I like my steak well-done, my eggs runny, and my toast black.
My waitress, who always wears a blouse with just enough cleavage showing, popped my toast in again to make sure she charred it. I appreciate the little touches provided by this dive of a cafe on the main drive of Pretty Prairie in southern Kansas. A regular three-calendar restaurant where the farmers arrive early to drink coffee and fight over who has the tallest sweet corn. Ever since my car overheated on the outskirts of town, I have sipped Irish coffee, listened to the squawking of farmers, and dabbed my runny eggs with black toast.
As far as engine trouble, I could have done worse and ended up in the middle of Nebraska. Besides, this town needs me. A small place always favors a guy willing to do the stuff no one else will do, and well, I am that guy: Jake Rutledge, handyman. I am that roustabout people call when they need something fixed, thrown away, or made better.
Early this morning, I saw a fortunate sign on the western horizon as storm clouds formed at daybreak. The chance of a wind storm always meant someone would need a fence repaired, a tree cut, or a something found. I had no worries of the threat of a tornado. The fight over nature is something I can handle.
I waved at my waitress, Sally, and pointed at my coffee.
“You want to fill my mug?” I gave her an expectant look with a hint of sarcasm.
Sally rested on her hip and looked through me. Like everyone else in this town, I got the impression she took joy in taking time to ponder if she wanted to help. Sure, a small puddle of coffee had dried in the bottom of my mug, but I had to give Sally time to decide if I needed another cup. She took her time to reach for the pot and shuffle over to my end of the counter.
As she lifted the pot over my cup, she said, “So, do you still love me?” She had a sweet look on her face.
“Pour the coffee and we’ll talk.”
“Oh, the big man doesn’t approve when I refuse to jump at his beck and call.” She placed the coffee on her hip.
“I don’t care if you jump, as long as you’re quick doing it.”
The coffee filled to the brim and a steam cloud rose from the mug. Sally made a curtsy. Then she blew a bubble, snapped the gum with a pop, and winked before turning away. I admire Sally’s sass, but she could spit out the gum.
I took a sip of the coffee and realized it needed a refresher. I reached in my coat for my flask of whiskey, poured a finger into my mug, and took a sip. Overall, a good version of a leprechaun’s kiss.
“Still haven’t fixed the car?” This line of questioning was rote. The guy sitting next to me always started the morning by asking me when I was leaving.
“It’s a matter of priorities. I would love to leave but I couldn’t hang out with you.”
My neighbor laughed a deep hoarse rattle that became a cough.
“You know Charlie, you ought to visit a doctor.”
“Well, I ain’t got the money,” Charlie said.
We made a pair; two drifters stuck in Pretty Prairie. Charlie Wadmeyer, landed here as a passenger in my junk of a car. He has always been tailing me and helps me when I need it. We go way back to kindergarten and he’s my best friend. When he’s not following me around, he sits outside Honeyman’s Hardware down the street and watches the traffic. Once he counted two cars at once. You know how slow it can get in a small town.
The noise from the farmer’s corner reminded me of hens in a chicken barn. I sipped my coffee and eavesdropped.
“And so the guy shows up and plugs in a doodad and tells me the alternator is bad.” The old farmer pushed his glasses onto his nose.
“In the old days, you could diagnose it yourself.” Now he was getting riled up. His friends stirred their coffee mugs and waiting for him to continue.
“Well, now a guy with a computer needs to tell you what’s wrong.”
“Computers run everything nowadays,” said another farmer wearing a John Deere hat.
“Yeah, unless I need a refill,” the old farmer said. “Hey, Sally. I need more coffee.” I held in a laugh. Darn if she didn’t look through him too.
Sally finally shuffled over to the farmers snapping her gum and balancing the coffee pot in her left hand. She wasn’t one of those quick diner waitresses. It didn’t matter. Before she made it to the table, the whole booth of faded blue overalls stood to look out the window.
It had to be exciting for these guys to jump out of the seat, so when the farmers craned their necks to take it in, I decided I had better look too.
I had to push through the farmers to see what was happening, and from what I could tell, nothing good would come of the spontaneous outrage in the parking lot. Surrounded by two cowboys, a pregnant mom, her kids, and a deputy sheriff, a lanky blonde stranger was dragging Stars and Stripes on the ground. He was shouting at the crowd.
The deputy sheriff pulled the mom and her boys away from the protest. The two cowboys flanked the man who wore a black riding boots and full leather motorcycle gear. He pulled out a lighter setting the national emblem ablaze. This only enraged the cowboys. As flames touched the stars, both of them tackled the stranger to the ground. He let out a scream as the deputy stomped out the burning flag. Those cowboys might as well had him hog-tied, and the man struggled to push away a boot on his back. He squirmed around toward the cafe.
By now we were all outside, me, Charlie, the farmers, Sally and everyone else. The guy rolled away from the cowboys and stood up with one cowboy holding onto his leg. Charlie and I ran over to stop the guy from leaving. He threw a punch that landed right on my chin. I stumbled back while Charlie ducked another punch. I shook off the shock of the upper cut and tackled the guy to the ground. He landed hard enough to knock the wind out of both of me and he looked winded too. I rolled off the stranger as Charlie ran up.
“Hey Jake,” said Charlie. “That guy looks just like you.”
Charlie was right. The man did resemble me and how my face might look if I was trying to fight off my attackers in the middle of a parking lot in Kansas.
I took a second look and then it hit me. The guy reminded me more of my brother Dan who died fighting in Afghanistan.
Part One – Jake Rutledge and the Guy with Bad Timing
Part Two – Jake Rutledge and the Guy with Bad Timing
Part Three – Jake Rutledge and the Guy with Bad Timing
Part Four – Jake Rutledge and the Guy with Bad Timing
Part Five – Jake Rutledge and the Guy with Bad Timing
Part Six – Jake Rutledge and the Guy with Bad Timing
Part Seven – Jake Rutledge and the Guy with Bad Timing
Part Eight – Jake Rutledge and the Guy with Bad Timing
Part Nine – Jake Rutledge and the Guy with Bad Timing
— wordsmithholler (@wordsmithholler) July 11, 2018
© 2018 – 2019, Michael Shawn Sommermeyer. All rights reserved.
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