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The Grey Man

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It was a chilly, rainy afternoon that the grey man sat in the little coffee shop on the corner of tenth street, staring with restless eyes at his laptop. He had been coming here for a few weeks, and he had arrived in a time not particularly associated with tourist season. It was late March, and the lake had not yet completely thawed out, but the ice was now too thin to support ice fishing.

No one was here save for the locals and this man, grey and thin and tired looking, as if he never slept and would never sleep again. He never said anything to anyone, other than to the girl at the counter who would sell him coffee that he frowned at as if it were sludge. But he always drank every drop and never complained about it, opting to stare instead at his laptop screen as if it alone could provide him with intelligent conversation.

The locals knew better than to be offended.

The owner of the Wailing Loon Inn said that his name was “Edgeworth”, an old, European sounding name and one that wasn’t unfamiliar to many of the people in town, though an Edgeworth hadn’t lived here in over twenty years. Peter Edgeworth had been a district judge once, but his wife had wanted to live here, where her family was from, so at some point they had retired to this sleepy town. They were old parents with an only son, Gregory, and this man, as ghostly as he seemed, looked enough like Peter’s prodigal to be his son.

There were several things about him that were very different from his probable father, noted the locals with no small amount of small-town scorn for the strange or otherwise deviant. Gregory Edgeworth had been bright, if quiet, and certainly very kind. Small smiles and polite nods of respect toward his elders were not uncommon, and it was not the people of the town that had driven the brilliant young man away, but his strict father.

This man lacked the vibrancy of Gregory Edgeworth, the vitality that had always shone in his clever eyes. He was grey in every way, even his clothing was grey, well-tailored, but drab, as if someone had sucked the color from him. There were no polite nods or small smiles to be had, and anyone who greeted him was met with a blank stare, not cold, but remote. All he would do is stare at his computer, day in and day out, as if it were his lifeline, his heartbeat.

If his body had turned up in the lake, no one would have been surprised.

But he did not turn up in the lake, nor was his body found hanging from the rafters of his room in the Wailing Loon, and the people of that sleepy tourist town found themselves wondering day after day why it was he had come here if it wasn’t to die.

So things continued on as they had until the day Ms. Paige Turner, an English teacher of remarkable tenure at the local high school (best at football in their division!), sat down across from him at his usual table and simply stared at him. For awhile she didn’t say anything, and the girl at the counter and the few locals eating their usual brunch held their breath while the truckers passing through looked on in confusion.

“You know, I had your father in my English class for all four of the years he went to high school,” her voice was sweet, the sort of voice that could lull someone to sleep (and over the years, it had lulled many weary teenagers into a false sense of security), but there was something about the tone of reminiscence that was purposeful. “Back then, the high school was a lot smaller than it is now. There were only two other English teachers besides myself, you know.”

He didn’t look at her, but everyone in the room was surprised to hear him speak, his diction clear despite the low volume of his voice. “And what, precisely, do you think you know about my father?”

His voice was a dead one, but there was something in his tone that suggest he knew that everyone was listening in, and that he certainly didn’t appreciate the attention. Save for the truckers, who still had enough human decency to know when to mind their own business, no one really cared about the clear warning signs in his tone of voice.

Certainly not Paige.

“Oh, I know quite a bit about him. I remember when he was an awkward fourteen year old boy. I remember his sophomore year when he learned to drive and saved up all his own money from working at the diner to buy himself a classic Ford Mustang from Mr. Rogers. And I remember when he took my Government class that very same year because Mr. Franklin had come down with a nasty case of the measles and I was the only one qualified to teach the class.”

Edgeworth visibly grimaced, and for the first time he made more than a few seconds of brief eye contact with someone. Everyone in the room was certain in that moment that if he had been looking at them with such an expression of pure rage burning in the depths of his otherwise completely stagnant and emotionless eyes. His mouth fell open, as if to say something, but no words came out, and the general consensus later was that they were grateful he had not spoken, for they were afraid of what they would hear.

“He was a very bright boy, you know,” Paige was completely unruffled by his display, watching his face carefully as his mouth pressed into an angry, white line. “Top of his class and his mother’s pride and joy. But he and his father never quite saw eye to eye.”

She sighed, ignoring the way he puffed himself up like a small songbird trying very hard to be intimidating. “Judge Edgeworth was a good man, but he was too hard on poor Gregory, just like he was always so unrelenting with criminals. He was so disappointed that his son wanted to be a defense attorney that he told him that if he really wanted to chase his pipe dream, he could leave the house. Gregory’s convictions were so strong that there was never any question of what he would do.”

