Under the Counter

Despite the sharp chill blowing from the mountains, the boy was sweating. He’d been watching the door of the Skyland restaurant for over an hour now, and looked on in dismay as it got busier and busier. He checked the barrel of his Grandfather’s Webley revolver one last time, then stowed it behind him, tucking it in to his waistband. Damn, the thing was cold! He shuddered involuntarily. Shrugging deeper in to his fleecelined jacket, he took a last drag on his cigarette, slammed the door of his rusty pickup and loped across the parking lot, hands jammed firmly in to his pockets.

He was thin and pale, and moved with the air of a man used to not being looked at. They’d not looked at him here, when he’d sweated out a whole Summer in the kitchen. Not even when they fired him, to make a position for the Mayor’s son. Well they’d damn well remember him now! Glancing at his wristwatch, he noted that it was  little after four pm, and figured that within an hour, he would either be rich, in the slammer, or dead. All three quite an achievement for a Sixteen Year Old  College dropout from the Rockies.

Pushing open the dusty screen door, he saw diners strewn throughout the lounge, dominated by a Football team being given a furious pep-talk by their red faced  Coach. A fat, balding coach.  The denim jacketed boy’s coach. God, he hated that Sonofabitch! Of all the Goddamn places, that bastard had to pick here. He nearly turned tail and fled, but checked himself at the sight of an Auburn haired girl with huge brown eyes, who looked to be sitting with her Father. She shot him a smile of such warmth and understanding that he stood rooted to the spot, and responded like a man possessed to the beckoning finger of the father. He sat opposite them, with his back to ‘Coach’. He shifted uncomfortably as he slid in to the chair, the Webley digging uncomfortably in to his back.

‘You planning to shoot your Goddamn ass off, sonny’? Eyes snapping up, the boy saw the father smiling, but there was no warmth in his eyes. They were the flat blue of water deep in a well, and had even less warmth.

‘What, uh no, sir’ was his reply, punctuated by another radiant smile and a rolling of the eyes from the beauty in front of him. Her eyes were a tantalising mix of amusement and sympathy, and made him feel even hotter than he was.

‘Because if you want to save your ass, you should keep that thing in your pocket, where you can get it in a hurry’.

Despite the tinny Rockabilly music thumping across the diner blendex with Coach’s voice reaching jetplane decibels, he heard a sharp double click beneath the table, accompanied with a sharp pressure at his left knee. 

The father cleared his throat, adjusting his immaculate tie as he did so. He was pristinely turned out, suited and slicked as if about to attend a wedding. He was so thin though, and his clothes looked huge on him, as if he had been grievously ill and lost a lot of weight. The girl looked the same, pinched and gaunt underneath a billowing dress. The boy got to his feet, but was halted by another double click, this time jabbed upwards in to his right thigh.

‘From the way you’re eyeballing my daughter I doubt you want to lose those either, huh? Sit.’

The boy say heavily, flinching at the gun that was still digging in to him.

‘You listening, Scout’?

‘Yessir. With both ears’.

‘See you have the fortune, or misfortune, to have sat next to a man well acquainted with the law. I can smell me a rookie a mile away, and you stink’. The father’s voice was very quiet and slow, but precise. He had a Southern accent, and was very lean for a man in middle age. His steel-gray hair framed a hatchet face that looked carved. Shit, he was a born cop. Just his luck.

In his panic, the boy looked to  the daughter. She was his exact opposite, with a pale open face and long, flowing hair that magnified her eyes. She had the quiet authority of an owl. She returned  his gaze unblinkingly. ‘I don’t know what you mean Sir. I just want me a burger’.

The father grinned. ‘Before or after you turn this place over’?

He sat. Unable to reply.

‘Cuz even if you make it out of here alive, which is doubtful,  they’ll stop you in that rust-bucket pickup in 10 minutes flat. If you can even start it, that is. See, if I’ve learned one thing from watching successful criminals, you need something inconspicuous. Respectable’.  

‘She’s fast, old timer. Fixed her up myself’. For the first time, he looked the man full in the face, gritting his teeth. The father laughed.

‘Ah, so there you are. Welcome. Well now, I reckon you’re after a stake to get out of here. Go far in to the west and work in a garage, huh?’

‘Work in one? Own one. I’ve been watching, and there’s a month’s takings in the vault at the back. The owner’ll take it to the bank today, at closing time’.

A third double click punctuated the air, and the Father’s lip twitched. The Webley felt much heavier than he remembered.

‘Well done. That’s the first time you’ve acted like a man. I respect that. Gracie? ‘. Without a glance at either of them,  the girl slid out of the booth and made her way to the restrooms, right as the football team rose as one and left the lounge, the coach in front, marching like a general. The men stared at eachother, looking to all observers like two travellers striking up a conversation. 

The father tilted his head behind him at the door. ‘See, you’ve caught me by surprise. I thought I’d bre able to scare ya, but you have balls, kid. That’s a good thing, so long as you keep them away from Gracie. The boy smiled, unable to help himself.

‘So, I have me a notion. Whaddaya say we swap vehicles and go our seperate ways? I’d hate to see a young fella throw his life away, and so would my daughter, by the looks of it. There’s a brand new cobalt chevy outside, parked accross from your rust-mobile. Its yours if you walk away now. lf not, then I fancy my chances with my two guns against your one. Gracie and I have a place to go,  so I’d appreciate a hasty answer’. 

The boy stared, unblinking. ‘You a cop? Yeah, course you are. So what’s to stop you plugging me soon as I walk away, huh?’  The father shifted under the table, reached in to his pocket and shunted the chrome keys accross the table.

‘I wouldn’t want my daughter to see me kill a man’, was his only reply.

The boy felt disgusting, all sweltering under his thick jacket. The man opposite looked completely composed, by contrast. The boy reached slowly in to his own jacket and retrieved his worn set of keys. Sliding them across the table, again met the man’s eyes.

‘Neither would I’. Pausing to tuck the Webley in to the front of his jeans, the boy rose and moved off the bench, holding out his hand to the older man. He did not move, other than to turn towards the boy and subtly shake his head.

‘You’re welcome scout. Now get away, take it easy with the chevy, and live’. For the first time he smiled at the boy, and his face softened.

‘See you old timer’ said the boy, clearly unable to believe his good fortune. ‘The pickup sticks in third and veers to the left, but other than that she’s strong as a bull’.

‘Precciate it, son. Now go, before I change my mind’. Without a backwards glance he walked away, pushed through the door and left. The man’s face hardened again.

Accross the lounge, Gracie emerged. Transformed. A large canvas bag hung  from her shoulders, and she was wearing oil-stained dungarees with a wide-brimmed straw hat, her face streaked with dirt. She laughed at the man as he replaced his wedding ring, matching hers, and shrugged off his jacket and shirt to reveal frayed denim working clothes. Gracie stroked his face, marking him with dirt as she did so. At the growl of a powerful engine her eyes flicked up.

‘So he bought it, sweetie’? Her eyes were bright with laughter. He swiftly palmed her his smart clothes beneath the table.

‘Sure did, lady wife. You’d make a mighty fine farmer’s wife.  Now lets do this, before you get too friendly with that idea.’

‘Shame, she sighed. He was cute. He’ll as old as you by the time they let him out for lifting that Chevy from the mayor. All warmth drained from the man’s face, and he had wells for eyes once again. Moving together they rose, making their way to the counter of the now deserted lounge. The sun was falling lower in the sky and cast the place in a soft glow, as a final two  double clicks signified the start of their expertly planned hold up.

Three minutes later, a single shot rang out across the parking lot. 

 

© Tom Tide 2016

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