Thompson slid the disks across the table.

“This is it, then?” Jacobs asked, “Everything’s on there?”

“That’s all of it,” Thompson said, as he stood to leave.

Jacobs stared at the disks on the table in front of him in disbelief. The whole thing had been so anti-climactic. After all the hard work he’d put into this, he was expecting the actual exchange to be a little more…dramatic. At least they should have met in a grimy, low-lit diner rather than a Starbucks. Hell, even high school kids buying beer from a friend of a friends’ older brother had more gravitas.

Well, Jacobs thought, I always did have more imagination than was good for me. Still, he knew that if he got up and left right after Thompson, he’d draw suspicion. Exactly whom he’d draw suspicion from was a little uncertain, as the only other people in the Starbucks were a soccer mom, a businessman on his lunch break, and a hipster with the most ridiculous facial hair Jacobs had ever seen. Of course, he knew that it was quite possible that there was someone sitting in the parking lot watching him. Quite possible. Very possible. Most likely. Definitely. He sighed and sipped his coffee, trying not to let his impatience and anxiety show. After what seemed like eternity, he finally drained the last of it. Stuffing the disks into his briefcase, he left. As he drove home, Jacobs glanced up in the mirror and felt a twinge of fear that quickly grew into panic. Hadn’t he seen that grey Toyota before? Was someone following him? He glanced at the speedometer, careful not to accelerate out of fear of alerting his pursuer that he had noticed anything unusual.

I can’t go home, Jacobs thought, I have to lose this tail. He didn’t let himself consider the fact that anyone following him probably already knew where he lived.

Jacobs decided that the best way to shake off suspicion was to act as frustratingly normal as possible. He made up several errands to run, and spend the rest of the day visiting the grocery store, the barber shop, the hardware store and even an ice cream parlor, but he could never get away from that grey Toyota.

As the sun went down, Jacbos was desperate. Not only was he dying to take a look at what was on the disks, but he was afraid that whoever was following him might do something drastic once the sun was down and there were less people on the road. Taking a desperate chance, he took a wild left on a red light across two lanes of blaring traffic. Glancing in the rear view mirror, he was satisfied to see that nobody was following him. He quickly turned down several side streets and back lanes and finally arrived home.

Glancing around carefully to be sure that he hadn’t somehow been followed, Jacobs slipped inside. Bolting the door and drawing the curtains, he heaved a sigh of relief as he sat down in his computer chair. He took the disks out of their cases and loaded them into his computer.

Mr. Johnson

Mr. Johnson had been coming to our restaurant for years. Every time he came in, he would order the same meal: grilled chicken with a side of broccoli, a baked potato (butter only) and a coffee. After he finished eating and the plates were cleared away, he would take out his domino set. Occasionally he would come in to eat with someone else and they would play with him. Sometimes one of us would sit down to play a round or two. Often, he simply played by himself. Whatever the case, he frequently stayed for at least an hour after he was done eating, and sometimes even longer. He would sip his coffee, politely asking for refills when necessary.

Newer employees were sometimes annoyed by him. “Why is that guy just sitting there playing dominoes?” they fumed. “He’s already eaten and paid for his meal, he’s just taking up a table that some other paying customer could use.”

“That’s Mr. Johnson,” we’d tell them. “Who the hell are you? He’s been a part of this restaraunt longer than you have.”

The restaraunt closed at 10 P.M. Mr Johnson knew that we were trying to go home. Although nobody had ever asked him to leave, he always packed up his dominoes and left as soon as the clock struck 10 if he happened to still be around at that time. Not to mention, he always tipped well.

Nobody knew anything about him. He knew several of us by name, and we would often sit and talk to him, but he never talked about himself or his life. Most people thought he was a lonely widower, his children (if any) grown and long gone. There were, of course, much more wild rumors as well. Some claimed that he was a former Nazi, or a former spy, or even a current spy. One wild-eyed fry cook floated the hypothesis that Mr. Johnson was a highly advanced domino-playing robot.

A busboy tailed Mr. Johnson home one day to see where he lived. The next day a crowd gathered around him to hear the details of Mr. Johnson’s home life.

