By Vince D’Amato
The cops found the kidnappers in the car three up ahead of Kodek’s. That had been a full year ago. The guy who had been lying dead, leaking thick blood out of the hole in his face thanks to the busted martini glass and into Kodek’s trunk, had asked Kodek mere seconds before his death: “So, why do they call you The Plumber?” It was a question he hadn’t been asked since. Not in a year. At the time, he’d simply said back: “Long story”. In actual fact, it wasn’t a long story at all. Truth of the matter was that Kodek didn’t like talking about himself. He was a little more comfortable with it now, but he didn’t think that really had anything to do with ego. Maybe he was a little wiser, a little more experienced, a little more comfortable with things. And maybe thinking those things did have something to do with his ego. He wasn’t really sure. He was, as Samuel Jackson had put it at the end of Pulp Fiction, in a transitional period. Not that that was going to stop him from killing this Latin guy at the end of the bar. A year ago, Kodek had left the Latin guy weeping on a beach, when he really should’ve just done his job and killed his ass back then. But then again, he was really really in a transitional period a year back. Yeah, he was doing much better now.
The bar wasn’t really a bar, it was the seating bar in a cafe, some sort of restaurant that was sitting uncomfortably between 50’s Throwback Diner and Starbucks. At least it was no chain coffee-shop, he’d never heard of the place before. Shotgun Mary’s. Why the hell anyone would name their coffee shop/diner Shotgun Mary’s was beyond him. Though apparently, their burgers were world-famous. Kodek craned his neck so he could get a second look at that sign hanging in the window declaring the burgers as such, and he wondered who had made that sign. Maybe the sign belonged to some previous owner. Maybe it was picked up at a garage sale outside of town. Who the hell knew? Signs. Funny things. He’d never heard of Shotgun Mary’s burgers in his life so he had serious doubts as to the authenticity of the global claim of that sign. World-famous, indeed…
Kodek snapped out of it and his head whipped back to the waitress behind the counter, wearing a yellow-striped apron around her white short-sleeved blouse, a pencil behind her ear and a steaming pot of coffee in her grip. Norman fucking Rockwell. She was cute. Kodek glanced at the nametag. Anna.
“No thanks,” he told her, and she went down to the other end of the bar to ask the Latin guy the same thing, but he only grunted at her and shoved another forkful of yellow yolk-soaked bacon into his mouth.
Kodek looked through the order pick-up window behind the counter and he saw a woman who looked like she might be Spanish duck low, picking something up. He glimpsed her face and a swirling sensation of deja-vu overtook him. The yellow-striped waitress wandered back to him.
“You want anything else?”
“Your name’s not Anna,” he said to her, pointing at her own nametag.
“What’s it to you?” She asked him in a cutesy-poo flirting way, not with the fuck-off tone.
“Just… that woman in the back. The cook? She looks familiar. Thought she might be the one named Anna.”
“The one and only,” the waitress smiled back.
“Hey!” – from down the bar. Both Kodek and the waitress looked over. “I’m ready for my cheque!”
Charming fella, Kodek thought, and he saw that the waitress looked a little disappointed when she had to slink off down to the other end of the counter. Kodek was certain this was his guy, and again he thought about how he should’ve killed him a year ago. But then again, that hadn’t really been the job, had it? It was all complexly connected in a highly convoluted way, but that guy at the end of the bar had actually been hired to set Kodek up at one point (or so Kodek had thought, though there was never any real proof of that). Now, all of a sudden, a year down the road and Kodek has an honest-to-holy contract for this guy. Go figure. He must’ve pissed someone off. Or someone else off. Someone other than Kodek, that was. And just like that skydiving instructor had hit a while back, Kodek found he didn’t really care what this guy had done. And even though the guy at the other end of the counter had unwittingly kidnapped Kodek (seems like eons ago now) there was never anything personal between the two. But between the complexity of ongoing human interactions and Morimoto’s games, Kodek was finding that there was a small but not unnoticeable twitch developing in his left eye.
