I am a hitman. However, please understand that I am a hitman not by choice but circumstance. The circumstance involved the holiday train display at the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx one night this week. I did not kill anybody, although I typically look like a guy who could be carrying a .22 revolver with silencer. Rest assured, I am not packing. Then again, the annual train show would be the perfect place to bump somebody off: dark, cold, crowds, and a lot of noise, from tap dancing to Christmas music.
How am I like a hitman? For one thing, I am quiet and focused. Some would say brooding. I keep to myself, preferring to listen rather than speak; that is, until the person speaking to me puts me to sleep. Then I employ my favorite line from The Music Man— “Excuse me, I’m expecting a telegram from Rudy Frimmel. This could be it!”
Last night I wore a charcoal gray, cashmere overcoat with black, leather gloves. I looked like either a hit man, or an investment banker. The biggest similarity to my being a hitman, however, was that I was alone. I was not with a companion, friend, or family member. From what I could tell, everyone else was with another person or group. I was alone in being alone.
Now, what would be the most natural thing for a hitman to do after going through the schmaltzy display of bark bridges and pine cone buildings while standing at the “bar car” with a plastic cup of Dewar’s scotch? Why, talk to the botanical garden staff, of course. So, I did. Most were in their twenties and wore engineer caps and overalls. I opened with a few observations about electric versus coal. When I didn’t get much of a response, I told them about how people used to give electric trains as Christmas presents. Polite smiles. I asked if any had seen Miracle on 34th Street. Three had heard of it.
“I’m pretty sure there was a train in that,” I said confidently, finishing my scotch and clinking the ice cubes. I decided to double-down, opining about bullet trains, infrastructure, and Donald Trump. Then I sidled away.
As I escaped to the gift shop (I never go to gift shops), I realized that I had become that guy, the loner with no social skills who overcompensates to look cool. I thought of Alan Turing and the joke he purportedly told about not having to outrun the bear to save his life, just the other camper. My God, I tell that joke. What was happening?
I sought out my favorite comfort food: books. The gift shop had a decent book section, and I soon found myself leafing through (ahem) a book about shrubs from 1899. It had illustrations covered in tissue paper, which was perfect. Too bad I had already finished the scotch.
Then it happened. There, in the Horticultural Flora section, tap-tap-tapping a delicately-gloved finger on leather-bound tomes of ornamental plants–I could hardly contain myself–was Laura Fedora! You must understand. I spent eighteen months living, breathing, and obsessing over this woman. I wrote about her via Richard Mercurius’ summer journal. I had my daughter sketch her. I created her, gave her a soul, and then killed her off in a car accident (apologies to those who have yet to read Laura Fedora). And now she stood before me–red hair, hazel eyes, slight tilt of the head.
I am a reasonable man. I couldn’t approach her about the book I had written about her. Besides, it wasn’t about her. I didn’t even know this woman. Still, it was the strangest thing having to keep my distance from myself. So, being reasonable, I did what any hitman would do. I followed her.
We exchanged smiles amid garden tools and clay pots. She lingered with a friend, a woman, over scarves. I pretended to read children’s books about trains. She caught on that something was up by the candle and fragrance display. Why they have fragrances in a garden shop is beyond me. And then, suddenly, so was she. Laura and her friend had exited, stage left, leaving me with my nose in lavender.
I felt guilty, as if I had to offer an explanation to someone, but that would have made things go from the sublime to the ridiculous. Resigned, I trudged home, pulling my cap down and my collar up.
I may be a loner, but I am not a stalker. I may be a hitman, but it is purely unintentional.