David made a U-turn in the parking lot of the duty-free store across the street from Cousteau’s diner and insinuated the Volvo into an open curbside slot in front of the Home Theater. The winter schedule slung askew across both glass doors hanging from a string looped over a suction cup: Features 7 and 9 PM Fri Sat Sun. G Show matinee Sat 2 PM.
There was a medium-sized spotted pig seated on the pavement, looking like a promotion piece for the “G” show. “But how...?”
“Please, no questions. I’m here and that should be enough; I am a goddess, not a technician. Actually, I hitched a ride with the Happy Time Bread man. I didn’t talk and he didn’t ask. I just hopped in, he scratched my ears, and here we are.” She eyed the paper bag Pen carried. “You got the collar? Red?”
“Good, come along and let’s get something to eat. I’m famished.”
The pig trotted next door to EAT, stood before the Salada Tea screen door, and waited for it to be opened. Pen held the door and Morrissey and the pig filed in.
Harriet Hopwood was the waitress on duty. Cousteau had rules. “Seeing-eye pig?” Harriet had rules, too, number one being Cousteau’s rules seldom applied.
“Nice piggy.” Harriet reached down to scratch the Fata Morgana’s ears. Pen winced, bracing himself to catch Harriet as she fell. But no, golden goddess eyes looked adoringly up at Harriet and a pink tongue lolled. The woman and the pig scratched on in a rapport of mutual joy.
Pen cleared his throat and Harriet straightened, radiating a dopey post-coital glow. She rubbed her eyes and was all business again. “She’s just lovely, but you had better take a booth.”
They took a booth. The pig hopped up onto the bench beside Pen. “Tell me the time, Pen. I love it when you tell me the time.”
“I have never knowingly told you the time in all our short acquaintance.” He flourished a $20 K-Mart digital watch into play.
“No, Pen. Not digital time. Talk analog to me, I’m that kind of girl.” She directed her nose at the Telechron plug-in rotary clock hanging over the cigarette machine at the cash register. She jumped to the other bench and snuggled Dim Light’s tweed and leather patches. “I know they sound the same when you say the times, but to my mind analog has more panache. Plus what you see is what you get... like me.”
Dinner with the ingénue.
Enter the heavy, looking confused, like a refugee from a natural disaster straight out of the eleven o’clock news, all the possessions he could scoop up gathered in his arms. A rumpled day pack dangled from a nylon shoulder strap. It was stuffed so full he hadn’t been able to zip it shut and one sock and most of a very soiled sweater, machine knitted with a nordic reindeer design, dangled to the floor. His other possession was a boxy-looking machine pistol with a shoulder-mount extension which he carried at port arms. He looked very unsure about what he was doing toting this appliance. Armed and confused, a dangerous combination. The muzzle of his weapon swept back and forth across the room in nervous arcs. He shrugged off the day pack and let it fall.
“I am a refugee. I claim political asylum. Could you show me the way to the men’s room please?” he said in a monotone straight off a Berlitz instruction tape. He had almost got it right, but for an international desperado he lacked the gritty competitive edge.
Harriet threw her arms around the young man’s neck and gave him a long, lingering kiss. “Hello there and welcome to America,” said Harriet Hopwood, rising to the occasion. “It’s in the back.”
Their eyes met and held, a charged moment—electricity, right out of True Romances. Harriet was a not unattractive woman in her mid-thirties—and when she used her always spontaneous #5 waitress smile even the Mounties melted. She turned it on. The kid turned his on. He nuzzled her neck and muttered in a language of many rolling glottal stops and galloping Rs.
Morrissey turned to Pen and raised his eyebrows. “Provençal, medieval French, something.”
“I know it’s something. Where the hell is he from?”
The pig hopped up on the table. “He is from Languedoc, a little village there. His name is Timothy Hatt. He should not be here. This is a mistake. He and his wife are caretakers of a certain property I... Ahh, this is a long story. Suffice it to say the young man should not be here, but since he is, he is under my protection. There has been a displacement. Someone else has taken up the position he formerly occupied on the space-time continuum. Nasty business.”
Pen figured Timothy was maybe 20-25, olive-skinned with a bridgeless aquiline nose, and red-haired with a hint of freckles—a blending of transoceanic bloodlines. He and Harriet made a charming, everyday couple. A lovely tableau except for the gun. And he was in a hurry. No one had spoken or moved in the seconds since he had come in the door. He was in a sweat—somebody was after him. Eye contact with Harriet and the brakes were applied.
Let’s see, thought Pen, he is young, on the run packing a piece I have only seen in the movies. You didn’t have to be a good shot with one of those things; they were strictly anti-personnel weapons—just push the button and you wash the car. Commando stuff, Al Qaeda, CIA black ops, drug smugglers.