The sound of flesh hitting the wood table, salt and pepper shakers rattling, caused even a few of the truckers to flinch, though Paige remained unmoving. Edgeworth’s shoulders heaved, his eyes narrowed, his body trembling even as he shut his laptop and glanced around frantically for an escape. There was none but the front door, though everyone saw him hesitate for a moment, staring at Paige with an unreadable expression in his stormy eyes.

Paige trapped his gaze, her expression pleasantly neutral, something challenging in the depths of her eyes.

Edgeworth lost the battle, breaking eye contact after a moment and hastily grabbing his laptop to storm out of the door, leaving a half consumed cup of cold coffee and a shocked cafe in his wake. Paige just watched the door for a moment before standing, pushing her chair in, leaving a small tip for the girl at the counter and walking out, the bell ringing in her wake.

Edgeworth did not return the following day, nor the day after, opting to remain shut in his room for an entire week. The owner of the Wailing Loon had testified that he had heard banging coming from inside the room the night of the confrontation with Paige Turner, but the room had been silent since.

On the sixth day, Edgeworth returned from his exile to sit again at the coffee shop, where Paige was already sitting at his usual table, as if waiting for him. He did not seem deterred by her presence at all, to the great surprise of everyone in attendance (much more than the usual stragglers, as word of the confrontation had quickly spread). He did not have his laptop with him this time and he did not order his coffee, opting instead to sit across from her, meeting her gaze without any of his former hesitance.

“Please tell me what you know about my father.”

It was the last thing anyone in the room expected him to say, especially given the intense look on his face, but Paige just nodded and smiled, as if she had been expecting him to say just that. No apology, no anger, just the desperation of a man asking to hear something, anything about his father’s childhood.

“Gregory Edgeworth was always a bright boy,” she said, lacing her fingers in front of her. “When he was younger, he was a bit awkward in appearance, but by the time he left he was a handsome young man. I’m not really surprised he found a woman to settle down with.”

An expression of incredible melancholy shifted across his grey features, but there was no anger, only patience and something stubborn, a light that refused to go out from his eyes.

“He would tell me about his problems at home, but he was resilient and noble, mature for his age. I remember when he sat in the front row of my Civics class and we were studying the Constitution -- He told me that he wished he had been born before the Jurist system was eliminated,” she laughed, “and then he told me that he wanted to make sure that defendants had a fighting chance.”

“He always said it was his civic duty to protect the innocent,” with a faraway look in his eyes, Edgeworth took something from his pants pocket and placed it on the table, though it was too small for anyone other than Paige to see clearly. “A defense attorney relies on the evidence and always believes in their client.”

Paige frowned, picking up the thing on the table to turn it around in her hand, tracing its shape with her worn fingers. “He used to write me letters, me and his mother, before she passed away. They simply stopped one day, and I never knew what happened to him.”

“Perhaps we can provide each other the answers we have been searching for,” Edgeworth let her look at the item, his expression not quite curious, but neither was it entirely disinterested. It was almost as if he thought he should be more concerned but didn’t have the willpower to be.

“And what have you been searching for?” Paige asked him, taking one of his hands, fisted on the table, and uncurling his fingers to deposit the item in his hand.

Edgeworth looked at the item, his eyes focused on it at first but became distant. Those

following the conversation thought that it looked like he were searching for the meaning of the item in question, looking toward its value.

After a moment, he tucked the item back into his pocket and looked at Paige with pleading

eyes.

“The truth.”

Paige considered him, the significance of the words still hanging in the air before a smile lit her lips. For the first time, her expression was truly gentle as she looked upon him, years of experience shining through, compassion and wisdom making her look younger than her 62 years suggested.

“When your father left town he told me that he was going to go help reveal the truth. That was what being a defense attorney meant to him,” she leaned forward, her chin in her hand, elbow supporting her weight on the table. “Truth was what he wanted to find for the sake of all his clients. Funny that the son values the same things as the father.”

“Does he?” Edgeworth’s hand fell to his pocket again, touching what was inside.

“I don’t know,” Paige’s eyes were  kind and steady. “Does he?”

Edgeworth bowed his head, brow furrowing, before he stood, refusing to meet Paige’s eyes, and walked from the cafe.

He would not return again that week.

