"Wow, was the butler guy a jerk or what?" Cinda declared not really looking for a response and pulled me from the couch while saying, "We need to get down to the diner anyways."
"What if they call back?" Was all I could think to say.
"Lynn, if they call back I will be shocked. That Theodore over at your grandparents' house certainly has a broom stick up his backside to say the least." I had to give her that. But still I wondered if they would call back. I wasn't sure if I was now a true orphan or not. It seemed from Cinda's side of the conversation that my grandparents were both still alive. That was more than I knew a few minutes ago. Not much I could do one way or the other about any of that. I had no control over them talking to me or not. So I got dressed and headed out the door without a backwards glance.
The diner was only partially full as it was just past midmorning and the breakfast crowd a hazy memory and too early yet for the lunch group. The old timers table was sparsely populated with only two of the usual members but then given the amount of drinking that went on yesterday and last night it wasn't a huge shock to me. Cranky old people with hangovers were not exactly ideal folks to eavesdrop on as they were usually just complaining about their heads and other body aches. We walked to get the booth behind the regulars table and saw it was already occupied by Erika. That should not have surprised me but for some reason it had. Cinda, not one to miss any opportunity, simply sat in the bench seat across from Erika unasked leaving me standing there looking like a fool. I quickly joined her.
"Hello, Special Agent Erika," Cinda taunted while raising her hand to catch Louella's attention. Louella was back and looking worse for wear than anyone else which was pretty apparent to everyone in the diner. She knew better than snubbing Cinda so she quickly joined us saying, "What will it be today, coffee or soda with your French fries, like usual?" That was Cinda's favorite meal truth be told. But Cinda flashed Louella a wicked look and replied, "Oh, no. I think I will have a cup of chicken noodle soup with a soda to start. Lynn, what do you want?" Louella barely resisted rolling her eyes at Cinda, knowing perfectly well that soup to start meant Cinda was planning on being there a while. She only ordered by courses when she wanted to stretch out her stay. The ploy was not unknown but somewhat acceptable.
"May I have some water and a small salad with tomatoes?" I wasn't really hungry but didn't want to get Cinda upset by not ordering. Midday coffee at the diner was slightly better than motor oil. Closer to lunch I would have some but anytime after ten was risking sludge. I noticed Erika hadn't been privy to that information and was stirring in some more sugar to a cup already heavily loaded with cream. Like that would save her from the scorched beans and stagnant tap water flavor now gracing her taste buds.
"What salad dressing?" Louella was trying to maintain normalcy while everyone was whispering around the diner. Come to think of it I was probably equal amounts of attraction to these folks as she was. We both now had the public eye upon us. Oh gosh, what fun.
"House dressing on the side, thanks," I threw her a look. I knew now how my skin felt when I was being spoken about by casual acquaintances and others while in the same room. This was not something I had experiences before and had no desire to be the center of this sort of attention ever again. I felt prickly and uncomfortable and all I did was find my mom's body. Louella screwed a guy to death, had scene at the funeral for having had sex with the corpse's grandson and more than likely did the mortician, Junior Bartell. She had to be itching all over her body. That reminded me that I had seen all of her body and the infamous feather. Yuck!
My thoughts must have been readable on my face because Louella blushed then said, "Okay, and sorry to hear about your mom." My turn to blush. Erika looked at us both as if we were some exotic floor show. Hearing the absolute silence in the room I guess we were. Someone who was slurping coffee loudly broke the spell and everyone resumed their chatter and eating. Unfrozen with the reanimation of the diner crowd Louella went back to the kitchen to put in our orders.
Cinda focused back on Erika and said, "So did you find Mrs. McKay's killer yet?" Cinda looked directing into her eyes. The green eye was glowing spooky and even I shuddered slightly.
Erika nearly spewed her ill tamed coffee out her nose. I found that mildly amusing. She swallowed and carefully replied, "No, not yet."
"So what is the real reason the FBI is here?" Cinda was tenacious and not going to let Erika off the hook. Again I felt the crowd was listening to us. The old folks table was absolutely quiet and now nobody was slurping loudly. The sounds of the kitchen were all we could hear. I could smell the coffee burning in the distance and saw Louella turn back to see what was going on in the diner. I waited to see if Erika would answer. She sipped at that cup of muck in her hands and tried to keep from grimacing. Louella used the break in conversation to bring me my water and Cinda her soda.
Once Louella walked away Erika looked around as if she forgot she was about to speak. Cinda made a soft noise in her throat and tapped her fingertip on the glass. I took the opportunity to get out my cigarettes and light one up. I offered the pack to Erika out of politeness. She surprised me by accepting. I watched her take her time striking the match, touching the glowing tip to the cigarette and then inhaling slowly. It then seemed her accepting of a smoke was more of a delay device than a nicotine need. She barely avoided sputtering as she let the smoke out. I sweetly blew a nice round ring into the air above our heads. The halo of fog floated down around my head for a second and Cinda snickered.
The chatter around us started up as Erika stretched out her smoking and tried to avoid Cinda's eyes. Louella came up with a plate of food Erika must have ordered before we had arrived. Cinda and I tried to keep our mouths from gaping at the early lunch choice. Erika had picked the chicken fried steak with a heaping scoop of mashed potatoes and gravy. The side of creamed corn on another plate with three pieces of white bread rounded out the meal. Most New York women I have ever seen or heard of tended to order side salads and steamed vegetables. Louella had also included a pat of butter about the size of a cracker that Erika was slathering on her food while heavily salting the dish nearly at the same time.
