“Eggs and toast, butter on the side.” Lurene’s voice had been aged by a pack-a-day of Marlboros habit and the same acidic coffee she was pouring into the detective’s cup. Most of the folks in Falls Valley weren’t interested in the sights a waitress takes in from behind the formica counter top year after year, even if she gave it to them anyway in snide bursts and asides she no longer pretended to whisper. Having someone in a booth in Early’s who was writing down what she had to say was about as much like a celebrity as Lurene had felt since prom night. A night that even Meryl Streep would envy her if she happened to stroll in, order a reuben and listen to the story.
As it was, at first light, when only the trucking crowd and graveyard workers huddled around the corner booths, the detective had been the one to walk in. Snub nose, hair about the color of chewing tobacco, she strode in, and showed her badge – – Detective Maria Mayfair – and wanted to know about Mallory Green and the mysterious bald man who had breakfast with her two days before the bomb went off at First National Bank.
Now in her late fifties, Lurene might not be able to tell her who lit the fuse, but she could remember a customer’s order when she saw them walk in the door, remember if they up and decided to have an iced tea instead of a soda three months ago. She could definitely remember the order of those two.
“That’s what he ordered. Oh, and coffee, of course. She had the pancake plate with fruit on the side.” She said with approval. The pancakes were good, here. Couldn’t fault anyone for ordering the pancakes.
“But he didn’t eat it.” The detective scribbled down a note that Lurene couldn’t make out upside down.
“No. He just watched her eat. I don’t know, he seemed a little shaky. Definitely looked like one of those drug addicts. Or maybe, you know, like he needed a cigarette. Not that I’d have bummed him one.”
Looking down at her, while she didn’t wear a trench-coat and fedora, the detective had a matter-of-fact sort of expression and a short bobbed haircut that fit Lurene’s expectations well enough. The sounds of the town slowly waking up as the road that lead towards the highway began to dot with movement, just as things ought. Nothing had been right since the bomb went off and even this comforting noise felt nervous, fragile. Lurene didn’t know how to do anything for fragile times.
“That’s right. She ate his, too, ate like she was starving. I never liked that Mallory woman, anyone who would marry one of them Greens can’t be right in the head. But then again, I don’t trust people who don’t eat what they order.”
“You hear her call him anything? Say his name?”
She squinted her eyes, roved down to the other side of the countertop to refill another customer’s cup, and put her hand on her generous hip.
“Every kind of awful name through her teeth, some of it wasn’t even in English. . You know – like she’s the kind of woman who can do that to a man and get away with it while the rest of us have to be ladies and say please and thank you. Still, I would say she liked him. Only time I’ve ever seen her without that sneer on her face. Him, he was just thinking. It just blew over that bald head of his. He was on another planet.”
“She mention anything about her husband?”
Lurene chuckled, “Maybe. But I doubt Willy Green speaks French, either. Makes you almost feel sorry for him. Almost.”
The detective’s eyes seemed to glass over all of a sudden, and she sighed and leaned back in her chair, making more notes. After checking on the other diners, and clearing the ticket of one of them, Lurene realized that her audience was fleeting so she changed tactics.
“How’d you like that coffee of ours?” She glanced at the cup, not even a glimmer of the pink gloss on the detective’s face seemed to have transferred to the lip of the white cup.
“It’s fine, ma’am. Now, did they mention Lt. Charles Senna by name? Anything regarding the Falls Valley PD?”
“No. Nothing….” She paused, pursed her lips, “Do you think they had anything to do with what happened inside our bank?”
“Ma’am…” The detective shook her head and waved her hand dismissively. Maybe in her thirties, the woman was small, with a sidearm holstered under her blazer.
“Well, I mean, they didn’t exactly do anything wrong. I mean, they didn’t say bomb, or explosion, or whisper about about killing. But they seemed, well, they’re outsiders, and that poor kid, growing up without his father…you’re going to go and interview her, right? Arrest her, maybe?”
“I’m afraid I’m not at liberty to say, ma’am.” She stood up at the counter, resituated herself. “Here, here’s my card. Please call me if you think of anything else.”
“It’ll be it for 23…” Just as Lurene picked up their nearly licked-clean dishes, she had heard Mallory say that. It hadn’t struck her one way or another then, when she’d paid her attention to the man’s suit. Not even the Mayor would wear a suit like that to his inauguration. Mallory had looked like a street person sitting across from him. But she’d heard it, and maybe it was meaningless…
“What did you say?!” The detective reached out and grabbed her arm, hard enough that the coffee pot flew out of her and hit the coffee station behind her rattling the metal shelves and knocking the powdered creamers over before gushing out onto the tile floor. Lurene saw the intensity in the woman’s face as if she’d just caught a glimpse of a fish she’d been waiting on for years and stepped back, forgetting her own muscle memory and backing into the percolator with a yelp.
“My word! She said, well, the fryer was really going, but I thought I heard her say that will be it for 23, right?” She practically squeaked.
“You all right there, Lurene?” Jim, the cook, peeped out of the order window with concern and a face easily unsettled by trouble.
“What else did he say…?” Suddenly the interview felt more like an interrogation and the spotlight she sought in her gossip circle was a single bulb hanging down right in front of her eyes. The detective looked furious, desperate, perhaps. Like she really gave a damn. Lurene touched her hair to assure herself her updo hadn’t lost its perk, took a deep breath and thought hard.
“He just said it’s already over. I don’t remember anything else, I swear.”
“Thank you, ma’am, you’ve been most helpful.” The detective put a twenty dollar bill down on the counter, snapped her notepad closed, and nearly ran out the front door. The mumble of the diners swirled back in around her, bewildering and delighting the waitress in equal measure.
“What kind of detective leaves a $23.00 tip?”