I promised Larissa I’d look into it. Byron turned out to be an astrophysics major at Johns Hopkins. That meant he was smart enough to know better, but you know those JHU boys. They can find a cat that’s in two places at once but they can’t keep their own shoes tied. He placed a wanted ad for an atomic force microscope on Craigslist and I had my in. I followed up, and Tuesday night we met at a diner on Route 40 outside Baltimore. We said 8:30, but the bus took its sweet time and I scoped the side door of the diner first, so by the time I rolled in it was closer to nine.
Better to keep Byron hungry, I figured. I didn’t react when the hostess asked if I wanted a table for one, just made a beeline for the back. Found him at a two-top reading a book, head shaved and beard waxed. Woof.
I sat down across from him and kept my shades on.
“What’s that you’re reading?” I asked instead of saying hello.
He closed the book, holding his place with one finger, and revealed the cover: A Brief History of Time. His smile was shy.
“Ah. Did you know Stephen Hawking travels with an entourage?” I asked. “His grad students, every nurse on the planet, friends, family, paparazzi, you name it.” Another nervous smile.
“What’s your name anyway?” Like I didn’t already know. “Your ad didn’t say.”
“Byron.” He spoke softly with a British accent. Yorkshire, if my ear didn’t lie. The smile was growing. “Yours?” he asked.
“Sergei.” I couldn’t risk the truth. “So, you’re enjoying your book?”
He glanced at the cover like he’d never seen it before, then nodded. “Do you have it?” he asked, glancing under the table. “I mean, did you bring it?”
“The microscope? Sure, it’s in my trunk.”
Luckily the waitress appeared and took me off the hook.
“What can I get you, gentlemen?” Her pen and pad looked new. I signaled Byron to go first.
“Steak and eggs, please. Steak bloody, eggs scrambled.”
I snorted. “Don’t be a cliché, man.”
He grinned at the waitress. “And a glass of grapefruit juice.”
“And you, sir?”
“Me?” I leaned back in my chair, didn’t bother opening the tome of a menu. “I’ll have one egg, soft-boiled so the guts ooze out, two pieces of toast the color of Beyoncé’s skin, and coffee blacker than a moonless night. You got all that, Sunny?” I read her name off the tag on her left breast.
“Sure,” she said.
“See, it’s all in the delivery,” I told Byron, who was admiring Sunny’s retreat. I leaned across the table and got close enough for a kiss, put one hand on top of his, A Brief History of Time resting comfortably underneath, like we were taking an oath. He had perfect lips. I raised my shades. “Why don’t you read me something from old Hawking here?” He still had one finger on his page.
“What—now?” Byron snatched his hand out from underneath mine and glanced around the place like I’d just asked him to blow me.
“Why not?” The diner was hopping and nobody was paying any attention to us. “Just pick up where you left off.”
He flipped open and started reading. “Quantum mechanics predicts a number of different outcomes—” I had to admit his mangled accent was cute. I wondered if that’s why Larissa let things go so far.
Sunny delivered our food, and my yolk was dry.
“I asked for soft boiled,” I told her.
“Go file a complaint with the cook, sir.” I raised my shades but she’d already moved on to another table.
Byron dog-eared his book and set it aside before he lifted the five-inch serrated knife that accompanied his meal. Perfect. I tore a chunk out of my toast and dipped it in my coffee while he methodically diced his meat into perfect half-inch segments. Larissa mentioned he was anal.
“It’s entanglement I can’t abide,” I said apropos of nothing as he chewed his first bite. He raised his eyebrows. “You’re telling me some Japanese girl takes a shit halfway around the world, and I get a panic attack because of it? No effing way.” I raised my shades again and he laughed with his mouth full.
“That’s not how entanglement works,” he said when he’d swallowed.
“Oh, really?” We ate in silence after that. I ignored the egg. After he finished everything on his plate, he downed his grapefruit juice in one gulp. Time to get the show on the road. “Your ad said 40K,” I reminded him.
“I need to see the equipment first.”
“Like I said, it’s in my trunk. Let’s talk financials. You got the dough?”
“I can have my father do a bank transfer.”
“I take PayPal.” I tossed a couple of twenties on the table to keep Sunny happy. “You want to go see the scope?” Byron didn’t notice me palm the steak knife.
He nodded vigorously and shoved his book under his arm as he stood up. He was over six feet, taller than me.
“Thanks for the meal,” he said.
“Sure thing.” I half smiled.
“Have a nice night, gentlemen,” Sunny called as we pushed in our chairs.
“This way,” I showed Byron to the side exit. “I’m parked around back.”
When I steered Byron into the dark crevasse at the back of the building, he didn’t resist. It was almost like he wanted to. Larissa said he was easy.
“I’ve got the microscope right here,” I said, burying the steak knife in his gut. Teach him to fuck with my sister and break her heart. I left him lying face down, his blood seeping out onto the cement.
While I waited for the bus, I called Larissa and filled her in.
“I told you not to kill him, you psycho,” Larissa screamed. I hung up on her and opened to Byron’s page.
My submission to the Yeah Write Super Challenge, Round 2. The prompts were “File a complaint” and this photo: