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faces of david
Barry Duran was always such a lively boy, to get right down to it. Strange, since his father was the local mortician, well coroner, well doctor, well just about anything that had to do with life and death and all those health issues in between. And sure enough, most of Nathan Duran's conversations, with anybody, old or young, tended towards the subject of death. And here he was talking Jo's head off about death certificates or some such thing, and Sarah didn't care to watch it one bit. See, Jo and Sarah had been the best of friends growing up. They shared everything, their hopes, their dreams, their clothes . . . and inevitably, their boyfriends. And one time it just got to be too much for both of them. They both got serious about the same boy at the same time. And that boy was none other than Barry Duran, lively son of the local expert on death. And now here was Barry's father talking death with Jo Nielsen, and Sarah just didn't care to dwell on it.
So, as they just kept on, Sarah set about refilling coffees for the truckers, Chuck Davis and Jake something or other the only two that seemed at all familiar, taking side orders from a few of the local regulars--Deputy Baumgart always loved his side of fries coming as he was nearly finished with his burger, when he had a burger that is (he usually got the steak special)--and just trying to avoid the end of the counter where Jo was talking--and flirting, for God's sake--with Mr Duran.
It was about the time Sarah was running out of things to do and orders to take, though Bull Baumgart's pie order of the night would be coming soon, that that strange guy from out of town came into the diner. He'd been in a couple a times before, and he's ask some odd questions here and there, maybe talk to Jo or Sarah or the other waitress, Casey, or Beth Fallon who ran the place, or even the occasional customer. And all his questions eventually circled around to David, another guy from out of town who'd very recently hightailed it out of town after some strange--and possibly unreal, depending on what stories you listened to--confrontation with Casey Gordon, who he'd pretty much hooked up with in his three months in town. This guy, Andrew or Anthony something--Sarah wasn't good with names--was looking for David. Sarah figured David was some criminal or something, a bank robber or a murderer at large, and this guy was a fed or a bounty hunter or maybe even a mob hitman . . . of course, when she got to thinking fantastically like that, she tended to find something more realistic to latch her mind onto, lest she completely lose it and end up like Jo, with impossible dreams of an exciting life in Hollywood. The most this guy was was probably a county sheriff or something like that, and David was probably no worse than a petty thief. But, still, fantasies were fun sometimes . . .
. . . just not when there were customers about. Bull would be wanting his pie any minute now and the new guy, Anthony maybe, needed a menu. So Sarah passed by Bull, eyeing him, gauging how far along he was with those fries--she figured she had at least five more minutes--and grabbed a menu and headed for the new arrival's table.
Right then, Jake got up. Lawson, it suddenly occurred to her. His last name was Lawson, Jake Lawson. "I'll see you when I come back by this way," he said. Sarah couldn't tell if he was speaking to her, to Jo, to the place itself, or to no one or no thing in particular. "Have me some more of that pie," he added, then he winked, and Sarah looked and saw he was winking at Beth, who was leaning over the grill and barely paying any attention to him. Jake frowned--Sarah figured he noticed Beth hadn't seen his wink--then turned to leave. Seeing Sarah looking at him, he smiled, gave a little wave of his hand, and then he exited the diner, heading out to drive his rig off to God knows where. Briefly, Sarah thought of running out to go with him, to just escape her pathetic life once and for all. And, as if that was the perfect cue, her baby kicked, kicked rather hard in fact. So, she closed her eyes, sent any thoughts of escape packing, and turned to the new guy, offered him his menu and smiled.
"You know what it's like to sign the death certificate for the same person whose birth certificate you signed," Mr Duran was saying. Jo just nodded. She wasn't paying much attention to what he was saying, just nodding and saying "hm" from time to time and wondering if she really felt like asking how Barry was doing.
" . . . not like with a baby," Mr Duran continued. "I've had to sign both certificates for babies before, when they're stillborn and whatnot, but this was different. I mean, I delivered him so many years ago, and I fully expected to see him get married and have kids of his own. It's like losing one of my own children, like Barry or Christine . . . "
What was that about Barry? Barry hadn't died, had he? Jo focused her attention on Mr Duran for a second, smiling sweetly. Who the hell was he talking about? Who died? Such a small town as Pauper, you'd think Jo would have heard about anyone dying. Hell, she probably had heard, probably had heard customer after annoying customer talking all about it, but who really listened to all that inane chatter anymore? Who needed small town gossip when she was meant for bigger and better things?
