A cloud followed the convertible as Penelope manoeuvred it through the dirt lot, angling to park between a set of semis. The graceful black curves of her vehicle described a futuristic anachronism among the boxy hulks of old freight trucks and muddied Harleys. She hit a switch, causing the canopy to creep up behind her, transforming the roadster to a coupe.
The door opened and she stepped out, cowboy boots hitting the dusty ground. A soft click, a shrill beep: the car's vigilant security was now active, the case of money stashed safely inside.
Penelope crossed the short distance between the car and the freeway diner without hurry, opening the door lazily when she reached it. A bell mounted atop it gave a feeble clang, not even a ring, really, announcing her entry. Not that it needed announcing, though. It seemed the entire room was looking at her, she had one of her wishes: the stares of undeserving men. The few women present stared too, but not out of lust. They stared out of curiousity, a need to know who had been spit from the lap of luxury into a place like this.
One man wasn't looking, though. His black hair was tied with a leather thong into a short pony tail, a few stray hairs curling on the back of his neck. A white shift covered his broad back, and dark denim was slung low on his hips.
Her cowboy boots met the wooden floor rhythmically, her hips swayed as she approached the counter. Eyes rotated in their sockets and heads swivelled to track her progress; she commanded the attention of the diner.
Taking a seat on an empty barstool she shifted her eyes to the man who seemed not to care. His firm jaw was grizzly, a few days' worth of dark stubble casting a shadow on his lightly tanned skin.
"You don't belong here," he said suddenly, causing Penelope to jump slightly. The other patrons had returned to their meals, their coffees.
The man laughed and turned to her, his dark eyes reduced to crescents. "So what bring you down this dust bowl?"
"A job," Penelope answered flatly, also turning to face him. She detected a familiar scent on him, something she couldn't place immediately.
"And what job is a lady such as yourself chasing, eh?"
She opened her mouth to answer, but stopped as she recognized the scent: it was salt, the same scent so many of the men back home shared, living on the seaside.
"Forget it," he smiles, chuckling at her loss of words. "I know the answer already."
"Do you?" Penelope asks, arching an eyebrow.
"Of course, Penelope."
She widens her eyes at the mention of her name, but then swiftly narrows them accusingly. "Who are you, and who sent you?"
"I'm happy with you calling my Taffy, 'aight?"
"And the second part?" Penelope demands.
"Officially we work for the same guy, but what's official isn't always true," he answers with a grin. "It serves my interests to keep myself aligned with him, but he's a bit of an ass, y'know?"
Penelope laughs, though her trust isn't completely restored. "I only work for him when he's paying." After a few moments she adds, "Officially."
"So we're both Ravens," Taffy mutters with a smile.
Taffy nods at one of the waitresses behind the counter and asks for a refill on his coffee, then turns to Penelope.
"Just a burger, Taffy. The biggest, meanest burger they've got."
The waitress scribbles something on her pad before sauntering off, stopping to fill mugs of coffee as she goes.
"What was that about ravens?" Penelope asks.
"I need to work on that, eh?" Taffy replies to himself. "The whole thinking out loud."
Penelope answers his rambling with silence.
"Anyways, the Raven," Taffy continues. "He's the source of human mischief, the Trickster of lore."
"Huh," Penelope breathed. "And what's that got to do with me?"
Taffy took a sip from his mug, leaving Penelope's question hanging. Taking a deep breath she detects the salt water smell coming off of Taffy, imbuing her with a sense of strange longing, of homesickness.
"Where are you from, Taffy?" she asks idly.
He chuckles, taking another sip of his coffee. "According to the Oromo people of Ethiopia, the coffee plant sprouted from the tears of a god. I guess his tears cover the whole world now, eh?"
Penelope sighed at the lack of an answer. A moment later the waitress was back, dropping a platter covered in fries and a single mammoth burger.
She dove into the greasy diner food greedily, Taffy taking the occasional sip from his coffee while relating the cultural history of the drink. Something about how it spread to the Middle East and Egypt before filling cafés in Italy, then France, and now the world.
Penelope simply savoured her food, taking it in with the sea salt smell that perfumed Taffy. The next bites of her meal were saltier than the first, her tears adding a splash of flavour.