Jane walked down the hill out of the forest, dry leaves scratching her bare feet. The sky was brown from the smoke of a distant fire. She brushed leaves and thorny twigs off her white skirt and out of her hair, stepping now onto the asphalt of a country road. The first house she came to was dark. She stood and observed it for a long time. A hawk called from the top of a dead tree. Then she walked around to the back. She unhooked a low gate and crossed the wooden deck to a sliding glass door. She stood, staring through her dark silhouetted reflection into the living room. Hearing nothing, she tried the door. It slid open easily.
She entered a shadowy living room. She went up the nearby stairs, listened before taking each step. Eventually she was up in a large bedroom. Eyes straining in the dim light, she went through women’s clothes in a walk-in closet.
By the time she let herself back out onto the back deck it was late evening. She had on a complete change of clothes. She’d gone from a cold and businesslike white to a warmer, more welcoming appearance in earth tones. She carried a hand-purse now too and wore shoes.
As it became night she continued down the road, the rising moon almost red from smoke in the sky.
Soon she sat alone in a roadside diner, drinking coffee and eating a slice of apple pie à la mode. Various patrons came and went, some of the truckers ogling her from the counter. The wait-staff eventually ceased to re-fill her coffee.
Now you’re going to pay for it, aren’t you Simon? she said.
A waitress, her face weathered and empty, heard Jane speaking and walked toward her with a coffeepot. Simon, don’t make me angry. Don’t make me angry Simon! Jane continued. When the waitress saw that Jane was talking to an empty seat across the booth she stood and stared. Don’t just stand there, honey, Jane said. The waitress snapped out of it and poured coffee into Jane’s cup. Jane slid over the coffee cup from the setting across from her.
Are you expecting someone? the waitress asked. Jane glared at her until she poured the second cup.
The waitress went back over to the register and whispered to a coworker wearing a lime-green skirt and cat-eye glasses.
Meanwhile, Jane drank her coffee and hissed across the booth at the other seat. Simon, not one of them made it! Not one of them! They’re not going anywhere! All the money’s gone.
A policeman came into the diner. How’s it going, Agnes? he asked the first waitress. The policeman was portly with a round, smiling face. He glanced over at Jane. After small-talk with the Agnes, he walked toward the booth where Jane was sitting. Jane got up and walked back in the direction of the restrooms. Miss! Excuse me, Miss! the policeman said but she didn’t turn around, pushing open the door into the ladies room at the other end of the diner. Instead of pursuing her, the cop waited by her seat, staring at the purse on the table but not touching it. Agnes dropped off the plastic tray with the check.
After a while the policeman sat down in the booth. More time passed. He stuck his finger in the melted vanilla ice cream on her plate and licked it. Charlie! Agnes said, standing over him with the coffeepot in hand. I figured if I did that she’d come out for sure! he said. He chuckled. Hell, I should eat the rest of her pie!
Marla went back there to check on her, Agnes said.
Aw, don’t freak her out. Besides, I’m looking forward to eating the rest of this!
Shoot, Charlie, I can bring you another one!
No, it won’t taste as good as hers! Charlie chuckled again. He picked up the fork and took a bite. And another. I’m eating your pie, lady! he shouted. If you don’t come out of there soon there won’t be any left!
Jane came out of the bathroom and walked past Agnes and Charlie, not looking at either of them. She walked right out of the diner. Hey! Charlie shouted. He struggled to get up out of the booth. She didn’t pay! said Agnes. She didn’t pay for anything!
Charlie rushed out the door.
Agnes went to the window and saw Jane crossing the parking lot now wearing a lime-green skirt. She even made out cat-eye glasses. Marla! Agnes screeched as her coffee pitcher dropped to the floor and shattered. She ran back to the ladies room. She put all of her weight into pushing the ladies room door open. She screamed when she found Marla’s body.
Charlie followed Jane down a steep embankment into a muddy ravine. Stop, police! HEY! STOP! he called after her. Illumination from the streetlights only made it halfway down the slope. He pulled out his Glock with one hand and a police flashlight with the other. You’re not gonna make me pay for that pie, are y—? he said then collapsed face-first into the mud. Jane stood over him, the bloody, broken stick of an umbrella protruding out of his back.
But as Jane stepped over Charlie’s body there was a shotgun blast and she crumpled, blood soaking into her stolen white blouse. Agnes stood silhouetted on the edge of the ravine, shotgun in hand. Jane dropped forward into the scrub, her face now illuminated by the shaft of light from Charlie’s fallen flashlight. Her eyes stared up at the waitress, not blinking.
As Agnes waited for more police to arrive she stood and stared down at the two bodies bleeding in the mud. A small dog appeared out of nowhere and ran down the slope, going straight over to Jane. Agnes watched as the dog licked Jane’s face. A female officer arrived and put her hand on Agnes’ shoulder, We’ll take it from here, she said. As two officers continued down into the ravine Agnes stumbled back towards the diner. The sky had begun to lighten, a magenta sun rising up into the smoky atmosphere. Two shots rang out. Agnes stopped for a minute to listen but then it was quiet. She got in her car and started it up. She put it in gear and headed out towards the freeway. As she drove she thought she saw a figure crossing the scrubby field to the east. A small dog trailed the figure, bounding over the rocks and dry grass just to keep up.
Ashes fell from the sky now like snow. Agnes turned up her radio and merged onto the freeway, singing along to songs she recognized and disappearing finally into the massive flow of faceless commuters.