The dinner, although awkward at first, had been a rousing success. And for once, it wasn’t because of the wine.
Becky had reason to believe that her sparkling personality, while often hidden away to prevent folks from ever expecting to see that side of her, might have actually made and appearance and charmed John well beyond expectations.
At least that was what she secretly hoped.
“You were right,” John concurred as he placed his napkin atop his empty plate. “Your chicken parm is amazing. Who knew that your culinary talents went beyond omelettes with odd ingredients?”
They both got a good chuckle out of that, and Becky could feel her cheeks blushing.
“Well, you could stop by the diner for something other than breakfast,” she said with a wink as she got up to clear their plates.
When John stood up to help, she motioned for him to sit. He decided to refill their wineglasses so he could feel like he was being helpful.
“I miss home cooked meals so much,” he confessed. “One of the many perils of being perpetually on the road, is that most of my meals come from fast food joints or takeout containers. Yet another reason why I was interested in renting your room…”
Becky returned to the table. “Look who is the master of the segue. I had no idea that home cooked meals were a part of the deal.”
She smiled slyly and John rolled his eyes.
“I thought I’d try slipping that one in there…” he admitted.
Becky took a sip of her wine. “Thank you for being such wonderful company. It’s been decades since I’ve cooked an intimate dinner for anyone other than Jake. Nice to know I can still pull it off without being too awkward.”
“I can say the same,” he confessed with an embarrassed grin. “I’m almost always eating alone in some strange place, wondering if the locals are staring at me and trying to figure out who the weirdo is at the table for one.”
“Awww…” Becky offered a friendly smile. “So I take it there’s no Mrs. Smith and little Smiths waiting at home?”
John shook his head. “There isn’t even a home. Well, technically, the company provides me with an apartment in Manhattan, but I’m never there. Seems like such a waste. I hope they let others use it every once in a while…”
His voice drifted off like he was trying to figure out what went on in that apartment if he was never living in it.
“I’ll do it,” Becky said to break the silence.
John snapped out of his little trance and looked over at her in confusion.
“Do what?” he asked.
“I’ll let you rent the room and keep your stuff here,” she explained. “And I won’t tell anyone about it because I know privacy and secrecy is important to you.”
“And you’ll throw in the occasional home cooked meal?” he pressed with a sly smile.
Now it was Becky’s turn to roll her eyes. “Go get your stuff, and I’ll show you the room before I change my mind.”
John beamed, and got up from the kitchen table. He quickly made his way to the back door and vanished out into the backyard on his way to the garage.
“If he murders you in your sleep, at least you had this one semi-romantic dinner to remind you that you are still something of a catch,” she muttered to herself before downing a huge gulp of wine.
He sighed as he went over the diner’s books. Yes, business had picked up recently, but Becky was still struggling to make ends meet because Jake had emptied their joint bank account.
He’d like nothing more than to run into Jake in a dark alley, and show him how he felt about what he’d done to his best friend. After making him give up the location of the money first, of course.
There was a gentle knock on the office door, and it slowly opened.
“There’s a customer at table sixteen who want to pay his compliments to the owner,” Kyleigh, the night shift waitress explained. “Since Becky’s not here, can you handle it?”
“Sure thing, Kyleigh,” he replied. “Give me a second to finish up here.”
“Just a warning: the guy’s a creeper,” she said before heading back out onto the floor.
Michael raised an eyebrow to the comment, but wasn’t very concerned. Kyleigh was 20, quite attractive, and older customers were hitting on her all the time. He made a mental note to set this guy straight if he seemed to have his eyes on the diner’s best waitress.
“You’re not Rebecca,” the man with the British accent at table sixteen said when Michael appeared a few minutes later.
Kyleigh had been right about this one. The dead eyes, the way too large suit, the frightening smile…he was definitely creepy.
“Becky isn’t here right now,” Michael explained. “I’m Michael. I guess you could say I’m the boss when she isn’t around.
Alex Foley smiled, which only made the living scarecrow look even more like the things of nightmares.
“I’ve heard a great deal about this establishment, but I’d never actually eaten here before tonight,” he said. “That was definitely my loss because the food is outstanding!”
Michael was pretty sure he knew who the man was, but he didn’t want to say anything until he saw how this was going to play out.
“What did you have?” he asked instead like a proud restaurant manager.
“The chicken parmigiana,” Foley replied, but it sounded so odd with his accent. “The lovely waitress said it was the best item on the menu, and I decided to trust her recommendation.”
Michael smiled. “I’ll pass your compliments along to Becky. Be sure to tip your waitress.”
He turned to leave, but Foley wasn’t going to let that happen without upping the creepiness factor at least a little.
