He’d been quiet the entire evening while the others at the table did all the talking. Not knowing anyone at the table, he just smiled and nodded at what was being said and that seemed to satisfy them. But then one of them turned to him and asked the question he feared most.
“And you, Malcolm, is it? What was it you did before you retired and moved to Pinehurst Villages with the rest of us?” the high maintenance blonde across the table asked him.
He was trapped. He couldn’t smile and nod his way out of this one. He’d have to answer the question. “Oh, just odds and ends, really," he replied. "Nothing really interesting. Certainly not like the rest of you. I mean I wasn’t a high powered lawyer or real estate developer or anything like that.”
The blonde sensed something in his answer and pursued her prey, “Now, now, Malcolm. It must have been something interesting. I mean, not just everyone can afford to retire here. My God, it costs a fortune! Tell us. What was it? Racehorses? Racing cars? Oh, how about gold mining?”
“I was a shoe salesman,” Malcolm admitted after a brief and mildly embarrassing silence.
“You owned a chain of shoe stores? Is that it, Malcolm? Nothing to be ashamed of there,” one of the men asked.
“No, no store. I was just a salesman of a unique brand of shoes,” Malcolm replied, hoping that would end it.
There was a moment of silence as those around the table reassessed their line of questioning. “Ah, so you catered to a unique clientele. Is that it, Malcolm?” another one asked.
Adjusting himself nervously in his chair and just barely managing to look up at the inquiring faces , Malcolm managed to reply, “Well, yes, in a sense.”
“Oh, how intriguing! Malcolm is holding out on us, isn’t he, everyone,” the blonde cut in. Malcolm didn’t respond, but he knew more was coming.
The group looked around at each other and then one announced, “I think I know what Malcolm is alluding to here, everyone. He was a reseller of very, very unique shoes. He’d bid, along with others, for the rights to certain shoes. Shoes that held a certain unusual significance. Is that right, Malcolm?”
Malcolm nodded but didn’t elaborate.
“Oh, this is like twenty questions!” exclaimed the blonde. “How fun!”
“Malcolm,” another asked, “Did these shoes belong to people who were alive?”
Malcolm shook his head sheepishly.
“But you bid on them, right? So, these shoes were worn by famous people who were dead?” another asked.
Malcolm nodded, knowing they were getting close.
“Well, that certainly narrows it down a bit!” announced the blonde. “We all know there’s a market for the shoes of dead Hollywood stars that were worn in famous movies. Judy Garland’s shoes in ‘Wizard of Oz’, for instance. Warmer, Malcolm?”
He shook his head.
The group huddled and buzzed for a few moments until one of them ventured, “Okay, throw us a bone here, Malcolm.”
Malcolm smiled wanly, shrugged in surrender and replied, “Think death row.”
A gasp went up from the group as they looked around at each other in a mixture of amazement and disgust. Then, a quiet voice rose from the group. It belonged to the most respected member, and he asked, “Malcolm, did you buy and resell the shoes of people executed for their crimes?’
Malcolm’s eyes met those of the questioner and he nodded slowly and waited.
Some of the women were repelled by this revelation, but others were fascinated. The men, however, didn’t reveal their emotions about it one way or another. Somebody asked, “Ted Bundy’s shoes, Malcolm. You bid on them?”
Malcolm nodded and waited.
“Where are they now?” somebody asked.
Malcolm looked around the table and replied, “I’m wearing them.”
A huge gasp went up from the table. Many looked around nervously to make sure they weren’t making a scene and then one woman asked, “What’s it like, Malcolm? Really?”
“You can’t imagine.”
Another woman next to him leaned in and whispered sensually, “Have you come across the shoes of any executed women, Malcolm?”
She leaned back, a sly smile on her face. Malcolm pushed his business card discretely under her napkin and watched the rest of the group.
It was going to be another good year, he thought to himself.