Friday, May 10, 2013

The Projectionist: Chapter 12

Chapter 12

Porter sat in his booth at the Diebold Diner, nursing a cup of coffee while he waited for his breakfast. He loved the smell of this place in the morning, the air so rich with bacon and eggs and freshly baked biscuits that his mouth watered.
Carolyn topped off his coffee and said, "Food's almost ready." He nodded and she moved on to the next booth.
Porter added a spoon of sugar and when he looked up, he gave a little start. A woman was standing right beside his booth. A stranger, which was itself strange in the Diebold Diner where everybody knew everybody. She looked to be in her fifties, maybe middle, maybe closer to sixty. The dress she wore was white, crisp looking, somehow elegant and therefore as out of place here as she was.
"Do you mind?" she said, gesturing at the empty seat across from him.
"I suppose not." What the crap?
She smiled and slid into the old booth, then stuck her hand out. "I'm Debra."
Her hand was soft as a powder puff, warm. "Porter," he said.
"I understand I have you to thank for showing that wonderful classic last night." Her voice was old Southern, the drawl pronounced and precise.
More like his dead wife to thank, but he said, "Yeah, I guess so. Glad you enjoyed it."
Carolyn showed up with his breakfast and while Porter was surely curious about this woman, he was also hungry and preferred his food hot. So he dug in. If she had something to say, no reason he couldn't listen with his mouth full. But she didn't say a word. She sat looking at him while he ate, her debutante smile locked in place.
About a third of the way through his meal, he couldn't stand it any more. "Debra, why are you here?"
"In Diebold, you mean?"
"In my booth. While I'm trying to eat breakfast."
"To meet you, of course."
Porter looked confused, rightly so, but she said nothing more, just kept smiling. He stared at her a few moments, then forked a big bite of biscuit and gravy into his mouth. While he chewed, he mused on the fact that in times past, this bizarre situation would've made him a self-conscious wreck. Now? He didn't give a happy damn and bit off half a strip of bacon. "Hope you're enjoying the experience," he said around the bacon.
And that's the way it continued: Porter chowing down. Strange Debra watching him and smiling. When all the biscuits and gravy, bacon, eggs, and grits were gone, Porter placed a ten on the table and stood. He gave the lady a polite nod, turned, walked away. He was almost to the door when he noticed footsteps behind him. Her footsteps, no doubt. She followed him outside but not down the sidewalk. Instead she stopped just outside the door and called out: "Porter, it was very nice to meet you."
He looked back without breaking stride. "Likewise."
"Might you be free for dinner this evening?"
Porter stopped and turned around. "What are you talking about? Why would I want to have dinner with you? So you can stare at me through that meal too?"
"I'm sorry about that, truly I am. I promise to be more...forthcoming. In fact, you and I have a great many things to talk about."
"For the life of me, I can't imagine a one of them," Porter said. "But thanks anyway."
"If you change your mind, I'm staying at the Oak Vista motel. Just call and ask them to ring the room of Debra Pendergast."