Jimmy had gotten us all jobs at the diner. He’d gotten himself up into the management position and then fired all the original employees. Now everyone working at the diner was one of us, including the dish washers. Marty Fish was head washer- you should have seen that guy- he kept wearing his tie under his apron. Everyone was one of us, that is, except for Mereldia who had been at the place for at least fifty years but seriously what is she gonna do? Plus it gave the place a little authenticity to have an old lady with dyed orange hair waiting on customers even if everyone else was too well-dressed and focused to be regular diner employees.

Our Max was now one of the wait staff. Any women who came in would flirt with him even if they came with a date or a husband and sooner or later they’d ask, either directly or indirectly, what the hell he was doing in a dump like this. Sometimes he’d be saved by a plane roaring overhead, about to land in the airport next-door. He’d act like he was answering but knew that no one could hear what he was saying. Other times he just said, “All my friends are here!” before heading over to another customer.

Even though I was the youngest, I worked the register because Jimmy trusted me. I transferred all the money nightly into the safe, which also happened to be the home of an entire arsenal of automatic weapons and baseball bats. I didn’t touch the money. Money was meaningless to me and he knew it. I was there for one reason only.

One rainy Sunday night we were joking around and tossing a football to each other, over the customers’ heads. A disgruntled customer demanded to see the manager and Jimmy gave him his usual sweet-talking spiel but then she walked in, dressed in a trench-coat with one crony at each side. Everyone passed the signal and one by one the guys snuck back to the safe for the firearms.

Max went to take her order, two pistols shoved under his belt in the back. She went for the Captain’s omelet and specified the ingredients, all the while staring deeply into Max’s eyes. I’d never seen Max flustered like that. He kept forgetting what she said and asking her to repeat herself. “Wait, that’s jack cheese you wanted or–.”

“Feta. Feta cheese. And the spinach. Can you put some artichoke hearts in there?”

“Sure. Now the cheese again. Which cheese did you say again? The Swiss?” Max’s eyes were locked with hers and he’d become a bumbling idiot.

“Feta, sweetie.”

“Right. I got it. I got it,” and he knocked the menus off the table as he turned. “Hey, sorry about that!” When he went to pick them up one of her stooges noticed a bulge under the back of his shirt and that was the end of it.

They took out Max with a samurai sword before he even got a shot off. That’s when the diner exploded in gunfire and the cronies practically evaporated they were hit with so many bullets. Cheri jumped and spun across the countertops, losing the trench coat in the process, slicing and dicing the customers and our guys alike.

Jimmy came out with the bazooka and proceeded to blow huge holes in the walls but couldn’t hit her once. Mereldia jumped in front of me and screamed, “Don’t touch the boy!”

That distracted Cheri for a second, long enough for Jimmy to blow a hole in the ground under her and she dropped out of sight. “You should run now,” Jimmy said to me. “You’ve done your job.” But I didn’t move. “No, really, Sam. Now’s your chan–…” and two shurikens sliced through his eye socket halfway into his brain. He spun around and about ten more hit, turning his head into a macabre pincushion, before he collapsed to his knees and then onto his face.

Mereldia covered my eyes with her sweaty hand.

I could hear as Cheri strutted over to us. “Get away from him,” she said to Mereldia in a throaty whisper. Slowly, Mereldia stepped away, and I could feel the old lady trembling. Cheri was right in front of me now, staring straight into my eyes. She grabbed my head and kissed me deeply. “Thanks, Sam,” she said. Then she spun around and threw on her tattered trench coat before disappearing out into the night.

Mereldia stared at me now, speechless.

I gathered a few things into my knapsack and headed out after Cheri, stepping over the torn bodies and gore splattered across the linoleum checkerboard floor.

Mereldia watched the door slam behind me and heard the sirens, shaking her head. “Lord above,” she said. “Lord. Lord. Lord.”



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