The brother and sister were seated, facing each other across one of the tables at the nondescript eating place she owned along with Joseph, her husband.
The brother, two years her junior, was looking at her with something close to disbelief on his face. “He’s a what?” asked Bart, his tone backing his expression,
“A storyteller.” said Elsa, with a patient smile. “Joseph’s got this demonically wild imagination. I can’t even begin to imagine what it must be like to be inside his head. At home after dinner, we’ll sit down together on the porch and he’ll dream out loud: he’ll weave stories of faraway lands and strange peoples. He’ll tell me tales with plots that defy belief, and filled with characters that radiate charm and courage. He’ll regale me with stories that make me cry or laugh out loud, stories that can make you angry. It’s what he’s good at, and to be honest, after two years of marriage, Bart, I think that’s all he ever wanted to be: a storyteller.”
“But what does a storyteller do? How does it help him financially?” Bart wanted to know.
“It doesn’t. It’s a hobby, a pastime. He tells stories because he loves to.”
“Damn, what a waste.” muttered Bart, looking toward the counter where Joseph was. His brother-in-law was a tall man with unkempt hair and scruffy beard. Beneath the stained apron, a round tummy lurked. He had a very plain-looking face, thought Bart. Bart himself was handsome, with a good physique and clothes that looked expensive, right down to his gleaming black shoes. He watched Joseph collect some change to hand over to his last customer and turned to his sister again.
“I want you to ask him again, Elsa: tell him about my proposition to join me as a partner in my firm.” He waved a hand to indicate the surroundings. “Think about it, sis: Why get stuck with this crappy life-style when you could be earning – and spending – a seven-figure salary within a year?”
Elsa gave her brother a brief frown. “This diner is his life, Bart. You know that his parents worked hard to build it up from nothing, and he’s put in several years of hard work. After all that, Joseph would just go into depression if I asked him to give it all up and start over. And that’s something I have no intention of doing, Bart. I love him too much.”
He leaned back with a sigh. “I never could understand what you saw in him, Elsa. Is this really what you want for the rest of your life? Look at me: I’m wealthy, have a successful firm, two cars, two houses, get to dine in the classiest places no matter which city I’m in, travel first-”
“And I’m happy for you, Bart.” She patted his arm. “But the job you do is not for everyone. We have this business, it pays all the bills and for me, happiness is being at his side. If this is what makes him happy, it’s good enough for me as well.”
The last customer was a trucker, a big dark-skinned individual. Joseph handed him his change and stood aside as he rose from the table. He had already turned the sign to CLOSED and switched off the front lights. As Joseph escorted the trucker passed Elsa’s table, Joseph was shocked to see bundles of currency inside a briefcase Bart was showing his wife. Quickly, he hurried the customer out and locked the glass door.
He rushed back to the table, face dark. “Are you out of your mind, Bart, flashing that kind of money openly?”
Bart looked annoyed. “Take it easy, Joseph. I was just showing Elsa how much I’d earned this trip. It’s the same kind of money you could make if you decide to join me.” He ignored Joseph’s disgusted expression and held open his case to reveal a pistol. “Besides, I have protection.” He let his hand fall on the weapon, drawing it out. “What about you, Joe? You got any protection round here? You might need some, the kind of people come in this joint. That last customer of yours, for instance.”
Elsa spoke up. “We have a hockey stick behind the counter. And Joseph’s good with his fists. He packs a mean punch.”
Bart shook his head as he closed his pistol into the case. “A mean punch, huh? And the gift of gab!” He got up. “Yeah, that will make sure things never get out of control!” He tried one last time. “Look, Elsa – we’re family. Family takes care of family. I’m asking you again – both of you: leave this dump and join up with me. You won’t regret it.”
“Bart, you’re wasting your time.” said Joseph firmly, and made his way to the door. He stopped to pick up a tray of food items and Elsa opened the door for him. Holding the tray, he was the first person to exit.
The truck driver who had been the last customer to leave struck before Elsa was even out of the premises.
Joseph later realised that he must have seen the cash after all, and had hidden in wait behind a car, for them to leave the diner.
The trucker moved so fast that he had no time to take evasive action, and Joseph suddenly found himself with his scalp hair pulled back, and the blade of a knife touching the skin of his exposed neck. “Don’t move!” growled the assailant over his shoulder. The smell of alcohol on his breath made Joseph’s skin crawl with fear. “I don’t want anyone to move, you understand me?”
Stricken, neither Elsa nor Bart moved. There was shock on both their faces, and Elsa looked frightened. “Now, you,” He gestured with his chin to Bart. “take your pistol out from your bag and throw it sideways, where you can’t reach it.”
Bart stared at the man, making no move to obey and Joseph felt the muscles in the arm pinning him go taut. Elsa’s eyes were on the knife; she was trembling. “Bart, please – please do as he says…”
Bart looked back at her then at Joseph. He nodded, and lifted the flap of the case and removed the pistol. Bending, he pushed the weapon away, out into the darkness and out of sight.
Joseph felt relief wash over him. Then the trucker spoke again. “Good. That’s good. You listen to me and no one is going to get hurt, you understand me?” Elsa nodded quickly, almost eagerly. Bart just stared at the man, eyes blazing. “Now put that case on the ground, and push it to me.”
Bart started at the words, even though he must have known what the trucker was after. Again, he looked at his brother-in-law then back at the trucker. Joseph saw the determination clear on Bart’s brow and his spirits sank. Bart shook his head.
Elsa turned to him, her shock swamping her fear. “Bart!”
The trucker was furious. “I will cut his throat, you understand me?” He yelled, jerking forward. Joseph felt a sharp pain as the blade broke the skin under his chin, and he closed his eyes, unable to conceal his utter fear.
Elsa saw the blood pour out and let out a shriek.
Bart looked at the blood horrified, but he held tightly to his case.
The truck moved both of them forward, voice hoarse with rage. “This is your last chance, you understand me? I will kill him and then I’ll kill both of you!”
“Wait.” croaked Joseph, startling them all.
The trucker glared sideways at him.
“I have to say – something.” wheezed Joseph painfully. The blood had rolled down the blade and onto the attacker’s fingers. “Elsa, it’s – not worth it.” Her eyes widened. “You know – about my sickness, the fever, cough- I never told you- I was afraid to-” Bart stared, mouth open wide. “Elsa, I have AIDS…”
Three things happened then. Elsa’s hand flew to her mouth, Bart’s hold on the case tightened and he stepped back, and the truck driver gave a scream of pure fear and fell away from Joseph, dropping the blade and frantically rubbing his bloodied fingers.
Joseph jumped forward and spun around, free of his assailant’s grasp. Quickly, he checked to see that the knife was no longer a threat, and directed a meaty fist straight into the man’s nose. He didn’t bother to hold back. All his anger and fear was behind that punch and when it made contact the trucker lurched backward. He was thrown off his feet, and hit the side of his vehicle.
Elsa rushed into Joseph’s arms, then pulled out a hanky to dab the wound. Bart looked shocked. “Elsa, be careful – he’s got AIDS!” Joseph suddenly stared at him. “Oh, you mean – it was just a-” He laughed, a small nervous laugh.
Joseph stared hard. “Family takes care of family, huh? You can keep your money, Bart, and your business proposition too.”
Bart looked taken aback, but had the good sense to say nothing. “Oh,” Joseph bent, picked up Bart’s pistol and handed it to him. “and don’t forget this. It came in pretty handy this evening.” He put his arm around his wife. “I’ll stick to my mean punches and the gift of gab.”