By Zoltan James
Rosie’s little diner was now filling up as a second wave of misfits filed in. I liked to file this species under the general subject of misanthropes, and sub-filed them in my mind as madams, magistrates, magi, Mafioso, millionaires, and the generally moonstruck, misbegotten and misbehaved. Oddly enough, I knew most of the mish-mash.
Coming through the door hand-in-hand was Dora the Fedora and her androgynous gal pal, Sal. Dora was handsome for a girl. She always wore a suit and tie, and hid her slinky yellow hair under her iconic mustard brown hat. I knew Sal in high school when we all thought she was a boy named Pat. With heavy make-up and a flouncy dress, Sal had become a decent looking. . . person.
Following behind them was Fastidious Floyd the philanthropist. Floyd was the perpetual playboy bachelor and always looked like he had just stepped out of a Fred Astaire movie. Sauve, debonair, slicked-back hair, pencil-neat moustache, and a smile so thin I bet if you sucked the cheese off a Dorito it wouldn’t fit into his mouth. It was rumored he had more money than Rockefeller. The man was a walking ATM always doling out money to whomever he deemed needy. And that was the bane of his existence. Poor Floyd was followed by more needy dames than a horse has flies. I noticed Rosie pouring him coffee before he even sat down.
Another regular couple included Jackie the Barber, although she preferred to be referred to as a “tonsorial artist.” She was seated with boyfriend Bob the Boner, which always drew a laugh that he didn’t appreciate. He worked for Maddox Grocery over on Main de-boning chicken and other poultry. Between the ever present herring-bone pattern of someone else’s clipped hair that adorned whatever Jackie was wearing that day and Bob’s farm-fresh smell of bleached game, they presented the picture of working Americana.
Sitting over in the dark corner, by herself, was Katie the Phlebotomist. Her face was pleasant but pasty white. She wore long, straight black hair, black lipstick and painted her nails black, like an aging Cher. She drew blood at the hospital but we joked amongst ourselves that she was really a vampire. Considering her looks and the length of her canines, there were times we thought maybe it wasn’t a joke.
Everyone in the joint had a sordid story, including me. We all lived on the edge of danger. Call it what you want. It might be bankruptcy, foreclosure, divorce, laid off from a lousy job, and quite possibly a heartbeat away from getting run over by a UPS truck making a right turn.
By the time Rosie brought me breakfast, I was hungry as a junk-yard dog. But, I decided to hold back and eat slow. Something didn’t sit right and it wasn’t my scrambled eggs. So I masticated like a camel and pretended I had time to kill.
Three stools down along the counter the cockroach hunched over his food. He put me on edge. He ate his huevos so slow I thought sprouts might spiral out of his beans. He forked his food without letting his elbows leave the counter. When he wasn’t forking, he stared either straight ahead at the two short order cooks in the kitchen or seemed preoccupied with counting the rice kernels on his plate.
After my third cup of coffee, I decided the cockroach was not likely a threat. He just looked that way. Besides, I figured it best to return to my trailer and to whatshername. I remembered hearing it once last night as we practiced the mattress mambo. I racked the balls in my brain. I was certain her name started with an “A.” Abby, Amy, Alex, Angela, Adrienne. Alex. Yeah, Alex. That was it. I was pretty sure it was Alex. The flash of memory lifted my mood.
I signaled Rosie for my check. She sauntered over, smiled and tipped her head slightly sideways in the direction of the cockroach. “Your new friend took care of your fare,” she said.
I tried not to look surprised.
Rosie popped a bubble the size of a basketball from her gum. “Feel free to leave a tip if you like, sugar.”
I dug a five spot out of my pocket, smoothed it into a long “V” and held it out to her between my fingers.
She fluttered her long lashes and parted her red lips ever so slightly. She slid her warm right hand along mine. Electricity surged up my arm. She took the bill, folded it neatly with her fingers and hid it somewhere deep into her bra. She winked. “Thought I might let it collect interest. What do you say?”
“Maybe. Maybe not.”
She huffed, spun on her black wedges, and let loose her charms on her next victim.
As I headed for the door, I passed the cockroach and mumbled, “Thanks for the breakfast stranger. My treat if I see you again.”
He spun in his seat to face me and grabbed my left wrist. I tried to jerk it free, but he was too damn strong. He spoke in a baritone that sounded like it came from the bottom of an oil drum. “Play your cards right, Chaser, and we won’t need a next time.”
I took my right thumb and dug it hard into the “V” between his thumb and forefinger. It’s one of the most sensitive nerves on your body. He released my wrist like he’d picked up a hot branding iron by the wrong end.
“What do you mean?” I hissed, so only he could hear.
He rubbed his hand and the tears from his eyes. He leaned in and put his nose almost on mine. The bill of his cap bumped my forehead. I could smell the greasy beans and eggs on his breath. “Stay away from my wife,” he growled.
“Who the hell is your wife?” I shot back.
“The one you just left in your trailer.”
He looked at me like I was supposed to blurt her name out loud so he could nod in agreement, assured that I understood his meaning.
“You mean. . .” I stalled hoping he would fill in, but he didn’t. There was a long draw of silence. I met his stare. Finally, I said, “You mean, Alex?”
He sat up straight on his stool. “Who the hell is Alex?”
“Isn’t that your wife’s name? Although, I gotta say she never let on she was married.”
“Her name is Starrla. Two ‘r’s’.”
I must have looked surprised, because then he added, “Blonde hair. Blue eyes. The name “Harley” tattooed on her right bum. That her?”
I felt flummoxed, like I’d been hit in the stomach. I sat hard on the stool next to him. I leaned on the counter. “Yeah. That’s her. But I never figured her to be the Harley type.”
“She ain’t. That’s my name.”
“Your name? Sorry stranger. Never got your handle.”
“That’s right.” He nodded.
“The name’s Handel, as in the Messiah. Harley Handel. With an “e-l” not an “l-e.” He offered a big paw to shake, but no smile. His big, black curious eyes bore into the back of my brain.
“Well, my apologies, Harley,” I said. “I had no idea Starrla was married.”
“Technically, she was my third wife.”
“Was, you say?”
“I’m onto number seven now, so me and Starrla aren’t officially married anymore.”
“Then, what’s your beef?”
“I’m here to warn you, Chaser. She’s trouble. Stay away. Far away.”
# # #
To be continued when next the sun rises, or the dark lets go, or soon as I grab lunch.
Remember. Make every hour your happy hour.