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April 15, 2024

Night Time 15

By Lydia Manx

I finished off my cigarette without replying as I tried to figure why Erika felt she had to ask me questions. I was really getting tired of being the focus of her attention. Erika had slowed while she tried to see if I was going to answer her question. I continued towards the diner without replying.

"Well, Lynn?" Impatience tinged her question.

"Oh, was that a question? Sounded rhetorical to me." I dryly commented while walking a bit faster. I really should have gone back for a sweater. Walking quickly we were soon in the center of town and at the diner. Louella saw us and waved us to find a seat. I picked one further away from the old guys table. I didn't feel much like an audience but needed the coffee.

Louella brought me a cup of coffee and a pitcher of cream without my saying a word. She knew my preferences and that I wasn't a morning person. Smart folks didn't try to talk with me before my first cup of coffee. I had to hand to Erika she was persistent if nothing else. Louella looked at Erika and asked, "Coffee?"

"I guess so." She probably remembered the horrible cup she drank midday the first time she ate at the diner. She looked hopefully at the waitress as she asked, "Do you make omelets?" Louella hadn't supplied menus as the morning crowd usually knew what they wanted.

"Not me personally but the cook has been known to when the mood strikes." Louella was getting back to her usual smartass self I was happy to see. Erika failed to notice that Louella did not say the cook made good omelets, which was not an oversight, but just saying that omelets were something that had exited the kitchen at some point. Erika missed the subtext and ordered one anyway. Louella smiled and went back to see how the cook would torture the ingredients of a simple mushroom and cheese omelet. I shuddered to think what would be heading to our table and asked for an order of white toast before she headed back to place the order.

Louella dropped off another cup of coffee for Erika and topped off my cup with the carafe as she went around filling the cups of the sparse number of diners seated. The old timers' booth was opposite us and I could see Wes Godfrey seated talking with an older couple. I knew them by sight since they were in about their late eighties or early nineties but it wasn't like I had conversations with them. Yet they had certainly made their impressions on me. It was the Winters, Maria and Leo Winters. I was somewhat surprised to see Wes talking with them as they didn't belong to any of the local churches and rarely sat at the booth in the diner.

Leo Winters always appeared to me to be the older of the two. He was wearing his usual black slacks with the crease perfectly aligned down the middle of each leg. This morning he was sporting red suspenders that I knew would pull his pants up a good two inches from the tops of his black leather shoes showing his socks when he walked. The shoes had a good inch and a half heel on them giving his five foot four frame a bit of a lift. His skin was paper thin and stretched out over his bones with small lines grooved all over every bit of his skin I could see. He noticed my glance and his hard blue eyes met mine with a bitterness I couldn't understand. Leo Winters had never said a word to me nor I one to him. Yet every time we passed each other he would glare at me like something was wrong or I had done something to him. In my twenty years he had gotten smaller and the looks more acid laced each time I saw him. He was angry at the world and with that frail old body not allowing him to lash out at me with anything but glances and stares he made the best use of them. I dropped my eyes to my coffee and mentally ran down his wife in my head.

Maria was the matched bookend to him. Super curly wiry dead black hair, obviously a home dye kit since Cinda never had any gossip about her, her gaze was more disturbing to me. She had pale ale eyes offset by a large hawk like beak. She looked down on everyone with distain from her nearly five foot height. She always wore the sturdy black shoes the elderly favored that pushed her up a bit. While her husband dressed like he was coming home from a funeral she definitely favored the shapeless house dresses that Sears sold out of their catalogues. The cheerful floral prints were also ironed perfectly and seemed out of place on her thin frame. If she weighed more than a hundred pounds it was probably because she brought her purse with her to the scale. That purse was big enough to put a medium sized dog in and still have room for a wallet.

The only time I ever remember her saying a word to me her husband hadn't been with her. I had gone into the market to pick up some cream for my coffee and it was just after they opened midweek. Since it was so early I know there hadn't been any witnesses to our exchange. It was about a year prior and I was exhausted from a week of no sleep and a heat wave had further drained my patience and my kindness. There were two containers of cream on the shelf and I had reached for one when she was suddenly at my elbow.

"That's mine. Put it back." She demanded while jabbing me in the side with a pointed finger. Her purse hung from her other hand and I glanced to make sure she wasn't going to bash me with it.

"Excuse me?" I was still holding the small glass container in my left hand.

"Listen, girly, that cream is mine. I buy two pints every other morning. Everyone knows it. Put it back." She was brittle and glaring at me with beady black eyes. I couldn't see any color just pools of black anger. She shook the thin finger at me while she spoke. Her purse was an appendage forgotten thankfully and she just tried to kill me with her eyes.

"Guess not everyone. And I am buying this. There's still one left," I tried to be somewhat sympathetic.

