Chapter XXI – Timothy Teller
Timothy’s reading plan worked out far better than he could have hoped. As he began the opening chapter, he discovered that he felt somewhat nervous. He couldn’t be certain how a group of adults would react to something that could be considered somewhat juvenile. However, once he began reading, he stopped worrying.
4:50 from Paddington opened up exciting from the very start, catching Timothy’s interest as well as the rest of the group, if one could judge everyone else by their absolute stillness and silence. They sat as though captivated. Maybe Fabian had been correct; perhaps they had really needed the distraction.
When Timothy passed the book and Renee continued reading on his left, he had to strain to hear at first, she read so very quiet. He wondered, if anyone across the table could catch more than a word or two, and began to expect complaints. Renee’s enthusiasm for the story, however, soon won over and she read with confidence.
On her turn, even Ginger read with interest, but as the story continued and the group’s attention deepened, Timothy’s thoughts began to drift.
Listening to Mrs. McGillicuddy’s horror at having witnessed the murder on the train struck him rather strongly; moreso than he could have expected. Even Ginger’s voice wavered when she read out the woman’s short description of the dead girl. Timothy’s breathing began to shorten, just enough that he could notice it.
His own horror at the discovery of Gary Bradshaw’s body hadn’t seemed to last long. There was a great deal going on to process and he had moved on to other things. Or so he might have thought. Until his horror began to return with the reading.
Somehow imagining a fictional killing, brought the real one into fresh relief. The renewed and ever clear realization that a real, living, breathing man, who had made the decision that morning to come down to the café, now lay as a corpse, still and cold in the corner, fell upon him sharp and heavy.
He fidgeted and tried to focus on the story, but failed. He fidgeted again.
“Are you all right?” Anna’s whisper barely reached his hearing.
He nodded, then shifted in his seat. Flashbacks, ones he had avoided for months now, crashed before his mental vision. His hands shook and he clenched them into fists to steady them.
He could feel Anna still watching him, but he hoped that no one else had noticed. They didn’t seem to. All other eyes at the table focused on Ginger as she continued her reading; at least, as far as he could tell. He shook his head, but the images kept coming, faster and more vivid, and he found it difficult to focus on the people actually in the room with him.
“Come on, man. Keep breathing. Don’t give up on me now…”
The man in front of him didn’t respond. He didn’t move.
“Come on, man. Don’t. Not now…”
The chair on the other side of Renee scraped across the floor and pulled Timothy back into the present. He jumped and met Eddie’s hunted expression. It quickly changed to concern and he stepped behind Renee.
“Are you all right, dude?” He hardly made a sound at all as he bent slightly over him, but Timothy could tell what Eddie said. Ginger continued to read.
“I’m… I’m okay.”
“Sure. You look like it. Pale as you are.” He spoke just above a whisper this time.
Timothy wanted to counter that Eddie looked pretty pale himself, but he didn’t have the mental focus to argue. He gave Eddie a faint smile and nod, before the man made for his seat, and then Timothy grit his teeth.
This is stupid. I’ve managed to be fine for months. Why now?
Ginger passed the book off to Fabian, who read in a surprising and soothing voice. Timothy tried to listen, and managed for about three paragraphs, before the images came flooding into his head again.
Lord, I was fine when I saw the unfortunate dead man. Why now? Because for thirty minutes, it’s been calm and quiet?
In his mind, he could hear machine gun fire and shouts. Smell dust and blood. Feel the growing pit in his stomach and swiftly pounding heart.
No. No, no. Come on. I don’t want to remember. Not now.
Mary began reading and Timothy jolted to the present once more.
Timothy had never heard another reader like Mary Dill. The voices that she assigned for the Agatha Christie characters defied all logic and meaning. When she practiced a squeaking, drawled out Arkansas accent on Jane Marple, Timothy couldn’t help but stare. For the moment, he forgot everything but the incongruity of that voice belonging to a native of a small English village and to a character that he had read about since he was sixteen.
Judging by the expressions on the faces of his companions, he wasn’t alone in his thoughts. Renee did her level best not to laugh with each new and surprising piece of dialog, covering half of her face with her hand. Ginger’s eyes widened and she raised one eyebrow in silent question. Fabian mostly kept his eyes on the tabletop with a glance thrown at Mary every now and then, while he kept his jaw tensed, as if he might like to laugh, but absolutely refused to allow it.
Mary paused when Adrian asked Ginger to join them for an interview, but after a long and wary stare, she jumped when Fabian cleared his throat. Mary hurried back to the book and Timothy listened with a growing urge of his own to laugh. It would have been nice to laugh, but not at the expense of Mary Dill, no matter how annoying the woman tended to be. Despite how comical she made it sound, she read with an obvious belief that she was being absolutely serious.
That sounds like the voice Aunt Jennie gave to the fish in The Cat in the Hat when I was a kid. Miss Marple is… a puzzle with that accent.
When her turn came, Kimberly contrasted Mary with a monotonous reading that produced little inflection and no character voices. A robot might have read with more interest in his tone.
His surprise and puzzle over, Timothy’s thoughts began to drift again. He struggled to bring them to focus. Away from dirt and machine guns. Away from screams and death.
Mary stood rather abruptly, Kimberly paused, and everyone looked up. Mary raised one eyebrow, before pursing her lips and gesturing toward the restroom. One or two people nodded, and Kimberly continued her reading.
Timothy tried to stop his shaking hands and closed his eyes.
“I can’t do this! I can’t do this!”
The man in front of him continued to remain still. No heartbeat met Timothy’s frenzied search.
“God, please, not another one! Please!”
Timothy thought he heard a strange sound and he opened his eyes. Renee tried to jump from her seat, hitting against his shoulder, while Eddie, on her other side, simultaneously screamed in an agony of pain and fell from his chair to the floor.
Timothy leapt to his feet, steadying Renee, who nearly tripped on them both. One of the women screamed, but Eddie had gone silent and still.
Moving as if in a daze, Timothy stepped away from Renee and stared at the young man lying on the floor. Eddie’s shirt rapidly began changing to a deep crimson, while all the color drained from his face, leaving him lifeless and pale. Timothy felt ill.
God Almighty, what just happened? What just happened?
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