Most people that knew him agree that it probably wasn’t suicide. In fact, many don’t even think he’s dead.
He took a week off from his job here at the bank, and on the last day before he was to return, a letter appeared on my desk. It was written in a careful, delicate scrawl on thick, soft paper, and just said “I’m going on a trip. I might be back eventually. Probably not, though,” and was signed with his usual flourish, “Norbert Faustino.”
Before that day, nobody disliked him here at the bank, but nobody really knew him. He came to work on time, he gave his service with a smile, he absorbed small-talk without offering anything of himself, and he spent his lunch breaks reading alone. When I asked around a bit about him among the other tellers, nobody could tell me his hobbies – aside from reading, of course – or even what part of town he lived in. I had his address, and phone number on file, but I found it strange that nobody even knew that about him.
The phone number had been disconnected. The address was to an apartment complex just around the corner. Later, when I went in to their rental office, the heavy-set blonde woman behind the counter had said they couldn’t tell me anything, but then proceeded to tell me that he had paid his rent on time for three years, then, the day before had broken his lease and thrown a lot of his stuff in the dumpster in the parking lot. When I turned to go, she called out, “Wait, there’s more,” then proceeded to tell me about an interaction that she had with him two weeks before.
“He put a for sale sign on his little Mazda in the parking lot, and I told him it had to be moved out onto the street-”
When I furrowed my brow, she clarified that it was management policy that nobody can sell things on the property.
“Anyway, when I told him, Norbert just smiled and nodded, which wasn’t strange for him.”
Norbert ended every conversation with a smile and a nod. It was something that I noticed about him during the interview, and was part of the reason that I hired him.
“But then, I ask,” she continued, “buying a new car, Mr. Faustino?”
She looked at me, nodding until I was starting to wonder if I was supposed to respond, then continued, “It was the darnedest thing, he just smiled and said ‘Nope.’ Then he got in his car and moved it to the street.”
That did seem odd, but not out of character for Norbert to offer no further information.
“I don’t know if he sold it, or what, but I noticed that it was gone 2 days later.”
That was all much later, though. My first reaction to getting his letter was to ask his coworkers if anyone had heard from him (and, of course, nobody had), then I sat for a long time, staring at the phone, wondering if there was someone I should call about this. It all seemed very odd, and I had learned over my years at the bank to take all red flags seriously when it came to dealing with people. The bank had been robbed on my watch once, ten years before, and it was just after a man had come in to talk with me in general about a mortgage, and something about the way he shifted around in his seat, glancing around all the time, then excused himself had made me uncomfortable. It was later confirmed that this man was casing the bank for the hold up two days later. I don’t know what I could have done about it if I had put two and two together at the time, but my point is that we humans are good at gauging if our social interactions have reason to be worrisome, and something about Norbert’s letter worried me. Was he contemplating self-harm? That didn’t seem likely from the wording of the letter. If that wasn’t the case, was it any of my business what he was doing? If he wanted to throw his job away by skipping town, why was it my responsibility?
Still, something didn’t sit right. The guy didn’t seem to have any family. Whose responsibility was it to report him missing if he disappeared?
There was a girl, Katherine, who used to work for me. She was a dispatcher over at city PD now. I guess she wasn’t really a girl anymore, she had been 18-19 when she worked for me – just a little kid – but that’d been almost 8 years ago, now. Anyway, I decided to call her and just ask her opinion.
She said she’d ask around and call me back.
While waiting for her call back, I grabbed a copy of the schedule for the last several weeks and pulled up the security footage for the same period. I then jumped around to Norbert’s shifts. First, I noticed that during the last week before he went on vacation, he walked to work, which would make sense later when I talked to the lady over at Peaceful Willow Apartments. The next thing I saw was not new news; as I already said, during lunches, Norbert read. I saw Travels with Charlie, Don Quixote, Moby Dick, and The Old Man and the Sea. There were lots of books, but those were the only ones I could make out. He really seemed to like The Old Man and the Sea; he read it a few times.
