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    Timothy M.
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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.

Tollbooth Operator - 1. The Tollbooth Operator

Grid & Dice Prompt: A neurotic tollbooth operator hides in an inner city one-star no-tell motel because: "Fuck, they saw me!"

Frankie twitched the curtain aside half an inch to peer outside for the sixth time in an hour. He knew he was being stupid, but he was nervous, or maybe scared was a better word. He had never felt so many new emotions at once, some good and some bad. No amount of pacing or breathing slowly helped.

Mr. Dan had left him here and told him to stay and wait. “Nobody’s going to look for you in a grotty motel in one of the city slums. Just relax and keep calm, Frankie. Don’t go anywhere or contact anyone. Wait for me or Detective Kasumaki to get you.”

“How will I know it’s you knocking on the door?” It wasn’t possible to see someone at the door without them seeing you too.

“Good question. What codeword would you prefer?”

“Tollbooth.”

“Fine. Don’t reply when we knock until we give the word.”

Frankie liked clear instructions and most of those given by the lawyer were easy to carry out. He had nowhere to go and no one to contact. Waiting was what he did all the time at home, waiting for a car to approach his booth to enter or leave the gated community where he had lived all his life.

“Calling it a tollbooth is not absolutely correct,” his father had told him when Frankie was twelve. No one paid any money to pass him, or the two electronic gates which sat across the road lanes. Residents and employees had devices to open those gates, and visitors were issued a single-use entry card. All entries and exits by the automated gates were logged and documented by closed circuit cameras, and any employees lending their access devices to others were fired and prosecuted. The people living here were in the public eye for most of their lives and took their privacy seriously.

When the automated gates had been installed thirteen years ago to replace two of the three manually operated booths, there had been a heated debate about whether to keep Frank Sr.’s booth in operation. It was a much wider gate with two barriers which could be operated individually. Trucks preferred to use this gate, and if you didn’t have a visitor’s pass, the only way to be admitted was to approach Frankie’s father who would contact the intended residence or the security guards patrolling the area.

Frank and his son lived in the tiny cottage which had the tollbooth attached to it. Frankie spent much of his childhood sitting at his father’s feet, or on his lap, when there was no traffic. He’d learned his three R’s looking at the number plates of passing cars. There was a small window in the lower half of the booth, perfectly situated for a four-year-old to observe. Frankie’s father had been so proud when he saw his son carefully trace those letters and numbers in his small sketchbook. He found them much neater and easier to draw than the people, trees or animals his mother seemed to expect.

“The boy is getting as weird as you are,” Frankie’s mother yelled before she packed all her suitcases and left when he was six. Frank muttered ‘Good riddance’ but the boy hadn’t understood what his father meant until years later. Their home certainly became a much nicer and calmer place, with the same routines every day, plenty of soothing silences and easy companionship. Frankie would read books, set out sandwiches and pour OJ for them to share, and when he got older he’d watch the booth while his father went to the bathroom.

“You’re not to let anyone in, mind you,” Frank cautioned him and Frankie nodded. “Just tell them I’ll be back in a moment, and ask them to be patient.”

It rarely happened, but drivers certainly seemed to be happier to be greeted by a polite youngster than the sign Frank used to hang out whenever he had to desert his spot. By the time Frankie was nineteen, he’d helped out in the tollbooth for long stretches of time, during which his father went on one of his rare errands or dealt with various small jobs in the cottage. The gated community was pleased to sign Frankie on when the automated booths arrived a year later. Frank Sr. had easily convinced them, since they were already used to his son and they’d save a lot of money.

“Frankie is here anyway, and it means we can keep the booth open from seven in the morning till eight at night without any other staff being hired. He’s already on the meals and laundry plan via my contract, and any salary you pay him will be put into a savings account for later. He’ll need uniforms, and his laptop must upgraded, but otherwise he’s set to start. He’s trained in every single aspect of operating the booth, and I’ll supervise in the beginning, of course.”

The next five years were the happiest of Frankie’s life. His father had entrusted him with the almost sacred task of manning the gate, and he had praised and advised in his usual, patient way. All his instructions were concise and Frank wrote careful manuals for every emergency or unusual occurrence he’d experienced over the years, and all he could imagine. Frankie learned them by heart, but he still liked to get the binders down in the evenings and look at his father’s neat handwriting. After his death, Frankie typed the rules into his computer and added to them occasionally.

Like the time there was a fire in one of the residences, just before he turned thirty. The fire trucks came roaring up the road with lights flashing and sirens blaring. Frankie had the gates wide open, and the trucks zoomed past. His heart was still beating fast as he wrote down the number plates of the five trucks. The fire fighters were handsome in their uniforms, and he liked their focused faces as they raced to do their job. Five minutes after the fire trucks, several cars and vans arrived, and Frankie recognized the names of at least two news stations.

“Open the gate,” the driver of the first car yelled at him.

“May I see your visitor’s pass, please?”

“What? Don’t be ridiculous! We’re here to cover the fire in the Dermott house.”

“Have the Dermott family or their neighbors invited you to do so?”

“No, but we saw the fire trucks go up here, and we’re told that’s where they’re headed.”

“Did the fire department, the police or the guard company request your presence?” Frankie had already sent off an email to alert the security guards.

“Well, not directly,” the reporter hedged as the drivers of the other cars and vans tooted their horns or sent one of the passengers to question the delay.

“This idiot won’t open the gates. He says we need permission to enter.”

