Shannon smelled Greg Fender’s scent before walking through the diner’s door. Greg was the youngest of the three fry cooks who worked at Connie’s Diner next to the motel. Greg was also the only person working at the diner that Shannon hated.
Being twenty-five gave Greg, or Greggie as he called himself in an attempt to be cute, a good excuse for some of his behaviors but not all.
Greg liked to goose the waitresses and once upon a time Shannon had been his favorite target. She gave him two warnings before finally using force. Shannon liked being sporting to non-lycans. She believed that attitude kept her honest. Son his third pinch, she’d broken the thumb and forefinger of his right hand.
Greg spotted her through the grill’s open window and winced. In fact, he winced every time he saw Shannon after she broke his fingers. She never missed a chance to grin wryly at him when he did.
“Rough night, honey,” asked Rose Jiller, the diner’s owner. Her mother, the Connie behind Connie’s Diner, had opened the well-liked greasy spoon at the end of World War Two with her husband Herb.
Herb had been a paratrooper with the 82nd Airborne that preferred cooking for people rather than killing them. The wall behind the cash register was festooned with mementos from Herb’s days in the European Theater of Operations. In recent years the worst that the diner had to deal with were politically correct people griping about the Nazi flag Herb had taken off a captured German soldier in Normandy.
Herb had died five years earlier, two years after Connie. On his deathbed he’d made Rose promise to keep the three by four-foot flag up on the wall. Rose wasn’t about to betray her father’s wishes to some squeamish know-nothing. The flag garnered more disgust from so-called progressives than her father’s service .45 that hung in a shadow box next to it.
“Rough enough, Ms. Jiller. Insomnia’s going to be the death of me.” Shannon didn’t mind lying to Rose too much. She’d rather not do it but it was preferable to the truth. She was planning on going to bed early after her shift since her current hunting mission was over.
“Well, whatever guy you’ve got in town has to be worth it what with the nights you’ve been keeping.” Rose smiled at Shannon before taking a customer’s ticket.
Shannon didn’t get nervous at Rose’s observations. She had three rules she obeyed when hunting. The first was to act like you belonged to any place you ventured. Acting cagey was a good way to fall under suspicion. The second was never to allow more than three-quarters of an hour in having fun with prey. The third was always finish what you started.
She tied on an apron over her pink uniform and slipped behind the counter, joining Kelsey Nicks, the youngest waitress on staff.
“Hey, Kelsey. What’s the deal today?” Shannon said, scooping up three pencils and an order pad from the tray beside the drink dispenser.
“Same shit as always, Shay,” answered Kelsey. ‘Shay’ was Kelsey’s nickname for Shannon and Shannon hated it. She kept her mouth closed about it out of respect for life’s burdens that Kelsey had accepted.
Kelsey on the other hand didn’t see what she’d been given as a burden so much as a blessing. Kelsey was eighteen and should’ve graduated high school two months earlier but instead had dropped out three years before.
Like some fifteen year olds she’d fallen for the wrong guy, dropped out of school, ran away from home, gotten pregnant, gotten addicted to heroin and finally gotten help. Her two-year-old son, Rance, was the best part of Kelsey’s life. The young mother was in her first month of college with the intention of becoming a veterinarian. To Shannon, Kelsey was living the life Shannon had wanted. But Shannon hadn’t been envious of her friend. If anything, she was proud for Kelsey.
“See that prick at the head of the counter? The one nursing the water and scrambled eggs?” Kelsey jerked her head toward a clean-cut looking young man sporting a USC t-shirt.
“What about him? Looking to be lousy in the tips department?” Tracey gave a surreptitious sniff of the air. The college kid didn’t smell right. He smelled sick. It was a kind of sick she’d never before encountered.
“Nothing that good. I think he came here on purpose to pick at the flag. Stupid kid.” Kelsey spoke like she was older than the diner itself. Life experiences had aged her more than any college could have.
