The customer pulled out their wallet and pulled out a five-dollar bill, then frantically dug a little further, as if untold riches would suddenly appear.
“Oh, Gosh,” the customer said. “I only seem to have enough cash to cover the bill. I’m so sorry.”
“It’s fine,” I said. It wasn’t, but what was I supposed to do? Kill him in the hopes of 20% on five bucks?
Actually, that didn’t sound like such a bad idea…
“It can happen to anybody,” I added. And it could. Anybody who grabbed a bite at a diner and only took a five-dollar bill and no credit cards with them. It wasn’t intentional at all. It wouldn’t be the first time I was stiffed on a bill, and it probably wouldn’t be the last. The ones that try to make some kind of political point by not filling out the tip section on their receipt are one thing. They’re like the weather or jury duty; just something that happens to people. This guy, though…
The customer finally put his wallet back and quit with the theater. He got up and headed for the door a defeated man, I hoped.
“Tell you what. From this moment forward, you are omnipotent. You will have the powers to travel through time and space using only your thoughts, be able to hear what anyone is saying or thinking, and control the fates of everything you survey,” he gestured towards me, as if he were David Blaine and that a flinch of his hands would somehow turn me into a bevy of doves. “But be forewarned, such great power over the world around you can come at a terrible price.”
“Okay,” I said. I was now ignoring other tables in favor of this missing dollar. It had to stop.
“Think that will cover the tuna melt?” he asked on his way out the door, as if it were the most charming person that had ever existed. Maybe he was David Blaine? I honestly couldn’t remember what David Blaine looked like. I imagined a top hat and a wax mustache. That couldn’t be right…
“Sure,” I replied. I had already forgotten about him and returned to the grind. Sure enough, Mr. Pinchy was just about to see the bottom of his coffee cup.
I topped him off and tried not to make eye contact. He was more than capable of making enough contact for both of us.
“Why, love, you are just about the most perfect thing I’ve ever seen,” he slurred. The coffee wasn’t quite offering the counter to whatever else he had been drinking that night.
And then—you guessed it—Mr. Pinchy pinched me.
It happened quickly, mainly because I wanted it to happen that way. I looked back to him, and the arm he had pinched me with had been replaced with a large, wet noodle. Other parts of him were now pasta-based, but no one else knew that. It appears I’m not an entirely cruel deity.
I grabbed him by his denim shirt and threw him out of the diner. I didn’t stop there, though. I kicked him solidly in one of his various noodles and like a soft pitch home run, he soared into the night sky.
I don’t know how I knew, but I was beyond certain that Mr. Pinchy would be leaving the atmosphere in a few minutes. But I protected him. He would still be able to breathe in the vacuum of space and would continue to do so until he hit the chromosphere of the sun. See? I didn’t kill him; that big ball of flaming gas eight light minutes from the diner did.
Everyone left in fear after that little show, but they all remembered to leave their tips. It’s a funny thing about diners, because within fifteen minutes a whole new slew of customers came looking for a patty melt or a grilled cheese or a slice of pie.
And sure enough, the customer who stiffed me on the tip even came back for seconds. He looked panicked now, and he clutched a-one dollar bill in his hand like it was the Holy Grail. “Remember that tip I left you?”
“Yeah?” I said. Somewhere in the corner of my eye, I diverted an avalanche that was about to annihilate a family of skiers staying at their cabin. Who said I couldn’t be benevolent, if I wanted to?
“I need it back,” he said. “I thought I could just… duplicate the power for someone else, but I think it just transfers.” Tears were starting to condense in his eyes. This might have been the terrible price he talked about, but it didn’t feel like it. What’s more, I was pretty sure I’d be able to tell if it was.
“Oh?” I asked. I didn’t need to hear anything else. He was gone, and the dollar bill was all that was left. I put the bill into the till of the cash register, mainly because I was tired of hearing it moan and wail about its sudden change of fortune.
All in all, it wasn’t the worst shift I had ever pulled at the diner. Sometimes the customers don’t come back if they forget the tip.