Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Tales of the Stranger, Ep 2

Back by popular demand! ...Well, ok, not really. Of the very, very few people who read this blog, one person wanted more after the "Magic Marker on the Mailbox" story (in January 05 Archive). That was supposed to be a one-shot, but after the request I got to thinking of some ideas for a story arc for the now-dubbed "Stranger" character, so maybe I'll write a few more...we'll see. Again, not really what I normally right, but it seems to fit here. Anyway, enjoy, I suppose...

"Long Way Around" By Eaglewing

The snow was falling slowly in big white flakes, the wind was blowing somewhere else, and the night was quiet.

Anna stared out the window of Nel's Diner at the only stop light of this one horse town. Her shift waiting tables was over, but then technically it had been over for hours as there had been no one in here since the earlier dinner "rush". Well, just the usual visit of the diner's few remaining regulars. At least there was no risk of a corporate McDonald's being plunked down way out here and running the diner out of business. The interstate that was put through some ten miles over would see to that.

"Hey Anna, you still waiting?" called Fred, the cook and owner, from the back.

"Yeah, he isn't here yet. Go on, I'll lock up."

"Alright. You sure you wanna wait? I can give you a lift home if ya want..."

"No, that's alright. He'll be here soon. Thanks though - and give Nel my best. Hope she gets better soon."

"Ok, I will. You take care now...goodnight."

With that, Fred headed out into the snow. Anna watched as he cranked up his old Buick, and slowly pulled out of the lot onto the road, heading home to his wife Nel. They had started the diner years ago, and had both seen better times. After Nel's health had started giving her problems, Anna was hired on to help. She never thought she'd wind up working at a one-stop in a nowhere town, but oddly enough, she was more or less happy with it. It sure beat the 9-9 corporate world she had tried and hated before. Then somewhere along the way, she had met a handsome truck driver who called this town his 'home' and one thing led to another to another to another until she was now waiting for him to come and pick her up. Life could be crazy, but she was enjoying the ride.

She left her perch at the window and started shutting things down. Wiping up the counter and locking up the register. She counted the cash and shook her head at the small sum. How Fred and Nel kept the place running was beyond her. She locked up the register and went into the back to make sure everything was turned off. Anna heard the front door chime and let out a sigh that he was finally here. She came through the swinging doors from the kitchen with a smile on her face.

Her heart skipped a beat and she froze, the smile disappearing. She was a couple feet away from a rather tall man in a ski mask holding a gun. Neither of them seemed all too happy to see the other. He hesitated, but finally the man spoke.

"The money...give me the money! Now!" he barked, twitching the gun barrel in the direction of the register.

Anna found her voice, and said before she could stop herself, "You're kidding, right? There's, like, sixteen bucks in there!"

He didn't seem amused. "The money, NOW!" he barked again. "I'll shoot if I have to."

"Ok, ok, take it easy..." She opened the register and got out the few bills and coins. "Here, take it."

He grabbed the handful of money and shoved it in his pocket. The he pointed the gun at her again. "The safe, where's the safe?"

Anna looked around - this was getting weird. She knew of no safe and figured at the way business was going for Nel's Diner, Fred wouldn't have had anything to put in it even if there was one.

"What safe? There's no safe here." She shook her head confused.

"Don't play with me. I know he keeps it here. Now show me where it is or you'll regret it..." his voice attempted a growled threat, but didn't quite pull it off as she noticed he sounded young.

Still, she was getting scared now. She'd seen enough late night news reports to know she was on the verge of being one more statistic. Still, she had no idea what to say.

"Look, I'd show you if I knew what you were talking about. But I don't know of any safe, ok? I don't know!"

"You're lying! Show me the safe, or I'll use this thing! Where's the safe?!"

"I don't know!" she shrieked as he pushed the gun closer. She closed her eyes and sent up a quick prayer, knowing this could be it.

Then the door chime rang again.

