Authors: John L. Monk
John L. Monk
K I C K
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
Copyright © 2013 by
John L. Monk
All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book, or portions thereof, in any form.
Cover Design by Damonza
Helen had a face that had launched a thousand customer complaints. Watching her work the other tables, I noticed she never smiled or engaged in chitchat. If someone made a joke, she’d look at them blankly until they realized how valuable her time was. I counted myself lucky to have such a business-minded waitress.
“You ready yet?” she said, standing over me and clicking her pen every couple of seconds like a stopwatch.
“Ready as ever,” I said. Then I ordered eight different dinners from the evening menu, all for myself. Helen just stood there as I read off each entrée, writing everything down.
When I finished, she said, “I’ll be right back.”
Moments later, she returned with the manager. She didn’t bother looking at me—she just pointed my way and gave him a suffering look, framed like her side of an ongoing argument. In the end the manager made me pay up front, but I thought that made good sense.
When Helen started bringing it all out, the other customers took notice—mostly curious or amused—as plate after plate began crowding the two tables she dragged into place for me.
“Here’s your Pile Up,” she said, looking tired and put-upon as she settled the last of the American-sized dinner plates in front of me with a thump. “You’re not really gonna eat all that, are you?”
“I don’t know,” I said, reaching for the dessert menu. “I may want to save room.”
“Whatever you want darlin’, it’s your stomach and your money. I’d ask if you needed anything else, but …” This last with a dubious look at the already huge spread.
I smiled politely.
“I’ll let you know.”
She didn’t smile back. She just nodded and went back toward the kitchen. If anyone needed a break in life, it was Helen.
Pony’s Diner is a 1950s-themed restaurant known for its seven different milkshakes and doo-wop flair. Their signature dish is the “Pile Up.” Basically, pan-fried potatoes with bacon and eggs to order and everything smothered in chili sauce and cheddar cheese. To my delight, it amounted to a savory two-plus pounds of fat, starch and protein. Even though I’d never eaten one before, it looked so gelatinous and wrong I mentally nominated the greasy, quivering mess my favorite. Unfortunately, I wasn’t hungry. I’d been here just over three weeks and the bastard had kicked me twice today. Once, in the shower, and again just as I pulled in to park.
A while later, I grabbed Helen’s attention with a wave. She was waiting four tables at once—six, if you counted my two—and I grew worried she’d choose not to see me. But not a moment later, she nodded at me and came over.
“Here’s the thing,” I said. “I think my eyes were bigger than my stomach, and now I’m worried I’m causing you a lot of extra work. I want you to have something, but don’t tell anyone, ok?”
I handed her a wad of bills. About $800—everything I could withdraw in three equal transactions from the cash machine at the First Community Bank, minus the up-front money for tonight’s uneaten feast. I’d caught a break this trip—my ride had written his PIN inside a fold in his wallet.
Helen drew in sharply.
“What’s this for?”
As my eyes met hers—clear, blue and focused—I suddenly felt like an actual person, uniquely separate from the thousands she waited on every year. I wanted to stand up, shake her hand and say,
Nice to meet you Helen!
Instead, I said, “Just a well-deserved tip.”
She just stared at me, possibly waiting for the part where I said,
So what time do you get off?
I smiled and said, “It’s my lucky day. I won big at the casino tonight and I’m doing my part to spread the wealth. I can either give it to you or waste it on slots. Least this way it does some good, right?”
I wouldn’t need it anyway. Not where I was going, but she didn’t need to know about that.
“I don’t know what to say. I mean… thank you. Wow.”
“Wow to you, too,” I said, still smiling, and wondered how creepy I must seem on a scale of one to ten.
With nothing more to say, the moment stretched. A bit more and Helen gave an apologetic look back to the counter.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “You should get back.”
She thanked me again and left.
I hoped she wouldn’t do anything foolish like share it with the other waitresses. But from where I sat, I saw her hands were now empty, and when a curious coworker threw a glance my way and asked her something, I could tell she kept the money to herself. She was a pro.
For a while, I picked at the edges of my Pile Up, wishing I had an appetite. Instead of eating, I leaned back and admired the decor: florescent blue vinyl booths, neon pink ceiling lamps, and Elvis on the vintage jukebox, pleading with Baby to be her teddy bear. The wholesome little diner hummed with life, and for one guilty moment I reconsidered my plan.
A quick scan of the customers revealed no children. You’d think I would have thought of that earlier, but my conscience and I were barely on speaking terms. Next up, old people, my worry being for anyone who might have a heart condition. Tonight’s crowd trended young to middle-aged. Couples, mostly, and one table with four Native American ladies chatting and laughing and having fun. I couldn’t have asked for a safer crowd.
A wave of dizziness swept over me, leaving me numb in the face and blinking furiously while the world went long and fuzzy and stretched around on itself.
“Pipe down, jerk,” I whispered.
Three kicks in a day. If I didn’t finish this soon I’d find myself evicted from the driver’s seat. Sadly, this had happened on other occasions when I’d dawdled too long. I knew when the next one came I wouldn’t feel anything at all. I would simply be gone—sent back.
