Scattered and Smothered, Hector Acosta
Every asshole in the county knew better than to rob the Waffle House.
Which explained why when Louie stepped through the restaurant’s doors, cradling a shotgun in both hands like a mother holding a newborn, we didn’t take him seriously. Especially not Lynette, who’d been working too many of the late-night shifts and didn’t even bother to look up from the tips she was counting, her grease-stained fingers sliding across wrinkled dollars bills and her face scrunching up as she tallied her take-home pay.
I was the only customer in the place at the time, having been sitting over by the counter for the better part of an hour, enjoying my cup of coffee and glances at Lynette. She was the only woman I knew who could make the required gray button-up shirt and black apron covered with stains look good.
“No one move, this is a robbery!”
No shit. Folks didn’t go around guns drawn for no reason, not even in the South.
After counting her last dollar Lynette stared up at the twin black holes of the shotgun now pointed at her. “Louie Michael Thomas, just what in the heck do you think you’re doing?” Her voice reminded me of gravel crushed under a truck tire, and it always got this way after eight hours of shouting orders of chocolate chip waffles and hashbrowns topped with chili and gravy to Fat Bill, Lynnette’s live-in boyfriend, Waffle House’s cook, and the skinniest motherfucker I’d ever laid my eyes on.
Hence his name.
“I ain’t no Louie,” Louie said, his hand going up to adjust the mask he had on. It was one of those novelty plastic ones you found everywhere once Halloween strode up, the mask capturing the sickly yellow of our dear president pretty dang well, with the double chins a nice additionational touch. But the eyes were all Louie, black, glassy and jumpy. And then there was his left hand, shaky and missing a little finger. It’s how we all knew it was Louie behind the mask.
“You best be putting that gun away. ’Less you want me jumping over that counter ’n coming at ya.” That was Fat Bill, who stood by the grill and eyed Louie something fierce. I thought about asking him to refill my empty cup of coffee but figured I should stay nice and quiet for now.
“Go back to burning grits, Bill.”
Oof. A man like Fat Bill had plenty of faults. He never pitched in for gas whenever we all went mudding, couldn’t hold his beers, and had a penchant for throwing fists without warning, but damn it, he was a fine cook and proud of it. The guy made some dang good sunny-side-up eggs, with the yolk always bleeding yellow when you cut into it, shiny and thick like melted gold. So you better believe commenting on his grits was as bad of an insult you could throw at him.
“What you say?” Bill walked around the counter, passing me by without so much as a glance. His eyes were fixed on Louie, and as he walked he slapped the spatula he’d been using to cook my hashbrowns against his thigh. It made an ugly sound which bounced across the linoleum floor, something in between a belch and a wheeze.
“Will you boys quit it?” Lynette said. “Louie, walk out right now and I won’t call the cops. Won’t even say a word to your mother, who by the by, would be mortified to find out what you’re doing.”
“I ain’t Louie!” The mask took some of the shrill out of the kid’s voice, but my ears still stung.
“Shut it, woman,” Bill said, getting closer to Louie. “I’m handling this.” He lunged at Louie, spatula high in the air.
Louie fired. Because Louie might have been an asshole who lacked one finger, but he was just the right amount of dumb to know what to do when you have a gun and the other guy don’t.
The blast was louder than I expected, filling the diner and blanketing Lynette’s scream along with Louie’s holyshitfuck. At the end, there was the punctuation of two spent rounds falling on the linoleum floor.
“You better run.”
Louie turned my way and stared. The mask stayed on, but I thought I saw fear in his eyes.
“You’re thinking, ‘Kill the waitress and guy at the counter. No witnesses then.’” I continued, doing my best to ignore the blood and chunks of Bill’s meat around me, “But that ain’t the way to play this. Better to run now. We didn’t see your face anyhow. Ain’t that right Lynette?”
Lynette nodded and said nothing.
A beat. Long enough that a nagging voice scratched the back of my mind, whispering how I planned it all wrong. Then Louie was out the door. He almost slipped on some of Bill’s fluids on the way out, but soon enough he was in the parking lot and jumping into an old Camaro.
“How you know?”
“Know what, Darling?” I asked Lynnette. I was on the other side of the counter already and walking towards the till.
Lynette motioned to the diner. “That Bill would go after him. That Louie would shoot.”
Waffle House had a good night. The money wouldn’t take us far, but it was a start. Planting a kiss on Lynette’s cheek, I let my hand graze her ass. “Cause, that’s what an asshole would do.”
Hector Acosta is the author of the wrestling-inspired novella Hardway. His stories have appeared in Weird Noir, Thuglit, and Shotgun Honey. He resides in New York with his wife and dog and misses Waffle House and Whataburger. You can follow him on Twitter @hexican.
“Scattered and Smothered” is included in our zine Beer Money.