Guy walks into a diner on the Lower East Side. The joint is busy but not packed. As good a place as any to kill half an hour.
A waitress in a mustard dress and crisp apron shuttles up and down the gap between the loudmouths at the counter and a single row of four tops. She trades the fry cook order slips for heaping plates without a word.
Guy takes a table. Waitress flicks a menu on the polished formica as she zips by. Guy shifts uneasy in his chair. He’s new in town, grew up in the Midwest. Iowa, or maybe it was Idaho. Guy worries sometimes that strangers can tell he’s from out of town.
Whadayahave? says the waitress out of nowhere.
Just a coffee.
Minute later, the waitress clunks a mug steaming on the table. Dangling clear as day against the white ceramic, from a string running over the lip of the mug, there’s a little yellow label: “Lipton.”
Guy glances up but the waitress is gone. He considers the mug. Not much of a coffee drinker in the first place. He just wanted to warm up before looking at the next apartment. Nothing wrong with tea.
Next table over, a woman gets up to leave. Her handbag is enormous, and her perm is a shade of red that could almost be natural. She walks toward the door, but stops short by the guy’s table. Woman leans over and fixes the guy with a hard stare. She whispers in a tone both urgent and detached: