Time to Kill
And who’s the little girl?
Never mind the girl…
A short enough stretch of wooded road later Billy Gene pulls into the plaza shared by the auto-repair shop and The Coffee Hut. The parking lot is stark empty aside from the police cruiser parked facing away from the shop’s leftmost garage door. There are more dents and scratches and otherwise bare spots on that garage door than there is paint, but that’s not to say the proprietor of the fine establishment does shabby work. Jim Hubert’s cruiser looks spotless, fresh off the lot, looks like it never caught the bumper of a minivan the day before. Billy parks his whip – his civilian whip, that is, a mahogany ‘89 Chevy something or other, he doesn’t know or particularly care, bowties ‘til he dies – and ambles into The Coffee Hut.
The air inside The Coffee Hut is cool, about the same temperature as the early noon air outside, but still chills barrel up Billy’s arms. He rolls his sleeves down as he takes his seat across from Vern VanDunk, who’s staring miserably into a coffee cup.
“Cold in here,” Billy says. He takes a look over Vern’s right shoulder towards the counter. The teenage barista is there, tapping and scrolling away on her smart phone. Looks about as happy to be here as Sarah did back at the chief’s house. He starts to tap his feet to break up all the silence. “Might need to get a hot chocolate or somethin’.”
“Yeah,” Vern says.
“Do you want anything, Vern?” Billy asks, fishing his back pockets for his wallet. “It’s my treat. Or are you still workin’ that cup y’got there?”
“Yeah,” says Vern.
“Which one?” Billy asks, bracing his wallet against the table as he pulls out his last five spot. “You good on that? Or do you want another drink?”
Vern’s eyes stare sandbaggishly at the contents of the cup, whether those contents be liquid or otherwise. His mouth hardly moves at all, but yet it manages to generate and export the word, “Yeah.”
Billy impatiently strikes the table with a flat palm, then stands and starts towards the counter. The barista watches him come, then returns her disinterested face to her phone when Bill pulls his own out and ears it.
“Yo,” Bill says.
“You take care of it?”
“Yeah, Jim, I covered for him. You comin’ back with his car soon?”
“I sure hope so,” the barista mumbles. “This place’ll be deader than a damn doornail with all the freakin’ cops hangin’ around all day.”
Pretending he didn’t hear her, Billy returns to the table and hands the phone off to Vern. Vern takes it and holds it to his ear, but he doesn’t say anything. After a moment, Jim’s aggravating voice begins to gnaw his ear.
“Hello, Jim,” Vern says.
“Don’t you Hello, Jim me, VanDunk. You missed your shift.”
Vern’s eyes do not leave his coffee cup. “You have my cruiser, Jim.”
“You sure did lend it to me, Vern,” Jim nags. “It’s a good thing I thought to call Billy, otherwise you’d have been screwed like the pooch. Would’a screwed the entire operation tonight. You really fucked up good there, Vern.”
“Yeah,” Vern says, inspiring Billy Gene to get that hot chocolate after all.
Meanwhile, back on his old loveseat, Jim grinds his teeth. “Yeah? Is that all you have to say for yerself?”
Vern VanDunk doesn’t say a thing. The discontent surges up Jim’s spine like a rogue bolt of hate lightning and explodes in his brain, sending synapses flying every which way like shrapnel. This causes him to experience what his father fondly referred to as a spaz attack : Jim launches himself off the loveseat with a pelvic thrust, sending at least two bottles of lotion and one empty box of tissues (well, it’s not empty, Jim used it to store his stiffies) flying in different directions across his living room. He lands hard on his bare, hairy ass and yelps loud enough for Vern to look over at the phone in his hand for a second before he looks right back down at his empty coffee cup. For the next few seconds Vern is treated to a concert of Jim’s throaty groveling which, coincidentally enough, ends at the exact moment Bill sits back down at the little table.
“He bringin’ your car back soon, Vern?” Bill asks, then blows on his hot chocolate.
“You bringin’ my car back soon, Jim?” Vern asks the smart phone.
Jim growls in Vern VanDunk’s ear. “I’ll have it in time for your shift, asswipe. I’ll call you.” Jim then terminates the call.
“He said he’d bring it back by noon,” Vern says. He hands the phone back to Bill and hey, wha’d’ya know, he actually looks up from his cup. “Thanks for covering for me, Bill.”
“Anytime, Vern,” Bill says, receiving his cell phone. “You all right? You seem all kinds of troubled.”
“I suppose… it’s just the sac–”
‘Whoops, y’almost slipped there,’ is thought by both Vern and Billy Gene.
“It’s just, uh, it’s the thing tonight. After… well, after, things are go’n’a be hard for a while, y’know?”
Bill sips his hot chocolate understandingly.
“Like, so many folks are go’n’a be, just… gone.” Vern shakes his head, looks back down at his empty coffee cup. “Earlier on in the morning I had Thaddeus meet me here, he’s my sister’s fiancé.”
“I know,” Bill says. “He’s an Earthen folk, yeah?”
“Yeah. He seemed worried when he came in, asked what was so important, but I said it was nothing, I just wanted to grab a coffee with him because he’s go’n’a be my brother-in-law soon. He went along with it kindly enough, but I could tell that he could tell I wasn’t being honest.”
“How could you tell?” Jim asks, going for his hot chocolate again. He burns himself because he didn’t blow on it first. Whatever. It’s bitter as all hell anyway.
“Well, right before he left he asked me why I really asked him here, accused me of hiding something from him. When I wouldn’t tell him he just shook his head at me, left without saying goodbye. Probably thought I was just wasting his time.”
“Aw, come on, Vern. I don’t think he thought that.”
“He sent me a text asking me not to waste his time in the mornings anymore.”
“I don’t blame him,” Vern continues. “The mornings are the only time he and my sister get to spend any time together, because of their work schedules and all, but still, I… I just don’t feel good about this, Bill. What if we made a huge mistake, what if tonight ain’t somethin’ we should go through with?”
Although he agrees with Vern’s concerns, Bill thinks it’s too late to be thinkin’ thoughts like that, and tells Vern as much. Bill also thinks it’s time he gets goin’, this hot chocolate is hot garbage and talking to Vern is somehow making it taste even worse.
“You go’n’a be all right here until noon, Vern?” he says as he dumps the cup into the garbage, rousing a fresh ugh out of the barista.
“Yeah,” Vern says, staring droopily at the empty. “I’ll be all right, I guess.”
“A’ight, well I’ll see you tonight then,” and Billy Gene is out the door, rolling his sleeves back up to bask in the warm afternoon sunlight.
The brief flash of mahogany as Billy drives out of the plaza brings Vern’s eyes up from the coffee cup, but it doesn’t hold them. They fall heavily back down, making not a sound nor a splash because Vern drained every last drop. Now he shall wait, much to the abhorrence of the bored barista. Now he shall wait.
Hello Commons, this has been the sixth subchapter of the third chapter of Under the Hood: The Imprisonment of Jonathan Knox, a novel about a man who likes to eavesdrop on his neighbors.
Under the Hood: The Imprisonment of Jonathan Knox is the second book in the W-2222 series, a series of books which take place in Universe W-2222.
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