A Genuine Shame
Comstock shook beads of rain from his jacket and tipped his hat. The young man walked into the diner, fidgeting every step he took. Comstock took a deep breath and watched it disappear as vapor in the air. The diner stood lit like a Tarantino movie. “Eli’s Diner – Open 24 hours” the neon sign read.
Comstock watched the young man sit on one of the bar stools and waive a shaky finger at the waitress. He took a picture out of his pocket. The young man stared back at him in the picture – a few years younger, with more skin on his bones; a kid by all rights.
He pocketed the picture and crossed the street; his boots and spurs clinking in the empty street as he passed. He heard a gunshot in the distance. What a shame, he thought. People dying for no reason.
He opened the diner door and walked to the bar, taking off his cowboy hat and setting it on the bar stool next to him. The kid had his hoodie pulled up, but his hands were shaking and his mouth fidgety; the effects of methamphetamine still in his system.
“What’ll you have dear?” the waitress said. Her eyeliner ran and her hair frayed in all directions – the effects of 24-hour service.
Comstock looked two seats down. “I’ll have what he’s having,” he said, pointing in the kid’s direction. The waitress walked to a dirty coffee pot and poured a cup before setting it, sloshing, in front of Comstock with a stack of creamers and a tray of multi-colored packets.
Comstock prepped his coffee as he stared at the kid.
“You look familiar,” he said.
The kid stopped his fidgeting, poked an eye out from behind his hoodie and then shrank behind it.
“Yeah! You look really familiar. Where have I seen you before?” Comstock said.
The young man mumbled something.
“What’s that?” Comstock said.
“Nowhere,” the young man said louder, fidgeting again.
“Hmm, I guess it’s my imagination then,” Comstock said, smiling through his gray mustache. As he talked, the kid peered out of his hoodie again.
“I do it all the time. One time, I was at a hotel in Dallas – I thought for sure I’d run into Bruce Willis. Badgered the poor sumbitch for twenty minutes before I found out the guy was a gardener who worked for the hotel.”
Comstock saw the cold soars around the kid’s cracked and his dry lips when he laughed.
“I was at this bar one time down in Phoenix. Beautiful gal there. I told all my buddies ‘show some respect and stop actin’ like dumbasses. There’s Sharon Stone over there.’” Comstock took a long pull of his coffee, seeing from the corner of his eye the kid waiting for the rest of the story.
“Turns out it wasn’t Sharon Stone; hell, wasn’t even a woman.” At this, Comstock started laughing a deep belly laugh that made the waitress – who had her headphones embedded in her ears – turn around and take note before renewing her interest in her cell phone screen. The kid laughed too.
Comstock turned to the kid, who shrunk back into his hoodie, sipping his cup with spastic hands.
“I went to this diner one time,” Comstock said. “And I ran into this guy. Young, bright guy; but he’d just gone astray. Turns out that young guy was the son of some famous Senator, and the boy had been getting into a heap of trouble lately, causing his Daddy to look bad.”
The young man turned to Comstock, his bloodshot eyes were white to match his pale face and hands.
“I bet you know something about that, right?” Comstock said.
The young man looked away, nodding. “I thought so,” Comstock said, sliding into the chair next to the kid.
“You see Brian, let me tell you another little story I know. Comes from a book you may be familiar with. See, there’s this guy – rich as all get out – who’s got these two sons. One of them stays with him, supports the family, makes something of himself. The other, he runs off and makes a damn mess. Squanders his talents, wastes his life.”
Brian’s hands shook.
“Don’t worry; there’s a happy ending. You see, even though he goes and makes a mess of himself, as it turns out his Daddy wants him to come back home; and when that boy comes on back home, his Daddy runs to go see him.”
Brian looked at Comstock and shed a single tear. He wiped it away with a dirty hand.
“I need some help,” Brian said.
“You bet you do.” Comstock said.
“Did my dad send you?” Brian said.
“Is he really trying to find me?” Brian said. “Does he really care?”
“Yes and yes” Comstock said, draining the dregs of his coffee and looking away.
Brian wiped another few tears from his face.
“What should I do?” he said.
Comstock looked at Brian. “He ain’t far – Let’s head over. I’ll cover this.” he said, pointing to their coffees. Comstock laid a twenty on the table and checked for the waitress – still engrossed in her cell phone – before retrieving his hat and walking out with Brian.
They walked out of the diner and across the street. Brian fidgeted – urgency in his step.
“I’m really going to get clean this time,” he said. “I’m going to make something of myself.”
Comstock nodded. “That’s great.” He pointed to an alley to take a shortcut. Brian walked ahead of him.
Comstock pulled out the silenced .45 from his jacket and fired twice into the back of Brian’s head. Brian dropped to the ground, landing in a puddle. A rat scuttled from behind a trash can at the sound.
“Sorry Brian,” Comstock said in a whisper. “I’m sure you would have really gotten clean this time.”
He pocketed the .45 and pulled out a cell phone. He dialed a number, waited for the line to connect.
“It’s done,” he said.
“Excellent. Your funds are being transferred now-” the voice on the line said.
Comstock hung up the phone before the call finished.
This job sucked. It didn’t go at all how Comstock planned. He must have used the story about the prodigal son at least a hundred times over the course of his career. Every time it elicited the same response: the mark being weary, or even hesitant, on acknowledging a change needed to take place in their lives. Most didn’t want to change; some even fought – literally – against it. It made his job easier when they resisted. Not Brian.
He looked at Brian’s body – the kid’s eyes were still open.
How would he have known this kid had been so obviously open to changing his life for the better? Comstock cursed himself for being such a one-trick pony. He counted on people’s unwillingness to make their lives any better; and now had been shown a fool – by the one person he genuinely regretted killing.
Brian could have been right; maybe people can change. Comstock made a mental note to donate half of his bounty to a charity. He took a deep breath and shook his head. He walked back down the alley into the open street. No cars; no one. Just the steady rhythm of the city. What a shame he thought. People dying for no reason.
Story written by: Zach Klimczak
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