Kick (The Jenkins Cycle Book 1)

By: John L. Monk
Chapter One

Helen had a face that had launched a thousand customer complaints. Watching her work the other tables, I noticed she never smiled or engaged in chitchat. If someone made a joke, she’d look at them blankly until they realized how valuable her time was. I counted myself lucky to have such a business-minded waitress.

“You ready yet?” she said, standing over me and clicking her pen every couple of seconds like a stopwatch.

“Ready as ever,” I said. Then I ordered eight different dinners from the evening menu, all for myself. Helen just stood there as I read off each entrée, writing everything down.

When I finished, she said, “I’ll be right back.”

Moments later, she returned with the manager. She didn’t bother looking at me—she just pointed my way and gave him a suffering look, framed like her side of an ongoing argument. In the end the manager made me pay up front, but I thought that made good sense.

When Helen started bringing it all out, the other customers took notice—mostly curious or amused—as plate after plate began crowding the two tables she dragged into place for me.

“Here’s your Pile Up,” she said, looking tired and put-upon as she settled the last of the American-sized dinner plates in front of me with a thump. “You’re not really gonna eat all that, are you?”

“I don’t know,” I said, reaching for the dessert menu. “I may want to save room.”

“Whatever you want, darlin’, it’s your stomach and your money. I’d ask if you needed anything else, but…” This last with a dubious look at the already huge spread.

I smiled politely. “I’ll let you know.”

She didn’t smile back. She just nodded and went back toward the kitchen. If anyone needed a break in life, it was Helen.

Pony’s Diner is a 1950s-themed restaurant known for its seven different milkshakes and doo-wop flair. Their signature dish is the “Pile Up.” Basically, pan-fried potatoes with bacon and eggs to order and everything smothered in chili sauce and cheddar cheese. To my delight, it amounted to a savory two-plus pounds of fat, starch and protein. Even though I’d never eaten one before, it looked so gelatinous and wrong I mentally nominated the greasy, quivering mess my favorite. Unfortunately, I wasn’t hungry. I’d been here just over three weeks and the bastard had kicked me twice today. Once, in the shower, and again just as I pulled in to park.

A while later, I grabbed Helen’s attention with a wave. She was waiting four tables at once—six, if you counted my two—and I grew worried she’d choose not to see me. But not a moment later, she nodded at me and came over.

“Here’s the thing,” I said. “I think my eyes were bigger than my stomach, and now I’m worried I’m causing you a lot of extra work. I want you to have something, but don’t tell anyone, okay?”

I handed her a wad of bills. About $800—everything I could withdraw in three equal transactions from the cash machine at the First Community Bank, minus the up-front money for tonight’s uneaten feast. I’d caught a break this trip—my ride had written his PIN inside a fold in his wallet.

Helen drew in sharply. “What’s this for?”

As my eyes met hers—clear, blue and focused—I suddenly felt like an actual person, uniquely separate from the thousands she waited on every year. I wanted to stand up, shake her hand and say, Nice to meet you Helen!

Instead, I said, “Just a well-deserved tip.”

She just stared at me, possibly waiting for the part where I said, So what time do you get off?

I smiled and said, “It’s my lucky day. I won big at the casino tonight and I’m doing my part to spread the wealth. I can either give it to you or waste it on slots. Least this way it does some good, right?”

I wouldn’t need it anyway. Not where I was going, but she didn’t need to know about that.

“I don’t know what to say. I mean … thank you. Wow.”

“Wow to you, too,” I said, still smiling, and wondered how creepy I must seem on a scale of one to ten.

With nothing more to say, the moment stretched. A bit more and Helen gave an apologetic look back to the counter.

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