Thursday, February 4
Rain, beating down like it had always been raining, and always would be.
The windshield wipers struggled to keep up, even on their fastest setting. The reflections of the lane markers and the taillights of the truck ahead would become clear for the briefest instant, before being submerged again in a thick sheet of water. Melting into blurry, untrustworthy hints of themselves, shifted an inch this way or that, becoming unreal.
Thessaly risked taking her hand from the wheel for a second to rub her eyelids, one at a time. She didn’t dare risk letting the road out of her sight for a second.
Impossibly, the downpour seemed to step up a pitch, and she saw the brake lights of the truck flash as the driver slowed down, facing the same visibility challenge. Thessaly braked a little harder than necessary, saw the needle drop to thirty, and then gradually eased the pedal down again to match the removal truck’s forty-five miles an hour. Rolling Movers, the livery on the rear door had read, back when visibility had been good enough to make it out. Some family’s earthly possessions making their slow way across America through the night. It was attractive. The thought of a blank slate. Starting again somewhere completely new.
But for the moment, she had no choice but to head back home. She wished she could have stayed over in Reading, but she couldn’t cancel the editorial meeting tomorrow morning. It had been a straight choice between going and driving back after the post-service get-together, or missing the funeral entirely. It had sounded like a good compromise a couple of days before, but the weather meant a three-hour drive was looking like extending to four or five hours, if the periodically readjusting ETA on her GPS was anything to go by. Barely halfway home, and she was already tired. So tired.
The day had taken more out of her than she had expected. Still, she was glad she had made the trip. Nate had been one of the best friends she had made in her time on the magazine. He had always been so much more full of life than any of the others. Always the first at the bar, always the first to suggest a beer on a Friday. If any of Nate’s contemporaries had been asked to bet on his eventual cause of death – and Thessaly thought Nate would have enthusiastically approved of such a poor-taste suggestion – it would have been liver failure or alcohol poisoning. Suicide? She thought that would be the last thing anyone considered. Nate had always seemed so … together. Like a lot of her former colleagues, she had lost touch with him after Inside NY had finally shut down in 2017.
The sign for an exit flashed by. She had a momentary panic as she read ‘Greenville’, because that would have put her a couple hundred miles west of where she thought she was, but she reread it and saw that the sign said ‘Grenville’. Only one E. Also derived from ‘green village’, she supposed. Or perhaps just named after some long-dead British guy.
The removal truck was crawling now, down to thirty-five. If the rain didn’t let up, she wouldn’t make it back in time for the meeting in the morning. At this rate, she would get there sometime in late July.
A third light source suddenly appeared in the darkness. Up ahead and on the right-hand side, a red glow beyond the taillights of the truck.
The wipers swept the wash aside for another moment and she could see that it was a sign. A big red circle with some words beneath. It blurred again before she could read it.
A second of clarity. She saw that the circle was an ‘O’, and below it the word
And some smaller words beneath, which might have been ‘All Nite’.
Blur. A third sweep would take her past the sign.
On the spur of the moment, she slowed and signaled, getting ready to take the turn when she could see it properly. She pulled into the almost-empty parking lot as the wipers cleared and the rest of the sign revealed itself.
FOOD * COFFEE * LIQUOR
At least two of those sounded like a very good idea.
There were only two other vehicles in the lot: a silver sedan and a black BMW SUV. Thessaly parked beside the BMW. She watched the road as the taillights of the removal truck slowly retreated from view. Her wipers were still on. Blur. Clear. Blur. Clear. Eventually the twin red points of light vanished. Perhaps the rain would stop while she took a break. It didn’t seem likely, but her eyes needed a break. She turned off the wipers and the engine and steeled herself for the run to the door of the diner.
She was drenched in the ten seconds it took her to get there. She opened the door and stepped out of the February night chill and into the warmth, blinking in the bright light of the interior. A sign by the entrance said, Please wait here to be seated, so she did. She wiped the rainwater from her forehead and looked around. It was an old-fashioned diner, but not old-fashioned in the fashionable sense. It wasn’t a Disney reproduction of some kind of 1950s ideal, with checkerboard floor tiles or chrome fittings or red leather upholstery, but all the basics were there. A stainless-steel lunch counter down one side, booths arranged along the opposite wall. A mix of fake vintage and humorous signs on the walls. If My Music Is Too Loud, You’re Too Old. An old Coca Cola ad with two ladies in Victorian-looking bathing suits. She could smell coffee and hot oil.
There was only one other customer in the place. A middle-aged bald man in a worn gray suit, looking down at a notebook, a cleared plate to one side. He glanced up at Thessaly as she entered, his eyes squinting behind his glasses, then looked back down again. She thought that he looked tired, and not just because of the lateness of the hour.
Salesman, she decided. Was traveling salesman still a profession? Or another thing the internet had killed, like magazines. She thought about Nate again, and the others. She had been luckier than most, snagging her first book deal right before the final round of redundancies. But perhaps the universe owed her that luck.
A door behind the lunch counter opened and a waitress stepped out. She was young, with brown freckles and dark hair tied back in a ponytail with a yellow ribbon. She didn’t greet Thessaly with a hello or a how can I help you, just raised her eyebrows expectantly.
‘Just for one,’ Thessaly said.
Her name tag said, Kayla. Kayla turned her gaze to the row of booths, thought about it for longer than seemed strictly necessary, and then gestured at the one closest to the bald man.
Thessaly noticed that there was a plate on the opposite side of his table. The remains of somebody’s meal on it; bacon offcuts and an ignored pile of hash browns. She sat down with her back to the other booth.
She ordered a black coffee when Kayla came around, and glanced at the menu, quickly opting for French toast and bacon before she departed again. She shivered suddenly as a drop of icy rainwater dripped down the back of her neck. She ran her fingers through her hair to strain some of it out.
Leaning forward, she put her face in her hands, massaging her eyelids with her fingers. The urge to doze off was powerful. She didn’t fight it too much. Better here than behind the wheel. Still well over a hundred miles to go.
She breathed through her nose and listened to the sound of the rain beating rhythmically off the roof, and then splashing into puddles at the side of the building. She listened to the hum of the coffee machine or the milkshake dispenser or whatever it was, behind the lunch counter. Underneath that, she heard the muffled sound of plates and skillets clattering and rattling in the kitchen.
‘So are we done here? I guess I should tell you good luck.’
She started and opened her eyes before she realized the man in the next booth wasn’t addressing her. She felt a bump through the back of her seat as someone sat down behind her and adjusted their position.
She blinked the tiredness out of her eyes and saw that the coffee she had ordered had already appeared. She must have been closer to sleep than she thought.
And then she heard something that made her wonder if she would ever sleep again. The voice of the person sitting opposite the bald man.
‘You ever hear that old saying? Waiting for luck is like waiting for death.’
Thessaly felt an icy chill travel the length of her spine that was nothing to do with rainwater.
She knew that voice better than she knew her own mother’s voice. She had been hearing it in her dreams for half a lifetime.
The voice of the man in the booth behind her belonged to a man named Casper Sturgis.
The man who had murdered her brother twenty years ago.