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When Karl Wulffraat rolled over and hit the off button on his alarm clock at 7:40am, just as he had every morning for the past 11 years, he couldn’t possibly have known this day would end in murder. A murder committed right here in this room. Karl rolled over to give his wife Lucy a poke in the shoulder and found himself nose to snout with a flatulent dog. Tulip, a golden retriever, had managed to spread himself sideways across the top of the bed, creating a literal and metaphoric divide between Karl and Lucy.
“Good morning, Tulip,” Karl whispered to the dog, planting a kiss on her red nose. Tulip yawned and beat her tail against Lucy’s back. Lucy, already teetering at the edge of the mattress, had only to put one foot down on the ground before rolling herself upright. It was a move she’d perfected over countless mornings. She didn’t even have to open her eyes.
“Coffee,” Karl grunted.
Lucy smacked her lips and wrinkled her nose. Her neck creaked as she turned it to look at Karl, and when she saw him cuddling with the dog she let out a long noise that was more a groan than a sigh.
“What?” asked Karl.
“Whaddya mean, what?” Lucy lurched unsteadily toward the bathroom.
“What’s with all the damn moaning?”
“I had a dream that you died in your sleep,” she said, picking a pink terrycloth robe up off the rug as she crossed over the threshold onto the cold, cracked bathroom tiles, “but my dreams never come true.”
Across town where the construction crews were breaking ground on another shopping mall, Burgy Martindale was waiting for her shift to end. She’d been waitressing at the Sunnydale Diner for nine years, which made her the diner’s second-longest employee, not counting Ned, the owner and cook. And Burgy didn’t count him for anything since he’d dumped her after they had that little fling a few years back. No, Sunnydale Diner’s longest employee was Patti Goodrich. She’d been waitressing since Ned opened the place 25 years ago. It was Patti’s picture on the wall with the Longest Employee sign next to it.
But Burgy had been working the night shift longer than anyone, and she liked it that way because the customers liked her. She got along with everybody. People who come to the diner in the darkest hours of the night were talkers and Burgy was good at listening. Cops, truckers, the dump truck guys, the warehouse guys, the good kids who came in after the prom, the bad kids who were out drinking and doing stuff behind the trailer park. Burgy herself had once been one of Sunnydale’s good kids, and then one of the bad kids. She liked to think she knew everybody, and she figured plenty of them would like to see her picture up on the wall, too.
“More coffee, Johnny?” she asked, not waiting to hear the answer before she refilled his cup.
Officer John Briggs turned down his newspaper and looked her right in the eye.
“You’ve always got your head buried in those papers.” She carefully arranged three packets of Splenda on the edge of his saucer. “You don’t have to read the papers. I get all the news around here first hand. Go on, ask me something.”
“Tell me something about you I don’t know?”
Burgy fixated on Officer Briggs’ bristly mustache for a moment before snapping herself out of it, hoping she hadn’t just blushed. She looked at the ceiling for a second like she was trying to think up an answer but she already knew what she was going to say.
“I have my own maid,” she said, turning away as Ned called out orders up for table nine. “Bet you’re surprised to hear little old me has her very own cleaning woman?”
Burgy deftly lifted the plates of pancake stacks off the counter and set them down again at the table full of stoners squeezed into a booth with their skateboards. Plenty of things about me that would surprise these fools, she thought. For instance, that she once threw a knife at a rattlesnake and hit it right dead in its head. Or about the pistol Jamie Shavers had made her promise to hide and keep safe before he disappeared. How about that she had $10,000 divided between six coffee cans she’d buried herself behind her mobile home. Like about how she’d dug up some of that money just recently, and how she’d gotten that pistol back out of the crawlspace and had taken to walking around the house with it, feeling it in her hand, giving little spins, blowing on the end of it and pretending to stick it in her imaginary holster. And wouldn’t they all be shocked to know she had a singing voice she considered to be as good as any of those wannabes on American Idol.
She sauntered back toward the counter making she sure she got real close to the cop with his face still in the paper.
“I’m full of surprises, Officer,” she whispered, brushing ever so slightly against Johnny. “You just ought to try to figure one of them out.”