“Don’t I know you?”
Brett was confused at the obese, haggard old woman’s question. He was on one of his hated sales trips, the long ones that kept him away from Maggie and the kids back in Illinois for a month a two a pop. He was trying to pay for gas in a town in the panhandle of Idaho named Kirk. He’d never been in the state before, much less the town, hence his confusion.
“I don’t think so. Are you from Illinois? Maybe we knew each other back there,” he said, almost certain he’d never met her, but open to the possibility.
“Never been to any other state other than Idaho besides Washington,” the woman responded, apparently proud of the fact.
“Well I’m sorry, there’s no way we’ve met before then. This is my first time in Idaho, and I’ve never been to Washington.”
“Hrmph,” the woman said, unsatisfied. She took the twenty dollar bill he’d been trying to hand to her for the last minute. “What pump did you say, again?”
He walked out of the near-empty gas station feeling slightly unnerved by the short encounter, but the feeling quickly dissipated when he walked into the frigid Idaho late-fall, his unease replaced with a frantic need to get out of the frigid sleet. By the time he’d crossed the lot to the covered area over the gas pumps, he’d almost completely forgotten about it.
He put the twenty bucks into the car and jumped in. He started the car fast as he could and rubbed his hands in front of one of the vents, hoping the heater would warm quickly. After a minute he put the car in drive and pulled back onto the road, headed into the heart of the town, where he hoped to sell small business insurance to the local shop owners.
When he got to the small downtown of the city he started touring around in his car, taking in the local businesses and nervously trying to decide on which to start at. Once he got rolling he could sell all day, but he always had trouble figuring out where to start. Despite being one of the top local business insurance salesmen in the country, he had never gotten over his nervousness when starting in a new town.
Finally settling on a hobby shop named Kyle’s Kites, he pulled into the 8-car parking lot on the side of the building and parked his car. The sleet was even worse when he got out of the car, and it took all he had in him not to sprint to the store entrance.
When he walked in the door a bell attached to the door jingled, giving Brett a warm feeling that reminded him of his childhood. He heard the sound almost every day he was working, and it never ceased to brighten his day. It reminded him he was out for the little guy.
“Welcome friend,” a pudgy, bald, bespectacled man behind the counter greeted him. The man was crouched over a kite, repairing a broken brace.
“Hey buddy,” Brett said. “Are you the famed Kyle from the sign?” he asked, reaching out his hand for a shake.
The man took his hand and shook it firmly. “That I am. What can I do you for?”
“Well, to be frank I wanted to talk to you about your current insurance coverage.” Brett held out a hand, as if to stop any objections. “Now I know you probably get five guys a month coming around you asking to talk to you about the same thing, but I’m not them and I know right now without knowing your specifics that I can offer you lower rates-“
The man squinted through his thick glasses and leaned towards Brett. “Say, I know you from somewhere, don’t I? You went to Ridgeview, right?” the man said, interrupting Brett’s sales pitch.
“I did not. I’m afraid I’ve never been to this state before, or even the general area. I just saw Montana for the first time not two weeks ago,” Brett said, flustered by the interruption.
“I spent some time in California two decades back, did you grow up there by chance. I know that I know you from somewhere.”
“I’ve been to California once, but only on my honeymoon eight years back. I don’t think we’ve met before, unless you’ve been east of the Dakotas. Now, my company’s insurance coverage…”
“Get out,” Kyle the kite repair man said.
“What? Excuse me, sir, if I’ve offended you I apologize…”
“Get out! You’re trying to mess with me, aren’t you? You must be one of Chet’s friends. I know I know you from somewhere. When you see Chet tell him I said fuck you,” the man said, rising out of his chair and walking around the counter towards Brett. Brett could see sweat dripping off of the man’s brow, glistening with a sheer of oil atop the droplets. Like pig sweat.
“I’m going,” Brett said, raising open hands to show he was no threat. “I’m sorry about the misunderstanding.
Greasy Kyle spit at his feet. “Just get out.”
Brett hurried out to his car, so worried that he didn’t even take note of how the sleet had increased, and the temperature dropped. He jumped into the car and started it, wildly swinging the door shut with his left hand.
The car started right up, and Brett peeled out of the lot, anxious to get away from Kyle the kite man and his unique brand of insanity.
As he drove down main street he considered cutting his losses and heading out of the town, but something told him he had to stay this one through. Sighing, he began to search for another suitable business, one that would give him the good start he was looking for.
Several of the townspeople seemed to look at him as he cruised down main. It was as if they recognized him. At first he tried to push it out if his mind, but after the fifth person looked at him sideways it became hard to ignore. You’re just being paranoid, he told himself.
He came by a field and noticed children playing soccer. He smiled as he drove by, the scene of idyllic childhood making him forget his fears.
Suddenly one of the children, a boy, noticed him, and spun to stare at the car head on, his mouth agape. The other children were confused at first, but after a couple of prods and some whispers, nearly all of them were staring at Brett’s passing car with dazed expressions.
