It’s late, so late, and we exist together and in subsets in this diner and what we are and how we are depends on what you look for. We are (I) two single guys with (II) a guy who’s found a girl, or we’re (III) three guys and (IV) a girl, or we’re (V) two guys and (VI) a girl with (VII) one lonely, rebel, insane outsider in an ugly mood, and that guy would be me. I’m the outsider, because that’s the most romantic part and I’m telling the story so there you go.
I don’t like the men. The diner monkey bugs me when he takes my order and when he brings my joe. Has a look in his eye like he’s the hep cat but how can you be hep in an apron? What hep cat wipes the grease from his shoe-tops with a terry towel?
The guy with the frail is a hick, I figure. He’s telling jokes he stole from Bennett Cerf and trying on a city style he picked up from bad movies where everybody talks too fast and knows too many things. He and the diner guy are pals and they look my way from time to time, then talk under their breath.
Keep it up, I think.
The broad with the red hair heads for the can. I can see the seams on her hose are out of true, the two legs far from parallel and the hose are bunching near the ankle. Now I know her story, too. She and the hick are suited, I figure, made for each other. She comes back and it’s fresh coffee all around.
New subsets in the diner: (VIII) three fools and (IX) the man who hates them.
I move on my stool and feel the heel of my pistol pressing against my lowest rib. Carrying a piece makes me calm. If they get out of hand, I can handle it. If I wave my gat they’ll know who’s in charge. But I don’t have to wave it yet. Just having it makes me feel calm. I said that already. So what? I meant it twice.
I need it because the world is out of balance. Women say they like men who are smart, who are kind, who are considerate, but they don’t. They like good looking men who flash money. They like strong men who are big and throw their weight around. They all say they like the smart, kind men and what drives you crazy is that when they say it they think they really mean it. But they don’t. And someone has to pay for that. Someone has to pay dearly for that.
New subsets in the diner: (X) one woman and (XI) three victims.
New subset within subset (XI) above (A) two victims and (B) one champion for justice.
Something about that hick bothers me. His threads look like the kind of dark clothes the second story men use. His eyeballs dart back and forth, like he’s some bird looking at everything all the time, some raptor looking for mice. You can tell just watching him that he is up to no good. He and the woman rise and he flips some bills on the counter. He looks over at me, and for just a moment I see something in his face, and I feel a hollow, queer trepidation, as if something terrible is pending. He throws down another sawbuck.
“Treat our friend here, Danny. He looks like he’s had a bad night. See ya.” And before I can mutter thank you, they are out the door and gone.
The diner guy comes over and gives me a refill. “Take your time,” he says. “Theater crowd ain’t due for another hour.” He looks past me through the window. “Nice couple, huh?”
“The best,” I say. He smiles and goes back to whatever the hell those guys do when they aren’t yakking in your ear. I hate him. His back is to me, and I reach down slowly, slip my hand over my roscoe. He rises. I see his face go serious and steady in the reflection of the coffee urn. He’s watching me.
I pull a pack of Luckies from my pocket and reach for the matches. He takes a deep breath and goes back to his work.
New subsets in the city: (XII) me and (XIII) all the sons-of-bitches who don’t know how fortunate they are. I light my cigarette, my Lucky, and think about thirteen.