November 6th, 1974.  6:30 AM

Though I had seen Jacky-Boy’s Diner crowded during the lunchtime rush, that was nothing compared to breakfast.  Not only was every table filled, there were three groups in front of me waiting for one when I’d arrived.  I silently cursed Celia because if she’d listened to me and accepted my plan right off the bat, we would have been here almost an hour before, and I would have been able to talk to Annie before she’d entered the restaurant.  My mood hadn’t been made any better by the fact I’d gotten no sleep the night before.
            Celia didn’t trust me, and I trusted her even less.  We sat on opposite sides of the hotel room saying little, checking our watches too often.  Sage and Lenny had no problem catching some Z’s after an hour or two of television, but once he dozed off Lenny rambled on and on in his sleep making the night that much more uncomfortable.
            “Something’s different, really.  Something’s different and it’s not good,” he mumbled over and over.  He’d said the same thing during dinner several times, and after I’d thought about it I realized he’d been repeating it since just after we’d been pulled over by the police.  I’m not sure if it was mere delusion, or he’d really sensed something, but since he couldn’t be specific, and Sage, Celia and I couldn’t find anything unusual, I had no choice but to let it go.
            An important part of my plan – though, admittedly, I hadn’t actually forged a complete one yet -- was to somehow slip Sarah a note if we weren’t outright reunited.  I didn’t want to write it with Celia staring me down, but she showed no signs of backing off, so I’d made some excuse about composing a business letter and grabbed some hotel stationary.
            “How do you spell Swarovski?  How about dichroic?” I’d asked, annoying her into refusing to pay attention to me.
            The chirping of birds signaled dawn was just a few minutes away, and that’s when it became clear that Celia and I had two completely different ideas about how the events of the day should be handled.  After wasting time we didn’t have arguing, we’d finally settled on a course of action that neither of us was totally happy with, but we agreed that it was better than giving the other complete say.  I was to go into the diner and talk Annie into giving me back the bead, assuming she still had it.  Celia was to park at the bank across the street, where she would have a good view of the diner and parking lot.  If Sarah, Moondagger, and company were to show up, I would rush out the back door through the kitchen, and Celia would meet me there with the car.
            After settling on that treaty, the hard part became convincing Sage to stay in the hotel room and wait for us.  I told her we needed her to keep watch on Lenny K., who wanted to do little else than watch cartoons.  That seemed to give her a purpose, though not without a few sighs of discontent.
            Just before I left, Lenny K. turned to me and said, “Come back with Moondagger would you?  He’s close.  Real close, I can feel it.”
            “I’ll try,” I said.  I wanted to tell him I definitely would, but even with a plan in place I had no way of knowing how things were about to play out.  All I knew for sure was that if everything went smoothly, we would still have only one bead, and they would have the other six.  But I was confident I could barter that last bead for Sarah and Moondagger, and then I could separate myself from this whole mess.  That’s all that really mattered.  If Celia wanted to continue her pursuit, she could do so on her own.

