I thought it odd when my boss, Ely Humphreys III, Editor in Chief of The Main Point, asked me to conduct an interview with a window washer.
“What’s the angle?” I asked. After all, it was a window washer we were talking about.
“You’ll know it when you meet him,” he said.
That was it. He turned and walked away.
I stood there momentarily, scratched my head, then looked down at the contact information he’d handed me. “You’ll know when you meet him,” I repeated to myself as I plopped down in my chair and positioned myself at my desk to make the outreach phone call.
So I drive to meet said window washer at a pre-determined spot…a Starbucks in center city Philadelphia. Not happy about this to begin with. It’s Friday afternoon and city traffic’s at a standstill. I enter the cafe, struck by the infamous strong brew’s aroma, the loud cappuccino and latte machines grinding noisily, and a girl behind the counter with pink hair. I scan the seating area and doubt that he’s arrived. No one in the place appears to fit the bill.
While ordering my grande half-caf, I notice that only one patron remains, and he’s shrouded in the Wall Street Journal. I’m irked. Apparently, I will have to kill time until my interview arrives.
So my grande half-caf and I claim the end of a comfy sofa, and I proceed to open my laptop and busy myself with work I had intentionally planned on putting off until Monday. I should be glad for the time to get a jump, but again, I am irked, because this means that I could be doing something else as we quickly approach happy hour, and I have friends back in the ‘burbs to meet. Again, the snarled Friday traffic comes to mind, and the realization hits me that getting out of the city on Friday is a whole lot more difficult than coming in.
Twenty minutes go by. Patrons have come and gone. The guy shrouded in the Journal has now switched to the New York Times. Ten more minutes go by. I've reached my boiling point, and I’m ready to leave. As I stand, I look over at the shrouded guy, and notice that he’s wearing work boots. Okay, I say to myself. Apparently, I need to brush up on my investigative reporting skills…didn’t notice the work boots. Mistake number one, and I haven’t even begun to conduct the interview. What a rookie, I think.
“Mr. Hawthorne?” I ask. The shroud lowers. An unbelievably handsome man with wavy blond hair—a little longer than it should have been—is revealed. My stomach drops to my toes. He smiles. My stomach drops its stomach down to its toes.
He quickly forgets about the shroud and lowers it effortlessly in one fell swoop. I barely notice as he’s now standing and extending his hand to shake mine.
“Call me Mel,” he says.
“I can do that,” I reply. Oh boy. I need help. “Call me Jen,” I said. I go by Jennette, but the second syllable wouldn’t follow on its own accord.
I smile as I take his hand. It’s strong, but he goes easy on me.
“How about if we sit over here?” I ask as I nod toward a table for two. “Mind if I use my laptop to take notes?”
“Not at all,” he said. “One day, I’m going to get myself one of those.”
“I hate to admit it, but I’m addicted to mine. Sometimes I think the only real exercise I get is from hitting the refresh button to see the latest updates.” I realize this is pathetic. So I add, “Just kidding.”
He smiles again. The dimples seal the deal; I feel like I’m home. He’s one of those people who makes you feel like you've known him your entire life.
“So, Mel. I take it you have something you want to tell me, or need help with.”
“Well, I wouldn’t normally ask, but you’re right. I do. I know I saw something during the course of my travels, but I’m between a rock and a hard spot.”
I tilt my head. “Travels? Where were you traveling?”
"No,” he says, as he smiles again. “I wish I had the time and the money for that kind of traveling. My travels, as in my daily routine. Remember, I wash windows for a living?”
Of course you do. What kind of idiot am I? I think to myself. “Oh, yes, of course.” I blush, as I should be the one asking the questions. Mistake number two. “What did you see?”
He looks down, his dimples disappear. I feel sudden empathy. I don’t even know why, but I am sure that it’s in his body language and, as if by osmosis, it’s now my pain, too. But it’s not his pain I’m feeling. I can feel that he’s feeling someone else’s pain. For them. It’s definitely not his own. He’s feeling someone else’s pain.
Before he even looks back at me, I know that this is the kind of man you live to meet. But this is also something I know: he is completely consumed by what he witnessed. Period.
He looks at me. “Have you ever lost someone you loved?” he says.
I think about this. I’ve been lucky. “Aside from distant relatives, no, I haven’t,” I say.
“Someone’s missing somebody, I know. And if it were me, I couldn’t live with those unanswered questions.” He says this, then looks to the side.
How do you respond to this? The logical question finally comes to me. “Mel, please start by telling me what you saw.”
To learn more about Mel Hawthorne and what he's seen on his travels that is ultimately tied to a pharmaceutical cover-up, go to www.amazon.com to buy the book, or www.barbmcclatchy.com to read an actual excerpt.