Morimoto, the highest in Kodek’s chain of command (several links over Kodek himself, which in fact didn’t really bother him at all), was, in the last few months, obviously growing weary of the games. Kodek was not sure if this induced a sense of relief or even more stress on his mind. Could be more stress, although his “jobs” had become far less cryptic in the last few months, and way more in-your-face, and meanwhile the whole notion that it was all changing was weighing on Kodek’s mind. He relentlessly tried to convince himself how good change was (could be), yet here he was, with a twitching left eye and his fingers tapping on the breakfast counter top.
“You want to cut that shit out, buddy?!”
Kodek turned to bacon-and-eggs guy and smiles. “Sorry.”
“I can make you sorry. Very fucking easily”.
Kodek glanced at the waitress who looked a little nervous now. Kodek kept the smile on his face, but it felt too taut. “Excuse me,” a called to her, motioning for her to come over. She went. “I seem to have left my wallet in the car. It’s just there in the parking lot,” Kodek pointed out the window and passed the World-Famous Burgers sign, “I’ll be right back?”
“Okay,” the waitress said, and let him go.
“See that?” Bacon-and-eggs said to the waitress, stealing her attention. “Scared him off!”
The bell rang over the door when Kodek exited, and Bacon-and-eggs wasn’t sure if he’d been heard by his intended target at all. He spoke to the waitress again:
“If he keeps bothering you, you just let me know, okay?” Bacon-and-eggs pulled the Roscoe out of his waistband and it CLACKED on the countertop. Six-shooter. Old school. Very film noir.
“Johnny, leave it be, okay?”
“Don’t be scared, Lizzy, there’s an asshole rolling through every town like this.”
“Your sister said to keep a low profile,” the waitress reminded him.
“Hey, low profile is my middle name,” Johnny said, and Lizzy laughed in face.
Out in the parking lot, Kodek slammed the trunk of his car shut. He wondered if they were watching through the window. If they were, he’d look pretty fucking ridiculous to them right then. He wasn’t sure if they were looking at him, and he didn’t look up to find out. He wanted to keep the element of surprise for himself. To himself. Kept him on edge. He could feel the adrenaline pumping in his back teeth. He worked well this way. Just before he stepped back into the diner, he realized that his left eye was not twitching anymore.
The bell above the door rang out when it swung open, and then it was overpowered by the sound of the chainsaw motor…
“Will somebody turn that fucking thing off?!” Metro Detective Richardson screamed at his officers, who all jumped into action, though not one of them really wanted to handle the blood-and-gore-soaked yellow chainsaw revving on the diner floor. But somebody finally got some nerves and did handle it, cutting the motor.
“Finally,” Richardson said, letting out a long breath. “You!” he said, pointing at the waitress who was standing at the far end of the bar in utter shock and horror. She might be catatonic. He tried to read her nametag, but like pretty much the rest of her, it was covered in Johnny’s blood. “Can you talk?!” he asked harshly. To his surprise, she nodded – after a few seconds.
“Well, thank Christ for little favours,” he muttered, and looked around the bloody coffee shop. Johnny was still there, all over the place. An arm here, a leg there, a neat little pile of internal organs (far beyond recognition) over by the last stool along the breakfast bar. Blood and bits of chainsaw-ripped flesh had hit the walls, the ceiling fan, every fucking table and chair in the joint, covered the poor waitress and her yellow-striped apron, and all the way up the front window. The sign caught Richardson’s eye. “Shotgun Mary’s world-famous burgers”. Richardson grinned. Then the smell of burning bacon caught his nostrils, and he looked to the short-order window at the back of the counter. There was grey smoke escaping through it.
“Hey, waitress,” he called, and she slowly turned her head in his direction. “Where the fuck’s the cook?!”
Fourteen miles down the country road, Kodek was speeding along listening to his Micheal Jackson tape. Yeah, a tape. He hated the thought of having to replace his retro-fitted tape deck, though he knew it would be inevitable. One day, it was going to conk out. Nothing lasted forever. In some profound way, Kodek found that thought comforting. When “Billie Jean” came on, the audio began to wobble and warp.
“Fuck,” Kodek said, pulling the car over. The fucking deck was eating his tape. He pulled the tape out, trying to free it from the jaws of the deck – but too late. The brown tape was caught inside the deck and it spooled out form the hard plastic casing like intestines from a split-open gut. Nothing lasted forever, he knew. But did his tape deck have to go right now?!
Damn… He was going to miss that.