I haven't written a short story for a long time. Tonight, I started writing one. Here it is, in several parts.
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The country station whispered gentle songbird vocals through the small speaker behind the counter. Pleasant for the diners, but Marina Morris couldn’t take any more. Her fellow waiting staff would hum or sing along when they were wiping the tables and serving customers but she remained unmoved, concentrating so much that she would almost wipe the veneer off the table. She couldn’t wait to remove the garish gingham apron the boss had issued them with as uniform, and go to her afternoon class. Still, as mornings at Chet’s Diner went, it was all right. No customers had annoyed her and the tips had been quite generous – especially from the older couple from Tennessee visiting their grandchildren.
A huge roar soon stopped her from feeling almost happy. She recognized the rumbling and hissing only too well. And the music, just about audible even over that engine. The Eagles? Lynyrd Skynyrd? It all sounded the same to her. It was all he ever listened to. She now had country through one channel and country-influenced rock through the other.
At least he always parked around the corner now, since the boss had finally had the courage to ask him to stop blocking all the light out of the diner with his cab up against the window.
He walked in.
“Good morning, Mr Hunter.”
“Haha!” he laughed. “Call me Hillman!”
“Good morning, Hillman.”
“Good morning to you too. Damn! You look good today. Good every day. YEAH!”
He didn’t wait for her reaction but that didn’t matter because she didn’t matter to him and it was always the same: expressionless. She had long since bothered showing disdain.
Hunter chuckled and walked to the centre of the room, to his usual table.
“Usual?” she shouted over.
She scribbled his order down on the notepad: a stack of pancakes, scrambled eggs and bacon, with hash browns. He had never ordered anything else in the six months she’d worked there. Everyone else had told her that he’d placed the same order for years. One waiter’s older cousin had worked at Chet’s about fifteen years ago and he remembered what Hillman Hunter ate for breakfast, too. Everyone seemed to remember this guy and his dietary habits.
They also remembered his personality. Hillman Hunter was, quite simply, the worst man they’d ever met.
A tow truck driver since his early twenties, he was now in his mid-forties. In nearly a quarter of a century, he had managed to annoy, harass and take advantage of several thousand stranded drivers and innumerable other people in whatever else he did.
Hunter belched heartily and didn’t bother to excuse himself. You could always tell who the regulars were in this place, because they didn’t look around when he burped, farted or blew his nose – always loud enough to stop every conversation in the room. Even the young kids didn’t laugh after a few visits.
The passing trade always noticed, though. Today, a young man sat in the corner, sipping coffee and reading the paper. Hunter’s ill-mannered aural assault made him turn around, look at Hunter and shake his head in dismay. Hunter was oblivious.
The man turned back around. He was sure he’d seen the guy in the faded lumberjack shirt and grimy cap before, although there were plenty of large guys wearing checked shirts and baseball caps everywhere. And he certainly saw a lot of people in his job selling roofing supplies to hardware stores across the state. Friendly, dependable Victor Vauxhall, the youngest salesman at Rootes Roofing, buzzing from store to store in his sample-laden F-250. Perhaps his fellow diner was a roofer?
A phone rang. The loudest ringtone Victor had ever heard. A few other diners looked around.
It was, of course, Hillman Hunter’s phone.