“They must have never seen a Cordelle before, don’t let it get to your head,” he said aloud, speeding up to get away from the field.
He stopped at a store on the outskirts of town. He’d settled on a grocery store that was tiny by the standards of any small town in Illinois, but that he would have bet was the main grocer in town. Hoping that this stop in went better than the last, he parked in the front of the lot and walked in, praying that his sales pitch went better than it did at the last store.
When he walked into the store he was greeted with the pleasant scent of spices. Following his nose, he found a stand of spices to the right of the door, fully loaded with the most pleasant spices imaginable. There was even a tiny bottle of Saffron, more expensive by weight than gold.
“Can I help you sir?” an elderly, matronly woman asked from behind a glass counter. She was heavyset and wearing spectacles.
He tipped his cap, and then pulled it off of his head “I was thinking my visit would be more along the lines of me helping you, if you’d be inclined to give me a few minutes of your time. I love your hairdo, by the way. Did you go to the stylist recently.”
“Just yesterday,” the woman said, patting her hair and giving a giggle that made Brett think of the young woman she must once have been. “Thank you. I can talk to you for a little while, things are slow around here today,” she swept her weathered hands out across the empty store. “What have you got?”
He set his suitcase on top of the class counter and popped it open, retrieving some of the pamphlets he kept in there. “Well, I represent an insurer who specializes in working for small, local businesses. We are the little guy, looking out for the little guy, and I’m certain that we can give you cheaper rates than you’re paying now for your insurance needs.”
Having retrieved the pamphlets, he closed the briefcase and looked to the woman for an acknowledgment, only to find that she was looking at him strangely. Oh great, not this again, he thought, knowing what was coming.
“You came up around here, didn’t you? I didn’t recognize you when you came in, what with my bad eyes, but now that you’re closer I know I know you from somewhere.”
He gave his most award-winning smile. “I’m afraid not ma’am. I haven’t been here before, but a few of the other people in town have said I look like someone from here too. I guess I have a lookalike who lives her, or used to anyway.”
The woman frowned. “Hrm, well show me what you have to show me, then.”
He gave his presentation, but he could tell he’d lost her before he’d started. She still thought she knew him, from the way that she studied his face as he gave his spiel. She thought he was lying to her and was insulted, he could see it in her eyes. He wasn’t getting a sale from her.
“Well thank you for your time, but I don’t think I’m interested in switching providers right now,” she said when he finished his pitch. “You’re sure you’ve never been around these parts again?” she asked in a tone as if she was giving him one last chance to come clean.
“Never been here before,” he said. “Such a pretty town, I’m sure I’d remember it.”
The woman almost imperceptibly shook her head, and then stood up, staring at him blankly. He took the hint, and after gathering up his papers he walked back out into the brisk autumn weather.
“Just not my day today,” he told himself as he walked to the car. As he put his briefcase in the back seat, he wondered if his lookalike had a bad reputation in the town. That would explain why everyone was treating him so poorly.
He started up his car and considered leaving the town and trying the next one over. But he’d never left a town without a sale before, and he didn’t want to start. That felt like giving up. And besides, he told himself, the next town over might have seen his lookalike too. It could be his doppelganger’s home town, for all he knew.
So he decided he’d stick around, at least for a couple more stores. If he was still having a bad go of it then, he’d give up, but he wasn’t going to give up on his streak of making a sale in every town so easily.
He cruised around the downtown again. He looked for a restaurant this time, both because he had a great track record selling to restaurateurs , and because his stomach was rumbling.
There were a couple of cafes that looked promising, and a steakhouse, but he eventually settled on a restaurant called Luis’ Pizza, pizza appealing to him the most.
The door jingled as he went in. The sound was rapidly losing its appeal. The scent of backing pizza – the melting cheese, the sweating pepperoni, the rising dough – filled his nose, and his stomach gave a grumble so loud that if a person had been standing next to him they’d have heard it.
“Greetings,” a man said, emerging from the kitchen. He was tall and skinny, with black hair and a bushy mustache of the same color. An Italian man, he was obviously Luis.
“How’s it going?” Brett said. “Looks like I chose the right place, it smells great in here. My mouth is watering already.”
The man laughed, “Thank you, sir. We just opened a few weeks ago, and it’s always good to have a new customer. Are you from here? I’m pretty new to town.”
“No, I’m not from here,” Brett said, relieved to meet someone who didn’t claim to know him from somewhere. He scanned the menu. “Can I get a couple of slices of the pepperoni and a Dropsie Cola?” he said. “Actually, make that a small pepperoni. I’ll eat the leftovers tonight in the hotel room, I can already tell I’m going to want more of this pizza.”
“Coming right up, sir. I’ll pop that pizza in right away, and it’ll be ready in a little over ten minutes.”
“That sounds great, thank you.”
The man disappeared back into the kitchen. After surveying the booths, Brett decided on a corner one, where he could get a good view of the scene outside of the store. People watching was one of his minor hobbies. With a good window he didn’t mind waiting thirty minutes or more in a restaurant. He sat down and slid over to the window.
