Thanks to Writernubbin for the edit suggestions!
Five Minutes More, v2.0
A short story by D.J. Lutz, copyright January 2011
(Best read after Blind Insight and Blue Plate Special of Death, in that order.)
The bus had stopped in Stone Creek, just another small spit of a town located in the middle of upper North Carolina. Not much there unless you counted the trees as something special. This was a breakfast stop, an hour and a half long to allow ragged passengers a chance to replenish while waiting for the mandatory replacement driver. The girl sat at the counter, wondering what the attraction was for chipped beef on toast. While she waited, she kept one eye on the front door, hoping that the law would not appear.
Her traveling companion was in the restroom; his blue plate special getting cold. There were no customers in the diner, other than those riding the bus. A local lad walked in, asking the hostess if the diner was hiring. She was polite, letting him down easily, saying that he was more than welcome to speak with the manager “just in case a spot opens up.” Times were tough for everyone, but there was no reason to toss the boy out on his ear. She had him sit at the counter, on the other side of the girl. Coffee was served, gratis.
The relief driver walked in, announcing that the bus would be leaving in a few minutes. The lad, having finished his cup of joe, spoke with the driver. They seemed to know each other, as was evident by the driver patting the young man on the back, allowing him to board the bus sans ticket. The girl went over to the restroom to get her friend. He was just turning out the light in the head when she found him.
“We have to get going, but you haven’t had a chance to eat. Should I get a box and take it with us?”
“No. Not that hungry right now anyway. I’ll eat in Roanoke; that’s the next big stop. Let’s just pay the tab and get out of here. Looks like the news hasn’t made it this far, yet.”
“So far so good, then. I’ll pay the check; can you make it to the bus?”
“Yeah. I’ll just follow the diesel fumes.”
The bus rolled to a stop at the Roanoke station. Famished, the man insisted on grabbing a bite to eat at the snack bar. That’s when they saw the state trooper come in, wanting to speak to the manager. The waitress asked if he could wait, since the manager was in the back office, interviewing someone for a job. The officer said that he could wait a few minutes, but not too long. He looked around, spotting the couple. “I’ll be back in a few minutes, then, ma’am. Thank you .”
“What do you think?’ the girl asked.
“Not sure. If he comes over here, try to keep him busy until I can get away.”
“You are leaving? I did not come this far to be left in Roanoke, Virginia, Dave, and you know it.”
“Listen, they will be looking for the two of us, and I’m the easier one to spot in a crowd, unless you have seen someone else with a white cane. Maybe I can dodge him and slip out back.”
Seeing the officer start to make his way through the crowd towards their table, the woman starts to panic. “Quick, go to the hallway behind the booth, about 20 feet away, take a left. That’s the restroom area and there is a door leading to the kitchen. Just go in there and ask if you can get out the back door.”
“They’ll buy that?”
“Just say ‘La Migra’ is out front. They will lead the way. Trust me on that one.”
“Good call, baby. Meet you in an hour or so; come around back once the trooper leaves.”
“Go. He’s almost here. You had better go NOW!”
The police officer came up to the girl; she was still seated at the booth. He pulled a small notebook out from his back pocket, flipping open the cover.
“Ma’am, may I ask you a few questions?”
“Certainly officer, what can I do for you?”
Her companion had made it to the restroom. He decided to stop, just out of sight, hoping to listen in on the conversation happening at his table.
The officer had identified her. He started asking her about her stint as a waitress at the jazz club. Had she seen the businessman before he died; did she know where the blind piano player had gone? It was an unnerving interchange.
“Damn, we’re screwed,” he thought. How could he save his girl? This was the girl that he had dreamed so often about, all those nights while he was playing piano at the stinkin’ dive of a bar, fending off drunk, middle aged ladies who were trying to rekindle their youth after their husbands had left them for younger girls, usually the au pair or a secretary. He knew she was wanted for murdering that lousy, slime ball husband. He had to do something.
After speaking with the girl, the officer had grown impatient. He walked over to the office door, opening it slightly and announcing himself. The was a commotion, some yelling, then a still quiet. The girl had missed it all, having gotten back on the bus. As she was looking for her companion, she saw the officer slowly walking to his car, radio held up to his cheek as he was calling in to the dispatch. That is when she saw her friend, Dave.
