Just Business

Honestly, I’m so freaked the fuck out to be even talking about this. I’m scared he’s going to come back. But I can’t shut up about it. My dad might be able to accept this as what it is, but I refuse, given what’s going to happen to me no matter what I do.

I work at my dad’s diner on a busy stretch of road. However, since my grandfather’s death, and with him the loss of the secret recipe for his famous meatloaf, business has taken a nose dive. Funeral costs had my dad considering bankruptcy, much to my gran’s horror. She and granddad build this place up from the foundation. People would pass by and come in from everywhere, and everyone, no matter what you looked like or who you were holding hands with, was welcome.

It was Wednesday when the black cars pulled up to the diner.

The place was dead at eight AM. I was the only waitress signed on for the day. I could hear my gran’s wheelchair in the kitchen, squawking away as she made sure everything was ready, just in case we had someone come in. Then five black cars pulled into our dirt parking lot, kicking up the dust and causing Rusty to start barking. Damn dog.

Once the dust settled, I could tell these cars were high end, the kind only people who had a lot of cash drove. Men in suits got out of the cars, suits that likely cost as much as said cars. All of them had the same stone like expression. Then the chauffeur of one of the cars got out and opened the door.

A man walked out. I heard Rusty’s barks quiet down to whimpers, and I saw his reddish tail for a second before it vanished with the rest of him in his dog house.

The man was tall, broad shouldered with grayed out temples in his dark hair. I suppose he was possibly Middle Eastern, not that it’s a big deal but that’s my best guess. I have to tell you though- this man was the most handsome I had ever seen. Jawline for days and if he was much younger he’d be posing for magazines.

But in the same breath, I couldn’t be any more petrified of him.

The suits filed in and took places around the diner. Already I was kicking myself for leaving the sign saying ‘seat yourself’ up.

The leader, I suppose, came up to me and smiled. The smile didn’t reach his eyes. His cold, lightless eyes.

“Can I speak to the owner? We’d like to rent this place for the day.”

I swallowed, my mouth entirely dry. “I’m… I’m sorry, sir, we usually don’t handle parties this large without a bit of warning.”

He hardly seemed bothered by my comment and didn’t say a word, just flicked his eyes back to the kitchen. Feeling a bead of sweat make its way down my face, I hurried to the back, feeling those lifeless eyes follow me all the way there.

My dad came out after I told him either we were the victim of a prank or the mob was dining with us today. I could see him start to believe the second theory after walking into the dining area and saw all these men sat across the room.

“Ah, Mr. West.” The ‘leader’ swooped in front of my father and shook his hand. “I’ll make this quick. I need to borrow your restaurant for the day. I’m only able to conduct my business for today, and I need a private place to do so. During this time, you’ll see many people come and go as we discuss private matters, I advise you and your staff remain tight lipped about who you see and what we talk about.”

My dad’s no small guy, he’s over six feet tall and has arms bigger than my thighs. Even he looked nervous around this man. “I can’t condone anything you do illegal on my premises,” He managed to get out.

This only made the man smirk. “I promise, everything I intend on doing here was stated in their contracts. Oh, don’t worry about the business you might lose.” The man drew a check from his jacket, crisp and white. “Will this suffice, not including what we’ll pay for drinks and refreshments, of course?”

I don’t know what the exact number was on that check, but I can tell you there were more zeroes written on there than the amount of ‘zeroes’ we’d made in the past two years. My dad saw the dollar signs before he smiled and pocketed the check.

“Well then, I suppose make yourself comfortable, ummm…”

“Mr. L.” The man cocked his head to the side. “I suppose you’ll understand our need for anonymity?”

My dad kept his hand on the pocket where the check was and he nodded.

I would’ve clocked out then but someone needed to be these people’s server, and given Gran was in a wheelchair, it wasn’t going to be her.

I honestly expected a bunch of pigs, constantly making sly comments about joining me in their car for a few minutes or pinches to the ass. I’m used to truckers coming on by, given the rest stop down the street.

In fact, I’d never dealt with such polite customers in my life. Always ‘please’, always ‘thank you’, and never a ‘what’s taking so long?’ or ‘how do you still have this job?’

Oh, and did I mention the tips were through the roof even though all they did was order drinks and chat with each other?

At first, I was starting to think that maybe having the mob reserve our place for the day wasn’t half bad. But business hadn’t started yet.

They started coming in maybe around eleven. At first, a lot of them were just nervous looking businessmen in suits carrying briefcases. Whenever a briefcase opened another table would wave me over, so I never saw the contents. I remembered the look on my dad’s face when Mr. L brought up anonymity, and decided not to push.

Then came in the first guy who didn’t fall through with what he promised.

I had just been serving Mr. L another glass of lemonade when the guy practically ran in, sitting across from him.

“L… Luce, you gotta give me more time! I got three, you can wait for the others, right?” He flipped open his briefcase and it was then I realized I knew him.

Our town doesn’t have many ‘famous’ people. But there was one kid named Tye who landed a few commercials within the last year, and was now looking like he was on his way to stardom. And Tye was sitting right there, sweating bullets and pawing nervously as what I originally perceived to be scraps of cloth in the case.

It wasn’t cloth. It was hair. Hair with skin and blood still attached to it.

