"So, what's it going to be, Alanna? Chateaubriand with sautéed mushrooms?" Detective Stockwell broke into my bitter thoughts.
"No, I am thinking steak tartare perhaps cooked medium well?" I replied with a slight smile at his attempts at levity.
"Ah, the hamburger choice. I, too, have arrived at the same conclusion more towards the well-done-to-charred consistency given our lovely environment." Smiling broadly he motioned to one of the waitresses hanging out at the end of the counter that we were ready to order.
An older version of the hostess arrived with a stubby pencil poised over a green generic order tablet. Luckily she refrained from the mini-skirt her coworker favored, instead wearing a looser skirt ending a mere five inches above the knee. Dark tan nylons shaped surprisingly firm legs so I put her age at somewhere in the mid-sixties. She, also, chewed a wad of pink gum. Mentally I concluded she must be the mother of the hostess or possibly the grandmother. I never was very good at that sort of guessing. Their facial features were remarkably similar.
"So? Whatcha'all havin'?" She asked around the pink bubble snapping in the middle of her questions. Her nametag identified her as Dolly.
Stockwell saw my permissive nod and answered, "Two hamburger plates. Both medium-well, please."
Dolly laughed, "Hon, they all come well. Joey, he's my oldest, never liked the color red much. He prefers dark brown to char-black. Cheese? Fries or slaw?"
We both skipped the cheese and picked French fries with iced tea. After some careful consideration I'd decided alcohol would only slow my response time to any situations. Considering how my day had been going I needed to keep my wits about me until I found out more information.
A few college-aged kids banged into the room. The air stilled as it had when we entered. Their rude nasty giggles interspersed with snarky comments about yokels and in-breeding penetrated the silence. The bartender walked out from behind the counter holding a wooden baseball bat he hefted then smacked into his ham-sized palm producing a harsh sound of impending violence. The six kids were shoving each other around and hadn't noticed the man heading their way.
I counted two girls in the group. They had the arrogance of thinking money and youth made them immortals. The clothes and hairstyles shouted purchases in either Hollywood or Westwood's trendy boutiques. Their lack of manners or sense of respect radiated from them. I figured they were possibly producers' or directors' brats from their air of entitlement and lack of respect. They were all of obvious "beautiful people" stock -- shallow and meaningless in most real-life situations. They appeared to be on the brink of a reality lesson.
The leader of the group had belatedly noticed the bartender's impending arrival. He commanded his cohorts to be quiet. With the demand from the boss followed, the room fell silent. The juke box clicked into place the next selection. A popular tune about the wrongs of a woman and her man played into the void.
"Hey man, we don't want any trouble," the ringleader spouted off seeing the danger.
Various members in the group murmured agreement. The bartender had stopped and looked questioningly at the kids. He hadn't stopped bopping the bat into his palm and that pretty much was the only sound in the diner. Casually pointing to a sign posted on the wall regarding the right to refuse service the bartender added, "One more outburst and you all will be escorted out -- understand?"
A few snickers from the patrons in the room caused the kids to nervously shift in their places while growing aware of the uneven odds. I was surprised they could even do the math. They didn't look like the smartest tools in the shed, but I was willing to be a spectator. I didn't need to see the light in the distance to call a train was coming down the track. A major wreck was ahead. I was surprised to see the deer-in-the-headlights look flashing over their faces. They really were sheltered for all their bravado.
More shifting and mumbles as the teens began to grasp their position. Some sort of respect must have been passed onto them by their nannies because they started to pale and glance at each other. They simmered down and were quickly escorted to a corner booth on the food side of the diner divide. Gradually sounds resumed in the café.
Looking across the table at Stockwell I said, "Thus, violence surrounds us. Testosterone flows while both sides try to create the illusion that they are in charge."
I sucked in air. My chest was tight and I pondered how to tell the cop what I knew without sounding like some kind of a nutbar. Mentally I clipped out all my vampire-fodder dancing with the Hagen family stories and went for the basics of my life in hell as a wife.
"Randolph Hagen had perfected that illusion when I met him. Everyone who came into contact with him was immediately charmed by his extreme sincerity, his good looks, and -- of course -- his impeccable manners. His illusion was carefully constructed. Still you would think that something of how absolutely evil he was would have like peeked through the surface. No, nothing of his true nature ever leaked out. The construct was well crafted and I often thought better than a magician's finest illusion."
Warily exhaling, I continued; I didn't want him to think I was nuts.
Catching my discomfort he said, "Alanna, don't worry. I gathered something was off. We all have gotten caught up in illusions in our lives." I appreciated his trying to humor me for a minute or less. He didn't have a clue.
"The closer you looked, the more dazzling Randolph became. It wasn't just me -- but I did get caught in his web. He blinded those who looked too closely. He worked constantly on his character." I tried to explain. I didn't think he had an idea of what I was talking about but it was the best I could do for now.
