Demon: A Memoir
It was raining the night he found me. Traffic had slowed on Massachusetts Avenue, and the wan light of street lamps reflected off the pavement. I was hurrying on without an umbrella, distracted by the chirp of a text message on my phone, trying to shield its illuminated face from rain and the drizzle off storefront awnings. There had been a mistake in my schedule, an appointment I didn’t recognize and I had stayed late at the office for—until six forty-five—just in case. Our office manager was texting me from home now to say she had no idea who it was with, that the appointment must have belonged on Phil’s calendar, that she was sorry for the mistake, and to have a good night.
I flipped the phone shut, shoved it in my bag. I was worn out by this week already, and it was only Tuesday. The days were getting shorter, the sun setting by six o’clock. It put me on edge, gnawed at me, as though I had better get somewhere warm and cheerful or, barring all else, home before it got any darker. But I was unwilling to face the empty apartment, the dirty dishes, the unopened mail on the counter. So I lowered my head against the rain and walked another two blocks past my turnoff until I came to the Bosnian Café. A strap of bells on the door announced my entrance with a ringing slap.
I liked the worn appeal of the Bosnian Café with its olfactory embrace of grilled chicken and gyro meat that enveloped me upon every arrival and clung to me long after leaving. That night, in the premature darkness and rain, the café seemed especially homey with its yellowing countertops, chipped mirrors, and grimy ketchup bottles. Cardboard shamrocks, remnants of a forgotten Saint Patrick’s Day, draped the pass-through into the kitchen, faded around their die-cut edges. A string of Christmas lights lined the front window, every third bulb out. On the wall above the register, a framed photo of the café’s owner with a local pageant queen and another with a retired Red Sox player had never been dusted. But no one, including me, seemed to mind.
I stood in the entry waiting for Esad, the owner, to notice me. But it was not the bald man who welcomed me.
It was the dark-haired stranger.
I was surveying the other tables, looking for inspiration—chicken or steak, gyro or salad—when he beckoned. I hesitated. Was I supposed to recognize him, this man sitting by himself? But no, I did not know him. He waved again, impatient now, and I glanced over my shoulder. There was no one standing in the entryway but me. And then the man at the table stood up and strode directly to me.
“You’re late.” He clasped my shoulder and smiled. He was tall, tanned, with curling hair and a slightly hooked nose that did nothing to detract from his enviable Mediterranean looks. His eyes glittered beneath well-formed brows. His teeth were very white.
“I’m sorry. I think you have the wrong person,” I said.
He chuckled. “Not at all! I’ve been waiting for you for quite some time. An eternity, you might say. Please, come sit down. I took the liberty of ordering for you.”
His voice reminded me of fine cognac, the Hors d’Age men drink aboard their yachts as they cut their Cohíbas.
“You have the wrong person. I don’t know you,” I insisted, even as he steered me toward the table. I didn’t want to embarrass him; he already seemed elegantly out of place here in what, for all practical purposes, was a joint. But he would feel like an elegant fool in another minute, especially if his real appointment—interview, date, whatever—walked in and saw him sitting here with me.
“But I know you, Clay.”
I started at the sound of my name, spoken by him with a mixture of familiarity and strange interest. I studied him more closely—the squareness of his jaw, the smoothness of his cheek, his utter self-possession. Had I met him before? No, I was certain I hadn’t.
One of Esad’s nephews arrived with a chicken sandwich and two cups of coffee.
“Please.” The stranger motioned to a vinyl-covered chair. Numbly, stupidly, I sat.
“You work down the street at Brooks and Hanover,” he said when the younger man had gone. He seated himself adjacent to me, his chair angled toward mine. He crossed his legs, plucked invisible lint off the fine wool of his trousers. “You’re an editor.”
Several thoughts went through my head in