There was only one day that was different: the day before he started walking to work. Instead of burying his nose in a book, he opened up a newspaper. It wasn’t quite a newspaper. It was one of those newspaper inserts that are entirely adds. This one appeared to be full of boats. He stopped several times, setting the paper down and staring at the desk, deep in thought, then he would open the paper again and continue looking. When his lunch was over, he folded the paper up, stuck it in his bag and went back to work.
As I pushed forward, collecting what information I could, the image of the man sitting in the back room, staring at the desk, deep in thought after looking at boats for sale, would slip back into my mind several times.
I had a thought and pulled up his account information. Six days before, he had withdrawn most of his savings. There was still just over $1000 in there, but he had pulled out $9,999. This number struck me as strange, because it was just under the limit that would generate a Currency Transaction Report. Was he into something illegal? Or was he just trying to not ruffle any feathers? Or, did he just actually need $9,999?
Katherine called me back. I mentioned the withdrawal, still staring at it on my computer screen, and she sighed. “I’m not sure what to tell you Mr. G,” she said, “Sending you a letter that says he’s not coming to work anymore, isn’t really cause for reporting him missing, at least he let you know. And we both know that 10 grand is his money. Maybe he bought a car.”
Thoroughly unsatisfied, I hung up after thanking her.
“She’s probably right, it’s none of my business,” I said to myself as I put on my coat and left the bank to go see if I could find him at home.
I’ve already told you what happened at the apartment complex. On my way back, I was left with more questions. Getting out of my car in the bank parking lot, I found my eyes resting on the small marina across the street. The image of Norbert pouring over the boats for sale came back into my mind. If he sold his car and pulled out his life’s savings to buy a boat, he would have to be keeping it there, right? He didn’t have a car anymore and it was the only place within walking distance. Sure, he could take the bus, but I decided to follow the hunch and check it out.
I turned out to be right.
The marina, creatively called, “The Marina,” had a small office, where I found an incredibly bored-looking man in his forties shuffling around papers on his desk in a way that many years as a manager had taught me accompanied the phrase “look busy” in one’s head.
“What can I do for you?” he asked.
I asked him if he had ever heard of a Norbert Faustino, to which he smiled.
“Odd little guy,” he said, “You just missed him, he took off maybe an hour and a half ago.”
When I asked if he could tell me which slip belonged to Norbert, he shook his head and said, “No, you don’t understand. As of an hour and a half ago, he no longer has a slip here. What’s this about?” he asked, looking me up and down, “he owe you money or something?”
Shaking my head, I told him an abridged version of the truth. He nodded and told me what he knew. “My buddy Robert had this 34 footer for sale, and this Norbert guy bought it last week. Asked if he could keep it on the slip for only a week, that he wouldn’t need it after that. Over the past few days I watched him load it up with enough food and fishing equipment for a trip much outside the recommended range for a ship that size. Asked him where he was headed and he had just smiled at me and said, ‘Home.’”
The man and I stared at each other for a long moment, obviously both pondering the same questions. Then he continued, “I just assumed he was from somewhere else, and had come down to get the boat, and was maybe making a few stops along the way.”
“I’m going on a trip. I might be back eventually. Probably not, though,” I repeated.
“Still might be what he’s doing… going on a trip,” the man offered.
“Yeah,” I said, “It very well might be.”
Norbert never came back. That doesn’t mean he didn’t end up somewhere else. I wouldn’t be surprised if he did and didn’t feel the need to tell anyone here at the bank where; like I said, he wasn’t very close with any of us. Some assume he went out and died, either by his own hand, or as a result of inexperienced hands on the high seas. I don’t think either of those are what happened, though. I think he was overcome by wanderlust and took off onto the open ocean just to see how far he could get – just to see how long he could last. I don’t assume this based on any of the evidence I collected, nor some insight into his character. I assume it because ever since that day – the day that the idea occurred to me that one could just get in a boat and go – I’ve felt the urge myself. Now, years later, still chained to this desk, when I think of the look on Norbert’s face in the break-room as he stared over the boats for sale, I get the sense that I know exactly what he’s thinking.
I could do it. Why not just go?
You can listen to me read it here:https://www.dropbox.com/s/lfm0t1rsw04z37d/NorbertFaustino.mp3?dl=0