Dusty hadn’t felt anything like that in a long time. She slowly picked herself up off the floor, bumping her head off the chin of man who’d wanted to escort her to the back a little earlier. He wasn’t leering at her now and she really looked at him, suddenly realizing she knew him. She mentally erased the walrus mustache and a couple line around his eyes and between his brows and was certain of it.
The name didn’t come immediately, but it was something to do with in or around school. It had to have been. Dusty had never gone to her parents’ church and outside of the Evil Motherfucker, she’d had no outside interests. She couldn’t be sure, but a younger version of the panic-eyed man had definitely attended a football game during her high school years.
“Everybody… everybody okay?” That was a weird thing to ask. Well, a weird thing for who asked it to ask. It was the guy with the gun. What did he care if everyone was all right? Weren’t they all here to rob the Spoon or something? Dusty began to get the distinct impression there was something else to these guys. Sure, they wanted to take something, but this was no ordinary stick ‘em up. Dusty had caught glimpses of the eyes of a few of them and they seemed… almost desperate.
She climbed up off the floor and was surprised the guy she recognized helped her. They came close enough for her to catch the scent of sandalwood and old cigarettes on him. She got a synesthetic feeling like leather beneath her and realized she was remembering the back seat of a car. No, she’d been in the back with plenty of boys in her heyday, but definitely not this one. It had been a double date. Suzy Lee Hayes and him, The Evil Motherfucker and her. Odd, that she would remember Suzy Lee’s name but not his considering she’d been a vapid bitch since third grade, but there was the connection: he’d been friends with the Evil Motherfucker.
“What?” he whispered, noticing she’d been staring.
“Nothing.” She looked over at the man on the floor lying mostly still. “He okay?”
Two of the bikers approached tentatively, but quickly, grabbed an arm, and dragged the big man away from the door. There was a big silver car facing the entrance of the Spoon, rocking with each rev of the engine.
“What kind of car is that?” someone asked. A couple people mumbled something about a Chrysler, someone else said it was definitely a Chevy.
“It’s a Ford,” the vaguely familiar man with the handlebar mustache said, twirling the tiny cross at his neck between his fingers. “It’s tricked out some kinda crazy way, but my daddy had one just like it.” He looked at her. “Y’know, ‘cept red instead of silver.” Dusty didn’t know a thing about cars, but she knew she’d never seen anything like the thing outside on the road.
“Jesus, it hurts so bad!” She looked down at where the big guy was. He was alive, but not for long. He had his hands clutched around his middle and thick, black blood was gouting from his mouth. His eyes spun in his head as if there was nowhere for them to comfortably rest.
“What the hell happened, Roscoe?” the man with the gun asked.
“The car… it was… the car.” Then his head fell back and his hands fell to his sides.
Dusty had seen dead before and this guy had it down to a science.
“Whoa. Roscoe?” The other man at his side shook the dead man’s shoulder. He tapped his face and looked over at the man with the gun. “I didn’t sign up for this, man. I just wanna get back—
“Stifle that,” the man with the gun said. “You know why we came here and ain’t a one of us outta this ‘til it’s done.” He fixed the other man with a stare until the other man wilted from the weight of his gaze. In the movies when something like this happened, the bad guys turned tail and ran or killed everybody. They weren’t doing either.
“First order of business is we go out there and put a bullet in the driver of that car.
“Gentlemen, if I may be so inclined. Dusty’s and several other heads turned to see who had spoken. Arnie was pouring the contents of a flask into the remains of his coffee. He put down the flask and picked up the mug. “Going outside is the absolute worst thing you can do. You will most assuredly be killed.”
“What are you talking about, man?” The man with the gun sounded annoyed.
Arnie gestured with his cup toward the door. “Out there, waiting in that car is no man.”
“What do you mean—like that car is on auto-pilot or something?” somebody asked.
“No. The car has a driver. We all saw him get up and leave. What I’m saying is ‘he’ is no human being.”
The man with the gun sneered and stood up. Dusty noticed for the first time Arlene was gone. Her instinct was to call out to her, but that might have been asking for trouble.
