‘You guys look amazing this morning.”

It was barely daylight, and Doreen’s comment caught the Hunting Club’s membership by surprise. As one, we looked up from our places in the large round corner booth of Doreen’s 24HR Eat Gas Now Café.

I frowned.

“Doreen, you know how I feel about that overused word.”

She shrugged.

“I just meant that all five of you have fresh haircuts. It looks like you’re planning to meet someone.”

We exchanged glances and noticed she was right. We’d all gotten our ears lowered during the weekend. Doc gave a slight shrug.

“Coincidence.”

“Oh, well, I thought y’all might be hoping to see someone.”

That second reference caught my attention.

“What are you hiding?”

“I’m not hiding anything.”

Wrong Willie laced his fingers and leaned forward.

“What’s on your mind, then.”

Doreen gave us a little grin.

“Well, I hired someone to take over the night shift.”

Her comment gave me a start. We’ve been coming to Doreen’s for years, and even though the sign out front reads that her café is open twenty-four hours a day,

I’d never considered that fact.

I could see the boys were rolling it over in their own minds. I glanced over at Woodrow.

“Have you ever been here at night?”

“No. Anyone else?”

Jerry Wayne frowned.

“Well, we’ve been here early in the morning, for breakfast before we head out to the lease, but that’s been a good long while. Does that count?”

“No.” Doc shook his head. “By definition, we haven’t been here at night.”

He was right. For years, we gathered at Doreen’s somewhere around four or four-thirty to eat and gear up for a hunt, but I couldn’t remember one time we’d been there after sunset.

She smiled again, and that told us a lot. Doreen doesn’t smile that much.

“All right.” I took a sip of coffee. “Spill it.”

“There’s gonna be two groups of people excited about my news.”

Doc rubbed his head, a sign that he was getting frustrated.

“What two groups?”

“You guys think you’re the only ones who eat at this booth.”

“Well, no.” It had never occurred to me that others gathered the same way we do. “What group?”

“There’s a bunch that usually gets here around midnight. For years a group like y’all have stopped here on their way across Texas for dinner and coffee. I can’t work twenty-four seven, so I have a few folks that work deep nights. But night crews are gypsies. They’ll work for a while, and I get to feeling good, and then they quit and move on.”

“Those other guys can’t be as much fun as us,” Woodrow said.

She gave him the Hairy Eyeball for the interruption

“But last month I hired someone to run things when I’m not here. She’s been doing a great job, and what I’ve come to know as the night crew likes her a lot. That’s why I thought you guys heard about her and cleaned up to come meet her.”

I felt violated. I thought we were the only cool group to hang out there, and now we discovered there was someone else.

“Doreen,” Doc spoke softly, as if trying to console a youngster. “It’s morning. If you hired someone to work the night shift, he or she wouldn’t be here, would they?”

“She would if she gets off late and is sometimes around after work.”

Jerry Wayne held out his mug for a refill.

“Let’s back up. You mean there’s another group like ours who comes in at night? I’m not sure I like the idea of guys like us hanging around our booth.”

“It’s not your booth,” Doreen growled and poured coffee for all of us. “Y’all know you don’t spend enough money in here to keep me in business. You leave, and others take your place.”

Woodrow shook his head at the same time Wrong Willie did the same. Willie tapped the table with a fingertip.

“I don’t think I like the idea of your cheating on us with other guys.”

“The point is,” Doreen snapped, “that y’all aren’t the only ones who hold down this table, so what I’m trying to tell you is that Trixie’s back. I hired her to run the place from six at night to six in the morning. Now I can get some rest.”

We’d already quit listening when she spoke Trixie’s name. Longtime readers of this column remember the redheaded firecracker of a waitress who is…splendid.

Willie tried to stand, but he was in the back of the booth. All he could do is lean forward, looking like someone with a broken back.

“You mean those truckers get to see Trixie all the time and all we have is you…”

Doreen’s eyes blazed.

“I had good news for y’all and here you are insulting me.”

As one, we raised our coffee mugs in salute at the same moment Trixie rushed out of the back in a red flash. She was dressed as Elvira for Halloween, and believe me, Cassandra Peterson who plays Elvira on television could have taken a lesson.

She’d been gone for years, and we missed that gal a lot!

Hugs all around.

Squeals of joy, and at least one of them was Trixie who was as glad to see us as we were to see her.

I noticed Willie looking at his cell phone.

“What’re you doing?”

“Checking my calendar. I think I can rearrange my schedule so that I can be here around two in the morning for breakfast. We can come in, see Trixie, and then get out to our deer stands just in time for daylight.”

I pointed at Trixie who was hugging Doc.

“You heard Doreen say that this table is already taken at night by those truckers. Wars have been fought over less.”

“We’ll pull some tables together over there.”

“Now you’re thinking.”

I watched Trixie rush toward me, her arms thrown wide. I bit back a squeal and waited for my hug.

“I sure am!”

Reavis Z. Wortham is an award-winning novelist and outdoor writer with family ties to Lamar County. He is the author of “Laying Bones.”

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