By Such Signs Will You Know Him

He fell into the habit of lingering in the café for five or six hours, reading the paper, sipping cup after tiny cup of espresso, working the crosswords and people-watching. The clothes were slightly too tight, slightly too stylish, telling him that he was living in exile, a foreigner in a vast uncertain country. He didn’t notice the language any more, and the cars and the buildings wouldn’t have been so completely out of place in certain parts of Philadelphia, but the clothing always nagged at him. It was so nearly what he was used to; more strangeness would have been easier to overlook.

The people fascinated him. He began to recognize faces, voices, patterns: the old man who bought a coffee and a croissant every afternoon; the students who lingered defiantly over their books and their arguments; the fights that raged in a second-story room every evening; the women who sneaked out in the morning and came prowling back at night. Old habits stamped and filed away the ticking of the machinery of the neighborhood.

So he was unsurprised when the police came one day. Their cars so boxy and funny. There has been a murder, they announced. Does anyone have any information?

Ah, said David Brown, at home in spite of himself, hating himself for it.