However, unlike his previous disappearance, the Edgeworth boy was seen around town for the rest of that week. In fact, the owner of the Wailing Loon said that he barely saw him at all, watching the man leave and return in his rental car (far more luxurious than what most people in that little town could afford). Mrs. Erin Rogers said that she saw him by the graveyard, visiting his grandparent’s graves while she was there visiting her mother’s. Other people attested that he had gone to the supermarket, and had even visited the old courthouse once or twice.

It was on Thursday of the week after his second confrontation with Paige Turner that he returned to the cafe, a small, worn photo album and smooth, black organizer tucked underneath his arm. As grey and as thin as he seemed before, there was something about him now that seemed different, like a high constrast photograph, a man of stark whites, deep blacks, and a few shades of grey. He was like an embodiment of the deepest winter, cold and beautiful all at once, and dangerous if tested.

Paige was waiting for him.

“I brought what you asked,” she said as he sat across from her, her golden wool sweater like sunshine. Gently, she pushed an old shoebox toward him, and the cafe watched as he placed his hands on top of it before removing the photo album from underneath his arm and handing it to her gingerly.

Edgeworth said nothing, watching as she opened the old album, the leather binding creaking with age. Her fingers outlined the shapes of faces, familiar and new, and every so often she would smile or laugh, looking up only when the photo album ended, never completely filled.

Most people in the cafe figured it was a family photo album, the sort that most of them had at home, filled with pictures of cherished memories. They recalled their marriages, the births of their children, the first time they’d got a new puppy. They recalled first days of school, and first grade birthday parties, and proms and retirements.

A short photo album meant a short life.

A short photo album meant that there had not been memories to make.

Paige closed the photo album and placed it on the table, the look she gave the Edgeworth boy long and full of the utmost sympathy. Crossing one leg over the other, she laced her fingers together in her lap and bowed her head, closing her eyes as if taking a nap. After a moment, she spoke.

“So your father’s time on this world was cut short?”

The least curious and most courteous of the onlookers suddenly had the good sense to pay their bills out of respect for the privacy of others. Perhaps they were also people who had lost a loved one, who knew well the sting of loss. Perhaps they were simply very kind people, whatever the reason, as Edgeworth’s silence mounted, only the most inquisitive and the most apathetic remained.

“When I was a boy, my father was murdered in front of me,” Edgeworth’s voice breached the painful silence, though it was a hurting voice, the sort of voice that was hard to hear because it weighed heavily on the heart. “He has not walked this earth for over 15 years now.”

No details were given, but Paige didn’t need to ask them, nor did she want to. The slope of Edgeworth’s shoulders, his pale face, his colorlessness seemed to be part of the burden he bore, unspoken. They were the evidence of the sickness in his mind, a sickness no doubt inflicted on him by witnessing such a tragedy at a young age.

“Did they bring his killer to justice?” Paige asked instead, and the remaining crowd watched as something sharp flashed through Edgeworth’s eyes, though his face became impassive too quickly for anyone to identify the emotion that flickered across his features.

“Yes,” this time, he answered quickly and with certainty. His voice wasn’t sad, though it wasn’t exactly grateful, either. “My father’s murderer was brought to justice. He is unable to harm those beyond his reach.”

As if closing the subject for discussion, Edgeworth reached for the box and removed the lid, looking through the papers inside. Something touched his face, soft, as he traced the shapes of the handwriting with his eyes. It was the first time anyone had seen his face soften, and those yet remaining would mutter about this surprising development amongst themselves for the rest of the day.

“Those are your father’s papers. I asked him before he graduated if I could keep some of his old papers as examples for future students,” Paige’s own face had turned fond, as she looked back over the years. “He was always so articulate, so careful … I try not to play favorites among my students, but it was hard for me to not like your father.”

To the great surprise of all those in attendance,  when the Edgeworth boy spoke again, it was not with pain in his voice, but with fondness. “It’s true my father was a very brilliant man. He was ethical and kind.”

“I can see how much you admired him,” Paige place her hands around the mug of coffee she had ordered and took a long, slow drink, though her eyes never left Edgeworth.

“With your permission, I would like to read these over,” Edgeworth’s voice was very quiet, and those in attendance strained to hear them. “When you called me at the Inn earlier this week and asked meet me here, and I asked you to bring anything you had of my father’s, I couldn’t have imagined …” he trailed off, a note of deep emotion in his voice, eyes slipping closed for just a moment before he continued speaking. “I will return them to you, but I simply wish to read them for myself.”

