Copyright© 2011 by Catharina's FS
Danielle stifled a yawn behind her hand as she stood behind the counter at the busy Bastion Burger Joint. She didn't get much sleep the night before, but when she awakened that morning she felt energetic enough!
Strange how that works.
She was able to finish the books and the order lists so her mother didn't have to do it for her, and she was able to get those order lists completed, too. The good thing about not getting enough hours of sleep is being able to finish things you weren't able to the night, or week, before.
She was up at four in the morning, and after finishing the books she headed downstairs and filled out all the order lists and faxed them to the merchandisers. When she finally headed out, she passed the bank and dropped the pouch with cash in the night depository. It felt good to finally get the backlog of work cleared away. It actually felt as if it was going to be a great day.
Then there's the bad thing about not getting enough sleep.
The initial surge of energy you get when you first awaken is quickly used up. It leaves you sleepy, constantly yawning, and longing for one thing and one thing only—your bed. But that becomes problematic when you still had a job to go to at some busy burger joint at eight in the morning and you find yourself having to down cups and cups of the strongest brew of coffee you can set just to keep your eyes open.
And that's exactly the reality Danielle had to face not long after arriving to work.
"You sure are yawning a lot, Dani," Daytona noted as she paused by the counter where Danielle stood sipping from a jumbo white coffee cup.
"Really? I hadn't noticed."
"Maybe you hadn't, but everybody else from here to the Big Apple sure has."
Danielle gave her colleague a smirk.
Daytona was a sassy no-nonsense gal who was about ten years Danielle's senior and she was always quick of wit—something Danielle usually enjoyed, but what she couldn't appreciate at that moment.
"Well, that's why people have flexible necks," Danielle said a little gruffly. "They can turn their heads away if they don't like what they see."
"My, my, my. Aren't you Miss Sunshine this morning," Daytona noted.
"I'm sorry," Danielle said with a sigh, setting her giant cup down. "I guess I didn't get enough sleep last night and it's left me a little cranky. Hence this huge cup of coffee." Then she smiled at the bleached blonde woman. "I hope the customers don't mind really strong coffee this morning because I've brewed a really strong pot."
"I've been using the other pots, the ones I had set myself. Anyway, the way you've been inhaling that stuff I doubt anyone will have a chance to taste it, let alone suffer acute caffeine poisoning," Daytona said with a lopsided smile.
Danielle glanced over her shoulder at the half full coffee pot. "Yep. You're right."
"Darling? When am I ever wrong?" Daytona said with a bright smile that only drew a weak one from the girl. Seeing it, Daytona quit her teasing and looked earnest. "I think you need something stronger than caffeine, Dani. You're not yourself and you look tired enough to topple over and fall asleep where you stand."
Danielle arched a brow as she watched Daytona set the glass pot of coffee she had in her hand back on its hot plate. Then she stepped to the glass-front cooler, opened it, and took out an energy drink before she popped it open and handed it to her.
"Oh no," Danielle shook her head, "I never drink that stuff—"
"—But you will today, sweetie. Now be a big girl and listen to Doctor Daytona. She says you need to drink this down or she'll pour it over your head," Daytona said. "One way or another, you're going to let this can of drink help you get it together."
"Doctor Daytona?" Danielle said as she took the can and drank. "Ugh! That stuff is just nasty."
"Uh-uh." Daytona shook her head. "All of it."
Danielle finished the energy drink and made a face as she swallowed and handed the empty can back to the woman. She saw Daytona arch a brow as she looked down at the can as if it was an offensive thing.
"What?" Danielle asked.
"Didn't I say you're a big girl?" Daytona noted.
"Big girls know where the recycle bin is, sweetie. Oh, and don't forget to pay for the Rockstar. Minus your discount, it's fifty cents." And with that, Daytona turned and took her order from the short order window as Danielle watched her with a disgruntled look.
"Yeah, but you also said you were a doctor."
"And you know I was kidding about that because I haven't even finished high school," Daytona pooh-poohed away.
"Thanks for nothing!" Danielle called after her.
"Anytime, sweetie!" Daytona simply tossed back, chomping her gum with a big fat grin as she winked.
After Danielle rang up her drink and put the coins in the register, she tossed the empty can into the green bin under the counter. She already felt a little better and she knew this drink was going to help her conjure up some energy from whatever resources she had left.
After her little epiphany the night before, she had decided she'd better quit thinking about Wolfgang Jaeger or she wouldn't be able to stop. She'd caught herself thinking much too much about him anyway, even more than she'd been thinking of Rob, and that wasn't good on so many levels—especially her rest. It had ultimately deprived her of precious sleep while simultaneously robbing her of sweet thoughts and dreams of Rob.
So, tough gal as she prided herself to be, she was resolute and she would think of Wolfgang Jaeger no more—and that best-laid plan would promptly go up in smoke long before she was done with her shift.
