he asked at last, putting down his spoon and pushing his chair back.
"Dad, we've been looking for you for years. Sophia and I. Hell, even Mom. Eight years Dad. Eight years. Do you have any idea how much it cost to find you? Even Uncle Tony wouldn't help. I didn't think he would, but Mom did. It put a strain on their relationship for years."
Internally, John Stamper nodded. That sounded like the Tony Duzlick he remembered. Straight Gman through and through. FBI tattooed on the inside of his body. No sense of humor lived for the job and lived by the rules, down to the smallest thing. He wouldn't have gone outside the rulebook to find him; he was still glad he hadn't though.
Not that it would have mattered. John Stamper just didn't show up on most Internet searches any more. He had no Facebook presence; well, he did, but it hadn't been updated in eight years, any more than his twitter had been. He didn't have a police record – the only way to track him would have been through bank records, although even then his address was a P.O. box in Atlanta, that he then had a service forward on to his local P.O. box in Oregon, or via the IRS, but with the same cut outs.
John was aware of how the authorities worked. If they really wanted to find him, they could. But they'd have to really want to first, and they had no reason to, certainly nothing that would authorize the work required. He'd put just enough cut outs in place first to make it unobvious and that, in most cases, was enough.
Obviously not though, or Grace – his Ex Daughter, as he thought of her – wouldn't be sitting in front of him.
"How did you find me?" he asked.
.... There is more of this story ...