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Infernis – Chapter Fifty-Five

April 15, 2013

Chapter Fifty-Five

Turning my cheek for the sake of the show.

The Colonial’s selection was diverse, perhaps even more so than the Greek diners that dotted the Big Apple, but it’s menu was shorter.

Brian recalled seeing the smaller waitresses struggling to carry four or six over-sized menus to patrons who likely already knew which of the hundreds of items contained within the tome they’d be ordering. It was usually omelets or cheeseburgers, depending on whether it was weekend brunch or weekday lunch.

This place ran weekday specials. Today was Coneys, that is hotdogs with the works, two for 99¢. Fries were extra.

Brian struggled with the idea of ordering a chef’s salad, or any salad, instead. The diminishing funds in his wallet dictated the special plus fries.

“No onions, please. Thanks.”

After the waitress walked away to give his order to the cute twenty-something with the bushy beard in kitchen, a feeling of normalcy washed over Brian. With it, an exhausted relaxation. He was, for the moment, out of the danger zones as far as he could tell. Despite all he’d seen, experienced, there did not seem to be a massive manhunt to find him. The TVs in the diner showed mainly sports and one had the Weather Channel. Then he noticed one more small one that had scrolling news banners and was tuned to a business channel.

He rubbed his eyes and stretched, cracked his neck and yawned.

It’s over.

For the first time since the whirlwind of events had lead Brian partway across the country, he relaxed. He didn’t have any idea where he’d go, but at the moment, that didn’t matter. He was out of harm’s way.

He turned to the TV and started getting caught up on the events on the coasts. Focusing on someone else’s problems might help him forget his own for a while.

California was still reeling from the earthquake. There was a mass correction list of celebrities previously reported dead who had actually been elsewhere at the time. The list took at least a minute and a half to scroll across and before Brian could picture one there was the name of another. He would have to watch that again several times when it came up in cue to get all of the names in his head.

He morbidly wondered for a moment if several character actors in his type were gone leaving a vacuum for him to fill. But then he recalled that his agent was dead as were so many producers that it might be decades before Hollywood rebuilt itself and continued in anything even approaching its former glory.

New York City was still a war zone, recovering from the loss of two boroughs and the sinking suspicion that “the plague” (as the media had taken to calling it) was not in fact contained by the firebombs. Rumors of escapees were flying, though they didn’t seem to be taken seriously by the serious people, merely something to talk about and keep people glued to the screen.

There was little talk of the militia and the military operations happening occurring on American soil apart from the occupation of New York and the winding down rescue operations in California under FEMA.

Brian’s dogs and fries came. He ate the first a little too quickly. He got chili on his fingers and felt a little self-conscious about it. Looking around, it didn’t seem that anyone had noticed his failure to adhere to Post, though he wasn’t sure what Em had to say on the subject of eating hotdogs anyway.

There was a pretty young blond woman looking his way. Their eyes made contact and he managed a smile just as he was taking a smaller bite of the second coney.

She wore matching light tan leather (or pleather?) pants and jacket with Native frills dangling from the arms. Her shirt was a white blouse with some off-white pattern on it he couldn’t discern.

“Hi, I’m Kitten. That’s what all my friends call me.”

Brian nervously wiped his hand on the extra napkin the waitress had brought him and dabbed his mouth in an effort to swallow before speaking.

“Ben. Nice to meet you.”

She had come over to his table in the time it had taken him to look away, swallow, take a quick drink of water, and another bite of food.

Kitten sat down. Unlike Brian, she had apparently given the name people knew her by. She had one of those fake gold necklaces with the name in a cursive font. She smiled and laced her fingers in front of her.

“How’re the dogs?”

“Pretty good.”

He thought of mentioning that he had had the real thing some years back when he and Jaime started dating. Brian had taken the Brazilian around and showed him various touristy sites that, being a longtime resident, he never bothered to see on purpose himself.

But he thought better of it. Opening the whole New York can of worms struck him as a bad idea on all fronts.

“Mind if I have a few fries?”

Brian weighed his hunger versus his vanity and generosity. Concern over carbs and not wanting to offend what seemed to be a nice young woman won out.

“No problem.”

“Thanks!”

Kitten grabbed the red plastic ketchup bottle and carefully made a small, neat puddle to the side of the pile of greasy wavy potato wedges.

She chowed and occasionally looked up and giggled in a way that Brian found adorable, disarming, and somehow invigorating after all the violence he’d witnessed.

And taken part in.

“So. You new in town…uh, Ben?”

“Yeah. Between jobs. Looking for work.”

“Ah. Well, I know someone who can help you with that.”

“Yeah? Who’s that?”

“God.”

At least it’s not sex.

Are you sure?

May as well take care of both.

“Well…Kitten. I haven’t always… felt…well, welcome at places of worship.”

There had actually been a significant number of New York actors involved with the Times Square church. That was the one of The Cross and the Switchblade fame. It had at some point gotten itself connected to a larger national or international group, one that had in many respects been considered a cult. He recalled an actress he had worked with who had been a member. She and her husband had met at the LA branch. The church leadership had said she was to marry someone else instead. When she and her betrothed disagreed they were suddenly treated differently. The apartments and jobs they had gotten through church contacts suddenly went away. They had church members looking in their windows. Brian had scarcely believed it, it seemed so crazy.

The couple had fled LA for New York. Brian had met Chrissy at a workshop where the man who supposed himself a voice coach and expert on accents turned out to be not only a con artist but also a little nuts. He tried to get attendees to put on nude versions of “his” Hamlet. As far as Brian could tell it was a cutting of the original. The man just wanted to get the royalties apparently.

Both Brian and Chrissy had made excuses about other auditions and fled to the same coffee shop. A friendship had been struck up and Chrissy and her husband had actually been the ones who had introduced Brian to Jaime.

He still couldn’t process the fact that all of those people were dead. Everything since had been about survival until now and he simply hadn’t had the time to stop and think about it much.

“Really? You Jewish?”

“No. Gay.”

“Oooohhhh… Well, you know, Jesus loves you anyway. You know that, right?”

Yeah. Liked he loved those people in New York…

Not helping.

“I guess, sure. I don’t mean to offend you. You go to church around here?”

“Oh. No. It just seemed like you…like you needed help, you know? And I thought maybe that was what you needed.”

“That’s sweet. Thank you.”

She ate some more fries and Brian took a drink of water. The chili was repeating a little. Danger of gobbling on an empty stomach, he supposed.

“Well. Thank you, Ben. It was really nice of you to share your food with me. Please do think about what I said, won’t you? No pressure or anything. I just want to see you make the right decisions for your life.”

“Sure, Kitten. It was nice to meet you. Take care.”

“Yep. Have a good one!”

Kitten got up to leave. Brian watched her go out into the parking lot and toward a small blue two-door import.

Nice girl.

Look down, genius.

Brian looked at the plate. The ketchup had been shoveled around into an exclamation point. He turned to plate so it was facing him.

The dozen or so remaining fries were arranged in three spots on the plate. They spelled something.

O-I-E. Oie?

Look again.

What he had supposed was an ‘O’ was actually perhaps a ‘D’.

Ah. “DIE!” What the—

Look out the window.

Puzzled, Brian looked again out the window. Kitten was waving and smiling as she got into her car. Brian waved back absentmindedly.

That is one crazy bitch.

Yeah.

You’ll be seeing her again. Soon.

Great.

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From → Infernis, Novels

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