I MET DARRYL LITTLEJOHN in the doorway of The Falls bar - just as Imette St. Guillen must have done exactly a week before.
He seemed like a nice, honest guy. He certainly had a pleasant enough demeanor.
He wore glasses, a hat covered with a hood and a dark jacket. He was a bouncer - in good shape to be sure, but not physically imposing in the way you'd expect hired muscle to be.
It was 4 o'clock in the morning, and we slipped easily into conversation. "Do you remember seeing that girl?" I asked the 41-year-old bouncer.
"Yeah," he said.
Little did I know at the time that I was talking to a hardened ex-con once branded a "menace to society" by a state Parole Board.
Little did I know was that our mellow chat would be followed hours later by a tense phone call. Little did I know that he would soon be hauled in for questioning in the rape-and-murder case that's shocked the city. Little did I know that when he entered Brooklyn's 75th Precinct just hours after our final conversation that he would be carrying my business card. Little did I know that I would soon be all over TV, reliving my chilling encounter with a man at the center of a real-life "CSI" probe that's gripped people across the country.
While shudders run through me now, I thought nothing at the time of talking to Littlejohn. He had a way of putting a person at ease.
He was certainly friendly enough when I asked him about seeing St. Guillen in the hours before her savaged body would be discovered, dumped like trash off the Belt Parkway.
"There was nothing special about her," Littlejohn said of the beautiful graduate student. "She didn't talk to anybody. She just kept to herself."
He then went on to tell me how terrible the slaying of the young "lady" was. He described how St. Guillen walked into The Falls shortly before 4 a.m., joining some 10 patrons, and sat down in the middle of the long, wooden bar.
"She had two drinks, but she didn't finish the second one," Littlejohn recalled. "It was a dark drink, in a small glass," he said.
It did not seem strange to me at the time that although he remembered details of her drink, he said he could not recall what the 24-year-old criminology student wore that tragic night. "There was no breasts hanging out," was oddly his reply.
After last call, St. Guillen "just walked out of the bar, stood in front and then we went back inside," the bouncer said. "When it's 4 a.m., you gotta go."
What he didn't say was what his boss would eventually tell cops: that Littlejohn was ordered to eject her from The Falls and that she was last seen talking to him outside the Lafayette St. bar as he sat in a van.
I gave Littlejohn my card - and wrote down my personal cell phone number - and we parted ways.
My phone rang at 10:51 Sunday morning. It was Littlejohn, asking if I could talk for a bit. "You seemed like a real nice lady," he said.
"Lady" - that was the word he used to describe St. Guillen at the bar. It started out friendly enough, but quickly an edge - a sharp tone I hadn't heard before - filled his voice. "They [cops] followed me on the train from work this morning," he said.
He had been questioned before, and would talk again if "that would get them off my back," he said.
"I keep seeing the same few people all over again. Anyone who's seen two TV shows could figure it out - they were cops. A child could figure it out," Littlejohn added, sounding almost insulted.
He said two police SUVs were parked in front of his house.
"I'm looking at them right now," he said. "I went to the corner grocery and I came up to them and asked, 'Do you want anything?' " he said. "They pretended they didn't know who I am."
The strong police presence inside the bar also struck a raw nerve with Littlejohn. "They're hurting the business," he said. "We're like a family."
Then his attention suddenly shifted back to himself.
"I'm not taking away what happened to this lady and not to play the race card, but you are singling out the only black guy," Littlejohn said.
"Do you still want to talk to me?" he asked toward the end of our conversation. "Am I going to see this in the newspaper tomorrow?"
"I understand it's your job," he added, before we said goodbye, the friendliness returning to his voice, a tone suggesting we would speak again soon.
I was shocked to learn later that evening he was being questioned in the murder of St. Guillen, who is less than a year older than me.
Like her, I have gone out to bars like The Falls. Like her, I have parted ways with my friends and kept bar-hopping into the wee hours by myself.
And maybe, like her, I trusted Littlejohn - and it's possible he betrayed both our trust.
Only I'm here to write about it.