McCoy finds good food -- and some solace, perhaps, in a diner. Who says the way to a man's heart isn't through his stomach?

 

Marker
By M. Books

McCoy sat back in his office chair with a dark scowl on his face. One hand was wrapped around a newly poured glass of warm scotch, the other was clenched on the arm of his chair. The only light visible on the tenth floor tonight was the one on his desk.
It had been a long month. Two murder trials, both unsuccessful. The most recent verdict had been delivered less than an hour ago and it was simply unbelievable in his opinion. All the facts pointed at the defendant, and McCoy had presented them perfectly. Or so he thought. That addlebrained defense lawyer had obviously confused the jury just enough so that they couldn't make the right decision. "Abby was right," he grumbled aloud. She had warned him that this jury would have to be led by the hand using baby steps, but he had thought she was overreacting.
He thought back to the trial before this one, which had ended badly when one of his key witnesses had disappeared, too afraid to testify. "I knew I should've locked that chicken sonofabitch up!" he thought angrily.
McCoy sighed and looked up at the ceiling. He consciously loosened his grip on the chair arm and tried to relax his shoulders. This was not getting him anywhere. As a matter of fact, he was beginning to wonder if this business was taking him anywhere he wanted to be. At one time, this job seemed like the best thing that could possibly happen to him, but after twenty-five years he had finally hit the wall. A failed marriage, a kid he didn't really even know, his best friends gone in one way or another. Those friends that were left weren't exactly close. He'd made more than his share of enemies, but that almost acted as a gauge for how well he was doing his job. All in all, after weighing the pros and cons, what did he have to show for his efforts?
McCoy took a long pull from his drink. He'd put a lot of bad guys away. Many had since been freed -- many wouldn't ever walk the streets again. There were too many that had got away clean.
"Maybe it's time for a change," he considered. The thought struck him funny. He downed the rest of his drink and sat forward. "And what could I change into? Burger-flipper at the local McDonalds?" He shook his head and realized that he was in bad shape when even his attempts at humor were so pathetic.
He considered another drink, but decided against it since he had brought his motorcycle today. One drink was okay -- more than one was suicide.
McCoy went over to the corner of his office where he kept a change of clothes. Tonight it was a real pleasure to lose the suit and replace it with soft, worn jeans and his leather jacket. Gathering up his helmet and switching off the light, he gladly deserted his office.
Ten minutes later he was heading through what New Yorkers would consider light traffic. His bike gave him an even further advantage of extra mobility, so it didn't take long to get out of the core of the city. He had a full tank of gas and was willing to use it all up tonight. Let the wind blow away the bad mood.
After almost an hour he found himself in an unfamiliar, but rather friendly looking area. There was a quaint looking diner on the corner of two quiet streets. His empty stomach rebelled at the idea of passing this place up, so he pulled in and parked. Locking his helmet on the bike, he leaned back a ways and stretched his muscles out. While he loosened up, he looked in the window. All the booths were occupied, and the stools were all filled. "Damn," he thought, "Nothing's going right today." Just as he was about to reach back down for his helmet, he saw a few people getting up to leave. "All right," he smiled, "Maybe my luck is turning."
McCoy entered the diner and was struck by the overwhelming aroma of fresh bread, baked cabbage and grilled onions. There had been a hint of it outside, but once in the door there was no mistaking that this place had an old fashioned, down-home cook locked up in the kitchen. He was surprised to note that his mouth was actually watering.
Looking around for the place that had been vacated by the people he had seen leaving earlier, he was baffled by where they had left from. The only available spot was in a booth for four, that was occupied by only a single woman.
Just then a hand landed on his shoulder, and a pleasant Polish-accented voice said, "Glad you could come. Haven't seen you here before." Before McCoy could respond, the man who appeared to be the waiter continued, "Well, you're here now, no? Come sit by my daughter, Marisha. She's good company, and she don't bite. Besides, her friends just left so there's a lotta room if she moves those stacks of papers outta the way. She either shares the table, or she goes in the back to do dishes, eh!"
The woman looked up at her father and gave him a patient smile. Then she turned to McCoy and held out her hand to indicate the empty side of the booth. Laughing, she said, "You'd better sit down, I'm not in the mood for doing dishes."
McCoy considered declining, but the friendly banter was actually welcome, so against his normal inclinations, he slid into the booth.
