Night shift

Chapter 1:

It was past ten o'clock when that miserable looking guy entered the diner. He inconspicuously sat down in the farthest corner of the café and immediately hid his face behind the menu card. Nevertheless, Jessie the waitress could make out the pathetic expression on his face, how he was cowering like a whipped dog. She had seen quite a bit in this diner. Drunks, thugs, addicts and other needy people who asked for a sympathetic ear, compassion and understanding, but that guy was different. He suffered terribly, but did not dare to communicate, instead he hid from the world so as not to attract attention and quietly endure his fate. Jessie had to do something about it. Of course, she didn't want to play the Good Samaritan. She knew the tricks of the men who entered this diner. Most of the time, they told the waitress tall tales, hoping to be comforted, whatever they meant by that. But this young man did not make a shady impression. He was well dressed, looked well-groomed, and Jessie was especially struck by his bright emerald green eyes, the only thing in his face that had not yet been veiled by grief and sorrow. She decided to do something about his displeasure.

"Did you have a rough day?" she asked while disinfecting the table. He looked briefly into her eyes and nodded.

"That's one way to put it," he answered, the gaze immediately lowered again.

This would be a taciturn conversation, but Jessie didn't give up easily, she was a natural at making even rocks talk.

"Listen! No matter what happened, I've seen or heard some things. If I can help you in any way, my name is Jessie and I'm in charge of this table today. Let me just get the gum out from under your seat and get you a cold drink. What would you like?" She pulled a spatula from her apron and rubbed away the remains of the spoiled brats that marred her diner.

'Wow,' the young man thought to himself. 'A strong, self-confident woman who lends a hand herself and who's not above cleaning up dirt.' Their eyes met briefly, and he forced a wry smile.

"You know, kid. You can't rely on anyone. If you want to get everything done, do it yourself and don't trust anyone. This world doesn't give you anything for granted!" She briefly wiped the back of his chair before disappearing behind the counter and pouring the young man an ice-cold Coke.

"I have rarely seen you so concerned about a customer. Normally you show yourself aloof and only take the order, so as not to get involved in embarrassing conversations. Must be a really great pike, this pathetic creature in the far corner. Could it be that you've got a tiny crush on this guy?"

For Eddy, teasing his best friend was the greatest pleasure. He didn't know her like that. Jessie usually resisted any kind of small talk. This was due to her dark past, when she had repeatedly fallen for advances from men who were never looking for a steady relationship, but for a quick fix. Eddy had witnessed this bad time of his friend, how her heart was broken, how she was badly played with, and how she was simply dropped like a hot potato. Jack was the worst example of them all. While Jessie was already hearing the wedding bells ringing, he was making love to the women of the Strip and deceiving Jessie night after night with other broads. Jessie was devastated when she found out Jack was cheating on her. She was furious, not even at her lying boyfriend, but at herself for having been so stupid as to trust a man.

Jessie gave Eddy a light pat on the head. "Don't be silly! That time is over. I can take care of myself, I don't need male support for that. I'm a big girl, I make my own dough, and I keep my head above water pretty well. No, not a chance, I've sworn off flirting." Nevertheless, she caught herself as her gaze wandered to the young man in the corner. "Oh yes, this time is definitely over," Eddy smirked.

"Jessie, could you bring us a side of fries, please?" Misty's order echoed throughout the hall. The twenty-year old waved her hands. She was used to speaking loudly, almost shouting, to attract guests to her daily water Pokémon show. Sometimes she walked up and down the streets of the Strip all day in the blazing hot sun, trying to win people for her underwater attraction. As an excellent student, she could have taught at any college, but she had decided early on to get into show business and make her living doing what she really loved, joined by Dewgong and Starmie. Her parents had not agreed with this decision at all, it was wasted talent, they had claimed, and had summarily turned Misty out the door. Since then, she had been struggling through life on her own, but could always count on Jess, the diner and her two best friends, Ash and Brock, young people who were also not favoured by fate.

"Temper your voice, twerp!" Jessie couldn't help but grin. She spread the ketchup bottles around the table, hoping Ash wouldn't spill on himself and the diner again. His constant companion Pikachu immediately hopped on his shoulder, grabbed a fry and popped it in his mouth. Ash and his Pokémon were carnies. He had trained his friend well and attracted many spectators with his performance. Most of them felt sorry for the guy and tipped generously. That's why Ash was able to invite his friends to the diner every night, a place that gave them hope where they could experience security. They were convinced that nothing would ever disturb this idyll and that fate, for better or worse, had taken its course.

"Who's that guy over there?" Brock wanted to know. He had barely sold chocolate and roses tonight. The others held back, but they were certain that their friend was just too pushy with women and that's why he only collected rejections instead of green bills.

"I've never seen him here before. Must be from another area. I can't tell you for the life of me why he's wearing a suit at theses temperatures, he looks pretty pathetic to me anyways," Jessie replied.

"Maybe his car has stalled," Ash suggested, "and now he was forced to wander through the desert until the tasty aromas from your diner brought him back from his delirium."

"Or," Brock interfered, "he had to flee his own wedding because his wife is a real pain in the ass, unlike our sweet Misty," Brock oohed at his friend. "Forget it, Brock! You and me, this will never happen!" She gave him a gentle poke.

"Enough now with your naïve speculations! Just let him enjoy his drink. We're closing soon, so get going," Jessie dismissed their absurd ideas with a wave of her hand, but at this point no one knew how right Brock was.

Dark thoughts hunted the young man. He knew what he would face at home if he was late. Beatings, torture, rebuke, harassment, were just a few words to describe his failed relationship. Unconsciously, he stroked his scarred arms.

"Can I get you something to eat?" Jessie pulled him out of the maelstrom of bad thoughts, of course she had noticed the wounds, but maybe he had gotten those injuries at work. The young man rummaged some coins out of his pants and let them jingle on the table. "Is that enough for a cheese sandwich?" Jessie hated small change, but she would make an exception for him. A friendly smile, a quick nod, and she passed on the order.

"Something's wrong with this guy," she whispered to Eddy. "He's scarred, bruised and pays with penny coins. Possibly a vagrant." Eddy couldn't help but grin. "That guy's been keeping you busy all night, Jess. What's the matter with you? Are you getting weak?"

The young man could not overhear the conversation between the waiters, but he was sure they were talking about him. He sure made a rather frightening impression, but that was a private matter and not something you shared with a waitress in a diner.

His gaze drifted to the daily paper, which had two faces emblazoned on it: Butch and Cassidy. He had never heard of this odd couple, but according to the news, theses two were causing quite a stir and were terrifying the Strip.

"Oh, so you've already spotted them, those two knuckleheads! They keep the Strip in suspense, and heads roll when the taxes don't add up," Jessie served him the cheese sandwich and gave him a slight smile. "Can I get you anything else?" He thanked her and took a hearty bite of his dinner.

The last half hour flew by and the remaining guests left the diner to spend the night on the Strip, as very few had a roof over their heads. Jessie set about cleaning up and Eddy checked the register.

The young man stood up and made his way towards the door. But before he left the diner, he glanced back at Jessie for a moment. A sigh escaped him. What if…?

Jessie returned his gaze and watched him go until the young man disappeared.

She walked right up to his table and found a little note on the receipt.
"Thanks for treating me like a human being, James."