There she was, fighting to conjure what little energy she had, serving an abnormally busy burger joint, smiling the best she could when all she wanted was to run out of there tearing the hair out of her skull while screaming how she hated the restaurant business and retail, and yet she was still thinking about Wolfgang and the night before. She knew she couldn't help it because there were just too many questions left unanswered and they were bothering her something awful.
But to make matters worse, and what had promptly made her initial plan to stop thinking about the guy go up in smoke, it was hard not to think about him when he suddenly decides to surprise her with a visit by showing up at her place of employment—her other place of employment, that is.
His entrance was causing such a ruckus with the womenfolk, including her colleagues, that she'd have to be blind, deaf AND dumb not to notice him.
Bastion Burger Joint was the meeting place for the young at heart, and now with school out for the summer and hotter days kicking in, it was packed with teenagers morning, noon, and night. All the waitresses were dressed in silly white, short-sleeved blouses, short skirts with brown and blue trim and cap, and although the outfit looked cool, it was made out of polyester, and polyester was made out of petroleum and petroleum tends to heat, rather than cool, human skin. Why in the heck did anyone think it was a good idea to make fabric for clothes out of alcohol, coal, and petroleum?
All waitresses were unusually busy, rushing from one noisy table to the other, doing their damnedest to get those burgers, thick milkshakes, and fries—for breakfast!—to the hungry young and hungry crowd. Jesus. Whatever happened to just pancakes with syrup?
It was during this busy time Wolfgang entered the busy Bastion Burger Joint.
He was dressed in his trademark white tee tucked into a pair of faded but clean denim jeans and sturdy brown hiker's boots. He entered the Bastion Burger Joint just when Danielle was busy balancing four large platters of burgers, fries, salads, and buns on her way to a table of excited and boisterous teenagers. He paused by the door as it slowly closed behind him, and watched her. He hid a concerned look behind an unemotional look as his gaze followed her, admiring how she balanced large silver platters topped with plates of food as if it weighed nothing at all.
She hadn't yet seen he'd arrived, but he knew it wouldn't take all too long for that to change.
With the unwanted attention he was slowly garnering, something that never failed to annoy the hell out of him, his gaze swept down her slender length dressed in a silly uniform. But if any girl could make an outfit like that look good, it was she.
He seated himself quietly at the counter, trying to keep to himself. Judging by the other guests there, it was clear the counter was usually reserved for the older customers since it made chit-chatting and smooching a little harder on the hormone-driven young. It was exactly where he needed to be. They'd leave him at peace there.
When Danielle finally noticed Wolfgang's arrival, it was when she had set the platters of food on one of her tables, and she couldn't help it, but she felt her heart leap. She immediately and angrily admonished herself for that, but luckily, Wolfgang had chosen to take a seat at the counter in many of the blue stools located in Daytona's section.
This meant her colleague, not she, would have to serve him. But she was sure the gum-chewing, bleached-blonde single mother of two who was, consequently, on the prowl for her next husband, would be more than happy to serve him, much like every other female in the place. What exactly was it that he had that attracted everyone's attention to him the moment he entered any establishment?
While Danielle was serving her table, she sent thoughtful furtive glances his way. She caught sight of Daytona patting her pinned up curls while smiling and chewing her gum as she walked over to Wolfgang who was calmly perusing the menu.
Daytona's sassy-kitten act made Danielle frown. She didn't know why it should, but it bothered her.
Daytona, on the other hand, couldn't believe her luck! The blond hunk with the strong German name everyone was talking about was sitting at her counter. She was struck by his powerful magnetism that was so thick all around him she could swear she could see it, but she could definitely feel it, as tangible as it was. It made her quiver inside and out, and it instantly put her in man-eater mode.
Danielle had just returned from serving up the one table as she watched the transformation visibly occur in her colleague. And just about everybody else there, for that matter, but she didn't notice that part at first.
Flushed with exertion from her high-octane work—and the Rockstar energy drink—she paused at the end of the counter. She slowly gazed around the establishment and realized just about every girl around her was having an acute attack of the giggles.
Yep. Wolfgang was in the house.
Though she went about her duties as if she hadn't seen him, she snuck glances his way. She was still totally disconcerted he'd come to the Bastion Burger Joint when she darn well knew he didn't have to. For one, he should be at the garage at this time of the day, and two, there was a perfectly good diner just a block down from Davenport's Auto & Stop 'n' Shop, so she was pretty darn sure his being there wasn't any coincidence.
As she set a fresh pot of coffee she overheard Daytona behind her greet him with her special greeting for men she was interested in.
"Hi, I'm Daytona, and just like the speedway, I'm fast and racy," she heard Daytona say behind her.
Danielle couldn't help but roll her eyes.
And to his credit, as Wolfgang gave his order with a polite and charming tone and smile—yes, she could hear him smiling—he refrained from flirting with the woman. Since it was so busy, Daytona didn't have a lot of time to bury him under an avalanche of flirty smiles and suggestive words, and after she poured him a jumbo white cup of coffee, she went on her way to serve other customers.
