Part 1: 34
Du Bois Franklin was seized by an unrelenting terror as he read the headline for the fifth time. He couldn’t put into words exactly why the simple phrase “Manhunt underway” had unnerved him so, but he suspected it had more to do with the subtitle. Sliding his glasses back up the bridge of his nose, he used his finger to trace the print, as if willing the words “All Points bulletin issued for Southside vigilante” off the page.
“Can I get you some more coffee, Sugar?”
He couldn’t help but be self conscious, so absorbed in his thoughts that he momentarily was transported to another place entirely, far from the noisy little diner he spent every Monday morning for the past four months. He donned his best poker face and offered a weak smile to the shapely waitress standing before him.
“That’s quite alright, thank you.”
“Are you ready to order.”
He glanced at the door, then toward the kitchen. “Umm, I’m actually waiting on someone right now.”
“That’s okay Sugar. Just give me a holler when you’re ready. My name’s Joy.”
“Umm, where’s Tiffany?”
There was a hint of disappointment in the crease of her smile.
Tiffany is no longer with us,” she said matter of factly. “I’ll be happy to take of care of you though.”
He felt his shoulder hunch, he ran a hand over his face, exasperated. He viewed this new information as the latest development in what had been a series of omens that had begun two nights earlier. With some effort, he straightened himself out and tried to regain his composure, reaching for the salt and pepper shakers before responding.
“Ok,” he said, giving her a cursory glance before turning his attention to rearranging the shakers, “Thank you.”
Joy lingered at the table for a few moments longer, though Dubois never looked in her direction. His gaze turned to the window and the parking lot beyond as he absentmindedly fiddled with the napkin dispenser and ketchup bottle. A calm settled over the city that somehow left him feeling vaguely disconcerted. A voice he recognized as Joy’s rose up above the din of voices cascading throughout the diner.
“Charlotte, turn the tv up!” she said excitedly, “They’re talking about the guy again.”
Rose, a hefty sixty something year old waitress Dubois recognized from previous visits, grabbed the remote and raised the volume on the set.
“…police are investigating the possibility of a vigliante on the loose in connection with the strangulation deaths of more than 30 registered sex offenders over the last eight months. Community Affairs director Glenn Kotowski convened an emergency press conference this afternoon in response to the Tribune’s cover story, in which an unidentified source in the department confirmed that a joint county/ city strikeforce had been established to find and prosecute an individual accused of murdering registered sex offenders from as far back as February…”
The chime on the diner’s door rang out and Dubois turned in time to see a broad shouldered man in denim shorts and a gray Sox T-shirt ambling toward his table. He instantly recognized the trademark Rolex watch and purposeful gait belonging to his long time friend Nate “Butch” Taylor. He offered the woman behind the cash register a wide grin before catching Du bois’s gaze. As he got closer to the table his face hardened until he got close enough to toss a legal size manila envelope on the table and slid into the chair opposite of Du bois.
“100 bucks says you never guess what I dug up on that Rodriguez character,” Nate said in a voice low enough that only Du bois would be able to hear. Du bois shot him a curious look before reaching for the envelope.
“Nuh uh, no cheating,” he continued, brushing Dubois’s hands away from the envelope. “I’ll give you 3 guesses.”
Annoyed, Dubois adjusted himself in his chair and stared blankly at his friend in a way that suggested he was in no mood to play games. Butch relented.
“Ok, uh, never mind,” he said as he slid the envelope over,
Du bois opened the clasp on the envelope, rummaged inside momentarily before pulling out the contents.
“While I’m thinking about it,” Butch went on, “Sorry about being late, got tied up….”
His voice trailed off when he noticed Du bois waving him off with his free hand while looking at the assorted documents laid before him.
“What can I get for you gentleman,” Joy said, emerging seemingly out of thin air.
Du bois’s hand instinctively swept over and landed on top of the sprawled papers, covering it in what he hoped was an inconspicuous manner.
“Err, uh, yes. I think I’ll take that coffee now, miss…uh…”
“Joy,” she said, before turning to Butch.
“How bout you sir? Would you like some coffee?”
“Yes ma’am. No sugar, no cream. And let me get a corn beef hash with a side of eggs. Sunny side up with a couple of links. And give my friend over here an orange juice, will you darlin’?”
Joy returned the flirtatious smile Butch shot her way, giving him the once over before turning back to Du bois.
“He always like this?” she said, smiling coyly.
Looking up from his menu, Dubois remain stone-faced.
“I’ll have toast, a boiled egg, and a bowl of grits.”
Joy’s smile dissolved. She pulled out her notepad and started to scribble.
“Ooook,” she said, turning back to Butch, “I’ll be right back with your coffees.”
Butch watched the waitress saunter off before sitting up and leaning in toward Dubois.
“You know,” he started, “You might want to try and lighten up a bit. Maybe not act like a serial killer.”
Dubois adjusted his glasses and picked up a photograph nestled beneath a stack of papers.
“Tell me more ,” he said, placing the mugshot on the table and jabbing a finger at it, “about 34.”
To be continued…