Monday, September 17, 2012

Two Boys in a Diner

Victor swizzled some coffee and stared at the sluggish confetti of snow outside the diner and wondered when the last time was he had played in the white stuff or even saw it fall for that matter. All the while his head seethed with mucus and transient compunctions both past and present, and it helped him none that the proprietors kept the joint hotter than a Georgia crotch in September.

His brother returned from the bathroom, looking remarkably starched and formal, even in a parka. The kid got all the face and bearing, but the package muled within it the cantankerous disposition of an unneutered alley-cat.

“What’s the word?” prompted Victor.

Jaime took a leisurely pan of the room. All were seniors. Even the locals and employees were old. Mountain roadside diner writ large. Most had arrived on the bus outside. Some fracking exploratory fundraiser down the valley. Loads of opulence and bombast.

“I say we empty their pockets and purses,” whispered Jaime. “What do you say? For old time’s sake?”

Victor uttered a dry nicotine snort. “That’s kid stuff, brother. Take a load off.”

Jaime sat and fired a wolf-grin at the mousy woman a table over whose large hazel eyes fixed on him with a rare alloy of surprise and disapproval. “Hey, it ain’t like they can take it to the grave with them,” he said.

Victor barely glanced at the woman. “You’d be surprised,” he said. Phlegm rattled in his throat like a soggy maraca. “Look at Pop.”

They poked at their oatmeal and listened to American Pie on the juke until Jaime quelled the peace. He was always the first to fuck up a perfectly fine tranquility. Silence terrified him like large crowds did others.

“Is Pop old to you?” he asked.

Victor considered him a moment before saying, “Pop’s Pop, you know?”

“I know, yeah. I mean, do you see him for the age he is?”

Once more Victor scrunched his shoulders.

Jaime frowned suddenly, audaciously, as if he were alone in the room. Perhaps even in the world.

“Remember his last stroke,” he said. “We both flew in to see him? Found him jacked into all those tubes and wires, and I swear he looked the smallest and frailest I’d ever…” His eyes narrowed subtly. “That’s the first time I realized I was bigger than him—and I was thirty-eight.”

Victor coughed. It troubled him some hearing Jaime wax introspective. Not that he wasn’t a sharp kid, but self-reflection wasn’t his strong suit. It was its very absence in fact that allowed Jaime to thrive for as long as he had.

“Yeah, but Pop, he isn’t ripe the way these people are ripe,” he said.

Jaime chuckled. “He’s no younger than any of these coffin-dodgers,”

“In elapsed time, sure,” said Victor. “But you can’t quantify Pop in cyclical terms.” He sloshed some more coffee in his cheek and smirked into the empty cup. “Tough-ass bastard. Ask his competitors if they think he’s old.”

“Fuckin’ parasites,” muttered Jaime, even pointing at the geezer with the pseudo-Amish beard and suede blazer at the bar. “Would it be too much to ask they recognize someday the virtues of honorable suicide?”

“Too much coinage in the world left to be had, hermano,” said Victor.

Jaime fell into an individual inventory of every face in the room then as if to remember them for some future group doodle. At length he said, “Was this necessary?”

This time Victor allowed his eye to linger upon every face, and each one was as dead as the next. Blood pooled at their feet and their seats, or slithered down the walls behind their heads. Some still dripped from the ceiling.

“Pop wouldn’t have lasted in prison, Jaime,” he said. “State’s star witness is on the bus, we follow the bus. They don’t provide photo ID, we’re left but with one option, and that’s to be thorough. Like Pop.”

Jaime started breaking down the Uzis. “Like Pop,” he echoed.

For a while Victor stared at the bullet-shattered wall clock frozen forever at 9:05am. Inert, like everything else in the room.

“Hell, why not?” he said. “Let’s bag their fuckin’ loot.”