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Frank’s All-Night Eatery is actually a stand-in for a truck-stop that serves really terrible pies. I’m here again tonight. There’s half a piece of some wicked custard sitting in front of me, and it’s almost five in the morning. Frank and I are the only ones in the place. He notices I’m not eating for about the tenth time, and decides this time he’s going to mouth up.

“Not hungry this morning?”

“You know what I want, Frank?”

“Not in the mood for pie, then? I got a muffin or two wrapped up in the back. Wasn’t going to bring ‘em out till later on, but if you aren’t feeling that pie I can set you up.”

“What I want, Frank, is for a lady to come walking through that door and come sit down right by me. She’ll be kinda shy, look at me like I’m more than just another animal. Don’t even have to be pretty. I’ll play it real slow, like I don’t know she didn’t pick any other spot in the whole place. We’ll get to talking and it’ll be the first real conversation I’ve had with a woman in more than a decade. Maybe nothing happens, probably she leaves and I never see her again. But that’s okay, because I already have my reason.”

Frank looks amused. “You picked the wrong time to hope for that, bucko. It’s damn near sunrise. Don’t know many girls stay up this early. Come back later, around two. We get some women in here who drive truck. Always interesting talk.”

I shake my head. He doesn’t get it.

“Sure would be nice, though. Grant you that. Why’ncha eat your pie and I’ll get you one of them muffins on me. You can imagine it’s a lady.”

“I’ve eaten the last pie I’m going to eat. Would have been nice to go out on a winner, but I guess it doesn’t matter much. My father used to tell me it all ends up in the same place, and he was right. I’m going there too.”

Frank was emptying the register, something he always did at five.

“No muffin?”

“Eaten my last one of those, too.”

Maybe then he got it. He stopped doing what he was doing, and looked at me hard. Cocked his head. “You ain’t talking about…what I think you’re talking about.”

“You mean killing myself? Ending my life? Suicide? Those are it.”

“You can’t do that. You don’t got it so bad. Plenty of things to live for, even if there isn’t a girl coming in here. Besides, you’re one of my best customers.”

“Frank, where am I from?”

He doesn’t say anything.

“Where did I grow up? Go to school? Who was my first love, my first wife? My kids? Why don’t they want me in their lives? Why are my parents dead? Don’t give me some stock line about things to live for. If you knew me, you wouldn’t have said it.”

He looks down.

“Listen, it’s okay. It’s just the way things are. You’ve been there. I could have talked to you if I wanted to. Here.” I pulled out my wallet. “How much for the pie?” He waved his hand, and I could see there were tears in his eyes. I thought there might be some in mine too, but it seemed I’d already done that for the last time too. I pulled all the money out of my wallet and put it on the bar. I put the wallet beside it.

“You can give that to the police. Tell them I walked to the reservoir.”

I get up. When I get to the door, Frank tries to say something. I wait for him to get it out.

“Why did you tell me this?”

“Had to say goodbye. To somebody.”

Pay what you want

This story appears in Clayton's Secret Notebook. Get the collection on

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