Tuesday 18 February 2014
It was half past ten by the time Harper Cahill and Mike Albright made their way from her apartment block to the diner. At that time of night the diner was all but empty aside from the skeleton crew of staff manning the establishment.
‘Pretty quiet for a twenty four hour joint,’ Albright commented.
‘That’s why I like this place so much. The crowd disappears around nine, nine-thirty, but it picks up again around two when the long haul truckers start coming through. That and the fact that Denny makes the best cherry pie you’ll find on the east coast.’
The burly chef in the kitchen looked up at the mention of his name, and gave Harper a sly wink.
‘Extra cherries for you, darlin’,’ he called out, stabbing his large kitchen knife in the air to punctuate his comment.
Harper led Albright to a booth secluded enough that they could talk in private, but well within Denny’s eye line should the investigator try anything violent. Albright examined the menu that Charlene the waitress dropped in front of him. She didn’t bother placing one in front of Harper, but quickly scribbled a note on to her order pad.
‘The usual, honey?’ Charlene asked Harper.
‘And what can I get you?’ she asked Albright.
‘Well, Ms. Cahill, what would you recommend?’
‘Everything at Denny’s is exceptional, Mr. Albright, but I’m rather fond of the Denny’s special cheeseburger, chilli cheese fries, a slice of cherry pie with ice cream on the side, and a short black . . . that is, if you’re man enough to finish it.’
Albright smiled, and handed the menu back to Charlene.
‘So, you made up your mind?’ asked Charlene.
‘I’d like to try what Ms. Cahill here recommended. Thank you very much.’
‘Denny,’ Charlene called out to the chef, ‘gimme two of Harper’s usuals.’
‘Comin’ up, Charlie,’ the chef yelled back. Charlene wandered back to the counter, leaned across, and picked up the coffee pot and two cups. A few steps and she was back with Harper and Albright, placing the cups on the table, and filling them with steaming hot coffee.
‘There you go, hon.’
‘Thank you, Charlene,’ Harper replied.
‘Denny’ll have those meals ready for you quicker than ol’ Pete Greene on crack.’
Charlene’s comment induced laughter in both the waitress and Harper, clearly an in-joke that Albright was not going to be privy to.
Harper and the investigator sipped at their coffees in silence. Ten minutes passed before Denny chimed the service bell to announce to Charlene that the meals were ready. The waitress delivered both meals to the table, winked at Harper, and retreated to her usual position behind the counter, away from the only two patrons of the diner.
‘So,’ Harper mumbled after scoffing a mouthful of chilli cheese fries, ‘what do you want?’
He bit into the burger, and Harper grinned as cheese, ketchup, onions, and Denny’s special sauce oozed out from it, and ran down his fingers. Albright returned the cheeseburger to his plate, and licked the ingredients from his hands. He spoke as he wiped the remnants away.
‘Robert Carter wants to take you down before you do any harm to him or Carter Industries.’
‘Well, Mr. Albright, you’re not telling me anything that I hadn’t already figured out myself.’
‘Please, call me Mike. I’m not overly fond of formalities,’ he said. She shrugged in reply.
‘But what do you want with me, Mike?’
‘Carter has assumed, correctly or not, that you’ve been in touch with the Department of Justice, and an investigative agent by the name of Adelaide Danvers.’
Harper gave nothing away, but continued to consume her meal.
‘You’re not answering my question, Mike.’
‘It’s time for me to retire,’ he said solemnly. ‘I need to get out before Carter decides that I’m surplus to his requirements, and gets rid of me on a more permanent, and never-to-be-seen-again basis. If you’ve spoke to Danvers, I’d really appreciate if you could get me a meeting with her. I’m willing to turn state’s evidence against Carter if Danvers can give me immunity for everything that I’ve done on his behalf.’
Harper stopped eating. Was she hearing a genuine plea from someone who really wanted to get away from Carter’s grasp, or was this one of Carter’s ploys to entrap both Harper and Danvers?
‘What makes you think I even know who you’re talking about?’ Harper knew the answer before the question had exited her mouth, and she answered it herself. ‘Of course, you’ve been following me.’
‘Yeah, so I know that you’ve been to see Danvers. Please,’ Albright pleaded, ‘please, help me.’
‘You’ve been a faithful employee to Robert Carter for decades, and now you want out? I don’t buy it, Mike. It’s all a little too B-grade movie plotline for me.’
‘I give you my word, Ms. Cahill . . . Harper, I give you my word that this is not some tacky ploy to get at you. If I’d wanted to kill you, I could have done it any number of times since I began following you. Any number of times. It would have been easy. I’m getting too old to be of any help to Carter these days. He’s already spoken to me about how we’re going to say goodbye to Carter Industries together. That’s not a good sign for me. Carter never, never allows anyone to simply walk away from his employment. He’s not that generous.’
Harper pondered his pleas. A part of her wanted to believe that Mike Albright was making a genuine plea for help, but still, she was wary of his true intentions, whatever they might be.
‘I can’t promise anything. She may not even want to see you, but I’ll pass on what you’ve told me.’
‘Thank you,’ Albright replied, reaching out across the table to squeeze Harper’s hand. ‘Thank you. That’s all I’m asking of you, just speak with her. Thank you.’
. . . To be continued . . .