We didn’t see it as a line drawn in the sand at first.
Roy hired Eldon, Ruth’s nephew, just before the bingo started. Aunt Ruth saved him from returning to a life of petty crime and jail with a kitchen helper job.
If Roy hadn’t fought with Ruth, his wife, who worked at his diner that night, things might have stayed quiet for a while longer. It was bound to explode, but maybe it could have been a little less volatile. And deadly.
No one could ever figure out why Roy and Ruth were together. It wasn’t physical attraction. They fought constantly and enjoyed showing the other up in front of everyone. None of us at the counter could imagine them making love without grimacing.
Roy had let himself go, sampled too many fries, drank too much beer. The diner had taken over his life. He even smelled greasy outside of the diner.
Ruth was putting on the beef as well. She had a shrill voice that grated on everyone’s nerves.
We only heard it peak when they were busy.
Eldon hung around the back, chain smoking when he wasn’t scurrying around the kitchen following orders. He had a shaved head and some jailhouse tattoos on skinny, big veined arms. Geordie and I sat at the counter one morning and witnessed the birth of the bingo. We were waiting for Ruth to check the last of her lottery tickets. When she had counted up her losses, to hear her tell it, she served us our second coffees.
There was a gathering of women at the table in the corner. It was unusual to see the female diner regulars sitting anywhere but at the counter next to us. They talked to each other and ignored us. It was the first meeting of their bingo committee. The women must have talked about it before, somewhere else.
Roy brought the morning paper to the counter open at the picture of that day’s beauty. She was beautiful all right. Not wearing much either. Neither Geordie nor I had attempted relations with a woman for so long, it was as if we’d forgotten about sex.
Roy had a way of leering at the pictures, every morning, which was probably similar to ours in our younger days. These days, when he did his little act, it was hard for us to watch.
We didn’t think he was so attracted to the pictures, he was just doing it to get under Ruth’s skin. Geordie rolled his eyes at me and smiled at Roy. The licking of his chops and the quick glance down at his greasy apron were too much for customers who didn’t know Roy.
One man, standing at the cash to pay, watched Roy ogle the picture and dirty dance to the kitchen, his big, old belly undulating beneath his apron. The man observed him as if he was watching a lunatic. He was wondering if Roy had cooked his ham and eggs.
Gladys, Caroline and Linda were the three regulars sitting at the table. They had a pile of papers and looked like they knew what they were doing.
Linda had already done most of the paperwork about licences and permits.
Gladys was an old farm wife with a brood of kids, grown up and settled elsewhere. We heard one got into trouble and ended up in jail, but we kept our noses out of other peoples’ business. Gladys’ husband, Hubert, died a few years ago. She figured she did her part, putting up with him and his farmer ways and the kids were on their own. She was enjoying her freedom, doing her thing.
Caroline’s driven the school bus ever since her husband died. She sounded like a rough, old trucker and drank everyone under the table on special occasions at the Legion. We suspected that there was a female part to her, aside from the obvious ones. She hadn’t lost a kid from the bus yet though.
Geordie’s son, Cliff, a cop, told us that she was really a sweet old thing. He said the kids trusted her more than their parents and teachers.
Linda had retired and moved here from out west. Nobody knew much about her. We couldn’t figure out her age.
Roy took a long look at her rear end and legs when she wore shorts in the summer, licked his lips, rolled his eyes and attempted some pelvic thrusts beneath his big, round apron.
We saw Ruth catch Roy in his act. She got that angry glare on her face and wouldn’t speak to him for the rest of the morning.
It wasn’t as if Ruth was jealous, every sign pointed to her not caring what Roy did. She laughed at him when he made a mistake with the orders and enjoyed telling everyone at the counter, especially Linda, about her husband’s latest screw up. It was more like she didn’t want competition from Linda. If she only knew: there was no competition, Linda was much better looking and younger.
Some mornings, Linda watched, with a steady stare, Roy do his act with the morning paper. While Geordie and I were cringing with embarrassment, Gladys and Caroline chatted. They had seen Roy do his thing so often, they didn’t even notice.
Roy took Linda’s stare as a sign of interest.
Ruth saw how foolish Roy looked.
Linda, Gladys and Caroline were like peas in a pod when you gave them a coffee and a place to sit. The bingo really fired them up. They were gung ho to get started.
Ruth got involved in the bingo, too. Anything Linda did, she criticized or tried to do one better. Even though the others had done all the work, she insisted on being consulted about everything. Ruth had been at the diner for years and here was this newcomer organizing a bingo. Everyone knew bingos didn’t work around here, there was no support. Ruth figured that everyone around her was poor. But she had no trouble sleeping at night when she took their tips. She thought that the world was doomed.
We couldn’t argue with her there, but she didn’t have to be so gloomy about everything, every time she opened her mouth. We had to survive, somehow. Laughter seemed better than complaints nobody listened to.
The regulars at the diner found Linda to be someone new and interesting. She had strong opinions but she was happy just to fit in with the others.
Ruth knew that she, herself, wasn’t interesting enough to hold the attention of the regulars without the coffee pot in her hand. She repeated each new piece of gossip so that it was old by the end of the day.
It drove Roy and the regulars crazy.
Geordie and I sensed Ruth’s smouldering jealousy over Linda’s popularity, but it was none of our business.
We played cards, euchre, on Tuesday nights, at the Legion. There were four tables of four, sometimes five. It was an excuse to drink while we played.
They showed up on a Tuesday night when we were just getting started.
Linda led them straight into the Legion with the bingo machine, sheets of cards, change box and everything.
Geordie and I were about to protest, when Jack appeared. Jack Lawson was the president of the Legion. He approved of the bingo, a potential money maker and told us so. We had to move our card game to the other room.
