Flo at the Diner

Flo Strauss, compact and efficient in her spotless pink uniform, strides briskly to the lone burly policeman sitting in the last booth on the right. She’s in a good mood. It looks like it is going to be a beautiful May day, pink clouds crowding in the sky visible through the plate glass windows in the front of the restaurant, the usual morning fog absent. Officer Joseph Douglas is here for his favorite, lox, eggs and onions with a poppy seed bagel, and she always remembers to bring strawberry jelly to the table which they get from an orchard in Sebastopol.

Flo has been working in this same restaurant for thirty two years. At sixty-two, it is getting harder mornings when the throbbing arthritis in her left hip acts up. Even though she could, she doesn’t want to stop working. It’s all she has and everyone in the restaurant feels like family. Outside of poker two nights a week, she isn’t much for hobbies. Retirement terrifies her. Edgar died four years ago; they never had kids, and she can’t imagine herself watching daytime soaps and crocheting blankets.

Flo is surprised Joseph isn’t with his partner Eric. They come in together after their shift one or two mornings a week. Flo notices everything. He sits slumped with red eyes, the weariness pouring off him, in his regular booth facing the front door, ever watchful and on alert no matter how worn out he is. It is 6:25am. The staff is used to police walking in through the back door to the kitchen when they get off shift. Harry, the original owner, now his son David, gladly accommodates San Francisco’s finest. They in turn routinely monitor the restaurant.

“Hey Officer Joey.” Flo never calls him “Joseph.” “ What’s shaking? Ready for your LE and O.”

The young officer shakes his head, “I don’t feel much like eating.”

“Bad night?”

“Yeah, you might say that.”

“Let me get some coffee.”

Flo returns with two mugs of freshly brewed coffee in old, thick, cream-colored mugs. She sits herself down opposite the police officer and grimaces from the twinge of her touchy hip.

The young officer looks at Flo intently. “Why do you still take this early shift Flo? Don’t you want to sleep in?”

Flo frowns then softens her face. “Ahhh officer. Not that it’s your business, but I love this job and the people here and my customers too. What else am I going to do? Take Zumba classes?

Flo takes a sip of coffee. ”Joey, Where’s your better half, the matzoh brei guy? I have a bet going with him that the Giants are going all the way. He’s going to owe me.”

Joey puts down the steaming mug and hesitates little too long before speaking. “Eric got shot last night. He’s out of surgery, and he’ll be OK.”

“Thank God. What happened? I haven’t seen the news.”

Joey speaks like he is giving the report about the incident all over again. “ It was a 10-16, uh..reported domestic violence call from a neighbor. Came in around 7PM. We thought we were going to be breaking up an argument. Address in the Castro.”

Flo chews on her thumbnail.

“We assumed it might be a gay couple since that neighborhood is…well you know heavily gay. When we got there, it was one of those Victorian’s, meticulously restored and worth a fortune.”

Flo nods, “Yeah. Real estate in that neighborhood is through the roof.”

“We were joking that maybe they were fighting over paint colors, but we learned in the Academy that domestic violence calls can be extremely dangerous and unpredictable.” Joseph toys with wrapped the sugar cubes on the table.

A few neighbors had gathered. A bald-headed man holding a yappy dog came up to us very excited. He told us he had made the call because of the ruckus. It sounded violent.”
I pounded on the door, heard loud voices and breaking glass. After we identified ourselves, we were ready to kick in the door, but when I tried the handle, it wasn’t locked. We came in to a stairway and ran up. We had our hands on our guns but didn’t pull them. Two women stood in the living room facing each other The place was fancy, but there had been a major scuffle; an overturned chair on its side, a broken lamp, a glass of red wine shattered and spilled on the hardwood floor.”

Flo sips her coffee and sighs. She has heard her share of too many bad stories from young cops like Joey.

“They were maybe in their early forties. One was dressed in a gray pantsuit. I noticed a briefcase on the hardwood floor. The other woman had a short spiky hairstyle and an elaborate tattoo of a snake on her upper arm. She wore black cargo pants and boots and a leather vest. She was small, wiry and muscular. They were breathing hard and standing apart.”

The pantsuit woman said, “we’re OK. Had a little disagreement. She had a raised welt under her eye and a fat lip. You can go.”

The other woman glared at us, “Get the fuck out of here.”

My partner answered her calmly.” Uh, we’re going to take a report. Need your names…”
He had just taken out his notepad when the woman with the spiky hair pulls a small revolver out of her baggy pants pocket and shoots Eric in the shoulder, completely unprovoked. He shouts, and clutches his shoulder, bleeding badly.

I pulled out my gun and shot her. It happened so fast. She fell on to the sofa, her partner screamed, and it was chaos. I called it in requesting two ambulances and back up. Paramedics took them to San Francisco General. It was too late for her. I nicked her carotid and she bled out. After I left the hospital I went to the station to give my report. I’m on leave pending an investigation. They told me my shooting was most likely justified but…I shot on instinct, the way we’ve been trained. ”

He shook his head.“ First time I ever killed someone. Why did she pull a gun?”

Flo tsk tsks, then pats the young officer on his hand. “Rough Joey.” The silence is broken by customers coming in and the morning rush starting up, the front door banging.

Flo calls to one of her regulars. “Morning Tommy, your shirt is wrinkled. Don’t you own an iron?” Everyone expects her sassy remarks. She winks at Joey.

“Let me bring you some matzoh ball soup. My bubbe… uh, my grandmother, taught me that matzoh ball soup has magical healing powers”

Joey smiles. A tear rolls down his cheek. “OK Flo. That sounds real good.”

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