Soon, Frankie had several people yelling at him, and he recited his father’s instructions to himself to stay focused.

“No matter what people say, what excuses they give, or how angry they get, you must NOT let them in, if they don’t have proper permission. The only exceptions are police cars, fire trucks, and ambulances coming in with lights flashing. Those you let by at once and send an alert to the guards, in case it’s a hoax.”

The shouting finished and the irate reporters seemed to expect a reply.

“I’ll be happy to contact any resident you can name, to ask for a permit, or you can wait for the security guard to arrive.”

“Guard? What guard?”

“Shit, I ain’t waiting for no guard. I can walk up there,” exclaimed a guy with a camera hanging around his neck. Luckily, Frankie’s instructions also covered this event. He had another email ready to send, if any of them actually walked past the gate.

“I’m required to tell you trespassing will be prosecuted. The guards on the grounds are patrolling with dogs, and any injuries sustained in the apprehension of trespassers will be on your own heads.”

They all stared at him, and Frankie decided to educate them a bit further.

“This is a private residential area. Entry is by invitation alone, unless you have authority from the police, the FBI, or similar agencies arriving with proper warrants and IDs. Private citizens or business people, including members of the press, are only permitted entry with valid visitor cards which can be used in the gates or handed to me.”

”How about if we gave you some money to open the gate and look the other way? You could say we drove in right after the police.” They could all hear the sirens approaching.

“Offering or accepting bribes is wrong. I will lose my job if I let anyone of you in, and it’s against the rules. Please leave, or I will be forced to explain to the police officers why I am unable to open the gate immediately.” The last part hadn’t been in his instructions, but when it made most of the reporters drive away cursing, Frankie added the idea born of desperation to the list.

The security guard arrived shortly after the two police cars had entered, and he chased the rest of them away. Frankie mentioned the incident in his usual succinct, quarterly report: ‘Three cars and two vans with reporters asked for admittance on Thursday the 28th of March, but were denied entry, as they did not have proper permission or appointments.’

He hadn’t thought it was anything special, since reporters approached the gate fairly often, but rarely had appointments. If they did, one of the security guards always met them at the gate. Frankie treasured those occasions, particularly if one of the good-looking guards came by. They made him sigh with envy though. He might be fit, but most of them were at least a head taller than Frankie.

On his birthday, the leader of security visited his booth with more to say than his normal kind inquiry about Frankie’s well-being and minor matters relating to his job. Mr. Morrison was a familiar face as he’d worked in the compound for twenty-five years.

“Congratulations on your birthday, Frankie.”

“Thank you, sir.” Frank Sr. had told him to always address male residents and men in uniform as ‘Sir’ and females as ‘Ma’am’ in order to show respect.

“I hear there was a bit of excitement last month.”

“You mean the fire, sir?”

“Well, the fire was the occasion, but I was thinking of your gate. You were quite busy, eh?” Mr. Morrison smiled, so Frankie concluded he wasn’t in too much trouble.

“I let the fire trucks pass and sent the alert. I didn’t send another alert for the police cars. Was that wrong, sir?”

“What? No, no, that’s fine. No, I was thinking about the reporters.”

Frankie waited politely for him to continue, but finally came to the conclusion Mr. Morrison expected a reply even if he hadn’t asked a question.

“None of them had permission to enter, so I didn’t open the gate, sir. Most of them left when the police arrived, and Mr. Tom took care of the rest.” All the security guards told Frankie to use their first names, but it seemed disrespectful to mention them to their boss without adding a Mr.

“But they tried to bully and bribe their way in, didn’t they?”

Frankie gaped at Mr. Morrison; how did he know that? He certainly hadn’t told anyone or written it in his report.

“Some of them complained to a couple of the guards when they met them in a bar last week. And I think one or two reporters may have mentioned it to someone on Mr. B.’s staff.”

“Com…complained, sir?” Frankie got nervous, and his hands automatically began rearranging the things on his desk, making sure they were precisely situated and aligned. Luckily, the head of security had been a good friend of Frank Sr. and knew the signs.

“No, no, don’t worry, Frankie. No one filed an official complaint. They were just moaning about the strict fellow on the gate, who refused to budge an inch when they wanted to chase the fire. Tom and Charlie were laughing about it.”

“Well, of course I would never let anyone in without permission.” Frankie felt even more confused, but happy about making those two guards laugh. They were always nice to him.

“And everyone knows that now. There were some who were skeptical about letting you take over when Frank died. They worried you wouldn’t be able to handle the job on your own. And Mr. B. and one of the other new residents asked questions after they moved in. Well, not the big man himself, but one of his bodyguards.”

Frankie nodded, because he’d been approached by the muscular and armed chauffeurs of the three newcomers. They bought the residences of people who lost their money during the financial crisis. The bodyguards wanted to be sure he knew the cars of the new residents so he could open the gates without delay. Frankie hadn’t asked why they didn’t use the automatic gates, because he was happy to have more cars to keep him busy.

They also gave strict instructions never to admit members of the press or anyone else inquiring after their bosses. Even if they seemed to have permission to deliver goods, they would have to wait until a member of staff drove down to meet them. Frankie added the instructions to his list and faithfully carried them out every time. Even when a very beautiful young woman angrily told him she had been personally invited to visit Mr. B., who would be ‘furious’ about the delay. It made him worry but he still kept the woman at the gate until an apologetic bodyguard arrived to escort her.