November 6th, 1974.  6:40 AM

            “Hi there.  Just one this morning?””  It must have been Jane Reynolds who asked the question, because it sure wasn’t Annie Slocumb, and according to the schedule Celia stole, Jane was the only other waitress on duty this morning.
            “Hmm?  Oh, yes please.”  I was taken by surprise for my attention wasn’t on the line waiting to be seated, but the bank parking lot across the street.  There was no sign of Celia.  Where was she?  She’d insisted I take a cab to the diner, and she would follow immediately.  When I questioned her logic, she said it would be best to be separated, for it would do us no good if the mercenaries tracked us down and found us together.  It made sense at the time, and I conceded, but damn it, she should have been in my line of sight by now.
            Jane Reynolds led me to a two-top at the far corner of the dining room.  From this vantage point I was able to look out the windows, but not without craning my neck and giving the people seated next to me the feeling I was trying to butt in on their conversation.          
            “Can I start you off with some coffee?”
            “Sure, that would be great,” I said.  “Is Annie Slocumb working this morning?” I asked.  My attention had been completely taken up by waiting for Celia, and I hadn’t looked around to see if she was in.
            “She sure is.  You a friend of hers?” Jane asked.
            “Yeah, an old friend, haven’t seen her in a while.  Would it be too much to ask if she could be wait on me this morning?”
            Jane frowned.  “We’re kind of busy, so that might be difficult.  If you want to wait for a table in her section, it could be a while.”  Just then I saw the Lincoln Continental pull into the bank’s parking lot and I breathed a sigh of relief.
            “That’s okay.  But could you tell her Sam Louviere is here?  And if she gets a second I’d really like to talk to her.”
            “Will do, darling,” she said handing me a menu.  “I’ll be right back with that coffee.”
            I scanned the diner for Annie, and when I first saw her I thought Jane must have been mistaken about her having a shift today.  Annie had lost weight and was carrying herself with more confidence than usual.  Her smile was bright, and she handled the dozens of customers yelling for her attention with the precision and attention to detail of a master juggler keeping several plates spinning on sticks while simultaneously putting a half dozen cigar boxes through gravity-defying moves.
            Annie was standing across the room with her side to me, so I couldn’t tell if she was wearing the bead, but when Jane tapped her on the shoulder and pointed in my direction she turned and I could see that brown-gray bauble in all its hideous glory.  Annie waved, her smile growing even wider, and she held up a finger to let me know she’d be over in just a moment.
            I looked out the front window to see the big black car still idling across the street; nothing else unusual was taking place.  I leaned back, took a deep breath, and suddenly felt very impatient waiting for my coffee to arrive.

