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  • I met him in the usual place. These meetings had been going on for several months by then. “Do you have the info? Spill it, kid. We don’t have all day.” I told him everything I’d found, while we walked down Dorchester, a cobblestoned street that led down a hill to Knowlson.

    He smiled and nodded, then said, “Good! Nice work, kid. Here, have a smoke. When you get down to the butt, your next assignment is wrapped inside the filter. Meet me here at this same time tomorrow. Got it?” I nodded, and went on with my paper route. He walked off into the distance, then disappeared.

    I’d first met him while delivering the morning paper. He’d been standing at the corner of Pioneer and Dorchester, real cool like, smoking a marlboro, gazing down Pioneer at something important. It was still dark out, but the sun was beginning to stir way out there, somewhere. He wore a fedora, and a gray trench coat with the collar turned up all around. He reminded me of Humphrey Bogart in one of those old 40’s flicks I’d stay up late to watch on the black and white T.V. in my room up in the third floor attic.

    “What’s news, kid?” he’d inquired that first time, as I bounced past him on that corner. I had a sack full of the morning news, so I gave him the headlines, which I’d read about thirty times at that point on my route, as I pulled each paper out of the sack and slung it up onto a porch, or tucked it inside a door, for those fussier customers.

    “That’s good, kid – you have a nose for news, don’t you?” I was unaccustomed to being complimented about anything – he had me with that question. I would’ve done anything for that guy.

    He just asked me to report back on certain details I picked up as I made the rounds on my route. Which customers had lights on inside, which ones had dogs outside, things like that. I began to notice more details as I delivered the paper, wanting always to be ready to answer any questions he might have. I started bringing a little spiral notepad and pen, and would jot things down, any odd thing I noticed.
  • He gave me cigarettes to smoke. He began to hide notes inside the filters, usually just a name or an address – that would be the place he’d want a full report on the next day. I never knew what he did with the information, and I didn’t care. He was the only person I knew who ever complimented me – on anything – and that was all the payment I needed or wanted. The cigarettes were a bonus. It made me feel cool, like him, smoking them, then opening up the filters to reveal my next assignment.

    I was no longer just a paper boy – I was a spy! I was in on something important, and I was a vital cog of the operation. I was the eyes and the ears.

    The next day, he was there, at 5:45 a.m. like always, smoking and looking down Pioneer. I gave him the info, as usual. He stopped walking, turned and looked back at me, then said, “This is it, kid – our final meeting. It’s getting too dangerous – we may have been spotted. It’s no longer safe for me, here. I don’t want your cover to be blown. Here – take these.” He handed me a whole pack of Marlboro’s. “You’ve earned them, kid. Have a good life.”

    With that, he began making his way down Dorchester, then stopped, looked back at me, and said, “If anyone asks, you never met me – got it?”

    “Got it! You know what – I don’t even know your name. Who are you?” He just smiled, shook his head, and walked off down Dorcherster. He turned right on Knowlson, and I never saw him again.

    This is the first time I’ve ever mentioned him to anyone. When I did start smoking, as a habit, it was marlboro’s – of course. I continued to bring a notepad with me, wherever I went, jotting down details, anything odd that caught my eye – details I would miss, otherwise.

    I quit smoking 25 years ago. But, I still carry a notepad and pen with me, wherever I go. Of course I do. I’m a writer. Was he real, or did I make him up? Hard to say. I’m a writer. Memory and fantasy blend together, sometimes. Does it matter?
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