Tuesday, 1 June 2010
AT THE NORMAL CAFE - part 6 - WITNESSES by Chris Allinotte
At the Normal Café – Part 6 – Witnesses
Krista stared into her empty cup; her hair flopped down in front of her face, and she left it there to veil her expression from Michael. Poor Michael – he was trying so hard to cheer her up. This whole night had been his idea, but “getting totally messed up and going dancing” hadn’t helped at all. If anything, she felt worse -- most of the buzz was gone, and a mild headache was setting in.
Michael, who had easily outpaced his girlfriend at the bar, got unsteadily to his feet and moved to her side of the booth. He put his arm around her shoulders and said softly, “Kris, you’ve got to let it go, just for a little while. You’re going to drive yourself crazy.”
She raised her face, and looked at him, “I don’t know how to let it go Mike. He’s got the school on his side, tenure, and who am I to go against him? Nobody.”
Michael took a deep breath, “I know how you feel Kris. That douchebag has all the cards right now, but we'll find a way to make it right. I promise.”
He sipped his coffee, “But hey,” he leaned back so he could look her in the eyes, “I took you out to get your mind off this. We can think about it tomorrow. In the meantime, I don’t know ... just be glad you’re not that guy.” He gestured at the derelict seated at the counter. “Now him, he’s obviously got some problems. I mean just look at that coat for one.”
Krista smiled, but it didn’t last. “I can’t just stop thinking about it Mike.” Her tone was defeated, almost pleading. “I’m so mad I don’t know what to do with myself”.
Mike took a deep breath, and pulled a face. Krista recognized it as his “funny guy” expression, and prepared for him to do something completely off the wall, ostensibly to distract her. However, this thought was proven wrong when he bolted from the table saying, “Oh god Kris. I’m gonna throw up.”
He ran to the men’s room, leaving Krista alone. A moment later, the scene in Dr. Valentin’s office came back yet again.
“Sir? May I talk to you about my final paper?” asked Krista. She had been first in line at the start of office hours. Now, she held the stapled manuscript in front of her like an offering.
“Yes, Miss Grenier?” said Dr. Valentin, laying down a magazine he’d been reading, “What seems to be the problem?” The professor raised an eyebrow in a manner he doubtless thought was charming. For Krista, who knew, without an excess of ego, that she was pretty, it just looked lecherous.
“It isn’t mine, sir.” Krista replied. She sat down on one of the green tweed-backed chairs in front of his desk. “The T.A.’s handed the papers back yesterday, and I tried to tell them this one wasn’t mine, but they just said it must be, as it had my name on it.”
Without looking at the paper, Valentin said, “Of course it’s your paper. Whose would it be otherwise?”
Krista didn’t have an immediate reply; this wasn’t going at all as she’d anticipated. Taking a moment to think, she looked down at the desk where her eyes found the magazine he’d been reading. It was turned to an article by the professor himself, entitled...
“This is my essay,” Krista gasped. “You published my essay.”
Valentin looked at her calmly, “No, Ms Grenier, you’re mistaken. This article was written by me; see the by-line?” He tapped it with one patronizing finger, “Your essay is the mediocre document that you’ve brought with you.”
Krista picked up the magazine. There was no mistake; every paragraph she’d laboured over was here. He hadn’t bothered to change a thing. It was her words and his name.
“Professor,” she began, “This is the essay I turned in to you. I can prove it.”
Valentin took the magazine from her, still smiling, but his eyes were devoid of emotion, “I think I understand the real reason you’re here. The mark I’ve given you may have been a little harsh. Tell you what … I’m willing to bump you up to a ‘B’, if you’ll drop this ridiculous line of conversation right now.”
Her cheeks burned, “But I didn’t write this, I wrote that piece.” She jabbed her finger at the magazine, “And you’ve stolen it!”
Valentin’s smile vanished, and he said, “Ms Grenier, I’m going to ask you to leave now. You’ve come to discuss your mark, and we’ve discussed it. I am giving you a grade which will neither help nor impede your overall average.” He pushed back from the desk and stood up. “As to your accusation, I’m afraid it will be my word against yours – and my word carries a lot more weight. In future, I’d also suggest that you invest more into your work. This one,” he picked up her paper, “isn’t worth the fifty-dollars you paid for it online.”
Krista’s hands were shaking, and her mouth had gone dry. All she could think of to say was, “You can’t do this, Professor.”
Valentin stood, and walked to the door; with a hand on the knob he said, “I already have, Ms. Grenier. If you pursue this further, or speak to anyone about it, you'll receive a zero in my class, and, of course, the issue of your own plagiarism will be brought to light." He shoved the purchased essay at her.
She stood, still shaking, and started to leave, but he didn’t move out of the way. Looking her over once more, he said, in a soft, vile tone, “There might be one way for you to still get an ‘A’, Ms Grenier, which we haven’t discussed yet.”
It was too much. She shoved him back and was out the door before he could recover. As soon as she started down the hall though, she could hear Valentin in his office, laughing.
“I’ve got the answer, Kris,” said Michael, coming back from the washroom. The visit had done him good. He already seemed sharper, and certainly less green.
“Are you okay?” asked Krista.
