Shim Sham Shimmy cheesecake
The simple things in life are always the best
It was a sunny May afternoon of 1995 when I found the notebook. Black and leather-bound, it stood out from the green tufts of grass that peeked out between the gnarly roots of the big oak tree I was leaning against—my lunch companion of the day. It must have been forgotten by someone; a student perhaps, or one of my fellow lecturers. I didn’t grab it immediately, first glancing around the Rockefeller Rose Garden to check whether someone might be looking for it. Most of the visitors seemed unconcerned, strolling through the bushes and literally stopping to smell the flowers here and there. So, I picked it up, and flipped it open to the first page, telling myself it was okay, because I was just looking for a name or an address. I knew how frustrating it could be to lose a notebook, for I had lost quite a few in cafés, parks and other places I deemed appropriate for capturing the elusive flow of my thoughts at random hours of the day.
Only two words were scrawled across the page, in cursive, shaky handwriting.
Frowning, I peered around again as my skin prickled with the feeling that I was being watched. I swallowed, then turned another page.
My chest rattled with an involuntary chuckle. Okay, this is weird, I thought, unable to stop myself from flipping yet another page.
You’re a little curious, aren’t you? Then, you might be able to help me. See, I’m looking for someone to follow some very specific instructions, which I will be detailing in this book. What’s in it for you? Well, once you finish the “tasks” I will set out for you, you will receive a check, the amount of which I will not disclose here. Consider it a test of faith, if you will. So, are you in?
I ran sweaty palms over my face as my eyes searched the area for a crooked grin or a glint of mischief in somebody’s eyes. This was clearly some elaborated prank. Let’s see what sort of absurd tasks they’ve come up with, I told myself as a feeling of superiority washed over me. I at least wanted to know what I was not going to fall for. Just out of curiosity. I turned another page.
You think this is a prank, right?
I almost dropped the notebook upon reading those words. Why did it feel like the person who had written them was in my head? I kept on reading.
Believe me, it is not. As you will soon come to realize, I won’t ask you to do anything strange, or crazy. Okay, maybe a little strange. They are just things that need to be done, and that, for reasons I shall not bore you with, I am unable to do myself. There are three of them. I only ask that you do them in the right order, and that you do not, under any circumstances, peek ahead at the next task before the current one is completed. Can you do that?
I swallowed and turned another page. My hands were out of my control, now. This reminded me of the frenzy I was sometimes overcome with, whenever my dad would buy me the latest issue of the comics I was so fond of as a kid.
Okay, so, we’ll start with an easy one. I want you to go to Shirley’s Temple in Belmont and get the Shim Sham Shimmy cheesecake with a double serving of cherries and extra curd. All you have to do is eat it, then you can leave. Pretty simple, right?
I shook my head in disbelief. What the… This was getting weirder and weirder. But it seemed pretty harmless so far. What was the point of it? No idea, but even though it was tempting to keep flipping through the pages to get to the bottom of it, I couldn’t bring myself to cheat. I’d never been much of a cheater; always felt too guilty afterward. So, I gathered my things and made my way out of the Botanical Garden, heading toward Belmont by bus. I found the diner huddled between two pawn shops. There was truly nothing special about it, and this impression was confirmed when I walked through the door and settled on a stool on one side of the counter. A red-haired waitress in her fifties approached me from behind the counter. Her name tag read “Shirley.”
“How can I help?” she drawled out without bothering to look at me.
I cleared my throat. “Um, can I get the, um…”
She darted a glance at me, cocking an eyebrow.
“The Shim Sham Shimmy cheesecake with a double serving of cherries and extra curd… please?” I said it all in one breath, like I had to just blurt it out or else the words would stay stuck in my mouth. Something shifted in her gaze. Her features softened, like her whole face was made of butter and my words had somehow warmed her like the sun’s rays.
“Of course,” she just said, keeping her eyes locked on mine as if she were trying to crack the Enigma Code. She came back a moment later with my order, which she placed in front of me with a genuine smile. “Enjoy.”
Thank God I had a small lunch, I thought to myself as I gobbled up the fatty dessert. “Okay, this is amazing,” I said after I swallowed the first bite.
“That’s what they say,” she replied, tossing me a subtle wink.
I ate the whole thing in a matter of minutes, which was strange, considering I’d never really had a sweet tooth. Pulling the notebook from my bag, I looked for the next task, my hands quivering with excitement—or from the sugar overload, perhaps.