Mr. Morrison chuckled. “Anyway, after this they all know you’re worth your weight in gold. You kept cool in a heated situation, giving them polite answers, while preventing them from entering. I’ve been authorized to ask if there’s anything we can get you as a reward.”

“Do you think I can get a new chair? It’s getting uncomfortable, and I saw this great multi-functional chair online, but it’s really expensive.”

“No problem, just send me a link. You know we provide any equipment you need within reason, and you’ve had that chair for years. I’m surprised it’s lasted so long, with you sitting here more than twelve hours a day all year round.”

“I don’t sit in the chair all the time. Father told me I have to get up and move around for at least five minutes every half hour. And he taught me to do exercises.”

Mr. Morrison gave Frankie one of the rare warm, fatherly pats on the shoulder he treasured so much, especially after his father died.

“Frank did well by you, making sure you had a place and a job after he was gone. It was a great comfort to him when he got ill, knowing you’d be safe and happy here.”

“I still miss him.” Frankie wasn’t comfortable talking about feelings, but his father had told him people would expect him say such things. He’d carefully explained what it meant to miss someone, and how to deal with the sadness it would cause. He made sure there were plenty pictures of him and of them together, and it did help to look at them. Many of the errands he made, before he became too ill, were aimed at organizing the future life of his son. Putting on comfortable sweat pants after taking a shower at the end of his work day was like being hugged by his father who had shown Frankie how to order clothes and everything else online.

But his father could never have foreseen or prepared Frankie for the situation he was in now. Ripped away from the comfort and security of his tollbooth, he was lost, and there was no way he could relax or keep calm. It didn’t help that Mr. Dan had told him his life may be in danger. He had arrived in the afternoon to interview Frankie after the initial visit by the handsome Asian-looking police officer, and unfortunately Mr. B.’s car drove towards the gate moments later.

Frankie opened the barrier, of course, since his duty as tollbooth operator came first. The blond man who had introduced and identified himself as Dan Evers of the District Attorney’s office tried to turn away, but there was no way to hide. Mr. B.’s car had slowed down, and even more unusual, the tinted window at the back descended a few inches. Frankie got a glimpse of an angry face belonging to the big man and the stony visage of the lawyer who was involved in the case. To both his and Mr. Evers’ relief the car didn’t stop but speeded away up the hill.

“Fuck, I think they saw me,” Mr. Evers exclaimed, and when Frankie agreed, his whole life was torn apart.

“They know I’m assisting on the case, and no doubt they’ll work out why I’m here. I’m sorry, Mr. True, but I’ve put your life in danger. We need to collect those notebooks, and you should pack some clothes and anything you don’t want to lose. I wouldn’t put it past them to burn the cottage to the ground with you in it to dispose of evidence.”

“But…but, I can’t leave my tollbooth, sir. I’m on duty till eight p.m. And it’s Frankie, not Mr. True.”

“Nope, you’re now part of the witness protection program as the only person who can put Mr. B. in jail for murder, extortion, blackmail, tax evasion and various other crimes. Get going – and please call me Dan.”

He had been relentless, and since the man’s instructions had been concise and determined, Frankie had obeyed. He didn’t own any suitcases, but he did have the duffle bags he used for laundry, and the notebooks were already neatly packed in two boxes. The lawyer carried the latter to the trunk of his car while Frankie got changed and put all his clean clothes, including two uniforms, in the bags. He added his extra pair of shoes and the comfy socks he wore after work.

Since Mr. Dan, as Frankie dubbed him in his head, had repeated and insisted Frankie needed to pack everything he didn’t want to lose, he added his two photo albums, and the three binders with the handwritten instructions and other important papers. He grabbed two boxes for his books which represented twenty years of Christmas and birthday presents from his father. Each of them had been carefully chosen and inscribed, and they carried precious memories of reading to his father and talking about the content. His favorite mug and a few other odds and ends together with toiletries and his laptop, completed the packing just as the lawyer returned.

“Have you got everything? What about your personal papers? Passport, birth certificate, employment contract?”

“Everything is in the folder in that bag. I don’t own a passport.”

They loaded the duffle bags into the back seat and the boxes in the trunk. Frankie took a final round to unplug electrical appliances and close the windows, including the one in the tollbooth. He was tense with fear when he closed the front door to the cottage behind him. The whole whirlwind shakeup had taken less than twenty minutes.

“All locked up and ready to go?”

“No,” Frankie answered honestly, but he still got into the passenger seat of the car.

Mr. Dan frowned slightly, but closed the door and went round to the other side. As they drove down the hill he asked. “What did you mean, no?”

“I haven’t locked the door, because I don’t have a key, and I’m not ready to leave the only place I’ve ever been. I didn’t even tell Mr. Morrison. What will he think?”

“Yeah, I’m sorry I wouldn’t let you leave a message, but the longer it takes for people to realize you’re gone, the better.”

“They’ll find out the first time someone tries to enter the main gate. Mr. Morrison will probably be worried and angry. I’ve never left before.”

“That reminds me. You need to switch off your phone, so he can’t call you.”

“My phone is at home, but he never calls me. He just drives down to see me.”

“Clever of you to leave your cell phone behind, Frankie. We need to make sure your laptop can’t be traced.”

“I don’t have a cell phone, why would I? I’m always at home; except now you’re taking me away, and I don’t know what’s going to happen.” Frankie’s hands were damp with sweat and shaking.

“Hey, relax, man. It’s gonna be OK. I’m taking you to a place where no one can find you, and we’ll talk about what’s going to happen. Here, put on this cap to hide your hair.”