“That demon or monster or alien or whatever THING you want to call it is exacting some sort of vengeance upon us. Maybe not all of us, perhaps some of us are just in the wrong place at the wrong time, but for the most part, we are gathered her to make recompensation for some sin so egregious it will require we forfeit the rest of our lives.”
“You got two seconds to make sense before I pistol-whip you into oblivion.”
“That thing has come here to kill us because we have done something to deserve it. We are going to die unless we are granted some sort of absolution or we defeat it.”
“And how the hell do you know that?”
“How the hell I know that is exactly how the hell you know that. Obviously, you are not both… together.” Arnie took a deep sip off his cup. “I have been having lunch here for nigh on twenty-seven years—not for the cooking, no offense Fred—and on the very first afternoon a group of thieves who don’t want money arrive at approximately the same time as some crazed leather and helmeted killer?
“No, you need not convince any of us here of your lack of complicity now that your Roscoe has met a sour end. What you do need is to put your collaborative ideas with ours so we may collectively figure the safest means of extricating ourselves from such a dire situation.”
“Arnie,” Gladys cut in, “what in the hell are you goin’ on about?”
“My apologies, Gladys.” He took another swig. “When I’m in my cups I have a tendency to pontificate.”
“If somebody doesn’t shut that drunk up, I’m gonna feed him face-first into the garbage disposal.” The man with the gun stood away from Roscoe and was staring at Arnie.
“Wait-wait-wait,” the other man said. “I know, I’m annoying. Occupational hazard, but hear me out.” Everyone held their positions. “As sure as the day is long, that thing intends to kill every one of us. And it clearly has the means to do so. We have all transgressed or at least, have been perceived as having transgressed and that—” he pointed outside— “is the mitigator of our transgressions.”
“Anybody wanna translate what Einstein just said?” the man with the gun asked. “Or should I just smash his face in now?”
“What he means is…” a new voice jumped in. Dusty looked over at the new guy. He looked like he was coming down off something bad. Maybe she could get some off him. The man turned on his stool to face the group. “We’re all going to die and that thing outside is going to kill us.” He looked like he was about to cry. “Your friend Roscoe was just the first. Well, second, if the blood all over Arlene belongs to someone else.” There she was again, one stool over. Why had she moved and when did she? “By the end of this day he will have killed us all.”
“Who the fuck are you and how do you know so much?”
“Because I had been following him until he started following me. I’m writing this book—was writing, anyway. It was on urban folklore and about eight months ago I stumbled across the story of-of this driver. He stalks people in his car and kills them. Except everybody he kills disappears.”
“So then how does anybody know about him, genius?” Dusty asked, annoyed. She was going to need something soon to take the edge off. She hadn’t meant to say it that way- she hadn’t even meant to speak at all.
“For the same reason no one has thought to use their cell phones—nobody will believe you. Go on, try it.”
No one moved, but they all looked at the man with the gun as if waiting for his approval.
“I got my cell—” one of the hoods reached into his back pocket and pulled out a cell phone. By the time he had it flipped open the man with the gun had it shoved in his face with the hammer cocked. “Yeah, okay, we could wait on that.”
“Why don’t you call someone?” the man at the counter said, looking at the man with the gun. “Someone who wouldn’t have cause to believe you’re lying. Tell him you need him right away. See what he says.”
The man with the gun seemed to consider this. Dusty could see his wheels turning.
“GImme the phone, kid.” The teen handed it over and he quickly thumbed in a number and put it to his ear. “I’m keeping this,” he said to the boy. After a few minutes his expression changed.
“Hey, Charlie. How are you?” The man let the gun drop and meandered around. Was he talking to a child? “Your mother isn’t around? What are you doing? Oh, REALLY? Well, can you put her on for me? No? Why not? H-hello? Hello?”
He took the phone away from his ear and stared at it.
“He hung up on me. He’s never hung up on me before.”
“See?” the man at the counter said.
“That doesn’t prove anything,” Dusty said. “He’s a kid—he could’ve just hung up.”