Kelsey’s appraisal meant a lot to Shannon when it came to customers. She’d worked at the diner for two years and had been hired by Herb two months before his fatal heart attack. Kelsey could read customers, both repeat and first timers, like a book.
“What makes you think that, Kel? Did he seat hop before settling on the counter or was the place too packed for that? ”
“It was just the usual crowd after we opened so he had his pick of seats. You see that baboon over there with the girder in her nose?” Kelsey hiked her head toward a plump young woman with a large looped nose ring sitting alone in a far corner booth. The ring, accompanied by her scowl, made her look like an unkempt bull. The woman was clothed in a mock turtleneck sweater that didn’t go well with the late summer heat. The woman looked tall even while sitting down.
“You mean Wonder Woman’s menstruating cousin over there? What about her? She with the guy?” Shannon breathed in the air from the woman’s direction. She had an even more sickly smell than the man at the counter. As if in answer to Shannon’s sniffing the woman violently sneezed five times. The sounds she made blowing her nose was loud, wet and indicated that she had a monster summer cold.
“Yeah. I watched them get out of their car. They walked back and forth between the car and dinner three times, got into a semi-animated argument and then entered one after the other and five minutes apart. They’re up to something.”
“We’ve got Helfron here. They’d be stupid to do something.”
Helfron was actually Trooper Dennis Helfron. He and his partner Steve Greene came in every morning for breakfast. They usually spent between ninety minutes to two hours in the diner on any given morning. They should’ve been on patrol but their route was quiet most of the time. They were regulars who’d been coming to Connie’s for eleven years and had never paid for a meal.
Helfron and Greene weren’t crooked or felt a meal was due to them. It was just the way Rose’s parents had always done things. Rose made sure to keep that tradition going.
Uniforms never paid for a meal at Connie’s. It didn’t matter if you were police, fire, paramedics, state troopers, Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines or even Coast Guard; your meal was always on the house. The Jiller family was appreciative to anyone that put their life on the line for others.
Shannon glanced at Helfron sitting three stools down from the sick smelling college kid while Greene faked reading a newspaper by the jukebox behind the girl. Both kept a sly eye on the two probable troublemakers.
“Yeah, I know they couldn’t be that stupid but… the guy’s been talking a lot of shit about the flag and the gun. Helfron’s been keeping his tongue still but he can only last so long. Him and Greene’ve been here for an hour longer than normal.” Kelsey stuck a pencil into her brown-haired ponytail. “Hey, I gotta get back out there. Gotta keep the wolves from the door.”
Shannon smiled at the phrase. She found humor in wondering how Kelsey would react if she knew there was a wolf in the midst of the diner’s clientele. “Yeah, I know what you mean. I have to get myself motivated too.”
Kelsey went to the college guy to see if he needed anything. Shannon listened as the kid complained about the quality of his hash browns and eggs. He slid the plate to Kelsey demanding a replacement.
Deidre Martin, the head waitress, joined Kelsey’s side, asking what the problem was. Deidre was thirty-two and seemed suited to waiting tables. She’d worked at the diner for the past four years. She, unlike most waitresses, loved the job. It was a vocation she chose not because there was nothing better but because she liked things that were cut and dry.
Once Deidre Martin had been a Navy lieutenant, serving in the Judge Advocate General. The only thing she said about her time in the Navy was that she took one case to trial and won. Deidre said it was easier to live with a one nothing record than to spend years defending people she knew were guilty. Whatever Deidre’s one case had been, it was enough to sate her desire to be in a legal profession. After retiring her commission, she’d left for the simpler life of taking a different kind of orders. Shannon knew enough to not press Deidre for any particulars.
“Is there a problem here?” Deidre was a take-charge kind of woman. She didn’t let anyone bully her people. It wasn’t only her seniority as head waitress that gave her power; it was her unerring feelings on treating people right. “Was there something wrong with your meal, sir?”