It was like watching a scene out of the past. Men in suits were walking about the streets, alongside women in simple dresses. Children scampered about the streets, some of them unescorted as they played with their friends. It was unlike any scene available where he lived on the outskirts of Chicago. Places like this made him feel like he should pack up the wife and kids and move right away to live the good, simple life. Sometimes he thought he just might do it.
He was so absorbed in his view that he didn’t notice the door jingle, letting in more customers. A minute later the man he assumed to be Luis came by with the a plate, the pizza, and a perspiring, frosty bottle of Dropsie Cola. “Hope you enjoy it,” the man said as he placed it all on the table.”
“Oh, I’m sure I will. Thanks again buddy,” Brett said.
The pizza was delicious. He was glad he went with the small pie instead of the slices, because he ended up eating half of the small pizza, more than two slices worth. When he finished eating he took a long pull of his cola, savoring the cold sweetness.
“I know you, you’re that guy who used to live here, the one who-“ a male voice behind him said.
“I’m not the guy you think I am,” he said, turning to face the man and getting angry for no reason he could think of. The man was a skinny, trucker-looking type, wearing a faded baseball hat. He was standing near the cash register, and looked to be around Brett’s age.
“I’d know you anywhere, you sick fuck,” the main replied, getting heated just as promptly.
“Joe,” a mousy, sadly pretty woman beside him said, grabbing the man’s arm and trying to pull him back.
“Look, I don’t know who you think I am, but you’re mistaken. A few people in town have told you I look like some guy, maybe you’re mixing me up with the same person.”
“I worked that job at the church with you Mark, you think I’d forget who you were after you did that shit and fled town?”
“My name is Brett.” Suddenly he was filled with an immense fear. The man was clearly irrational and on the verge of violence, but there was something else there too. He eyed the door.
The man noticed him eyeing the door. “You’d better fucking run, because the first thing I’m going to do is to call constable Scottson, he’s been waiting to find you,” the man said. “That’s your Cordelle outside, isn’t it? You won’t get far – that car is noticeable from a mile away.
“I’m not whoever you think I am,” Brett said weakly, getting up from the booth. He fumbled a twenty out of his wallet and threw it on the counter in front of the proprietor, who had come out to gape at the spectacle. He said “I’m not him,” one last time, and walked out the door.
It took all he had in him not to dash to his car. Trying as hard as he could to remain calm, he almost sauntered to his vehicle and got in.
He was frantic as he started the car. He was definitely going to leave right away, whoever this guy was they were mixing him up with had done something bad. He wasn’t going to stick around and be hauled off by a lynch mob for another man’s actions.
The man who had confronted him, Joe, and his wife, were outside of the restaurant as Brett backed his car out of the space and then pulled out of the lot. To his horror, he saw that the restaurateur with the bush mustache was out in the lot as well, looking at Brett with anger and disappointment.
He took the quick route to the highway, and then sat cruising. He wanted to get as far away from the town as possible, but he couldn’t stop thinking about it at the same time. He had a strange sense of déjà vu, as if the day had happened before
Breathing so hard that he worried he’d pass out at the wheel, he pulled the car to the shoulder and stopped it. He closed his eyes and rubbed his temples. Other than a distant siren everything was peaceful and calm.
He tried to focus. Why was everyone so hostile? He’d never been there before.
Except…. he had, hadn’t he? It was starting to come back to him. He’d spent some time there around when he was 23-25, why hadn’t he remembered that before? Had he lived in the town he’d been in earlier?
As he rubbed his temples, flashes of memory stared to flicker.
He’d been married, hadn’t he? He’d gotten a job… a job in Kirk. Nausea swept over him as he tried to remember. It was coming back to him, but he had to fight for it.
The job didn’t work out. Sue (that was her name, wasn’t it?) was supportive, but he was humiliated. He couldn’t find a new job, and didn’t know what he would do.
The nausea intensified, and he vomited on the floor of the car on the passenger’s side. What happened next? I have to remember, he thought as he wiped vomit and spittle from his mouth. The siren was getting louder.
When it came to him, he wished he hadn’t remembered.
He’d smothered her with his pillow while she slept in their bed. Afterwards, he’d set the house on fire, and then drove back to the Midwest, back to his old life. He didn’t have many friends or family, and those he did have hadn’t known much about his situation, and hadn’t asked.
It had all been so easy to forget, to start a new life.
Feeling like he was going to vomit again, Brett reached desperately under the seat for an old fast food bag to do it in. His hand brushed against something cold and metal.
He pulled it out. It was a pistol he had no recollection of buying or putting in his car. It seemed he’d been hiding all sorts of things from himself.
The siren was almost upon him now. A quick glance in the rearview mirror revealed it was a police car, rapidly approaching him on the highway.
He looked from the mirror to the gun, then back to the mirror. He stared at himself directly in the eyes as he put the barrel to his temple, and then pulled the trigger.