read by Paul E. Cooley
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I sit on a high stool near the end of the counter. It’s late, must be pushing three a.m. Still raining. The steaming mug of diner coffee takes the edge off the chill in my bones.
For what? I’ll know it when I see it. Until then, just waiting.
Anybody who spends more than ten minutes here leaves stinking like cigarettes and grease, but I don’t mind. I’m here almost every night, so you could say I’m used to it. Compared to what I often go home smelling like, the smoke and burnt-fat reek might as well be gardenias and honeysuckle.
I take a long drink of the coffee, the bitter black liquid burning down my throat, churning in my stomach. I shake a cigarette out of the pack and light it with my Zippo. The lighter chnks shut, and I take a deep drag. The double-lungful of smoke warms me like the coffee can’t. I exhale slowly, lost in the song on the jukebox, “Lonesome Town.” I think about when Marla and I used to come here, back before-
Commotion on the other side of the place drags me back from memory lane. Damn, I don’t even get to finish my smoke in peace.
Some dirtbag is waving his arms and screaming at the waitress. Apparently, his scrambled eggs were overdone, and he doesn’t plan on paying the bill. That’s fine. I wouldn’t want to pay for bad eggs, either.
It’s a shame he decides a dine-and-dash isn’t enough, that he has to hit the girl, shove her into the counter, and kick her on his way out. What kinda guy hits a waitress because of some eggs, eggs she didn’t even cook. I take another long, deep drag on my cigarette, stub it out in the glass tray, drain the rest of the coffee, and decide what kinda guy does that.
A dead guy.
The rain’s coming down hard, makes it tough to see. But I don’t need twenty-twenty to spot the sonofabitch from the diner. He’s about a half-block ahead of me, head down, both arms cinching his coat around himself. I pick up my pace a little, not too much, but enough to catch up with the guy before he can cover the remaining two blocks to the bus stop.
Two blocks with plenty of dark alleys.
Lightning strikes, followed quickly by a deafening thunder clap. I smile. Partly because, along with the rain, I like the lightning and thunder. No matter how big you ever get to feeling, a nearby flash-bang always puts it in perspective, makes you remember lots of things are a hell of a lot bigger.
Oh, and also because I plan on making some noise with this guy.
Before I catch up with him, I slip my hand under my coat, letting it rest on my Glock 17. I like the Glock. It’s an engineering marvel of simplicity, reliability, efficiency. Stick in a magazine, rack the slide, pull the trigger. No switches or gizmos to fool with. A lot of guys don’t like nine-millimeter, think it’s too weak. I don’t buy that. Shoot somebody in the face, they don’t care if it’s a nine-millimeter, forty-five, whatever.
Along with the Glock, I carry a pair of knives. Cold Steel Recon Tantos. These babies have seven-inch razor sharp blades, they’re balanced well enough for decent throwing, and they’re flat black, so they match the Glock.
Unfortunately, I think a lot of the subtleties are lost on the guys who get to see these babies up close. Most of the cretons seem like it wouldn’t matter to them if the knives were bright green and the Glock was hot pink.
Oh, well. I appreciate these things, and that’s what matters. Like Ricky Nelson said,
you can’t please everyone, so you gotta please yourself.
I’m still lagging behind Mister Temper Tantrum by about a quarter of a block. He peaks over his shoulder, gets a look at me. Not a good one, but enough to spook him.
He picks up his pace a little.
I double mine.
About the time he decides to take another glance over his shoulder, I’m within twenty feet of him, closing fast. No way he’s going to make it to the bus stop. I can smell the panic from here. Probably has no idea why I’m even following him. But that’s okay.
I know well enough for both of us.
There’s another lightning strike. I smile. Couldn’t have planned this better.
I pull out the Glock, and put one in the back of his knee right in time with the accompanying thunderclap. He screams and goes down like a ten-dollar whore in the back seat of a Buick. The heavy rain immediately washes away the blood pouring from his ruined leg.
