The Booth

The heavyset man sits in one of the diner corner booths, brooding over a mug of steaming black coffee. He wears a light grey suit and a navy blue trilby. The narrow trilby looks odd, as it doesn’t quite sit right on the large man’s head. He intertwines his fingers. One of the sleeves slips up his wrist, revealing a small tattoo and he pulls it down quickly, glancing round to make sure no one is watching. He has small dark eyes, black as coal and large eyebrows that seem to be set in a constant frown. His face is rough and craggy, littered with pockmarks and part of his left earlobe is missing. The diner is heaving. Each booth is occupied with loud families or young couples.

Waitresses rush hurriedly to and from these booths in garish yellow uniforms. A gang of kids stand huddled around a jukebox, drinking bottled coke and smoking thin rollups. One of the kids, a tall boy with a quiff and a leather jacket, leans nonchalantly against the side of the jukebox.

‘More coffee?’

The heavyset man starts and looks up at the waitress hovering over his table. He grunts and pushes the mug towards her. She refills his mug and moves quickly on, feeling she has outstayed her welcome. The heavyset man cups the mug between his ape like hands and takes a sip. The coffee is hot and burns his tongue. His cheek twitches ever so slightly but he maintains his steely stare. The diner door opens and a slender blonde woman steps inside. She is wearing a long poke-dot dress and a short turquoise cardigan. At the bar she orders a coffee and sits down on one of the stools. The heavyset man feels his eyes drawn to her and pulls the brim of his hat lower down, in an effort to conceal his face better. The slender woman removes a decorative silver cigarette case and slides a thin cigarette between her cherry red lips. The heavyset man runs an eye up her shapely thighs. She glances round at the line of booths and the heavyset men forces his gaze away, fearing discovery. When he feels it is safe to look up once more he finds the slender woman walking towards the gang of kids, surrounding the jukebox. As she passes the booth, he catches sight of her face. The skin is smooth, milky white in colour. A small dimple sits above her lip. The heavyset man feels hypnotized by the slender woman’s eyes. They are the bluest shade he has ever seen. The nonchalant teen leaning against the jukebox raises his eyebrows at the approaching woman. The gang around him disperses and the nonchalant teen pushes off the jukebox and flicks his jacket collar up. The slender woman gives him a polite smile and goes to select a track. The nonchalant teen slides effortlessly in front of her, blocking her access.

‘Excuse me.’ She says timidly.

The nonchalant teen rolls a cocktail stick between his teeth, debating what to do.

‘What’s it worth to you?’ He grins, glancing at his partners in crime.

‘Please. I just want to choose a song?’

One of the other gang members, lazing leisurely on a bar stool sniggers.

‘We don’t wanna listen to your music lady.’ He says defiantly.

The slender woman’s cheeks flush red with embarrassment. The heavyset man is stirring his teaspoon around in his mug. He pauses upon hearing this and peers over his shoulder at the commotion.

‘Don’t you kids have any manners?’ She asks hotly, glancing round at them before returning her fierce stare to the nonchalant teen in front of her.

‘Tell you what.’ The nonchalant teen says, leaning his arm on the jukebox. ‘I will let you play a song if you give me a kiss.’

The slender woman looks appalled. The heavyset man glances round the diner. There are several businessmen dotted about in the booths and on the bar stools. He glares at each and every one of them for not coming to the poor woman’s aid.

‘Come on just a peck, I don’t bite.’ The nonchalant teen insists, tiptoeing towards her.

The gang join in, crowding round the woman, circling her like hungry sharks closing in for the kill. The heavyset man crushes a sugar sachet in his club-sized fist and climbs out of the booth.

‘Leave her alone.’ He growls, his knuckles cracking as his hand curls into a tight fist.

‘Get lost old man.’ One of them says, turning round with an obnoxious expression.

The heavyset man’s fist shoots out, catching the gang member in the stomach. There is the sound of bone impacting soft flesh. The kid groans and crumples to the floor. The gang back away, leaving the nonchalant teen to fend for himself. He isn’t looking so nonchalant anymore but instead tries and fails to hide his fear. The heavyset man moves up close to him, so their faces are almost touching. His dark eyes burn into the teen, scolding him with a fierce intensity.

‘Move.’ He says in a menacingly low tone.

The teen gives him a hard stare back and for a moment the heavyset man thinks he is going to stand his ground. But there is a flicker of hesitation in the teen’s eyes and eventually he steps aside, backing down from the confrontation.

‘Go ahead.’ The heavyset man says to the slender woman, motioning to the jukebox with his hand.

‘Thank you.’ She says nervously and flashes him a warm smile. Her teeth are a brilliant white.

The heavyset man returns his attention to the gang of teens who feeling they have lingered too long, drain their coke bottles and head for the door. The diner has fallen silent and all eyes are on the heavyset man. The diner chef stands at the kitchen door, watching the teens leave, his arms crossed. He gives the heavyset man an appreciative nod and returns to the kitchen. As the heavyset man returns to his booth, he can feel the presence of lingering eyes. ‘Nowhere to Run’ by Martha Reeve and The Vandellas bursts into life, breaking the empty silence. The nosy customers return their attention to their meals and conversations, the threat of trouble now gone. The heavyset man grins under his trilby at the choice of song. He glances between the window blinds and curses under his breathe. A police squad car has just pulled into one of the parking spaces. A wide cop with a large beer gut squeezes out the door. The heavyset man twists the blinds shut and looks around the diner for an escape route.

