The Man with the Overcoat (continued)

By David Finkle

Skip Gerber exited the elevator at 6:18 p. m. on an until-then ordinary late October Tuesday and took the overcoat handed him by a man standing just outside the intricately tooled brass Amerongen Building elevator doors. Ordinarily, he wouldn’t have done such a damn-fool thing, but he was preoccupied—with what thought or thoughts he had no time to recall in the stoked hours that followed.

Was his preoccupation to do with anything that had happened as he left the office where he referred to himself (ironically and, he hoped, humorously) as a “legal eagle”? Were his thoughts concerned with something his administrative assistant Brianna called after him? Something on his calendar he needed to see about? Pick up? Drop off?

Was it some tiresome legal query — or, worse, client — he’d been unsuccessful at pushing to the back burners of his (sometimes he thought) burnt-out mind? Something about his career in general he’d been unsuccessful at ducking? Did it have to do with speculating, as he often did, on how his legal-eagle (no irony necessary) dad, Gabriel Martin Gerber, would have handled similar cases?

Was he trying to recall what information he’d promised to look up for his mother, Bernice Sawyer Gerber—not even for her, for her friend Gussie Slotnik? (This was his life.) Was he wondering if he’d taken his cellphone? Had he just patted his pockets to verify that he had?

Was he dwelling on his funny (or not so funny) general existence as a guy who used to enjoy being the life of the party but had reached an unfortunate point where he no longer had time for parties, let alone serve as the life of them?

Skip Gerber couldn’t say what he’d been contemplating, and as a consequence of his ruminations being elsewhere, he had accepted the unusually heavy, thundercloud-grey overcoat just like that, no hesitation, no questions, no confusion.

He simply allowed someone he’d never seen before in his constantly evolving, and too habitually revolving, days to hand him a coat and say “Here you go, and be very careful with it” in a tone of voice he wouldn’t describe as soothing —gravelly, more like.

Why would anyone — he was soon to ask himself innumerable times — take a coat from a complete stranger only because it had been offered? (Foisted off? Unloaded?) Come to that, why would a complete stranger hand him a coat in the first place — as if a night-club patron to a checkroom clerk — and warn him to “be very careful with it”?

When Skip — red-faced as a circus clown with annoyance after realizing what he’d gone and done — tried to return the overcoat to its brash donor, the gesture was futile. The man had boarded the elevator, or Skip assumed he had. The doors had shut behind him and on any other passengers aboard.

“The cheeky coat-bestowing bastard”

Who knows where in the skyscraping Amerongen Building the man was headed? Who knows how time-consuming and complicated it would be for Skip to track down the unasked benefactor and return the blessed item?

Skip — born Edward Raymond Gerber thirty-seven-years-and-change earlier and nicknamed by Uncle Moe, who got a kick out of his four-year-old nephew skipping all the time — wasn’t even certain he could identify the cheeky coat-bestowing bastard. Nor could he count on any of the passengers to verify the culprit. By now they’d all completely dispersed.

Near as Skip could say, the man was of middling height (maybe five-ten, five-eleven), full head of salt-and-pepper hair — Skip was fairly sure of that — had a long face (or was it square-ish), was dressed in a suit and tie. He was of indeterminate age, anywhere between thirty-five and fifty-five, Skip would have estimated.

But screw it all, that description would fit just about every second or third man who charged into or hurtled out of the busy midtown Fifth Avenue Amerongen Building at any time of the day between 8 a. m. and 8 p. m. or, for that matter, at odd hours during the late night and early morning.

If pressed further for a police sketch, Skip might have said that in his fleeting glimpse he thinks he noticed the man had a one- or two-day’s beard and looked fatigued. But that description, too, could fit almost any of the lean and hungry workaholics populating the no-available-space Amerongen Building.

Middling height? Signs of greying hair? Suit and tie? Thirty-ish? Forty-ish? Workaholic? Good grief, he could have been describing himself, as he often had in his more comically desperate misgiving moments.

All Skip could be sure of — at, checking his knock-off Rolex, 6:21 p. m. (why buy the real thing when you can get a substitute for so much less?) — was that he hadn’t been lumbered with the coat by a woman. Or could it have been a woman gotten up as a man? Probably not. The features he’d scoped for only a split second didn’t look as if they were a woman’s. No, not a woman’s. Skip wouldn’t have said that.

Not that he was thinking only about describing the man to anyone as he stood facing the closed elevator doors with the (what’s the opposite of “purloined”?) coat in his left hand and his briefcase in his right hand and as people streamed past him or clustered around him waiting for the doors of one or more of the other seven Amerongen Building elevators to part.

Not that he was thinking only of locating the man, either. He was thinking: What the hell! What the hell is this? What the hell do I do now?

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  • Henry C. Childs February 22, 2015 at 9:31 am

    It’s great to see someone else admit that they listen to their characters in their novels and basically transcribe the thoughts and actions of the players. I have always been absorbed by what I “hear” as I sit at my computer, trying to keep up with all that goes on “out there”. Thanks, Dave, for the company.