(Excerpt from A Heart of Steel.) Steele’s friend Sandy answered her phone tentatively as if with concern, “Hello.”

“Hey Sandy, It’s Steele. I’m sorry to awaken you.”

“That’s ok. What’s wrong?”

payphone-1500556_1920“I’m calling you from the pay phone at the Krystal. David came home from work drunk again, and I had to leave. Mom’s keeping Daniel overnight, and I wondered if I could come stay at your house. “

“Sure, of course. I’ll get up, unlock the door and turn on the outside light for you. What are you going to do?”

“I’m not sure now as I really wasn’t prepared to have to leave tonight, but I know I’m not going back. I’ll have to go back sometime tomorrow though to get my things and then go look for an apartment I guess.”

In her mind, Steele had planned her safe escape many times, but she had not put the plan into action and was now caught off guard.

“Well don’t worry, you can stay here as long as you need to.”

Steele had just started the new job at the drug and alcohol rehabilitation center and was earning a decent hourly wage as charge nurse. She could now afford to move out and rent a small place. Steele didn’t want to impose on Sandy as she and her husband Gary were having their own marital problems and had recently separated due to his continued philandering.   Sandy was one of Steele’s best friends from high school and had a daughter Nicole who the same age as Steele’s son Daniel. Sandy and Steele often met at the playground so the kids could swing. For a long while, Sandy had encouraged Steele to divorce David after learning of the abuse.

“You are welcome to use the phone in my car,” a strange, masculine voice said.

Still on the pay phone, her back toward the stranger, surprised, Steele turned around to face him. The man was the same one from whom she had borrowed coins. She felt a sense of apprehension.

“Sandy, I have to go, but will be there shortly,” Steele said before hanging up the pay phone.

“What did you say?” Steele asked the man as she took a few steps back.

“I said I have a phone in my car if you need to make more calls.” the stranger said.

Steele slowly backed away towards the door of the restaurant, keeping the man in her sight.

There was no such thing as a phone in a car. He must be crazy or maybe he was trying to get her in his car, she thought.

“Oh yeah right. Well, thank you but I don’t think you have a phone in your car.”

The man was wearing a long, tan trench coat and his personal grooming was lacking. His eyes were bloodshot and his hair disheveled. Steele thought he must be a street person.

Steele didn’t want to walk to her car in the dark parking lot with the strange man following her so she went in Krystal. She had a few coins in her pants pocket. Steele approached the counter and pulled out the money to count. She had about a dollar in change, enough for three Krystal burgers. Steele sat down in a booth and began to eat when the man slid in across from her. Chewing the burger, her jaw stopped moving, and she said nothing. The man reached for one of the little cartons. He pulled out the tiny burger and began to eat it. Steele’s eyes widened, but she said nothing, believing he must be hungry.
“I really do have a phone in my car.”

“OK. I’m sure you do. I don’t need to make a call now.” Steele said kindly.

“My name is Bill. I own a construction company here.”

“Really? That’s cool. Nice to meet you, Bill,” Steele said. She didn’t believe a word he said.

“What are you doing here all by yourself so late at night?” the man asked her.

“I just stopped here to make a phone call, that’s all,” Steele answered.

He pulled a business card out of his pocket, placed it on the table and slid the card across the table to Steele.

“Here, take my card. You can call the number in the morning to check me out.”

Steele picked up the card, looked at it and said nothing, not wanting to aggravate the delusional man. He stood up to leave and asked her,

“Are you sure you’re ok? Are you sure you don’t need any help?”

“No, I’m good, but thank you,” Steele replied.

How was a street person going to help her? The stranger then left the restaurant, got in his car and drove off in a late-model sedan. Steele sat there dumbfounded and pondered the weird encounter. She stared at his business card with phone numbers listed for both office and car. Dewitt Construction. If he had a phone in his car, she was an orangutan’s aunt. Steele finished the remainder of her burger then got in the car and headed to her girlfriend’s house.

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