I checked for pools of blood around the driver’s side door. Then around the tires. I peered into the windows of my own locked car, double-checking to make sure he wasn’t slumped over in a seat — victim to a stroke or heart attack or one of those awful vertigo seizures he gets from time to time.
When I found neither pools of blood, or his lifeless body, I scanned the seats and the console for his phone, which I had been calling repeatedly for nearly 2 hours.
Twenty phone calls missed.
Do you think he’s in Barnes & Noble? asked my buddy Howard Berkes.
Tim and I had made arrangements to meet Howard at a coffee shop near Portland’s Lloyd Center. We hadn’t set an exact time or place, but I’d told Howard I’d call as soon as we got near the area.
First, though, I had to use the bathroom. I’d been drinking Green tea most of the day. I had to go, badly. But I’m lightening quick about these things.
I can pretty much go standing up, I told Howard.
Good to know, he said, laughing.
I’d told him that after I showed up at the coffee shop alone.
By then, Tim had vanished into seemingly thin air.
I should explain. I have this thing about bathrooms. When a girl travels as much as I do, she learns to develop discretionary tastes. I’m picky about where I pee. I’d asked Tim to drop me at Nordstroms because I knew the bathroom would be clean. It’s always clean. It’s the same bathroom with the seating area that I used to nurse my twins at some 29 years ago. In all those years, I’ve never seen it anything less than gleaming.
Do you need to go? I asked, as we pulled into the Mall level of the parking garage.
No, he said.
Well, then just drop me off, I said. I’ll be right back.
And I was.
Only he wasn’t.
Anywhere in sight.
I paced up and down the sidewalk, calling him every couple of minutes.
I went back inside the Mall, checked a couple of places, didn’t see him.
Fifteen minutes passed.
I walked over to Peet’s Coffee at Broadway and 15th. Surely, I thought, Tim will call me any minute. He knew we were meeting my pal Howard Berkes, and as a long-time listener to NPR, Tim was doubly-excited about that. One of the few benefits of being married to me — and for Tim there are so few — is that from time to time he gets to meet people that he really admires.
Howard is one of those people. Tim had been looking forward to meeting him all day long. So I could not imagine what had caused him to park the car and not answer his calls. I’d spotted the car as I was pacing, backed into a nearby lot. I’d walked over, looked around, tried to open the locked doors. Nothing.
Oh. Good. Grief.
I called Howard and told him I was at the coffee shop, c’mon. When he arrived, expecting to meet Tim, I explained how my husband had just vanished into thin air.
Once when I was meeting up with Howard and his wife in D.C., a similar thing had happened with them. They lost track of each other in a museum and didn’t reconnect for a couple of hours.
In all the wrong ways.
Howard and I sat drinking our cafe lattes, his decaf, mine should have been given the state of my nerves by then.
For the next hour-and-half, we sat outside, my iPhone between us, talking shop about all things writing and reporting while I waited for the call from Tim that never came.
Okay, I finally said to Howard. I really have to go find Tim. It’s 6 o’clock. They will be shutting down the mall. This is not at all like him.
The garage was nearly empty when Howard and I arrived back at the car, making it easy to scan the asphalt for pools of blood. This is how writers and reporters think — or how this one does. Tim had on a special pair of designer tennis shoes. Everyone comments on them. Kids have been killed for less. Maybe somebody had grabbed him from behind as he stepped out of the car.
My mind was drafting all sorts of scenes.
None of which I mentioned to Howard.
Seems odd that he wouldn’t have called me, I said to Howard. That’s just not like him.
I leaned back against the red car. Howard looked at me with deep concern.
I had checked in with the kids to see if they had heard from their father. Ashley said she’d tried to call him at 4 but didn’t get any answer either.
That was two hours ago, I noted.
Had he run into a former student? Fallen into a conversation and lost track of time? Would he really stand up this chance to visit with Howard?
I knew he wouldn’t.
I dialed his number again.
Howard gripped the steering wheels of the bike he’d ridden to meet me at Peet’s.
I could tell he didn’t have any more of a clue about what to do than I did.
Then the phone rang. It was a Portland number. Not Tim’s.
Where are you? Tim asked.
I”m at the car. Where are you?
At Macy’s. It was the only place I could find a pay phone.
Where’s your phone?
I left it at home this morning.
Oh. I didn’t know that. I’ve been calling you for hours. Howard and I are at the car.
Tim hung up. Security was ushering everyone out the mall doors.
He waited for you for two hours? Howard asked.
My husband is a very patient man, I replied.
Apparently, Howard laughed. He strapped on his helmet, preparing to go.
You can’t leave now, I said. Tim is going to still want to meet you.
I’m thinking it might not be a good scene, Howard said, laughing more.
Nope, don’t worry, I said. He’s not like that.
Tim greeted Howard with his hand outstretched, a sheepish grin and the tell-tale shimmer of sweat.
We visited a bit more and then parted ways.
In the car, Tim told me the story of how he’d parked the car and come inside to wait for me, knowing which door I would exit out of the store. And indeed I had done just that. But somehow we’d missed each other. He didn’t see me. I couldn’t find him. He didn’t have his cell phone. I didn’t know that. I’d gone off to meet Howard. He’d sat on the bench for an hour, waiting on me, worried about me, but being a patient man, he thought I’d gotten sidetracked shopping.
Which I hadn’t done at all.
They don’ t have pay phones anywhere anymore, he bemoaned. Nowhere. It took me 30 minutes to track down the only pay phone around. Thank goodness Macy’s still believes in pay phones.
Yeah, but you waited an hour or more before you even went looking for a phone, I said. Weren’t you worried about me? I called you dozens of times. I thought somebody had taken you at gunpoint.
He smiled. You worry too much.
That’s because you don’t worry enough, I grumbled.
We need more pay phones in the world, declared my husband, the history teacher who feels much more comfortable in a world run on hand cranks and greased gears. You know something else?
What? I asked.
I realized that if you didn’t answer your phone I was going to be up a creek. Yours is the only number I have memorized. I don’t know anyone else’s number. They are all in my cell phone.
What were you planning to do if you didn’t get a hold of me?
I didn’t have a plan, he said, chagrined. But hey, it all worked out. I finally got to meet Howard!!
Yes, honey, you did. And, thanks to my iPhone, I’ve got the picture to prove it.