Chapter Four or something (ruff draught)
Jenn wasn’t sure what she was looking at when he first walked in, which wasn’t normal for her. She saw many people, all of them different, and over time she began reading them.
She told her favorite line cook, Marco, about her theory that people were most open when they’re on the road traveling—that there’s a vulnerability that only exists when you’re between places. Being that their restaurant was the only in a stretch of ten miles in both directions, they saw many travelers.
Whether the stories in Jenn’s head matched these travelers’ lives was irrelevant, really. She just needed something to believe. It helped her identify their personalities. Wrong or right, and she’d tell you that she’s usually right, she loved her encounters with the strange and fascinating people the road brought.
And then this motherfucker walked in the door.
The dining room had a clear view of the access road that lead from the bordering freeway, and there hadn’t been a single vehicle pull off the exit since breakfast. Jenn wondered how the hell he got to their diner. She assumed he was a hitcher before she got a good look at his face.
“Coffee,” the man rasped.
Something—everything—was off. Jenn couldn’t tell his kind of traveler; he certainly wasn’t hauling a rig and didn’t have the belongings of a hitcher. She thought maybe his car broke down, but that was wrong; he wasn’t covered in grease or grime. He was covered in dirt.
“Coffee,” she repeated with a rattled smile. The dirty man took a seat. Jenn glanced to the kitchen window with the hope that Marco was watching, the seeds of a bad feeling taking root in her gut, but he was nowhere in sight.
“Sorry, don’t have a fresh pot on,” she said. “Haven’t had anyone for hours, but I don’t mind getting one going.” Just as Jenn removed the pot from the burner and started pouring its stale contents down the drain, she noticed the man’s mouth rumble, muttering. “Sorry, hon, you say something?”
“I said, ‘you could just reheat it.’” His eyes stayed cool, unmoving, like stone.
The now-empty coffee pot trembled in her hand. Seeds began to sprout; a fear began growing. “I am- I’m so sorry, sir.” She shuffled to and fro, as if trying to move in opposite directions at once. “Please just give me a sec, I’mma run to the back and get more. Won’t take but a second. Anything else I can get ya, hon? Toast, waffles, doughn—“
Bursting through the double doors, Jenn frantically paced the kitchen in search of Marco. She found him cutting vegetables in the back crooning to songs she couldn’t understand.
“Turn that shit off and get out here! I don’t want to be alone with this guy.” She began filling the pot with water, leaving it in the sink while searching for a bag of coffee in the cabinets that wasn’t decaf.
“He order food?” Marco asked.
“No. Where the hell is the regular coffee…?”
“He no order food, I have to prep. Lemme know if I get ticket.”
“Dammit, Marco, just grab a new box of regular coffee from storage and meet me out front, alright?” She turned off the faucet and grabbed the pot before heading back to the floor. “This guy reeks like death.”
Back through the double doors, she was almost excited to get another look at the man. She couldn’t say he was unattractive or even scary, just odd. Disheveled. Jenn wanted to know this guy’s story, because for once the real thing had to be better than whatever scenario she could concoct in her head.
So she was a little upset to see the mystery man nowhere in sight, replaced by four very distinct men in suits blacker than the void. Jenn had no trouble reading their faces; bad people were always easy to tell.
The four could have been statues, eyes hidden behind black sunglasses watching her move with trepidation. She poured the water and returned the pot to the burner, greeting the suits. “Gentlemen, take any seat you’d like.”
“Mam,” one responded, revealing that he was not a statue and indeed human. “We have reason to believe a person of interest is on the premises. We’d like to ask you and any other employees of this establishment to vacate immediately.”
Jenn didn’t quite know how to respond to that. She looked back to the window, Marco with a coffee bag in hand. He too was fixed on the suits, his eyes twitching between them as he wondered which would ask to see his papers first.
“You’re sure about that?” Jenn finally replied, taking the grounds and pouring them in the coffee maker. She didn’t know why she needed to lie, but something about these men was off. “Y’all’re the first I’ve seen in here since noon. Sure I can’t get you anything? We use our own pancake mix—“
“Miss miss miss, I’m going to stop you right there,” said the suit in the back, now making his way front and center. Removing the glasses to rub his tired eyes, Jenn could see his was visibly irritated. How irritated, she’d soon know. “We have multiple drones fixed over this location. These drones have been tracking some schmuck for the last six hours, and each of them outfitted with high-definition cameras that see every goddamn cockroach in this shithole.
“These cameras, they have heat sensors that register how fast that hick blood pumps through your body. My Ops girl is whispering in my ear right now, telling me your little burner boy in the back is ready to piss himself, he’s so nervous. She’s also telling me that your heart is starting to beat a little bit harder as I’m talking to you. It says to me that you’re starting to grasp the severity of the situation, that you might be picking up on the fact that this is the last fucking place I’d like to be right now.”
“And if you think the cameras sound fancy, imagine what kind of laser-projected weaponry we have loaded up there.
