Red Colt fascinated Adam Bruckner from the moment they first met. Bruckner handed him a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. “Why, thank you, Adam,” Red Colt said. He always wore a crisp button-down shirt and tie. “A most delightful sandwich, dear sir. Peanut butter is well fortified in calcium and in protein. Quite proper.” His voice bellowed like a stage actor’s, with exacting pronunciation. “Why, only recently I have begun enjoying dishes of dog food. Which is likewise fortified in such essential nutrients as calcium and protein.”
On the surface, they didn’t have much in common. Bruckner, a young white guy, played pro soccer and spent his free time helping Philly’s homeless. Red Colt, an aging black man, pushed a cart through the streets and spoke like a Victorian lord.
Everything about Red Colt seemed out of time and out of place. His speech, his clothing. Even his handwriting, which displayed swirls and flourishes, with curlicued capital letters and spiraling commas that crawled like snails across the page.
As Bruckner and Red Colt talked that winter day in 2002, a wild-eyed, heavyset woman came thundering across the street and sprayed out accusations: “I tell you what! White people — I can’t stand ’em! They just want to — ”
Red Colt held up a calm hand. “Perhaps, dear madame, you have not noticed my good friend Adam, sitting here beside me.”
The woman’s mustachioed face turned to Bruckner. Where did he come from?
Red Colt continued: “If you had caught sight of him, I’m sure you would realize your words might seem patently offensive.”
Hypnotized by the swinging pocket watch of Red Colt’s voice, she turned and lurched away.
“I was glowing,” Bruckner told me later. “I just loved this guy right away.” Later, Bruckner heard reports of Red Colt and the woman, Angie, roaming the city together as boyfriend and girlfriend. Red Colt sported a homemade tin-foil-and-sunglasses device, and proclaimed he and Angie were on the run, hiding from some man who threatened Angie.
Bruckner chuckled to himself when he heard the news. “In his own way, Red Colt’s protecting his lady,” he thought.
Bruckner wouldn’t see his friend again for months, but their lives would intertwine in a tale of obsession, dismemberment, homicide detectives both real and fake, and treasure buried in a prominent Philadelphia park, still waiting to be discovered.
Of all the twists, the most unexpected may be their friendship, because the two men had so little in common. But then, there was one thing.
Yes, dear sir. There was the one thing.