Authors: Jamie Hill
“I’d like to know that myself.”
opened drawers and pulled out jeans and shirts for both boys. “I guess he stayed somewhere and slept it off. I imagine he’ll come around the diner today, telling me how sorry he is and asking how late I can work tonight.” She sent both boys off to the bathroom and then helped them dress. She found a box of Pop-tarts in their cabinet and gave them each one. Then she took them back to her place and sat them in front of her TV so she could shower and dress.
It was a short walk to school, where she gave the boys hugs before sending them into the cafeteria for a more substantial breakfast. She’d see them at the diner that afternoon. Fortunately, it was close enough they could walk. They had a pretty good arrangement when Dave kept up his end of it. She was ticked that he hadn’t called.
Moe’s was a busy little neighborhood diner with a large crowd of regulars. Dinah, a middle-aged divorcee, served as the opening shift waitress and left when the lunch rush was over.
worked from eight to four. Tina, a bubbly high school student, came in after school and stayed through the less-busy dinner shift until Moe closed the doors at seven.
“I can’t believe Dave hasn’t called.”
looked around the diner as the lunch crowd began to thin out. She was getting more and more irritated as the day progressed and she hadn’t heard from him.
“Men are scum.” Dinah wiped off the counter and tossed the rag in a tub on a shelf. “He’s using you, like they all do.”
nodded, letting the harsh words roll in one ear and out the other. Dinah had a jaded view of life.
hadn’t sunk to that level yet. She let Dinah talk, not putting much stock in her words. “But he does pay me to watch the boys.”
“Such as it is.” Dinah rolled her eyes.
chuckled. Dave paid her pretty well when he had the money. It generally evened out. She looked up as their boss came out of the back room. “It’s tapering off now,” she told Moe. “I can handle it if Dinah wants to go home.”
He nodded, and rolled down the sleeves on his plaid shirt.
had never seen Moe wear anything but plaid shirts. She wasn’t sure she’d recognize him if he ever changed his look. She guessed he was pushing sixty, with a shock of white hair that always made her think of a peculiar mad scientist. His demeanor was anything but peculiar, though.
thought he was the kindest person she could have ever wanted to work for.
“Sure, go ahead, Dinah-belle.” He called her the nickname only
could get away with. “See you tomorrow.”
Dinah gave another little eye-roll behind Moe’s back and
had to smile. “Bye Dinah.”
“Tomorrow, folks.” Dinah waved, gathered her purse and jacket, and headed out.
“Check with Caesar and make sure he’s got plenty of chocolate chip cookies, will you Crystal-ina?” Moe asked her. “Those boys are going to be hungry when they get here.”
She smiled at him, not even bothering to roll her eyes at his nickname for her. “You’re going to ruin their supper, you know. You spoil them, Moe.”
He smiled and shrugged like a proud grandfather might. “They have me wrapped around their little fingers. What can I say? A few cookies won’t hurt them. They’ll still eat their vegetables, you watch and see.”
“I know they will,” she agreed. “You’ve got them trained, that’s for sure.” She went in the kitchen to talk to the cook but didn’t spot him offhand. The back door to the alley stood open, unusual on such a chilly day. “Hey Caesar?” she called uncertainly. “Moe wants to make sure you have enough chocolate chip cookies.” She walked to the back door, and peered outside cautiously. Everything was quiet. “Caesar?” she asked again, and took a step into the alley. It was eerily quiet, and she quickly turned around to step back inside.
Before she could move, she sensed someone next to her. She was grabbed roughly from behind.
screamed as a hand cupped her breast, and then was silenced as another other hand clamped over her mouth.
“Looking for something?” a voice whispered in her ear.
’s eyes grew wide as she fought and freed herself from her attacker.
He chuckled and kneaded her breast one last time before he released her. “I was taking out the trash,” Caesar said.
took a step away and glared at him. “You
the trash, Caesar Juarez. How dare you grab me like that?” She straightened her uniform indignantly and tried to calm her breathing.
He chuckled again and leaned in to her. “You didn’t used to mind when I grabbed you,
baby. Your nipples still get hard when I touch them. Did you notice?” He leered at her. “They aren’t the only things getting hard, either.”
regained her control and looked at him as if he were a bug she might crush under her shoe. “You’re living in a fantasy world,
. Just because I let you touch my boobs one night doesn’t mean they’re yours for the taking. The opposite, in fact. I swear if you ever touch me like that again, I’m going to grab one of your carving knives and chop off the first
thing I see on your pathetic little body.”
He gave her a lecherous grin. “Ooh, I love it when you talk dirty to me, baby.”
She made a face and pushed past him back into the kitchen. What she'd been thinking the night she made out with Caesar in his car was beyond her at this point. She was relieved it never went further than a little groping before she came to her senses. She stared at him one more time. He was olive skinned and handsome at first glance, but now that she knew him, his slicked-back hair and slimy smile just gave her the creeps.
“Did you want something?” He continued to leer at her.
“Forget it.” She shoved through the swinging doors from the kitchen to the restaurant, and returned to safe territory.
“Everything okay?” Moe looked up from the cash register.
