Monday, 19 March 2012

Death Buys a Burger by Stephen D. Rogers

"That will be a few minutes Sir."
"I've got six bullets and a trigger finger which say it will be sooner."
The young girl shrugged and looked past me. "Can I help the next person in line?" Either the green dye in her hair affected her hearing or I'd lost my touch while I was in the stir.
I hoped it was the dye.
Standing there like some kind of idiot, I watched the pimply kids behind the counter bump into each other while buzzers buzzed and beepers beeped. Only one guy seemed old enough to drink and he looked like he'd been hitting the bottle since breakfast. He
also had a ring in his nose.
So this was the fast food revolution I'd heard so much about. I wasn't impressed.
There used to be a diner here, THE SILVER ROOM. Steak and eggs for four bits served by a waitress named Mabel who didn't take shit from nobody. I once saw her chase a guy out into the parking lot with a meat cleaver and all he'd done was stiff her on a fifty cent check. She never did like cops.
"Burgers up," cracked a voice out of sight.
I wondered whether Mabel had managed to change with the times or whether she'd been thrown away with yesterday's garbage. I couldn't picture her working in this carnival surrounded by posters of cartoon characters and silly buttons.
"You're all set Sir." Miss Green Hair pushed a tray towards me: burger in paper, fries in cardboard, and soda in plastic. I wouldn't be surprised if that described the taste as well.
"This is my meal?"
"Napkins are over there."
Elbowing my way through the people crowding the counter, I skipped the napkins and grabbed the booth that had the best view of the office building where Terrance worked.
The diner where we planned the robbery was long gone but Terrance had a job right next door. Maybe he felt like he couldn't escape the fallout from that day. He was right.
A kid toddled up to my table, handed me a ketchup packet.
When did they start letting kids into restaurants? "Thanks. Now make like a witness and disappear."
His mother scooped him up, glared at me. I tried to smile but I must have been out of practice because she beat a hasty retreat. Fuck her.
After two bites I stopped eating. The food was as bad as I expected, worse than anything I'd forced down in prison. I'd been a good boy twenty long years and this was my reward. While
I had expected prices to go up while I was inside, I didn't think quality would go down.
Pushing the tray to the other side of the table, I thought again about Mabel. What I wouldn't pay to see her approach with my slab of rare steak, black coffee with a shot of Jack, some wisecrack fresh from the gutter.
Across the aisle, a kid started screaming.
Where did a man go to eat these days? I never thought that prison could start to look good in comparison to the outside but it did. Sure, some guys used the front gate like a revolving door but I never realized it was on purpose.
A plastic toy barely missed my head before crashing against the booth behind me. I kept my hands on the table. If nothing else, prison ground patience into a person. Before I'd gone up, I would never have tolerated this shit.
As it was, I had to remind myself that Terrance was getting off work soon. This was the best place to watch for him. It was always a mistake to change plans midstream.
The bank job had gone smooth as silk until someone tripped an alarm and the cops descended like flies on a corpse. We scattered and opened fire. By the time the newspapers tallied up the score, I was behind bars, Walters was dead, and an unidentified third man was wanted by the FBI.
Through a prison guard, I slipped Terrance a single note: "Save my share." From the rumors I heard inside, he didn't.
It was understandable in a way. The law could have been on his heels, just waiting for the right moment to strike. He might want to live it up while he had the chance.
My note, however, didn't leave much room for confusion. He should have done like I asked. After all, nobody was going to say anything about the share that Walters wouldn't be claiming.
The front doors of the office building opened and a steady stream of suits and dresses came pouring on onto the sidewalk.
Terrance hadn't aged a day.
I was out of the booth and heading for the exit when a family of four stepped in front of me to argue about who was getting what size fries. Tracking Terrance through the windows, I pushed my way past the cattle and crossed the parking lot, quickly closing the distance.
Even if Terrance did manage to slip out of my sight, I knew I wouldn't lose him. Twenty years of long gray days and longer dark nights I'd thought of little else but meeting up with my ex- partner. I had one of those psychic connections.
Terrance stepped around a bum holding up a can, took a left into a parking garage.
I followed, waving at the guy in the glass booth. The stairwell door slammed shut and I pulled the gun from my pocket as I headed that direction.
The stairwell smelled like prison without the bleach.
Terrance's footsteps echoed above me.
Half a flight up, I heard another door open and close.
I caught up with him on the third level.
He had his back to me, was busy unlocking a car door. There was no one else within sight, not that it would have made any difference. "Terrance."
He turned, and then paled as soon as it clicked who I was. "You got out." His eyes dropped to the gun in my hand.
"I thought it was time to take advantage of this internet thing, use my share from the bank job to seed an e-commerce business. America was built on venture capital and who am I to argue with America?"
"Look, I'm going to pay you back. I just need to get all my ducks in a row." Terrance stepped to the side so he'd have the option to bolt.
I countered the move, keeping him trapped between me and the car. "Speaking of water fowl, how does the phrase 'dead duck' grab you?"
"I swear I'll make it up to you."
"And how do you figure to do that?" I could see him scrambling for something that would keep him alive. Panic froze some, inspired others. I hoped for his sake that he belonged to the second group.
"I could deal you in. That would be perfect." He glanced around. We were still alone. "After the bank job, I went straight."
"So did I. Straight to jail."
"I took some classes, learned the business. I might have started at the bottom but I have my own office now." Terrance stopped as if waiting for congratulations.
When none came, he coughed and continued. "I process appraisal forms for a large insurance agency. I know everything there is that's worth stealing in this town. I even know what kind of security the owners have installed on the premises."
I had to admit the situation had potential. "So what?"
He lowered his voice. "I keep a list of the best places to hit, sort of an insurance policy. It's sweet."
"Keep talking."
"The list is in my desk back at the office. I can take you there right now. I've just been waiting to put together a team. We knock them over one at a time. Bang, bang, bang. Then we split. It would be like old times."
"For some of us, old times weren't that good."
Terrance licked his lips. "Look, nothing I could have done would have made any difference, but I'm sorry you were caught."
"I'm sorry you spent my share. I asked you nicely not to."
His eyes were skipping around, looking for a way out. "A lot can happen in twenty years."
"Tell me about it."
"The past is the past." Terrance didn't realize that he was adding salt to the wound. He was talking fast now, trying to sell me. "This is better than a bank job. It's a sweet deal."
"Not as sweet as this." The first bullet flung Terrance back against his car, the second two pinned him there long enough that I was ten feet away before I heard him hit the ground.
I should have asked him first if he knew where I could something decent to eat. I hated to break and enter on an empty stomach.

REWIND<< This short appeared on the original Pulp Pusher site.