Anna and the gunman both looked surprised at the disruption. A disruption in the form of a man covered in snow from his pulled-low cowboy hat to his worn boots. All three strangers looked at each other for a heart stopping moment. Then the new stranger spoke.

"Hey, its damn cold out there. Think I could get a cup of coffee?" He calmly moved forward towards the counter, stopping next to the shocked gunman. The stranger didn't get a timely response, so he muttered "hmm, kinda chilly in here too."

The gunman finally found his voice, turning the gun towards the stranger. "Who the hell are you?!"

"Frosty the Snowman...and who are you supposed to be?" the stranger glanced at the gun. "Smith or Wesson?"

"Hit the floor, you stupid motherf--"

"HEY!" the stranger cut him off. "Watch it. There's a lady present. And put that thing away before you hurt somebody. You know, guns don't kill people, --"

"Shut up! On the floor!"

"No thanks. I just hauled my frozen ass over the last ten miles in a snow storm. I come in here looking for a hot cup of coffee and find you. Now, I'm telling you for the last time, put that thing away. I'll buy you a coffee and slice of apple pie and we'll call it a night. What'dya say?"

"On the floor!", he cocked the gun as his finger began to twitch near the trigger.

Anna watched in shock as the stranger's left hand flew out, shoving the gunman's trigger hand straight up, while at the same time ramming his right elbow into the masked man's face. The gunman lost his grip and the gun clattered to the floor. The stranger held his grip on the gun hand and stepping in closer, he brought the gunman's arm down while shoving his right hand into the masked man's soler plexus and pivoted, throwing the gunman's weight. The result was the gunman going ass over teakettle to the floor. The stranger maintained his grip and rolled the would be thief onto his stomach before driving his knee into the prone man's back.

"Ok, that's better. Now calm down, would ya?"

The gunman tried to shake off the effects of the blow and muttered something uninteligible. He wasn't doing too well as his ski mask had been turned during the scuffle and he could no longer see. He finally just quit struggling and laid there gulping in air.

"You alright?" the stranger asked Anna.

"Yes, I think so..."

"Good." the stranger turned back to the man on the floor. "Ok, ski-boy, I'm going to lift you up and plant your ass on this stool by the counter. You're going to sit there and do nothing. Do we have an understanding? You've seen what I can do."

The ski mask moved up and down, so the stranger did as he said. Then he picked up the gun, and went to empty it. He looked up surprised.

"Um, did you know this gun wasn't loaded?"

Ski mask nodded again, then pulled off his disguise. A young blond haired teenager was revealed. "Yeah, I know, I wasn't going to hurt nobody."

"You could've fooled me!" Anna exclaimed, and let out a pent up sigh of relief.

"I'm sorry ma'am. I relly am. This wasn't supposed to happen."

"Well," started the stranger, "if Anna doesn't mind, maybe we could get that coffee and apple pie all around. Then you can tell me what was supposed to happen and I'll decide if I buy it."

Anna looked at the stranger, surprised again. She'd had enough surprises for one night.

"How do you know my name?!" she asked sharply.

The stranger raised an eyebrow. "It's on that tag on your uniform. Unless that's not your uniform?"

"No, it is...I am...I mean, um, I'll get the pie." She disappeared into the kitchen.

"Ok, skiboy, what's your name?"

"Adam. I guess I'm going to jail now, huh?"

"That all depends. Right now, it's just the three of us. You do something I don't like again, and it'll be us three plus the cops. Your choice."

"Well, that's easy. I don't think I'm cut out for a life of crime."

"You're telling me, kid." muttered the stranger as Anna came back with three coffees and three slices of apple pie. "Ok, I'm digging into this, and you can too, while you start at square one and tell me what's going on."

Anna wondered why they weren't calling the cops but decided to go along with things for now. She always was one to enjoy the ride. Still, she shot the stranger an odd look, but he missed it as he downed half the slice of pie in two bites and washed it down with a gulp of hot coffee.

