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- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
From the corner of her eye the old woman kept looking at the man seated next to her on the cross-country flight out of Los Angeles. Pulled low over his brow was a dark cap with a long bill. Under the cap, pulled tight over the crown of his head, nearly down to his eyebrows, was a blue bandanna. Zippering under and out from it, a terrible scar. On his nose was a pair of John Lennon glasses. She thought he might be a member of one of those gangs.
His finger was tracing a Delta route map, looking for the longest arc, the place farthest away from his home that he could go without a change of planes. He had refused to let doctors give him blood transfusions—he simply didn't believe in them. He might pass out if he tried to change planes. He might get lost. He might end up anywhere.
In his little carry-on bag was a book, a couple of pairs of underpants and socks, a few shirts, a plastic cylinder of sleeping pills and the passport he had sneaked out of his home in Upland, Calif., without his wife seeing. He had been so calm when he said goodbye to her and his little girl. They had never guessed.
He didn't want to talk. He just wanted to read. He just wanted to stare out the window and beat himself to death, thinking of six kids without fathers. But the old woman was so kind, and even though he often preferred to be alone, he had been the kind of guy who liked to pull out a chair when a stranger approached for an autograph or to ask a question and say, "C'mon, sit down."
"What do you do for a living?" the lady said now.
"Well...I used to play baseball...but then I had an accident."
"Oh." She looked at him again. Ohhhhhhhh.
She knew. The whole world knew. She started to tell a story. He didn't want to hear a story, but she was so kind. When she was two years old, her mother was eight months pregnant. And then...then her mother was dead. "A kid never loses the pain of that," the old woman said. "Never. But do you know what? When you grow up, it makes you stronger."
For just a second, his eyes flickered.
He got off the plane when it landed on the East Coast. He went to a bank. He cashed a check. A big check. Absurd. Still making $1.7 million a year. No credit card. No trace.