“Yeah,” the man with the gun said. “He’s only four.” Fred and Gladys shot her a look. Even though she’d defended him, she was just as puzzled as to why she did it. Dusty supposed that, despite the bikers being the bad guys here, she knew at least something about him, whereas the man at the counter was a complete stranger. And he gave her the creeps more than anyone else by far.
“Call someone else,” the stranger said. “Anybody.” The look in his eyes spoke volumes. He had called someone. Whoever it was hadn’t believed whatever he’d said.
“You know what I think?” the man with the gun said, looking at the stranger. “I think you know something about that dude out there. Cully, grab this guy.”
Nobody moved. The man with the gun looked at the biker sitting closest to the stranger. The biker looked at him and pointed to himself.
“You mean me? Cully’s in the van.”
The biker stood. He was very tall and looked even taller because his leather pants were a few inches too short for him. He threw his arms out like he was adjusting the ill-fitted vest.
“You put your hands on me and I’ll kill you,” the stranger said. “Nobody touches me.” He said it so plainly, it could hardly qualify as a threat at all in Dusty’s mind. The tall biker’s confidence wavered and he looked at the man with the gun who promptly walked over and conked him on the top of the head with the butt of the gun.
The stranger fell off his stool and crashed to the floor. Gasps floated around the Spoon and people half stood to see the man with the gun point it at the stranger.
“Cut the shit and spill. Who are you and who is that out there?”
The stranger dabbed his fingertips to his head and stared up into the barrel of the gun on him. There wasn’t an ounce of malice or fear in his eyes. If anything, he looked exhausted. Dusty realized that was what she’d mistaken as high before.
“I’m nobody. I was writing a book. I had the bright idea to come out here and write about local folklore when I found out about him.”
“Him,” the man with the gun said. “Him who?”
“I don’t know. I came out here only a couple months ago. And one day… I came to a place just like this and he killed everyone with that car.”
“Not quite everyone,” one of the other biker’s said.
“Yeah,” the man with the gun jutted it in the stranger’s direction. “Why’d he let you go?”
“I don’t… it’s difficult to explain.”
Before he could speak again, the constant hum of the air conditioner suddenly cut-out, leaving the Spoon in an even deeper silence.
“Oh, what the fuck was that?” the man with the gun said as several other people gasped and grumbled.
“It’s the a/c,” Fred said.
“I thought it was something serious.”
“Uh, it is. It’s—” Fred looked over his shoulder at the thermostat—“seventy-two in here right now and at least a hundred outside. I guess we have an hour at most before we’re all sweating buckets. And as you can see we have a few seniors. Unless you mean to… y’know, we gotta get that going again.”
“So you gonna take a stroll out there and fix it?”
“Well, it’s not out there, it’s up,” Gladys chimed in. “It’s a rooftop unit. And I’ll be going. Husband worked his own heatin’ and coolin’ business twenty-seven years before he… he passed and I learnt a thing or two from him.”
“So what do you need to do the do?”
“Just some tools in the back. Won’t take me more’n twenty minutes.”
“All right.” The man with the gun shrugged. He pointed to two bikers sitting next to each other. “You two escort Ms. Gladys to her tools and then take her up to the roof. I’m sure we don’t have to tell her not to try anything funny. Matter-of-fact, everybody, donate your cell phones to Jeff over there.” The man with the gun pointed to a squat, gray-haired man who looked more washing machine repairman than biker. He unfolded his spindly arms and leaned off the counter, glancing around before taking the glass lid off the pie.
“What do we do about Roscoe?” the fat man asked, walking around collecting cell phones. His voice was several octaves deeper than Dusty expected. She sighed, pulling hers out and plunking it in the lid. People began to grumble, but complied.
The man with the gun considered, nodding his head.
“Freddie, you got a cooler in this place, right?”
“Oh, no. You can’t. I got patties in there!”
“Well, you’re gonna have flies in here if we don’t put poor Roscoe on ice. I wasn’t really askin’.”
The two men eyeballed each other before Fred wilted. Poor guy, Dusty thought. Poor all of us.