The Gentleman and the Lunatic

Sometimes, you shouldn't pay attention to those who seek it...

The scuffing of shoes broke the monotonous hum of the fluorescent bulbs. Sarah looked up with a start. Frozen in amazement, as though she had been caught in the heavy snow outside, she paused in her mopping to stare at the restaurant's latest patron. He was unlike any man she had ever seen before, or at least, any man she had seen in the flesh. He wore a fine three-piece suit, kravat tied perfectly, and an enormous top hat, which would have looked a lot more impressive had it not had an inch's worth of snow at its summit. The man, seemingly realising this, swept the hat off his head, shook off the flakes, and returned the hat, all in one graceful movement. Sarah was mesmerised as this "gentleman" walked calmly up to the counter, each step taken as though it were calculated to perfection. He had an air of grace and nobility about him, even when he uttered the common phrase: "Burger and fries, please." His request was granted fairly instantaneously - the benefit of going to a fast-food restaurant at one in the morning - though not without a second glance from the man at the till.

Sarah tried to return to work, her eyes fixed determinedly at the patch of floor she had been mopping for the past five minutes. She actually achieved her goal for a whole twenty seconds, before the glint of silver caught her eye. After taking his seat, the gentleman had retrieved from his jacket pocket his own knife and fork, and had begun to cut up his burger. Sarah was astounded, and slightly insulted.

"What's wrong with the cutlery we have here?" she thought bitterly. "Not good enough for him, are they? I only spent an hour polishing them this evening" However, before she could give the man a piece of her mind, another unusual customer entered.

If the first had been eccentric to the point of foolishness, this man was foolish to the point of insanity. His red hair stood on end, defying the winter winds. His clothes, and common sense, defied the winter too, as he wore nothing but a vest top, Bermuda shorts, and sandals. Essentially, he looked as though he had confused Alaska with Algeria, and had somehow survived more than ten minutes in the Arctic tundra. Sarah half-expected him to order a sundae, but it appeared this lunatic hadn't come for food. He walked through the restaurant, a slightly derranged look in his eye, until he spotted the man in the suit. A broad grin split across his face, and he rushed to the table before collapsing opposite the gentleman. Sarah had to hold back a titter of laughter, as she noticed the lunatic had painted his toenails bright blue.

"It's nearly worth doing the graveyard shift just for this," Sarah thought to herself. You got all sorts of weirdos and drunks in the early hours of the morning, but this pair took the biscuit. Sarah couldn't wait to get home and tell Dave about -

Her thoughts stopped dead and her heart ran cold, as she remembered that Dave wouldn't be waiting for her, and never would again, provided her common sense prevailed over her heart. Too many fights, too many tears. And once he'd started falling in with that crowd, that had been it. Though, it had taken her almost a year to leave him, and when she finally did, it hadn't been pretty. She'd ended up making a scene in front of all his friends, at his own birthday booze-up. Not the way she had wanted things to end.

"Let his pride be damned," Sarah thought now, the angry thoughts resurfacing as she mopped past the weirdos' table. "He can't hurt me now."

"I'm honoured to finally meet you, can't even begin to..." the fervent whispers came from the table. The red-haired lunatic looked adoringly at the gentleman, his lower lip trembling with either excitement or hypothermia. He glared suspiciously at Sarah as she swept past, before going to continue. The gentleman, however, cut him off.

"You understand the task you have been given?" he asked authoratively.

"Yes, of course, and nothing gives-"

"Then maybe you should avoid drawing attention to yourself," the gentleman hissed pointedly. Sarah struggled to restrain a snort as she heard this. Neither of these men were exactly inconspicuous, and she found it a little ironic that one of them should be lecturing the other on subtlety. Her curiousity was aroused though. What kind of "task" could they possibly be talking about?

Sarah's eyes darted around for an excuse to return to the men's table. They found the spray and cloth she had left beside the mop bucket earlier. Determined not to miss out on what would surely be a singular conversation, she snatched up the spray and cloth without delay, and set to scrubbing the surrounding tables, her ears trained in the direction of the two eccentrics.

"I have to ask though... why here of all places?" the lunatic questioned. There was a pause in the conversation, before a slight snigger and a soft "Oh, I see." Puzzled, Sarah glanced up from the glistening formica surface just in time to catch the red-head's gaze. Was it just her imagination, the offspring of a hard eight-hour shift, or had he actually smirked at her? A slight sense of trepidation and fear filled her  stomach as she moved on to the table right next to the men. Sarah was starting to think it would be better if she avoided them totally, but she couldn't help herself. There was just something so wonderfully unique about the pair; she had to know more about them.

Just as she reached the table, Sarah noticed the gentleman's knife again. It seemed excessively sharp for the simple task of cutting a burger. The ketchup stuck to the edge, like a bloodstain. Its point was so finely honed, it looked like it could skewer an ant. Taking a deep breath to rein in her imagination, Sarah turned her back to the men, and set to polishing the table.

"What did she do then?" the lunatic asked.

"I don't know, something stupid," came the reply. "Wounded his pride or something. In all honesty, who cares? We just get the job done."

Sarah froze, her breath caught in her throat. It couldn't be...

Too scared to make any sudden movements, Sarah slowly turned her head. The gentleman was now spinning the knife in his hand, the fork left abandoned on the tray.

"My apologies, son.. It would appear that drawing attention to yourself does have its advantages," the gentleman laughed mirthlessly. Sarah felt as though she was going to throw up. It had all been a ruse, she realised. An act to get her alone. From where she was standing, you couldn't see the counter, thanks to an unfortunately placed pillar. They had planned this exactly, each step calculated to perfection. Sarah tried to scream, but a cloth not dissimilar to her own and stinking of chloroform blocked her mouth and nose. The bile rose in her throat, and she gagged as the chemical filled her lungs. The world spun and stars appeared before her eyes, before a rushing endless darkness came to meet her.

Sarah didn't turn up for work the next day, or any other day. It wasn't until the summer came and the snows had melted away enough that the police found her body, bones frozen and picked clean by the wolves. Neither the gentleman nor the lunatic were ever seen again, dead or alive. Their characters were born, and died in that fearsome winter night. No-one mourned or even remembered them. Scarce few remembered Sarah either, her existence nothing more than a slight imprint in the snow, kicked away easily by the scuffing of shoes in the depths of the night.

The End

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