Dusty needed a hit. She didn’t of care what, but anything to get her through the rest of this day would’ve suited her. The way Arlene just charged into the kitchen with that ill look on her face, she knew the girl was about to go home. Arlene was driven, focused, and had a gameplan for the rest of her life, in effect, the exact opposite of Dusty. She’d been just like her—well, kind of—once upon a time. All shiny with a future and whatnot. But fuck that, Dusty had decided to blaze her own path—or rather, to not blaze her own path. She was kind of… sputtering in place..
She mumbled to the couple at the booth she’d meandered over to and the man said something over a mouthful of food in return. The woman nodded and smiled politely while jabbing at a salad coated in a gallon of ranch, cucumber, tomatoes, and croutons held. Dusty about-faced and saw a man settling onto a stool two seats away from the older couple.
Hm. From the back he almost looked like Evil Motherfucker. She shrugged. If Dusty was going to be here any longer than absolutely necessary, she was going to need to get high. Sooner than later too. She spotted a group of four biker types heading in and considering there were no more than three barstools available in a row, she was about to get another table.
Hopefully, Fred had something on him. She’d blow him again if she had to. Dusty saw the weirdo guy in the motorcycle helmet look left, right, then abruptly get up, spin around and head for the door. She turned her head to see the bikers eyeball the much smaller man, but the big one took a big step back, sweeping the two behind to the side as well, creating a wide enough berth motorcycle helmet a to walk out with his arms spread had he wanted.
As she strode into the kitchen, looking for Fred, Arlene breezed past her, a ghostly look on her face. What had happened her? If anyone had ever appeared unflappable to Dusty, it was Arlene. She half didn’t care, but could help but ask.
“The fuck is wrong with you?” Dusty momentarily forgot about Fred. She didn’t expect Arlene to turn around, but surprisingly, the girl did. Arlene cast a single blue eye down, then up the length of her. Her hair hung around her face in stringy clumps; she’d run water over her head, leaving only a column of face exposed.
“Don’t,” Arlene said. She shook her head once and for a moment, Dusty thought she wasn’t about to say anything more. “Don’t go near him.” She turned and headed out. Dusty followed her, curious for some reason. She wasn’t wondering who the girl was talking about, that was obvious. Weirdo motorcycle guy. Didn’t need a rocket scientist to figure that one—he was wearing a motorcycle helmet inside a restaurant on an eighty degree plus day. And until those bikers had come in, there weren’t any motorcycles in the parking lot.
The skirt at the counter snatched up her purse and cut in front of Arlene, heading to the door a few steps ahead. The bikers remained parted for the two to pass. Arlene pulled out a cell phone while the business woman dug in her purse for something, not presumably keys because she had them clutched in her other hand. Her head came up and aimed toward the street and then something happened.
Dusty didn’t know what it was and blinked several times before she realized the woman in the brown business skirt was gone. In her place was a great cloud of dust as if a vehicle had just done a donut across the unpaved lot, but she hadn’t seen anything.
Arlene pressed her back against the glass and began slapping at her face as if she were being stung by bees. Dusty had felt that way once after some really funky meth. All meth was funky as far as she knew, though. She’d only tried it the once. But just as quickly as Arlene had begun hitting herself, she stopped, turned to the door and came back in.
She was saying something really low. Dusty couldn’t make it out at first, but she could hear enough to tell it was the same thing over and over. Dusty noticed for the first time the bikers had not sat in her section. They’d disbursed throughout the restaurant, two sitting at the counter, one hovering in the back in her section, one who had ducked into the men’s room, and the big one leaning against the glass window in the front, watching a red-spattered Arlene walk in with particular interest.
Dusty finally heard what Arlene was saying a couple seconds after realizing the bikers had come here to rob the place.
“Shit,” she said again, wishing she hadn’t bothered following Arlene out of the kitchen. “I shouldda gotten high while I had the chance.”
“What are you goin’ on about, Dusty?” Gladys asked. To tell the truth, she didn’t so much care at the moment. That man had left and that squeeze-feeling was just starting to let up on her chest. With the giant horse of a pill her doctor had prescribed for her heart, the last thing she needed was anything constricting in that whole area. Arlene sat down at the counter, her eyes large as a cat’s. Something else about her looked different, but Gladys didn’t see it at first.
“You okay, girl?” That’s what young ladies called each other when they were trying to connect on a feminine level. Arlene was saying something and Gladys took a step closer to hear. That also served the purpose of bringing the girl close enough in focus for her to see exactly why she looked different. She looked like someone had taken one of those spray-paint majiggers and sprayed her with read paint.
“Oh my God. Oh my God. Oh my God,” Arlene was saying low over and over again.
“Arlene, girl, what is that all over you?” Gladys was starting to get more than a little worried.
