I like my steak well-done, my eggs runny, and my toast black. My waitress, who always wears a blouse with just another cleavage showing, popped my toast in again just to make sure it was charred. I appreciate the little touches provided by this little dive of a cafe on the main drive of this little town in southern Kansas. A regular three calendar kind of place where the farmers arrive early to drink coffee and fight over who has the tallest sweet corn. Like every morning since my car broke down on the outskirts of town, I sipped my Irish coffee, listened to the calliope of farmers, and dabbed my runny eggs with my black toast.
As far as breaking down, I could have done worse and ended up in the middle of Nebraska. And besides, this town needed me. A small place always needs a guy willing to do the stuff no one else will do, and well, I am that guy. My name is Jake Rutledge and I am a handyman.
Storm clouds starting forming on the western horizon before daybreak. The chance of a wind storm always meant someone needed a fence repaired, a tree cut down, or a something found. I had no worries about the threat of a tornado. I find the fight over nature is something I am pretty much able to conquer.
I waved at my waitress Sally and pointed at my coffee.
“You feel like filling me up?”
Sally put a hand on her hip and looked through me. Like everyone else in this town, she took her time to ponder if she felt like helping me. Sure, a small puddle of coffee dried in the bottom of my mug and I wanted some more, only Sally needed some time to decide if I needed more coffee. Eventually, she reached for the pot and shuffled over to me.
As she lifted the pot over my cup she said: “So, do you still love me?”
“Fill the coffee and we’ll talk about it.”
“Oh, the big man doesn’t like it when I refuse to jump at his beck and call.”
“I don’t care if you jump as long as you’re quick about it.”
The coffee sloshed to the brim and a steam cloud rose above the mug. Sally stepped back and made a little curtsy. She snapped her gum making a pop and winked before turning away. I like 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?” The guy sitting next to me always started the morning by asking me when I was leaving.
“It’s a matter of priorities,” I said. “I would love to leave but then I wouldn’t get to hang out with you.”
My neighbor laughed a deep hoarse rattle that became a cough. “You know Charlie, you ought to have that looked at.”
“Just like you I ain’t got the money,” Charlie said. We made quite a pair; two drifters stuck in Pretty Prairie, Kansas. Just like me, Charlie Wadmeyer also sort of landed here by riding in my car. He helps me out 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 time in a small town can trickle by.
The noise from the farmer’s corner reminded me of a crescendo of fireworks. I sipped my coffee and listened in.
“And so the guy shows up and plugs in a doodad and tells me the alternator is bad.”
“In the old days, you could figure it out yourself.”
“Well, now you need a guy with a computer to tell you what’s wrong.”
“Everything is run by a computer nowdays.”
“Yeah, except when I need a refill,” the oldest farmer at the table said. “Hey, Sally. I need more coffee.”
I watched Sally shuffle over to the farmers and before she made it to the table, the whole booth of faded blue overalls stood up. Not much ever happened here, so when all the farmers started craning their necks to see outside the window, I decided I had better take a look.
When I reached the window, I had to push through the farmers to see what was happening outside. From my perspective, it looked like nothing good would come of the spontaneous outrage in the parking lot. Yet, surrounded by a couple of cowboys, a pregnant mom and her kids, and a deputy sheriff, stood a lanky blonde stranger dragging Stars and Stripes on the ground and yelling.
The deputy sheriff pulled the mom and her boys away from the protest and the two cowboys flanked the man who wore a black riding boots and full leather motorcycle gear. He pulled out a lighter, lit it, and set the flag ablaze. As the flag burned up to the stars, both cowboys tackled the man to the ground while the deputy stomped out the burning flag. The man struggled to push away the large boot in his back and turned toward the cafe.
By now we were all outside, me, Charlie, the farmers, Sally and everyone else. The guy managed to roll 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 us. I rolled off him as Charlie ran up.
“Hey Jake,” said Charlie. “That guy looks just like you.”
And the man did resemble how my face might look if I was trying to fight off my attackers in the middle of a parking lot in Kansas. Except for this fact; he looked a whole lot like my brother Dan who died fighting the war in Iraq.
Part Two – Jake Rutledge and the Guy with Bad Timing
— wordsmithholler (@wordsmithholler) July 11, 2018
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