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Location: marengo, il, United States

Monday, May 16, 2005

A Fork and a Bullet

The pancake house stays busy, and naturally, I end up volunteering for night shifts. That way I can sleep soundly during the day back at the boarding house.

I was forced to make some changes right after the stabbing incident happened.

I had been upstairs napping in my room at the time, so I didn’t witness anything but the yelling parts, which occurs too routinely downstairs to cause any alarm.

Later on, when I went down to use the shower, I stopped by the kitchen to say hey to the gang. Juan was sitting at the table, bent forward and breathing hard, and he had his shirt pulled up around his shoulders. Luis stood next to him, aiding Juan by keeping a folded towel pressed to his back side. Johnny was no where around at the time.

“What’s going on, Luis?”

That was the only time I ever saw the old man look worried. He shook his head before nodding toward the back door.

“That Johnny, he go crazy today.”

“What? What are you talking about?”

He looked across the table to a place on the floor near one of the counters, and then he lifted one corner of the towel. I saw a red stain on the underside of the cloth, and on Juan’s lower back, two small puncture wounds.

“He stab Juan with a fork.”

I walked around the table to see, and there on the linoleum laid a two-pronged serving fork.

“What in the world -- Johnny did that?"

“Yes, and I call the cops and everything."

"So then what happened, Luis?”

"Johnny, he run out the back door right away.”

Juan stayed quiet, but he scowled down at the floor.

I went and talked to Danny at work later that same evening, and he agreed to go along with my request. Nights are usually a lot less boring than days, anyway, so I’m more pleased with this newer arrangement.

Carlos is our lead cook, and a most energetic sort of person. He stands six inches shorter than me, and has a wicked smile along with an infectious laugh, so he and I get along just fine. The first time my burnt toast pops up, he screams out,

“You want to play, go home!”

And of course he cackles at full volume as soon as he says it.

The second time around, he lowers his head and does a loud imitation of the announcer from the Saturday morning musical program, Soul Train.

So-o-ul toast!”

It’s a war zone here for at least four hours every night during the week, so we do what we can to try to stay sane. Friday and Saturday’s are even worse, and it’s no wonder half the crew is doing drugs. On a slow night I’ll step out back with Jennifer and share a joint with her sometimes, but on the weekends I can’t function at all doing that.

Jennifer has an apartment across the highway from the restaurant, right next to a bar where the local chapter of Bandito’s hang out. Her boy friend claims he rides too, but to tell you the truth, he looks washed up. Gaunt and nervous, he comes in here a lot to hang out with Jennifer when things get slow, and the three of us have become good pals lately, but he doesn’t look all that tough.

I told them both one night about my screw-up in Midland, and they both laughed.

Jennifer especially thought the fears I shared sounded hilarious.

“Hell, that guy has forgot all about you by now.”

Jennifer is tall and clumsy, but she is a dear person when you get to know her. Moody and somber at times, she has a weird sense of humor as well as a hot temper. She has an opinion on everything, and I’ve never seen her act shy at all.

It’s a Saturday night, and late. The drunk crowd is in full swing, and the noise throughout the place is nothing but a constant roar. Carlos and me are filling plates and setting them up on the shelf as fast as we can, and if he’s not doing that, he’s wiping his hands on his apron and leering at any young waitress that approaches.

“Hurry up! Hurry up! You want to play, go on home!”

I’m standing behind our counter facing the crowd scene, putting together a club sandwich. Who in their right mind eats these dainty little things, I wonder. I look up briefly to see Jennifer standing over by one booth, and she has both hands set on her hips. That doesn’t look good. Nobody has time to stand and rest, I think, as I reach for a cutting knife.

The next thing I hear causes the whole building to go silent.

“Hey, if you don’t like it, then get the fuck out!”

Jennifer's voice rings out loudly over the din, and then the phrase seems to bounce off the hushed walls several times.

Carlos turns to look around from his grill, and then chuckles merrily as he goes back to flipping a row of eggs.

I slice down through my sandwich, but I keep an eye on Jennifer and her station.

She doesn’t budge an inch. She just stands there, looming over the two seated couples, and the four are grabbing for coats and purses and scrambling to get out of the booth. They are all obviously embarrassed over whatever just happened, but Jennifer keeps giving them a devil of a look.

She then turns and stares meanly at their backs as they head toward the front, her hands still planted firmly at her hips. One of the men is in the act of folding a jacket over his arm as he walks past my counter.

I go to stick four toothpicks into my new creations when I hear the popping sound. A flash goes off, too, and the room lights up for a second. Then something lands on the tile floor between Jennifer and departing group.

At that moment I see her look down, and her eyes follow something that skitters toward her on the floor. The thing slides past her feet and goes all the way to the rear of the room before coming to a halt. At the same time, the man with the jacket follows the path of the same object with his eyes.

Jennifer glances up at him. He looks across the room at her. Then he takes a step in her direction.

But in an instant, she bends over, picks the object up, gives the man an open-mouthed look, and then darts behind the counter and runs into the back storeroom.

The man just as quickly turns on his heels to follow his group outside. I look around at Carlos and grin as I quip,

“Don’t even say it, pal.”

The cops show up before we get to see Jennifer again. She went and hid out in the office until they arrived, and she’s the one that called -- we cooks are too busy to take the time.

She hands over the little derringer she captured to one officer while another goes up under the round booth over by the front door. He backs out later and comes over to show us -- in his hand he holds the fragments of a bullet that launched the little pistol across the diner.

“Good thing that booth was empty,” He mentions.

So now I got a story to tell to Luis tomorrow morning, and I bet he smiles.

Next: An Attempt at Social Suicide

2 Comments:

Blogger Gone Away said...

You're like the eye of the hurricane, Harry - all calm and matter of fact and meanwhile the world is going insane all around you. It's wonderful to read. All that crazy, wild action and Harry just observing and letting us know...

Great stuff!

11:20 AM  
Blogger Roberto Iza Valdes said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

1:03 PM  

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