“C’mon, Gladys,” Dusty chimed in, “it’s blood.” Gladys turned to her in the way that wouldn’t aggravate the disc in her neck. That was the way she thought of the herniated disc somewhere along her spine. The disc, as if her spine weren’t comprised of many more discs. Doctors hadn’t found it, but she’d been sure to hound them all until they’d given her pain medication. She fixed the other girl with a disapproving stare and Dusty took a step back and shoved her hands into the big pocket on the front of her pink apron. “Well, it is.”
“You all right little lady?” one of the bikers who’d sat down at the counter just moments before asked. Arlene didn’t answer him, either, just kept repeating those same three words. Dusty leaned closer to Arlene and plucked something out of her hair right at her hairline.
“Gross, it’s a piece of bone.” Lord, but the girl was so morbid. As if the dark make-up and the green hair weren’t enough—Gladys had spoken on her behalf when Fred had warbled on hiring her and there was hardly a day when Dusty didn’t make her regret it. She slapped the little scrap of something out of the girl’s hand.
“Sweetie, you feelin’ sick?” Gladys asked Arlene with another cup of coffee for the other biker. She made sure she served all people the same. Why back in ’72 she’d served two colored fellas herself just as promptly as anybody else. Not that she hadn’t served more than a handful in the years since, sure she had. But back then Afro-Americans were just on the TV and hardly ever then. No, Gladys didn’t see color. She saw people as people first. Gladys had already set a cup in front of the man who had spoken to Arlene and was in the process of filling another for the other man farther down with the whole side of his face pierced with rings. She went to give it to him and Dusty stopped her.
“Don’t give him coffee,” Dusty said and went to picking more bits of white stuff off Arlene. Gladys gave an even more confused look. Obviously, she wasn’t as evolved as Gladys, which was weird considerin’ they were both Goths when you really thought about it. Dusty was a smart girl, misapplied, but smart. Did she think she knew something Gladys didn’t? As if exasperated, Dusty rolled her eyes and huffed at her. “They’re here to rob the Spoon.”
“What?” Gladys drew back. How ridiculous. Gladys was for certain a good judge of character and she’d served many people who’d looked just like these and they’d all left as paying customers. Except for that one time in ’83 and those two times in ’94. She turned to the biker who already had the steaming cup in front of him and smiled. “She does drugs,” Gladys said right in front of her.
“S’alright,” the biker said and flashed a straight-toothed smile beneath a thick black mustache. He actually was a weird one. It was the clothes. They didn’t look right on him. Despite the mustache, he seemed the type who’d be a lot more comfortable in a sport jacket and a pair of pressed jeans with an open-collared button-up shirt. His eyes were a deep, soulful blue. He slid his steaming coffee over in front of Arlene who snatched it up and gulped it down. “She ain’t right.” He pulled out a huge gun out of a holster beneath the leather vest and set it on the counter, his finger on top of the guard. Dusty yelped and jumped back. “But she ain’t wrong, either.” For a moment, she was just as stunned by his poor grammar as the silver hand cannon a few feet away from her. She hadn’t seen one of those in person since Phillip had called her into the living room to have her witness him blow his brains out in his E-Z chair.
The biker’s brilliant blue eyes danced back and forth between Gladys’ until she shook herself out of her semi-stunned state and understood she was in the middle of something bad. “Get this little lady another cup, wouldja… Gladys? I think she’s in shock or something?”
“How’d you—” she began dumbly.
He tapped an index on his chest, reminding Gladys she had a nametag on.
“What do you want?” A chill poured over her.
“We want to speak with the proprietor.”
“Well, Mrs.—she’s ill,” Gladys forced herself into focus. “Very ill. Her nephew—” She cut off, feeling like she had ‘thrown him under the bus’ as the kids said these days.
“Fred, I believe his name is. He here?”
“I’ll… I’ll go get him.” Gladys saw no other recourse. She was about to turn to go into the kitchen when the double doors swung open.
“No need,” a man behind her said. She turned to see Fred, arms half raised, the lip of a plate pinched between thumb and forefinger, a cheeseburger atop it. A skinny man about half a head shorter than Fred stepped out from behind him and plucked the burger off the plate and took a bite out of it. The man with the gun at the counter slapped the stool next to him and cheeseburger man ushered him over.
“Folks,” the first man said, raising his voice. He stood. “This is a simple transaction that should take no more than a few minutes of your time. Sorry about this minor inconvenience.” He sat again and eyed Fred. Fred looked back, wide-eyed, for what felt like five minutes.
“So where’s your aunt?” the man asked, crossing his leg. His hand was far away from the gun on the counter, but Gladys wasn’t going to touch it. She hated guns. Instead, she rolled her head slowly over to Dusty and inclined her head slightly to the counter. Dusty’s eyes followed her invisible line and then jumped back to Gladys.
Hell no, those eyes said.
Gladys looked over at the biker who came out of the kitchen with Fred. He had a mouthful of burger tucked into his cheek and was giving Dusty the up and down with a smirk on his face.
“How you doin’, girl?”
Dusty glanced at him and locked eyes with Gladys for a moment. The older woman didn’t know what to say and turned back to the conversation between Fred and the biker with the gun.