November 6th, 1974.  7:05 AM

Jane warmed up my coffee for the second time and asked if I’d decided on my order.  I told her coffee was fine for now, and once again I saw Annie turn in my direction and give a mock frown to let me know she was sorry she hadn’t been able to come over and say hello.
            Absent-mindedly I took another look out the window and was less than happy to see a brown van driving slowly past the diner.  I immediately cursed myself for not questioning Sage about the appearance of the van that had abducted her and Moondagger.  How could I have forgotten to do something so important?  And what’s more, how could Celia have?  She’s such a stickler for detail, yet somehow neither of us had thought to ask about what we should be keeping an eye out for.
            The van kept moving, and left my line of sight.
            Annie was pushing several tables together to accommodate a party of about 12.  It would be forever before I would be able to talk to her.
            I looked out the window once more.  The van was back.  It pulled into the parking lot, and nestled into the empty spot closest to the diner, which fortunately, was about as far away from the building as one could be while still being on the same property.
            When I looked back to the table, Annie was gone.  She reappeared a few seconds later carrying a highchair.  She was going to be very busy for a very long time.
            A squat man in dark sunglasses stepped out from the driver’s side of the van and scanned the parking lot.  A few seconds later he was joined by a very tall man with a crew cut.  Then, from the back of the van Sarah emerged firmly holding onto Moondagger’s.
            Sarah approached the men and pointed to the diner.  I was confused, and a little scared, by how she seemed to be giving them orders.  She then turned her attention to Moondagger who pointed to the diner.  After she said a few words to him, he nodded confidently and once again pointed; this time, though I’m sure it was my imagination, he seemed to be pointing directly at me.
            Squat Man and Crew Cut began walking towards the main doors, but Sarah said something and they stopped.  She then turned to the bank parking lot and made a motion with her arm. 
What the hell was going on? 
A second later Celia exited her car.  She was joining the others.  My conscious mind struggled to make sense of this, and was completely ignoring my subconscious, which had figured it all out in the blink of an eye;  I’d been double-crossed by Celia, as had Sarah’s father.  I didn’t know if it had been that way from the beginning, or if somehow Sarah had offered Celia enough money to turn traitor, but I had to give them credit for a particularly effective strategy.  If Moondagger worked out for Sarah, great.  If not, she had me leading Celia right to the bead.  And as far as this morning was concerned, it would be much easier for them to get their hands on that cursed thing in a crowded place such as this.  They knew I would show no resistance in the presence of so many innocent bystanders.
Celia caught up with the other four and shook hands with Sarah, Squat Man and Crew Cut.  Then the three of them started towards the diner, leaving a forgotten and confused Moondagger to simply stand in place and look around.  I rushed over to Annie who was pleasantly chatting with the party of 12. 
“Excuse me,” I said to the surprised-looking people.  “This will just take a second.”  I pulled Annie over to the nearest corner and immediately apologized.  Annie wasn’t too happy.
“Sam, that was extremely rude.  I’m working here, you know,” she said.
“Annie, remember a few weeks ago when I gave you that bead?  Well, it turns out it wasn’t mine to give and I need it back.”  I hated being so blunt, but time was running out.  Her hand went to the necklace she had made with it, and a worried expression washed across her face.
“I’m sorry, Sam,” she said flatly.
“Listen, I know how bad this makes me look, but I don’t have time to explain.  I’ll come back later and tell you everything, but right now I need that bead.”  I turned my head and saw that they were about 10 feet from the front door.  “Please, Annie, this is very important.”
“Just go sit down, Sam,” she said.  “I’ll be with you in a few minutes, we’ll talk about it then.  Right now, I’m busy.”
I heard the tinkling of the bell attached to the front door, and didn’t need to look to see that time had run out.  I took the letter I’d written the night before from my breast pocket and shoved it into Annie’s hand.
“A pretty brunette with blue eyes just walked in.  Give her this,” I said.  I don’t think I’ll ever forgive myself for what I did next, but I had to think of Annie’s safety.  I grabbed her shoulder hard with one hand, and tore the necklace from her neck with the other.  As I headed for the kitchen, I heard Annie scream, more from surprise than fear, but for those who didn’t know the circumstances, it didn’t seem to matter. Immediately it was joined by the sound of several chairs scraping against the floor as various patrons stood to come to her assistance.  What I didn’t need was several locals coming to the aid of their favorite waitress by beating the crap out of a traveling bead salesman.
As I ran through the swinging door to the kitchen it slammed into the cook who was coming out to see what had caused the ruckus.
“Hey!” he yelled.  “You can’t come back here!”
The tile floor was slippery, and I’m not exactly sure how I kept my footing as I headed for the back door.  What I would do when I was through it was still a mystery, for I knew Celia and my get-away car wouldn’t be waiting, but at least I’d have some open running room.  Without slowing down I placed my hands in front of me and pushed on the metal latch.  It didn’t open, and I ran full-force into the door and fell backwards.
“There he is,” I heard an angry voice say as I got to my feet.  I pushed hard on the door, but it wouldn’t budge.
I turned to see about six men, most of them wearing flannel shirts and baseball caps, standing in the entrance to the dining room.  They were all staring at me hard, and most of them were rolling up their sleeves – so as not to get my blood on them, I surmised.
I was cornered.  My choices were getting the pummeling of a lifetime or reasoning with the angry mob.  Though I knew my chances of the latter were slim, what choice did I have?
“Listen,” I said, raising my hands to underscore the fact I was defenseless and not planning anything sudden.  “This has all been one big mistake, and I’m sure everything can be worked out.”
“The only thing that’s going to be worked out, is your head,” said the closest, and largest, of the men.  A couple of his cohorts gave him quizzical looks, indicating his threat made little sense, but it didn’t seem to bother him.  He moved towards me.
Then, from directly behind me, there was a scraping sound followed by a loud ch-thunk!  The next instant I felt myself being pulled backwards by the shirt collar, and suddenly I was hurled to the gravel ground outside the diner.  I looked up to see Sage quickly pushing the door shut, and placing a large, twisted rod of metal into the latch, locking it from the outside.  A moment later there were sounds as loud as thunder from the door being beaten on inside as the angry mob made a futile attempt to get to me.
“What would you do without me, Sam?” she asked as she helped me to my feet.  “Let’s go.”
Sage ushered me to an idling station wagon with Lenny K. behind the wheel.  She pushed me into the back seat, jumped in after me, and before she could shut the door Lenny had gunned the engine.  I looked out the back window to see Sarah, Celia, Small Squat and Crew Cut running alongside the diner having realized the crowd at the back door made it too hard to get to me.  Crew Cut looked surprised, Small Squat appeared angry, and the cloud of dirt our tires were throwing up hid Sarah’s expression.  Celia, on the other hand, appeared to be laughing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 ..................to be continued

 

2007 Brightlings Beads and M. Robert Todd