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Freddy’s Diner

by Gary Clifton

The red Corvette pulled onto the lot, then squeezed behind the diner. Emma Sue caught Freddy’s eye and pointed her chin. “Illinois plates, Freddy. Guess they ain’t wantin’ no dust on that shiny ride.”

Freddy had operated the dismal little combination diner, bait shop and gas station for nearly twenty years. Often, he’d stayed above water by subsisting on leftovers. He lived in a small bedroom built onto the back of the ramshackle establishment. When the new Corps of Engineers dam on the South Fork was completed the year before, thirty miles away, Freddy could see the end was near.

Although his faded sign was visible from the main highway, the diner was easy to miss back among the trees. Sportsmen towing their big boats whizzed by Freddy’s without a look. A half-dozen newer, more modern pit stops between Freddy’s and the fishing lake created by the new dam were sopping up all the business.

“If they rob us, Emma Sue, jes’ get on the floor. We ain’t got twenty bucks, noway.”

Waitresses willing to labor in the run-down, customer-shy, isolated little joint were hard to find. He’d gone without hired help for several weeks when Emma Sue showed up the week before in her old pickup. Emma Sue, with her down-home accent and cheap cologne was crowding thirty-five or so. She was fairly attractive, even with the crow’s feet teasing the corners of her eyes on a face reflecting a lot of hard miles.

She’d actually bunked on Freddy’s sofa, explaining she was too short of money to make other arrangements. Freddy knew from experience she wouldn’t last long, what with his business in the toilet and tips scarce.

Early on, she told him she’d suffered burns to her hands on an earlier job. The trauma had caused extended hospitalization, and doctors had advised her to wear cotton gloves at all times. Glad for the hired help, Freddy didn’t care if she worked in combat boots.

On that stifling East Texas August morning, the take for the day had been one logging truck filling up at the pump out front and two locals stopping in for ham and eggs. Then the red Corvette showed up.

The two men who unfolded from the ’Vette and strolled around the building were both late twenties, husky, and wore tight T-shirts which showed off gymnasium-manufactured muscles. One had bleached-blond, close-cropped hair. The other’s head was shaved.

They sat at a table near the door. Distinctive bulges at their rear waists warned each was carrying a pistol. Emma Sue set down a menu and two glasses of water. Shaved Head glanced at the menu, then gave her a suggestive up and down. “Hot roast beef sandwich,” he said. His nasal voice showed an accent which belonged far from Freddy’s.

“Me too,” said Blondie. His deep-set blue eyes said he was high on something other than coffee.

Freddy — standing next to the cash register — said, “That’s on the lunch menu.”

Blondie said, “Then why the hell is it on this here menu?”

Freddy’s voice quavered with fear as he said, “Sorry, sir, it jes’ ain’t ready yet. I can fix y’all eggs and sausage or ham.”

Shaved Head snarled, “What kinda idiot has it on the menu if you ain’t got it?”

Emma Sue said, “Sorry, gents. It’s on me. I shoulda said lunch ain’t ready yet.”

Shaved Head wrapped a muscular arm around her waist and pulled her close. “Well, darlin’, it ain’t no problem. You got a fairly nice ass on you, babe.”

Emma Sue casually twisted away, forcing a smile. “Thank you, sir. You get tired of the ladies telling you you’re a real hunk?” She rubbed a trembling hand down the back of his bald pate.

“Well, baby, pretty soon, I may find time to take care of your needs. Right now, I guess I’ll have some of them damned eggs and sausage.”

Blondie said, “Yeah, eggs for me too.” He tossed the menu back at her.

Emma Sue poured both men coffee, and shortly Freddy had worked up eggs and fixings for both. They picked at the food and quickly pushed plates and coffee cups away. When Emma Sue gathered the dishes, Shaved Head said, “Bitch, lock the front door and lose them clothes. We got a few minutes.”

Emma Sue stepped uneasily to the front door. Freddy came around the corner. “Now you two can’t jes’ come in here and molest Emma Sue. Besides, she tol’ me she spent the last year in the nervous hospital up at Shreveport. Got burnt someway.”

Blondie pulled a snub-nosed revolver from his rear waist and viciously smacked Freddy in the left ear. Freddy went down, blood streaming from a nasty cut. “Why are you doin’ this?” He clamped a hand to the side of his head.

Blondie called out to Emma Sue, standing near the front door. “Lock it, baby, and don’t get no dumb idea about trying to run off. You look smart enough to know you can’t outrun a bullet.”

Emma Sue turned the door bolt and hurried back to kneel over Freddy. “You didn’t have to do that.” She looked up at the men. “If you want money, the register is open. I got a ten spot in my purse under the counter. Please leave us alone. Why—?”

Shaved Head said, “Why, bitch? We’re here to meet Charlie Franklin. Know him?”