Harriet’s lower lip was trembling. Oh, my God, she’s going to hold out her hand to him and say, “Here, let me show you where the men’s room is, you poor boy. Need a hand with your zipper?” or words to that effect.
“Harriet Hopwood,” said Harriet, holding out her hand.
Jesus, he’s going to blow us all to hell and back, thought Pen.
“Tim Hatt,” replied the kid. He left off his port-arms death grip on the machine gun, cradled it on his left forearm and kissed Harriet’s extended hand, never taking his eyes away from hers all the while. The tension in the diner eased.
At the counter were Champion and Everlast, two Mounties Pen recognized from the
gym. He had never learned their names but they wore those brands of sweatpants.
They put in time jogging on the treadmill during the winter. They sat with Tim Quigley,
“You are very beautiful, Harriet, where is the men’s room?” The kid asked again; he looked anxious.
“Down the hall along the wall and past the kitchen. Here, I’ll show you,” and she pulled him toward her. Pen heard a ragged whistle; it was the assembled clientele taking a breath. They had been holding it for all the time of the exchange between Tim Hatt and Harriet Hopwood.
“Well it seems that we are still alive,” contributed Dim Lights Morrissey, himself again breathing. “Our visitor from the planet Xenon has been unwontedly quiet...”
“Oh, this is so exciting—young love and action,” said the spotted pig. “Just like in the movies.”
“Until now,” said Morrissey.
“Ahhh, this is even better than Harry’s movies, no flicker, no digitizing or roll-over.” She paused. “How gloriously psychotic... life imitating art.”
Some of Cousteau’s more alert habitués were leaving piles of loose money on the tables and just plain getting the hell out of there. Two chatty family groups and a solitary diner reading the evening paper hadn’t noticed anything and continued shoveling in salmon croquettes, canned peas and foil-wrapped baked potatoes from the steam table. There had been no raised voices; no rowdy cadences marked the exchange between Tim and Harriet. The three off-duty law enforcement officers at the counter had however unobtrusively vacated their stools. The state trooper was speaking quietly but urgently into the phone near the cash register while the Mounties pooled their pocket change and fussed with Canadian and U.S. currencies to make the tab with no one at the register. They shrugged and slipped out the door, trying not to break into a run. Even the RCMP didn’t always have the right change. The Mounties were three blocks off their turf, a quarter of a mile into a friendly but foreign jurisdiction and unarmed. The trooper was most likely calling for backup.
The Mounties were officially welcome when in hot pursuit. Unofficially, they would wait outside in the street and move in when the backup arrived to get in on the credit for the bust. They’d do the same for the feds on the Canadian side. On the surface all that had transpired was the display of an automatic weapon in a public eating place. This was indeed illegal, and sufficient to call for help from the local police. However, young Tim did fit a profile—terrorist, drug smuggler, crazy guy with a shootin’ iron.
“Ah, Miss Morgana,” Morrissey addressed the pig.
“Speak to me, David Lewis Morrissey.” A perfunctory nod as the Queen recognized a humble petitioner.
“At Harry’s house you demonstrated certain powers that could have been useful in this circumstance, and I was wondering...”
Pen broke in, “What we are wondering is why the hell didn’t you warn us about the kid with the gun? You could have zapped the sucker. There’s lots of room left under Harry’s porch.”
“Your human mental furniture is strangely arranged. You and Prince are my only living subjects; I have been busy learning. My entire education of your culture has come from cable TV and the video movies Harry rented. This ‘zapping’ requires practice, like playing the mandolin. Much as a tattoo, when you've got it, it's there for good. Except that the mandolins will wash off later.” She paused, admiring her use of the idiom, turning it, finding it good. “That this ‘gun’ might be an offensive weapon had simply not occurred to me. I’m getting better at it, but you fade in and out. However, we do have more company coming and she is a fighter, as well as a lover. I feel you should tell that young man on the telephone to lie down on the floor very soon. He has talked enough.”
“Quigley, DOWN!” yelled Morrissey and with not a second to spare. The cigarette machine and cash register exploded in a hail of bullets.
A woman strolled in through the shredded remains of Cousteau’s Salada Tea screen door; her introductory burst of automatic weaponry showed no respect for cooperative advertising. She was packing more firepower than the National Guard and looked very much like a wronged woman on a tear. “The absent wife,” said Pen.
“Valerie is her name,” said the pig, her snout in his ear. “Timothy is her husband; he was late for supper and she is harboring suspicious thoughts.” All three dived under the table.
A man, slightly drunk, was next. He sauntered through the wreckage of Cousteau’s door wearing a blue blazer and a large black moustache. His eyes swam in an astigmatic soup; he looked lost and was seeking a focus. He was toting heavy heat: a machine pistol. Morrissey spoke, a hoarse whisper, “Well, if you are reading our Valerie’s mind, could you perhaps zap him like you did Pen’s dog?”
