“Hello? Can I help you?” he said. He had answered the call at the same volume as the ringtone. Victor Vauxhall feared for the caller’s hearing.
Marina, coffee pot in hand, walked over to Victor’s table.
“More coffee, sir?”
Victor looked up.
“Oh yeah, thanks, ma’am.”
Marina poured coffee into Victor’s cup.
“There you go, sir,” she said.
“Why, thank you.”
Marina smiled and made to walk to another table.
“’Scuse me,” said Victor.
“Do you know that guy over there?”
Victor looked over at Hunter. Marina looked with him. Hunter was busy chatting away on his phone, laughing, banging the table with his fist and rattling the cutlery. Even some of the regulars were looking.
“Sure,” said Marina. “That’s Hillman Hunter.”
Victor turned his head back to face the opposite side of his table. He thought for a moment.
“What line of work’s he in?”
“He drives a tow truck,” said Marina. “Unfortunately.”
“There anything else I can get you?”
Victor was still thinking. “Hmm?”
“Oh, sorry, no. No thanks. Coffee’s fine, thank you very much. The eggs were good, too.”
“My pleasure,” said Marina. “Why do you ask about Hillman Hunter?”
“Oh,” said Victor. “I just recognized him, that was all. Probably saw him at a gas station or something. He stands out!”
Marina laughed. She walked to the next table, clutching the handle of the coffee pot.
Gas station? thought Victor. No. I recognize him now. And I hope he doesn’t recognize me.
Hunter was still laughing and slapping the table. Victor could overhear bits of his conversation. Well, not so much overhear them; he might as well have been sitting next to him.
Victor recalled being at the side of the road a few weeks ago. He was on his way home. He had finished his last appointment and it had been particularly difficult all round: a company owner, set in his ways and with an impoverished management style; an assistant eager to curry favour with his boss and appear to visiting salespeople that he knew what he was doing; heat and humidity. Amid the stifling conditions, the assistant’s posturing and the boss’s reluctance, he had driven home the advantages of their roofing shingle and business relationship over the competitors’ product and service. One meagre order later, he was out in the car park, in the cab of his clean truck and trying to stop his trousers from sticking to the seat. He had turned the air conditioning up to MAX and pulled out of the car park. No point in hanging around. The owner might run out to cancel the order!
He had got into his truck at just the right time, because it started raining as soon as he had started the truck. He went through several miles of country roads without any problem but about ten miles later, the truck had started to splutter. At this point, the rain was heavy and sounded “like a cow pissing on a flat rock”, as he remembered his grandfather saying.
Five minutes later, with no sign of the rain stopping, the truck had pulled up behind him.