Sometimes we create characters who just won't leave us alone. This happens to me a lot. I am writing a story about one thing that requires minor characters but those minor characters stay with us. So, sometimes, even though we have no idea where we are going with something, we invite them to play with us to see what might happen. One of the side characters from one of my Marienstadt stories just won't leave me alone. I don't know if this will evolve into anything but I had fun writing this part anyway:
Hunting season was not Lola Eckert’s favorite time of year. Though the dense forests of Elk County were a popular destination for hunters from all over the Eastern states, and a boon to the local economy, she was beginning to question her decision to open her strudel shop two hours early to accommodate men headed out into the woods. She glanced out the window and, though she knew it would be at least another hour until Henry Werner, Marienstadt’s Chief of Police, and Lola’s future husband, came on duty, she kept hoping he might come in early.
“Hey! Doll baby! Come on over here. I want to ask you a question.” The man speaking was clearly a hunter, most likely from Philadelphia or Baltimore from the look of his brand new camo-gear. He sat at a table close to the counter with three other men comparably dressed and, from the way they had stumbled into her coffee shop the minute she unlocked the door at five, Lola was pretty sure they had spent the night on Market Street. The bars that lined Market Street did a rip-snorting business every hunting season, all except for Fred Sarginger’s Snuff Box. Fred, the town’s former police chief, took a dim view of tourist hunters and had gained a reputation for kicking them out of his bar when they got rowdy and started hitting on any of his female customers.
“These ladies are my customers all year round,” Fred said, “and I won’t stand for them feeling like they have to stay away because of a few knuckleheads that are only here for a week.”
“Come on, princess,” another hunter at the same table called, holding up his coffee mug, “sweeten this up for me, will ya?”
Lola wished Henry—or Fred—were somewhere in the vicinity. The first glow of dawn crept up behind the tree-covered hills around the town and the snowy streets sparkled outside her window, but there weren’t many cars out. She knew she could call the police station which was only a few doors away in Town Hall but she hoped it wouldn’t be necessary.
“Where do these idiots come from?”
Lola stepped behind the cash register and took the check and cash that Gibby Stauffer held out to her. Gibby and his wife, Maxine took advantage of Lola’s early hours to have breakfast together since most of the year Gibby was at work before seven.
“You tell me, Gibby.” Lola handed back his change. “You’re the mayor—can’t you do something about them?”
Gibby flushed with embarrassment. Though he was in his third term as mayor, it was pretty widely known that he was mayor because no one else wanted to be and, other than showing up for unavoidable meetings, he was fairly disinterested in his duties. “Want me to go see if Henry is in yet?”
Lola shook her head. “I’ll be fine. Belva’s coming in to help out this morning so she should be here soon.”
“I heard Belva and Lucius bought a house,” Maxine said.
“Actually, they’re buying Henry’s house.” Now it was Lola’s turn to flush. “We’re getting married in the spring and since I own this building we decided to live upstairs. It’s so convenient for both of us. Henry wants to buy a cabin or cottage up by East Branch Dam for us to go to when we have days off.”
“Oh.” Maxine pressed her hands to her heart. “That’s so romantic! You’re so lucky, Lola. Henry is just about the most handsome man I’ve ever seen.”
Gibby looked down at his wife and cleared his throat.
“Next to you, of course, honey.” She wrapped her hands around his arm. Since Gibby bore a striking resemblance to an elongated scarecrow, Lola did her best not to smile.
“We’ll see you again soon.” Maxine glanced back at Lola with a wink and giggle as she accompanied her husband to the door.
With them gone Lola made note that, other than a solitary man seated at a table by the window, she was alone with the hunters.
“’Kissin don’t last, cookin’ do’,” one of the hunters read aloud from the napkin he held. The words were the slogan Lola used for her strudel shop. “Well, I tasted your cookin’, sugar lips. Why don’t you come over here and let me taste your kissin’.”