“Mr. Gallagher, please tell Rebecca that I’m sorry I missed her,” Foley requested with a smile.
Michael turned back to the table with a stern look on his face. “You’re that Foley creep. The security guy from Ephrem/Regis. The one I’ve heard referred to as the living scarecrow.”
Foley chuckled. “That insult is one of my favorites. I assure you, however, Mr. Gallagher, that I intend no ill will towards the local bird population.”
Michael got a little closer to the table because he wanted to be intimidating, and didn’t want anyone to overhear what he was about to say.
“Get the hell out of here, Foley, and don’t come back,” he threatened. “I know the Sheriff asked you nicely to leave Becky alone, but I’m not going to be nearly as polite…”
Michael grabbed the table, and gave it a quick, violent shake, that toppled Foley’s coffee cup, and spilled the brown liquid all over the front of his suit.
“The Marine in you is coming out in defense of your former lover,” Foley purred as he removed a handkerchief from his jacket pocket and dabbed at the coffee stains. “How second act of a big budget American action movie of you.”
Foley smiled. With his dead eyes and creepy smile, he looked scarier than any Halloween mask.
“Becky has nothing to do with the sins of her ex-husband,” Michael growled in a low voice that only Foley could hear. “Leave her alone, or the next time we meet, you’ll be wiping up more than coffee.”
Michael walked away from the table, and headed straight for Kyleigh. He told her to bring table sixteen his check, and to let him know if the man wasn’t gone in five minutes.
“It’s perfect,” he assured her. “To be honest, I will not be spending much time here. It’s really more the idea of knowing that I have a place to stay out of the public eye when I need it, and the assurance that my personal belongings are safe from prying eyes.”
“You’ll be the best tenant ever, I’m sure,” she replied with a smile.
John walked over to the closet, and opened it. However, he did not place his items inside.
“Is there something wrong?” she asked with concern.
He turned to her. “I know I’m asking you to fib to your friends, so I’m worried they might see my things and put you on the spot. Would it be okay to put these up in the attic where no one’s bound to come across them?”
“I don’t see why not,” she told him. “Full disclosure, I believe the attic is haunted, but that’s good news for you because you’ll know that there’s no way in hell I’d ever dare go up there and peek at your things. The ghosts can have them.”
John chuckled. “You’re a very interesting woman.”
“I get that a lot,” she answered with a giggle. “Let me show you the way to the attic.”
Later, the items safely tucked away in the attic under the watchful eyes of the house’s ghosts, Becky and John sat in the living room.
There was a bottle of wine, two glasses, and an envelope filled with $5000 in cash on the table.
“Can I propose a toast to our new living arrangement? May it be beneficial to us both,” he said as he raised his glass.
Becky smiled and raised hers in response. They drank, but the moment was interrupted by the ringing of her cell phone. She excused herself to take the call.
When she returned, the smile was gone.
“Something wrong?” John asked in concern.
“That was the restaurant,” she explained. “The creepy head of security from Jake’s former employers stopped by as part of his ongoing Drive Becky Crazy tour.”
John raised an eyebrow. “What does he want?”
Becky sighed and then sipped her wine. “He seems to think I was in on it with Jake, and that if he keeps showing up at my house or place of business unannounced, he’ll eventually get me to cave and tell him where Jake and the money are.”
John put down his wineglass. “He comes by here? How often?”
Becky shrugged. “It’s random. I asked the Sheriff, who’s also a close friend, to have a talk with him about leaving me alone. Apparently, that didn’t work.
John shook his head. “What’s this clown’s name? That kind of behavior is completely unacceptable.”
“Sorry,” he apologized, “but did you say Alex Foley? All I can think of is Axel Foley…”
“Eddie Murphy’s character in Beverly Hills Cop!” Becky shouted out and laughed. “I thought I was the only one who got that. I’m so glad there’s another weirdo out there like me.”
John nodded and smiled. “What’s he going to do, stick a banana in your tailpipe?”
They both had a good laugh.
“Thanks,” Becky said as she wiped away tears of laughter. “I needed that.”
“Well, it still doesn’t make what he’s doing right,” John stated as he slipped back into serious mode. “I’ve never done business with Ephrem/Regis, but I’m sure I know someone who knows this guy. Let me see what I can find out, and if I can get him to back off.”
Becky smiled, suddenly extra grateful that she’d decided to open her home to this charming stranger.
“Do you really think it could help?” she asked hopeful for the first time of having the creepy scarecrow out of her life.
“It can’t hurt,” he replied with a wink.
That was enough for Becky. She raised her glass and drank to that!
TO BE CONTINUED…