Frankie didn’t reply, but scrunched the blue baseball cap firmly over his red one-inch bristles. He closed his eyes and tried to pretend he was in his booth. Slowly, he built a complete image in his mind and he was able to relax a bit. When Mr. Dan spoke to him, he simply pretended the man was standing outside the booth.

“We’d already requested the data from the automatic gates, but as you told Detective Kasumaki, Mr. B. never left by them, and your booth isn’t equipped with a security camera.”

“No need, as I’m there all the time. I have a panic button for emergencies, but I’ve never used it.”

“You know, at first I couldn’t believe it when Keyno told me, why you were so sure Mr. B. left earlier than he said.”

“My father wanted to document how many cars used the gate, and I liked to record number plates and car makes. When I took over ten years ago, I kept on recording everything.”

“But you never told anyone what you did?”

“We put the number of cars using the gates into the quarterly report, broken down by residents and outsiders. This was enough to show we’re needed. In fact, my gate got used so much that four years ago Mr. Morrison told me I could stop counting.”

“But you didn’t stop recording.”

“Of course not.”

“And you used different color pens for mornings, afternoons and evenings.”

“Yes, it makes the patterns easier to see. My lunch is delivered at eleven-thirty, so that’s when I switch from blue to red. Green is the afternoon, then red again during my evening meal from five-thirty to six, and finally the black pen takes over.”

“We’re lucky you were working on all five dates Mr. B. claimed he was at home and couldn’t have been at the scenes of crime. His bodyguards back his story, and none of his other staff dares to say anything. He’s made a few witnesses disappear before, that’s why I’m not taking any chances with you.”

“What do you mean, you’re lucky?”

“You might have been on vacation, or not on duty at the time.”

“I’m always on duty, from seven in the morning till eight in the evening.”

“No breaks?”

“I think some residents try to be considerate and not use the gate while I eat my meals, because I get fewer red records per hour. I have lots of free time where I can read, exercise, or surf on the internet.”

“I see. Anyway, I called the DA. He agrees you need to go into hiding. I’m taking you to a no-tell motel downtown, and once most people have left the office, we’ll bring you in for a recorded interview before we get you to a proper safe house.”

“Who will take me there?”

“The only one person I trust is Keyno, I mean Detective Kasumaki. He was impressed by you.”

“He was?” Frankie felt a slow smile spread on his face, as he thought back to the previous evening.

The police officer had arrived shortly before the end of Frankie’s shift. He was in uniform under his motorbike jacket and had shown his badge identifying him as Detective Keyno Kasumaki from the 1st Police Precinct of the city. It was starting to rain, and in an unprecedented burst of spontaneous trust he decided to invite the officer inside. His father had warned him many times about letting strangers in the house, but surely this did not apply to police officers?

“Thank you for inviting me in, Mr. True.” The detective hung up his coat and removed his shoes without Frankie having to say anything.

“Would…would you like some tea?”

“If it’s not too much trouble?”

“No, no, I normally sit down with a hot mug and some cookies after finishing my shift.”

The officer followed Frankie through the living room into the kitchen and sat down on the chair indicated. It was strange to see someone sitting in Frank’s spot after so many years alone.

“You have a nice home, Mr. True.”

“Uhm, please call me Frankie. Mr. True was my father.”

“Did your father work here too?”

“Oh, yes. He taught me everything.”

“How old are you, if you don’t mind me asking?”

“Of course not. I’m thirty-three years old. I was born on the third of March, at three minutes past three a.m.”

“At 3.03 on 03-03, eh?” The detective’s brown eyes seemed to sparkle as a quick smile came and went on his face.

“Cool, isn’t it?” Frankie’s father always told him so.

“Indeed, and would you believe I was born exactly one month and two hours and three minutes earlier.”

“At one a.m. on the second of February?”

“Yes, and my parents lived in the old quarter at the bottom of the hill. I inherited their house.”

“So we’ve lived almost next door our whole lives without meeting before now?” Somehow, the thought made Frankie sad.

“Yes, and I’m wondering why we weren’t in the same grade at school.”

“Oh, I never went to school. My father educated me.”

“Ah, that explains it. Was he a teacher?”

“I don’t know; he never told me. He gave me books and showed me how to find knowledge on the internet. There were exams and he said my good grades were all that mattered.”

“But what about friends?”

“After my father died, Mr. Morrison looks out for me. Most of the guards are friendly too.”

The detective made a face as if he was in pain. Maybe he’d burnt himself on the hot tea?

“No, I mean friends your own age, and when you were a kid?”

“My mother took me to play groups sometimes before I was five. I can’t really remember, except for being scared of the noise, but my father said I used to curl into a ball or have a screaming fit. I’d be neurotic for days after. Sometimes I had nightmares and wet the bed.”

“I think your parents made the right choice about home-schooling you.”

“That was my father. His wife had left him by then.”

There was a short pause while they both sipped their tea. The silence was comfortable and the detective didn’t seem in a hurry. Frankie took a cookie and suddenly recalled the rule about visitors first. He pushed the plate towards Detective Kasumaki, who took one and made appreciative noises while eating it.

“Delicious. Did you make them?”

“Oh no. I get all my meals sent down from the place providing them to the security guards. They know I prefer cookies over dessert. Mr. Morrison once told me the cooks from the main houses have a small competition to make new favorites for me.”

“The main houses?”

“The ten oldest residences on the Hill. Their cooks take care of all the out-side staff, who eat at the central service center. The security guards, the grounds-keepers, the electrician and so on.”