"Damn, that's good," he muttered. "Go ahead kid, you've got a captive audience...so to speak."

"Well, she wasn't supposed to be here." Adam looked at Anna and shook his head. "You scared the hell out of me when you came out of the kitchen. I saw Fred leave and thought I'd have all night to find the safe. I figured you might know and tried that. It didn't seem to be going anywhere, so I was going to leave and then he walked in. Then things got out of control." He fished the money out of his pocket and handed it back to Anna. " Here, I didn't even want this."

"Thanks," she said quietly. "what did you want? What safe?"

"Well, I'd, um, heard through the grapevine that Fred kept a safe here. The story goes that he and Nel are really rich - basically continuing this show because she likes it here and he's got a fortune in diamonds. He sells them off little by little, I guess, as they need money. Nobody would ever think that he's got something worth stealing, looking at the way they live..."

The stranger shot Anna a look. "I take it this Fred and Nel own this joint?"

"Yes, they do. They're a retired couple that have been running this diner for a few years. Nel's health is failing lately, but even with that Fred's never said anything about money."

"Why would he?" countered the stranger. "It's probably their only source of money. He'd probably keep it quiet. Either way, if it's true, somebody out there knows and Adam here thought he'd cash in. You know, thats kinda low, stealing from what could be their only source of income."

"I know," muttered a dejected Adam. "But word was that he still has quite a stash. I wasn't going to take all of it, I swear, just one or two diamonds. Enough to get us by."

"Us? Who's Us?" asked Anna.

"My family and our farm. The bank's gonna foreclose at the end of the month. When I heard about the diamonds, I thought he wouldn't miss just one, and it'd get us out of a jam and give us enough time to turn it around. We can get by on the farm if the bank would just leave us alone."

All three were quiet for a few moments, processing their own thoughts. Finally, the stranger spoke.

"Well, it sounds like you thought the end justified the means. You know, even though I've done my share of dancing over the line in my time, I still know where to draw it. I can see why'd you do it, but there has to be a better way than stealing from a couple's nest egg in their sunset years. Can't you see that?"

"Yeah, I do, and I'm really sorry...and I'm sorry too, Anna, I shouldn't have put you through that. I just didn't know what else to do..."

"Its ok, Adam, I can let it go. But what are you going to do now?"

"I don't know...but hey, I'm truly open to suggestions," said Adam.

"Well, you could have just asked." a low voice rumbled from the direction of the kitchen.

Anna and Adam jumped in surprise as Fred stepped out of the shadows of the back room, fixing a hard gaze on Adam. The stranger, however, just grinned wryly, shook his head, and quickly snagged the last bite of apple pie off Anna's plate.

"Fred!" exclaimed Anna. "You're back? How long have you -"

"Long enough. I forgot something, so I came in the back. Heard enough too." Fred looked at Adam, hard. Then his expression softened. "Are you Jack's boy? Farm over on the fifth?"

"Yes sir," gulped a scared Adam, who was starting to show his age. "Look, I'm sorry for all of this, I really am. Please don't call my folks."

Fred ignored the plea, and turned to the stranger. "What's your angle?"

"No angle. I walked ten miles in a snow storm and came in here looking for something hot to drink. Found these shenanigans going on, put a stop to it. Oh, and I stumbled on some really good pie, too."

"Thanks, made it myself." Fred looked back at Adam. "Now, boy, I know what you're saying about your farm is true. Was talking to Jack just this morning. Was thinking of doing something about it anyway...Jack and I go way back, but it'll be a cold day on the sun when he accepts charity from me. So here's what I'm going to do. See, the rumor is true, but the diamonds ain't here. Nor is there any safe here either. You think I'm that stupid? So here's how its going to be. This diner ain't paying its own weight, but my Nel loves it. So, the diamonds are my ace in the hole, and its buying my Nel the best care money can buy. However, I'm going to give you one diamond if you make me a promise. You're young, so you keep your eyes and ears open and someday, somewhere, somebody is going to be in a jam and you are going to be in a position to help them. You promise me this, when that day comes, you don't turn your back. You bend over backwards to help them. Promise?"