The man now takes a seat at the bar, the three others cool as cucumbers in a row behind him. Jenn looks down at the man but doesn’t feel any more at ease.
“So I’m going to say this again; leave now, before we level this place with all of your wasted potential still inside of it.”
Jenn wasn’t a stranger to this feeling. She often had to choose her words with more care than she’d like.
“I’ll just get my things.”
“You’re not listening,” the man sighed and rubbed his eyes. With a free hand, he held up two fingers and pointed to the window. Without hesitation, one of the suits reached into his jacket and produced a handgun, the barrel elongated. Both Jenn and Marco stood frozen as it levied toward them and fired.
Jenn shrieked as she saw Marco fall limp through the window, a splash of red at the back of the kitchen.
“Leave the bodies, we’ll burn it when we procure the—what the fuck was that?”
She didn’t see the ceiling cave in on the suits, a body and stucco collapsed across them. No, she was focused on poor lifeless Marco. My fault, she muttered, over and over. My fault…
The head suit stumbled out of his seat for cover as soon as the body falls through, unsure of the assault he faced. He saw the rugged man stomp on the back of his colleague’s head, then directed his knee to another’s face as that one tried to clamber to his feet.
“God dammit. Denton! Jensen!”
While two suits writhed on the ground, two still stood surrounding the rugged man. The dark spots surrounding his sunken eyeballs, his posture hunched over the debris and bodies—the man was a raccoon, rabid, backed into a corner.
“I’m just here for the coffee,” he grated.
“Slick, you’re not here at all,” the head suit said, quickly reaching into his jacket. But the man had a combination of size and speed they didn’t account for. One leg stepped forward, just as quick as the other lunged straight into his chest. The kick smashed his hand around the butt of the pistol, nearly firing off a round in the process, and sent him reeling on his ass.
He pivoted from the kick, swinging around to face the other suit, still brushing stucco chunks from his jacket. The head suit held his right hand gently, with even the slightest pressure shooting a pain through his wrist. “Broke my fucking hand,” he whimpered, scurrying to his feet.
The rugged man parried each of the suit’s strikes with precision and method, as if rehearsed. While his first strikes were fierce, utilizing extensive training and experience, the suit’s inability to land a blow was met with frustration. His kicks soon devolved to erratic form, his fists swinging wildly, both failing to connect.
“My fault,” Jenn sobbed into her hands. She hunched over Marco, no longer able to look at him. Why would they? He didn’t do anything wrong. And his girls, what would they do? Poor Jimena, poor Yasmine. It wasn’t fair. But Jenn reminded herself, sitting on the floor it’s never fair. She would always bare the scars of proof.
Jenn finally looked up from her hands to survey the chaos, just in time to dodge a flailing body tossed over the countertop and into the kitchen doors. Another suit, his coat ripped at the seams as he collapsed while his sunglasses lay shattered around him. It was him, Jenn recognized. He executed Marco. The only man left was he who gave the order.
And Jenn felt a rage she thought reserved for only one person—a rage she kept in check. That was before they killed poor Marco. The coffee she’d prepared was only partially brewed. No matter. It was something with weight to it and she knew it’d hurt. That’s all she wanted. Something that hurt.
“MOTHERFUCKER,” she screamed, pouncing on the suit before he could get his bearings. She hardly ever raised her voice, much less cussed, and abhorred physical violence of any kind. Yet there she was, slamming a pot of hot coffee all over the suit’s face.
This isn’t me, the real Jenn cried. But she was tiny at that moment, hiding behind an enraged heart, her voice fainter than its pulse. Jenn watched herself. Her hands did things she never thought they’d do, horrifying things. But the presence wouldn’t relent until the suit was nothing but dead.
And upon taking in the damage she’d done, she couldn’t help but hate herself even more. No matter how hard she tried to fight it, the presence had its hold on her.
“Michael,” she sighed. She wanted to curse the man who made her this way, but the energy was gone.
The steam trickled upward, a steady flow emanating from the pile of black, red glass that used to be the head suit’s face. His leg stopped twitching before Jenn even noticed it move. What little life he had left seeped out incessantly.
“We should get going,” the gruff man said towering over her, surveying her work. He startled her, yet she had no fear left. Just remorse, but for what she couldn’t say.
“Come on,” he said, and dragged her by the hand through the chaos. “There’s either bodies or napalm coming our way, I ain’t gonna be here when they show.”
He dragged her past the debris, the bodies, the violence that used to be this quaint diner. The broken shards of the life she knew. She didn’t see how the rugged man did it, but the other suits weren’t moving much either. Were they still alive? Or was this man a monster as well, just like her?
“Where are we going?” And he looked at her, as if he didn’t understand who this ‘we’ person she was talking about.
Hrmph, was the noise he made. “You owe me a cup of coffee, I suppose.” They left the diner. The man hotwired poor dead Marco’s rusty sedan. Jenn wouldn’t realize until much later that he took away her chance to say goodbye to it all. She’d thank him for that.
3/11/14 tues. The Terrible Infant.