Empty sugar sachets were scattered all over the table. The night shift waitress had done her best to keep the table clean up until the fourth round of coffee. But since there seemed to be no end to these two’s talky talks, she decided to leave them be.
By 06:03 the long shiny arms of the sun were starting to stretch out from the edge of the world. The conversation between Mabel and Peter had rolled along like a Mustang and they’d hardly noticed time fly by. It was only now, with the sun peeking out, that they appreciated the awakening world around them. The gas station adjacent to the 24-hour coffee shop was picking up traffic and a few early morning workhorses had entered the shop for a well-deserved shot of caffeine.
‘I love this time of day,’ Peter said.
‘I’m a night owl myself. I don’t trust morning people. They’re hiding something.’ Mabel threw hear head back and exploded in an Ackerman laugh. She might have called Peter out of despair, but hours of great conversation and increasing her blood-caffeine concentration to dangerous levels have done the trick: Mabel was feeling herself again. And the Black Wolf was at bay.
Mabel realized Father Peter was resting his wild eyes on her a tad longer than she was used to.
Well done, Ackerman. Stupid joke and this ridiculous laugh and all the world thinks you’re a shmuck. Smooth…
But Mabel didn’t feel ridiculed by his stare. She did, however, feel her cheeks burn.
‘You know, for someone who just engaged in pretty deep conversation for almost three hours, you sure said buggerall about yourself!’ Mabel said, trying to alleviate whatever the hell was floating around in the air.
‘Buggerall to say!’ replied Peter.
‘Wait, can priests say “buggerall”?’
‘I’m not a priest. And yes, but only if the situation warrants it. And besides, it’s still better than fuckall.’
Another bout of ludicrously loud laughter. She thought he did a nice job in diverting the issue.
You’re not getting away that easily, chap.
‘Peter, were you an orphan?’ Mabel thought the circumstances warranted the shock and awe approach.
For a moment she wondered if she’d inadvertently flashed the father a boob. His face morphed into shock which he quickly tried to hide. She knew she’d struck truth.
‘How’d you know? It’s not something I advertise.’
‘You said earlier…when I was talking about how I long for my mother…that you’d never felt that before. You said: “I’ve never felt that before. Ever.” I thought the emphasis on the neverness of it meant something. You never talk about family. You guard your innermost thoughts closely. It was just a wild guess I suppose.’
‘Good guess.’ Peter looked down and Mabel knew that this was a big one. She was standing in front of a closed door and the hinges aren’t used to moving.
For once, I’m going to shut up and not ease anything with humor…
‘I wasn’t an orphan. I am one. That’s not something that leaves you when you grow up. Especially if you were tossed around between abusive foster homes.’
‘I’m really sorry.’
‘Ag, it is what it is, I guess. I’m certainly not the only one and I might never have been called for this job had I not known the darker side of life.’
‘Do you trust me, Peter?’
‘Sure I do.’ Peter smiled as he looked up at Mabel. But she wasn’t smiling at all.
‘Then do exactly as I fucking say. And don’t make a single sound.’
With that, Mabel got off her seat like a tiger moving toward prey. She grabbed Peter by the collar and with a smooth and surprisingly strong movement, she chucked him underneath an adjacent table in a booth in the corner of the shop. She hurled herself on top of him and placed her hand on his mouth. She held her right index finger against her lips. Her eyes were wild and bearing down on Peter’s.
For a moment, silence.
Then two earsplitting explosions rang through the shop. Mabel and Peter’s bodies shook with fright and she let out a feint little squeal. Peter’s arms grabbed hold of Mabel and pulled her tighter. Her face was against his. Their breathing synced.
As the ringing from the blasts subsided they heard yelling. Two male voices were screaming. For money. Cussing and threatening. Then the clumsy fidgeting with the cash register. More screaming. Then nothing…
‘How the hell did you know?’ Peter and Mabel were standing outside in the warm morning air just outside the coffee shop. After the robbery they’d made sure no-one was hurt, called the police and waited to give their statements.
‘Hhhm…I guess I saw it. Three men entered the shop. One stepped into our direction, one stayed at the door and one moved to the cashier. That’s how I’d position my crones if I had to rob a place like this. They kept their hands in their pockets, no doubt on weapons. They seemed anxious. And they kept looking back to the dark blue car right outside…one which had a driver sitting behind the wheel. Tick, tick, tick. Robbery.’
For the first time Peter was looking at here like she was an alien. But she didn’t mind all that much. She was playing it cool, but the all-day coffee shop robber was her first too.
‘How did you know the one near us wouldn’t come after us, demand our things and just shoot us?’
‘Well of course, I didn’t know that. But I thought being on top of you would at least save your life should a bullet come our direction. And no bullet is coming past this,’ said Mabel and wildly slapped the sides of her hips.
Peter’s gaze softened. So did Mabel’s legs.
‘Mabel Ackerman, are you saying you were shielding my life with yours?’ Peter said, smiling a tad more seductively than Mabel’s North-pointing compass would have liked.
Mabel laughed nervously and looked away.
‘I guess you’re not as orphany as you used to be…’