“But you don’t eat there?”

“No, I have to take care of the gate. Let people in and out.”

“So you would probably have been here on the Fourth of July last year?”

“Of course.”

“Do you happen to remember what time of day Mr. B. left?”

“No. I can never remember dates or times.”

Detective Kasumaki looked so disappointed, Frankie made an extra effort. He could almost hear his father telling him to think about why a policeman would ask such a question. It had to be because he wanted to know when Mr. B. left, right?

“Do you want me to look it up?”

“Look it up? Do you mean you have records of who enters and leaves by your gate?”

“Yes, let me get the notebook.” It was only a matter of minutes to locate the notebook for July, August and September of the previous year. The day the police officer asked about was on the fourth page, of course.

Frankie stood next to him and laid the notebook on the table. “See, here is Mr. B.’s license plate. He left shortly before lunch on July Fourth. This red line means lunch.”

“What about the numbers at the top of the page?”

“That’s Mr. B.’s lawyer.” Frankie turned the page. “He arrived the day before and left at the start of my shift. He’s here often, so I know his car and can open the gate as he approaches.” He went back to the fourth. “The one after that is a furniture delivery; I know because I wrote the name of the company and what the driver told me, so I could call the right house. With the regular deliveries and service providers I only write the license plate and initials.” He pointed to a line saying POOL for the maintenance company and another with LND for the laundry truck.

Detective Kasumaki dug out his phone and snapped a picture of the page, before turning it back to July 3rd and taking another photo.

“Does anyone know about these notebooks? Do you know what this means?”

Frankie had an idea from watching the news, but he shook his head in answer to both questions.

“It means Mr. B. and his pet lawyer both lied in court last month when they claimed they didn’t leave his house early enough to have met up with the person who says he arranged for the girl’s accident. Her parents say Mr. B. was threatening them in order to make them sell their business.”

“They could have been doing something else.”

“But why didn’t they say so, if it would give them an alibi? However, it doesn’t matter, because they still lied under oath. Your notebook is proof of that, which is what we needed to appeal the case.”

Frankie didn’t know what to say. He staggered to his chair and sat down when his knees seemed to buckle. His loyalties were torn. On one hand, his father had told him the police were there to help and protect him, and he should always tell them the truth. On the other hand, Frank and Mr. Morrison had stressed the importance of protecting the privacy of the residents, over and over again. Those two instructions had never conflicted before.

“Frankie? Are you OK?” The hand on his shoulder startled him, but the calm voice soothed his nerves. “I know it’s probably a shock, but Mr. B. and his cronies are bad men and they need to be put away, before they harm anyone else.”

“My…my father said there were nasty people in the world, but everyone here has been kind to me. Even Mr. B.’s bodyguards spoke nicely to me after the first time. Not that they talk to me very often.”

“Well, you’re a nice person, Frankie. Being nasty to a guy like you would be like kicking a puppy.”

“Kicking a puppy would be against the unwritten rules, right? My father said there’re lots of society rules, and not all of them are easy to figure out.”

“Yes, that’s true. Your father sounds like a clever man.”

“He was the most wonderful person in the world.”

Detective Kasumaki pulled a chair over so he could sit next to Frankie and look into his eyes. He kept his hand on Frankie’s shoulder, and his handsome face appeared serious, but friendly. In spite of the turmoil inside him, being next to the police officer felt safe. Looking into the eyes of other people was difficult, but he felt he could stare into the kind brown eyes of this man forever.

“Did he also explain the rule of confidentiality? It’s important in police work and court cases. I want you to promise you won’t mention our conversation or this notebook to anyone. No one at all, except Mr. Evers from the DA’s office. He’ll drop by as soon as possible.”

“I swear I won’t tell anyone.” Frankie knew he would promise anything to get another smile and friendly squeeze of his shoulder.

“It’s for your own safety too, Frankie. We don’t want Mr. B. to find out you know when he left on the Fourth of July. It’s weird they haven’t thought of the risk already.”

“I think they did,” Frankie said as a memory surfaced.

“What do you mean?”

“At the end of the summer, Mr. B.’s chauffeur came down to the booth with one of the other bodyguards.”

“The chauffeur is the short blond guy, right?” When Frankie nodded, the detective asked what the other guy looked like.

“He’s the black guy who looks sort of fat, but I think he’s really strong.”

“Yes, I know him, he testified at the trial. Go on about last summer.”

“They told me Mr. B. was really pleased with the good service I was providing.” He’d been happy and flattered when the two men continued making what Frank had called ‘small talk.’ “They asked if I ever got bored, and the chauffeur told me he felt sorry for me being stuck in the booth on the Fourth of July, when they left for the celebrations.”

Frankie liked the way Detective Kasumaki’s whole attention was on him and his story. Few people took time to listen to him after his father died. Even if they came to talk, their attention would soon stray to their phones or other things.

“So the black guy says ‘Yes, we talked about it when we drove past you in the afternoon. It was a hot day, and you were in full uniform.’ The blond guy nodded and asked me if I recalled them going by. I said no and told them I didn’t like parties and preferred to see fireworks on TV.”

“And they believed you?”

“Yeah. They laughed, and the blond guy asked if I remembered the night Mr. B.’s lady friend had to wait at the gate. He specifically said ‘Do you remember the date, Frankie?’”

“What did you tell him?”

“The truth. I recall her being angry, but not the date. Why would I remember dates, when they’re recorded in my notebooks?”

