Friday, 17 February 2012

Killer chili

It was lunchtime on a Tuesday.  I remember it especially because I'd decided I was feeling rich that day and gone down to Rebecca's Diner for her chili.  While I was there the Van Tosten kid up and died, and that's pretty much where it all started.  That, and the woman with the black stockings who came to my office while I wasn't there and shot my accountant.  Twice, a bullet in each eye.  That annoyed me.
Rebecca's Diner is housed is an old railway car that she bought when the railroad went bankrupt.  She describes it as a fire sale, and from the outside of the Diner, I think I can guess what was on fire.  I can't guess what was going through her mind at the time though, which she and I agree is because she's a woman.  We also agree not to talk about meaning different things by that.  Anyhow, the Diner is an old railway car, and the entrance is though the end where there's a flight of three steps that leads up to a tiny landing and then you walk inside.
The counter's at the end of the carriage, and the car used to be a dining car so there's little tables on both sides, all the way along, with seats on two sides that you have to shuffle along if you've got the window seat.  Rebecca cooks and her husband, Steve, waits on the tables.  It kind of works, even if sometimes you're sat at a table with three people who'd rather spit on you than break bread with you, but that might just be my luck.  There's white tablecloths that look lacy but wipe clean with a wet cloth, the forks hardly bend at all when the meat's tough, and the knives can give you a nasty scrape if the bread's stale.  I like it, it reminds me of my childhood, only it's better.
When I got there there was a child's easel outside with a blackboard set on it and the specials listed in pink chalk.  The chili was up there at the top of the list so I didn't bother to read down any further, I just went in and hoped that I'd get a table to myself.  Steve saw me coming in and nearly sprinted down the carriage to meet me.  I have that effect on people.
"Mac!" he said, a tiny bit breathless from his sprint.  "We... we weren't expecting you today.  You normally come in for the meatloaf.  Tomorrow."  There might have been a little odd emphasis in his tone, but I wasn't paying much attention to it.  I could see an empty table, and I wanted it.
"Hey Steve," I said.  "Table for one, yeah?"
"Well Mac, we don't reserve tables like that, you know?  Look, Mac, come back tomorrow and get the meatloaf, and I guarantee we'll shut the doors while you're eating and help you out a little with that.  I know you're shy about eating."
"Seems like the table's free over there," I said, pointing, and Steve looked over his shoulder to look at it.  There was a moment where he just seemed to be looking at it, then his shoulders slumped and he sighed, a bit louder and more heavily than seemed really appropriate.
"Sure Mac," he said.  "Just eat up and leave, hey?  We weren't expecting you today and well... well some of our Tuesday diners won't like you very much.  The Wednesday crowd all know what you're like, you see?"
I didn't see, but I didn't care. I was hungry, and I had a table to myself.
"Gimme the chili," Steve, I said.  "It looked good on the board out there, all done up in hot pink."
"Ha Mac, you're a card," said Steve, but his laughter was hollow and reminded me too much of the time one of mother's boyfriends dropped me off in the forest on a 'camping trip' and told me that foraging for a tent was all part of the experience.
By the time Steve had got the bowl of chili, with a sprinkling of cheese and green onions on the top, the Van Tosten kid had turned up and sat down at my table all uninvited like.  I gave him a death stare, and he looked at the end of my nose like there was a fly on it and finally we looked away from each other and I called it a draw in my head.  Which wasn't so bad, the Van Tosten kid was known to be strung out on just about anything he could get hopped up on.  And that kind of made his eating here at Rebecca's a little more interesting.
His chili came out at the same time as mine, one bowl in each hand for Steve as he walked out from the counter towards us.  He was clearly concentrating hard, and he seemed like he was mentally checking three times before he put one bowl in from of Van Tosten and the other in front of me.  I stared at my chili, my suspicions aroused and my nerves ajangle, and the Van Tosten kid dug straight in, a spoon pulled out of a napkin and plunging through the meaty red surface of the chili like a lava diver at the Olympics.  So it wasn't all that big a surprise when after two mouthfuls the Van Tosten kid fell forward, his spoon clattering onto the table from his hand and his face splashing down in his bowl.
"Not hungry, Mac?" asked Steve as he came running over, his face pale; he sounded short of breath.
"Seems like it didn't agree too well with him," I said, pointing, "so I might wait and see what he's got to say about it."
"Police'll be here in no time," said Steve, nodding at the windows.  "Want me to bag that up for you?"
I didn't, but I wanted to meet the police less, so I said yes.  By the time I was halfway back to my little office the sirens were howling and the cars were racing past, so I knew that Van Tosten's death wasn't going to be one put in front of me to solve.  I was pleased, I liked eating at the Diner.
When I opened the door to my office and it stuck I kicked it until it opened enough to get through, and discovered my accountant dead on the floor, blood stains everywhere, with a bullet hole for each eye socket.  I ate my chili before I sighed and called the police myself.  It was going to be one of those days.

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