Our meager orders of soup and salad arrived a minute later. Erika hadn't waited for us, but then she hadn't exactly invited us to join her and we couldn't exactly expect company manners when we ourselves weren't exhibiting any. She had stubbed out her cigarette and was consuming the food quickly. I let my salad sit while I finished my cigarette. Cinda was busy fussing her seasonings. She put in a bit of pepper then some salt. Finally she crumbled a package of her saltine crackers into the soup. We ate slowly while still marveling at Erika's huge meal.
Louella came back to see if we needed anything else. Inspired by Erika's plate full of food Cinda ordered fried chicken and French fries. I smiled and declined anything. We all quietly ate while the diner began to fill up with the early lunch crowd. Erika was still working on her food when Cinda's order appeared. I asked for a cup of coffee since I saw they put on a fresh pot with the influx of new people. Louella began to get busier but took the time to whisk off our plates and refill glasses. Even with all the attention on Louella she still was operating like the good waitress she was known to be at the diner. Realizing she would lose her spot at the table if she didn't appear to be consuming Cinda asked for the dessert choices before she was even half finished with her new plate of food. Finally Erika had nothing left on her own plates to distract Cinda from pumping her for information.
Swallowing her fries with a gulp of soda Cinda asked, "Okay, back to my question, why exactly is the FBI here?"
Erika smiled weakly and said, "Well, Mrs. McKay was murdered and we were in the area on another case and dropped by to see if we could offer our help."
Yeah, that's the reason, she sounded really convincing too. I had to be honest and acknowledge to myself at least that it was good that they were here because they were more likely to stumble on the murderer than our local cops but still her answer didn't ring true. Cinda smiled her predator grin and asked, "So what case where?"
Erika sighed and said, "You don't really think I could tell you that now do you?" Her tone was heavily laden with exhaustion and smug FBI superiority.
Cinda smiled, "Sure you can give us a hint. Not like I would tell anyone." It was all I could do to keep my face straight when that lie spilled out of Cinda's mouth.
Erika was torn between saying something just to shut Cinda up or simply getting up and leaving. Good manners won and she coolly bit out, "There was a kidnapping with the victim dumped near here."
Now Cinda would want more on that case I knew by the gleam in her eyes. She nodded like she was familiar with the case. One of the old guys in the booth next to us chimed in with, "Hey, I know about that case!"
Erika blanched as it dawned on her that we still were pretty much the lunch crowd's current floor show and she just gave out too much information. A weak smile, looking slightly ill, she said, "Oh really?" The haughty tone she was attempting didn't quite work and it came out as a challenge rather than a put down.
The voice from the other table said, "Sure thing, honey. That was the little Shaw girl. Pete, you knew her granddaddy, Lenny, he worked over at the mills back in the fifties." Pete grunted affirmation and the disembodied voice continued, "Some louse took that little Shaw girl early last week from the back of her grandma's place just up over the state line. Chuck Trenton came back from there two days ago saying his hounds couldn't track her much past the river. They figured she was taken downriver on a boat but the hounds had too much rain and too many volunteers ruining the scent to trail very far. Trenton's only been working that team for about six months and they did their best but were not able to find the girl." His apology for Trenton's failure was heavy in the tones rising over to us from the other side of the red leatherette booth.
Here our story teller paused and slurped down a beverage. The entire diner had hushed to hear the man's information about the kidnapping that Erika had been reluctant to discuss. I could tell Erika didn't have much experience with the way small towns worked. Any bit of information offered up was always passed around then polished on or argued with until a new story came up that caught the interest of the locals. Louella walked around pouring coffee while listening with the rest of us. Erika had a completely horrified frozen expression. It seemed that the man was on target with his assessment of the case Erika and Harry were supposedly working that brought them down here to my mom's murder site.
Cinda was dying to push me completely out of the booth so she could wander over to see who all was now sitting at the table. She had been scooting against me trying to edge me out without being obvious. From our angle we could only see folks on the opposite side of the diner and when we came in and sat with Erika we had glanced to see who was there in the old timers' booth but we had no occasion to discuss who we knew and who we didn't because of our invasion of Erika's prime spot. I nudged Cinda with my elbow to stop her pushing at me and raised my eyebrows quickly twice. A puzzled look went across her features and then it dawned on her I was cluing her in about the voice telling us the tale.
Armed with that little visual hint, "Wes Godfrey, is that you over there?" Cinda hollered out with a follow up demand, "Get your hide over here and properly introduce yourself to our newest town guest."
Scuffling came from the other side of the red cracked high backed booths and then a small man was at our table. Wes had the thickest, wildest set of dark gray eyebrows of anyone we had ever seen. He was also as bald as the day he was born. It was like the eyebrows made up for the lack of his hair on top. He worked with Cinda's mom in the beauty shop a dozen years ago. He had been an old fashioned barber. He was the type that did both the men's haircuts and razor strapped old fashioned shaves complete with hot towels and a professional attitude. But eventually most men shaved themselves or grew beards and mustaches and his business keep falling off. Hair styles kept changing until all he had for clients were the old guys that liked buzz cuts. Then Sears started selling those hair clipper kits with instructions and the folks cutting back on expenses in hard financial times tended to cut out their barber. He pretty much took up residence at the diner's old timers' booth after that. He hadn't been sitting at the table when we walked in but must have slipped in while we were being served. Standing there with a sheepish look on his face he quickly snatched off his black watch cap revealing that smooth bald head.
"Howdy, miss, I am Wes, like Cinda here yelled," he gave Cinda a wink and extended his right hand to Erika, his left hand still holding his cap.