Every weekday morning between 6:55 and 6:58 a.m., a guy comes into the gas station and buys a black coffee and a four-pack of powdered donuts. He wears khaki pants and a button down, has reading glasses perched on the top of his head like he’s a middle-age tax accountant, rather than the 20-something he appears to be. He always says “good morning” when he comes in, and “thanks a bunch” when I hand him his receipt. I say “morning, sir, welcome” and “no problem, have a great day” back. Those are the only words we’ve ever exchanged.
I know three semi-interesting things about him:
- His name is Jean-Pierre, pronounced with a proper French accent despite the fact that every other word out of his mouth sounds strictly American, which is an unprecedented level of sophistication from someone who spends their life in khakis.
- He always pays in cash with exact change.
- He has a tattoo that peeks out from his half-rolled-up sleeve. Flowers, maybe–it’s hard to tell.
From these mundane observations I patchwork together a wild and unlikely past. Perhaps he’s some sort of agent, covering his tracks by only paying in cash, trying to look as unassuming as possible in his desk job get-up. The tattoo is a mark of his organization, a pledge to them. The powdered donuts are for an informant of his who’s in hiding, who he meets every morning, trading information for the person’s favorite junk food. The reading glasses that he seems too young to need don’t actually function as glasses, but when he wants the guy in the surveillance van to see what he’s seeing, he puts them on and the tiny camera installed in the left frame activates. I figure it must be the left frame, because whenever they begin to slip from where they nest in his hair, he pushed them up with his left hand.
I wish he would pay with a credit card just once so that he’ll sign his name and I can confirm if he’s left-handed. He’s on the phone most morning, and it’s always in his left hand. I like to imagine that he was originally right-handed, but switched when he went off the grid so that his handwriting would be different. I don’t know if that’s a real thing. I hope it is.
When he comes in at 6:58 rather than 6:55, I assume it’s because he was up late last night researching for his next big… secret agent thing. I never get far enough in this creative exercise to come up with the details of his job, it’s mostly just outlandish explanations to small oddities.
One day, I hand him his receipt, and he takes it, glances down at my name tag, and says, “Kip. What’s that short for?”
I shrug. “Just my name.”
He nods and picks up his coffee, lifting the cup towards me in a little toast. It leaves a ring of liquid on the counter that I won’t take the time to wipe up. “Well, chin up, Kip.”
He walks out the door, pushing it open with his shoulder while answering his phone. “This is Jean-Pierre…”
I haven’t seen him since.