So, how was that? Pretty good, huh? The simple things in life are always the best. Now this next one isn’t going to be so easy. I need you to go see Mr. Langston at Langston and Partners. He’s a handsome chap with a very busy schedule, so you’ll need to make an appointment and let him know you want to talk to him about the Grayson Estate. He’ll see you right away. Then I need you to say these exact words to him, “You deserved all the chocolate fountains in the world. All of them.” That’s all. Don’t tell him who’s sending you or why, just leave and move on to the next task. Got it?
There was an address at the bottom of the page. The place was only a few blocks away. Once again, my fingers itched with the urge to skip ahead, but I resisted it and diligently put the notebook back in my bag.
After paying, I left the diner and walked to the estate agency. I stood in front of the window displays, clenching and unclenching my fists in hesitance. Was I really going to do this? Was that when the pranksters were planning to pounce with a camcorder pointed at me? Well… I couldn’t just give up now. I rushed inside before I could change my mind and asked to see Mr. Langston. As planned, the receptionist told me I needed to make an appointment, so I said the magic words. “It’s about the Grayson estate.”
She stared at me for a few seconds before leading me into Mr. Langston’s office. My pulse was thumping in my ears as I sat down across from the blond, forty-something man. Deep-set blue eyes peered at me under protruding brows. “So… what is this about? I’ll have you know I’m a very busy man, so this better be worth my time.”
I swallowed the lump in my throat, and began stammering, “I-I just have a message to deliver. I won’t be long.”
He raised his eyebrows, a curious grin tugging at a corner of his mouth. “Shoot.”
“Um, you… you deserved all the chocolate fountains in the world. All of them.”
His eyebrows twitched, but he didn’t move. Only his chest started to heave more rapidly. “Who are you?” he asked slowly. I couldn’t tell if he was angry, or upset, but his reaction indicated that he definitely knew what the words meant, even if I didn’t.
“No one. And you’ll never see me again. I just had to deliver the message.”
I sprang up from my seat, making my way out of his office before he could stop me. He didn’t even try. Outside, I pulled the notebook from my bag and opened it to the next page.
Thank you for doing that. I really appreciate it. Now, the last thing I want you to do is going to be the hardest. Maybe not for you, but for me. See, once I know that the tasks have been completed, that means I can move on. And I’m really scared of what’s coming next. I want you to go to St Barnabas Hospital, find the Senior Health Center and ask for Nurse Angie. She’ll let you know what to do.
I stared at the words in disbelief. Huh? I flicked through the remaining pages, but they were all blank. I headed to the hospital, which was just a fifteen-minute walk away and did what I was told. Nurse Angie welcomed me with a warm smile and took me to a green-walled room upstairs. There was a frail old man lying on a bed. He had small tubes in his nose, which connected to a ventilator.
“He’s been waiting for you,” the nurse said. She motioned for me to sit down next to the bed and pointed to an envelope on the bedside table. “That’s for you. He said to read the letter first.”
She left us, closing the door softly behind her. I took a seat under the attentive gaze of the man and opened the envelope. It contained a letter, as well as a check. I unfolded the sheet of paper and began to read.
Well, you made it. Well done! It’s nice to meet you. My name is Ernie, and I have multiple sclerosis. I wrote this when I was still capable of holding a pen between my fingers, but as you can tell from the handwriting, it’s becoming a little tedious. Did you enjoy the cheesecake? It was my favorite, and I really just wanted someone else to know about it. I hope Shirley’s doing okay. The man you met is my son, Jack. We haven’t spoken for the past five years, after an argument over the “Grayson Estate.” I forgot to mention: he can have it. But he’ll find out in my will. See, I wasn’t always the best dad. At times, I was even harsh and cold, and I regret a lot of the things I said. When he was a kid, all Jack ever wanted for his birthday was a chocolate fountain, but I never let him have one. I thought he’d make a mess and get his clothes dirty. I just wanted to let him know I wish I’d been a better father to him. Today, you’ve done the two things I wanted to do before dying. I could have just asked my nurse to do them for me, but it would have been less fun, wouldn’t it? I always loved a good mystery book. So, thank you for helping me out. This is the moment you’ve been waiting for, right? Go ahead, take a peek at the check, then come back to the letter and flip it over.
I did as he asked and almost fell off my chair when I saw the amount. The check was for $20,000. Shakily, I put it down in my lap, picked up the letter again, and flipped it. There was only one sentence written across the back of the sheet:
You should see the look on your face right now!