Per pushed the scrap of paper onto the floor and stared at the remains of his chili.
“You dropped this,” the waitress said, handing the paper back.
“It’s not mine,” he said.
She shrugged and carried it off with her armload of dirty dishes.
He mashed the last cracker crumb with his spoon.
“Is this yours?” the busboy said, holding the paper out.
“Not mine,” Per said.
The busboy ignored him and left it on the edge of the table.
Per took out his lighter, lit the corner of the paper, held it for a second while it caught flame, and dropped it into the chili.
“Hey,” the waitress said.
“Sorry,” Per said. He rose and left a five-dollar bill under his water glass.
The air outside was sharp. He zipped his jacket.
The door opened behind him. “Is this yours?” the manager asked, and handed him a scrap of paper.
“Hem,” the paper said.
Per flexed his toes. Hem was twenty miles away, farther than he preferred to walk in a day, even starting at dawn.
“Want a ride?” his waitress asked. She was wearing a stocking cap.
Per smiled. “I’d love one,” he said. “But it never works out.”
“Because you’re a serial killer,” the waitress said.
“I’m hell on cars,” he said.
“I’m only inviting you to sit,” she said. “On the inside.”
“Tell you what,” Per said. “If we make it a mile in your car I’ll pay you,” he pulled bills from his pocket and counted, “a hundred and thirty bucks.”
“No cheating?” she asked.
“No cheating,” he agreed, holding out his hand. “I’m Per.”
“Jennifer,” she said, shaking his hand. “My car’s over that way.”
She checked her pockets again.
“Keys?” Per asked.
“It’s okay,” she said. “I keep a spare.”
She felt around behind the front bumper and came up with a black box.
“Magnet,” Per said. “Good idea.”
She took the key out of the box, put the box in her pocket and unlocked the driver’s door. Per walked around to the other side. She reached across and unlocked his door.
“You steal my keys?” she asked.
“I said no cheating,” he said.
She turned the key in the ignition. The car was silent.
“And my battery?” she asked.
“Wasn’t me,” he said.
He stayed in his seat as she rummaged in the trunk and emerged with a yellow box with jumper cables hanging off of it.
“Spare battery,” she said. “Smartass.”
She popped the hood, wired up the battery and cranked the ignition. The car started up. She unhooked the battery, slammed the hood and replaced the battery in the trunk.
“Hundred thirty bucks,” she said, holding out her hand.
Per pointed toward the rear of the car. She checked the rear-view mirror, then turned her head to look through the window. A white-tail doe was blocking the parking space.
She honked the horn. “Bastard,” she said.
“I tried to warn you,” he said.
She burst out of the car, shouting and waving her arms. The doe blinked at her, then walked a few yards to the side. Jennifer jumped back into the car, threw it into reverse and stepped on the accelerator. The car jerked backwards and crashed to a stop.
“What the hell?” Jennifer said.
The doe was still two stalls away, chewing its cud.
They climbed from the car. The left-rear wheel was off, lying hub up on the blacktop.
“For the tow truck,” Per said, holding out a couple of twenties.