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July 22, 1974

Merle pulled into the parking lot of the brightly lit diner, tires crunching gravel, and turned off the ignition. The car shuddered to a stop. Got to get that fixed sometime. A neon sign in the window blinked at him, hypnotically whispering "Alma's" over and over, promising "good food". He looked over at his young passenger, a kid he had picked up a couple hours ago in West Virginia. A boy, barely nineteen, who needed a ride to Maryland, looking for the job he couldn't find back home.

"Well, kid, this is where we part ways. You should be able to catch another ride easy here. C'mon in and I'll buy you a cup of coffee."

They pushed through the door and eased onto two stools in front of the near-empty counter. The aroma of freshly made coffee and doughnuts filled the air, and Karen Carpenter's mellow voice crooned through the radio. A young, heavy-set waitress in a blue and white checked uniform came up to them, pulling a pencil from her hair, ready to take their order.

"Two coffees."

She nodded, and pulled up crockery and spoons from a lower shelf, and set them down with a soft clatter. As she poured from a glass coffee pot, the music changed to news, and a brisk male voice reported the latest developments in the Patty Hearst kidnapping case: she had been identified as one of a group of bank robbers, members of the SLA.

"Ain't that something?" the man asked. "A girl as rich as her, gettin' into all that. Looks like that kidnapping thing was one big joke on everybody."

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