Chance Encounter

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Mystery and Crime  |  House: Booksie Classic
A boy works in a diner at Christmas. He meets a man who has a link to his past.

Submitted: December 15, 2016

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Submitted: December 15, 2016



Chance Encounter

Joshua was not having a merry Christmas. He had to work at the diner, just so that Peg, Jenny, Andrew, and Kent, who all had kids and families could spend Christmas with them. Joshua was a student. He was in Wisconsin, while his Dad was all the way across country, in Texas. Joshua had been glad to leave home. He came from a small, backwater town, in the middle of nowhere. Nothing good ever happened there. Now he was in the hustle and bustle of Madison, and he loved it. Most days. Today was one of the less good days.  He missed Christmas at home. He hated the stupid, red hat he had to wear, with a blinking led-light snowman on it, hated pouring people peppermint stick coffee, and the automated “thank you, and have a merry Christmas!” sing song he had to do. Joshua was quite tall, and handsome, and had a nice smile, and most days he found the job very easy. Today it was a slow drudge, like pushing a rock up a hill.

Outside the diner windows snow was falling. Inside stressed, last minute shoppers were anxiously forking down some nourishment before rushing off to find a last minute gift that would reveal just how little they cared, while loners and weirdoes were nursing their coffees, putting off going home to their emptiness. 

A Texas Christmas isn’t romanticised or sung about. There is no white Christmas, no rushing through the snow in a one horse open sleigh. It is yellow and dry, cold for Texas, warm for just about anywhere else, at least in the continental US. There is family, there are friends, eating lots of good food, presents, singing, warmth. At least that’s how he remembered it from childhood. Joshua wasn’t the sort to get homesick, or dwell in the past, but at this moment he really missed his mum. He was handing out coffees and pies, chocolate swirls and turkey melts, to people whose glassy stares looked right through him. It was lonely.

“Do you have anything Christmassy?” the man’s voice was a soft, deep purr. Joshua looked at him. He had blue eyes, which were striking, because they made him look like he was ready to burst out laughing. Other than that he was average looking; short, fat. “We’ve got stuffed turkey breast, with Waldorf salad, Joshua replied. “That’ll do I suppose”, the man said. “And a root beer”. The man sat down at the counter. “You’re from Texas, aren’t you?” Joshua looked at him: “What gave it away?” “Oh, I’ve always been good at accents, me, and languages.” The man smiled, his round cheeks had dimples, which were only just visible behind a gristly, white beard. “You must miss it, this time of year, there’s no place like home.” Joshua shrugged. He expected the man to hold out one of his paw-like hands and introduce himself, but that didn’t happen. Instead the man said: “I’ve been to Texas, all over the place, you know.” The man stroked his beard. Joshua nodded absentmindedly and said: “I don’t think you could have been to my home town, it’s not really the place where people go”. “What’s it called?” “Jacob’s Bluff”. The man nodded, “right, right, tiny place, really no more than a saloon and a hairdresser’s, one big yellow building smack in the middle of town with a shop in it, and that’s about it”. Joshua was surprised, he’d never met a stranger who had been to his town before: “What were you doing there?” “Oh, you know, what I do anywhere, just passing through”.

The customers were leaving, some in a hurry to get to where they were going, others slowly, unwillingly. The diner emptied. Susie, the cook, was picked up by her boyfriend. Nunez, who did the dishes had slunk off into the night, on his way to some party, where he would smoke weed, and try to chat up girls. The stranger kept his seat at the counter telling stories of his travels, until Joshua said he had to lock up. “Yes, right”, the man said, “I’ll be out of your hair in no time”.

He took his time, though, struggling to get into a large woolly coat, chatting away as he did so. Then he reached into a pocket, and pulled out a gun. It was jet black. “I’m really sorry to do this to you, son, but I am going to need all the money in the cash register.” Joshua was surprised, but what surprised him most was that he wasn’t scared. “Really?”, Joshua said, “is that what you do, travel around the country robbing people?” “Yeah, the man replied, I’m no Santa Clause”. 

“You robbed that yellow store in my home town, didn’t you?” Joshua was annoyed to hear a squeak in his voice, and acutely aware that he had a blinking snowman casting a glare across his face. The man nodded, “I did do that, not much of a haul, really.” Joshua stared at him: “You hit the woman over the head with the gun”. “Well, you have to be rough sometimes, in my line of work, but don’t you worry son, you just give me the money, and I’ll be on my way”. “Did you know she died?” Joshua spoke quietly. The man stared: “I never killed nobody in my life”, he snapped. Joshua shook his head: “It happened two weeks after the robbery, brain haemorrhage”. The man behind the gun looked uncomfortable. “That’s too bad”. He lowered the gun, and sat down heavily on the edge of a table, which wobbled slightly. Joshua just looked at him. “Did you know her well?” the man asked, his face was grey. “She was my mum”, Joshua replied. “I am sorry, son, I really am.” He shuffled to his feet. “That doesn’t mean much”, Joshua heard his voice was cold and hard, like a strangers’. “No, I expect it doesn’t”. The man tucked his gun back in his pocket, and made for the door. Joshua just stood and watched him go.

In a story there would have been rat poison in the man’s root beer, or a sudden violent attack with a frying pan. In real life there was a phone call to the police, and handing over the diner’s surveillance tapes.

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