Like I said, couldn’t have planned this better.
I pick the guy up with my left hand, drag him into one of the alleyways. Doesn’t matter which; they’re all dark, smell like piss, and are strewn with garbage and filth.
He’ll fit right in.
“Ughh, my leg… ,” he mumbles.
Christ. He’s crying.
I shake my head. “Should’ve paid for the eggs, pal-”
“Take my wallet, money, I… ”
“Shut up and let me finish. I was gonna say that you should’ve paid for the eggs. And that hitting women ain’t a very nice thing to do.” I put my Glock back in its holster, and lift the guy up about eight inches, so we’re at eye level. I slam him against an old wood door, pull out one of the knives, and drive it through his chest, just under his collarbone, pinning him to the door. He screams.
Too bad for him the streets are empty at this time of night, and with all the rain and thunder, nobody’s gonna hear him.
He looks up at me, hair plastered down to his forehead, rain and snot running down his face. He gets a good look at me for the first time.
I take off my hat for the full effect. There’s another lightning strike as he stares at my bald head, at the scar that runs from where the hair line would be, down my forehead, across my eye and mouth, down to my chin. I give him my best smile, and he screams again.
I’m used to it. I tend to have that effect on people. Particularly the ones I’ve just shot and pinned up in an alley.
Guy tries to say something, but I can’t make it out. I shake my head. First he’s a tough guy, beating on the girl, now he’s Mister Sensitive, blubbering and crying. Not a chance I’m gonna lose any sleep over this one.
“I think that’s about enough from you,” I say, producing the other knife. I step to the side and draw the black carbon steel blade across his throat slowly, severing his trachea and jugular. Blood sprays then flows from the cut, sputtering and gurgling with each futile attempt at a breath. Couple seconds later and he’s dead, most of the blood already washed away.
Thank God for the rain.
Now, maybe you’re thinking that this was all a bit harsh, that maybe I overreacted a little. Maybe this sorta thing should be handled by the police. Maybe a night in the slammer would’ve turned the guy around.
And maybe this guy doesn’t just beat up waitresses, but also his wife, and his kids. Maybe tonight when he got home, his wife was gonna ask him why he was so late. Maybe he wouldn’t like the tone in her voice, and he’d let her know it with his fists. Maybe when the racket woke up his kids, he’d tuck them back into bed with those same fists.
Maybe now his wife finds a guy who’s good to her, a guy who treats her right. Maybe his son doesn’t grow up to beat on women, and his daughter doesn’t grow up letting guys beat on her.
Maybe that damn song in the diner got to me, got me thinking about things I’ve lost, things that have been taken from me.
We could play this “maybe” game all night. Maybe some other time.
Right now, I got things to do.
I wipe the blade on his jacket, re-sheathe it, then grasp the handle of the one still pinning him to the door. I place my other hand against the wall, and with a hard yank, my knife is free, and Mister Dead Guy drops to the ground.
Before I leave, I feel through the guy’s pockets for that wallet he was talking about. I find it, remove a couple bills, then return it. I put my hat back on, and exit the alley, leaving the bastard in a heap of the scum that he is.
I open up the door to the diner, and the little bell above the door dings. The waitress has a bruise on her face, and she’s holding her arm kinda funny, but looks okay otherwise. I walk up and lay a handful of wet, wrinkled bills on the counter in front of her.
“This oughta square up things from earlier. You know, the eggs.”
She looks at the money, then back at me, one eyebrow raised a little. I look down, and see there’s some blood smeared on one of the singles. I look back at her, and shrug.
I turn to leave, and as I’m halfway out the door, the waitress stops me. She’s holding a to-go cup of coffee. “Hey. For your trouble.”
I take the coffee and nod slightly, and turn back towards the door.
“Must’ve been a total pain in the neck getting the money from that guy,” she says.
I shake my head, walk out the door and laugh quietly, “Not mine, anyway.”