Emma Sue cautiously stood back up. “I... I know who he is, but I don’t really know—”

Blondie spoke up. “Cuz’ at 11:00 a.m., like ever’ damned day, he drives down that road out back to have coffee and a cheeseburger right there at that corner table. His name is Charlie Francora and he screwed over the wrong people back in Chicago. Took us a while, but he’s a dead sucker today. Baby, you treat us right and maybe we might let you and grandpa here keep on breathin’.”

Emma Sue held Blondie’s gaze. “Damn, dude, that kinda talk turns me on. Why don’t me n’ you step back in Freddy’s bedroom and spend some time. Forget Freddy.” She gestured to the floor. “He’s jes’ an old man.”

Shaved Head shook his head. “Screw that, we’re cravin’ a little more. You hillbillies got any music?”

Freddy gasped from the floor. “Radio behind the counter. Please don’t hurt us.”

Blondie kicked Freddy in the ribs. Shaved Head found the radio and dialed to a rock station. The blare filled the small room.

Shaved Head pulled an automatic from behind his waist and waved it at Emma Sue. “Up on the table, Emma babe. You look like you been around the block enough to do a little strip tease.”

“Oh, Jesus!” Freddy wailed from the floor.

Shaved Head helped Emma Sue onto a chair, then onto a table. He swept all the condiments onto the floor. “Now do it, baby.”

“Can’t we jes’ use the bedroom, please, sir?” she said, stifling a sob.

She looked with pleading eyes from one man to the other, then removed her gloves and slowly began to gyrate with the ear-splitting music.

Injured and still on the floor, Freddy focused on her hands, looking for scars.

“Faster, baby!” Blondie barked. He stuffed the snub nose into the front pocket of his skinny jeans.

Emma Sue picked up the pace on the wobbly table.

“Take ’em off.” Shaved Head reached out to grasp the hem of her skirt. She slowly unbuttoned her blouse and slid it off. It fell at Shaved Head’s feet. Again, he reached out and tugged at her skirt. For a better grip, he laid his pistol on a table behind him. As he yanked back the skirt to reveal surprisingly supple legs, his eyes froze. He reached back frantically for his pistol.

From the floor, Freddy saw the revolver in a holster rig on Emma Sue’s left thigh. As she drew the pistol and shot Shaved Head, Freddy saw with horrifying reality as the top of his head disintegrated, spewing blood and brains onto tables behind him.

Blondie flailed at the pistol wedged in his pocket. Still atop the table, Emma Sue shot him in the groin. He fell, screaming in agony. She stepped gingerly to the chair, then to the floor. Bending over Blondie, who was writhing and shrieking, she pried the revolver out of his pocket. Carefully wiping it clean with a table napkin, she tossed it on the floor just out of his reach.

“I got three left, jerkoff.” She stood back up and leveled the pistol at his groin already gushing blood. Her country accent had given way to a crisp northern voice.

“Please, mercy!” Blondie implored.

“Tell me who sent you, or I shoot off your package.” She pulled back the hammer.

Blondie hesitated and she shot him in his left knee. Flat on his back, he leaped spasmodically, and his shrieks increased.

“Two to go, badass.”

“Ronnie Bachalli. Chicago Imports on South Halstead. In the name of God, call a doctor.”

Emma Sue turned to Freddy, who was still bleeding on the linoleum. “Mother of God, Emma Sue, I got grandkids! Please don’t kill me!”

“Kill you? Freddy, I’m just sorry for the damage to your place.” She knelt and inspected his head wound. “You’re gonna need stitches, but it isn’t fatal. If you can hold out fifteen more minutes before you dial 911, I’m outta the territory.” She walked behind the counter, picked up her purse, and turned off the loud radio. She found her blouse and gloves on the floor and put both back on.

“Oh, dear God, is fifteen minutes enough?”

“Yeah. I got a another car stashed not far away. Freddy, you’ll receive ten grand by courier in a week or so. It’ll be forty-five minutes before the sheriff and an ambulance get here. I’ll be long gone. If you’ll recall, I was nineteen and had black hair.”

“You wadn’t even here, Emma Sue. Fisherman walked in, seen these two jackasses robbin’ the place. He capped both and drove off. Didn’t get a good look at his face or his license number.” He struggled into a sitting position.

She walked over and unlocked the front door. Smiling down at Freddy, she said, “Good idea. Fishermen use the front door.”

“What about Charlie Franklin, if he comes in?”

“He won’t. He moved yesterday. And Freddy, I work for a guy who works for a guy. Tell the law a damn thing about me, and it might not be cash the courier brings. Understand?”

Freddy nodded frantically.

“Blood will scrub off that linoleum, Freddy. Those tables will clean up.” She started out the back way, stepping over the thrashing, groaning Blondie. She turned back and studied him briefly. “Charlie Francora sends his regards, tough guy.” She leaned close and shot him between his pleading eyes.

Copyright © 2019 by Gary Clifton

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