“But you didn’t tell them the last part? Because they asked if you ‘remembered’ and not whether you could tell them the date.”

“That’s right.” Frankie was happy he understood. “The black guy sort of play-punched the blond guy, saying they all preferred to forget that night, because Mr. B. had been furious about them forgetting to be at the gate to pick her up. I asked if Mr. B. was angry with me for not letting her in, but they assured me the boss was satisfied I was reliable. After that they left.”

“And Mr. B. and his crooked lawyer thought they were safe, because you wouldn’t be able to tell when they left.”

“I guess so.”

“You know, I didn’t have much hope either, and when you said no at first, I was disappointed but not surprised.”

“I’m glad I was able to guess you wanted to know when Mr. B. left.” They smiled at each other and Frankie’s heart beat faster than when he exercised.

Another long comfortable silence descended, while Detective Kasumaki leafed through the notebook and took a few more snapshots. They both ate another cookie and Frankie got up to make more tea. He didn’t even have to explain the system of the different color pens as the clever policeman worked it out for himself, but asked him to confirm.

At one point the detective mentioned leaving to avoid discovery, but Frankie assured him no one ever visited in the evening, and the detective’s motorbike wasn’t visible from the road. He was happier than he’d been for a long time, listening to the other man’s quiet explanations of the difference between a detective and a police officer, or showing him pictures of Frank sitting in the booth and outside in the small yard behind the cottage.

Frankie sighed. It felt unfair one of the best evenings in his life was followed by one of the worst days. The feeling of being lost was new to him, and the unhappiness consumed all his attention as they arrived at the motel. He had sat in the car while M. Dan booked at room and followed docilely when the tall man led him inside, with an arm around his shoulders.

As Mr. Dan was about to leave, after giving his instructions about staying calm and in place and only open the door if he heard the code word, Frankie suddenly remembered all his things were in the car.

“What about my boxes and bags?”

“I’m leaving those in my car. If Keyno picks you up, he’ll be on the bike.”

“Oh!”

“Don’t worry, he’ll bring an extra helmet, which will help disguise you. The trip to the DA’s office is short and he’ll drive slowly.”

With those words, the lawyer left, and Frankie had all the time in with world to work himself into a nervous state as he imagined holding on to the muscular police officer while they rode his bike. He didn’t care about Mr. B. and the case. It didn’t matter he wasn’t at home, because all he could think about was Detective Kasumaki – Keyno. He kept whispering the name to himself as a mantra to keep focused and calm, but in vain. How long would he have to wait?

I leave it up to you to decide what happens next. Will Frankie ever return to his tollbooth?

Copyright © 2017 Timothy M.; All Rights Reserved.
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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.
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I've finally got around to turning the tables and commenting on a chapter of yours Tim, and I'm excited because it's a new story. It's an unusual one as well. Frankie is obviously a good guy, but I feel sorry for him and don't agree with the detective when he said that it was good for him to be homeschooled. I don't think it has done him any favours at all as he's become almost institutionalised in that toll booth, with little or no freedom or interaction with others. Mr B and his henchmen obviously underestimated just how sad a life Frankie has been leading, and I hope they get what they deserve and Frankie is able to return to his sanctuary. He needs to renegotiate his contract, though, and his loyalty and valuable contribution to the safety of this community should be reflected in the way that he is treated by the very rich residents. Basically, he should be rewarded with much more than a new chair. Some time off away from the toll booth would be a good start. Maybe the detective can lure him out, for a little off-duty and off the record fun. Poor Frankie needs some fun in his life.

 

Probably not as good as your reviews Tim, but I'm trying hard to learn and I really enjoyed reading this.       

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Hey, Tim. I just found this by chance. Was there ever a proper notification. I remember seeing a notification for a new story from you, but when I clicked on it it said error. I don't think your friends know about this. I'll post the link in the COTT thread. This was awesome, and I fell in love with Frankie. I loved how orderly he was, and thorough. He came across as autistic, and maybe a little over protected by his father, but still, it's obvious Frank Sr. was a good man. Could Frankie have found love through all this. I will choose to think so, and yes, I think he will return to his tollbooth one day, and he will have company every evening in the the form of the handsome cop who lives down the street :) . Loved it, my friend... cheers... Gary....

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There's so much to this story. I'm glad you participated in the Grid and Dice game because I doubt you'd create Frankie without the prompt. 

 

I think a lot of readers like me want to know what happens next :) 

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Two things, I only saw this because Gary mentioned it over in COTTland and secondly, wow this is different. One of the great things about GA is these little surprises.

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Hi Tim, I am fascinated with this story. It is like setting a foot on a path, that brings you easily deeper and deeper into someones mind. Thank you for writing this.

Lyssa

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4 hours ago, Headstall said:

Hey, Tim. I just found this by chance. Was there ever a proper notification. I remember seeing a notification for a new story from you, but when I clicked on it it said error. I don't think your friends know about this. I'll post the link in the COTT thread. This was awesome, and I fell in love with Frankie. I loved how orderly he was, and thorough. He came across as autistic, and maybe a little over protected by his father, but still, it's obvious Frank Sr. was a good man. Could Frankie have found love through all this. I will choose to think so, and yes, I think he will return to his tollbooth one day, and he will have company every evening in the the form of the handsome cop who lives down the street :) . Loved it, my friend... cheers... Gary....

