Scott Edwards sopped the remaining yolk with whole-wheat toast and peered at the early edition sports pages. It was a few minutes after 5:00am. Every morning at this hour, seven days a week, he was the only patron at The Sunrise Diner. Not this morning. He was about to call for a coffee refill, when he noticed a man in a wheelchair parked at the end of his booth. The man didn’t take his eyes off Edwards.
“Can I help you?” Edwards asked, regaining his composure and craning his neck for his favorite waitress, Diane.
The wheelchair-bound man was strapped in by a seat belt. He maneuvered himself next to Edwards. “It was too early to shave. I don’t usually go out without shaving. I’m sorry for my unkempt appearance. You’re Scott Edwards, yes?”
Edwards glared at the man. “Yes.”
“Chairman of the Society for Wheelchair Advocacy?”
Edwards nodded. “And you are?”
“Stinson. Sam Stinson. I was able to roll myself into this diner thanks to the ramp the society funded and built here. Thank you.”
Edwards smiled softly and offered his hand for shaking. “It’s my pleasure. We do a lot of good work in this community. I’ve finished eating, but care to join me for coffee?”
“Sure, I’d love a cup. It’s nice having choices.”
“Beg your pardon?” Edwards caught Diane’s attention and ordered two coffees.
“For breakfast, you had an entire list of items from which to choose. Eggs, pancakes, muffins, you name it. We can drink regular coffee, decaffeinated or a latte. I like options.”
Edwards’ salt and pepper eyebrows rose slightly. He began forming an exit strategy.
Tell me, Mr. Edwards, do you know Tina?”
“Doesn’t ring a bell. Does she have a last name?”
Stinson moved in a little closer and shook his head.
Diane brought two fresh mugs of black coffee and set them on the table. Without a word, she disappeared into the kitchen. “I’m not sure I understand, Mr. Stinson.”
“I’ll introduce you to Tina.”
Edwards poured cream and dropped two sugar cubes into his coffee, stirred, and sipped. “With all due respect Mr. Stinson, I’m a busy…”
Stinson produced a knife. “You’re busy skimming money from the coffers of the charitable organization you’ve been entrusted to run. Word is we collected in excess of three quarters of a million dollars this year, yet the bank accounts show total balances less than half that amount. Can you explain it? Where did the money go?”
Edwards drank more coffee. “I don’t know what you’re getting at Stinson, but I don’t like it. You’re making a serious accusation. I hope you can back it up.” Edwards stared at the knife.
“Actually, I have all the proof I need. I have copies of the checks, you know, the ones that have lines for two signatures, but only contain one?” Stinson saw he had Edwards’ attention. “You discovered the banks didn’t care about second signatures as long as the check amounts were less than $10,000. It took you a while, but you figured it out. You’ve been siphoning charitable funds into some off shore account somewhere.”
Edwards took the napkin from his lap and tossed it on the table. “Enough! Get out of my way. I’m leaving.”
Stinson smiled. “But not before you sign a confession about the funds you embezzled.”
“And if I don’t?”
“What the hell do you keep talking about? Who the hell is she?”
Stinson pulled a printed document and a pen from the inside pocket of his sports jacket. “Tina isn’t a she. Sign it.”
“What?” Edwards coughed nervously. “Don’t bully me Stinson.”
Stinson tightened his grip on the knife and shoved it against Edwards’ side.
“Wait!” shouted Edwards. He sheepishly looked around the empty diner to make sure none of the staff heard. He lowered his voice. “Listen Stinson, I’m sure there’s been a horrible misunderstanding. I’m certain two rational men can work things out. Let’s say you and I put our heads together and come up with a…”
“Sign!” The knife pressed harder against the embezzler’s ribcage. “There. Is. No. Alternative.”