The next night, the rain gave way to “a northerly,” as it’s called around here, pushing in below-freezing temperatures and high winds. Pablo’s first task when he arrived for his shift was to shovel snow off the sidewalk.
Adele, Spooky and Angel were huddled together in a back-corner booth. Business for them would be slow tonight. Their regulars would know to find them here, anyway. As long as they paid for a decent hotel room and let the girls run the room heater on high, the girls would happily comp their regulars a full night for the price of an hour. Pablo hoped one of Spooky’s guys would show up. She deserved a night in a clean hotel.
“Hey, Pablo, yo!” Becker called from the kitchen. “ ‘Bout time, dude. Maureen’s called in sick.”
Pablo cursed. “You stayin’?” he asked, hopefully.
Pablo looked around the diner again, taking another appraisal of the place, now that he had to both cook and serve. Mrs. Gregor was in the front booth with her book, a cup of coffee and a half-finished slice of pie. Dwyane and James Jr., identical twin brothers who managed the shipping warehouse outside of town, were in another booth finishing up their meal. A group of teenagers made their way out the door, oblivious to the freezing cold. It made Pablo shiver just to watch them go. He grabbed a bussing tray and cleared their table. Little shits only left a couple dollars’ tip.
Becker was pulling on his coat and hat as Pablo walked into the kitchen. “I called Alejandro and Bixby, see if either of them could come in and help,” Becker said.
Pablo held out the dollar bills from the teen’s table to Becker.
“Nah. Keep it. Or put it in the relief drive. Fuckin’ brats. Ordered up half the damn menu .”
“Either a’them said they come in?”
“Hmm? Oh, yeah. Bixby. But, it’ll be a bit ‘fore he makes it.”
“Better’n nothing. Refill the coffees before you go, ya?”
Becker nodded. “Do you one better. I’ll set the machines on the counter. Tell folks to get their own refills.”
Officers Obie and Pat, and Officer Cheryl walked in.
As Pablo pulled the bill of his cap down low, he called out, “Shorthanded tonight. Help yourselves to the coffee. Cup’s under the counter. Creamer’s in the case.” The officers nodded. “Same as last night for you guys? And for you, ma’am? What’ll you have?”
Officer Cheryl smiled and shrugged. “Ahh….cheeseburger and fries?”
Officers Pat and Cheryl made their way with their coffees to the other front booth, while Obie sauntered over to the girls table with a carafe of coffee. “Ya’ll stayin’ warm inside?” he asked hopefully, as he filled their cups. They smiled, a bit sarcastically, except Adele, who kept her focus on her phone.
“Just stay safe, OK?”
“Aww, he cares,” Angel jeered. “See that?” she nudged Adele who stubbornly kept her face down and focused on her phone. “Tell you what, why don’t you get me a hot cup of cocoa, instead, make me feel all better, huh?”
“You didn’t do nothing to my coffee, right?” Spooky joked.
“No, no. Not me.” Obie replied. The girls laughed, including Adele, making Obie blush.
The twins bussed their own plates and came around the counter to pay Pablo in cash over the pass through. “Keep the change,” James Jr. said.
Obie quietly asked the twins to offer to see Mrs. Gregor home.
The old woman scoffed. “Been driving in snow deeper ‘n this since you two were still in your Buster Browns!”
The twins left and the diner fell quiet. Only the sound of the officers’ food sizzling on the fryer and the occasional electronic crackle and pop communication from their radios filled the empty space.
Mrs. Gregor left with a dismissive wave to Pablo. He smiled. Old bat taking advantage of no Maureen around to collect her tab.
A semi rolled up the middle of the boulevard and stopped at the intersection. Everyone in the diner watched as the driver got out, leaving his engine running, and walked in. Immediately seeing the officers, he stopped. “Don’t mind if I leave it there while a grab a bite?”
Conditioned to first assess a situation, the three officers looked out the window again at the truck and then up and down the boulevard before giving their consent.
“Best if you stay in town tonight,” Officer Cheryl said. “Motel Six is just a few blocks up. I’ll tell them you’re coming. Park in that side road on the westside. It goes all around the property, so you can drive straight out in the morning”
“If doesn’t keep snowing,” the driver quipped as he gave the girls a knowing chin-up nod. Angel and Snooky smiled back, gave the officers a quick glance and then stared each other down.
“Orders up!” Pablo called from the kitchen. The officers looked at one another and then got out of their booths and made their way around the counter to the pass through.
“Sorry ‘bout all this,” Pablo said. “ ‘Til one of the kids gets in, I’m a little shorthanded”
Officer Pat smiled. “So you said, Pablo.”
Pablo looked at Pat, a bit startled.
“I never forget a face,” Pat said. “ ‘Til my dyin’ day, I’ll never forget a face.”
Pablo pushed back the bill of his hat. “I did my time, sir.”
Pat nodded, “Yes, you did. Glad to see you landed on your feet. Always glad to see folks land on their feet.”