Danielle quietly wiped down the coffee area as she got more curious about his somewhat calm demeanor. It was as if Wolfgang didn't even know she was there! That was, of course, ridiculous. He was as aware of her as she was of him.
She watched him closely as he quietly sat at the counter, reading the morning paper while sipping his coffee and patiently waiting for his order. She wanted to rush up to him and demand he tell her what he was doing there, but then her order, order #53—meaning table five, three people—was ready.
She had to leave the counter to serve the three platters of burgers, fries, and shakes to a table of three—three excited high school teens, that is. But as left to bring the order to her customers, she was aware he hadn't once looked up at her. All that time she was behind the counter, he hadn't raised his eyes from his newspaper to "stare her down where she stood".
Not even once. This was so unlike him.
When she brought the platters to the table, the three teenagers there—two girls and a guy—were talking excitedly about the latest news. From what she gathered, it was about some missing people in and around Queens, and what appeared to be the biggest news at the moment.
People were mysteriously disappearing and had been for the past two months. There were four in just that last week alone. Nobody knew what was going on and the police were stumped. Families reported these people missing in record number and the situation was reaching feverish pitch and reaching the governor's ear.
What little the papers could report had more to do with the extensive investigation into these missing persons while desperately trying to avoid having to report what little results these investigations were yielding. No doubt, the governor was embarrassed about it all as more and more families began to become more and more vocal in their demands that the governor start doing something about it.
As she carried their order to their table, she noticed how all the young adults were a-buzz about this case that seemed to have the authorities stumped. She overheard other teenagers sitting at nearby tables talking about it, too. They were speculating who, what, and where, and they were even debating one another's theory in a rare show of camaraderie.
"Can I see that for a minute?" Danielle asked, finally giving in to her curiosity.
The dark-haired teen at the table smiled brightly as he looked up at her with twinkling blue eyes. "Sure thing, beautiful," he said with a wink.
Danielle gave him a cutesy smile, one that grew much broader when a girl, apparently the girlfriend, smacked his arm.
For her part, the pretty blonde had noticed Danielle seemed much more interested in her boyfriend's paper rather than her boyfriend, and that helped smooth her ruffled feathers. When she noticed just how much interest Danielle showed in the newspaper article, she also noticed the troubled look on her pretty face. Finally, her curiosity won out. "Strange, huh?" she said to Danielle.
She raised her eyes from the paper, hearing the girl direct the word at her.
That was all the teen girl needed in order to launch into full and excited gossip mode.
"What do you think it is? You think it's just a lot of people doing really stupid stuff because of this heat?" she speculated, excitedly.
"I don't really know much about this story," Danielle confessed.
The girl looked almost offended. Much like her table companions. "You're kidding, right? It's all over the news and in every newspaper."
"It's also all over the Internet!" the other teen girl at the table exclaimed.
"No, I'm not kidding," Danielle answered, shaking her head. "But I've been so busy lately that I haven't had any time to read up on the latest news or watch t.v."
"What about the Internet? You don't have time to be on the Internet?" the girl cried, looking aghast.
Oh the horror, Danielle thought to herself.
But she really wasn't listening to any of them anymore. She was reading the article with interest.
The newspaper article wrote about fifteen missing people, giving their names and information—with the consent of their family—even printing their photographs. On the face of it, it didn't appear as if these people had anything in common, and it was the reason why authorities were having trouble with the case.
What could be some sort of pattern of an alleged crime was the fact that these missing persons had a few bumps and scrapes with the law, but nothing really major. There didn't seem to be any other similarities between them, and it really did appear as if they were either targeted at random or they wanted a clean break from an old life, and simply disappeared. Happens all the time. But that didn't explain their shredded and bloodied clothing that were left at the supposed crime scenes. Other than that, there weren't any other forensic material like hair or skin anywhere. DNA drawn from the bloodied clothes, however, confirmed those clothes belonged to the missing persons their families and friends have been calling in about.
Although there weren't any bodies, police believed the missing people were deceased. The article mentioned that these baffling cases would no longer be treated as missing persons by the authorities, but as homicide cases.
There was a call to the public for any information pertaining to this case and rewards were being offered to those who would come forward with any information that would lead to solving any one of these cases.
After having read more than she could stomach, Danielle handed the folded newspaper back and thanked the guy. He quickly introduced himself as Jack, and he offered that information with a broad grin and wink despite the slap he'd already gotten from his girlfriend. The girl needed to seriously rethink her relationship with her flirty boyfriend, Danielle thought to herself, and she merely gave him a bland smile for his overt efforts before she turned and headed back to the counter.
She was frowning in thought, thinking about the baffling case, and she didn't see Wolfgang coming her way. He was on his way to the restrooms, zigzagging through the bustling crowd on a collision course with her.
Then she bumped into him.