The diner closed at 10 that evening, as activity on the street outside diminished, many people having already left for downtown Chicago, others to their homes. An hour later, the streets were mostly quiet; a few hours later, quieter still.
At 2 AM, a solitary figure, face obscured by a hood, walked past the darkened windows of the diner, and continued down the street. Moments later, the same figure walked back, on the opposite sidewalk, this time slowing as it neared the diner, then passing again. Moments later, the same figure returned, this time more stealthily, sticking within the shadows until it reached the alley next to the diner.
It stayed in the alley a long moment, still and breathless, until finally beginning a slow approach to the rear of the building, stopping upon reaching a dumpster, its green paint peeling in the darkness.
The person in the hoodie checked the rear of the building, then reached into a side pant pocket and retrieved an object that no one else in this world would have recognized, because it would not be invented for another three and a half decades.
Slender fingers tapped the surface of the object, which glowed in response. The dim light reflected off the face of the woman Eric had encountered that morning. She tapped the device a few more times, and a message displayed: Scan complete. No activity.
She approached the dumpster, and lifted its black plastic top, only to have it stop suddenly after only an inch, as metal clanked on metal to her left. A padlock; the woman brought her device over to the lock, then tapped on the devices surface a few times. Chambers clicked within the lock; the woman drew the bolt down, and a moment later, she lifted the black top off the dumpster.
It was half full, this being a Thursday and trash collection coming on Mondays. The woman climbed in, forcing herself not to gag at the stench. Once inside, she retrieved her device again, tapping more commands until a message displayed: Object not found.
“Dammit.” The woman thrust the device into her pocket, then looked at the contents of the dumpster. The restaurant used black refuse bags, common for this era, and attempted to seal most. But bags would often become unsealed as they were tossed by staff into the dumpster; crates and cartons would be tossed in as well, often breaking the bags; at times, harried staff would toss unbagged garbage directly into the dumpster.
The woman heard a sound behind her, then felt something brush against her leg. She knew immediately what it was. Despite management’s frequent warnings that the health department would close the diner if procedures weren’t followed, the dumpster lid would be left open for long stretches of the day, and rats would enter freely.
The dumpster, in other words, was a complete mess. Decaying food was everywhere.
Sighing, the woman began sifting through the garbage, checking her device every few minutes. After an hour, she finally found what she was looking for — the red notebook in which Eric, earlier the previous day, had written the current date.