The guy grabbed a napkin, coughing harshly into it. Balling the used napkin in his fist he turned his attention to Deidre and Kelsey. “Yes. The eggs are runny, the hash browns are oily and I resent sitting at a counter looking at a flag that your management proudly displays. Not to mention your desire to present an unsafe environment with that… thing… on the wall.” He waved his hand at the US military issued M1911A1 in contempt.
“You can always eat elsewhere,” said Helfron, turning his stool to face the bothersome man. “No one’s forcing you to sit there, let alone eat here.”
“When I go out to eat I expect a safe environment, health conscious foods, and not to be reminded that racists run the world.” He ended his tirade of self-righteousness with a coughing, sneezing fit. He blew his nose into another napkin, shredding it to pieces with the force of his illness. “How can you eat here, Trooper? As an African-American you should be enraged by that display!”
“As a former Army Ranger I find that this diner has the best coffee in the state. Whether or nor the coffee’s good is what I worry the most about while I’m here. What about you, Greene? You’re a jarhead. How would you rate the coffee?”
“As a Marine reservist it’s the best I’ve had this side of Afghanistan.” Greene, a sergeant in the Marine Corps reserve was also a laid back but stern minded kind of cop.
“You people!” shouted the frustrated man. “You’re the type of people that’s holding our country back! And you Trooper…”
“Officer,” corrected Helfron. “I’m an Officer. My name is Officer Dennis Helfron, badge number two-nineteen. I know you’re going to ask for it sooner or later so there you are.”
“Whatever,” declared the irate college student. “Surely that is a public hazard!” He waved his hand again at the pistol.
Helfron cocked his head to Deidre who in turn looked to Rose. Rose nodded a go ahead to Deidre. With great flourish, Deidre spun her hands in the air toward the shadow box like she was casting a magic spell. “Pistol! As mistress of the dark arts, apprentice to Zatanna the Great, I command you to leap off the counter and fire at this impertinent peasant!”
The student sat in silence. No one spoke as they watched the unmoving pistol.
“Well, that settles that,” said Deidre, leaning against the counter.
“What’s wrong with you people?” yelled girl in the booth. “Is everything a joke to you? Why can’t you take responsibility for other people’s feelings and lives?” The male student’s partner went into a phlegm filled coughing fit. Soon her partner joined her. For two people who were concerned with the welfare of others they were comfortable with spreading their germs.
“We make it a habit in not being our brothers keeper around here.” Rose spoke, walking to the door. She opened it without hesitation. “And with that being said, here’s the door. Leave.”
“You have no right to order us out! This establishment belongs to the people!” The girl stood on the table, coughing and sneezing as she climbed onto the laminated top. The girl’s height was impressive, six feet, three inches at least.
The woman’s appearance made Shannon think of her less as a person and more as the lead character from Attack of the Fifty-Foot Woman. Shannon was grateful the woman wasn’t a lycan. If she had been her size would’ve made an average lycan’s height pale by comparison.
“I have to know,” said Shannon, walking to the table. “Why are you here? Why are you acting like idiots?”
“We heard about this place on campus and came to see it for ourselves. You people are reveling in imperialistic-“
Without thinking Shannon grabbed the woman off the table. With her heightened strength it was nothing to pull the woman down to the floor. The woman landed beside Shannon, her head bouncing off the floor with a loud thump.
“You can’t do that,” whined her partner. “We’ll sue!”
“You’ll leave is what you’ll do,” said Rose, still holding the door open. “I’m unclear as to whether my friends in the law enforcement community saw anything. Did you see anything, Officers?”
Helfron drained his coffee before looking to the woman on the floor. “I saw her slip because she stood on the table like a moron. What’d you see, Steve?”
“Hm? Uh, I didn’t see anything actually. Did you read about how this new flu virus is racking up a body count? Why is it that the flu always mutates? You never hear about a new mutated cold.” Greene gave the girl and boy a wary look. “You know what I think? I think maybe these two have it. Maybe it wouldn’t hurt to call the CDC or the Army to have them checked out.”
Fear filled the college students eyes. It was obvious that they were more fearful of being detained by the government than by state police.