"How is Barry," she asked, seizing on the chance to interrupt all this talk of death.
Mr Duran grinned. It was a weird grin, like he knew something no one else was supposed to know. "Barry's fine," he said. Then, he glanced around, presumably to see where Sarah was, then he leaned forward over the counter, a wrinkle in his shirt just barely touching the gravy on his plate, and he whispered, "he talks about you sometimes. I think he misses you."
Jo liked the sound of that. Barry would be such a nice fling before she finally got out of this backwater town and headed for the fame she was sure was her destiny. She smiled at Mr Duran. "Maybe I'll give him a call," she said.
"He'd like that a whole lot, I'm sure."
"I bet he would."
"Would you like some coffee or something to drink while you look that over?" Sarah nodded her head at the menu, and the new guy looked perplexed. She was about to just point at the menu when he seemed to comprehend her and nodded.
"A root beer would be nice, actually," he said.
"One root beer, coming up," Sarah said, and she headed to the counter to get it. She grabbed the tip Jake had left behind on the counter, stuffed it in her pocket without counting it, grabbed a clean glass and filled it with root beer, and just as the foam hit the rim, Bull Baumgart looked up from his empty plate, his mouth practically watering at the thought of some pie. "I'll be right with you, Bull," Sarah said. Then, she eyed Jo, wondered just how many customers in a row had been hers when Jo could certainly be doing some of the work, decided she didn't care cause she could use the money with both a wedding and a baby on the way, took the root beer to the new guy, Andrew maybe, then returned to the counter to hear what Bull's choice of pie was this evening. Just then, Casey Gordon of all people, on her night off, came into the diner, her little brother Johnny by her side.
Sarah didn't like Johnny one bit, ever since he'd spied on her and Jo and Casey when they were having a sleepover. He'd seen Sarah with no top on, and Sarah thought every time he looked at her, he was picturing her like that. Sure, it had been a few years, and she'd grown up, developed a bit, but he was a few years older now too, and probably developed enough to be masturbating over thoughts of her half naked, and she just couldn't stand to look at him, thinking that. But, Casey, she didn't mind. Casey was a good waitress, and a pretty damn good cook, covering the grill most of the time even as she took orders from customers. And, God knows Casey had a hard life, taking care of her ailing father and cleaning up after that brat Johnny far too often. Sarah had heard Johnny had spent a night in jail recently, which at his young age was quite a feat, something he was probably proud of, the stupid kid. But Casey just took that like she took all of the bad shit Johnny did and went on with her life. Nothing much seemed to affect Casey anymore, not her father's worse days, not her little brother's troublemaking, nothing at all until recently, until David . . .
Sarah looked to the new guy, suddenly sure his name was Anthony, and thought he looked like he was ready to order. So she asked Bull "what'll it be tonight?" He picked the apple. Sarah got him a slice. Then, she headed back to the new guy's table. Chuck Davis asked for some more coffee as she passed him, she spun around, grabbed the pot, turned back to pour his refill and was a little surprised to see Casey Gordon sitting down at the table with the new guy. She finished pouring Chuck's coffee, glanced over at Johnny by the juke box which didn't even work anymore, gave Jo a look that said something like go home if you want to chat, don't collect a paycheck while I do all the work, then headed over to get the new guy's order.
"Jo, let's see some actual work from you tonight, please," Beth said. And though it meant getting back to taking orders--just in time for a family of four entering the diner, no less--Jo actually wasn't too upset as Mr Duran was rambling again about death certificates and she still wasn't sure who had died. Still, Jo sneered at Beth before grabbing some menus for the family of four.
Sarah tried not to make her grin so obvious that Jo would see it, but she just loved it when Jo got in trouble, especially since, like everyone except Jo, Sarah knew this wasn't going to be Jo's last week there at the diner; her time in Hollywood just wasn't here yet, just like it hadn't been any of the other two dozen times she'd said she was finally going off to fulfill her dreams and leave Pauper and all its pathetic people behind. Pauper wasn't much of a town, and Sarah herself dreamed of escaping, but there was just something so sad and hilarious about Jo when she talked about leaving and then never got around to actually doing it. And the best part was that even if she did finally run off to Hollywood, she'd probably just end up waitressing there while her dreams faded away into the reality of what it would take to get her big break, either that or she'd sleep her way into a role or two on her way to the top, and the idea of that just made Sarah want to laugh some more. But, she kept herself from laughing and said hi to Casey and asked what she could get for the new guy.