"Once I found out it was all completely fake, the cracks started showing up. They were small at first. I doubted myself. They quickly grew to form craters in my mind. All the while no one else saw what soon was so clear to me. Ironically, I simply thought I must have been going crazy and making up the faults and fissures. Ha, don't I wish!" I shook my head remembering that time in my life. I'd been so gullible and suggestible. I really had wanted to fit into Randolph's world.
The food arrived and we silently fortified ourselves. The rich kids had started fooling around at their booth, drawing attention with the self-absorbed noisy antics. We watched without comment as four tables filled with men rose with one motion. The kids were unaware of the 'regulars' as they were occupied with shoving each other -- seemingly a common game for them. Add in name calling and vulgar swearing, using words well into the NC-17 rating system. The shoving grew more violent as their words were gross adaptations of body parts slamming into other parts without a grasp of basic human anatomy.
Quickly large men of varying sizes and weights all with a single attitude surrounded the booth. The avenue of escape had been removed with the wall of muscle firmly in place. The group was escorted out with surprisingly little amount of fuss. At the door there was a half-hearted attempt of bravado as one of the girls said, "Yeah -- fuck who needs this? You all suck!"
My mind ripped to my past and I bit back a laugh as I thought of the damned vampires who really did suck. We humans were just shadows of the night by comparison. The itty-bitty pretenders here didn't have a clue what was out there and I certainly wasn't feeling obliged to fill them in to reality.
Laughs followed their abrupt exit and someone yelled at them, "Good riddance! Stupid city kids." The room seemed to brighten with their departure.
Dropping the paper napkin on top of my half-eaten burger I pushed the chipped white plate away saying, "False bravado. That's all I had. Once I figured out the depth of his deception it nearly killed me. Because I hadn't realized until much later how much Randolph hated any sort of resistance. Hell, he'd killed before for much less than an errant wife."
Detective Stockwell snapped forward, "What? Randolph killed someone?"
I laughed and said, "Randolph comes from a long line of murderers, so some of the family whispers go. What I personally know is that he deliberately had a car wreck that maimed a girl who'd rejected him. A lovely accident where he had the only airbag and his passenger was stuck with the dash and glass. Hell, she can tell you all about it. Eventually I spoke with her and heard the tale. It almost broke my heart. The day he caused her 'accident' she'd just signed a contract for the beginning of what to have been a rather lucrative modeling career. The contract was extremely generous for such a new fresh face."
Exhaling, I tried to make Stockwell understand; he didn't have a clue. I could tell from his face. Even with all that had gone on he was still disbelieving.
Continuing I said, "After all the plastic surgery she was still barely recognizable as a human being much less a female. The wreck caused a severe limp to help crush any chance she'd have at having a normal life. The murder attempt wasn't complete so Randolph never stood trial for his mishap. Coupled with the money poured over the 'problem,' it became just another unfortunate incident in a long line of such youthful mistakes."
Solemnly the detective ate the rest of his meal. Dolly removed my plate, chiding me for not finishing. After she refilled our drinks we continued our conversation.
"Maybe you'd better start from the beginning, Ms. Gilliam," he asked carefully while dabbing at his mouth and finishing his plate. Dolly rewarded Michael with a huge grin for cleaning every last bit. She whisked away the plate and offered dessert. Figuring we'd be here a while, we both ordered apple pie with ice cream. She brought the pie slices slightly warmed and refilled our teas automatically. Thanking her, I met his eyes and nodded slightly.
"Please, call me Alanna. By the time I tell you all of this you should know me almost as well as Randolph thought he did. It's a dismal story. Hopefully it's all over now. But somehow, with this day I doubt it." I also doubted it was only a human issue now. The longer I mentally ran over all that had happened I was beginning to think that the vampires hadn't forgotten or dismissed me. That alone made me queasy.
Looking over at Detective Stockwell, I sipped my tea and tried to figure out how much I had to tell him. The way things kept hitting the fan -- so to speak -- I didn't see the value in hiding anything. I didn't think he'd believe much of what I had to tell him but what else could I do?
He sipped his tea and said, "Whatever you want to share would help me. I just don't like feeling like the whole family manipulated me. I know there was a body and they identified him as Randolph. But why would they tell me that you were still married to him?" He ruefully shook his head and added, "And stupidly I believed the bereaved and forgot the basics of double checking every story I heard. I hope I didn't scare you."
I laughed. "Scaring me? No, you didn't scare me but then it takes more than you know to frighten me. So I'll do as you asked and tell you how this all started and let you figure out what you want to do."
Somewhere in the distance a half hour before the Watcher smiled.
There's the car again. So she thought that she could escape by ducking in a biker bar. Hmmm ... like to listen to this. The directional microphone works perfectly as promised. Now I can hear everything that bitch thinks happened. Alanna certainly has a flair for the dramatic. The ticky-tacky restaurant she's holed up in certainly fits her. She always pretended to be so superior and better than everyone. She's just another whore faking it like all the rest of them.
Ring-a-ding, ah, cellular phones are such nice technology.