“Okay,” pleaded the girl. “Just take it-,” she sneezed before she could finish her sentence. Greenish grey snot dripped from between her fingers. Shannon, who was normally fearless, stepped back. The thought of being touched by whatever illness those two had frightened her. “Take it easy, okay?”
“I’m calling it in,” said Helfron. He winked at the girl before toggling his radio. “Dispatch, one four six is code three. Our twenty is Connie’s Diner off Ninety-Five. Over.”
Dispatch acknowledged Helfron’s transmission, leaving the normal radio traffic to resume. “Okeyee-day!” said Helfron. “You heard the word so assume the position.” He pulled out his cuffs, advancing to the guy at the counter. “Greene, get the other.”
Greene pulled out his handcuffs and walked to the girl. Both college students looked to one another other nervously.
“Okay, look,” the girl implored. “We’re sorry. There’s no need to hand us over to the government, okay. I understand this is how you make people disappear but we were being stupid. All right?” She backed into the table, moving away from Greene.
She coughed again as Greene advanced. Suddenly, Greene stopped. He tapped the handcuffs against his hand as if in thought. “Hey, Helfron. Why don’t we cut ‘em loose? We can control the subversives better if we send these two back, soaked in their own fear juices.” Greene was having fun toying with the two. “Maybe they’ll think twice before sending their goons out next time.”
Helfron laid his hand on the scared man’s shoulder. “Nah. I say we let the rubber room guys have them. Work them over for information.”
No one in the diner moved. Kelsey, Rose and even Greg held their ground silently. Shannon held her hands over her mouth, eyes wide giving the impression that she was shocked at the prospect of the two disappearing forever. In reality she was trying to suppress a laugh. She and everyone else, except the two collage kids, knew the state police officers were kidding around.
“We didn’t want any trouble,” said the guy, nervously. “We were just being stupid.”
“I don’t know,” said Helfron skeptically. “What do you think, Steve?”
“I’m cool with it if you are.”
Helfron returned his cuffs to their case. “Go on. Get lost. Next time I see you though, I’ll call the black helicopters in personally.” Helfron returned to his seat, motioning for Kelsey to refill his cup.
The two college students ran past Rose to a black, newer model Mercedes sports car. The car started up and peeled out of the drive way with no hesitation or regard for other drivers.
Greene scoffed as they drove away. “Can you believe that? Rich college kids talking about imperialism and they show up in my dream car, which, by the way, I’ll never be able to afford.”
“That’s the way of Life but what can you do,” answered Shannon clearing the dishes from the now vacant table. Cleanliness was a big deal to her so she was more than a little perturbed at the spilled food and coffee from the girl’s table stomping routine.
“Speaking of life,” said Helfron, “were you a bouncer in another life. You pulled her down like you’d done it before.” Greene had a crush on Shannon but he knew there was something not quite right about her. Greene tried to blow it off as a cop’s intuition but he knew it wasn’t that. She scared him at times in ways he’d never experienced.
“I have a brother who’s been training in judo since I was seven. He got tired of fighting for me when we were kids so he taught me some stuff.” She walked behind the counter with the dirty dishes. She told the truth but omitted that she hadn’t talked to her brother since she’d been turned.
“Must be a bad boy to mess with judging by his sister.” Helfron answered for Greene as he looked at his watch. “Well, we’ve been lazy long enough. Have to get back on the beat. Come on, Stevie. Let’s earn our pay for a change.” He left a twenty on the counter as a tip. Not because he favored any particular waitress but because as much as he appreciated the Jiller’s gesture he hated being treated preferentially.
“Right behind you boss.” Greene laid a ten-dollar bill next to Helfron’s twenty. “Keep the change, Rose.” He said knowing that Rose would split the thirty dollars between the three waitresses.
Greene and Helfron’s patrol car drove away into the rising early morning heat. Rose watched them leave with close interest. She turned to Shannon, looking at her with intense concern. “Do you think those kids know they’re dead yet?”
Shannon went about clearing off the counter. Without looking to Rose, she said no.