“I’m sorry, sir, but I believe that’s your briefcase.” I looked up from my phone to see a blur of grey carrying what, indeed, was my briefcase. Taking a moment to consider what the thief had with them, I shrugged and went back to playing 2048.
“But sir, aren’t you worried? That man stole your stuff!” The valet was just trying to be helpful, I knew, and really, most people would have been panicking right about now, of course. But I wasn’t most people, because I knew something they didn’t. I pushed the button to turn off the screen on my phone and motioned for the man – Rick, his name tag read – to sit down next to me.
“The truth is, Rick, there’s nothing in that briefcase.”
“But…why would you be carrying an empty briefcase?” Rick was a young man, and despite my knowledge that he’d never live to be as old as I was, I still felt the compulsion to pass on wisdom to the next generation.
“Some men might say habit. You get used to carrying something like that for as many years as I have, it’s hard to put down. But that’s not me – I hated that damned thing, filled with folders and files and pens and business cards. The detritus of a life on the road.” I paused, looking out over the lobby. Lainie would have loved this hotel, had this been one of the trips she came on with me. There were too few of those, to be sure, what with the kids and all. My eyes misted over a bit, and I wiped them with the back of my hand.
“No, Rick, it wasn’t habit.” My voice had gotten rough, and time was short. “The briefcase was empty because I failed. I had a job, and I didn’t do it, and so I didn’t get to pick up what was coming to me.”
“Was…was it important?” Rick’s voice cracked. Maybe he was even younger than I’d originally thought – a college kid on a summer job. Aw, hell.
“You could say that.”
“But why did that man steal it? I mean, if nothing was in there. Did he know that?”
“If that was who I think it was, no. He assumed that I’d done my job, because I always had before. He’ll get to his safe place, open it up, and find out the truth. Maybe. Maybe not.” I pushed the button and checked the time on my phone. There might be just enough time for a miracle.
“Do you need to be somewhere, Rick? I mean, other than working?”
“No. Not today. My mom will be working late herself.”
“Well, if you’re up to it, what do you say to heading over to your boss and asking for the rest of the day off? I’ve got a hankering for some lobster, and I hate eating alone. And I can tell you what was supposed to be in that briefcase, if you’re up to it.”