Becky’s Country Kitchen had a prime downtown location on the corner of Main Street and Lightning Bug Lane.
It was also the only establishment in town that served all three meals of the day, and was not either part of a chain, or dependent upon alcohol or overpriced coffee for its main source of income.
Despite having all this in its favor, the diner only did average business. That is, until the owner’s husband caused quite the scandal and became a fugitive.
At first, the diner was swarmed with media types looking for a chance to ask Becky about what Jake had done. Once it became clear that she wasn’t going to grant any interviews, the reporters went with Plan B, which was to speak to any resident who was willing to talk to them.
They maintained the diner as their headquarters, ate all their meals there, and ended up providing much needed financial assistance to the woman whose life they sought to turn even further upside down.
When the good people of Lightning Bug Junction finally froze out the media, they packed up their cameras, lights, and microphones, and drove off in search of the next scandal.
Even after the bottom feeders left, the diner remained a hot spot. Residents realized that one of their own was in trouble, and they decided to help her by taking more meals than usual at her conveniently located establishment.
Sheriff Travis Nadeau had been a customer from the very start. The man loved Becky’s blueberry pancakes and refused to start his day without a large stack accompanied by sausage and a bottomless cup of coffee.
“My compliments to the chef!” Travis gushed when Becky emerged from the kitchen now that the morning rush had ended.
“I don’t know why you like my pancakes so much,” she replied with a smile as she poured herself a glass of orange juice. “If you ask me, Sully’s are way better.”
The Sheriff shook his head emphatically. “His aren’t as fluffy or sweet. I almost didn’t survive that week Sully worked the breakfast shift while you were laying low to avoid the idiot reporters.”
Becky smiled brighter and gave him a gentle pat on the forearm.
“You’re sweet, Travis. And thank you for keeping those monsters away from me. I was certainly not about to make my personal dilemma fodder for the tabloids and twenty-four hour news cycle.”
“Is he trying to get your blueberry pancake recipe out of you again?” asked the tall, handsome man, who joined the Sheriff at the counter.
Becky blushed ever so slightly, but turned away to grab the coffee pot before anyone could notice.
Michael Gallagher was a dear friend, her high school sweetheart, and the diner’s current accountant. He was way too important to her life, and there was no way she was going to complicate that by allowing any old feelings to emerge.
“He’ll never get it out of me,” Becky assured him as she placed his coffee in front of him.
“This place is so much nicer with those bloodsuckers gone,” Michael announced as he motioned to the empty booths and tables that had recently been packed with members of the media.
Becky and Travis nodded in agreement.
“Isn’t it ironic that we all went to high school together, vowed to get the hell out of this town and become famous, and then all ended up back here, refusing to speak to the very people that could have made us famous?”
Michael rolled his eyes at the stupidity of the comment, and punched the Sheriff in the arm. Becky simply shook her head and kept her thoughts to herself because that was always the safest route.
“We wouldn’t have been famous,” Michael corrected him and stood up for Becky just like he had always done back when the trio attended high school together. “They would have exploited us, made a mockery of Becky’s situation, turned this town into some sort of scandal tour destination, and then left us all alone to dig our way out of the shirt storm they placed us in.”
“All because my prick of a husband decided to have his midlife crisis on the grandest scale possible, and isn’t around to face the consequences of his actions,” Becky summarized and then chugged the rest of her juice.
“Speaking of the man of the hour, my office is still getting flooded with calls from people who swear they’ve seen him a few counties over,” Travis sighed. “Like he’d steal over a million dollars and not bother to flee the state. I really wish those guys at Ephrem/Regis would rescind their reward offer. It’s making my life a living hell.”
Travis noticed the way Becky raised an eyebrow to that comment and hung his head. “Sorry, Becky. I know my version of living hell pales in comparison to your own.”
Becky shrugged. “It’s not like I have a monopoly on hell on earth. What I don’t get, though, is why folks are calling you when it’s Jake’s former company that’s offering the reward…”
Michael was happy to field this question because he was always willing to offer input when it allowed him to disparage Jake or anyone/anything related to the man.
“That’s because no one trusts evil corporate overlords,” he replied with a smug smile. “The corporate offices of Ephrem/Regis are only an hour’s drive away, but they might as well be on an entirely different planet the way life inside that glass skyscraper differs from life in Lightning Bug Junction.”
“I think you might have just hit on a new slogan for the Tourist Board,” Becky teased as she refilled both men’s coffee mugs.
“Is that dickhead from Corporate Security still popping by unannounced to ask you if you’ve heard from Jake?” Travis asked.
Becky nodded. “He refuses to believe that I’m not in on it even though Jake cleaned out our joint account and ran away with another woman. He contends it’s all a part of the master plan.”
The trio laughed in unison.
Again, Michael was eager to offer his two cents. “When have you ever known Jake to be more than average in his goals? Aside from marrying the most amazing woman in this town, he’s never set his sights that high.”
The comment caught Becky off guard, so the only way to hide her blushing cheeks was by raising her empty juice glass as if she were going to drink from it.
“Remember your fortieth birthday?” Michael asked. “He promised you something amazing and kept hinting at your love for Bruce Springsteen, who happened to be in the state at the time for a concert. What did he provide?”
Michael waited for her reply, an extremely smug look on his face.
“The worst Springsteen cover band ever,” Becky sighed and hung her head.
“I believe they were called Born to Jog,” Michael piled on.
That caused Becky to giggle and punch him playfully in the arm. “You know that wasn’t the name, but given Jake’s track record, it certainly could have been.”
Michael nodded in agreement.
“Really, though,” Travis pressed. “Why ruin so many lives for only one point two million?”
A couple of customers entered the diner, and walked past the counter on their way to a booth. Becky smiled brightly at them, and waited for them to be out of earshot before she answered.
“My theory, and it really is just a guess, is that Jake created one of his spreadsheet, crunched all the numbers, inputted all the factors, and concluded that $1.2 million was enough money for him to live on comfortably, while also not large enough to cause Ephrem/Regis to spend too much time and effort in trying to hunt him down to recover it.”
“Agreed,” Michael said with a nod. “There’s probably some corporate insurance that covers that amount, and Jake essentially wagered his life on the idea that the company would make some effort to save face, and then eventually forget about it.”
Travis just mouthed the word “Wow” and took a sip of his coffee.
“I’ve got to get back to work, but don’t take that to mean I will ever let Jake off the hook for what he’s done to me…”
Becky offered them both a curt nod and headed back into the kitchen.
“I would never want to be on Becky’s bad side,” Travis confessed.
“You and me both,” Michael agreed.
TO BE CONTINUED…