Friday morning. A few years back. Los Angeles. Cold as hell.
After the unusual first meeting with Leonard Carlson, I was fully prepared for the man this time. I had convinced myself of that fact as I stood shivering near the bus stop where Leonard suggested we meet. “How can it be so damn cold,” I asked myself. “I mean, the weather was perfect just a couple days ago. This is California for crying out loud.”
I arrived early, even though Leonard was late the first time we met. The time passed quickly since this was a busy bus stop and there were plenty of opportunities for people watching. Mostly laborers and nannies it looked like, with the occasional out-of-work stockbroker type thrown in for a nice balance.
As our meeting time approached, the area around the bus bench got quite crowded. I was pushed toward the wall of the liquor store behind the bus bench by the mass of people accumulating and jockeying for position near the front of the bus stop. The pushing wasn’t intentional, but I still began to get quite uncomfortable and anxious for Leonard to arrive.
A car horn was honking in the distance. At first I didn’t pay much attention, but after a moment I realized that even above the buzz of the bus stop crowd, the car horn had gotten much louder. There was a persistent and deliberate pulse to the honks so I stood up on my tip toes and craned my neck to see what all the fuss was about.
A long, black, Cadillac stretch limousine had pulled up at the bus stop and the driver was honking the horn like a madman with a mission. The next bus had actually pulled up right behind it and started singing bass in a duet with the limo. The bus driver did not look happy and the crowd of bus travelers was starting to stir.
Out of this developing chaos I heard a voice calling out “James! Hey James! Over here!”
The crowd parted just enough for me to see Leonard in his ratty clothes and unkept hairdo poking his head and shoulders out from the back of the limousine window, motioning for me to come closer. I carefully made my way through the increasingly agitated people and stood next to the window.
“Hop in man. Or would you rather take the bus?”
I jumped in the back of the car without a second thought and sat facing Leonard. As soon as I settled in I began to replay what just happened in my mind.
“How do you feel right now?” Leonard asked.
“Quite uncomfortable,” I replied.
“Even though you’re in this big fancy limousine?” he questioned.
“Yeah, those folks didn’t seem too happy that their bus was delayed. What’s with the limo anyhow? And why did you want to meet me at the bus stop? I mean you could have picked me up anywhere.”
Leonard stared out the window and was silent for a moment. A moment just long enough for me to collect my thoughts and start piecing things together. Here I thought this guy was a drifter or a transient and he just picked me up in a limo. My mind started racing. Is this guy some sort of eccentric millionaire? Did he inherit a family fortune? Did he invent Old Spice after shave or maybe soap on a rope?
Right then he turned around, looked me dead in the eye said, “It’s just a rental.”
to be continued…