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A few blocks from city hall, he parked the car, and then eased his six‑foot two‑inch frame out from behind the wheel. He had chosen the sedan because of its size. He knew that he’d be putting countless miles on it, and he wanted to be comfortable. He fished a quarter from his pocket and fed the parking meter.
The nineteen thirties-style two-story building had seen better days, its façade old and cracking. He climbed the crazed concrete steps to the main entrance, where the two leaded glass doors had not yet given way to more contemporary replacements, and went inside.
This was not his first trip. He had been there a week before, so he knew exactly how to reach his destination. He took the first left past the front corridor and walked down the hall to the Records Office, his footsteps echoed his coming. The local area was famous for its rock quarries, and he wondered if the marble for the floor had come from one of them. He entered the office, and then waited patiently for the young lady behind the counter to take notice of his arrival.
The wood counter ran from the entrance all the way to the far wall. Three oak benches with ornately carved armrests stood empty along the front wall to his left. Given the size of the town and the surrounding county, he wondered what, if anything, could possibly fill the place with people. Behind the counter, row after row of file cabinets and steel shelving held the birth, marriage, and death records of the county’s inhabitants. From the date chiseled into the cornerstone, there was little doubt that those records dated back to the First World War, and quite possibly to the late eighteen hundreds when the township was first incorporated.
The bastion guarding the town’s history was a woman who appeared to be in her mid‑twenties. She had meticulously applied her makeup; a light shade of lipstick provided additional color. Her auburn hair was pulled back in a neat bun. She wore a two‑piece professional looking suit with a white silk blouse. Eager to be of service, she rose quickly from her desk. She was exactly as he had expected. He knew that she had taken over the responsibilities of maintaining the town’s records after the spinster, who had held the job for some thirty-odd years had retired less than a month ago. Unconsciously, she smoothed her skirt over her knees then headed toward him.
He was a good-looking man, with sharp, angular features. His dark hair had been neatly brushed back. From a distance, she thought that he might be a bit overweight. Upon second glance, there didn’t appear to be an ounce of fat on the man.
“May I help you?” she asked. Other than routine requests from her neighbors, this was her first real customer. She could smell his cologne over her lightly scented perfume. It smelled masculine, arrogant, possibly intoxicating.
“Good morning. I’d like a copy of my birth certificate,” he said.
This was her first month in her new position as records clerk. When she took over the job, there was so little time for orientation she found herself constantly referring to the list of procedures developed by her predecessor. Those tasks that she had to do every week or so, like recording a birth, marriage, or death, she had down pat. This, however, was something new, and she wasn’t about to mess it up–not so early in her career.
As she looked at his face, her eyes locked on to his gaze. Embarrassed, she tried to break the lock between her eyes and his, but she was powerless to do so. His eyes pierced her heart like a dagger. Just before her dilemma became uncomfortable, the stranger smiled profusely. Shaken, she wanted to get back to business.
Returning his smile, she asked, “Do you have any identification?”
He reached into his wallet and removed his Virginia driver’s license, handing it over. “This is all I’ve got,” he answered smoothly. She detected a note of concern in his voice. “It’ll be fine, sir. When were you born?”
“Nineteen fifty‑six, September 22 to be exact.” He flashed his big smile at her again. He needed to put her at ease.
“I’ll take care of this right now,” she said taking the driver’s license back to the Xerox machine. The scent of his cologne followed her back to her desk. Too bad he wasn’t from the area. The available men in town, some of whom she had dated, were content to live life from one Friday night to the next as long as they had a case of beer in the fridge for the weekend.
She glanced at the license, John Grant, no middle initial. She removed a large, bound book from the voluminous tomes that filled the floor to ceiling shelves on one side of the room. She paged through it, quickly locating the record of birth. From her desk drawer she took an official birth certificate form, and placed it in her typewriter. She glanced over at the counter, hoping that he wasn’t watching her. The stranger had turned and moved over to near the front window. No longer on edge, her fingers found the appropriate keys. Fortunately, other than filling in routine information such as the date of birth, place of birth, and parents’ names, there really wasn’t much to do. She finished typing, removed the form from the typewriter, got up, and walked back to the counter.
“Here you go. That’ll be twenty‑five dollars,” she said handing him the certificate and an envelope, conscious of the touch when his hand met hers.
He removed two ten-dollar bills and a five from his wallet, and then passed them across the counter. “Thanks a lot for the help.”
Smiling, he left the office and made his way back down the musty corridors of the town hall, and out into the sunshine. He walked up the street to his car, got in, and backed out of the parking space. Once out of town, he followed the road signs directing him back to Interstate 81, entered the highway taking the southbound ramp, and merged back into the stream of obscure cars and equally anonymous souls.
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