I went pale and slowly looked over at Mr. L, expecting that I’d be shot on the spot for ‘seeing too much’.

Instead, Mr. L just smiled and leaned back before looking at me, almost like ‘do you see this right now?’ Like he couldn’t believe that scalping three people was expected to be enough for him. He then looked back at Tye and slowly shut the case.

“Tye, when I told you I was giving you a year to have six properly sent my way, I meant it.” Mr. L looked back up at me. “What do you think, Margo? Should I extend his time?”

Judging by the look on Tye’s face, something seriously fucked up would happen if I said no. So I slowly nodded. “J… just a little,” I stuttered, inwardly kicking myself. Tye had proof he’d scalped three different people, and just said he would go after more!

Mr. L nodded and turned to Tye before tugging the suitcase towards him. “Well, I suppose it’s your lucky day. Three more months. I’ll send the dogs if you miss the deadline.”

“Three months?! That’s not enough time to kill three-“

I blinked and missed it. One moment Tye was complaining and the next he was faceplanted into the table, his eyes rolled to the back of his skull and bloody drool spilling out of his mouth. Mr. L hadn’t even twitched.

I screamed and jumped back, shattering the quiet of the diner. The mumbled conversations came to a stop and everyone turned to look at me.

Mr. L waved his hand. “He’s not dead, don’t worry. He’ll have one hell of a headache when he realizes his three month deadline is passing faster than he thought. Remember Margo, don’t complain when someone tries to give you the benefit of the situation. And could you see about bringing me out a slice of lemon meringue pie?”

I hid in the kitchen for as long as I could before returning with said pie. Tye was gone. The only evidence he’d been there was the drool on the table. I wiped it off and threw the towel into the trash. I couldn’t get the look on his face out of my head.

I can’t name the people I saw that I knew. I saw actors. Singers. Politicians. The more famous they were, the more likely they were going to sit with Mr. L. Not all of them brought briefcases. Some of them just brought their words. How well they’d done for Mr. L, how much they could do if they just had another year or another four. Mr. L would listen, nod a bit, and for the most part he’d grant them time. Not even the most skilled liar could hide the relief on their faces.

There was one though. One guy. Poor bastard.

He’d come in confident but half way through his conversation, he started to look uncomfortable. He’d constantly dab at his forehead with his napkin, mopping off the sweat. He started asking for more drinks, as if buying Mr. L a lemonade would cool his temper.

It didn’t work. The longer the guy pressed on, trying to impress Mr. L, the more annoyed he got. Annoyance turned to frustration, and frustration turned to cold fury. Soon the entire café was quiet other than the guy’s insistent babbling about the deeds he’d done. No one wanted to speak.

When I brought their fifth refill, Mr. L raised a hand. “It won’t be necessary. I’ve heard quite. Enough,” He said.

The guy went stark white. “B… but I did all I could!”

Mr. L snorted before he reached into his pocket and produced a silver knife. I wanted to run. Scream for my dad. I just couldn’t make myself move. I was frozen.

With a lightning fast move, Mr. L dragged forward the man’s arm and ripped up his sleeve. “Liar,” He hissed before the blade went down. The guy wailed as Mr. L calmly carved letters into the skin. I couldn’t recognize the alphabet used. Blood dripped down onto the table and the floor, the guy pulling away as hard as he could but unable to so much as twist his arm away from Mr. L.

Finally Mr. L let him go, wiping off the knife on his napkin. “You have three days to get your affairs in order. Don’t try to get away. You knew what you were getting into,” He said.

Sobbing, the man ran from the restaurant.

I stared at the blood on the floor and table.

Mr. L pushed more money into my line of sight.

“For cleaning up the mess,” He said.

I cleaned up and ran into the kitchen, begging my dad to let me go home for the day. I even told him what happened.

My dad’s hand touched the check in his pocket before he snapped at me, “Get back to work.”

The love of money was the ticket to hell. That’s what my granddad said.

Sometimes it’s someone else’s love of money that’ll do it for you just fine.

At the end of the day, most of the customers had left. Maybe two or three more tables were there, and of course Mr. L.

My dad came out and rattled off the bill. Mr. L didn’t so much as blink before he withdrew his checkbook and started writing down the numbers. I saw an imprint of a snake on the leather cover.

He handed it to my dad. “Thank you. Now, before I go, would you like to make a deal with me?”

My dad sat down across from Mr. L. “Is that what you do? Make deals?” He asked.

Mr. L nodded. “Oh, yes. That’s exactly what I do. Payment varies of course, but I’m sure we can arrange something. Now, what is it that you want?”

My dad looked at me.

“Margo, clock out.”

I went home and cried in my bed.  

All the money in the world couldn’t make up for the horror I’d seen then. I didn’t understand fully. Not then.

It’s been three months. Business has picked up. It’s like how it used to be when my granddad was alive.

But I can’t work there anymore.

I can barely get out of bed. I’m wasting away. The doctors don’t have a clue why. It’s just like my body decided to stop living, and the clock’s ticking down faster by the day. My hair’s falling out. I can’t keep food down. All I can manage to stomach is Gatorade, Saltine crackers… and a meatloaf that tastes exactly like my grandfather’s.

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