Bernie’s was closed. A sign hung crooked on the door. Bernie’s was never closed at eight o’clock at night. David took the bus to Bernie’s neighborhood. He had eaten dinner there many nights after the fire. He would have to choose his words carefully. Bernie was a good man, but enough was enough. The door opened only a few inches and Bernie’s face looked past David as he let him in. Something was wrong. Bernie looked scared.
“Hey Davey. What brings you all the way out here?”
“Why is your place closed? I dropped in to have dinner and there was a closed sign on the door. You never close. And while I’m at it, I’ve about had it with these bible notes you keep leaving at my room.”
David felt ashamed as soon as he had said it. They might not even be Bernie’s notes and even if they were, Bernie was probably his only friend in the world. Bernie made no defense. He motioned for David to follow him into the kitchen. He turned off the light in the foyer and briefly walked down a short hall in total darkness, then flipped on a light switch as they entered the kitchen. David noticed that every window shade was drawn.
“I think I might be in trouble Davey.” Bernie’s voice was timid and shaky, hushed in an exaggerated way. “ I received a visit a few days ago at the diner from a large man in a black suit who spoke with some kind of accent. I had never seen him around before. Anyway, he was asking questions about the park, that since I was the guy who knew everything about the neighborhood, I should know everything about everyone who used the park. He said that he worked for a man who had lost something very valuable in the park. He wanted to know who I knew that used the park. Of course you immediately came to mind, you’re practically the only one I know who uses that park what with all of your reading and such. Of course I didn’t tell HIM that. But he was very insistent, said that it was very important to his boss that this thing was returned to him. I think he’s with the mob Davey. Before he left he said that if I helped him I would be handsomely rewarded.” Bernie was breathing heavier now, his eyes wider, fear palpable on his face. Then he got up and walked over to the pantry door, walked in and then returned with the cardboard box that David had miled to him.
“ I had almost forgotten about the whole thing when I got this in the mail yesterday…ten thousand dollars Davey! There was no note, no nothing. Just ten thousand dollars!! It had to be from the mob man. Who else do I know who would send me ten thousand bucks, even if they could?”
“ First of all, you need to calm down. Maybe it’s just a debt of gratitude from an old customer who you gave free meals to years ago who went on to strike it rich someplace and didn’t forget about you. There are probably fifty people or so who might fit that description. Maybe it’s Flannigan, overcome with guilt for not tipping you for twenty years. Who knows?”
“ Davey, tell me the truth. You’re in that park all the time. Do you know anything about this?”
David looked into Bernie’s eyes and wavered. Why did he have to be so earnest, so decent? All we like sheep have gone astray? Not Bernie. If he was ever going to unburden himself about the money it would have to be here and now. “You tell ME the truth…Have you been leaving bible verses in my mail slot?”