After the dizziness faded, along with the strange smell you get from being punched in the nose, I placed a steadying hand on the table and stood up.
“Ladies, gentlemen!” I shouted, clambering onto one of the tables, scattering plates of food and utensils everywhere.
The room fell quiet as people turned to look at the crazy guy shouting on the table. In a twisted way, it was as if I’d handed each of them $800.
Glad to meet you, fellow diners!
I held up an envelope in my left hand.
“I am the great and mighty Satan Shadowpants,” I said. “Hoary King of Darkness and Overlord of the Endless Night. In this envelope you’ll find the directions to my secret lair. Lots of bodies in my secret lair, so be sure to stop by!”
In reality, it was a note with directions to a gully in the desert where I’d hitched a ride in Jake McDowell’s body.
Jake had been dumping his victims in that barren scar for who knew how long before we’d found each other. On the night of my arrival, there had been more than enough scattered bones and bits of clothing to tell he’d been at it a long time. There had also been a girl, naked, with shoulder-length brown hair, maybe sixteen years old. She had blue-black bruises around her neck and the vessels in one eye had burst in an eightball hemorrhage. At first, I felt confused. Her hair shone glossy and alive, and I kept looking from her hair to her lifeless eyes and back again as I tried to work out the problem. In the end it was easy—her problem was Jake.
The customers were still staring at me, waiting to see what I’d do, and one of the waitresses ran to the kitchen to get the manager. I didn’t see Helen anywhere, and for that I was thankful.
The last time I’d nabbed a serial killer the authorities had hushed it up, calling it something it wasn’t. As if they hadn’t gotten the FedEx package of gruesome pictures and other evidence I’d sent them the day before. This time, I hoped my bizarre antics would attract the media, see if they could shame some work out of them. Hooray for the 24-hour news cycle.
“Ok everyone,” I said, pulling a .38 snubby from my pocket and holding it high for all to see. “Get out now before I start shooting.”
Screams and shouting all around and the sounds of chairs upending as customers and staff fled, outside.
With the place now empty, I put the gun away and pulled out a 13.5-gallon plastic kitchen bag. I fluffed it open and slipped it over my head. It occurred to me that putting a bag over my head was a good way to suffocate, but I had a better idea. Taking the .38 from my pocket, I raised it to my temple and deliberately blew Jake’s brains all over the inside of the bag—and
all over the lovely diner.
When it comes to death, I’m nothing if not tidy.
In the fourth grade, I’d gotten the word “pumpkin” wrong on a spelling test and always had to play a tree or a rock in school plays because I couldn’t remember my lines. Yet on a Saturday, when I was ten years old, I left the house while everyone slept in, leading through the front door with my right foot. I flinched as a bee buzzed near my face, then let the screen door bang shut behind me. Without breaking stride, I scooped up a faded orange tennis ball someone had left out overnight and then, winding up like Yankees pitcher Dave Righetti, threw it at a large tree over near my friend Miles’s house and watched it sail past the ragged stump of a missing branch. The ball hit the sidewalk and lodged in a low shrub under his window. Exactly two, small, dead leaves shook free during the impact and fell to the ground.
That’s the condensed version. The truth is, I can remember every literal step I’ve taken from when I was a child until the very last second of my life. I remember every breath I’ve drawn since my birth—each smile, laugh, thought or passing emotion, and all the things I’ve ever said or heard.
So what happened?
The short answer is I’m not that smart. The other short answer is I’m dead and have been—off and on—for about fifteen years.
Back in college, alive in the world in the normal sense, I was Dan Jenkins, a local who couldn’t afford to live on campus with the other students and so commuted in for classes. I loved movies—still do—and when I got accepted to State I thought it made sense to study film. I had this vague notion of becoming the next Spielberg or Scorsese and pushed off how I’d actually do it until after graduation. Realistically, I doubt a film degree would have done more than ensure the local movie theater kept their best weekend closer for a few more years. But if there were a director’s chair waiting in Hollywood with my name on it, I never found out. I met a girl named Sandra in my freshman year, and shortly into our first month of dating I stopped worrying about anything that didn’t involve her.
Sandra had short blond hair with blonder highlights and a cute nose that turned up a little. For me, she was a gravity well for lonely eyes. She wasn’t like the other girls, each styled in that year’s brand of pretty. Something about Sandra struck me as special. I admired how smart she sounded, how she liked to answer questions the professor threw to the class. I always wished I could do that. For me, the possibility of ridicule or embarrassment had kept me quiet and in my seat throughout high school and I figured, stick with what works.
During that first semester, I’d stealthily managed to inch my way from my normal seat at the back of the room to a two-desk separation from hers. My plan offered nothing more than a chance at better covert glances. I could have gone on admiring her from a distance in a semi-normal way, but then, one day, she introduced herself after class while waiting for the jam at the door to clear.
“Hello, I’m Sandra.”
Her smile came easy, fresh and inviting. At the time, I didn’t remember her name past her lips closing over the last syllable—it was that kind of moment.