“Where did he live? What was it like?” they asked him.

“It was just a regular house,” he said, shrugging.

Mr. Johnson didn’t come in every day, so it took a few weeks before we realized he hadn’t been in for quite some time. There was a sense of quiet panic as we all tried to figure out what had happened to our favorite customer.

“It had to happen eventually,” the conspiracy theorists said, “His cover got blown, the CIA’s taken him in for questioning.”

Henrietta Simmons discovered the answer as she was paging through the newspaper on her break. Henrietta was the type of person who always read the obituaries. She said it made her feel better about herself.

“Come quick!” she called, “Mr. Johnson is dead!”

Stuart Johnson died Tuesday. He was 89.
He died at the Angel of Mercy Hospital of respiratory failure.
Mr. Johnson served in the Army during World War II, and entered the paper industry after returning. Mr. Jonhson was an avid domino player (several of us chuckled as we read that) and dog breeder.
He is survived by three children and five grandchildren. Services will be held privately.

We passed around the newspaper in silence. After all these years, we finally had gotten a glimpse into the life of Mr. Johnson, and now it was too late. Many were secretly disappointed, as it turned out that his life was not nearly as exciting as they had imagined. Mr. Johnson was just a regular person.

We cut out the obituary, had it framed, and hung it up on the wall. It’s still there to this day.


“When was the last time you slept?” she asked.
I pondered this for a second. I recognized the word, of course, but it seemed meaningless and powerless against the reality I faced. My brain futilely burned glucose like a furnace trying to heat a house with missing walls. Everything was so heavy. My limbs, my eyelids, the world itself pressed down on me. Every action was, out of necessity, deliberate. There was no room for casual movement. It would have been a pointless waste of energy.
“I’m sorry,” I said, “What did you ask?”
She looked at me, lines of genuine worry sullying her features.
“You look awful,” she said.
“Thanks,” I said, resting my head in my hands, “You look great too.”
I realized I was staring directly into my cup. She had coffee, I had ordered a tea with the ludicrous name of “Sleepytime Orange Jasmine.” I considered drinking it, but at the thought my stomach roiled in protest.
“Let’s get out of here,” I said.
I stared out the window as she drove. Trees and houses whipped past. It hurt my eyes to watch, so I closed them.
“I don’t know why you do this to yourself,” she said.
“I haven’t done anything,” I said, eyes still closed.
We drove on in silence for a few minutes.
“Have you seen a doctor?” she asked, finally.
“I *am* a doctor,” I sighed.
“That doesn’t matter. I’m a stylist, but I don’t cut my own hair.”
“Why not?” I asked, opening my eyes at this point and turning to look at her. I was genuinely interested. I didn’t know anything about cutting hair.
“I spend all day fussing over other people’s hair,” she said, faint traces of a smile creeping over her features, “I just like to have the same attention paid to mine by someone else sometimes.”
“I don’t really think that’s anything like my situation,” I said.
Her smile disappeared.
“Anyway,” I said after a few minutes, “To answer your question, I have been to a doctor. Multiple doctors, in fact. Nobody’s ever heard of this happening before. Nobody’s body has ever just up and decided that it’s going to stop sleeping.”
“That’s so weird,” she said.
“Thanks,” I said, sighing. “I’ve been to sleep specialists, psychologists, faith healers, sleeping pills, meditation, you name it. I’ve tried drinking myself to sleep, didn’t do anything. I even had coven of wiccans cast a sleeping spell on me.”
She laughed, then stopped, unsure of if that was rude or not.
“So…how did it happen?”
I shrugged. “I’ve always had a lot of trouble sleeping. You know how sometimes, the night before something really big and important, you just can’t sleep? Your mind just won’t stop, you toss and turn until your alarm clock goes off?”
She nodded.
“Well, that sort of thing used to happen to me a lot. More than most people, I’m sure. And then, eventually, it just started happening every night.”
“Wow,” she said, “That’s terrible.”
The car stopped. She had finally pulled up in front of my house. I unbuckled my seatbelt and climbed out.
“Well,” she said, “This has been the weirdest first date I’VE ever been on.”