“What can I get ya’ this fine morning, ma’am?” Shirley had asked the question a thousand times before and leading into the moment, there was nothing special about the woman sitting in the booth.
She was not even meant to be covering section H that afternoon. Barb called in sick at the last minute, again, and left the manager scrambling to find coverage. Shirley wished she had actually stopped by the library before work to pick up her reserved book on putting ones self first, but she had not. Before her manager had even asked, she volunteered to cover the section that night. She wondered, long after this night, if she had picked up the book and read even a few chapters, if she would have avoided what was in store.
The woman in the booth had her face buried in a menu when Shirley arrived beside the table. Shirley found the menu amusing. Diner on Park was a classic breakfast joint. Anyone in a diner that smelled of burned coffee and equally burned hash-browns knew exactly what they were going to order before they even sat down. The menu was a safety blanket, reassuring the reader that something familiar in an odd place was available.
As the menu pulled away from the diner’s face an eternity passed in the span of a heart beat.
“Hello, Shirley,” the woman’s sad voice mumbled. The menu trembled in her hands.
Shirley stepped back, flooded with memories of the woman smiling up at her. She saw the scar above her eyebrow. A scar given to her by a splintering baseball bat during a car theft gone terribly wrong. Her ear had a chunk taken from it, another robbery gone awry. Shirley knew every story to every scar on the woman’s face and arms. Shirley never asked for the stories, but the woman gave them freely in their time together. Shirley herself had a scar in her elbow, but was never once asked its origin.
“You need to leave,” Shirley told her. She stepped away from the table, waiving her pen at the face she never again wanted to see.
The two were partners in another life, living one score to the next. Every robbery a little more exciting, a little more dangerous. They pushed each other to be better, to go beyond ‘good’ to be great at a bad, bad thing. Before long they were filing serial numbers off hand guns, carrying nothing but burner cell phones, and making connections in the deep dark world of organized crime. They loved what they did. Shirley had never felt so powerful as when she stomped into a bank and brought chunks of ceiling to the floor.
It was Shirley who called it quits. Their last heist together set them both up for life and they knew beyond doubt they would never be caught. Shirley needed out before the stakes grew larger. Sooner or later, Shirley felt, one of them would not be leaving the scene in a get-away car, but a coroner’s van. Shirley took a job at a greasy spoon diner in the middle of nowhere to hide from her past, hoping perhaps serving others would atone for the fear she had spread so many years ago.
That old life had found her and there, sitting in the puffy red booth at a table with peeling laminate, it carried the face of a friend lost to a world Shirley had hoped to abandon.
“I need a favor,” the woman in the booth said.
“I’m not helping you anymore,” Shirley whispered, moving back to the table, “you have no right to be here. To ask me that. I am out and you know that. You have no right!”
Her voice got away from her. She felt the glances of the few patrons in the diner on her back and stepped away from the table once more.
“I know that,” the woman in the booth said, “know that I wouldn’t be here if I could ask any one else. This job is bigger than me. Bigger than my team,” she said nodding to the entrance.
“Everything alright here, Shirley,” the deep boom of the line cook’s voice filled Shirley’s ears, but she was miles away. Standing at the doorway were two men; one short and round, the other tall and lanky. She remembered their faces, but their names remained foggy. They too were great at bad, bad things.
“We’re old friends, and I should not have met her at work. I do apologize,” the woman in the booth explained away the outburst. The line cook shifted worried eyes between the two woman, but let the excuse settle. He grunted at the woman in the booth and stepped away.
“What is the job?” Shirley asked, her eyes fixed on the men in the doorway.
“The brewery. We’re going back,” the woman in the booth said.
Shirley’s heart sank. The brewery was where everything started. They met there. It was the first place they robbed. There was only one reason they would ever return.
“So it happened? Ragoo got it all?” Shirley asked.
“We’re leaving tonight; nine. Meet us at the gas station on 11th,” the woman in the booth climbed out of her seat and started heading for the door.
“Laverne,” Shirley called out, “I’m not going to let Squiggy drive us there. He and Lenny can sit in the back. You’re in shotgun.”
Laverne turned around and Shirley saw the devilish smile that had caused them so much trouble before, “we’ll see you tonight.”
And that is how to gritty reboot Laverne and Shirley