“Oh, yeah – lots better, and then when I was cleaning up,” he said, sitting down across from her. “I started thinking, ‘Why would he do the bait and switch with the essays?’”
Before she could guess, he answered his own question, “He wanted to get you in his office, Kris, before you had time to think. He wanted to get you into a corner before you could act. Well, now we’ve had time to think, and you know what? Screw the University, and screw Valentin.”
He pulled a USB stick from his pocket and threw it on the table. “All your files are here. Research notes, drafts, all saved and dated. We’ll send this to that magazine and see what happens.”
Krista grabbed his hands and leaned forward to kiss him, “Mike, you're a genius” she said. "I can't believe we didn't think of it before."
Michael smiled and said, "Feeling better?"
She leaned over and kissed him again. When she sat back, she said, “Let's go home."
The tone of this last made Michael sit bolt upright and make a completely obnoxious show of snapping his fingers for the cheque. Krista couldn’t help but grin.
The waitress saw him and frowned, but headed to the register to print their bill. The heavy trucker-looking guy got up and started past them to the restroom. He smelled even more boozed-up as Krista felt, and the thoughts of home and bed seemed better still.
It was right then that everything went to hell.
From his perch at the counter, the crazy guy in the army coat swung around, holding a gun. Without a word of warning, he fired at the trucker, who went down with a heavy cry of alarm, landing in the booth across from Krista and Michael. They ducked down in the bench seat, not knowing what else to do.
A yellow and black cell phone clattered to a stop on the worn out linoleum tiles at Krista's feet. It had fallen out of the trucker's pocket. Looking over at the man, he'd rolled onto the ground, leaving a slick red patch of blood on the booth behind him. Without thinking, Krista kicked the handset back over to him, then immediately regretted it. She should have picked it up and called the cops. Who knew if the guy was even conscious, let alone able to make a call?
The stranger fired again. With a sharp crack, the bullet went wild off the painted cinderblock wall. He was screaming out a string of nonsense, and with her ears ringing from the shots, Krista only caught one or two words -- "I KNOW" and "Okay... Okay ...” She looked back at the phone. The trucker was reaching for it. If he doesn't get it in one try, she thought, I'll grab it and call. Michael followed her gaze, and started patting his pockets, looking for his own phone; Krista's had started dying two hours ago, and luckily she'd turned it off. The last thing they needed was for the "Battery low" tone to ring out and draw the psycho's attention.
Another gunshot rang out, another crack off the concrete, and Michael's head snapped to the side. A black hole had appeared in his right cheek. Krista bit down on her hand now, trying to keep the screams at bay. Her eyes welled with tears. Michael, oh god, Michael. She had to get to him.
The gun went off again, and this time there was the sound of glass shattering, but Krista registered this only vaguely. Her every thought was for Michael.
Krista slid down in her seat until she was crouched under the table. Quickly, she moved across to the other bench where Michael laid, the back of her head scraping across a minefield of discarded gum.
"Michael?" she whispered. There was no answer. She grabbed his wrist to check for a pulse. It was there, but it was irregular, as if it could quit at any moment.
The gunfire had quit. From far away, it seemed, she heard the waitress talking to the guy and the gunman saying something back. He wasn't screaming anymore.
Krista put her mouth to her boyfriend’s ear. "Michael," she whispered. "Michael, stay with me, oh stay with me honey, we're going to get through this, just hang on ... hang on." She was rubbing his wrist and hand, as if she could bring him back to consciousness just by touch.
The relative silence was split wide open as the waitress screamed, "Dawnie ... NO!"
There was another explosion as the gun fired again. A woman cried out; probably the butchy-looking blonde who'd sat near the door. Krista grabbed Michael by his belt and his left arm, and dragged his limp body off the bench to join her under the table. His head flopped against her thigh, leaving bits of gore behind. She cradled him to her; not daring to speak, she just held on to him and listened. Hopefully the trucker had gotten hold of the police.
Suddenly, the madman yelled out in pain. The gun fired again and Krista heard something heavy hit the floor. Had someone attacked him? Who would take on a man with a gun? Moments passed. She waited. Silence descended. Nobody was talking. The gun didn't go off again.
Krista began to hope it might be safe to emerge, to grab the trucker's phone and call an ambulance for Michael when a woman's voice said, "Stop that. He's unconscious." The blonde was down, it seemed, so this was someone else.
A man asked her, "Are you from the Police?”
She replied, "No. My name is Judith; I'm a friend ... of his."
The need to know what was going on won out over the desire to hide. Krista lowered Michael to the floor and crawled out from under the table. Near the door, she saw the woman. "Judith" was tall, dressed in dark jeans and a brown leather coat. She stood as casually as if she’d just come in for coffee.
There was a groan, and Krista could hear the gunman, speaking from the ground behind the row of booths, “Who …”
“It’s me Tom,” Judith replied.
“We need to talk Tom. Give me the gun.” It was a demand.
Krista put a hand on Michael’s ankle; she could feel his pulse there. She could do nothing else right now, so she waited, and listened.
Copyright 2010, Chris Allinotte
Chris Allinotte is a Toronto based writer. His work has been published on the web at such great sites as MicroHorror, Flashes in the Dark, the Oddville Press, and more. For more details about Chris' writing, check out his blog at: http://chrisallinotte.blogspot.com/