I barely noticed the deep rumble of a muscle-car engine in the car park; this was a roadside diner, after all. And I didn’t look around when I heard the diner door open. But I was all ears when Linda screamed and dropped my dinner, and I heard the unmistakeable ratchet of a pump-action shotgun. I swiveled on my bench.
Framed in the doorway was a hideous monster. Clothed in black and white like a homicidal penguin, her eyes blazed with crimson fire behind bifocal aviators. Her face was twisted and haggard; etched with deep and harsh wrinkles that seemed to cartograph Hell itself. At barely five feet tall and at least the same across, her shotgun seemed almost cartoon-like in proportion – but she handled it like a professional. Somehow, I knew this nun wasn’t here collecting for the orphans.
My brain froze at the sight; childhood memories long since boxed-away came crawling out of the attic. Fortunately my limbs were authorised to use their own initiative when head office wasn’t answering the phones: on instinct I dived for cover.
Her cannon spat thunderous fire and my table exploded in fragments behind me. “I brought you into this world, young man! I can kick you out of it too!” she shrieked, pumping a second round into the plasterwork where my head had just been.
I had left my radio and mobile back in my car; a tiny act of defiance so I could get some time to myself. But where was my gun? My coat! I looked back at the tinder that had once been my table. My tan raincoat was just visible under chipboard shrapnel.
I needed to stall her, to buy some time. “This isn’t St. Beelzebub’s, Sister Mary!” I shouted over the woodwork. “You’re not the law here!”
Keeping my head low, I grabbed at a sleeve, dragging it with me as I slid down the aisle on my hands and knees. I needed time to search through my pockets, and I couldn’t do that on all-fours. As I ducked behind a partition I heard another round chambered. I looked up, glimpsing venomous wimple advancing toward my old position.
“You always were a nosy little boy, Hickory Dickensian Docherty! Never knew when to stop asking questions, did you?”
“Don’t call me that!” I shouted, almost in reflex. I hated my full name. But I’d given away my position; she spun on her heels towards me, face twisted in evil triumph. There was another roar of thunder, and an enormous cardboard cartoon rabbit – whose only crime had been to extoll the virtues of the ballpool and children’s menu – lost his head.
“Nosy parkers get themselves into trouble, so they do! Get their nosy noses cut off …”
She knew my position now, hiding behind a brick pillar – possibly the only shotgun-proof shield in the whole restaurant. “Maybe your nose needs blowing …” she muttered, cackling to herself as she cycled the shotgun again.
I just needed a few more seconds. I took a gamble, and vaulted over the next row of tables.
Clearly Linda’s zeal for customer service was matched by her attention to health and safety. My ankle collided with a trolley full of dirty crockery; I hit the ground hard. A deluge of ceramics shattered around me with a volume that rivalled Sister Mary’s twelve-gauge. I landed in a heap, with my hand still inside my coat and leftover bolognese sauce across my face.
I felt my gun through the fabric of my coat. Sister Mary approached me unhurriedly; I had lost my cover and she saw no reason to pass-up an opportunity to gloat. She fed more shells into her shotgun as she advanced. Shredded serviettes fluttered down around her like makeshift confetti. She seemed to tower over me; another echo of school. She chambered another round.
“Jesus may love you, my child” she said, sighting along the barrel. “But I always thought you were an annoying little shit.”
Far off, I heard sirens wail; apparently Linda knew how to dial 999. They would be too late. There was nothing for it.
I felt the shape of my thirty-eight through the fabric of my coat, pointed it in roughly the right direction and fired. Even as I squeezed the trigger I knew I had missed – and worse, I thought in a strangely disconnected manner – I had put a bullet hole in my best coat.
The bullet missed Sister Mary … and instead struck the fire extinguisher mounted on the pillar by her head. It exploded in a cloud of compressed gas and foam. She snarled, covering her face.
Somehow, now pointing towards The Heavens, the shotgun released its final round. Cheap ceiling tiles disintegrated above her. Freed from its wire-shackles, the grinning, glowing chef fell … and crushed Sister Mary flat.
I lay there for a moment. In deference to Hollywood (who have long preferred to dispatch their evil old women by dropping heavy things on them) her legs were still visible. I watched an army-boot twitch its last – though it was black, not ruby.
After a few moments, I pulled myself up from the floor. Though I knew she was dead, my training made me kick the shotgun a safe distance from her hand. I dusted-down my coat, examined the hole and decided it was probably worth it.
Then I went to investigate whether my breakfast was salvageable.
BOOTNOTE: Normally, for illustrative purposes, I like to spend a colossal 30 seconds asking Google Images for something vaguely suitable. Unfortunately, when I enter “Edward Hopper Nighthawks parody set in a Little Chef with a fat waitress and a nun holding a shotgun, with a heavily customised wooden-bodied Morris Minor muscle-car parked outside” it comes up empty! So unless anyone fancies drawing me one, I’m afraid you’ll have to use your imagination.