Adam was silent for a minute. Then he looked Fred square in they eye, "Yes sir. I promise. Thank you, I won't forget this."

Fred saw what he needed to see in the young man's eyes and nodded. "See that you don't. And none of you say anything about this to anyone, ya hear?" His tone of voice and look in his eye made all three nod quickly. "Good. Come on, son, let's go get that Bank off your ass." He quickly looked at Anna, "You going to be ok here till Eddie shows up?"

"Yeah," Anna nodded, then looked at the stranger. "It's been a weird night, but I think Frosty here is OK. I'll lock up."

"Alright, Goodnight then."

Fred and Adam left out the back, leaving Anna and the stranger to finish off the pot of coffee.

"Hey, wait a minute," said Anna, smiling. "I had another bite left on my plate here."

The stranger smiled at her, "Yeah, well, I figured you work here. It'll be easier for you to get another bite of that than it will be for me. Who's Eddie?"

"My fiance. He long hauls for a local outfit. I was just waiting for him to come around when Adam happened." She was quiet for a minute, then, "Hey, I don't know anything about you, except that you're fast. What's your name? And why were you walking in this weather? Trying to get somewhere...or to someone?"

"Well, the second car in a very short time frame crapped out on me back that-a-way." He vaguely pointed behind him. "And I'll know the somewhere when I get to it."

She pretended to ignore the fact he had sidestepped her first question. She'd been around long enough to know what that meant. "So while you're out looking for 'somewhere', is there a someone waiting for you to come back around?"

The stranger looked down and hesitated before answering, "Nah, just me and another road."

"Uh-huh," Anna retorted. "Right. I've been pushing plates behind counters to passers-through long enough to know that look in your eye. There's someone...your heart just hasn't convinced your brain yet. Give it time, but not too much. Trust me, whoever she is you just thought about would be very happy to see you again...even if you took the long way around."

Just then a rumbling tractor trailer pulled into the parking lot. Anna smiled as she looked out at the man climbing down from the rig. "That's Eddie. I gotta go, so Nel's is offically closing for now."

"Good enough." The stranger laid a few bills on the counter. "I'll walk you out."

Anna closed up shop, and the two left out the front door. She ran over to Eddie for a quick but meaningful embrance. "Have I got a story to tell you," she laughed. Then she turned to the stranger. "Can we give you a lift somewhere?"

"I'm headin' North," Eddie chimed in. He trusted Anna's judgements.

"I appreciate it, but nah, you two go on. I'll find my way."

"Ok, and thanks. Tonight could have gone a number of ways. I'm glad you happened to walk by. Good luck finding somewhere."

"Thanks, and good luck to the both of you, too."

The stranger watched Anna and Eddie climb into the big rig, then Eddie put it in gear and they rolled out of town, through the stoplight, and headed north.

The sun was coming up yet again as the stranger walked to the crossroads and the light turned back to red. He wasn't sure which way to head. Back the way he came was out. North would only take him further away. East was feeling cold. He looked left, to the West.

An old past, and lately something else, was calling to him.

He thought about a name on a mailbox. Maybe the diner waitress was right.

Maybe.

Long way around indeed.

He shook his head and looked up.

The light was green.

The End.

Comments on "Tales of the Stranger, Ep 2"

 

Blogger The Original LRU said ... (April 08, 2005 4:15 AM) : 

Nice ending with the traffic light, but where's the Harley Davidson? ;-)

Looking forward to the next one!

 

Blogger Eaglewing said ... (April 08, 2005 7:34 PM) : 

well, can't be too blatant or I might as well have Bon Jovi sing the intro...funny thing was it didn't even occur to me till after I'd wrote it. Let's just call it an homage, shall we?

 

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