 

Thanks, Gary. Yeah, the notification went out when I uploaded the story, which was very soon after the site update. Thanks for mentioning it in the COTT topic. :hug: 

I love that you realized Frankie is autistic, which is what I wanted to convey without saying the word. After all, he may never have gotten an official diagnosis. I love your prediction of his future which is what I want to believe as well. Thanks, buddy. :kiss: 

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8 hours ago, Dodger said:

I've finally got around to turning the tables and commenting on a chapter of yours Tim, and I'm excited because it's a new story. It's an unusual one as well. Frankie is obviously a good guy, but I feel sorry for him and don't agree with the detective when he said that it was good for him to be homeschooled. I don't think it has done him any favours at all as he's become almost institutionalised in that toll booth, with little or no freedom or interaction with others. Mr B and his henchmen obviously underestimated just how sad a life Frankie has been leading, and I hope they get what they deserve and Frankie is able to return to his sanctuary. He needs to renegotiate his contract, though, and his loyalty and valuable contribution to the safety of this community should be reflected in the way that he is treated by the very rich residents. Basically, he should be rewarded with much more than a new chair. Some time off away from the toll booth would be a good start. Maybe the detective can lure him out, for a little off-duty and off the record fun. Poor Frankie needs some fun in his life.

 

Probably not as good as your reviews Tim, but I'm trying hard to learn and I really enjoyed reading this.       

 

Hey, Dodger, don't be too hard on yourself, this was an absolutely AWESOME comment, and I loved it. :hug: 

You're right about Frankie being almost institutionalized in his booth, but the alternative might have been an institution for mentally handicapped people. Frankie is deeply autistic with mild OCD, and he would never have managed going to a normal school.  imagine the special school he needed was either not available or affordable for his father, who did the best he could to make his son happy. People who enjoy socializing often feel sorry for autists for not having a 'normal' social life, but most of us prefer to interact with fewer people and in shorter amounts of time. When I was a kid, I loved spending time with adults and I disliked other kids, except for a few close friends (usually one at a time). Books were my best friends, and today it would probably have been the internet.

Frankie loves the safety and predictability of his tollbooth and I think he would reject the idea his life has been sad. But I do agree with you he needs to broaden it and get out of his booth. Detective Kasumaki may be exactly the right person to achieve that. :yes: 

:thankyou:  for reading and leaving such a wonderful review comment on my story, Dodger.

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Your portrayal of Frankie as he struggles through this new situation is heartrending. Working to apply past experience to what was happening with very little support from those that tore him from his place.

His father was Frankie's grounding and strived to provide him with purpose and place in life. That he is as independently functional in the life he lives is a blessing. I choose to believe that in he is allowed to return to that life. Perhaps with more involvement from a warmhearted detective.

Not certain what allows you to create and bring to life characters like Frankie but you do it with incredible skill. Thank you for sharing this.

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I'm kind of torn about where I think Frankie shouldend up. On the one hand, his life in his booth is fulfilling to him. He has a purpose and he does his job well. On the other hand, getting out of there wasn't going to happen unless he was prompted (ehum) so Keyno showing up might be the best thing for him. He could go back, but I'm thinking he's ready to take some steps to widen his world. There are things to experience that I'm sure Frankie can handle. At least in small doses. If he has his safe haven, he could dare to explore some more of what the world has to offer. 

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On 4/1/2017 at 7:21 AM, Bucket1 said:

Two things, I only saw this because Gary mentioned it over in COTTland and secondly, wow this is different. One of the great things about GA is these little surprises.

 

Thanks, Bucket. I 'm glad you found it and liked the strange story which grew out of the Grid&Dice prompt Cia made for me.

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On 4/1/2017 at 11:10 AM, aditus said:

I feel cheated! Left in the middle of something really good and now I have to make the effort to continue the story with the help of my own mind. The characters are intriguing, especially Frankie. *goes gets another coffee and thinks about tollbooths, Frankie's life now and in the future* Well done!

 

 

LOL, Adi, my editor did warn me about readers being upset or demanding to know more. I was hoping this open-ended finish would leave you in a state of mind similar to Frankie's, so you'd feel the uncertainty and what now? even better. Glad you liked it enough to leave a comment. :hug: 

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On 4/1/2017 at 6:30 AM, AC Benus said:

There's so much to this story. I'm glad you participated in the Grid and Dice game because I doubt you'd create Frankie without the prompt. 

 

I think a lot of readers like me want to know what happens next :) 

 

Yeah, I'm glad I took the leap too. Frankie would never have developed without the tollbooth setting and the need to figure out why he was hiding in that motel.

 

Your prediction of readers wanting to know more came true very quickly. :lol: But I'm still glad I resisted the temptation to wrap the story up in a tidy package with a cute bow. Frankie is unhappy and unsure about his future and we should share his feelings, right? ;) 

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On 4/1/2017 at 7:41 AM, Lyssa said:

Hi Tim, I am fascinated with this story. It is like setting a foot on a path, that brings you easily deeper and deeper into someone's mind. Thank you for writing this.

Lyssa

 

Thanks, Lyssa, I love the way you see the story. It was my ambition to gradually ease the reader into an understanding of Frankie, and I'm delighted he fascinated you. :2thumbs:

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On 4/1/2017 at 4:33 PM, dughlas said:

Your portrayal of Frankie as he struggles through this new situation is heartrending. Working to apply past experience to what was happening with very little support from those that tore him from his place.

His father was Frankie's grounding and strived to provide him with purpose and place in life. That he is as independently functional in the life he lives is a blessing. I choose to believe that in he is allowed to return to that life. Perhaps with more involvement from a warmhearted detective.