"I assume you won't need a menu to decide what you want," she said to Casey.
"Oh, I don't want anything," Casey replied. "I just came to have a word with Mr Marx here."
Andrew Marx. Andrew Marx. Sarah tried to get the name stuck in her head so she wouldn't forget it.
Andrew looked over at Casey for a second then turned his attention back to Sarah. "I'll have the steak special, with a side of hash browns--I can get those even though it's night time, right?--and when I'm done with that, I'd love a slice of that apple pie I smell."
"Steak special, side of hash browns coming right up," Sarah said with a smile. She glanced at Casey again, wondering what was going on, why this guy was really looking for David, then went to pass on Andrew's order to Beth, leaving whatever that whole situation was behind. She had enough stress in her life as it was.
The family of four turned out to be not such bad customers, a trucker Jo had never seen before--as far as she cared to remember, anyway--left a substantial tip, and Beth, though not too busy, kept pretty quiet. Now, if Sarah would just leave, Jo kept thinking. But, Sarah was still there. She kept cheerfully serving customer after customer as if being a waitress in a small town diner were about the best job in the world. And, this, while her fianc?most likely was out drinking with his buddies or maybe sitting alone at home, wishing Sarah was there.
"What's Kevin up to, tonight," Jo asked Sarah. Sarah nearly spilled a cup of coffee she was carrying to a big, smelly trucker Jo had been trying to steer clear of. "Didn't mean to scare you," Jo added, as close to an apology as she'd ever get.
"It's ok," Sarah replied, smiling.
Jo knew Sarah probably thought something was up, her asking about Kevin. Well, maybe I might go catch him out with the guys and show him some action better than his fat fianc? she felt like saying, but she controlled her tongue.
Mr Duran finished up with his meal just then and got up to leave, his money left on the counter. "Good night Jo," he said. Then, almost as an afterthought, he added, "good night Sarah." That pause between the two good nights was like sweet music to Jo's ears. How easily forgotten Sarah was. Jo was the one to be noticed.
"Good night, Mr Duran," the two waitresses said together. Then, they looked at each other, knowing that just a couple years back they'd be laughing at something like that.
"Miss, my coffee," the smelly trucker said. Not just smelly, he was rude too. Jo disliked him even more.
Sarah kept looking at Jo for a second, perhaps wondering why she'd asked about Kevin, perhaps just in that daze that too many of these small town people were far too often--Jo couldn't wait to get to California--then turned and took the coffee to that smelly trucker.
By the time Sarah got back, that family of four was looking for the check and Jo was actually working, so the subject of Kevin and what he was doing tonight would have to wait.
Andrew Marx was doing rather well balancing his steak special with his half of the conversation with Casey. In the same breath--or so it seemed--that he asked Sarah if he could get that piece of pie now, he told Casey "we don't have much time." Sarah hesitated before walking away, a little intrigued again by the whole business between these two. Andrew hardly noticed and really just didn't seem to care. He looked at his arm then up at Casey. "I don't have much time," he said, stressing the "I."
"Promise me you won't hurt him," Casey said.
"I can't promise any such thing, Miss Gordon," he said. "All I may be able to promise if you help me now is that you will be left out of whatever is coming."
"What IS coming?"
As much as Sarah wanted to hear the answer to that, she couldn't stand there for long. She pulled herself away just as it sounded like Andrew's response was "Hell."
"They decided they wanted sundaes," Jo said as she passed Sarah on her way to the family of four, two very large sundaes in her hands. Sarah smiled a knowing smile. Customers were always adding things to the check. It was their job as the waitresses to try to get people to add side dishes and desserts, but it always seemed that even when they didn't try, it happened anyway. But, that meant more money on the check, which meant bigger tips, and something Jo and Sarah could both agree on was that more tips was a good thing.
They passed each other again a moment later, Sarah on her way to Andrew with his pie, Jo headed back behind the counter until another customer needed something. "Pie for Mr Marx," Sarah said, and it was Jo's turn to smile.
"A waitress' job never ends," Jo said.
"I hear that."
Jo leaned on the counter, watched Sarah take Andrew his pie, watched her return.
"You have any idea what's going on there?"
Sarah stopped next to her. "I'm only getting bits and pieces, but I think Casey knows where David ran off to, but she's afraid he's going to get hurt if she--"
"I thought she was mad at him, or afraid of him, or some such thing," Jo said.
"I heard a few different versions of what happened," Sarah replied. She paused. "This is weird," she said.