We were upset by this interruption of our routine and did our share of grousing when we went to pick up our next rounds at the bar. The euchre games lost a little charm when speakers droned,
“Under the B, fifteen” or “under the N, thirty five”, in the background.
At first, there were a lot of sudden attacks of deafness at our tables. The players raised their voices to speak over the bingo noise. Gradually, it calmed down. There was less interference once we got used to it.
Jack came to sit down at our table later. He told us that he had refused to cover the bingo losses if they didn’t have a good turnout. He’d back them, once they showed a profit. It was business, pure and simple.
We realized, after talking with Jack, that having a money maker around was a good thing.
Ruth was there from the start. From the sound of it, the next morning at the diner, she did everything she could to disrupt the proceedings. Relations were frosty between Ruth and Linda. The bingo had been a modest success in spite of Ruth’s interference. She was mad, Linda quietly triumphant.
Roy loved it.
Geordie and I ate our usual breakfasts listening to the women at the counter. They were attacking Ruth that day. She had crossed the line at the bingo. We had an extra cup of coffee and read the paper twice so we could listen to them tear down Ruth. I don’t think that there’s much doubt anymore, about the notion that women are more vicious than men. After we heard what they had to say about Ruth, there was no doubt for us.
They’d smile and change the subject when Ruth approached with the coffee pot. They made small talk with her while she topped up their cups. When she was out of earshot, they resumed the attack. Sounded to us like Ruth had ruffled a few feathers by being a little too bossy at the bingo.
It was the second Tuesday night bingo at the Legion. There were five tables for our euchre game. The bingo organizers, led by Linda, all carrying sheets of cards, got there early. Ruth was still working with Roy back at the diner.
The games went well for us. Geordie and I were cleaning up.
There was a good crowd for the bingo in the other room. The buzz of their chatter subsided as Linda, the caller, started each new game. When there was a winner, Gladys called back the numbers to Linda and Caroline paid.
We heard the first disturbance after a lot of cheering from the bingo side, figured somebody had won the jackpot. Geordie was returning to our table with the quarts when a loud bang froze everyone. It was the sound of a gun.
The Legion is full of old soldiers and hunters. The old soldiers hit the deck, the hunters jumped to see what was going on.
“Hey, stop right there”
We heard the female voice clearly.
I peeked around Geordie, who was also hiding under the table soaked in beer and saw Linda fire the gun.
We heard the body drop and screams. I saw Linda stand up, put the revolver down on the table and walk toward the body.
Silence at the euchre tables broke into excited whispers.
The words bounced around the room.
Ruth arrived at this point, glanced at us rising from the wet floor and kept going into the bingo room, a worried expression on her face.
There were more than a few legionnaires regurgitating their beer when they saw the mess that Linda had made. She must have hit a blood vessel when she shot him. There was blood on the hysterical women sitting at the table beside the body, a mess on the floor. The guy was still masked.
Jack Lawson pulled the sticky balaclava up far enough on the guy’s head to reveal Eldon’s face. There was no breath left in him. They tried to revive him while we waited for the ambulance but there was no hope.
Eldon had tried to rob the bingo at gun point. He fired his weapon once into the air. He was leaving with the cash when Linda stood up and told him to stop. She pointed her gun at him, he pointed his at her, and that was it, she fired. It didn’t make Linda feel any better when it was discovered that he was using a harmless starter pistol. It looked real enough, one cop who knew Geordie confided.
Ruth blanched when she saw Eldon’s face. She stared at Linda, looked at the body on the floor and sat down.
The next morning, the diner was buzzing about the happenings at the Legion.
Linda arrived late. She had been talking to police, reporters and her lawyer. There would be an autopsy and a trial. With so many witnesses to the attempted robbery, she would be cleared of the charges.
Linda entered the diner like a conquering hero. We applauded her.
Eldon didn’t have any family, except for Ruth, in the east. She shipped the body to Vancouver. It only took a day of her time. She was back at work that week.
It came out later, through the press, that Linda was a retired cop. She had worked undercover for years and carried a licenced weapon all the time. Nobody knew it, but she went to target practice at the shooting range on the weekends.
She had seen all of their hard work go for naught when that boy scooped up their bingo money. When he pointed his gun at her, it was instinctive to shoot. She didn’t think about killing him. It was cut and dried with Linda. She regretted Eldon’s death, but he was the bad guy.
Geordie and I were treated to a visit, by Cliff, one night at the Legion. He let it slip, as we watched the hockey game, that Ruth was being investigated. None of the cops thought that even Eldon was dumb enough to risk everything for the small amount of money at the bingo. They figured he was put up to it by his aunt. They didn’t know why, what her motivation was, but they thought she was behind it. One thing for sure, Cliff told us, without Ruth’s confession, they couldn’t prove it.
Ruth paid particular attention to Linda after that bingo. She served her first among the counter people, her coffee cup was always full.
It was impossible for Linda not to know that Ruth was suspected by the cops.
Roy wore a hunted look, like he was confused, not sure where he stood. He checked out the morning paper in the kitchen.
We heard that Ruth had left the diner on the night of the bingo, in a huff, after a big fight with Roy. Maybe it was enough to push her over the line. Maybe her jealousy and anger caused her to put the kid up to it, to make Linda look bad.
Unfortunate for young Eldon, her dead nephew.
Geordie and I watched and listened. We knew that Ruth knew that Linda knew.
Ruth attended the bingos but she didn’t boss anyone around any more.
Linda watched Ruth fill our cups at the counter and listened to her repeat tidbits of gossip.
We saw their eyes, Linda’s steady gaze, Ruth’s furtive glances, meet.
That was when we saw it as a line drawn in the sand.