He just had to pick this dump, to rub it in her face. Tina pulled up in front of the Dive Diner, parked where she could monitor her car while inside. By arriving early, she could choose the seating, and she would not let him leave her with her back exposed. Not this time.
The chimes over the door jangled wearily as she entered. No one looked up, which was normal for the Dive. She knew her entrance had not gone unnoticed, however. Everyone in this place had an angle. Most of them had people trying to find them, and not for a happy reunion.
She chose a booth where she could sit with her back against the wall, facing the big plate-glass window. It was filthy, but she could vaguely see the outlines of her car. At least she would know if it was being stolen, even if she couldn’t see by whom, not through all that grime.
Syrupy-sweet Muzak drifted through the overhead speakers, as if the place were an elevator on its way down to Hell, perpetually frozen between floors. The vinyl bench was unpleasantly sticky; she shuddered to imagine what the substance might be.
“Chawant?” A waitress stood before her, one leg propped against the other, to ease an aching foot for a moment. “Whatcha want?” She repeated herself, sounding slightly more understandable.
“Oh. Coffee, black.”
Without another word the waitress stumped off, her neon-splashed comfortable shoes the brightest thing in the Diner. The door’s bells jangled, and Tina looked up, her eyes tight, mouth set in a hard slit. It was no one she knew, and she relaxed a little.
The first time they met was in this diner; she had been one of the waitresses. Since then, she had worked damned hard to get this far in life, taking care of her daughter on her own at the same time. Oh God, her daughter…
It was hard to keep the memories from crowding up and overflowing. With a shake of her head, she brought her focus back to the present. So Dave thought to shame her by making her meet him here. That was a mistake on his part. She still knew some of the back-of-house crew, and they knew she was here. They knew he had demanded to meet here. And they promised her, they all had her back, should he try anything.
Another jingling of the bells. She looked up, and this time, it was him. He had seen her modest Toyota Acura parked out front, and the scowl on his ugly face showed what he thought of her timing. His glance cut across the room, returned to find her at the booth. He grinned, an ugly shark-leer.
Not asking permission, he dropped his butt in the bench across from her, heavily enough to rock it back and forth. The waitress showed up just then and placed a cup of coffee on the table in front of her. Dave reached over and took the cup, slurping out of it loudly. His unlovely grin showed several missing and decayed teeth.
She managed not to shudder, keeping an expression of bored contempt on her face. Her colleagues had often complimented her on her “resting bitch face,” and she used it to full effect now. She could see his neck begin to mottle, red creeping upward as his rage grew.
“Think you’re so fucking high and mighty, don’t you? Think your shit don’t stink! Think again, princess, you’re just as lowly as that streetwalker working the corner outside, and we both know it. I remember the past, don’t you?” He slurped out of the coffee cup again, spluttering through his stringy mustache.
The waitress returned without asking, and set a second cup down in front of Tina, filled it with scalding black coffee, then left the rest of the coffee pot on the table with them.
He put his coffee cup down and grinned at her. She could smell the decay from across the table, and struggled not to flinch. “I figure, you being so high and mighty, you got lots of money, too. Goes without saying, fancy job, always on the TV… Sure would be a shame to see that nice pretty life go tumbling down, ya know?”
A cockroach crawled across the floor, moving unsteadily but quickly, past her chair. She noticed it, thought briefly she preferred its company to the man sitting across from her, then returned to listening to him trying to blackmail her.
“Now, blackmail, that’s an ugly word. I’m talking about helping a friend, that’s all.” He flashed a grin like an egg-sucking dog.
Her soft voice broke the silence. “What do you want?”
“Why, money, you stupid…” He thought better of insulting her. “Money. I figure ten grand is a nice round figure.” He looked like he was holding an inside straight to her pair of sixes.
“What have you got?”
“Pictures. Real nice ones, digital and all. They even have that, whatcha call it, datestamp or something, that proves when it was taken. Card’s still in the camera so they can prove no tampering with the images. Images of you, doing some pretty bad things, taken a long time ago.”
She took a deep breath, let it out. “I don’t believe you.”
“Funny you should say that, because I have a few pictures on my cell phone, pictures I took of that other camera, showing certain, shall we say, creative, pictures?” Laying down what he thought was his winning hand.
“You have them with you now?” An expression flickered across her face, but he couldn’t read it. He never could read her expressions.
“Yeah, I told you, I have some copies on my phone you can see.” He was vaguely troubled. She didn’t seem upset, which seemed off, even for the Ice Queen. He decided to force her hand.
“Here, let me pull up some pictures for you. Take a good look, because tonight they’re being emailed to all the newspapers, tabloids, bloggers, tweeters, anyone I can think of who might be interested.” He pulled his phone out of his shirt pocket, unlocked it, and opened the photo app. He pointed the screen toward her, an ugly leering expression on his face, lust making it even more hideous.
Tina stood up, reached out for the phone, and he let her take it out of his hand. She dropped it in her purse and walked quickly toward the door. He gaped in shock, before jumping up and running after her. “Hey! Hey! You stole my phone!”
As she reached the door, two uniformed officers walked in. One helpfully held the door open for her. Instead of continuing, she stopped, right in front of the officers. She had thought long and hard about this option, but “going nuclear” was her only choice. Otherwise, this leech would bleed her dry for the rest of her life, making her look behind her, always double-checking everything. She was tired of that.
Tina handed her purse to a confused officer. He took it, looked at her for an explanation. Just then, Dave trampled up to them, and began screaming, “She stole my phone! It’s in her purse!”
Surprised, the officers looked at her. She nodded once, seriously. “I ask that you enter my purse, and all its contents, into evidence. You will find his unlocked phone in there. It contains child pornography on it. A check of the date/time stamps will verify that I was 15 years old when those photographs were taken. Arrest him, too. I hope that you do.”
“He preyed on me all those years ago, and God knows how many poor, desperate girls he’s preyed on since. He’s a cockroach, hiding from the light, preying on the poor, stealing from the weak.”
She smiled, a lopsided one, but authentic for all that. “I’m sure your office will know where to find me, when you have questions. Good night, gentlemen.” With that, the Mayor walked out of the Diner.