She sat in the back booth of the diner with an unlit cigarette hanging loosely from her lips and one hand shoved in the pocket of her leather jacket, tightly gripping the snub-nosed .38 revolver as she waited for the woman to show. Her eyes gazed out the window over the wet pavement of the nearly empty parking lot. The waitress eyed her suspiciously as she made her way over.
She knew she must be quite a sight, even aside from the green hair cut into a messy mohawk that partially hung in her eyes and the studded jacket. There was now a puffy black eye and a fat lip to accompany her already attention-grabbing looks.
"Rough night?" asked the waitress as she removed the notepad and pencil from her apron.
She laughed with a lack of enthusiasm. "Yeah, you could say that."
"Now you don't have any intentions of lighting that up in here, do you honey?"
She smiled at the peculiarity of the question, withdrew the cigarette from her lips with her left hand, and placed it behind her ear. All the while never lifting a finger from the gun in her jacket pocket. "No, just knowing it's there will help calm me."
The waitress gave her a wink and a nod, "Well that's quite all right, as long as we have an understanding. Our owner's father who used to smoke two packs a day just died from lung cancer, so he doesn't allow smoking in any of his establishments anymore. Probably an overreaction that's gonna hurt business but hey, I don't make the rules, I just enforce them. So what can I get you tonight?"
"I'll start off with a coffee. Black. I'm waiting for someone."
"One black coffee coming up, sweetheart."
The waitress turned around and got the coffeemaker brewing a fresh pot. She heard the door chime as someone entered and she turned to see a tall, redheaded woman in a form-fitting, green dress with a large purse slung over her shoulder approaching her. Leaf had to admit she was more than a little impressed. The lady was a knockout; she usually didn't go for the prissy-looking bitches, but exceptions could be made now and then.
"Are you Bennie's friend? Miss Cartwright?" asked the redhead.
"That'd be me. Sit your pretty little ass in that booth and we'll have a talk," she said with a smile as she bit her lip ring in a suggestive manner.
Okay, cool it, Leaf. This woman probably intends on killing you before the night is through; she's not interested in going to bed with you.
The redhead set her purse in the booth beside her and got straight to the point. "If you know where Bennie is, tell him that if he returns our property now there will be no repercussions. If he keeps us waiting, though, he is endangering himself and everyone he cares about, including yourself, Miss Cartwright."
"‘Leaf’ is just fine," she said, appearing unaffected by the woman's threats. "So that's your deal, huh? Return your stuff or you're going to kill us? Not even going to butter me up a little bit? I've seen jackhammers with a more subtle touch."
"Well, Miss Cart . . . Leaf, if you prefer," she said with a malicious grin. "We happen to be on a rather tight schedule, so forgive me if I don't have time for common niceties. Your friend Bennie's theft has upset many years of planning for us."
"First of all," Leaf interjected, "I don't know where Bennie is. I'm still trying to find him myself, and second, it might be helpful to know what it is he took. So, when and if I locate him, I'll know what to return to you."
The waitress set a steaming cup of coffee down in front of Leaf and then turned to the redhead. "And what can I get for you, darling?"
"Nothing. I'm fine," said the redhead coldly without making eye contact with the waitress.
"Excuse my friend's manners . . . Debbie, is it?" said Leaf as she glanced at the waitress's name tag. "She's had a really rough night as well. She just had her heart broken by a no-good man."
The waitress perked up. "Isn't that a damn shame?" She slapped her hands down on the table and leaned in close to the redheaded woman. "Some of these men around here just don't know how to treat a lady, do they?"
The redhead sat there quietly without responding, growing more annoyed by the second.
The waitress looked at Leaf and said, "That bastard isn't the one that gave you the shiner there, is it?"
Leaf could hardly contain her amusement. "As a matter of fact, it is."
The waitress pursed her lips angrily and began shaking her head, "I knew it, I just knew it. My friends think I'm crazy but I've always said, 'A man that'll break your heart'll just as soon as break your nose.'"
Leaf couldn't keep from snickering and the waitress eyed her with distrust, now suspecting she was being made fun of. Leaf regained her composure and responded with complete seriousness, "Don't worry, Debbie. I knocked him flat on his ass for it. He'll think twice before putting his hand on either one of us again."
Debbie smiled. "All right, now that's what I like to hear. I—"
"On second thought, I'll have the number two with a side of eggs and some coffee," the redheaded woman blurted out in a desperate attempt to derail the conversation.