The sound that came out of her mouth was of anger and fury. Her face rapidly went from white to red and her whole body shook as she absorbed that I had just told her no. She tried to reach past me to pull it from my grasp. I spun and briskly walked to the front counter where I rapidly paid for it. She was walking to argue some more with me at the counter when I finished my transaction and positively flew out to my bicycle where I proceeded to peddle home as if the hounds of hell were after me.

"Lynn, did you hear me?" Erika had been talking the whole time I had been musing on the Winters. I shuddered slightly and said, "No, I am sorry, what?"

She let out a hiss of frustration. She pulled out a cigarette from a pack in her purse and lit it with shaking fingers. Special Agent Erika Thomason was more than a little mad at my inattention. Excuse me, it wasn't like the past few days had been a picnic for me, I thought to myself.

Finally she bit out, "I asked about Margie remember?"

"Yes," I sipped more coffee and failed to add any more words.

Louella danced back to the table and put down a plate of something in front of Erika while handing me the toast. She pulled out ketchup and hot sauce from her apron and handed over a spindle of jellies she lifted off the table next to us.

"Anything else I can get you?" She asked while trying to keep the grin off her face. Erika looked at the plate in front of her in horror. The cook's current rendition of an omelet seemed to be wetly scrambled eggs with hunks of raw mushrooms tossed in and some cheese half melted on top. There was the usual grits and home fries scooped on the plate and a sprig of what looked to be parsley but could have been a weed for all the appreciation Erika gave the presentation.

"No, Louella, mine looks good," I brightly quipped while Erika was still coming to terms with the dish in front of her. Since Louella actually made the toast I knew I had been spared burnt offerings. The cook was notoriously temperamental. Erika still had yet to utter a word about her omelet and Louella took that to mean she was free to run away.

"God, what is wrong with this town?" She muttered while trying to decipher if anything in front of her was edible. Her hand snaked out and grabbed the hot sauce and she shook the bottle over the eggs. I had to hand it to her she did begin to eat it. But then she did seem to enjoy her food. The grits were soon buttered and salted and she seemed to like them just fine. I nibbled on my toast with a slathering of grape jam slowly while Erika inhaled her meal. I had another cup of coffee and cigarette before she had cleaned her plate. And she did eat every bite of the alleged omelet. Louella arched an eyebrow to me over Erika's back in amazement at the woman's polishing off the entire meal. That, too, would go down in diner lore and we would never be able to order an omelet again. The FBI was certainly changing the way the town was going to be in the future. The stories about Erika alone would be handed down for decades.

Once finished Erika tapped out another cigarette and regarded me over the smoke she exhaled. "You don't talk much do you?"

I shrugged. I saw no reason to fill the silences. I never had. And chattering mindlessly with an FBI agent didn't seem like the best way to start such a dramatic change in my personality. The bruises on my back ached pressed against the seat but I avoided squirming as I already noticed more folks filing in for food and booths were beginning to fill up closer to us. Never liked being the center of attention and just our being here was already the subject of more than one table's topic for discussion. Margie's rape had already been reported I could tell. With that and Connie Shaw's death coupled with my Mom's murder pretty much guaranteed we would be the focal point. Just then the Winters got up from their spot in the booth across the diner. Leo had a gravelly voice and it carried over to us in the momentary lull in conversations, "Wes, you just keep telling me what you find and I will make sure to make it worth your while. Good day."

Both Erika and I found that interesting probably for different reasons. I knew the Winters were very wealthy from something my Mom had said. She had come back from the bank one day after cashing one of the checks mailed and said something about how the real rich folks got better service. Her comments about being shuffled aside so Leo and Maria Winters could sign some documents and go back to the bank vault's safety deposit boxes had stuck in my mind. Seemed like Leo wanted information from Wes he was willing to pay for in spite of being notoriously tight fisted. Weekly they hired nobody to clean or care for their home or yard but once or twice a year there would be some out of town visitors. Everyone speculated that those folks were gardeners and house cleaners since afterwards the house had a bit of a sparkle to it. They were more private than my household but still we all knew certain things in town. The Winters were gossiped about but nothing concrete was known. I knew I didn't like either of them. As if hearing that they both glared at me while leaving the diner.

Cinda bounced in after greeting them loudly. She used a tone a few decibels over the hearing range of the stone deaf. As far as I knew neither of them had hearing loss but that didn't seem to stop Cinda from yelling out her hellos. Cinda spied us and bound over to join us.

"Hi Lynn, why didn't you wake me?" She was fully Cinda I was happy to notice but somewhat hurt that I had not grabbed her when going out the door with the FBI agent.

I nodded to Erika saying, "She wanted to talk."

Erika shot me an angry look and tried to be nice. I knew she wasn't stupid enough to push me with Margie's daughter sitting with us. She had known that also when she invited just me. Cinda was ordering a breakfast while Erika and I sat silently regarding the other. I certainly wasn't going to volunteer anything and waited to see how Erika would handle Cinda.

Article © Lydia Manx. All rights reserved.
Published on 2005-11-21
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