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Clement's Corner: A Twist Of Fate

Tom had been searching and searching, then, late at night, in a truck stop, he sees an old guy wearing a battered felt hat…

Owen Clement tells a tale that leaves you guessing all the way through to the last paragraph.

The monotonous drone of the car’s engine, the metronomic slapping back and forth of the wipers at full speed plus the poor visibility from the continuous sheet of water running down the windscreen exacerbated Tom’s exhaustion. His eyes momentarily drooped and closed.

Waking with a jolt from his micro-sleep he wound down the window to allow the driving rain to briefly wash away some of his weariness. Winding the window up he realized that he would soon have to find an all-night Drive-in service station.

By good fortune the blurred lights of a service station complex appeared through the windscreen.

He turned off the freeway and drove past half a dozen semi-trailers pulled over side by side in the parking bay of the popular truck-stop. It being late in the evening their drivers were tucked up in the cabs enjoying a well-earned kip.

On entering the diner he saw a lone figure huddled in a corner of a booth, holidng a drink. A battered felt hat was pulled down so that it hid the man’s face.

He stopped at the counter and ordered a mug of black coffee and a couple of donuts before heading for the washroom.

Examining his image in the mirror after washing away some of his tiredness he reflected on his, so far, unfinished quest.

Returning to the cafeteria, not wanting to appear rude, he took the adjoining booth to the solitary figure.

“Evening!” Tom called out, more for politeness than inviting company; his mind still occupied with his unsuccessful assignment.

The stranger’s head slowly rose revealing a sinister looking man of an indeterminate age. No returned greeting came. His hard steely eyes, grim thin-lipped mouth and ugly scar running down one side of his jaw indicated a person who had experienced a hard, perhaps dangerous, life.

Tom, rather than being alarmed at the mean looking character was delighted. His quest could now be over. It was funny, he thought, but every time he tried to find something that he had been seeking or had lost, it invariably turned up where it was least expected. This could be one of those occasions.

“Mind if I join you?” Tom asked and without waiting for a response slid into the bench across from the stranger.

The man’s eyes narrowed with increased suspicion.

“The name’s Tom Lang. You my friend are just the man I’ve been searching for.”

Tom held out his hand.

The stranger, dumbstruck, studied the fat young man in rumpled clothes who had approached him, wondering with some alarm what was about to follow.

“No, seriously,” Tom continued his voice rising, “How would you like to earn two to three hundred dollars a day?”

The man looked towards the counter where the proprietor was preparing to bring over Tom’s order.

Turning back to Tom, in a soft guttural voice delivered from the side of his mouth, he said “Piss off”.

The proprietor put Tom’s order down in front of him then turned to the other man. “This guy bothering you, Pop?”

“He says he wants me to do somethin’ for two hundred bucks a day,”

“Look Buddy”, the proprietor said, “this old man’s been in enough trouble already.”

”Huh! Sorry, I should explain.”

The proprietor signalled for the older man to get up and looking at Tom broke in, “Look pal, you got the wrong bloke okay!”

Tom, having found his man after days of searching was not about to quit now.

The proprietor seeing that Tom had not been convinced carried on, “Pop here is waiting for his bus, which should be here shortly, and then he’s heading off home”.

“But you don’t understand I’m prepared to pay good money for very little effort. He wouldn’t have to worry about a thing.”

“Listen,” the younger man said angrily, “he’s not interested, okay!”

“Why don’t you let him speak for himself?” Tom’s ire was up. He had finally found the man he had been hunting for. In his business one had to have grit, and grit he had.

Both men glared at Tom.

“Look,” Tom said calmly, “I’m not a crook. I’m offering this man well-paid employment. From the look of him he could do with some ready cash. What’s the problem?”

The proprietor sighed. Leaning towards Tom he said quietly, “My name’s Col Murphy. He’s my Dad, Norm. He’s out on parole and could not accept your offer even if he wanted to.’’ He sighed and after a brief pause continued, “I’d appreciate you keeping this to yourself, okay!”

“Is that all”, Tom said, grinning as he picked up his mug and drank the now lukewarm coffee. “Leave it me. You’d be surprised at the people we have on our books.’’

Col became exasperated, “You just don’t understand do you? My dad came out today after being inside for twenty five years for murder.’’

Tom, who noticed old Norm’s hands begin to tremble, smiled disarmingly.

“What I am offering is quite legit,” he said. “You see I’m an agent.”

“An agent?’’ Col sounded apprehensive. He exchanged nervous glances with his father.

“Yeah, A theatrical agent. He’d be perfect as one of the character’s in a film we are making.”

© Clement 2006


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