“Of course,” Paige said, a smile on her lips. “And perhaps next time we can meet at my home, away from prying ears. I’ll even brew you a cup of tea.”

Edgeworth did not quite smile at that, but there was something almost kind about the way he looked at Paige then, a regard for her in his gaze. And though those in attendance were disappointed they would not be able to eavesdrop further, they thought that perhaps it was better for some things to remain secret after all.

“Then I will call you at the proper time,” Edgeworth said, rising, having never utilized the organizer still tucked underneath his arm.

Paige moved to hand the photo album back to him, but Edgeworth simply shook his head. “Consider it a trade, for now. I will trust the binder to you while I have these papers in my possession. Until we meet again, Miss Turner.”

With a polite nod of his head, Edgeworth turned and left the building.

For awhile, the town seemed to forget Edgeworth as they began to prepare for the upcoming tourist season. April was crawling toward May at a steady pace, and the ground was thawing as the lake had thawed. Soon, the fudge shop would be crawling with patrons, and ice cream shops would be swamped with hungry, sticky-fingered children. The Subway and McDonalds on the city limits would get their fair share of business as well, as would the “world famous” pub associated with the town’s mini golf course. There was a great deal to consider as the trees began to bud again and the evergreens shed their coat of snow.

It was May by the time the people of the town remembered Edgeworth existed.

He arrived without fanfare at the usual cafe, accompanied by Paige Turner, who all those in attendance were surprised to find looked quite normal compared to the grey man who was no longer quite so grey.

The townspeople would later describe his suit as burgundy because it reminded most of them of red wine (something there was no shortage of; every supermarket had a wine section), though at the time they weren’t really sure what to call it. He cut a striking figure, looking taller and leaner than any of them had remembered, something about the tailoring of the jacket making his shoulders seem especially broad and his back impeccably straight.

No one could forget the sight of him, vibrant and eccentric, far too metropolitain for the simple tie that passed as many of their Sunday Bests. Stella Sho, who had gone to school for costuming and was in town taking care of her ailing mother, called it a “cravat”, though she remarked that the style was a bit flashy.

This man was completely different from the stone-faced, grey gentleman who was dwarfed by oversized sweaters and did nothing but stare at a computer screen all day. No one in town would argue that he seemed to have thawed with the snow, something clever and intelligent burning just beneath the surface of his stern expression.

Perhaps he was Gregory Edgeworth’s son after all, though considerably less demure.

He ordered a coffee, thanking the girl at the counter, before sitting down across from Paige as he so often had before. “I feel obligated to thank you,” he said after a quiet moment during which he drank his coffee more or less without complaint. “Without you, it is doubtful that I would have had the will to change.”

Paige just shook her head, “Do you remember when we first met and you asked me to help you find the truth?” She looked at Edgeworth, and he looked back, the second half of her question hanging in the air long enough for the townspeople to almost hear her say it.

Did you find what you were looking for?

“I still do not know the answer,” Edgeworth admitted, and for a moment he looked old and sad again, his shoulders sinking for just a moment before he looked to Paige, eyes full of resolve. “And yet it seems I do have a start. I have seen proof that people can change, Miss Turner, that their lives can make the ultimate turnabout.”

Paige laughed, and many of the people of the town knew that laugh as the one she gave when a student answered a question in a way she hadn’t expected; a way that pleased her. “I think, Miles, that the evidence you needed was always within yourself. You just needed someone to drag you, kicking and screaming, in the right direction.”

He smirked, bowing his head only to peer up at Paige from underneath his eyelashes. “Some have called me obstinate.”

“If you weren’t obstinate, you wouldn't be an Edgeworth,” Paige’s smile didn’t fade, and she looked at him with a fondness in her brown eyes. “Your father was stubborn as a mule, too, and so was your grandfather. The key is just applying that bullheadedness of yours to the right area.”

“I suppose that is where I went wrong,” into his pocket his hand dipped yet again, and he removed the small object that many of those in attendance remembered from another meeting not so long ago. “What does it mean to be a prosecutor? To uphold the law? Until I know the answer to that question, I cannot apply my obstinacy in any direction.”

Paige reached out, no hesitance in her movements, and covered his hand. “You’ll find your answer, Miles.”

Edgeworth gave her a strange look, though he did not withdraw his hand, his brows knit together over his eyes in an expression that seemed to be familiar to his face. “Yes,” he said after staring at her for awhile, though whether he was contemplating her face or words no one could tell. “Yes, I believe I will.”