“Fine.” She would have loved to tell Moe what a creep Caesar was, but Moe seemed to like him and
didn’t want to put her boss in the middle of the stupid situation she found herself in. Most days she was able to avoid Caesar, or at least avoid being alone with him. She sighed.
Just another pathetic little aspect of the charmed life I lead.
* * * *
With a flurry of activity, the boys arrived after school and the diner got busy again. Crystal set the kids in a one of the padded, red booths to do homework until it slowed down. Some days, when it wasn’t so hectic, Moe took them in the kitchen to help him bake. They thought that was the greatest thing ever.
actually liked it when they had time to do their homework at the diner, so they could do something more fun in the evening.
Her shift ended and she gratefully turned over the reins to Tina. Happy to get off her feet, Crystal ate in the booth with the boys. Chicken fried steak was one of her favorite meals at Moe’s. She’d asked him repeatedly to take the cost of their food out of her check at the end of the week, but he usually forgot—or claimed he forgot.
didn’t press him, but tried to be the best waitress she could for him in repayment. She put up with his slimy cook for the same reason.
After gathering their things and thanking Moe profusely for another great meal,
led the boys out into the beautiful autumn evening. They stopped at the park so the boys could run and burn off a little energy before going home. They were active little fellows and there certainly wasn’t anywhere to play at the apartment building.
secretly hoped Dave would get home first and wonder where they were. Maybe he’d worry about them for a change.
There was no sign of Dave when they arrived home, at either apartment.
swore to herself, but didn’t say anything to the boys. It wasn’t their fault if their dad was a deadbeat scumbag. She sat on the sofa with them and they played Crazy Eights with a deck of cards.
Someone knocked at the door around seven-thirty.
smiled at the boys and stood up. “I’m going to let him have it!” she told them, and they grinned back at her. She threw open the door and hollered, “Where have you been?”
Jack Dunlevy smiled at her and replied, “Well, I was at work, and then I went home for dinner. Then I—”
interrupted, embarrassed. “I’m sorry. I thought you were someone else.”
“Daddy’s late,” Devon announced, speaking from behind the leg of
’s blue jeans.
“Oh.” Jack raised his eyebrows at her. “I didn’t know.” His eyes darted to her left hand and she knew he was looking for a ring. Of course she wasn’t wearing one, but she knew a lot of people who didn’t wear wedding rings, especially in this neighborhood.
She blushed slightly and asked, “Was there something you needed?”
“Yeah.” He pulled a paper bag out from behind him. “I promised the boys I’d bring them something. Can I step in for a minute?”
“Oh, sure.” Surprise nearly floored her, but she stepped back to allow him in. “I thought you were just saying that.”
He grinned. “I try to say what I mean, and mean what I say.”
She chuckled. “Nice rule to live by, if you can.”
He pulled two boxed toy police cars out of the bag and offered one to each boy. “Here you go. They’re remote controlled. I put batteries in them for you.”
“Wow, thanks!” Mark and
said in unison, reaching for the cars. “Can we open them?” Mark asked
Amazement gripped her for a moment, then she looked at the boys and shrugged. “Sure, why not? Go ahead.”
She watched with the detective as the boys tore into the boxes to remove the cars and their remotes. They put them on the floor and began driving them around the apartment.
said softly, “So that’s what you give to kids who have outgrown teddy bears?”
Dunlevy shrugged. “They were sitting around the department. I figured someone should enjoy them.”
“Why do I not believe you?”
looked up into his face. He looked happy and friendly, not as tired as he had the previous day.
Meeting under better circumstances,
He smiled and shrugged again. “Gotta believe me. I’m one of the good guys.”
“Yeah, I guess you are. So, have you found out anything about Manny’s death?”
His face clouded slightly and she wondered what that meant.
“Was there foul play involved?” The idea shocked her. She couldn’t imagine who would want to hurt poor, simple Manny.
“Off the record?” He looked at her, and then they both turned back to watch the boys racing their cars.
almost laughed as she looked at the detective again. “If Manny could afford drugs, do you think he’d have been living on the street, eating sandwiches I brought him from the diner?”
“I hate to tell you this,” he said softly, “but that’s exactly the reason some people live on the street. What money they do have goes straight into their veins.”
insisted. “Really, I think I’d have known. And I wouldn’t have supported him in
way if that would have been the case.”
“I believe you. But one way or another, Manny got himself shot full of a lethal dose of something.”
thought about that as she lifted her foot for a toy car making a circuit around her.
“Yeah. Well, I’d better go. I just wanted to, you know.” He nodded toward the kids.
“That was a very nice thing to do.”
smiled up at him warmly.
“Oh, I meant to leave this with you last night.” He handed her his business card. “If you hear anything, maybe you could give me a call.”
“Of course I will. Sometimes I hear stuff. I’ll call if there’s anything, well, you know.”
“Yeah, I know.” He took a step toward the door. “Hope your husband gets home soon.”
didn’t correct him. “Stupid jackass,” she muttered, and Dunlevy chuckled. She looked at the boys. “
and Mark, Detective Dunlevy is leaving now. What do you tell him for the great cars?”
He looked down at them and then had to brace himself as they each hurtled at one of his legs to hug him. “Thank you!” they called out again.