The waiter leaned over and placed a menu on the table. "Marisha can fill you in about the specials. Do you want something to drink?'
"How about coffee?' McCoy asked.
"Better than that," said the father, "I'll give you some tea. My Marisha here will read your tea leaves. How about that!"
McCoy looked reluctantly at the woman across the booth.
She looked up at her father, "Papa, leave the man alone. Maybe he just wants coffee and something to eat."
Her father snorted, "Ha! Why not you should give him a little special treatment. After all, he has to share his table with you!" He grinned then turned on his heels and headed for the kitchen.
The woman shook her head. "I won't apologize for him, because he means well and I love him dearly, but don't take him too seriously and you'll be fine."
McCoy smiled. "No problem. As long as the food tastes as good as it smells."
She replied, "Of that you can be sure. My mother and grandmother are toiling away in the kitchen as we speak. They live to feed people."
"Then I guess they're in the right business," he replied.
She laughed. "By the way, my name is really Mary. Marisha is a sort of Polish version."
"I'm Jack," he said and held out his hand which she shook good-naturedly.
"So if you want to try something really good, Jack, my suggestion is the cabbage roll special. It'll tickle your taste buds, fill you up, and even maybe let you feel a little bit like you're in heaven."
"That's some recommendation."
"It's the truth."
"Sold." McCoy slipped off his jacket. "So do you really read tea leaves?"
Mary sighed. "It's one of my least handy talents."
"I don't understand."
"Well, the truth is that I'm pretty good at it. The problem is that when people find that out, they seem to be in your face all the time looking for answers on everything."
"I see."
"Well, no matter. At least it's not my day job."
Jack looked questioningly at the stack of papers sitting on the table.
She noticed and answered his unasked question. "I'm a elementary school teacher, and this is the bane of my job -- grading papers."
Just then her father appeared with a pot of tea and a china cup and saucer which he placed in front of McCoy. "So what's to eat for you tonight?"
McCoy glanced across the table then back up to the waiter, "Cabbage roll special. I could use a little heaven."
"Good man!" he laughed. "You're a smart guy who listens to my daughter. Not like her goofball husband!" Laughing again, he picked up the menu and turned towards the kitchen.
Mary smiled at his disappearing back, "He doesn't mean it. Actually he gets along very well with my husband."
Jack was a little off kilter in this unusual environment, and decided not to pursue the issues of this family's dynamics. Instead he surprised himself by asking, "What about that offer to read my tea leaves? I promise not to take anything you say to heart."
Mary smiled. "Don't be so disbelieving. It's an old art."
"Okay, what do I do first?"
She took the pot and refilled her mug, then poured the last half of the pot into his china cup. "First thing is to enjoy a good cup of tea. Just try not to swallow the leaves."
McCoy took a sip and was pleasantly surprised by its taste. It seemed to warm all parts of him immediately, and he tried to remember the last time he'd even had a cup of tea. He couldn't recall.
Mary said, "If it wouldn't bother you, I'm just going to finish off these last three papers."
"Go right ahead." He watched her as she bent to her work. She was kind of pretty with shoulder length blond hair. She wasn't thin, but she wasn't heavy either. She was probably forty or so, but her relaxed expression made her seem younger. He noticed the wedding band on her left hand, which was actually reassuring. At first he thought that the father was trying to set him up with the daughter, but now that that wasn't an issue, he felt much more comfortable about the situation. At the very least, he had certainly left his crappy day behind, and was glad that he was able to loosen up a little.
It only took a few minutes for her to finish. She gathered up the papers and pens and slipped them into a soft briefcase that she pulled from under the table. "Another day done," she said, satisfied. "How are you coming with that tea?"
McCoy looked down into the cup and saw that he only had another swallow, so he put the teacup to his lips and finished it. "Damn. I think I swallowed a couple of leaves."
Mary laughed. "No problem. You'll survive."
"Doesn't it affect the reading?"
"Not at all. Now, turn the cup over onto the saucer. Then turn the cup three full times counterclockwise."
He did as he was told, chuckling to himself at the absurdity of the situation. He could just imagine the reaction of people in his office if they could see him getting his tea leaves read. It would make for some interesting jokes at his expense, but even though it was silly, he decided it was also harmless.