‘Mind if I sit?’

The slender woman slides into the booth opposite the heavyset man, not waiting for an answer.

‘Well actua…’ He begins but trails off, upon seeing the beer gut cop waddle up to the counter.

‘Pardon?’ She asks puzzled.

‘Never mind.’

‘I really appreciate what you did for me.’

The heavyset man watches the cop out of the corner of his eye. The beer gut cop scans an eye around the diner. The heavyset man shimmies around the table, just avoiding being noticed.

‘You don’t talk much do you?’

‘What?’ The heavyset man says distractedly, returning his attention to the slender woman.

‘No problem, I get it. You’re the strong, silent type.’

The heavyset man shrugs his shoulders and peers round the booth. The beer gut cop has disappeared. He lets out a sigh of relief and loosens his tight grip around the coffee mug.

‘What’s your name?’ She queries, lighting another cigarette.

‘Michael.’ The heavyset man replies, saying the first name that pops into his head.

‘Nice to meet you Michael. I’m Sally.’

Newly christened Michael tips his hat at Sally. Sally takes a long drag from the cigarette, allowing the smoke to curl up from between her lips. Michael licks his lips, feeling a deep hunger grow inside of him.

‘Would you like one?’ She offers, misreading Michael’s reaction.

Michael agrees however, lighting one up. He inhales the smoke deeply into his lungs, relishing the sweet taste of tobacco.

Sally tilts her head to the side and gives him a curious look. Michael realizes how he must look and quickly changes his expression.

‘Like I said before, really appreciate what you did for me back there.’

‘I just did what anyone would have done.’ Michael says, not really believing it.

‘Now you know that’s not true.’ Sally says and slaps his hand playfully.

Michael eyes crinkle into a smile. It looks weird, as he normally has a perpetual scowl across his granite face.

‘It was fate.’ Sally says with a satisfied smile.

Michael looks at her blankly. She fingers a gold chain around her neck.

‘A higher force is keeping an eye on me.’ Sally says and glances to the ceiling.

Michael frowns at her, worrying that she may have a few screws loose. Sally slips a hand down the top of her dress and Michael feels a tingle in the downstairs region. To his surprise, she removes a gold cross hanging from a necklace and strokes it with a finger.

‘Divine intervention.’ She says with a twinkle in one eye.

Michael groans inwardly. Not another religious nut. He seems to attract them like mosquitos.

‘Bless you.’ She says, placing a hand on top of his.

Michael stares at her in disbelief. She had just seen him punch a hole in a cocky teen’s stomach and scare the rest of them out the door. Not very turn the cheek now was it? Michael retracts his hand and takes a swig from his coffee. Sally’s compassionate expression morphs into a frown.

‘I recognize you from somewhere.’

Michael swallows a large gulp of coffee.

‘Oh?’

‘Hmmm? Where have I seen you?’

‘I probably just have one of those faces.’ Michael says nervously and tenses himself, preparing to make a quick dash for it if necessary.

‘Are you an actor perhaps? I’m sure I’ve seen you on the TV.’

‘You got me.’ Michael relaxes, holding his hands up jovially.

‘Wow really? What have you been in?’ She asks intrigued and plays with a lock of her hair.

Michael can’t understand why this beautiful, saintly woman has any interest in a low life like himself. It wasn’t as if he was even good looking. Most women were put off by the lack of right ear.

‘Oh nothing big, just a few bit parts in a couple of cop shows.’

‘Yes I can imagine you as a criminal on the run.’ She says, glancing at his ear.

Michael swallows hard and forces a smile. Over Sally’s shoulder, he catches sight of something that makes him turns pale.

‘You alright dear?’ Sally inquires, noting the colour drain from Michael’s face.

‘I….I…must…go to the toilet.’ He finally stammers and stands up quickly.

In his haste to climb out of the booth he knocks the mug off the table. It bounces across the diner floor, spraying coffee everywhere. Sally watches on, taken aback, as Michael thunders towards the diner toilets. He knocks into a waitress in his path and she drops a tray onto the floor, ladled with empty mugs and cutlery.

‘Sorry.’ He mumbles, not stopping to help.

Sally frowns as he disappears into the men’s toilets and she turns to see what had caused his bizarre change in behaviour. Her attention is drawn to a black and white television fixed to the wall above the diner counter. Paralysis grips her, as she registers what is on the screen. A mugshot of Michael stares back at her. The name underneath reads Alan Geats.

‘Terrible isn’t it?’

Sally turns around. One of the waitresses stands next to the table, her elbow resting on the top of the booth.

‘What did he do?’

‘Escaped from that big prison down in Georgia. Killed two prison guards and stole some old fella’s car. It’s all over the news. He’s on the run from the Georgia state police. You alright ma’am?’

Sally sits glued to the spot, wide eyed. Her hand trembles, spilling ash from the cigarette between her fingers.

‘I think I need to make a phone call.’ She says, unable to tear her eyes from the toilet door.

© [Daniel Ashby] and [Ashby Tales], [2014]. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to [Daniel Ashby] and [Ashby Tales] with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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