A bell jingled as the door of Snackville Junction opened. The café sign with a fat chef holding a spoon blinked on. A man came in and sat at the counter.
“Little late for lunch, Mister,” said the waitress.
A passing freight train with piggyback cars cut the conversation.
“Maybe I’m early for dinner.” The man took off his navy-blue jacket, tucked unwashed hair behind his ears, and read the menu.
“Gimme the eggs with peppers and potatoes O’Brien.”
“That’s the breakfast menu, Hon.”
“Pour me some coffee, then.”
“Just decaf after 2 pm.”
“What’s this town called–You’re Out of Luck?”
“River’s all dried up. Everything in town’s dried up. You too, Ber…”
The waitress covered her nametag and started clearing his cutlery. He grabbed her wrist.
“Whoa, Bernice. I’m not in no hurry, Hon.”
Bernice brewed fresh coffee. She wrote an order from her waitress pad and clipped it to the rotating wheel. She was about to give it a spin.
“Hold on, Vanna. Who’s ordering?”
Bernice spun the wheel and turned to face the man.
“Little League mom ordered takeout for her kids after the game.”
“I can’t share that.”
“Come on, Bernice. Be nice. What’d you think’s gonna happen?”
When Bernice went for her phone in her pocket, the man stood and she saw a bulge in his jacket. Her uncle who owned the Ammo Peddler shop down the block taught her to spot concealed weapons. Guns were as commonplace as stray dogs in this town. All of Riverside’s fortunes were built on the munitions plant across the river. The west wind brought the licorice smell of Ballistol oil into town as a reminder.
“I’ll tell you what’s on that pinned order,” the man said. “You telling the kitchen guy you got a situation. You’ll have a situation if he comes through that door. Now, come here and tell me when Christine comes in.”
“My wife. I’m going to kill her.”
“Why? What’s she ever done to you?”
“She keeps leaving me. But not this time. Riverside’s her last stop.”
“What you going to do with us here?” asked Bernice.
The bell jangled and a mom with a backwards baseball cap bounced in.
“Hi. My order ready?” asked the young mother.
“No, sweetie. Manny went home. His mom’s sick.”
“Oh. Sorry to hear that.’’ She hopped back into her pickup truck with the drooping license plate.
The man looked approvingly at Bernice.
“Good. You think on your feet. You know defeat too. I like that in a woman. Now give me your phone and tell me when’s Christine coming in?”
“We never know when she drops off the books.”
“She does our accounting.”
“Accounting? That bitch couldn’t keep our check book.”
The man read Bernice’s texts. He poured whiskey in his coffee from a flask and waited until 7 pm then left without paying. Bernice watched him through the window as he crossed the tracks and headed toward the YMCA.
Bernice whistled an all-clear alert to Manny.
“He gone?” asked Manny.
“Yeah. Headed to the Y. You better go see Christine and call the police.”
“I can’t get mixed up. I’ll get deported,” said Manny. “How about I have my cousin Consuela check on her. She cleans the resident floors at the Y.”
“Bless you, Manny. I feel guilty because I’m pretty sure that crumb ball bought that gun at my uncle’s shop. Uncle Al sells to anyone got cash. No background checks even for a wife stalker. Listen, Manny. Me. Anti-guns. Have I ever talked like this?”
Over at the YMCA, Consuela finished her last floor and wiped all the spider webs. With colder weather coming in those bugs wanted to be snug. She needed to get home, but Manny never asked her no favors. Up four flights at the end of the corridor resided the woman, Christina. She’d seen her shadowing the halls. Plain scrawny woman with oversized filmy eyeglasses. Looked like a library ghost. Consuela knocked on the door.
“I don’t need service today.”
“My cousin, Manny, ask me to tell you a man came in Snackville Junction and said he going to kill you. Manny was in the kitchen,” Consuela went on. “The man was gonna shoot you when you drop off the books. Then he decide to head here. Bernice say I better come and tell you.”
“There nothing I can do,” said Christine.
“The man. He is your husband.”
“Yes.” Christine said. “Thank you for telling me.”
“Bernice think maybe you go see policia?”
“That wouldn’t do any good.”
“Manny can’t go to policia. And Bernice, she don’t want to get her uncle in trouble as he sells guns to anybody come in his shop. Comprende?”
“Tell Bernice I understand. Can you feed my cat?”
“Si. What’s it name?”
“Manny texted. He say get out of town.”
“Too many towns. Nowhere left to go,” said Christine.
“Could you patch things up with your husband? Maybe he’s not bad as you think?”
“No. I’ve tried.”
“I better get going home or my husband get mad. Take care. You seem like nice lady.”
“Thank you for feeding the cat.”
Bernice peered out on the dark street. She turned the OPEN sign to CLOSED. Manny sat at the counter.
“My cousin talked to Christina.”
“What did she say?”
“She’s stayin’ in her room. Nothin’ we can do about it,” said Manny.
“He’ll kill her.”
“Guess so.” Manny spun the order wheel.
“It’s an awful thing.” Bernice wiped the countertop. She looked out the window and thought she saw the man board the eastbound train.
“I need to get out of this town,” said Bernice.
“It’s the same everywhere.”
“You speak the truth, Manny. Same thing in every town.”
“There was nothing we could do. Best not to think about it,” said Manny.
“Yeah.” Bernice emptied the burnt coffee from the metal urn. “Let’s give the Little League moms free fries tomorrow.”
Margo Rife is a fiction writer and playwright. Her flash fiction has been published in Reflex Fiction, New World Writing Quarterly, The Drabble, Horror Tree and others. She recently finished writing Snowbirds, a novella-in-flash, The Weather Museum, a Young Adult fantasy novel, and a short play Ghost Mom. Margo finds it impossible to turn down participating in Open Mic at her local library. Twitter: @rife_margo