Mary took the cup from him and righted it. She gazed into the leaves in the same way she might read a newspaper. Her face changed a few times as she looked at one thing or another more closely, but she didn't say a word.
McCoy almost jumped when he found himself staring at two plates in front of him. Mary's father had come over so quietly he hadn't noticed him. Instantly, however, he did notice the aroma from the dinner he'd ordered. He looked at a plate that was alive with color. Juicy green cabbage rolls nestled in a chunky tomato sauce, lightly whipped potatoes and a healthy slice of buttered peasant rye bread. On a side plate were some cucumbers in what looked like a sour cream dressing. This would feed him two nights running, he was certain.
He looked back up to the waiter, but he was already at another table visiting with some of his other customers. McCoy looked at Mary, who was sitting across the table still perusing his teacup. "Well, here goes," he thought as he picked up a fork and cut a tender piece of the cabbage roll. After he put it in his mouth he was floored by its taste. It was spicy and exploded with flavor and he closed his eyes while he savored it. When McCoy opened his eyes again, Mary was looking at him strangely. "What?" he mumbled around his mouthful.
"Your cup," she said. "It seems that you are at a marker."
"Marker?"
"Yes. Like a milestone. You know, an important point in your life."
McCoy couldn't be sure what that meant, but he supposed it was the standard vague mumbo-jumbo fortune tellers -- and tea leaf readers -- were used to uttering. Well, the food was good and the entertainment was free, so he kept on enjoying his dinner.
Mary continued, "It doesn't seem to be related to romance or marriage. No, your marriage broke up a long time ago." She looked up, "Sorry."
McCoy shrugged. It was a good guess.
She scratched her head. "Are you a cop?"
She was starting to get interesting, but he wasn't going to give her any hints. "No, I'm not a cop."
"Hmm. Something legal, though. There's a really dark side to your work. But at least you're one of the good guys -- I think."
McCoy furrowed his brow, then smiled. "I'd like to think I'm one of the good guys."
"Let's see. You're very good at your job. Very successful. You have an aura of respect. But your work has been difficult...ah ha! I get it now. You're thinking of quitting your job. You haven't decided, but right now you aren't enjoying what you do." She nodded to herself. "I think you are also unsure of your life in general. I don't see a lot of happiness around you. Nobody really close. See, you appear to be standing alone."
She held out the cup for him to see, but all he saw were blotches of sticky leaves. McCoy was getting a bit uncomfortable, though. He put down his fork.
"There's good news, though. I can see someone coming. A woman you used to know. And like. Very much. An old friend, but not someone you considered romantically. She's going to surprise you. I can't give you the long term outcome of this meeting, but it seems very positive somehow."
McCoy regained his composure. This sounded more like mumbo-jumbo again. Or maybe she was just trying to make him feel better. He picked up his fork once again and began another run at his dinner.
"About your job decision," she said, "all I can tell you is that you will know within the next day or so. You will make a decision based on something that will happen to you. According to this, you must remember to let your heart decide, not your head."
McCoy didn't know what to say. He finished the mouthful he was chewing, then set his fork back down.
Mary set the cup back on its saucer, leaned back and smiled.
He leveled one of what he hoped was his best stares at her. The kind of look that made witnesses stop and think before they answered. He had it down to a science and it rarely failed -- but she was distinctly unimpressed. She merely sat across from him smiling.
He asked, "Okay. So what else does it say?"
Her eyebrows went up. "Very good, Jack. I don't always tell people everything. Only what is most important at the time."
"But you did read other things?"
"Yes. There are indicators of the person you are. Traits. For example, you are someone who likes to put on the bulldog."
"The bulldog?"
"Yeah. The tough guy game face when necessary. Or the buddy-buddy puppy dog look. Depending on what you want from people, you can adapt how you appear to them."
This was getting a little spooky again. "That's part of my job."
"I know," she replied confidently. "You're a bit of a con man, but I didn't see anything that suggests you do it for nasty reasons. I also know that you have a very passionate side. It would be wonderful, except that you seem to direct it into your work."
McCoy's jaw dropped.
Mary laughed. "That was easy. I saw the passion, but if you are alone, it means you have to direct it somewhere. I guessed work."
Before he could respond, Mary's father reappeared. "So, you haven't finished this dinner. You don't like?"
"That's not it at all. I was enjoying it thoroughly."
