Black as Night

It’s two o’clock in the morning and she's alone. Jason has left it too late to say he can’t make it. Kids are sick, apparently. Dragging anyone else in now is out of the question.

Most nights see only a few customers drop by, but it’s been an hour since the last customer left, and it will be some hours before Sharon and Judy turn up to relieve her.

She moves around the tables yet again, nudging chairs into even more precise alignment, before returning to the counter to wait. She picks up a novel a customer left behind. It looks interesting: The Night Stalker by Chris Carter. She starts reading. Someone is killing people under the cloak of night and eluding capture.

She’s immersed in the story when a car drives into the gravel parking lot, stopping far back, where the big trucks park. She turns her head at the sound.

Several minutes pass before the interior light comes on, silhouetting the tall, slim figure of a man as he gets out. He locks the car and is lost in the darkness until he pauses to light a cigarette.

She puts the book down, somewhat reluctantly, and waits. The door swings open. She starts to move from around the counter to greet him as he strolls in from the gloom and pauses to look around. He’s dark-skinned and dressed from head to toe in black.

She retreats behind the counter. Below the till is a small pistol, which she puts in the pocket of her apron.

He takes reflective sunglasses from his jacket pocket and puts them on before strolling to the counter.

“Evening,” she says, cautiously.

Standing in front of her, both hands spread across the glass top of the warming cabinet, he studies her with constrained interest, the half-smoked cigarette dangling from the corner of his mouth. She notices his long fingers, the trimmed pink nails.

"Must get kinda lonely in a place like this, middle of the night." His voice is low and gravelly. When she doesn’t answer, he removes the cigarette from his lips. "Just you here?"

She shakes her head.

"Sure?" He looks around the room, at the gingham-covered tables set identically, chairs primly pushed under, the complete absence of customers. He shrugs. "Coffee. Black."

He saunters to a table by the window and eases his long frame into a seat.

She glances frequently at him while she makes the coffee. Wiping her hands on a tea towel, she takes a deep breath before carrying the drink to his table. As she leans over to place the cup and saucer in front of him, the gun drops from her apron pocket and clatters to the floor.

She swoops to pick it up but his foot is faster. He slides the pistol to the other side of his chair, where he reaches down to collect it without taking his eyes off her.

"Like I said, sister, you must get real lonely here…"

She backs away as he cradles the gun in both hands. Tentatively, she holds out a hand. “That’s mine. I need it back.” Her voice is tremulous.

He examines the gun, casually turning it over and over in his large hands. Without looking up, he says, ”My grandmother had one like this. Handle was inlaid with mother of pearl. My dad gave it to her for self-protection. Glock 9mm, just like this.” He weighs it in one hand. “Nice and light.”

He stops speaking, removes his sunglasses, and looks up at her. “She used it to kill a man. Drilled him straight through the heart. One bullet.”

He fell silent while his dark eyes considered her. She realised he was waiting for her to say something.

“Why?”

“He broke into her house, threatened her. Cops said she was right to defend herself. He had history. Break and enter, sexual molestation, criminal damage…you name it.”

“Oh...”

He smiles. “Here.” He offers the pistol to her, butt first. She relaxes and steps forward to take it from him.

“Thanks, I didn’t mean to scare you.”

“Likewise.”

She returns to the safety of the back room, where she rests against the shelving while regaining her composure.

Eventually, satisfied she’s collected herself, she comes out of the room and sees he’s no longer there. She goes over to his table and gathers up the coins he’s left to cover the bill. As she lifts the cup and saucer, she finds a $10 note he’s left as a tip.

She looks out of the window to the carpark. The red tail lights of his vehicle recede into the darkness.

Back behind the counter, she places the $10 note into The Night Stalker and continues reading.

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