Current lunar phase: Waning Crescent

JULY

2009


Lunch at the Diner

“Hey Charlie, I got a client today, so give me the blue plate special.” The door of the run-down diner clanged behind me, and I cut across the yellowing tile to a spot at the counter.

“Sure, Chief. Coffee or something else?” The man asking served me most all my meals.

“I’m on the job, the something else will have to wait til after hours.” He handed over a steaming mug of coffee.

“Suit yourself.”

From my perch at the bar, I spotted that my favorite booth, back left, was free. I gravitated to it, and sunk into the vinyl with a sigh.

Betsy, the part-time waitress, part-time singer, part-time receptionist, and my part-time bed warmer pulled up beside me with the cursory water and place setting. My hand found her thigh under the table, and she replied with a wry little smile and a wink. As she laid out my fork and knife I told her I had a couple clients this week and might not be able to see her for a few. She expressed her disappointment with a pout and a kick to the foot on her way back to the kitchen. She was still sulking when my food came up, with the ding of the short order cook’s bell, and she took her sweet time delivering the blue plate to my table.

While eating my first real meal of the day—breakfast was a roll on the corner of Attorney and Rivington — I called Charlie over to my table. The white-haired cook, with more than a few tuna melts round his middle, sauntered over, wiping his hands on a gray dishrag. I took out the picture my client had given me, handed it over, and asked what he thought.

“Ah hell. He looks like a crooked mug, but nothing too big. You said he was from out of town?” He considered the snapshot again. “ Yeah, I can see that. Where to find him, well...”—the big old cook started twirling his rag in a way he always did when considering his options—“why don’t you go down to the Pizzeria? You know the small-timers hang out there. Maybe one of those fellas has seen this ugly mug.” He held the photo close to his nose. “What did he do, break his schnoz or something?”

I thanked Charlie for his thoughts and went back to eating my meatloaf. While chewing through both my ground beef and this lady’s sob-story case, the radio offered up some food for thought. With a crackle, the countertop cut the music, and a news brief came bleeping in: A body had been fished out of the East River. Six foot two, a full head of hair, askew nose. Just like the broad described him. No name, out of town labels in his suit, a couple of dollars in his pocket and a picture of a woman. Looking for any information, please report to missing persons, yada yada... Nothing out of the ordinary for the radio—not in this town, not in these times—but I couldn’t help but wonder if this was my guy. Either the stiff had a twin from New Orleans, or my guy had gone swimming. It seemed too easy, but in this line of work, you learn to get glad when the breaks come.

Trust your hunch and go to the police to ask about the floater.

Take Charlie’s advice and go to the Pizzeria.

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