"Ah. My daughter. She knocked you off your meal with what she see in your cup, eh?"
McCoy wasn't sure what to say.
"Maybe I can buy you a drink. I'll put it on her tab," he said aiming his thumb at his daughter. Then he winked and headed for the kitchen.
McCoy grinned. "I guess maybe he was right. You did catch me off guard. I didn't expect anything with the tea leaves, but I must admit there's some truth in what you say."
"Well, if its any consolation, Jack, after reading your cup I get the impression that you are a decent soul, and that things are bound to turn out better for you."
"I hope so. By the way, I'm not a cop, but I am in the District Attorney's office."
"I'll keep that in mind the next time I get a speeding ticket."
They both laughed.
Mary's father reappeared with three shot glasses of vodka. He set them on the table and slid into the booth beside his daughter. "I told you she's a good reader. Now I tell you how good. She won't read the cups of anyone in the whole family. Says she don't wanna know our futures until it happens. So now we drink."
Each of them took a shot glass, and with a nod, downed their vodka.
From that point on their conversation turned to food, drink and comfortable chatter. Jack happily managed to put away a little more than half of his dinner. Mary's father occasionally wandered off to serve his other customers, then he would return with coffee or more vodka. Jack learned a little more about Mary's job, and found himself liking her a lot. She was honest, a dedicated teacher and she had a wry sense of humor. Her father was a lot sharper than he made himself appear, and McCoy found himself relaxing thoroughly.
Sometime later he glanced at his watch for the first time. It was after midnight. Mentally, McCoy tried to count the shot glasses of vodka compared to the time he had been at the diner. He quickly came to the conclusion that there were too many shot glasses for a safe trip home on his bike.
Mary read his mind. "You might want to take a cab, Jack."
Her father agreed. "I tell you, we live in the house around back. You can park that motorcycle of yours in our yard and come back tomorrow for it. I sure don't want nobody smearing themselves across a road on my account!"
McCoy flinched at the description and couldn't argue that parking the bike was the prudent thing to do. He was somewhat embarrassed to ask, "You know, I was just driving for the sake of driving tonight, and the truth is that I really don't know where I am exactly."
Mary laughed heartily. "See Papa, you better leave that vodka in the kitchen next time." She asked her father to call a cab and offered to take Jack around back and show him where to park. After he slipped on his jacket, and he helped Mary with hers, they got up and went to the front counter so that Jack could pay his bill. Her father was waiting with a bag. "Here. The rest of your dinner. You come back a lot and practice eating. One day you'll finish a real meal."
Jack paid for dinner and then he tried to pay for his drinks.
"No, no, no." Mary's father said. "I like to have a visit with someone new. I think my daughter, she liked the company too. Maybe she'll dump that deadbeat husband and take you instead."
Jack smiled and almost blushed.
Mary just shook her head. "Yes Papa, and maybe one day you'll be governor."
"I could do a better job!"
At that they walked out to the street and collected Jack's bike. Since it was only around the corner, he simply slipped it into neutral and pushed it into the back yard of the house Mary indicated. "I really appreciate this," he said.
"Oh, no problem. My dad liked you, and he does this kind of thing for other folks he likes too."
"He's a nice guy."
"Yeah, well I think he's pretty terrific. In any event, Jack, it was a nice evening. I enjoyed myself."
"Me too. It turned a lousy day into a pretty good one. Thanks for the company." Then he looked down at her and smiled warmly, "And for the tea."
She smiled back. "I gotta go. My husband will be home soon. He's a firefighter, and he surely will be starved after his shift." Mary paused for a moment and looked up at him with a serious expression. "Good luck, Jack."
The taxi her father had called pulled up beside them. "Do you want to share the cab?" he asked her.
"No thanks. It's just a block to my house."
Jack looked at Mary. "It's been a real pleasure." Then he extended his hand. When she took it, he turned his sideways and drew her hand up to kiss it. It was a strange gesture for him, he knew, but it felt right.
She laughed. "How very old-country of you. Good-night, Jack."
He nodded, and watched her walk off. After climbing into the cab and giving the cabby directions, he leaned back against the seat and sighed. It was the first evening in a very long time that he'd had the chance to simply relax and enjoy the company of really nice people. That alone made it a 'marker'.
It was indeed a good night.
 
end

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