Not certain what allows you to create and bring to life characters like Frankie but you do it with incredible skill. Thank you for sharing this.

 

Thanks, dughlas, as always your comments are very perceptive. The two men who removed Frankie from the tollbooth are focused on the goal they want to achieve. They intend to keep Frankie alive and functional, but I'm not sure they realize the trauma they have caused by their actions. Or at least not yet. But they're not bad guys, so I think they'll be upset if he freaks out at some point.

Yeah, Frank Sr. did his best for his son, and created a comfortable cocoon. But it's still a lonely life, so as you say we can hope this will end with a return to a better life.

As for your praise of my skill... :blushing:  thank you so much. :heart:  

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On 4/1/2017 at 11:23 PM, Puppilull said:

I'm kind of torn about where I think Frankie shouldend up. On the one hand, his life in his booth is fulfilling to him. He has a purpose and he does his job well. On the other hand, getting out of there wasn't going to happen unless he was prompted (ehum) so Keyno showing up might be the best thing for him. He could go back, but I'm thinking he's ready to take some steps to widen his world. There are things to experience that I'm sure Frankie can handle. At least in small doses. If he has his safe haven, he could dare to explore some more of what the world has to offer. 

 

Thanks, Puppilull, I think you're spot on in your analysis. Frankie might very well be able to experience more of the world, as long as he has his safe haven and people he can trust. I only hinted at this, but Frankie has been doing a lot of exploring on the internet. Mostly places and factual stuff, but he also watches the news, movies and TV series and tries to make sense of how people interact. His father tried to help, including cautions about not believing everything he reads. :lol:  And the main thing Frankie longs to try is love.

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Order and routine are comforting to the autistic. Frankie is well and truly out of his comfort zone! 

 

I agree with the others a HEA in which Frankie returns to his tollbooth, and Keyno helps to occupy his nights and bring him out into the world is my mind's conclusion to the story, but I will GLADLY read any future installments you may write, regardless of where the go. ?

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6 hours ago, Kitt said:

Order and routine are comforting to the autistic. Frankie is well and truly out of his comfort zone! 

 

I agree with the others a HEA in which Frankie returns to his tollbooth, and Keyno helps to occupy his nights and bring him out into the world is my mind's conclusion to the story, but I will GLADLY read any future installments you may write, regardless of where they go. ?

 

Thanks, Kitt. :hug: 

Yeah, Frankie being out of his comfort zone is a brilliant way of describing his situation as he wait at the motel. I'm glad everyone thinks this HEA is the future, then I don't have to write it. :lol:  But if I ever get my CC stories Complete, I may eventually return to the tollbooth.

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So glad I've finally been able to read this, after your story'd been playing hide and seek for a few days ... :gikkle:

 

The description of Frankie's life and domain is very touching and the detail really drew me in. It's good that he's happy but sad that his life is so limited in so many ways. How will he manage, out of his familiar milieu? A second installment needed, I think. :yes:  When you've got nothing better to do ... :rofl: 

Edited by northie
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 Another enjoyable story done by you! 
 You have a very special knack; in your description of characters and their emotions. You also have a way that your reader becomes part of a situation in a scene. 

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12 hours ago, BlindAmbition said:

 Another enjoyable story done by you! 
 You have a very special knack; in your description of characters and their emotions. You also have a way that your reader becomes part of a situation in a scene. 

 

Thank you, Blind, that's awesome praise and no one ever said it before. I guess my stories are character driven, and I love the idea of readers getting sucked into a scene. :great:

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19 hours ago, northie said:

So glad I've finally been able to read this, after your story'd been playing hide and seek for a few days ... :gikkle:

 

The description of Frankie's life and domain is very touching and the detail really drew me in. It's good that he's happy but sad that his life is so limited in so many ways. How will he manage, out of his familiar milieu? A second installment needed, I think. :yes:  When you've got nothing better to do ... :rofl: 

 

LOL, thanks, Northie. Yeah, you did chase it around quite a bit.

I agree about the happy / sad dilemma. Frankie has been mostly content in his tollbooth even if he does miss his father. But there is so much more to life, even for a guy with his issues. But with all my readers agreeing on what his future should be, I hardly need to write a sequel, right? ;) But like you said, when I have nothing better to do... Probably in ten years time or so. :rofl: 

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Very wonderful and unique setup and voice for the main character. I am looking forward to more. Please? :D

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1 hour ago, Lux Apollo said:

Very wonderful and unique setup and voice for the main character. I am looking forward to more. Please? :D

 

Thank you, Lux, I'm glad you thought well of it. More? LOL you hungry birds never let up, eh? ;) 

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Apologies, Tim, I've neglected / forgotten to read this little gem of a story ...  it is very well written !  May I suggest that, by the way Frankie behaved, he would have Asperger's syndrome (a milder autism spectrum disorder).  We could all see Frank loved his son dearly, but had condemned him, to a somewhat lonely life; would detective Kasumaki be able to set that straight (bad choice of wording)?  Would he and Dan Evans be able to protect Frankie from Mr B ?

 

Dear fellow readers, if someone could check out Tim's address in Copenhagen for me, I'd fly out there and personally tie him up in a chair at his desk, breathe down his neck until he either completes this story or write at least 5 chapters of Clueless Camping or write the same number of chapters for The Cardmaker and the Caretaker or complete all 3 tasks ...

:devil:

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