by Elaine Togneri
"Hey, Melanie! Where's that coffee?" shouted Leonard, the diner's owner, pointing at a customer's empty mug.
"Okay, okay, it's coming." Melanie stalked to the coffee station.
"And watch that toast! Can't you smell it burning?" Leonard shook his head.
Only a little while longer, she told herself. By next week, she'd be the one ordering some poor waitress around.
Melanie popped the toast, grabbed the coffee pot, and hurried over to refill the customer's cup. When she finished, she checked her watch again. Twenty minutes till closing. She couldn't wait for the Saturday night regulars to leave.
Tonight she would throw off all the bad luck she'd ever had and start a new life. No more being ordered around by scrawny Leonard. And no more waiting to meet Mr. Right. Melanie laughed. Mr. Rights didn't hang around at diners, just plenty of Mr. Wrongs. Truck drivers -- with gals in every town. Single men -- who turned out to be married. Old men -- who wanted more than a smile for the tip they left. Well, she wouldn't be schlepping their sandwiches anymore. She intended to meet Mr. Right on the Caribbean cruise she'd booked. All she needed was the little nest egg she'd told everyone her Aunt Edna had left her to pay for the trip.
That nest egg sat in the register right now, waiting for her. A full Saturday's receipts. Enough for a stateroom, her favorite perfume, and some dazzling dresses. That's all it would take to hook Mr. Right.
The last customer paid and wandered out. Melanie pushed a rag around the counter, waiting for the other waitresses to leave. Leonard opened the register, counted the money, and started placing it into a deposit bag.
Melanie strolled to the bathroom. By the time she came out, everyone else had left. She grabbed her coat and paused at the register on her way to the door. "'Night, Leonard."
"Goodnight." He sniffled, wrinkling his nose. "Hey, one more week before you follow your dream."
She smiled, knowing she'd be following her dream tonight, right to the bank up the street.
She parked her car around the block, hidden from street lights. After sliding to the passenger seat, she changed into pants, buttoned a man's red flannel jacket over her blouse, then dropped her keys into the pocket. Using a handful of gel, she slicked back her short hair and put on sunglasses. A quick glance in the mirror assured her no one would recognize her.
As she walked down the block, she checked her side pockets. Everything in place. She recognized Leonard approaching the bank from the opposite direction. He stopped in front of the deposit box, one arm pressed against his coat, hiding the money.
Melanie slipped the toy pistol from her pocket and grabbed Leonard's wrist. She twisted his arm, bouncing him into the brick wall. He sniffled and grimaced when she pressed the gun against his forehead.
Silently, she held out her other hand. With a shaky grip, he pulled the deposit bag from beneath his coat and handed it over.
She backed away, until she reached the end of the building, then cut through the parking lot and ran full speed to her car. Finally, her luck had changed! When she got home, she counted her version of diner take-out. More money than she'd expected.
She shredded the bank bag and jacket, tossed them in a garbage bag, and piled soggy trash on top. After discarding the bag several blocks away, she decided to celebrate -- champagne at the club. Then all she had to do was get through the week.
When she arrived at the diner on Monday, the place was abuzz with the tale of the great robbery. "Did you see what he looked like?" Melanie asked Leonard.
"The guy had to be six feet." He held his arm up to about her five-foot-six height. "Tossed me against the wall like I was nothing."
Melanie restrained a smile.
"I'm Detective Wagner," said a tall man with eyes that sizzled on hers like burgers hitting a hot grill. "Can I ask you a few questions?"
"Sure." Melanie led him to a booth in back, while admiring his reflection in the mirrored walls.
He waited to sit until she did. "I understand you left right before Leonard on Saturday."
"Why, yes, I guess I did."
"Did you see anyone suspicious?"
What had she planned on saying? His mesmerizing eyes had wiped her mind clean. "Ummh. There was a guy outside."
Wagner smiled, encouragingly. "What did he look like?"
"Medium height, slicked back hair, sunglasses...red jacket."
"Sounds like you got a good look. Are you sure about the jacket?" He leaned forward. When he smiled, her heart flopped.
"Leonard thought it was green."
"He's wrong. Definitely, red." What was she doing? Relax, she told herself. There's no way for the police to find a guy who doesn't exist.
"I hear you're going on a cruise," he said.
"Yes, the Caribbean."
His eyes appraised her. "Expensive, isn't it?"
"Not too bad." She shrugged.
Wagner smiled again. "That man. Did he come into the diner?"
What should she say? "No, I don't think so."
"Had you ever seen him before?"
Wagner shook his head and dropped his hands to the table. "That's not good."
"Why?" She couldn't bear seeing him frown.
"How could a thief know about the deposit, if he hadn't been here watching?" He rested one hand close to hers. "Unless, Melanie, it was an inside job."
"Inside job?" Her pulse raced, but her mouth felt dry.
He leaned closer. "With one big mistake."
"Leonard might not be good at colors, but he's got a keen nose. Said the man smelled like he was wearing your brand of perfume."
Tears flooded Melanie's eyes. Her luck hadn't changed at all. Now that she'd gone wrong, she'd met Mr. Right. But it was too late.
Did you like this short story?
"Diner Take-out" ©Elaine Togneri. Used by permission
of the author.
Raven Electrick ©2000-2001 Karen A. Romanko. Clipart by Corel®.