The Wrong Time

She tried to be friendly to the customers most of the time.

“I’m sorry, John, I didn’t quite catch your last name.”  She placed the cup of coffee in front of him on the blue and white checked table cloth.  The pattern was actually more complicated than a mere checkerboard.  In Hawai‘i it was called “palaka,” but she thought that John looked like he might not be interested in knowing that.

He said it again.

“That’s a very interesting name.  I don’t think I’ve ever heard a name like that before.”

He said he wasn’t surprised, that it was an unusual name, said his was the only family he knew with that last name.  And he’d looked.  First in phonebooks all over the world.  And when the internet came, he’d searched it.  No one had his last name.

“And what brings you to Hawai‘i?” she asked, placing a container of sugar and creamer packets on the table.

He told her.

“Oh my,” she said, “that sounds like quite an undertaking?”

He said it was, but he worked alone. His aloha shirt was loud, bright orange and red and hibiscus flowers black and white.

As she turned away, she thought she heard him say an odd thing.  She was sure it was, “I’m guessing my name will make sense when the wind blows right.”

She glanced back, not really sure she’d heard him correctly.  “Oh,” she said, “that’s nice,” was all she said.  She put the water pitcher back on the counter.

Just then, a tall thin man opened the door and stepped into the diner.

Outside the wind was howling, the rain whipping along the streets.  Auahi Street resembled a rushing river.  It felt like hurricane weather.  ‘Iniki weather.  The idea of Kaua‘i flashed through her mind.  So harsh, so sad.

The man collapsed his umbrella, shook himself like a dog.  A young Japanese man, he wore an expensive looking black suit, one that fit him perfectly.  His hair, too, sat perfectly cut, even with all the wind and rain.

Two customers, she thought.  Maybe she could break even on the night.

The Japanese man looked around the place, eyed the tourist, who was eyeing him.

“Please sit anywhere you like,” she said.  “Menu’s on the table.  I’ll be right with you.”

She walked back over to the tourist.  “How about you, honey?  Decide yet?”

He shook his head.  Swiveled just a bit to see past her to the Japanese man.  Looked forward.  “Nothing more,” he said, picked up his coffee and sipped.

The door banged open again.  Two very wet local kids popped through.  Teenagers.

“Ho, Auntie,” said the boy.  “Good thing you open.  Everywhere we tried was closed already.”

“Not me,” she said, smiling.  “Weather no bother me.  You folks sit anywhere.  Menu’s on the table.”

The boy and girl squeezed into a booth, both on the same side.

Teenagers, she thought.  So good to be young and in love.  She remembered.

Both the tourist and the tall, thin Japanese man turned slightly in their seats to observe the couple.

“And how about you?” she said, walking over the Japanese man, order pad in hand.

“Coffee and water,” the man said.

“Can I interest you in pie?  I make good custard pie.  It was my husband’s recipe.  He baked his whole life.”

The Japanese man shook his head.  “No thank you.  Just water and coffee.”  She noticed that he had a slight accent.  It didn’t sound Japanese though.

She smiled, but she was disappointed.  Yes, she was open, but what was the point of staying open if no one ordered anything?  Hopefully the two kids were hungry.  Love can make you very hungry, she thought.

She brought the coffee and water to the Japanese man, then brought him a container of sugar and cream packets from the counter.

“And how about you?” she asked the two youngsters, coming to the booth.

“Miss,” said the girl, “you can still make pancakes tonight?”

“Sure sure,” she said.  “What kind of meat you like?”

“What kind get?” asked the boy.

“Ham, bacon, and Portuguese sausage.”

The girl asked for sausage, the boy wanted bacon.

 “Anything to drink?”

“Water,” they both said at the same time.

She bought them two blue plastic cups, poured their water, put the pitcher on the counter.  Then she went to the kitchen.

From where she stood at the grill, she could see the entire area, every table in the place.  The tourist and the Japanese man stared straight ahead.  The teenagers were whispering to each other in the booth, the girl giggling.

The front door opened.  The tourist, the Japanese man, and the boy and girl all turned to look.  A large, athletic Hawaiian mixed police officer came in.

“Auntie Helen,” he said.  “Ho man.  Stay brutal outside.  Can get one burger to go?”  He sat down at the counter, his back to the front door.

“Sure sure, Donald,” she said through the window.  “Coming right up.”

After she’d dropped the pancake batter on the grill and the Portuguese sausage and bacon were going, she went back to the large walk-in refrigerator to get a hamburger patty.  She heard the front door open, and then there were a series of loud pops, like a car backfiring in the restaurant.  When it dawned on her that it was gunfire, she stepped into the refrigerator pulled the door closed.  Her heart was beating double-time, her breathing so shallow she wondered if she might pass out.

“Oh God,” she thought, “now they’ll come for me.”

She waited.  Finally she pushed the door open ever so slightly, heard nothing.  She stepped out and then walked toward the restaurant.  It felt as if time had stopped and she was moving through it.

When she walked into the restaurant, she stopped.  She had trouble understanding what she saw.

The Japanese man lay on the floor, blood pooling around him.  The tourist sat slumped over on the palaka table cloth, the side of his head blown away.  The two teens were pushed up against the wall of the booth, their arms around each other, blood down their fronts.

Donald lay on the floor, eyes wide open, staring blank and glassy at the ceiling, his gun drawn and still held in his right hand.

She felt as if she’d scream, but she couldn’t seem to do it.  Call 911, she thought.  She knew she had to call 911.

Just as she reached for the phone, the door to the restrooms opened. She glanced over, saw the man see her and pull a gun out of his pocket.

“I wondered where you were,” he said.  She gasped at the horror of recognition, the bullet coming straight for her in slow motion, and then she died.

The man shoved the gun back in his pocket.  Looking around the room, he smiled.  Walking through the door to the kitchen, he noticed the pancakes, sausage, and bacon, all of them smoking.  He crinkled his nose at the acrid smell.

Walking to the grill, he picked up the spatula and deftly flipped the pancakes, as though he must be an experienced cook.

They were badly burned on that side.  He shoveled them up with the spatula and tossed them in the trash.

The Portuguese sausage and the bacon were very well done at this point.  He picked up a very crisp bacon slice.  He felt the heat in his fingertips, blew on the bacon to cool it some, bit into it.  He’d always liked his bacon very crisp.  He closed his eyes and chewed, savoring the burnt saltiness and oil.

He swallowed, opened his eyes.  Looking out at the restaurant, he observed the bodies.  How quiet they were.

And what a mess.  Someone would have to mop up the blood, and brain, and bone.  He pictured how the place would look when it was clean.  It was well-lighted.  He liked the blue palaka table cloths.

Where had time gone? he wondered.

He wiped his fingers on the front of his shirt, then pulled the gun from his pocket.  He weighed it in his hand, felt how heavy it was.

He laughed, placed the barrel under his chin, imagined the rain had stopped, the wind had died to nothing, and in that quiet place he pulled the trigger.

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