This story is not as finely polished and edited as it would be if I were submitting it to print, but I wanted to start writing some occasional short stories just for the blog. This one is about 2K words. I hope you enjoy it!
“Mr. Saggy Had a Gun”
(c) 2009, by C. N. Nevets
I never knew the stranger's name. At first he was the guy who pulled his car in too close to mine in the Arby's parking lot. Then he was the guy with the revolver laying on the front passenger seat. Then he was the guy who did a fine job parking, after all.
By the time I had gotten my food and was sitting down in a small booth against the wall, the stranger had become the guy who was making everyone nervous. He was not attractive. Well shy of 5'10, he was thin but paunchy. His K-Mart jeans and green sweatshirt had probably always been too big for him, and may never have been properly laundered. His hair was a frayed mat of brown and grey poking out from under an Auto Zone ball cap. He had a shaggy grey mustache that made the rest of him look well-groomed. The smell of his poor showering habits followed in the wake of his sneakers' squeak. Add to all that the fact that he was not ordering any food, just pacing around the restaurant, and he was was making everyone uncomfortable.
I tried not to stare, but he was a one-man melodrama that had captivated my attention. At first, his pacing had seemed aimless. Eventually, I realized there was a pattern to his wandering. He was checking windows and doors. He didn't seem to have a set order for which he moved to next, but he was clearly on the look-out. He had a way of looking outside obliquely so that he could see clearly, but not be well seen.
From out of nowhere, a middle-aged blonde sat down across from me. She was a couple years younger than me, pretty and business-like with hints of mischief in her smile and of cynicism in her eyes. She had no food, just an empty salad container and a diet Pepsi.
“Think he's going to rob the place?” she asked with a smirk.
I was startled out of my observational reverie. She clearly had a read on me so there was no point in denying that I was watching the stranger. “I don't think so,” I answered quietly.
Because he left his gun in the car. But I couldn't say that. The stranger may have been making me uncomfortable but I didn't know if he was actually dangerous and I had no compulsion to get him into trouble. Instead, I insulted him. “Do you honestly think he's tough enough?”
“Or smart enough?” she added with a wry chuckle. “Good call.” She extended her hand. “I'm Leila. Amateur people-watcher.”
I reached out and shook her hand and introduced myself. “Professional people-watcher,” I added.
“You get paid to spy on creepy guys in fast food restaurants?”
“Something like that.” I glanced at her face and sized her up. She was confident. She was cocky. But she was also sincere. “I get paid to observe people during tense negotiations and mediation sessions.”
“What do you look for?”
“It depends on my client, but usually I'm looking for either signs of danger – that someone's about to crack – or for signs of vulnerability – that someone's about to give in.”
“What do you observe in that guy?” Leila asked, indicating the stranger with a clear but subtle movement of her chin.
“He's anxious about something,” I said.
“No wonder they pay you.”
I smiled. “But,” I said, stressing the word to make clear that I had not been finished, “it's more like he's worried about someone or something. Not like he has last minute nerves about going postal in Arby's.”
We both became quiet as the stranger's pacing brought him near the booth where we sat. He looked at us, but his eyes were not focused. I'm not even sure he could tell that Leila was a blonde. He was in another place.
Growing increasingly concerned, a worker came out from behind the counter and approached him carefully. She was a small woman with soft, rust-colored hair. Her forty-something face said, “I know what I'm doing.” Her well-worn name tag said, “Frances, Shift Manager.”
She brushed his elbow very gently from behind to give him warning of her proximity. He started, but did not lash out. He turned to look at her, but said nothing.
“Sir, can I help you?” Frances asked him politely. There was compassion in her voice, but also a sense of resolve. “Have you been helped?”
The stranger turned his head to look at Leila and me again. He was still staring blankly in our direction when he said, “I'm supposed to meet my wife here, but I don't know where she is, but I know this is the place, and I know I got the time right, I just know where she is, that's all, is that a problem, is that okay?”
Frances made her decision. “That's fine, sir, of course.” She wasn't going to kick him out of the restaurant. Just the same, she needed to calm him down. “You can sit anywhere you like.”
“I'm just waiting for my wife, and when she gets here we'll sit down and eat, but I'm waiting for her, and I can't really see out the all the windows from any place in here, so I'd rather just keep standing up since I'm waiting.”
Leila looked at me with her eyes wide as if to say, What is this guy on?
Frances nodded. “Okay, sir. I hope she gets here soon.”
With that, the shift-manager returned behind the counter. She was clearly not happy about the stranger's behavior, but felt like his explanation left her without any great recourse. She kept one eye on him as she returned to ordinary business.
