His name was Moses, like from the Bible.
“Alba, I breeng heen back like you ask me,” Benny said. He drank the last of his coffee and patted McSweeney on the back before walking quickly to the door.
“Yeah, Benny, you come back and get me in an hour, you got that?” McSweeney said.
“I be back for jyoo,” Benny agreed. “Alba, jyoo cookeen nex week like always?”
“Like always, Benny. We makin’ a big ole turkey with all the trimmins. You come on over after twelve,” she told him and waved as he left the café. She turned to McSweeney, sizing him up again.
McSweeney was doing his own surveying of Alva. He tipped his coffee cup to his lips and watched her carefully over the rim of the thick white cup, a throwback to the old fashioned luncheonettes of his youth. Even if Alva hadn’t asked to see him again, McSweeney probably would have shown up back at the café sooner or later on his own. It was his kind of place, reminiscent and inviting, a place where you could be left alone or become part of a greater family, whichever you chose.
McSweeney was thinking about packing it in. He had the down payment for a condo on Key West and his eye on an outboard boat that he was sure would be good for his health. Not that he’d spent any time fishing in Florida. But he’d read about bonefish and tarpon and permit, and thought that chasing down elusive game fish would be familiar considering how he’d spent the past 30 years. After all, what would be the tragedy if he failed to catch one? Or any? It wasn’t like anyone’s life depended on it.
“So,” he said to Alva as she walked up to the counter, “you wanted to see me?”
“Let’s go over to a booth,” she motioned him to follow her, choosing the farthest one from the kitchen and the counter, an end booth by a window.
McSweeney brought his coffee. One of the waitresses followed and refilled it for him.
“Thanks,” he said to her.
“Sure thing,” she answered.
McSweeney waited. So did Alva. It was an unusual thing for Alva to be silent. She looked down at the table and fiddled with a fork. Finally she looked out the window and said in a voice as soft as falling snow, “I got someone I ain’t seen since he was born that I feel like I just gotta find.”
“He got a name?” McSweeney had found it was best to start with practical items and the story would unfold in its own time. He felt the story deserved respect because in his work he had discovered, over the years, that the story was never a straight-up tale. So to start with, he liked to keep it simple.
“I ain’t sure anymore. It was Moses. From the Bible, you know?”
“I’ve heard of it,” Lonnie said dryly. “How about a last name?”
“That I can’t say,” Alva shook her head.
“What about your last name. At the time of his birth?” McSweeney asked and took the last drink of his coffee. He watched Alva carefully.
“Oh, I was Alva Patterson then. Before I got myself married for the first time. And then I changed it up, you know, but after the third husband and him dying and all, I went back to it, so I’m Patterson again. Just like I started out,” Alva recounted more than he needed to know but McSweeney listened patiently. “How you go about finding someone been gone for so long?” Alva asked.
“Depends on how long the person’s been gone. Usually it’s not as hard as you might think. But it does cost a bit of money. What were you thinking you wanted me to do? I mean how far did you want me to go in looking?” he asked.
“Whatchoo mean by that?”
“Well,” McSweeney put the coffee cup down on the saucer with a little clatter and pushed it away from his elbow, which he now rested on the table in front of him. “Maybe if you tell me why you want to find this boy and some of the particulars I could tell you how much it might cost. It’s a matter of time and expenses, see.”
Alva could see the red outline of a crushed pack of cigarettes in the breast pocket of Lonnie’s shirt. “Oh. I see,” Alva nodded. She was hesitant to tell this man too much. But at the same time she could see he would need more information if he was to help her. The thing was, could she trust him? And could she trust herself? “What if you was to find him and … ”
“Suppose what I find isn’t what you were hoping for?” McSweeney finished her question.
“Yes,” Alva whispered, like she was walking through a graveyard of her own thoughts.
“That would be up to you, I suppose,” McSweeney said.
“I guess you done figured out this boy’s my son,” Alva whispered.
“Yeah,” McSweeney answered, “I kinda figured.”