“Put the gun away,” Rho said at the table in the diner.
Anna looked up at him. “I need to clean it, ok?”
“You don’t clean it here.”
“It’s a table, dad. It’s flat. It’s clean. Perfect place to.”
“You don’t do that in public, and you don’t do it where you’re going to eat.”
Anna rolled her eyes. “We eat on plates, dad.”
A waitress walked over and looked them over; a little girl no older than eight sat next to a bearded green-eyed man in an ulster, reading her tattered leather-bound book. On the other side of the table sat a teenager in a pink prom dress who smiled at the waitress while Anna continues to ram her cleaning rod down the barrel of a square cylinder chrome revolver.
The waitress said quickly, “You can’t have that on the table.”
Rho shrugs. “She eats on plates.”
The waitress glared at him. “What does that even mean?”
Anna tapped the table with the palm of her hand. “Table,” She pointed to a dirty table. “Plate.” She exhaled loudly and looked to Rho. “Jeez Dad, don’t these people know anything?”
Anje rolled her eyes and continued reading.
“Enough about her,” Khim leaned on the table with both hands and looked up at the waitress. “Do you have milkshakes?”
The waitress gave her a look. “That’s not the point.”
Khim said, “Well, this is a diner, right?”
“So, do you?” Khim waved the menu in the air. “I see you got hamburgers and hot dogs and other yummy stuff, what about milkshakes? I’d love a milkshake!”
The waitress looked confused.
Rho said to Khim. “She’s talking about the gun, love.”
Khim made a face. “Who’d want a gunmetal milkshake? That sounds nasty.”
Anje flipped the page of her book. She muttered, “Puts too much lead in your diet.”
Rho snorted. He said at the waitress. “She’ll put it away.” He glared at Anna. “Won’t you?”
“Jeez, Louise!” She put the revolver and cleaning rod in her long coat’s hip pocket and waved her hands in the air. “There, dad! Happy now?” She looked at the waitress. “Now, can you please get my sister a milkshake before she loses her damn mind?”
The waitress looked at them strangely. She turned and quickly walked away.
Rho watched her leave. He pointed at Anna. “Low profile. We don’t need anyone getting wise to us being here, ok?”
“Here?” Anna made a face. “This backwater world? Come on dad, these people have a hard enough time remembering what day of the week it is. Are you really worried about them?” She let out a short laugh. “What are they going to do?”
A police officer walked over and stood at the head of their table.
“Hell,” Khim muttered.
“Howdy, officer,” Rho said, giving the cop the widest, broadest, fakest smile he could.
The cop, an older man with white hair and three stripes on his shoulders, offered a nod. “Ruby said one of the children has a problem.”
“I do!” Khim said. “I’m waiting for a milkshake, sir. Thank you for looking into that for me, you’re the best!”
Rho shrugged. “Points for politeness.”
The officer didn’t miss a beat. “She said one of these children threatened her with a firearm.”
“They’re my daughters,” Rho said flatly. “And no, she didn’t threaten anyone. She decided to clean it on the table.” He glared at Anna. “She won’t do that again.”
The cop studied Anna. “She doesn’t look old enough to own a firearm.”
“What the hell’s a firearm?” Anna asked.
“It’s slang for the type of weapon your revolver is,” Rho said.
The officer said, “Put the firearm on the table.”
“No,” Anna said. “That’s where the plates go.”
Rho rolled his eyes and sighed. His right hand clenched into a fist. He looked at the officer. “Is this really necessary?”
“Sir,” The officer said. “I’m going to need you to stand up.”
“He can’t,” Khim said.
The officer looked at her. “Is he disabled?”
“No,” Khim said. “My sister’s in his way.”
The officer looked at the little girl sitting next to Rho, staring at her book. “I’m not moving,” Anje said.
“Look,” Rho said, forcing himself to be civil towards the officer, “Why don’t you bring “Ruby” over, and we can work this out. No one was threatening anyone, and if she were somehow offended, we would apologize.”
“I sure as hell won’t,” Anna said. “She’s a service person, being insulted is part of her damn job, and she still hasn’t brought us anything to drink!”
“That’s a great idea!” Khim said. She looked to the officer, “One Strawberry Milkshake, please!”
Rho let out a quiet sigh.
The officer pressed the button on his shoulder-mounted speaker. “Unit 321 to dispatch, I have a Code 9 and 417 at Marisol’s Diner on Curry Drive. Three female minors, one adult.”
Rho glared at Anna. Anna waved her hand, “I’ll handle this,” She turned and pointed an automatic at the officer’s midsection. “Hands down, pal. Now.”
Rho looked to Anje, “Way out of here, shortbread, pronto.”
Anje flipped through the book. “On it.”
The officer quickly raised his hands, palms out. Anna reached over and pulled out the officer’s sidearm, an automatic half the size of hers. She eyed it. “Jeez, a PMR-30? What kind of cop carries a Kel-Tec?” She tossed it across the diner. It hit the rim of a garbage bin and fell in. She grinned. “Right where it belongs.”
Khim noticed their waitress walking around across the diner. “Ruby!” She called. “Bring me a strawberry milkshake, please!”
Ruby looked over, confused.
Anje took out a pen, flipped a page, and began writing symbols on her napkin.
Anna said to the cop, “Call her over.”
The officer did. Ruby walked over and paused when she saw Anna holding a gun at him.
Anna said, “We’ve played your game, ‘Ruby,’ now you’re going to play ours.”
The waitress began to sob. “Please… I got kids, and I got a mortgage and a bad hip and three cats and…”
Anna gave her a nasty look. “My sister wants a strawberry milkshake. Bring it, or the cop gets it.”
Ruby shivered. She rushed off.
The police officer eyed Anna. “If you kill a police officer, they’re going to catch you and lock you all away forever.”
“Kill you?” Anna made a face. “Why in the world would I do that?”
“You just said so.”
“We’re about to leave,” Anna said. “If we’re not here when she brings it, you can have the milkshake.”
The cop eyed her. “That’s not what you said.”
Anna smiled. “It’s how she took it. That’s all that matters.” She eyed Anje. “How we looking, troll?”
Anje turned to Rho. “Salt, Water, and Lead,”
“That’s it, this time?” Anna said. “You’d better not be sending us back to that hellhole.”
“Someplace… cooler, actually,” Anje said.
Ruby quickly came by and set a strawberry milkshake with whipped cream and a cherry in a tall fluted glass on the table and stood there, trembling.
“Don’t bother,” Khim quickly grabbed the shake with both hands. “I got my cold right here!”
Rho picked up the salt and pepper shakers, removed the tops and poured some of each on the table. He put them back in the black plastic caddy that also contained ketchup, hot sauce, and a chrome napkin dispenser. “Steel?” he said.
“No, lead,” Anje said. She flattened the salt and pepper and drew an inverted 2 with a dot on top with her chubby index finger.
Anna took the revolver out of her pocket and handed it to Anje. “Lead.”
The officer eyed the revolver. “Is that the gun?”
“Yup,” Anna said.
The officer stared at the weapon. “What kind of gun is that?”
“It’s not from here,” Anna said. She smiled. “Neither are we.”
Anje put the revolver over the symbol, and it suddenly lit up.
“Got to go!” She said.
Khim waved her shake in the air. “Thank you!”
Rho pointed at the waitress. “No tip for you.”
There was a sudden flash.
They were gone.
All that remained was a sizzling scorch mark of melted lead fused to the tabletop.
The waitress said to the officer, “Can’t put plates on that.”