Thursday, July 22, 2021

Pete’s Diner; Part 2

 This is a short story written nearly twenty-five years ago. It will be posted in three parts. This is part two.

"This is an institution! Everybody eats here some time or other and I think it would make for some interesting reading," Justin said. "Things like this give people a sense of community and tradition."

"I don't like it. Not one bit." Pete said barely opening his lips trying to hold his indignation. "That tradition and community crap is just that - crap. Ya just want a story ta keep yer tail outuv a sling."

"Why are you so dead set against it?" Justin asked.

"I got all the business I want right now, in fact too much," Pete said.

Justin braved another sampling of coffee. Knowing what to expect, it didn't seem so objectionable this time, but not the quality he was accustomed. To write the story well, he must have Pete's cooperation. Pete's diner was too fascinating to abandon.

Pete examined Justin like a cat, cautiously pawing and probing at a creature they have no fear, but yet fearful of something it might do unexpectedly. "What is it you want anyway?" demanded Pete.

"Just want a story," Justin said. "What do you want?"

"I wanna be left alone," Pete said as if the words themselves would be enough to convince Justin to leave. "Go find someone else to pester."

"My editor said to do this place and I'm going to do it," Justin said. He looked around the room while Pete was searching for words or an action that might change the mind of the young reporter.

There was a sign against the wall opposite the counter, "Harry Truman Ate Here", with a picture of the former president below it. Below the picture was the added words, "and he thought the food sucked too."

"Did Truman really eat here?" Justin asked.

"I don't know. I suppose he did. The ole man who owned this place before me had that up there and I added what's on the bottom." Pete said.

"How'd you come to own this place?" Justin asked.

Pete puckered his lips. He perceived Justin was trying to get him to talk. "Ya print anything I say and ya don't have to worry about a suit. Ya gonna hafta worry about me, okay."

Justin flicked his hand slowly and said, "Talk."

Pete walked to the urn and drew more coffee for himself. He talked as the cup was filling. "I got outa the army twenty-two years ago this November twenty-first. I spent ten years in the army."

With the cup filled he returned to Justin and hoisted his foot on a garbage can and leaned forward. "They failed to recognize my genius," he said sarcastically. " so I quit."

"You were halfway to retirement," Justin said.

"Well as a soldier, I wasn't much good, didn't like takin' orders. When I left I just made E-5." Pete said.

"That's not good?" Justin asked.

"No, not good at all. When I first went in I had this hillbilly buddy and he was always a sayin' when he got out, all he wanted was a one-pump gas station, with a pop machine, a pot-bellied stove, on a deserted stretch of highway. I used ta laugh at that sucker for his lack of ambition."

Justin looked around the room and then stretched to look out the window at the two solitary gas pumps.

Pete lifted his foot from the garbage can and leaned against the back counter. He grabbed a boning knife and began to clean underneath his fingernails. Pensive facial gestures rose; raised eyebrows, furled forehead, and curled down lips. He resumed, "When I got out, I looked up that buddy of mine. He'd been out for eight years. He took over his Daddy's Chevy dealership and was livin' off aspirin, cigarettes, and antiacids. All he had time for was a cup of coffee and a job offer. I just shook my head and left. He caught up with me before I gotta my car. All of a sudden he got real settled like he used ta be. He shook my hand and wished me luck and then he said something’ ta me I'll never forget. He said, "'Take my advise and get yerself a one-pump gas station, with a pop machine, a pot-bellied stove on a deserted stretch of highway."'

"So how'd you come to find this place?" Justin said looking at Pete cleaning his fingernails knowing that in a short time it would be used without being washed to slice onions. Justin also entertained the notion, 'what if he should use it on me?'

Pete took the knife and stabbed it into the countertop. Justin jerked, straightened in his seat, and then relaxed, seeing the folly in such a notion.

"I started driving ta Colorado," Pete said, "Always thought I'd like ta live there, but I was a comin' down this highway, wanted somethin' ta eat and I was needin' gas. I saw this place and the sign above the building said ‘Pete's Diner‘. When I came in here I could see the old man was about to retire or die. His name was Pete Gaston. I don't believe in fate, but I do believe in coincidence and convenience. I stuck around a few days made him an offer with the money I saved from the army and bought the place, but disaster struck."

"How's that?" Justin asked occupied with trying to decide whether to finish the coffee. He could no longer deceive himself, it really was very bad coffee. He adjusted his glasses and continued to listen. 

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