“Sorry, but I’ve tried and the power won’t work right now. I’m too upset.”
“Ah, I have your attention. Bueno. Ladies and gentlemen, you may call me Val,” said Val, cradling her weapon on one arm. “My associate is Mr. Paul Blackburn. You will please notice that he is armed and, while my attention may waver during our chat, his does not. I thus sincerely caution you against any abrupt motions, which Mr. Blackburn may misconstrue. He is a poet by nature and is a sloppy shot. You will help us to apprehend our missing associate who has, alas, absconded with an item of great sentimental value to me... my trust and affection. He is a runaway husband. Do not be shy. You. Please come out and join us, and bring your pet with you. Nice piggy.”
That meant them. The two men and the pig struggled out from under the table.
“Stay seated and with your hands and/or trotters on the table, and no sudden moves, please.” She spoke in unaccented, but syntactically bizarre English. “We hope to inconvenience you for only a brief time.”
“This is possible,” she went on, “for we have a helicopter waiting.”
Uh-oh, thought Pen, our Valerie views her listeners as superfluous, candidates for an imminent mass rubout. Did she really have a helicopter coming for their getaway, or had the constant imbibing of cocaine and absinthe make her think it would be nice if some magic transport arrived from somewhere to get her airborne after she had massacred everything in sight? Or perhaps she has a wealthy patron with limitless resources who really does have a helicopter waiting to whisk herself and the gun-totin’ poet away to a nearby landing strip from whence a private jet will fly them into the sunset and history.
Morgana hopped up on the bench next to Morrissey again. “The former,” said the pig. “El is making believe He is me.” She cocked her head toward Valerie in eager attention. The base of Pen’s spine was numb as he struggled against a rising panic.
While Valerie Hatt held the stage all to herself, Pen noticed Paul Blackburn had found a focus. He was intently studying a small wall poster announcing a spring retreat weekend by the local chapter of an evangelical women’s group. A nonsense song started running through his head.
Armageddon to know you,
Armageddon to know all about you...
Well, it took his mind off things.
Across the table, the Fata Morgana was giving him a strange look, her head cocked to one side, one ear up the other flopped over. In the face of death violent and sudden, his racing mind framed a want ad—adorable pet free to a good home, plays well with others. Both pointy pink ears flattened and she gave a low, throaty rumble, the kind that means trouble. The powers were back. Perhaps they would live through this day after all. She nodded her head and lolled a pink tongue telling him yes. Nice piggy.
Val rattled on; she finished elaborating a fine point at the end of a forensic string that only a fellow wronged woman could have followed. About her kids and her cows getting into an onion patch and her husband being displaced by an arrival from a parallel world, another dimension. One of those things. She paused for audience reaction. There was none.
The pig hopped off the bench. “Pardon me, I have to powder my nose.” With the
aplomb of a
Morrissey kicked Pen under the table and jerked his head toward the rear. There was Harriet Hopwood, back from her tryst with Tim Hatt, fugitive husband. As soon as Val turned around her number was up. They were all going to get it. Harriet took in the tableau, started blinking rapidly, and then went all glassy-eyed. She held her hand against the wall as though lost, steadying herself.
“Freeze!” cried Harriet and, throwing herself to the floor, started slapping the linoleum. “Don’t anybody move!”
God bless her contact lenses.
“Jesus Christ!” Val spun around and emptied her clip of bullets into the air where Harriet had been standing, chewing up Cousteau’s ornamental frieze. A Greek motif dinner plate and a genuine oil painting of a bait shack and gnarled fishermen fell to the floor.
“Shit!” Val was having trouble fitting another clip into the pistol’s magazine. She had caught the toss of the cosmic dice.
Trooper Quigley scooped a heavy glass sugar cellar from the counter top and, charging to where Paul Blackburn, frozen in a museum-quality pose struggled with his gun’s mechanism, fetched him a needless roundhouse slam alongside the ear. The poet went down. Quigley snatched the gun and turned his attention to Val. Val likewise hadn’t moved through all the ruckus. Quigley pried Val’s thumb away from the stock and gingerly withdrew her index finger from the trigger guard. Valerie was motionless but for one tear that trickled down her cheek.
“Damnedest thing I ever saw.” Quigley shrugged, popped the clip and bent to manacle Valerie Hatt. Champion and Everlast, the Mounties, stormed through the door as the city cruiser pulled up on the sidewalk, lights flashing. The hot pursuit clause was satisfied and just in time for pictures. There was a pop of a strobe flash as the bureau chief from the Bangor Daily News limbered her camera.
The Happy Time Bread man had missed the big one. His gun rolled tight in its cartridge belt, chambers empty, Deputy Bob Sawyer was stocking muffins at the Red and White where Libby Pease shopped. That afternoon she would buy two loaves of cracked wheat.
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