Today author Helen Cox and publisher Avon have kindly given me permission to share with you an extract from Helen’s latest novel, Secrets and Fries at the Starlight Diner, the second book in the Starlight Diner series. Secrets and Fries at the Starlight Diner was published in ebook format on 16 December 2016.
Funny how you can interact with some people your whole life and never truly know them, while others make you feel as though you’ve always known them after five minutes. That’s how it was for me with the staff at the Starlight Diner. They let me in on their jokes, told me their life stories and listened to mine. Though I’d only been working there for one week, I didn’t want to remember a time when I’d lived without them.
Whether I was laughing at one of Mona’s stories about her son, Donnell, trying to convince Bernie to eat eggs on wholewheat toast rather than greasy bacon for his breakfast, or watching Lucia sing Roxette into her spatula, I found myself more at ease than I’d ever been. And Esther, well, I had a sister back in Detroit and I loved her, but Esther was an only child and had spent most of the last week doling out all of her pent-up sisterly love to me. She’d barely left my side.
‘Thanks for walking with me to the store,’ I said. ‘I know it must seem a little pathetic. Not like anything is that far away from anything else in the East Village.’
‘Not at all,’ Esther smiled. ‘I speak from experience when I say that New York is a pretty scary place to be sometimes. Especially after dark.’
‘Yeah, I guess.’ I shrugged. ‘But growing up on the outskirts of Detroit I never thought I’d find myself going all wobbly on the mild-mannered East Coast, you know?’
‘Well, you’ve been through a lot,’ Esther said, putting her arm through mine. It’d be enough to put anyone on edge.’ ‘You’re right, I know you’re right, it’s just sometimes I think I’m going nuts.’ I cleared my throat, which felt drier than usual, even though I’d had some water before leaving the diner. Was now the time to bring up the way I’d been feeling the last few days? And how sore my stomach muscles were from tensing up over the things I didn’t know if I was seeing for real or dreaming up in my head?
‘I’m sure you’re not going nuts, it just feels that way,’ Esther said, patting my arm.
I stopped walking. She stopped too and looked at me, waiting.
‘I don’t know anymore. I’m probably just imagining things, but the past few days I kept thinking I could see someone standing just out of sight. Like I was catching glimpses of them in the corner of my eyes or something.’
Esther stiffened. ‘A man or a woman?’ she asked.
‘I don’t know.’ I pressed my lips together and shook my head. ‘It might not be either. Whenever I turn around nobody’s there. Or certainly not anybody who looks in the least bit menacing.’
‘Sometimes our minds can play tricks on us, but I wouldn’t dismiss your concerns outright,’ said Esther, her eyes flitting up and down the length of Suffolk Street. Paranoia, it seemed, was contagious.
‘I don’t know. Like you say, I’ve been through a lot. I’ve been having nightmares since… Well, since I saw what I saw. Damn near screamed the place down that first night at Jimmy’s.’ I put my sleeves around myself, rubbing the arms of my leather jacket. ‘I never thought I’d ever see anything like that – a life ended. And the way Frankie did it, too, as easy as snuffing out a candle.’ I put a hand to my mouth, remembering.
‘It’s not the kind of thing a person gets over quickly,’ said Esther. ‘Seeing death, really seeing it…’ She shook her head and kept her eyes on the ground. Did she know what it meant to see the wide-eyed stare of a corpse, one that wasn’t on TV or in a movie? Then I remembered what Jimmy had said about the ‘timely death’ of Esther’s husband. Was Esther there when he died? Is that how she knew what it felt like to stare into the eyes of death?
‘But the dreams aren’t real.’ I figured if I said that sentence with enough confidence, I might feel a little less jittery about it all. ‘And this feeling about somebody hovering around probably isn’t real either. The whole thing is probably just a hangover from the time I spent on the run from Frankie Ray.’
‘Maybe.’ Esther started walking again and I followed her lead. ‘Thing is, if you’re wrong, if there isn’t anyone watching you, the worst thing that can happen is that you look a little bit silly. If you’re right, whoever it is following you could be dangerous.’
‘Somebody sent by Frankie.’ I shuddered. ‘I can’t believe what that man’s put me through, and there may be more to come.’
‘Try not to think that way.’ Esther linked her arm through mine again. ‘Regardless of what I think of Boyle as a person, there’s one thing I can’t deny: when he puts his mind to something he’s pretty much unstoppable.’
‘Yeah, I get that impression.’ I raised both eyebrows.
‘Haven’t seen him in the diner lately,’ Esther said, looking at me out the corner of her eye.
‘No… I told you, he’s out in Atlantic City gathering evidence for the defence case. He’s being weirdly secretive about it all too. You’d think he might let me in on it given it might decide whether or not I go to jail for the rest of my life.’
Esther tilted her head to one side. ‘He must have his reasons for keeping things hush-hush. And I did remember he’s in Atlantic City, I just meant I thought we’d be seeing more of him, in general,’ Esther pushed. She had the cheekiest look on her face I’d ever seen.
I sighed and shook my head at her. ‘And you say Mona is the meddler of the diner gang.’
‘What?’ Her smirk lapsed into a smile. ‘I’m just noting my surprise.’
‘Our relationship, if you can call it that, is purely professional. He says that’s the way it’s gotta be.’ I’d almost got used to the idea. Almost. I mean, it’s not like I didn’t have other things to worry about.
‘Can’t believe he has the audacity to utter the word “professional” after some of the things I’ve seen him do. Wait a minute, what am I talking about? Yes, I can. That’s just Jimmy Boyle.’
‘Who can say what his reasons are? I guess I’ve just gotta be grateful he’s still willing to work my case. My list of allies is short.’
‘The list might be longer than you think. Once the Starlight Diner staff take you in, they don’t let go.’ Esther paused as we reached Sullivan’s grocery. ‘You want me to come around with you?’ She was doing all she could to sound enthusiastic about this idea but we were both tired as dogs after an eight-hour shift at the diner and it was obvious to anyone, by the way she was slouching on one leg, that all she really wanted was to get home and put her feet up.
About the Book:
“What brings Bonnie Brooks to The Starlight Diner? And why is she on the run?
As the front-woman in a band, Bonnie is used to being in the spotlight, but now she must hide in the shadows.
Bonnie only has one person who she can turn to: her friend Esther Knight, who waitresses at the Fifties-themed diner. There, retro songs play on the jukebox as fries and sundaes are served to satisfied customers. But where has Esther gone?
Alone in New York City, Bonnie breaks down in front of arrogant news reporter, and diner regular, Jimmy Boyle. Jimmy offers to help her. Can she trust him?
When the kindly owner of the Starlight Diner offers Bonnie work, and she meets charming security officer Nick Moloney, she dares to hope that her luck has changed. Is there a blossoming romance on the cards? And can Bonnie rebuild her life with the help of her Starlight Diner friends?”