You know you've driven too long, too far when you vision blurs, the roadside markers wobble and that dammed white line seems to be a revolving ball that you're running around to chase the horizon. I had to stop and when the Bar and Grill sign flickered up at me in the twilight I made the choice. The hot tyres crackled on the gravel in the failing light as I parked up and stopped dead. The sensation of just sitting and not moving was a deep physical pleasure. My hands slumped down from the wheel and my head tipped into the top of the it and I allowed myself just to feel woozy. I could've slept there, there and then. I was short on strength and normal sensation but I was also thirsty and hungry. The five minutes of zoning out in the parking lot was good but I knew I had to get out, stretch, breath some other air and eat. Then, once those common drugs had started to work on me I'd get back on the road.
The diner was run down and friendless. There would be no food hygiene prizes or fine cuisine here. It was chow and beer and that hard wooded utilitarian nothingness you get when you're off the beaten track. This was there. There was a warmth about it, some evidence of TLC in the paintwork and the pot plants but any investment or enthusiasm had been sucked right out of the business a long time ago. The sign said “OPEN” but there were no other cars parked up. At the side there was a red VW and a while panel, too far back to be customers I thought. I'd be No1, maybe first of the day or even the week. I swung open the door, no creak, no squeak, it was an unexpected welcome of sorts. Then came a female voice, rising like syrup from beyond the counter and filling the space where empty tables and chair and sauce bottle decorations were lined up in anticipation.
“You want a sweet hot coffee or an ice cold beer before I tell you everything that's on the menu?”
“I'll take that cold beer, any kind you got and I'll take steak and eggs and fries, any kind you got!”
“Well we've only got one kind of any of that so you're a very lucky man, just one that's not spoiled for choice.”
“Choice is the great curse of the modern world, give a man too much to choose from and he won't know what he wants, he'll also know what it is he can't have. All that tends to lead to bad situations and fisticuffs. I'm happy with you're four things.”
“Oh, we do have others but I'm not going to bother you with them, find a seat you like and I'll be out there with you in a moment.”
“I will do that, don't you rush and hurt yourself!”
I sat down at a table facing the window and the road, my back to the kitchen. As I leaned back in the chair I thought about my drive and my flight, my earnest flight to get away, get away from biggest cyber attack in history (so they said) and the business, my business that it had been unceremoniously destroyed before my eyes. I was fleeing the scene of somebody else's crime but in there I had a share of that crime. I was a third party and my trader site was wiped, wiped as I'd just handled my biggest transaction ever. It had all gone my way, the money was there in my account, over, down and out, I had the money and I also had the merchandise. Then when the hammer fell, when the Koreans or whoever it was attacked I had a double blessing; cash and goods. It took me about five minutes to think it through, to cement the final number, hide then away and then run as all the other numbers tumbled. Who would ever follow my tracks or trail. All the blank screens and flickering lights, all the news and propaganda, all a cover for guys like me to up and run and wait it out and cash in. Some I'm hiding in this cafe in the wilderness at the end of the universe, beyond signals and fibre optics ordering a medium steak. I'm running and I'm hiding and I'm rich...somewhere.
She appeared from the kitchen gloom with my brown bottle and a shiny glass. She put down the paper napkin, screwed the glass onto it and poured the beer. “It'll do you more good to look at that than it will to drink it but I know you're gonna drink it.” “I surely am.”
Her name badge said “Rosa” in a scripted font, she was about thirty five, still pretty, still slim, still in the wrong place I guessed. She smiled a dark smile as the bottle emptied. “You're food's gonna take a little time, fire up the burners you know.” “Business bad?” “Hell no! Business is business, we do what we can, we feed the hungry and water the thirsty, there's always that kind here, all the runners come here. Who you runnin' from?”
I smiled and deliberately supped on the beer, I wanted to gulp by she was holding me in a tractor gaze. She'd either read me like a book or she was a keen fisher of men. I tried in some way to look like I wasn't running and tried to purge my thoughts just in case they were running across my eyeballs like a telecaster and she was reading every word. “No time for me to run, I'm just exploring my business opportunities, here, there and everywhere. This place is in the right place but I'm sure you know that.” “Everything is in the right place.” She looked at me hard and then looked away. “I'll fix your meal.”
Now that the motoring part of my world had stopped moving I was suddenly swept by tired thoughts that grew and distorted. Her I was, on the run, looking for cover and somehow sitting on a fortune. One part in the Cayman Islands, whirring in a green lit bank server far from the Korean's grasp and a warehouse full of high quality prescription drugs. Locked, bolted and anonymous on some tired industrial estate in some tired Mid-Western town. I had seen neither thing, neither asset but somehow, thanks to a criminal glitch they were both mine and all I had to do was lay low until the dust settled, the machines healed themselves and the markets returned to whatever normal is. That was a lot of hungry thinking but it felt like I'd sorted it. It was the hundredth time maybe that I'd been through this, tried to imagine the numbers, the sheds and the eventual outcome. I had to stop, get control and just quietly much through the steak that should arrive at any moment.
Rosa brought me the steak. It looked good, it was big, that's always important when you're hungry. “Whatever you're trying to get away from...you won't.” Rosa's pretty face delivered the line completely straight and without expression. I looked down from looking up at her and then back. “Rosa, you and I do not need to have this kind of conversation. I'm hungry and you've brought me a steak, I'm happy, please don't complicate things with some lines of crazy talk.” She stooped down and whispered, “they are in a the back of the shop, they're watching, they're in the shop.” I shuddered but somehow kept it together. “Who are they?” “The guys you're running from, they're here.” She quickly turned and headed back to the dim beyond.
The steak in my mouth was not so tasty. I was trembling and sweaty. I couldn't quite cut the meat, I couldn't quite hold the fork. I gulped some beer this time and stood up from the table. All hell broke loose. Four back Ninja type guys leapt out from behind the counter, hit me, downed me and pinned me to the floor. “We follow you Jack with our many satellite and phones, we see your deals and read your minds. Today we declare a war on all the dealers and the brokers. We take back your cash and your hot stuff. Write your access codes on this paper!” He grabbed my right hand and tugged it over to the paper. “And speak into my device!” He held up a Samsung phone to my face. “You don't and we chop you up, good!” I did as I was told.
When I woke they were gone, my car was gone and my codes and my short lived fortune was gone. Rosa was standing over me. She didn't look to friendly to me. “You're the third one today,” she said. “The other two are out back. For fifty bucks my brother will get you all into town and drop you at the bus station, he's out there in his truck.”