Jimbo looked up at the sign, and then at the building itself. It was just as he remembered twenty years ago. Of course, then it had been in San Diego, not in its current Anaheim location. Other than that, judging from the exterior and interior, it was as if he'd stepped back in time.
His heart rate accelerated as he pushed open the front door. And why not? That last visit had changed their lives. The optimist in him said it'd added ten years to their marriage, though the pessimist argued that without it they might still be happy.
He stepped in and found Mary in a booth on the far side of the dining area. Their eyes locked, and she graced him with a smile. Wow, this place must've had a real effect on her. He couldn't remember the last unsolicited smile she'd thrown his way.
"James," she said as he sat down. Not Jimbo, Jimmy, or Jim like early in their marriage. She'd only started calling him that after his affair. She'd sounded so happy on the phone that he thought maybe she was willing to give him another chance. That didn't seem to be the case. Maybe she planned on ordering the burgers with divorce papers.
"Meredith," he answered, playing her little name game.
She ignored it, and her smile grew brighter. "I couldn't believe when I found this place. I knew I had to try it before it disappeared. And no matter what we've been through, you're the only one I wanted to experience it with."
He reached out and took her hand, half-expecting her to cringe. He smiled when she didn't. "That was a good meal, wasn't it?"
She nodded, then laughed. "To tell you the truth, I don't even remember what it tasted like. It could have been the worst food I'd ever had, but it was certainly the best dinner."
"That's for sure," he said as he picked up a menu.
"I hope you don't mind, but I already ordered for us."
"Oh?" There it was. The divorce papers would be here any minute.
"It's just . . . I wanted everything like it was that night. You know?"
He nodded and smiled. "That's what I would have ordered anyway. You think it'll come with the same topping?"
"The waitress didn't bat an eye when I requested it."
Jimbo placed his attention back on the menu. Other than the higher prices--inflation and all that--it looked the same, right down to the Special Order Burger with no extra topping options listed.
Twenty years ago, while in San Diego for their first wedding anniversary, they'd stumbled upon this place. When he'd questioned the waitress about what toppings were available, she'd told him he could have anything his heart desired. He smirked, called her bluff, and ordered a medium-well burger, topped with mayo, bacon, and onions. And instead of lettuce, he asked her to pile it high with $100 bills. She'd nodded and left.
When the food came, there really were $100 bills on the burger. Real ones! They quickly counted and found it came to over $7000. After the waitress assured them it wasn't a joke, they'd paid with one of the bills and left without change, even though the tab came to just over fifteen bucks.
As they waited for their food this time, they made small talk. Jimbo avoided any sort of topic that could turn the conversation sour, and he had a feeling Mary did the same. This might be the last time they ever sat down for a meal together, so might as well make it pleasant.
Jimbo saw the crisp green bills on his burger as the waitress approached. Like their first visit, Mary got the fish and chips, though why she hadn't ordered a burger and made some money of her own, he didn't know.
"Wow, that looks like more than last time," she said as he piled the bills next to his plate. He salivated not just over the aroma of the burger, which smelled fantastic, but also over all that cash. He'd count it later.
Mary broke a piece of fish in two and blew on it. "Still too hot. Go on and try yours so we know if it's good or not."
"I'm sure it is. Smells great." He picked it up and tore into it. Delicious, though there was a bit of a bitter taste underneath. Probably from the money. If that was the result, he'd gladly take it.
"You like it?"
He nodded and motioned it towards her. "Want a bite?"
"No thanks. I'll be lucky if I finish my own."
She reached down for a fry, and he noticed a manila envelope under the mound of food. "What's that?"
"I asked if special orders came with anything other than the burgers. They did, so why not, right?"
There it was. What he'd been dreading this entire time. The divorce papers. So much for this meal rekindling anything.
"What'd you get?" The words felt thick on his tongue.
She gave a little shrug. "Nothing that'll matter to you."
He took another bite of burger and mulled that over. So it wasn't divorce papers. Unless she thought he no longer cared about their marriage.
As Jimbo brought the burger up to his mouth again, his hands went numb, and it spilled into his lap. Before he could figure out what was going on, the numbness spread up his arms and took control of his entire body. He slumped back into his chair and tried to say something, anything, but his mouth wouldn't work.
As calm as could be, Mary dug the envelope out from beneath the fish and fries. She'd done this to him. His condition didn't surprise her, so what other explanation was there?
"Sorry, sweetheart. Your lungs and heart are going to stop working in a minute or two. They promised it'd be painless." She paused. "That's more than you deserve."
She peaked into the envelope and pulled out a card--it looked like a driver's license--and a small scrap of paper. She grabbed her wallet out of her purse and switched the new license with the old. "Should do it," she muttered.
She tossed her old driver's license to the table, and as soon as it plunked down, her appearance changed. Not gradually, but all at once. One second she was Mary, slightly dumpy with streaks of grey running through her dark hair, and the next she was a young, vivacious redhead with luscious bulges in all the right places. He wanted to believe the transformation was all in his mind, a byproduct of whatever drug or poison coursed through his veins, but he knew that wasn't the case.
"I'll be the prime suspect in your murder, so I ordered up a new identity, one that's more than a simple paper trail. They promised it'd transfer anything in my old name, your name, or both our names." She pulled a credit card out and smiled. "Will you look at that? Worked already." Without a glance over to him, she gathered her stuff, along with his stack of cash except for two bills which she left on the table, and walked out. With his back to the door, he couldn't even watch her leave.
As his breathing labored, he caught the eye of the waitress, who smiled and shrugged in a way that said, "What are you going to do?" What are you going to do, indeed, he thought as his heart rate slowed to a stop.
BIO: Eric J. Krause pens stories from Orange County, California, just
minutes away from Disneyland. He has a number of stories published
online. You can visit his website at http://ericjkrause.com.