Lola turned her back to them trying to control her emotions. The bell over the door jingled and Belva Dearheart Wickett came in, stamping the snow off her boots.
“I’m sorry I’m late,” she said, shrugging out of her coat and hanging it on the rack inside the door. “Lucius isn’t here yet?”
“No.” Lola turned toward her. “I’m glad you’re here.”
“This town sure has a lot of curves in it, doesn’t it, fellas?” one of the hunters called.
Belva, a short, plump woman with long hair pulled back in a braid, glanced at them as she tied on an apron. “Who are the jerks?” she asked.
“Ignore them.” Lola stepped up on a stool to get the chalk board she wrote each day’s specials on.
“I don’t know about you guys,” another hunter added, “but the hell with hunting, I think I’m going to just stay here for the rest of the day.”
His friends laughed and made panting sounds.
“I think you fellas have had enough breakfast. Time to hit the road.”
Lola and Belva both turned at the sound of the new voice. The solitary diner stood next to the table full of hunters. He buttoned up a battered sheepskin-lined suede jacket and reached in his pocket for a pair of gloves.
“And just who the hell do you think you are?” The largest and loudest of the hunters stood up and turned to the man.
“Nobody special,” the man said, though his words seemed to contradict his behavior. “Just someone who thinks you guys have embarrassed yourselves enough for one day and need to sleep it off.” He picked up a brown outback hat from the table behind him.
The other hunters at the table grumbled but seemed a little bit stung by his words. They reached in their pockets, pulling out wallets, amid incoherently complaints, but the standing hunter stepped closer to the stranger.
“I think you and me are going to have a problem,” he snarled.
“Belva,” Lola said, “call the police.”
Belva reached for the phone but the stranger held up his hand. “These gentlemen are leaving.” He spoke with a faintly southern drawl. “No need to call the police.”
“I’ll get this,” one hunter said as the others shuffled toward the door. He placed five twenties on the counter. “That should cover it.”
“Let me get your change.” Lola reached to open the register.
“Forget it. Sorry if we were out of line.” He waved as he followed his friends out the door.
Lola looked up at the solitary diner who crossed the room toward her. He was a rugged looking man with the deeply lined face of someone who spent most of his time outside. His thick, steel gray hair was pulled back in a short ponytail, and he wore a neatly trimmed, gray beard.
“Thank you so much for stepping in,” Lola said.
“No problem.” He handed her his check and some cash.
“Please.” Lola held up a hand. “Your breakfast is on me. I appreciate what you did.”
“Maybe some other time,” he said, placing his money on the counter. “I’m glad I could help.” He put his hat on and stepped out into the cold.
“Who the heck is that?” Belva asked staring after him as he walked down the steps.
“I have no idea,” Lola said.
It was getting light out and, as they watched the man wait to cross the street, they saw Lucius get out of his Ridgeline and walk toward them. He looked up suddenly at the man in front of him and his scarred face split into an enormous grin. Lucius reached out with one hand and in a second the two men had their arms around each other, back-slapping, and laughing.
“It looks like your husband knows him.” Lola glanced at Belva who stared with her mouth slightly open.
“I’ve never seen Lucius that happy to see anyone.”
The men talked for another minute then, with more hand-shaking and back-slapping, parted company. Lucius ran up the steps to the shop, grinning like a mad man.
“Boy, what a way to start the day,” he said as he came through the door. “I never expected that. Hi, baby.” He leaned down and kissed Belva.
“Who is that?” Lola asked.
Lucius turned to her. “You didn’t recognize him?”
“No. Should I?”
“If I remember right you used to be friends with his sister.” Lucius turned to the window in time to see the man step up into a large truck and start the engine. “That, lovely ladies, is the legendary Kit Carson Wilde. Boy, is he a sight for sore eyes.”
“Boone’s brother?” Belva asked.
“One and the same. And Sister John Paul’s, too.”
“I don’t believe it,” Lola said, barely able to catch her breath.
To be continued... or not...