Thursday, September 11, 2014

Chapter Ten

Death and Diners



          Canner took a lengthy sip, set his mug on the darkly stained oak table, and checked the parking lot through the enormous bay window they’d been seated next to. He turned back to Chloe, sitting across from him, shrugged, and began slowly tracing the grain of the table with his finger.

          There were two servers wearing black shirts and charcoal pants, a young woman and a gangly young man with an unfortunate haircut, that were rolling silverware into black napkins two tables behind Chloe. They had been talking amongst themselves, minding their own business, in such low voices that they could hardly be faulted for the content of their stories. But, with every overheard word, Canner could feel his cheeks turning a little pinker.

Of course they were the right age to be talking about those sorts of things. And Canner knew mundane tasks done with members of the opposite sex encouraged that kind of exchange. And it wasn’t like they were talking about anything absurdly vulgar either. “Naked in the front seat of your car?” the girl had giggled to Haircut. “It was my dad’s car,” the boy then confessed. But their whispers were all carrying down the open bank of windows, Canner could hear every word they spoke, and it was becoming incredibly uncomfortable. Should he mouth to them “I can hear you”? Was that the dumbest and most uncool thing he could possibly do? What was Chloe thinking right now? Could she hear them? Was she facing the wrong way and missing all of it?   

          “Who had the breakfast burrito?” a sharp-featured forty-something woman asked, unexpectedly standing, rigidly straight, beside them.

She was sensibly dressed, a white V-neck with khaki shorts, and held a beautiful black ceramic plate in one hand and a steaming pot of coffee in the other.

          “She did,” Canner sighed, thankful for something to say.

          Chloe raised her hand and nodded with a smile.

          “Then just coffee for you?” she asked.

Before Canner could respond, the woman looked away and leaned in to set Chloe’s plate in front of her. She bent over just far enough for a dramatically sparkling diamond necklace to slack away from her shirt. She stood up again, as straight as Canner believed anyone could stand, and began to tip her pot toward his half-full mug.

“Oh, no thank you,” he blurted, quickly reaching out to put his hand over his mug, guarding it from her.

A small dollop, larger than a drop, smaller than a pour, of scalding coffee escaped the lip of the decanter before she could stop.

It landed with a quick and quiet sizzle on the back of Canner’s hand.

The woman looked down at him, dead into Canner’s eyes, and raised her eyebrows in such a way, with a mix of total sureness and apathy, that it made it instantly and inarguably clear that he was to blame, not her.

The hair on the back of Canner’s neck and forearms stood on end and, even freshly burned, and still flushed with embarrassment, his skin ran cold.

“This is a fresh pot,” she said, her eyebrows still raised but now looking down at Canner’s reddening hand. “Do you want some ice?”

“I’ll be fine,” he said, removing his hand to rub it on his jeans under the table. “Thanks,” he added.

“Enjoy, you two,” she said with rehearsed and unbelieved sweetness.

As she walked away, her sharp eyes scanned the whole room, landing for a moment on the two silverware rollers who hadn’t breathed a word since her arrival, then moved on to every other table. Canner thought that it wasn’t just them that had quieted. That the entire dining room had gone a little still with her in it.

          “She did nearly ruin your coffee to cream ratio,” Chloe admitted, cutting into her burrito. “But you almost lost your hand.”

          The door to the kitchen swung close behind the woman, and the normal din of the restaurant returned.

          “Some things are worth fighting for,” he said seriously, rubbing a thumb over his new red welt and showing it off to Chloe. “A scar from my battle with the evil restaurant owner,” he grinned.

          A young man walked out through the swinging door that the woman had disappeared through. He was younger than the silverware rollers, not nearly as nicely dressed, maybe a dishwasher or a busboy, and looked warily out across the restaurant. When he found Girl and Haircut, he quickly ducked over to stand behind them. They each acknowledged his existence, though neither turned or stopped working, and they both listened politely to whatever it was he was telling them. When he was through, the silverware rollers smiled and nodded over their shoulders. Then they ignored him until the boy understood he was being dismissed, though he smiled as he left, like a kid who’d just gotten to tell a great secret.

When they were alone again, Girl looked seriously at Haircut.

“Do you think someone killed him?”

“No,” he laughed. “People wash up on the beach all the time.”

“Not naked, they don’t.”

“Yeah they do. All the fat one’s do.”

“Shut up. That’s gross.”

“Seriously. When they flop around in the surf their clothes fall off.”

“No they don’t.”

“Yes they do. It’s because of their shape. Like greased watermelons.”

“Dude,” Girl squirmed, “that’s so making me gag.”

“It’s just geometry. Convex angles keep clothes on. Concave, clothes off. The opposite of how it works in my car.”

“Your dad’s car,” Girl snorted, “and that is so mean.”

“He was a cop though. That’s weird.”

Girl looked seriously again. It was exciting to be worried. “Right?”

“Ex-cop, I guess. Whatever. But who knows if anything Jack tells us is true.”

“No. It is. Jules texted me earlier. She and the guys are the ones who found it. She said it was so gross. Cope pulled it out of the water. Can you imagine grabbing an old dead naked guy?”

Canner’s heart sank into his feet. He could feel it flubbing in his flip-flops.

He didn’t know what to do. There was no way this was real.

Chloe set her fork down and took a drink of water. She wiped her mouth with the black cloth napkin that had been in her lap and set it on her plate. “I’m done. Let’s go. Birch is obviously not coming.”

Canner leaned to the side and reached for his wallet. He took out some money and fumbled around with it, trying to make sense of the numbers on the bills. Adding them together was impossible. How much did food cost? Should he leave a tip? His hand stung still. How much was the tip supposed to be?

He threw a twenty on the table and took a deep breath before standing up.

“That was gracious of you,” Chloe said, nodding. She stood up and zipped her sweatshirt to her chin. She walked away slowly, waiting for him to follow her, but stopped short of the door to the parking lot.

“Concave,” she said to Haircut, holding up her hand in the shape of a C, “is the inside of the angle. See? It makes a cave. Concave.”

Haircut and Girl stared at her confused.

“You got them backwards. You would describe a fat person as convex.”  

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