Challenge 41

karen huber

Challenge 41

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The Doctor of Naperville

Karen Huber

I didn’t think they existed, these men of magic and menace. At least, not here. And he’s not what I expected.

He arrives in a trench coat, gray and damp from December’s drizzle. His collar is turned up and he stands near the door – my door – a less than imposing figure, looking more like an imitation Sherlock than a voodoo witch doctor.

Spying from the kitchen counter, I stir cream in my coffee, slowly. His narrow frame is not tall. Hair trimmed close, the color of ash. He removes his coat with precision, revealing an argyle sweater and black slacks hemmed an inch too long. He turns my way and I drop the spoon nervously into the sink, the ting of metal on metal an embarrassed echo in the empty house.

“Sorry,” I stammer, “Coffee?”

“Thank you,” he says, making his way towards the kitchen. He stops to look at a painting in the hallway. “You paint,” he offers.

“Hmm?” I am caught off guard, once more. “Oh, yes, just a little. How did you know?”

“Your name,” he points to the lower right-hand corner. “Alan Miller, in the water’s reflection.”

“Oh, yes. Of course,” I fill his mug, place sugar on a tray. “Shall we sit in here?” I point him towards the den adjacent to the kitchen where twin leather chairs sit in an angled face-off.

I’ve forgotten to put out coasters, placing my mug emblazoned with a red “DAD” on a National Geographic instead. A photograph of the Antikythera Mechanism is framed in the iconic yellow border, a centennial celebration of its discovery. It is the time for uncovering buried secrets, I suppose.

The mug in one hand, he pulls at the knee of his slacks with the other, sitting, unveiling well-worn houndstooth shoes. This is not what I expected, I say again to myself.

“I know,” he scoops a teaspoon of sugar before I realize, ashamed, those words were spoken aloud. The granules sink in his mug; a shiny speck or two escape and land on his shoes, glowing against the squiggly black lines.

“Where did you come from?” Exhausted, I lean into the cushion of the leather, ready for this to all be over.

“Naperville,” he says, as if any of this is normal. “Do you want to discuss why you contacted me?”

“They met at an art show.” I start slowly, relieved to tell someone. The story spills from my lips. “It was her gift to me, opening night. But his paintings…” I stop, suddenly cognizant of my own inadequacy, “He is no amateur.”

“What would you like me to do?” his voice a steady tone, his eyes on me. “What do you know about him? What is his weakness, his kryptonite?”

“Besides her?” I am angry again, raising my voice against the bitter taste in my mouth. “No, no, she is off limits. I don’t want to hurt her… only him.”

“Of course,” he nods.

“His work, his art,” I return his ashen stare. “Start with his hands.”

“Of course,” he says, again. “That is where I’ll start.”

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