"Well, all right, darling. No need to get all excited. Coming right up." The waitress rolled her eyes at Leaf as she wrote down the order on her notepad and sauntered off to the kitchen.
The redhead shot a look at Leaf that was sharp enough to cut diamonds. "May I ask why you did that?"
Leaf shrugged and smirked. "Figured it'd piss you off. Worked, didn't it?"
"I believe you've mistaken me for someone else. I'm not the type of person you want to play games with." Her facial expression was intensely serious and something in her eyes told Leaf she truly might not want to anger this woman.
"As for your request for more information," she continued, "I'll oblige. The item your friend stole was of great historical significance. It is a mysterious, sacred relic to many people that is believed to possess god-like powers. We simply refer to it as the Artifact. It belonged to the Roman Emperor Nero until his death in 68 CE. Afterwards it disappeared for many centuries, resurfacing in the Middle Ages when it was taken into the care of the Knights Templar Order. It was then lost to history once again, though there were rumors of it being in the subterranean vaults beneath Rosslyn Chapel in Scotland for a time.
"Anyway, several years ago my associates and I learned of a potential sighting of the Artifact in Eastern Europe. So we sent a crew over to investigate and it turns out it was legitimate. Finally, it was within my grasp and it was due to arrive by cargo ship to the Lunsa Chito docks tonight. Then your friend Bennie interfered, so you can imagine why I'm so eager to have it returned." She ended with an exasperated sigh and placed both hands on the table, one on top of the other.
Leaf nodded her head, considering all that she'd been told. "Okay, okay. That all makes sense, but I do have one question though."
The redhead glared at her skeptically, sensing a smart aleck response coming. "And that would be?"
"So you're basically the bourgeois arm of the Mob that deals in black market art and collectibles? Doesn't that sorta conflict with your whole street-tough reputation?" Leaf did her best Mafioso impression, "'Yo Tony, hurry up and break his legs so we can further discuss the intricacies of Mozart's Ninth Symphony.' I mean, is it just me or is that really as lame as it sounds?"
It was obvious that the woman was unamused. The waitress stepped in. "Honey, we're all out of egg—"
"You aren't dealing with some fucking two-bit, zoot suit-wearing gangsters here!" she roared, yanking a weapon from her purse that resembled brass knuckles with metallic prongs protruding from it. There was a sudden flash of blue-green light that shot through the waitress, her smoldering body collapsed to the ground as a bevy of rapid-fire bursts of light tore throughout the diner. Leaf dropped to the floor, covering her head in her arms as fluorescent aqua beams ripped through the counter, the cash register, and unsuspecting patrons.
When the screaming ceased, Leaf heard the dwindling drone of what she hoped was a depleted power cell in the weapon. The redhead had not broken eye contact with her throughout the entire hellish ordeal. Thick smoke filled the diner and small fires had broken out all over the place.
"You've got until 6 A.M., then we start going house to house killing everyone until we find it. If you alert the authorities we will murder the entire police force of this little Podunk town of yours, then proceed unobstructed. I get the feeling that you're going to take me as a woman of my word now?" she said calmly, lowered the strange weapon as a faint trail of smoke rose from it, and casually tossed it back into her purse.
Leaf was still on the floor with her arms over her head. "Yes, I believe you."
The redhead smiled. "Good. We'll be waiting for you down at the docks. See you soon, Miss Cartwright." Then she picked up her purse, turned around, stepped over the crumpled body of the waitress, and strolled out the front doors of the diner. A large shard fell from one of the shattered pane glass doors as they swung shut behind her.
Leaf rose to her feet, dusting plaster and glass from her leather jacket. She eyed the destroyed diner around her and then removed the .38 revolver and shook her head. Doesn't do much good if you don't actually use it, Leaf.
She'd been completely taken off guard by the woman's looks and demeanor, which was probably exactly what she'd intended. She looked at the waitress's body, the dead customers, and the cook slumped over the kitchen counter. She could've saved them if she'd been more observant, but there was nothing that could be done now. As she made her way toward the front of the diner, the overhead sprinklers cut on.
Leaf stepped out into the humid Mississippi air, drenched as a sewer rat. Her matted green mohawk was now clumped to one side of her head. One thing's for sure, I've got to find Bennie and I've got to find him fast. She shook her head despondently. How in the hell did things get like this?