Friday, July 23, 2021

Pete’s Diner; Part 3

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

"The first year was good. I had a few customers a day in the diner, pumped some gas, and spent a lot of time sittin' and drinkin' coffee. Then all of sudden Wesley Weimer comes in here one night."

Justin leaned forward and interrupted, "The guy who killed his twin brother and ate his remains to get rid of the evidence?"

"One and the same." Pete said and continued, "Hogs down about four hamburgers, and holds a gun on me, tellin' me to rid out my cash drawer. Well, I did just like he said and he took out of here like a bat outa hell. I didn't even have time ta call the law. Seems they were after him and they came in here just as he pulled away. I told 'em what happened and they took off after him. They found him five miles down the road heavin' his guts out. They put it all in the newspaper. The world is so full of curious and sadistic people. They all wanted ta have a hamburger from the place that made a cannibal barf."

Justin was at first enthralled with Pete's story but now a skeptical smirk lit his face like gasoline being dashed on a dull fire and suddenly brought to a furious blaze. "Does the story come along with the coffee or did you just throw it in for free."

"You work for the newspaper. Check it out for yerself ya little wise-ass, April fifteenth, nineteen seventy-three. If you's any type of reporter at all you'd have known that already," Pete said contemptuously and taking a gulp of coffee.

Justin nudged the cup towards Pete for a refill. When the cup was returned Justin tried some cream and sugar.

"Ya don't believe it does ya?" Pete said.

"Sure I believe ya. It's kinda funny." Justin said. "I mean it's really funny." He labored to restrain his laughter.

Pete turned on the fryer and the grill with the two inches of grease on it.

"Inside a few months, I had so much business I had ta stop pumpin' gas and it ain't been the same sense," Pete said. "Ever eatin' here yet?"

"No, heard about it, but never ate here," Justin said.

"Stick around for about ten minutes and see what I mean," Pete said.

While Justin experimented with different combinations of sugar and cream to make the coffee somehow more palatable, Pete was busy preparing for the lunchtime crowd. He removed a tray with raw hamburger rolled into balls about the size of plums. They were divided into several layers with wax paper separating them. Onions were sliced and diced with the knife he used to clean his fingernails. Ketchup, mustard, and pickles were taken from the refrigerator and placed on the back counter. He stacked packages of buns next to them and tore them open for quick access.

Pete turned to see two cars speed into the gravel parking lot with a rooster tail of dust behind them. He reacted quickly by dropping the hamburger balls into the lake of gurgling grease. They sunk to the bottom and bobbed to the surface like apples in water. He took a spatula and smashed them against the bottom of the grill to make them flat. From the freezer, he took frozen French fries and loaded them into the fryer. They sizzled,

steamed and crackled like some mysterious evil caldron.

The two men entered the diner. With his back to them, he called out, "How many?"

"Six everything, two fries," the one man said.

"Next," Pete said.

"Eight, two mustard pickle onion, two ketchup onion, four mustard and onion, and three fries," the other man said.

Pete quickly laid out fourteen buns and applied the ordered items. His hands moved delicately and nimbly like a harpist as he dressed the buns. With a serving spoon, he poured grease over the hamburgers. When the hamburgers were done he placed them in the prepared buns and tucked them in a sack without wrapping them individually. In a moment the two men were gone.

"In five minutes this place will be crammed with people," Pete said.

"Why do they come here?" Justin asked.

"It sure ain't for the food," Pete said. "I ain't never said "'Thanks for eating at Pete's."' A person won't get that crap here. Those other places with pimple-faced, gum chewin', straggly-haired, empty-headed freaks say they are glad ta take yer order but they got an attitude for everyone who walks in. I don't hide it. I got a bad attitude. They still come. How do ya figure that? I guess I'm charismatic." He waited to see Justin's expression and laughed.

The diner filled. It was loud and busy. Pete was rude and brusque.

Justin pulled a quarter from his pocket and called to Pete,

"Call it!"

Pete said, "Heads!"

Justin tossed the quarter, caught it, and trapped it on the countertop. He lifted just one side of his hand as if it were going to fly away. He peeked at it. It was a tail. "Heads, you win. I don't write the story."

Pete's mouth curled up - just the left side. It was almost a smile. "Thanks," he said. "How 'bout a couple of burgers on the house?"

Justin looked at the floating burgers on the grill saturated in grease. His upper lip flexed as when one sees a dead and mutilated animal. He raised his hands slightly from the counter and said, "No, no maybe some other time."

Justin left the diner.

When Pete watched his car leave the parking lot, turned to the picture of Harry Truman, winked, and said, "We sure gave 'em hell didn't we Harry."


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