Tipping is Optional

DZ Allen's Muzzle Flash., March 9th, 2007

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“Psst!”

Diana knew that sound. A client had just spotted her in the produce section. Some men found nothing more fascinating than a hooker acting like a real person.

Explaining that it wasn’t an act would take too much effort. It might also be bad for business.

She often shopped after midnight to avoid these encounters, but this time the tactic hadn’t worked.

“Psst!”

She turned and looked. The leakage of air came from Pete Yacovich, a client she hadn’t seen in a while.

“Pete, if you’re going to talk to me, just do it, okay? I mean, could you be any more conspicuous?”

“Don’t want them to see us together.”

He pretended to rummage in the lemons.

“Who? Why?”

“Some guys I don’t want to see.”

“If you want to protect me, don’t talk to me in the first place.”

“I never tipped you, did I?”

“I always told you. Tipping is appreciated but optional.”

Pete reached into his pants pocket. Without looking, he turned his wallet upside down and dumped bills into his right hand. He stuffed the cash into the pocket of her overcoat.

Diana studied his face. When a man emptied his wallet on her, that meant something. The guys he wanted to avoid must have something worse than a fistfight in mind.

“See you,” he said. He started toward the front of the store.

“Wait a minute. Are they outside?”

She followed him. He stepped faster, but she kept up.

“Don’t be stupid,” she said. “Cut through the back and go out the loading dock.”

“They’re not stupid, either. They have somebody out back. I know these guys.”

“Then call the cops.”

“No cops.”

“Why not?”

“What do I tell them? These guys are following me and I think they’re gay?”

They had reached the exit. She grabbed his arm.

“What is this, some kind of ‘Man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do’ thing?”

“Something like that."

He dragged her along with him, between the sliding glass doors and out of the store.

Diana didn’t need to ask herself why she cared. Stupidity always riled her. Voluntary stupidity was worse, and she had noticed that men had a knack for it.

She looked past him and saw the sedan approaching from the left. The yellowish light from the store told her only that it was a dark-colored Taurus. Why didn’t she like the car? Maybe it was moving too fast for a parking lot, or maybe its headlights should have been on.

Or maybe the open rear passenger window had tipped her off.

Pete must have seen the car coming. He turned and wrapped his right arm around her. He swung her in front of him as the gun barrel emerged from the car’s window.

Diana stomped on his foot. The heel of her boot mashed his toe flat. Pete swore. She gave him an elbow in the ribs. He released her, and she dove into the slush in front of her. She thought she heard him fall.

The gun stuttered. She rolled away from the noise. As she watched, the glass doors broke up like a waterfall and crashed to the ground. The car’s engine roared and its tires shrieked.

Diana sat up in the frigid puddle. She could already tell that her coat was history. Pete’s tip might cover a new one. She watched him as he sat up. He glanced at her and then looked away.

“Lost my nerve, I guess.”

“You guess.”

She shook cold water off her hands.

“Look at the bright side, Pete. I’m sure they’ll give you another chance.”

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