Jo smiled. "I know what you mean. But I won't tell anyone you and me were talking if you won't."
Sarah laughed. Only Jo would know that was what she had meant. Only her best friend. She had to wonder how a guy had ever come between them. Then, two things stepped forward out of her recent memory, Jo asking about Kevin, and that pause between Mr Duran saying good night to Jo and saying good night to her. And, she knew why a guy had come between them, why it wasn't good, Jo asking about Kevin. Jo couldn't be trusted.
"Why'd you ask about Kevin earlier," Sarah asked.
"Where'd that come from? I thought we were talking about Casey and David."
"We were," Sarah said.
"Do you know what happened between Casey and David or not?"
"Don't change the subject."
"You changed the subject."
"Well, don't change it back."
Just then, the front door opened and a woman neither of them recognized came in. They both looked toward her, then to each other, and together they said, "you get this one."
Together again, "I'm not--"
The sound of breaking glass interrupted them both, and got the attention everyone in the place turned to Johnny over by the jukebox. A broken glass and a quickly spreading puddle of what looked like soda were at his feet. He had an unconvincing innocent look on his face.
"Sarah," Beth said, "you clean that up. Jo, you see to that lady."
"Oh, lovely," Sarah said. "Make the pregnant one get the mop."
"Oh, don't even play that card," Jo said.
"Both of you shut up," Beth said. She sounded angry. "Sarah," she said, her voice more calm already, "clean up after Johnny. Jo, see to that lady."
"No 'but's, Sarah. You wanted to keep working, and you didn't want any special treatment, you said, so go clean up that spill before someone slips or cuts themself." As Sarah went to get the mop, Jo smiling behind her, Beth added, "and, get that boy away from Michael's jukebox."
Michael was Beth's late husband. He'd run the diner up until his death, and he'd been like a father to Sarah since her own father had died when she was a child. At the mention of his name, Sarah gave up on any fighting, got the mop, and went to clean up after Johnny. Jo, who'd never been close to Michael--and as far as Sarah thought, Jo hadn't ever been close to anyone except her--watched Sarah go, then grabbed a menu to take to the new customer. She couldn't help but smile at the thought that fat, pregnant Sarah had to clean the spill while she dealt with the customer.
Sarah glared at Johnny and he got out of her way. She just wanted to get this cleaned up and go home. But, she knew she was still on for a couple hours, and it wasn't like there was anyone to go home to anyway; Kevin was out tonight with some guys from work, not that she was about to tell Jo that. She wouldn't give Jo the satisfaction of knowing that things weren't going too well between she and Kevin. Let Jo think everything's fine. Let Jo mind her own damn business.
Sarah turned around. That had sounded like Andrew, though she couldn't remember telling him her name, and she didn't have her nametag--she'd recently lost it. Maybe Casey had mentioned her name to him. And, now what did he want, more pie?
But, he wasn't talking to her. He was looking right at the woman that had just entered the diner. Apparently, her name was Sarah too. "What are you doing here," he asked the woman.
The woman, the other Sarah, didn't immediately respond to him. She looked around the place, waved Jo and the menu she carried away, then sat down across from Andrew, forcing Casey to slide further into the booth.
"I'm here for the same thing as you, Drew," she said. "I'm one of many contingency plans. But, you see, I don't want to be any contingency plan; the mark is mine."
The next thing Sarah saw she could hardly believe was real. This woman, this other Sarah, pulled a gun. She kept it low, so no one at any of the other tables or at the counter would see, but made sure Andrew knew it was there. And, Casey sure saw it too, as she looked quite a bit shocked and frightened. She would have looked panicked too, but the woman turned to her and said something. Sarah couldn't hear it, but she was sure it was a threat of some sort.
Sarah herself did not panic. After several hours already at work and the beginning of a confrontation with Jo and now having to mop up after Johnny while her fianc?and father of her baby was out getting drunk with his friends, she just didn't have the energy it took to panic. Besides, the gun wasn't pointed at her, the woman holding it didn't know she'd even seen it, and she knew of three easy ways to get out of the building quickly, not to mention the fact there was a much bigger gun behind the counter.