Dave was making a bee line for the trooper’s car, at least as straight a line as an upset blind man could muster. There was no time to lose, he thought. He could not afford to lose his Julie at this point.
He had made it to the other side of the patrol car without the officer noticing. The trooper seemed very intent on working his radio, to Dave’s advantage. Crouching down, Dave had his cane in one hand, a knife in the other. As the officer opened the car’s door, he slumped to the seat, dropping his radio. Blood was streaming from his torso. The dispatcher could be heard, trying to hail the fallen man. Dave had not even had the chance to raise his weapon. Someone had beat him to it.
Julie came running up to her companion. Seeing the knife in his hand, she screamed ‘What the hell did you do?”
“I didn’t do it. I would have, though. I can’t lose you. I love you too much!”
“Damn, Dave. We gotta get out of here fast. Come on, before someone sees us. Let’s go across the street. There’s a dive over there, maybe we can call an ambulance from there and then split.”
The bartender had a permanent scowl on his face and looked like he hadn’t shaved in a week. Judging from his smell, the girl thought that personal hygiene took second place to shaving. He was wiping down the bar with a wet rag when the girl and her blind friend came shuffling in.
It was a typical bar; some old pictures in cheap frames hanging next to the mirror on the backside of the bar. Celebrating patrons were pictured in old Polaroids, tacked up on the bulletin board, regulars most likely. A jackalope mounted atop the cash register. The only patron was a drunk, passed out at the end of the bar. There was a blaring television right next to him, but he seemed oblivious to it. The TV was set to a news channel, which intrigued the girl. ‘Are these guys really that interested in current events?’ she wondered.
“Get you somethin’?”
“Yeah. We need to use your phone. A police officer has been hurt across the street.”
“Right there, help yourself. Is he hurt bad?
“Looks like he was stabbed,” said the blind man.
“I could smell the blood, man.”
“Oh, right.” The bartender looked around sheepishly. He was embarrassed at his insensitivity.
The girl had finished her call. “I don’t suppose you have a back room or anything, do you?”
“Humph, no one ever comes in here for a drink. It’s always the backroom. Listen, there is a hotel just down the street. Get a room down there, not here.”
“Oh no,” the man said, “it’s not that. We just have to….”
“We need to hide. Can you help us out? Yes or no?” The girl wanted to set aside the chit chat and get right to it.
“Well, that I can do…for a fee. There’s an old office down the hall.”
“You take a C note?” It was the girl’s tip money from her last night at the old bar.
“One up front, another on the way out?”
“Cool man. Thanks,” said the blind man.
The bartender heard the ambulance arrive across the street. A few minutes later, an officer walked in. Keeping his end of the bargain, he feigned ignorance. “Yeah, a girl came in and called 911, but she left right after that. Seemed to be in a hurry…”
After the officer had left, the bartender went to the back office to get his temporary tenants.
The girl was sitting alone, crying. Her friend was gone.
“Where’s your pal?”
“He left about five minutes ago,” she sobbed. “He said the only option we had was to leave…separately.” Starting to sob, she said “I don’t think I will ever see him again…”
“Well, I have news that might be of interest to you both.”
“Well let me just say that you need to find him. I just spoke to a cop…”
The girl and the bartender searched for an hour, but to no avail. The blind piano man had simply disappeared. As they came back into the bar, the news blared from the television. “In today’s news, an unemployed man stabbed a state trooper and a restaurant manager to death this morning, at the Roanoke bus station. He was apparently distraught over his job interview being interrupted by the officer. The trooper made it back to his patrol car to radio for help, but collapsed moments later, dying at the scene. The manager was found dead in his office. Police are still looking for the suspect and are interested in speaking with anyone that may have seen him.”
“In other news, in Durham, a bartender confesses to murdering a patron by spiking his drink with meth. The motive was jealousy over a waitress.”
In the months ahead, the girl moved on, finding a new home, a new job. Every night, she would sit high on the widow’s walk, always hoping that her true love would someday return. One thought kept coming back into her mind, day after day, night after night.”Why couldn’t he have waited five minutes more?”