“You guys married?” the stranger suddenly asked Leila and me as he looked back out the window.
“No,” we both told him.
“Course not,” he snorted before he paced on to his next window.
I raised an eyebrow at Leila. “Of course not,” I repeated.
“Of course not,” she laughed.
At one point, as he leaned close to a window, the stranger shoved a hand into the pocket of his over-sized jeans. Leila gasped. “Does he have a gun in there?” she asked.
“Not in there,” I assured her.
“In his car.” I clarified, “I saw it on his passenger seat.”
“How long have you been spying on this guy?” There was a tone of honest concern in Leila's voice. “Maybe he's nervous because you're all over him like some kind of private eye.”
“I've only been watching him since he almost hit my car pulling into the parking lot,” I promised. “And he's nervous because he's waiting for his wife.”
“Why's he so nervous?”
“Do you think he's worried about her safety?”
“I don't think that's it.”
“If he's worried, he should just call her cellphone,” Leila offered.
“What if he's worried she's late because she's cheating on him.”
Leila laughed outright at that. “Mr. Saggy Soul there has a wife that someone would commit adultery with?”
I looked at Leila, then at the stranger, and then back to her. “I'll bet his wife is an attractive woman at least fifteen years younger than him.” I slipped a twenty out of my pocket and raised an eyebrow again. “I'll bet,” I repeated.
Leila could not resist a challenge, and dug a twenty of her own of her purse. “Not a chance,” she said, her voice free of any doubt.
I was confident in my assessment, though, and I'm sure I looked smugly relaxed as I just sat back in the booth and waited for the big reveal. My display of bravado wore down Leila's own confidence somewhat and she became a little more nervous. Her eyes now followed the stranger's, looking as best she could at the same window as he did.
“So,” she asked a couple minutes later, “do you think that's what the gun is for? In case his supposedly hot wife is cheating on him?”
I didn't like the thought, but it had crossed my mind. “I hope not,” I said. “But it seems pretty likely.”
“In here or at home later?”
I sipped at my root beer and sighed. It was morbid, but I answered her truthfully. “Probably here. There's no reason for him to have the gun with him if he plans on waiting.”
“How confident are you?”
“Very,” I said, “whether I like it or not.”
“Put up then,” Leila challenged me. “Bet another twenty.”
“On – ?”
“That when the hot wife shows up, it turns out she's been cheating on him, and that he goes out for his gun..” The business woman who had chatted me up in the crowd wore an almost mocking smile and waggled her foot with nervous energy. “Or are you not so confident after all?”
It smacked of bad taste, but I dropped another twenty on the table. She followed with another. As the universe had been waiting for us to ante up, we didn't have long to wait once the money was all in. The way the stranger suddenly ran to the door on our side of the restaurant made it clear that his wife had arrived.
When she came, he greeted her loudly, “Marsha!”
She moved silently past him, walking straight to the counter. He fell in behind her, alongside another man in his twenties. I looked at Leila and smiled. She grimaced and pushed two of the Jacksons toward me.
“She's gorgeous,” Leila admitted.
Marsha was easily fifteen, maybe even twenty years younger than her sloppy-looking husband. She was a tall and pretty brunette with a perfect, if understated, figure, and impeccable taste. The young man who was with her was probably another ten years or more younger than her. If she was a good-looking forty, he might have been a mature-looking twenty.
“I'd like to make an order,” Marsha called out at the counter. The two men lingered in her shadow.
Frances stepped up to take the order herself. “What can I get for you?”
“I'd rather not eat any of this garbage,” Marsha complained, her voice chilly, “but since this is where I am I'll take a bottle of water and a salad with no dressing.”
“And you, sir?” Frances asked, turning toward Marsha's husband.
Marsha took the question for herself. “Both my husband and my son will have chicken sandwiches. No mayo.”
The younger man, who was apparently her son, tried to ask for mayo, but Marsha silenced him with a look.
“Will that be all?” Frances asked, looking at Marsha's husband and son.
“They'll also have water, just tap water is fine, and they can split an order of curly fries.”
I listened to Marsha's tone. I looked at the way her husband hung silently by, his anxious energy no less than it had been when he had been waiting for her, just more contained. I thought about the revolver lying in his car. On his passenger seat. Within easy reach.
Closing my eyes, I shoved the remaining forty dollars over to Leila.
She war surprised. “Why?”
“The gun's not for her, and she's not cheating on him,” I told her. I rose and left the rest of my food unfinished. At my car, I pulled out an empty deposit envelope from the glove box, stuffed the first forty dollars in it, and then scrawled a note on the envelope before dropping it into the stranger's car.
“It only takes one bullet, but buy some more in case you miss, you poor bastard.”