Episode 4: Peaut's Tale

part of: The Shadowed Ones

by Jeff Beardwood

We all assembled in one motel room to hear the remarkable tale Peanut had hinted at. I tossed my bag of belongings in the corner and sat cross-legged on the floor. Several joined me there. Panther pulled up a chair and straddled it facing backwards, leaning his chin on the backrest. Maere stood with his arms crossed. Peanut sat, holding court on the edge of one of the beds as we all waited for him to begin.
He struggled to spit out the first few words. He doesn’t really have a stutter, but when he’s choosing his words telling a story, he tends to repeat “uh, uh, uh…” between thoughtful lulls. We’d grown accustomed to his style over the years.
Quirky is probably the best word I could choose to describe Peanut. He is a thin wisp of a man. He keeps up well with some very strong companions, but to look at him, you’d think he was positively frail. I think he is in his 40’s. He has short dark hair, bushy black eyebrows and a very skittish demeanor.
“So, uh…I, uh was very impressed by your girlfriend there Daegle,” he began. Peanut loves to tease. Which is a shame, because he really doesn’t have the sense of timing the skill requires.
“So, she was following me as I left the old apartment?” I tried to push the tale along and ignore the child-like glee he was having telling it.
“Well…uh…I didn’t see her for a very long time,” he corrected. “She may have been. Don’t know how else she would have picked up the trail. For a while, I wasn’t sure I was really seeing someone. Then she slipped up.”
“How,” Panther, his cohort in stealth and a consummate connoisseur of shadows wanted to know.
“There was…uh, uh, uh…a street light that was out. That one on the top of twelfth,” he said and waited for Panther to nod knowingly. “It flickers on and off randomly. I guess she didn’t know that. So what was a blur of a shadow catching my eye suddenly became this woman. She was exactly as you described, right down to the blue frock. Once I had her spotted, I stayed with her, but it wasn’t easy.”
“And that’s when you raised the alarm?” Maere wanted to know.
“Well no, I, that is we…we were a long way from the new place. I watched for a few blocks, admiring her really.”
“Peanut, you gotta get out more,” Marty laughed.
“I don’t mean like that!” Peanut objected. “She moved so that at least three times in those few blocks I thought I’d lost her.”
“Daegle, man, not somebody you want to mess with. Way to pick them bud,” Clive winked looking my way.
“That was nothing compared to what happened after I aborted and Maere moved in,” Peanut said in genuine awe.
“What did happen then?” I wanted to know. “You were gone so long before meeting us. Did she follow us to the coffee shop and you stayed by watching her watch us?”
This had been my assumption of why he was so long before joining us and it would explain why we didn’t just leave the coffee shop and go to our homes after he arrived.
“No. I don’t know why, but as soon as Maere cut you off, she changed direction immediately and headed off at a fast walk in another direction,” Peanut explained. “I wanted to follow her, to see if I could find out where she was going without her knowing I was there. At that point, I was confident she had no idea I was around. Maybe I was a little too confident about that.”
“Why do you say that?” Maere asked nervously.
“Well, uh, she moved off west for about a mile and I kept a very safe distance back. I didn’t lose her in all that time once. Maybe that should have triggered some doubt, after how hard it had been to spot her before. But I thought she assumed she was safe. When she turned once, I had to spot her blind. I heard the steps…16 steps then the echo changed. As I looked around the corner, judging by her stride, which hadn’t changed its rhythm, I knew she had to have turned down this alley. It’s the only place 16 strides could have taken her to a turn. The alley had only one exit at the other end, I knew. No windows or doors or even a fire escape.”
Peanut was all in his glory, explaining the finer details of his tracking of the Wanderer. His eyes lit up…his inflection was like Holmes revealing the elaborately obvious to a doting Watson.
“Well, I didn’t want to put myself in the same vulnerable position she had. I hurried around to a place where I could view the other side. It was a faster way. There’s no way she could have come out before me unless she’d broken into a dead run or something. And I would have heard her steps then. I found a place to be invisible crouched under an overpass and waited…and waited. She hadn’t come out and I began to doubt myself. Maybe she had doubled back? I wondered all kinds of crazy things.”
“You lost her?” I asked, feeding into the suspense of the storyteller.
“Well, not really. After a long time, I heard her stride again. It was impossible, but the steps were coming from above me. She was crossing the overpass. How the hell she got up there I’ll never know to my dying day. There were 23 steps. I knew by the sound they were the same woman. The tone was the same for each step…that faint echo you don’t get on solid pavement. So she had to have stopped right there at the end of the overpass before stepping onto the road beyond. I wondered why she was waiting so long there. Did she know I was under there? I slunk out and went around wide, past where she had to be. Behind a tree line. Behind a hill. I peeked up to check. She wasn’t there. She had to be, but she wasn’t.”
We were all engrossed in the tale completely now.
“I wanted to get closer. To see her footprints in the slush. They might tell me where she’d gone. I got close to the edge. I was taking a bit of a risk. I opened myself from behind a bit…from the way I’d come. But it was worth the risk to see what she’d done. I waited for a truck to drive over the overpass, then I ran out to the end and looked down at the spot and dashed off again before the truck had completely passed. It was the best cover I could get in such an open place. As I ducked down I crawled back to the spot I’d stood before, under the overpass where I’d watched the mouth of the alley. I closed my eyes, recapturing the image of what I’d seen at the end of the overpass. I burned it into my eyes. Then I started to try to decipher what I’d seen. Her footsteps just ended, right where I’d expected. There was nothing else around in any direction. I couldn’t have missed anything within jumping distance, even at a glance.”
“So she just vanished?” I asked, remembering her parlor trick on the night of our mission. I’d never shared that with anyone else. It seemed just too unbelievable, even to me.
“I guess. I don’t know how she left that spot without leaving footprints. But there’s more.”
Here, Peanut shuddered. What ever he was remembering had really shaken him up.
“What?” Marty asked what we all wanted to know.
“When I opened my eyes, after examining the image of the footprints in my mind, I looked down where I’d been standing and there…were some of her footprints…among my own, right on the spot where I’d been hiding.”
Peanut paused to let that sink in.
“As you were sweeping wide to look at where she’d stopped…where you thought she’d stopped…she somehow flew from that spot to…” Panther was puzzling this out and not getting anywhere.
“I’ll never know,” was all Peanut said.
“You believe she knew you were following her?” Maere wanted to know.
“I’m almost sure of it,” Peanut answered. “I never saw her again. Maybe she was following me cautiously after that. I took a very long, careful road back. I’ll be second guessing myself for a long while now.”