But, now what? There was the question. Should she leave, maybe call the police from the payphone outside? Should she get Beth's attention and signal for her to get the gun behind the counter somehow? Or--and she couldn't believe she was thinking of this one--should she get to the counter and get the gun herself? Wouldn't that be a sight--a pregnant teenage waitress brandishing a gun against a woman that could be a professional killer for all she knew? It could be fun, she thought. Then, perfect timing again, her baby kicked, and she was brought back to what was real, back to what mattered. Maybe things between she and Kevin weren't going so well, but there was still a baby on the way. With or without Kevin, she had a baby to think about. She wasn't about to risk the baby over whatever nonsense was going on with Casey and the two strangers, Andrew and the other Sarah. She looked down the hallway that led to the restrooms and a back exit and wondered how easily she could slip out.
Jo returned to the counter a little annoyed at being dismissed like she didn't matter. She eyed the woman, now seated with Casey and Mr Marx. You just wait till I'm famous, she thought. Then, it's you that won't matter. She shook her head and shook away thoughts of that woman dismissing her with a wave of her hand, and she looked at Sarah. Sarah was watching that woman for some reason, and looking toward the backdoor off and on. Though she was still holding onto the mop, she was no longer mopping, even though she was far from done. Jo had been friends with Sarah long enough to know when something was wrong. And, something was definitely wrong here.
Jo looked at that woman again, and it didn't take but a few seconds to spot the gun she held under the table.
"Oh my God," Jo said, and she ducked down behind the counter.
"Jo, what are you doing," Beth asked her.
Jo just looked at her.
Jo mouthed a word to her and that most likely was when things stopped leaning south and just went on and headed that way. That word she mouthed was "gun."
Sarah still hadn't made any move toward the backdoor when Beth brought the shotgun up from behind the counter, pointed it at the other Sarah, and told her to "drop the gun."
Sarah still hadn't moved when that other Sarah, without a moment's hesitation, turned and shot Beth Fallon.
Sarah still hadn't moved as people in the place panicked. The father in that family of four pushed both his kids under their table. That smelly trucker hid next to the counter. Beth fell down behind it. But, Sarah still didn't move.
That other Sarah got up, her gun visible to everyone there now. "You two are coming with me," she said to Andrew and Casey. "Everyone else," she said, "don't try anything and you'll get out of here alive."
Jo couldn't believe it. She'd finally bought a bus ticket to California, she was finally going to be getting out of this God forsaken town, and this woman was going to screw it all up. This woman who'd dismissed her with a wave of her hand. This woman who's just shot and probably killed Beth . . .
Jo looked closer at Beth, looked her up and down. She wasn't dead yet, but she would be soon enough. Beth wasn't the best person, not by a long shot, but she deserved better than to die on the dirty floor of the diner. Maybe it wasn't so bad, as she'd spent so many of the last few decades there in that diner, with her husband until recently. But still, Jo thought she deserved better.
And besides, no one dismissed Jo Nielsen. No one.
So, Jo leaned over and pulled the shotgun from Beth's hands. Then, she took a deep breath, stood up, and grabbed her spotlight by firing the shotgun at the woman with the gun.
The woman fell.
Andrew Marx said something about that not stopping her. He grabbed Casey's hand, pulling her from the booth and towards the diner's front door.
Headlights came on in the lot out front.
"Oh shit," Andrew said, "she's not alone."
A shot was fired, glass shattered, Andrew fell. Several men exited the vehicle with the headlights on.
"Is there a back way out," Andrew asked Casey. He was clutching at his shoulder. Blood was staining his shirt there.
"This way," Casey said, leading him past Sarah to the back door. "Come on Johnny," she said, and her little brother didn't hesitate to follow. Sarah also followed, finally putting down the mop.
The woman with the gun got up. The men from outside reached the front door. Jo fired the shotgun again, hitting the woman. Then, she reached down for two more shells.
Sarah looked back and saw that woman, that other Sarah, getting up again. Jo was busy loading the shotgun and didn't notice. All their past disputes behind, Sarah yelled, "Jo, look out." Jo looked up just in time to see that woman's gun pointed at her, and she ducked as it fired.
Not bothering to notice if her shot hit the target or not, the woman turned her attention from Jo to the four people running for the backdoor. She headed after them.
Jo fired the shotgun at the woman again. Before she could fire a fourth time, the men from outside shot her, all her dreams of making it in Hollywood ending there in that small town diner. But it was a death worthy of a good movie. She could be glad of that at least.
Sarah looked back just in time to see her old best friend fall. Then she was out the back door and in Casey's car along with Casey, Andrew, and Johnny, and they were speeding away. She could have sworn that just a second ago, she had been mopping. But now, here she was, headed God knows where because of business she didn't even understand and wasn't sure she wanted to.