The Man in the Chequered Ski Jacket
An encounter of a mystery man and a waitress.
He first came to the Station Café about five months ago. The skiing jacket with blue, green and yellow squares over a white background made him stand out against the greys and browns of normal Belgian winter attire. His shoulder length hair was nothing unusual.
He took a table in my section, number 56 by the window and asked for a pintje. I thought I detected a foreign accent; he had a nice smile. He drank it slowly and nibbled his peanuts carefully, taking one at a time from the tiny dish. When both were finished he waved me over and requested the rekening. Again that unfathomable accent. He placed three Euro coins on the table and left the 40 cent change behind.
Every weekday after that he returned just before the lunchtime rush. Whenever possible, he sat at 56, and always in my section. For the first couple of weeks the staff noticed him. Joran, who dispensed the drinks would wink at me and say, ‘Your Dude is in again.’ I think he got the name from some film.
By the end of October “The Dude” as I always thought of him after that was just another customer, barely noticed except by me. He never stayed very long and always ordered one beer, except when it was sunny, then he would have two and leave six euros. Pintje, rekening and Dank U were pretty much all the words he ever said to me in those five months, but his smile got warmer.
Yesterday, he came a little earlier and drank three beers before asking for the bill. He put a ten Euro note on the table and sat looking his empty glass for about ten minutes. As I walked past his table after serving somebody, he stood in front of me and pushed paper into my hand. He muttered something in English, I think it was: ‘Y’all been real kind,’ and left the cafe very quickly. I swear I saw tears in his eyes. I certainly welled up when I saw the two fifties.
. . . This morning, no Dude.
When the lunchtime rush got underway, a man arrive wearing a black three-quarter-length leather coat. His hair was cropped to about half a centimetre and he stared directly ahead, his expression stern and wooden. For an instant his eyes flickered toward me as he strode past. They were his eyes.
Nobody noticed the gun until two firecracker explosions stunned everybody motionless for a second. During the following pandemonium not one person remembered seeing him leave, but they all remembered the blood soaked walls and floor where two strange men lay, each with a giant hole in the back of their head.
When I told the police I thought I recognised the shooter, they wanted me to describe him. All I could remember was, he had shoulder length hair and wore a skiing jacket with blue, green and yellow squares over a white background.